Tales on the Parables Vol. 2 (I)

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SEED-TIME AND HARVEST


CHAPTER I.


"THAT boy's gone, ma'am," said cook, with exasperation, as she entered the dining-room to receive her orders for the day.

    "Boffy, you mean?" said her mistress, looking up from her desk.

    Cook nodded acquiescence, as if afraid to trust herself to speak on so sore a subject.

    "I am very sorry," said the lady, laying down her pen.  "Since when has he been missed?"

    "He hasn't been in the house all night, as far as I can make out, ma'am," replied the servant.

    "I wish you had told me sooner — before Mr. Esslemont went out," said the lady.

    "I thought he was only up to some of his tricks, ma'am; for he's not like a Christian child at all," was the answer.

    "And he is not a Christian child, Sarah" said Mrs. Esslemont.  "Do you not remember, when your master brought him in from the doorstep, where he was nearly frozen to death, that he asked him for his Christian name, and he answered that he hadn't got a Christian name — that his father called him Boffy, and his mother called him Jack.  He is not a Christian child; but a heathen child in a Christian land."

    "He is just a heathen, ma'am.  You can't make him understand that picking and stealing aren't right; he just glories in them," said Sarah.

    "He has been taught no better," said her mistress.  "Both father and mother are thieves."

    "He wasn't fit for a respectable house, ma'am," said Sarah, with a satisfied air, as feeling herself part and parcel of the respectability.

    "Ah, Sarah, there's a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; he may yet be fit for that," said Mrs. Esslemont.

    "I wouldn't mind," broke in Sarah, evidently determined to make a clean breast of her objections to the delinquent Boffy — "I wouldn't mind if he wasn't such an audacious little toad, always making faces behind your back, and tumbling like a wheel along the kitchen floor when he ought to be cleaning the knives and the boots."

    "We knew you would have something to put up with from the poor boy's ignorance and rudeness," said her mistress, gently; "but we asked you to help us in the work of saving him."

    "What are we to do, ma'am?" rejoined the cook, looking somewhat ashamed.

    "We must wait till Mr. Esslemont comes home, Sarah," said her mistress; "and if the boy returns in the meantime send him up to me."

    But the boy did not return then, nor afterwards, though Mr. Esslemont made every inquiry for him in the neighbourhood of his former home, if home it could be called.  One fact came out, however, which was sufficient to account for his disappearance — his parents had been released the week before from a three months' imprisonment.  On learning this Mr. Esslemont desisted from further search.

    The quiet of the house remained unbroken after that for many days.  There were no altercations in the kitchen, so loud and long that they penetrated to the upper regions, mixed with gusts of shrill derisive laughter.  There was no ominous clatter on the stairs, telling of disaster to plates and dishes.  Such sounds had been all the more aggressive and startling that they seemed alien to the house, which was truly a house of peace.  A charmed silence seemed to rest on all its rooms, to fall in the footsteps of its mistress, and to brood about her where she sat.  It was a house which had an air "of duties beautifully done."  It looked swept "as for God's laws."  It was all order and purity, and the perfume of prayer.

    It was of the nature of a privilege to enter that house.  The very servants felt it, and stayed there in spite of many a perverseness.  Their master and mistress did not send them lightly away; they held them committed to their care, even as their children were.  If they had faults they tried to correct them, and to plant in them the opposite virtues.  The most careless knew that they might win their lifelong friendship, and that they had ever their Christian love and care.

    The house was not always so still, though somehow it always preserved that atmosphere of peace — the kind of atmosphere one feels surrounding a solitary lily.  Three times a year it echoed with careless feet, and rang with blithe voices and happy laughter.  These times were when the Esslemont boys were home for their holidays.  They were coming home now — Charles, Frank, and Arthur.  Mr. Esslemont had taken a house for the summer, some seven miles out of town, that they and their mother might enjoy the season in the country, while he came backwards and forwards from the city.

    Mr. Esslemont's success in life had been moderate.  He was a merchant; not a princely, not even a great merchant, but one with a character of the highest honour and integrity, a character which he thoroughly deserved.  He had begun business with a small amount of money, and had married a wife with none; and the very scrupulousness of his mind had prevented him from making those great ventures which either enrich or ruin.

    Mr. Esslemont had lately been thinking much of the future of his sons.  The eldest, after this vacation, was not going back to school; he was now sixteen, and his father proposed to take him into his own office.  Charles knew his destination, and was satisfied.  His father would not have forced his inclination if he had made another choice; but Charles had, it seemed, no choice.  The office was quite as acceptable to him as any other career.  The only fault his father found with him was a too easy acceptance.  Frank was far more difficult to please; even Arthur, who was only twelve, had more mind and will than his eldest brother.  It had been so from the days when, at their nursery window in the quiet square, they had elected to be policemen, organ-grinders, or Punches.

    These boys had been, as children, singularly good and happy; it might be owing to the pious care of a most loving mother, watchful not only over the wants of their bodies, but over the needs of their young souls, and losing no opportunity of sowing the good seed there in the precious spring-time.

    Charles was his mother's favourite, perhaps from that facile disposition which had awakened his father's fears.  It was a disposition exceedingly sweet and lovable on the surface; but the sweetness did not seem to penetrate.  His smiles and caressess were always ready, but they returned too soon after grave rebuke, and the rebuke was forgotten, and the offence repeated with equal readiness.  Still his face was so fair and sunny.  He was so easily pleased, so quick to return every affectionate care, and so open and guileless, that Mr. Esslemont sometimes caught himself giving Charles a preference in his heart.  Frank was much more independent, cleverer, and more ambitious at his lessons; stronger and more selfish in his play.  While little Arthur — he was still called little Arthur — had as yet only one prevailing characteristic, over and above being a generous, warm-hearted, little fellow; he was very fond of play, and he played so hard and earnestly that it was harder than the very hardest work.

    The vacation came, and the summer weeks passed brightly with this happy circle.  The time was varied by visitors, by games, by walks, in which they gained a knowledge of the country and country pursuits.  Mr. Esslemont spared from business a day in every week to accompany them in their excursions.  He and the boys walked; and Mrs. Esslemont, and any lady friend who might happen to be with her, drove in the little, plain pony-carriage, which had been let along with the house.

    The weather was lovely, quite un-English weather; cloudless skies, and not a drop of rain for weeks.  It told on the verdure, however.  The farmer who was their next neighbour, and with whom they made friends, in seeking to purchase the delicious farm products of fresh-churned butter, new-laid eggs, &c., felt it severely.

    "I have three fields this side the river," he said one day to Mrs. Esslemont, "but there's only one good for anything.  I sow the same seed in all, but it won't come up the same.  You would hardly believe that this slope was treated exactly like that field at the bottom.  The slope's that stony and thin in the soil, this six weeks' drought has burnt it as bare as the back o' my hand.  The other side is good soil enough, but I can make nothing of it for weeds.  I may rout them out again and again before they have time to seed, but it's all to no purpose.  The thistle-downs come over in clouds from that bit of waste yonder — another man's land — and next year we're as bad as ever."

    "And I have three sons," said Mrs. Esslemont to herself, as she walked thoughtfully away.  "They get the same education and the same training; they read the same books; they go to the same school; they receive the same counsels and love; and yet they will none of them yield the same return.

    She looked up at the slope basking in the sunshine, bare and white and cracked, with here and there a little streak of vegetation to show what might have been; and then down into the hollow on the fresh vivid green of a fine turnip crop.  Then she shaded her face from the bright sun that was shining alike on both, and stood still, trembling with awe before the terrible problem.

    "Nature made me thus!" — "Circumstances placed me thus!" — "God dealt with me thus!" the fields seemed to cry.  The spirit of the Christian mother took refuge in prayer; but she could not cease to think of the parable which had been presented to her; and it returned to her mind still more vividly in the course of the conversation which took place that very evening.

    "To-morrow will be my last holiday with you," said Mr. Esslemont.  "We shall be going into town early next week."

    "And I shall be going to the office," said Charles, in a complacent tone.

    "And we are going back to school.  Hooray!" cried Arthur.  But I am bound to state that he was thinking more of the cricket-ground than of the school-room.

    "It will be my turn next to leave school," said Frank, in a deliberative way.  "I hope I am not going into the office."

    "Why do you hope so?" asked his father, gently.  His mother's heart beat strangely.  He was going to make one important choice in life, either for good or evil.

    "Oh, it's so slow," he answered.  "I would like to be a barrister, or a clergyman, or something of that sort.  Most of our fellows are going into the professions; and I don't care for business."

    "In a year from this time you shall make your choice, Frank," said his father.  "I have always determined to give each of you a choice in the matter of a future calling; only if one or other of you choose one of the learned professions, he will have to undergo considerable self-denial.  I am not a rich man; I cannot afford to withdraw large sums from my business.  It requires all my savings to increase my capital as my business increases.  I could not send you up to college, Frank, with the income of a gentleman of fortune.  You would have to work hard and live sparingly, as I had once to do; and you will probably be all your life a poor and hard-worked man."

    Frank looked rather crestfallen at this.

    "But," he interrupted, "men make great fortunes at the bar, and rise to be judges, lord chancellors, and all that; and a poor clergyman may be a bishop some day."

    "I did not say that you would probably be a poor man to frighten you, Frank.  You may be considerably poor, and very happy.  But there are not many judges, nor yet many bishops, and only one lord chancellor, and without money, influence, or connections, you would hardly have a chance of rising."

    "Then it's a great shame.  If a fellow is clever he ought to rise."

    "But the men who rise are clever and have these things besides.  And, Frank, the highest and best of them have chosen their work for the work's sake, and not for the reward.  The reward they may and do accept, work for, rejoice in, but still it is second to the work itself, and to the love of it."

    "Well, papa, you can't keep ledgers," said clever Frank, "for the love of ledgers."

    "And why not?" asked his father.  "I think I could show you that ledgers help to keep up the order of civilised life, and that they are records of benefits given and received — records to be kept pure from every blot of falsehood and dishonesty.  Let me tell you a dream — a daydream — I have indulged in concerning the future of you three boys.  All of you have gone into the office one after the other, have learnt the business, and entered into partnership.  Your father has retired, or is but a sleeper.  You have had a far fairer start than he had — you begin, indeed, where he left off; and there are three of you.  You can work into each other's hands, and need leave nothing of first importance to strangers.  By your united exertions you are wealthy while still in youth.  You are men of ample leisure, for you can relieve one another; only one at a time need absolutely be at the helm.  You occupy your leisure in study, in travel, and in public business, and add the influence of knowledge and experience to that of wealth.  And by your wealth, by your influence, by the time at your command, you serve God in your day and generation, and bring forth a hundredfold fruit to His glory.  That is my picture of the brothers Esslemont."

    Tears stood in Mrs. Esslemont's eyes, as she looked on the lads listening to the words of their father.  Charles was looking over his shoulder with smiles of acquiescence.  Frank turned away without speaking, and showed little emotion of any kind.  Arthur looked up in his father's face with one of his eager looks, and cried, "I am going into the office, papa.  I wish I was as old as Charlie."

    Years passed on, and Mr. Esslemont's daydream seemed in a fair way of being realised.  The brothers had one after the other entered their father's business.  Frank had laid aside his ambition to belong to one of the learned professions, and, strangely enough, was far more devoted to business than either Charles or Arthur.  The latter, it is true, was younger by two years, and there was nothing worse to be said against him than that he loved a holiday, with plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and brisk exercise.

    Charles was now twenty-one, and by all his acquaintances, and even by his father's friends, considered quite an exemplary young fellow; and yet there was a something his father missed, even in worldly matters.  He had the unhappy quality, too, which brings people into money difficulties so often, and which is neither extravagance nor vice, but an uncontrolled surface generosity.  Whatever Charlie's allowance might be, it was always exhausted before the end of the quarter, and he was borrowing of Frank or Arthur, generally of the former, who had always most to spend just when he expected more.  As for Arthur, he was either saving enthusiastically for some great object, or spending upon it more enthusiastically still.

    It was at this time that Mr. Esslemont began to feel his health failing, and consulted a physician.  The physician ordered rest and change, and, if possible, a winter abroad.

    Was the latter possible?  Mr. Esslemont and his wife consulted together.  They were now comparatively rich, and Charles was to become a partner in the business immediately.

    "You must go, my love," said Mrs. Esslemont, "and I shall go with you.  Sarah will take care of the house and the boys' comfort, and Mr. Cole will take care of the office."

    Mr. Cole was an old and confidential clerk of Mr. Esslemont's, and might be trusted to any extent.

    "And then there is Charlie," Mrs. Esslemont, continued, with pride.

    Charlie had not lost the charm of sweetness yet; and he was most sweet to his mother.  He made her tender little speeches, and was always ready to escort her or stay by her.  She never noticed, though others did, that he never denied himself anything in order to please her, and that his service was wonderfully cheap.

    Arthur would save a whole quarter through in order to bring her, for a Christmas gift, something utterly unexpected and valuable — no matter that his gifts were generally useless and even troublesome.  Mrs. Esslemont had a whole drawerful of them, unwearable articles, which she could only keep for his sake.

    "I wish the boys had been a little older before this happened," said Mr. Esslemont, with a sigh.

    "Charlie will look after them," was the mother's answer, thinking of the younger two.  Her firstborn was already a man in her eyes — a man on whom she could lean, and in whom she could trust.

    "I can trust Frank better than I can Charles," said Mr. Esslernont.  He spoke with hesitation, and a look in his face which deprecated the pain his words would give.

    "You have a strange distrust of Charles," said Mrs. Esslemont, sorely hurt.

    "A year ago you remember what hopes we had of him, and how we rejoiced over him with the joy of his birthtime," rejoined Mr. Esslemont.

    "Ah, yes," replied Mrs. Esslemont, tears standing in her eyes.  "It was a happy time.  We thought our boy had truly chosen the better part."

    "And yet our hopes faded, we could not tell how.  His goodness was as the morning cloud or the early dew," said the father, sadly.

    "So it has seemed to us," said the pleading mother.  "But sometimes, though the rosy cloud of morning melts into a dull grey dawn, there comes afterwards a pure and perfect day.  The first flush of heavenly love may seem to die out; but it has taken hold of our boy's heart, and will show itself some day.  Oh, my husband, let us trust in this!"

    "I wish I could," was all he answered, despondingly.

    "You are ill; you are depressed," she said, soothingly.  "You and I will go away together and have a long holiday.  Could we not have the boys with us, one at the time?" she added, brightening.

    "That could easily be managed" he answered.

    "And there will be such letters to write!" she exclaimed, with something of youthful eagerness in her voice and in her sweet eyes.

    "We might take Arthur with us," said Mr. Esslemont.  "He is of least use in the office, of course."

    And so it was settled that they should go to Nice, taking Arthur with them, who was to be sent home in a month.  Frank was to take the next turn, and last of all Charles, who would accompany his parents back to England.

    Alas for the plans of earthly happiness!  Mr. and Mrs. Esslemont went to Nice, and Arthur went with them.  But the first month of their stay was destined to be the last, and he for whose sake they had gone out was never to return.  He was left behind in the resting-place where so many like him are laid who come thither year after year, seeking life and finding death instead.

    "I shall have my holiday in heaven, Agnes," he had said to his wife, when the end became so suddenly sure and close at hand.

    "Oh, my love, my love! and if you had not worked so hard we might have had you here with us so much longer," she had answered, in the blindness of her anguish.

    "I have enjoyed my work, and shall have my holiday in heaven," he repeated.  Then an anguish equal to her own had possessed him.  The solemn calm which had followed the Master's summons had passed away, and he cried, "Help me, my darling! help me to bear the parting!"

    And she did help him.  No moan of her coming desolation passed her lips as she watched by his pillow; only words of hope and faith, and future meeting in the house of many mansions.

    Her house had not been left unto her desolate.  She had her three bright, beautiful sons, in all the promise of their youth, about her.  Arthur, the youngest of all, the "baby" of a few years back, had almost taken his father's place in that sad home journey.  Tears had come into strange eyes to see the tender devotion of the boy to the widowed mother; and Frank and Charles had hastened to meet her at Dover, and to surround her with their love.

    And thus at the time when it was heaviest her burden was lightened, and she bore it on without fainting under it.  And soon she could smile upon the lads, who forgot, as youth will forget, the dead.  They had need, she thought, of the joy of their youth, and so she smiled on them.  But through the all-day silent home there went, as she went, a sound of sighing.

    She gave herself more than ever to labouring for others — not in fixed and formal ways; these too were good, but she had her own way.  It was never to lose sight of any one who had come in contact with her life.  Girls who had served her for a year or two and got married would bring their babies and other troubles to her, and get her advice and help.  In their sickness and sorrow she would go a journey any day to help and comfort them.  It was astonishing how much of this work had accumulated on her hands in the course of twenty years — how many little garments she had made with her own hands for poor, toiling, sickly mothers, who expected another little one to enter into their life — with how many cordials, bodily and spiritual, she had strengthened some who had departed from it.  Her time, and her strength, and her love, and her life, went with the simplest gifts, and made them good.

    Nor were there wanting other duties to those in her own circle.  There were friends and acquaintances in whose joy and sorrow she shared.  And, above all, there were her boys' friends; often young strangers, alone in the great city — youths whose mothers blessed her as they read of her warm and constant welcome to the very bosom of a Christian home, where the glow of true kindness attracted them from the glare of false pleasure which fell upon their path on every side.

    Charles was great at making friends.  His school friendships had been legion, which is not saying much for their lastingness.  He was too ready to make acquaintance, too rash in rushing into confidence.  His father had noticed this, and also how prone he was to let his mind be coloured by the tone of his companions'.

    At the time of hope, to which Mr. Esslemont had alluded so sadly on the eve of his departure from home, Charles's friend had been a youth of sincere piety, who, just before Mr. Esslemont's illness, had gone out to India, and been replaced by one whom Mr. Esslemont had every reason to distrust and dislike.  Mrs. Esslemont had hoped that, in deference to his father's wishes, Charles would have given up George Sinclair.  The wishes of a good and tender father often have greater weight when he is gone and can no longer enforce them; but it was not so with Charles Esslemont.  During his father's absence he and George Sinclair were inseparable, and the influence of the latter became supreme.  When Mrs. Esslemont returned she found that Frank had spent almost every evening alone, and that he often did not so much as know the hour of his brother's return.

    Deeply grieved, and yet unable to condemn her favourite son, the mother pleaded for him.

    Thus — Mr. Sinclair has shown affection for him, and he cannot bear to return it with unkindness.   She was so sympathetic, she threw herself so entirely into her boy's position, that this seemed almost excuse enough.  So evening after evening she invited the young man, whom she did not like, and whom she would have liked still less if she had had a young daughter by her side.

    Mrs. Esslemont's society had no charm for George Sinclair, and he soon ceased coming, preferring to wait at the corner of the square till Charles joined him and then both would hasten away into scenes where the face of Charles Esslemont's gentle mother would have been as that of an avenging angel, showing to the men and women there the height from which they had fallen.

    Things went on thus for a time.  At first his mother's tearful pleadings had disturbed Charles Esslemont much, so much that he almost dreaded to repeat the offence.  But each time that it was repeated, under the influence of George Sinclair's laughter and sneers, they disturbed him less and less.  He no longer went about all day with an uneasy sense that something was wrong with him; but he was glad nevertheless when his mother's remonstrances ceased.  She too saw, with anguish unutterable, that each repetition lessened their effect.  Henceforth she wept and prayed in secret for her firstborn son.

    Alas, her heart was to be yet more sorely tried!  Frank had now reached his majority, and each brother on coming of age became a partner in the business to the extent of one-third, Mrs. Esslemont's income and the working salaries of the brothers being deducted first.  For some time Frank had been anything but cordial with Charles.  He disapproved strongly of his brother's new companion and his set.  He knew that they were extravagant, reckless young men, frequenters of theatres and music saloons; he knew also that they bet and gambled, smoked, and drank to excess.

    No sooner, therefore, was he duly admitted as a partner than he made a vigorous onslaught on his brother's management and his brother's private expenditure.  The stormy discussion, repressed in the office, broke out again at home, and in the mother's presence.  Frank appealed to her directly.

    "Mother, do you think it is right for Charles to take money out of the business when he pleases?"

    "What is the use of your troubling her about a matter she can't understand?" said Charles, in a lofty tone.  "I can surely do what I like with my own."

    "You must be sure it is your own first," retorted Frank.

    "My own!" cried Charles, hotly.  "Of course it's my own.  One-third of the whole concern is mine, and I could withdraw from it tomorrow."

    "You have no right to touch the capital," said Frank.

    "I haven't touched the capital, you fool," cried Charles, with flashing eyes.  "There are the profits first."

    "How do we know that there will be any profits at the year's end?  The losses are heavier than they have ever been before," resumed Frank, with quiet determination.  "I don't approve of several recent transactions."

    "Oh, you don't!" sneered Charles.

    "If it wasn't for old Cole, this last year or two the business would have been ruined," returned Frank.

    "I'll show you that I can do without old Cole!" shouted Charles, in passion.  "He's always siding with you.  I'll give him warning to quit to-morrow."

    "You shall not," said Frank.

    "My children! my children!" cried Mrs. Esslemont, covering her face with her hands.  She had looked on, trembling, while her two sons confronted each other with flashing eyes, and ringing tones, and looks of wrath and scorn.

    "My children! my children!"

    At the wailing voice Frank calmed himself and went over to her side, where Arthur was already standing.  Charles was left alone opposite to the three, and gave no sign of compunction.

    Frank's voice became at once calmly explanatory, as he told his mother the cause of the dispute.  Charles had drawn his whole year's salary in little more than half a year, and certain round sums were already standing debited against him in the books.  Moreover, Frank complained of days of absence, when Charles left the office with George Sinclair, and they never saw his face during working hours; and of other days when, as Frank expressed it, "he might just as well have stayed away, for all the work he did — sitting yawning his head off"

    "I'm not going to stop to hear myself abused at this rate," said Charles, turning on his heel.

    "Stay, Charles; stay and hear me," cried Mrs. Esslemont, rising and stretching out her hands.

    But Charles, deaf to the entreaty, was already gone.

    What an evening that was in the once happy home of the Esslemonts!  The silence was worse than tears and lamentations.  It was like the evening that comes upon a day when death has been in the house.  Accustomed tasks are laid aside, for nothing seems worth doing in the face of that "dire discouragement, that end of all things."  There was the narrowed circle, the vacant chair, the hesitation in speaking the accustomed name.

    Meantime, Charles had met his evil companion at the corner of the square.  "What a time you have kept me waiting!  Couldn't you cut the old lady's apron-strings sooner?" was George Sinclair's greeting.

    Charles was offended at its freedom.  Just then he was feeling that his evening's pleasure had been spoilt for him.  "You forget that I am my own master, Sinclair, and that I never speak of my mother in that way," he said, testily.

    George Sinclair let it pass; but he craftily insinuated that it was a pity to vex her — that what was only the natural liberty of the young seemed licence to the old, and that therefore it was better that they should live apart.  There was nothing like living in lodgings; you could have your own way then without hurting any one.  He depicted his own free and easy life in such glowing colours, that it seemed to Charles the height of human felicity to have no one to care for him.  Nothing, he knew, would satisfy his mother, except the giving up of his present mode of life; and he began to look upon himself as a persecuted individual, because she would sit up for him and reproach him, not in words, indeed, but by altered looks, by sighs, and signs of tears, and a pale and jaded face at the breakfast table, instead of her old sweet freshness.

    The end of it was that Charles betook himself to lodgings; he took rooms in the house with his friend, Mr. Sinclair.  It was not done without pain on his part, in the midst of the pain which he inflicted.  For lack of one good reason, he of course gave many, none of which his mother would accept.  But her reasoning, as well as her pleading, was vain, and at length she desisted — desisted, feeling that her favourite son had inflicted on her heart an incurable wound.  The wound was so sore, because she had expected it so little.  She had thought him so yielding and so soft, and she had struck upon a very rock.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER II.


TEN years have passed away.  Mrs. Esslemont has dined with her sons, Frank and Arthur.  She lives alone in the old house with Arthur; Frank is only a guest to-day.  He is a frequent and a welcome one, and he generally comes accompanied by his wife.  But on this occasion he is alone.

    Dinner is over, and all three rise.  Frank asks leave to conduct his mother to the drawing-room.

    "May I not be present?" she asked, with a strange tremor in her voice.

    "Better not, mother," said Frank, firmly.

    "Better not," echoed Arthur.

    Frank gave her his arm, and led her away.  Arthur following, for she seems ready to faint.

    At past fifty Mrs. Esslemont is still fair and graceful, but she is very feeble, feebler than her age warrants.  Her hair is grey under her pretty lace cap, and her cheek is thin and colourless.

    The wound that we know of has bled, and bled, and bled.  It is bleeding afresh to-night.  This is why she is so wan and faint.

    Frank sets her tenderly in her chair, and stands by her in silence.  All three are silent, burdened evidently with grave and anxious thought.  Frank is the first to break the silence.  He looked at his watch, and said, "He will be here immediately?"

    Mrs. Esslemont gave a little gasp.  "For my sake, deal kindly with him," she said in a whisper.

    "You know we have been driven to this," said Frank.  "You yourself, mother, acknowledge the necessity."  She bent her head, and a moan of acquiescence escaped her.

    Frank hurried down-stairs.

    Arthur lingered.  "Don't fret, little mother," he whispered.

    "I will try, darling," she answered.  "And do not let him go without coming up to see me," she added.

    "I will bring him to you," said Arthur, and followed his brother.  They left her there alone, and went down to a small room at the back of the dining-room, called by courtesy the library.  It certainly contained a few books; but it was more remarkable for its air of business than for any pretension to literature.  The meeting to take place there was certainly a business one.

    "Unpunctual as usual," said Frank, standing on the hearth-rug.

    Arthur made no reply.  He was seated at the green leather-covered table, his head buried in his hands, his hands buried in thick locks of chestnut hair.

    Surely in these two sons of hers Mrs. Esslemont is happy.  They look so strong, so handsome, so good, in their grave, youthful manhood.  Frank's face is a very fine one; full of energy, and determination, and keen intelligence.  It is a little too eager and anxious in expression perhaps, though that look is not habitual, and melts into genial kindness, and even tenderness, at home.

    But it is growing upon him, just as there is growing on Arthur's a look of repose and peace.

    A knock at the hall door, which Mrs. Esslemont hears, and half rises as if to answer, and then sinks down fainter and feebler than before.  "There he is at last," says Frank; and Arthur raises his face out of his hands, with that look upon his face which tells plainly that the business, whatever it may be, has begun with him in prayer.  He is the first to greet his brother with an offered hand, a greeting which Frank follows somewhat reluctantly.

    But Charles how he has changed!  The clear blue eyes are muddy and furtive, the fair complexion blotched and smirched.  He has altered out of all knowledge.  No one could recognise in the bloated, sensual man the slender, delicate, refined-looking youth.

    His hand trembles, too, as he takes a chair, and draws towards him a bundle of papers.

    The business of the meeting begins, and that business is the compulsory withdrawal of Charles Esslemont from the firm of Esslemont Brothers.  Ten years ago his serious embarrassments had begun.  Frank had then set himself against his taking money out of the business, borrowing Charles called it, and he had accordingly borrowed elsewhere.  He had borrowed from unscrupulous money-lenders, until he could borrow no more.  Lately his dishonoured bills had been coming into the hands of his brothers, and his disreputable creditors had been clamouring in the office.  It had come to a crisis at last.  He must be compelled to resign.

    It was not without a struggle that he had acquiesced in this necessity; but if the firm had paid his debts it would equally have encroached on their capital, and they had no security that there were not other debts behind.

    The meeting lasted hours, hours of agony to the poor mother up-stairs, who knew the seeds of bitterness which must be sown in them.  At last, however, it came to an end.  The deed of separation was signed, and Charles Esslemont had agreed to receive his share of his father's business in instalments of money, to be paid throughout the next two years.

    "We are still brothers, Charles, though we are partners no longer," said Arthur, again holding out his hand.

    Charles rose to go, saying, "Good-bye," as he grasped the cordial hand.

    "Come up-stairs first, and see mother," said Arthur.  "She expects you."

    "Stay and have some supper," said Frank.

    "No, thank you.  I would rather not.  I'll come in and see mother some time soon.  I'd rather not see her to-night.  I couldn't stand a scene."

    "I promised to bring you up-stairs," said Arthur, trying to detain him.  "Don't disappoint her."

    But Charles would not be detained.  He turned, and nodded to Frank a careless goodbye,  shook off Arthur's friendly grasp from his shoulder, and walked out of the house.

    Not a sound had escaped the ear of Mrs. Esslemont.  The opening doors, the voices, and not angry ones, had roused her to eager expectancy.  She trembled all over, her eyes fixed on the door.  Then came the sound of departure, and she knew her disappointment.  Once more the desire of her eyes had failed, and a sharp spasm of pain attacked her.  Arthur sprang upstairs to find her, and comfort her.  Her hand was on her left side.  Her breath came and went, and failed suddenly.

    "It has killed her," cried Arthur in anguish, as his brother entered the room.

    "He has killed her," said Frank, as he bent over her for a moment, and then rushed away for the nearest doctor.  But the doctor could do nothing.  She had died of a longstanding disease of the heart.

    Charles came, as invited, to his mother's funeral, but he turned away from her very grave unreconciled to his brothers.

    "If Frank had not driven me to borrow from these people I would never have got into such a mess," he said to himself.  And so he went on his way apart.

    But things had not been going smoothly for some time back with the house of Esslemont Brothers.  Many who had dealt with it in the father's time had retired from dealing with it.  Frank might have won back their confidence, for he was a much abler man of business than Charles, but Charles had had the start.  He had not only alienated the old friends of the firm, but he had involved it in new transactions with new men.  The new men had gone on for a time, and their trade had been more lucrative; but some of them had failed already, and more were failing.  Esslemont Brothers were doing a far more risky business; and to retrieve the losses that had come upon them, Frank, with whom the real management now rested, entered upon a career more doubtful still.

    He had married about two years after his father's death a very beautiful girl of eighteen, the daughter of another city merchant, who had known his father well.  The marriage had the approbation of every one connected with both parties, and promised equal happiness to both.

    As time went on the promise seemed amply redeemed.  Mrs. Frank Esslemont was still more beautiful as a young matron than she had been as a girl.  She had a perfect temper, reflected in her clear eyes and unruffled brow.  She never fretted her husband, nor seemed fretted by him.  Some wives would have grudged his devotion to business, and would have insisted upon his sharing their pleasures.  But Mrs. Esslemont, though always pleased to have her handsome husband by her side, went on her way complacently, enjoying herself without him, took her drives, and paid her visits, and went to the seaside, leaving him to a yearly season of bachelorhood, with a docility which was a great comfort to the busy merchant.

    When he was too tired to accompany her to an evening party, she would even be kind enough to go alone without looking in the least sulky or out of sorts.  She would, on the contrary, delight his eyes by coming down to him in her shining silks and sparkling jewels, and handing him his tea before she went out, and kissing him as she had kissed the children, for good-bye.

    And they had beautiful children, four of them, who had been the delight of their grandmamma, and had delighted in her, for she never wearied of them and sent them up-stairs as their mamma did, to tire themselves standing on chairs in the nursery windows; but showed them pictures, and told them stories, and answered all their questions, and "loved them so much."  They used the word love for her long, silent caresses, so different from their mamma's brief kisses.  Grandmamma, as well as the little ones, found something missing in those short kisses.

    Frank Esslemont's household was an expensive one, with its full nursery, and its staff of servants, and its gay young mistress; and he found all his income necessary to meet its expenses.  And while Mrs. Esslemont seemed to tread on air and live on nectar, so light and stately she was in walk and dance, so radiant in bloom and beauty, her husband's face was growing greyer and greyer, the lines of care deepening about his lips and eyes.  His tread was becoming heavy, and yet eager; and the dry, brown hair on his handsome head thinner and thinner.

    Frank Esslemont was not a man to play fast and loose with money.  He was not a man to get into debt lightly; thinking this is a bad year, but the next will make up for it.  He had been living up to his income, and found no help for that, but he was not going to live above it.  The paying up of Charles's share of the business would greatly reduce the income to be derived from it for a year or two, permanently, indeed, if he, Frank, did not make it up again.  And he determined to make it up.

    He lost no time in speaking to his wife on the subject of retrenchment, and she lent him a patient enough hearing, but on each detail remained immovable as marble.  Not a single servant could be dispensed with.  Her brougham at the livery-stable, how could she do without that?  Her more fortunate sisters had obtained West End establishments.  Was she never to see them more?  Her visit to the seaside, that, of course, was indispensable for her health and the health of the children.  No; she indulged in no extravagance.  She had been thinking of a pair of more fashionable earrings and brooch to match, for a christening party, that she would give up; and she might make her French white silk into an under-skirt, and so do with only half a new dress for the occasion.

    Frank tried to find excuses for her.  He had not sufficiently impressed her with his necessity, and she had never known what it was to go with a, wish ungratified.  And then her sisters were so rich, and so gay, and she did not like to appear less rich and less gay.  All this he said to himself; nevertheless, his wife had planted the first thorn in his pillow.

    Another and sharper thorn was the disinclination she showed to receive Arthur into her House — Arthur, who would soon be homeless, for the old house in the square was to be given up now that Mrs. Esslemont was dead.  Sarah and another old servant were pensioned off, Frank and Arthur paying the pensions between them; and the furniture was to be sold, and the proceeds divided, Charles coming in for his share.

    Under these circumstances, Arthur would have been glad of a home with his sister-in-law, and Frank was about to offer it, when his thorn pricked, and he thought he had better consult his wife.  He had little doubt of the result, for Arthur was a great favourite with Mrs. Frank; and she would have taken him with her into a round of gaieties if she could.

    But he was mistaken.  The house was so full.  The children and the servants required so much room.  They were absolutely overcrowded.  As far as the servants, and even the children were concerned, it was true.  They were overcrowded.  Two women slept in a little, airless, tireless room, about ten feet square.  Nurse and the baby had a good room to themselves; but the other three children and the under-nurse had but one, and that a small one, among them.  These eight slept on one floor, while, beneath, the whole space was devoted to Mrs. Esslemont's bedroom and dressing-room.

    There were other two floors, with the handsome public rooms, and each floor had a small room to the back, one fitted as a sort of boudoir, the other as a writing-room.  Could either of those be given to Arthur?  He would pay handsomely for his board, and that would in the present state of affairs be a consideration.

    Mrs. Frank hoped she was not going to be turned into a lodging-house keeper on the spot.

    Frank Esslemont said no more, but another thorn had been planted, nay, a whole nest of them, in his very heart.

    Those lines of care deepened yet more on Frank's handsome face.  A great lust of riches entered into his soul, all the greater that riches seemed to have taken themselves wings from the house of Esslemont Brothers.  But Frank was determined that they should be brought back at any cost, that is, at any cost on his part.  He often looked at his wife now with a curious sensation, as if she was a stranger to him, and the distance between them was growing instead of lessening.

    Perhaps it was, for their lives were drifting more and more apart.  While she sat down to her well-cooked, well-served dinner, he ate his chop or steak now in a second-class eating-house, and went back to his books again, often returning alone, after Arthur and the clerks were  gone.  "She prefers my money to me," he said to himself in the bitterness of his spirit, and she shall have it — it, and not me.  And then, for he loved her, he would lean his head upon his hand, and dream of a time when even she should say "It is enough — love me, my husband, give me love!" and he, withholding it for a time, should at last be drawn to her, heart to heart.

    For the present their separation was made complete by Frank's gradually absenting himself from the one place to which he had ever accompanied his wife without fail — the church.  At this she at first opened her deep-set, violet eyes in a little astonishment; but she put on her new bonnet over her elaborately-dressed hair, and went without him.  He said he was too tired to go, had too much to think of just at present, and "you can go to heaven quite comfortably by yourself," he added bitterly under breath.

    Arthur went into lodgings.  Frank helped him to seek them out, with strong feelings of regret and compunction, as he thought of the temptations of a solitary life, and how one brother had already fallen a victim to pleasure.  Even though Arthur was no longer a youth, who could say that he was safe to stand thus alone?  We all of us unwittingly judge of others by ourselves.  Frank could understand the temptations of the position, but he had no conception of a character which, instead of finding in solitude a necessity to escape into the crowd of pleasure-seekers, would only find in it a stimulus to devotion, an incentive to holiness.

    And this was what Arthur found in it.  In realising to himself the new and strange loneliness, he realised at the same time the presence of God, the fellowship of Christ Jesus.  That which souls like his have sought in all ages in hermits' cells, in deserts, and on mountain tops, he had found on a sudden in his commonplace comfortable rooms.  In after life, when duties pressed thick upon him, he would often look back upon the first year which he spent in their complete seclusion, as a time of retreat, of utter enjoyment and repose.

    Arthur found himself in the house of a young couple who had been highly recommended on account of their piety and discretion.  The husband was in the employment of a great religious society, and his wife let out the apartments of the large old-fashioned house, which they had taken for the purpose, in order that she might add to his slender salary.  They had been married some half-dozen years, and had three children.

    There were, each party being pleased with the other, gradual advances to intimacy, both on Arthur's side and on the side of the young couple under whose roof he had found so peaceful a seclusion.  Out of the fullness of their own domestic happiness they even pitied the stranger, who had neither home, nor mother, nor sister, nor wife.  Then they asked him if instead of eating a solitary meal, he would care to breakfast and sup with them, and join in their morning and evening devotions.  This last he had sometimes longed to do, and he accepted the offer with thanks.

    The pair were so simple and sincere, and the little ones — Arthur had a special fondness for children — were so pretty and winning, that the lodger became more and more one of the family.

    But at length an addition to it was expected; not in the shape of another baby, that had already come, and had been got over without any particular embarrassment.  A young lady from Scotland was the expected inmate, and she was to remain with them for a few weeks, waiting to go to her future husband under the escort of a mission party about to be sent out to one of the stations in India.  The wife of the missionary had been born and brought up in the same northern village, and had undertaken to escort her out.  Her betrothed was a surgeon in the army, and he had left her on the understanding that she would come to him as soon as the death of an invalid father set her free to join him.

    So Grace Stuart came among them, with all the modest self-reliance characteristic of a home-bred Scotch lassie, who fears no evil because she thinks none.  What a freshness, as of the mountain and the loch, she brought with her into the close London rooms!  The young mistress of the house was pale and languid beside her.  It was something to see her toss the baby, whom mother and maid lugged about with sighs of weariness, and set down with sighs of relief.  She would stand as long as his lordship pleased, bending backwards her noble figure, light and strong, but not lithe, and holding him at arm's length, jumping and crowing.  It was a pleasure to see her carry a heavy tray, bringing out her beautiful noble strength — that quality made so little account of in her sex, and yet so needful for the bearing of the woman's burdens.

    Everything in the house seemed to go smoother from the time of her advent.  "I don't know how it is, but I feel ever so much stronger since she came," said Mrs. Brown; "the very sight of her does me good."  The children too looked better.  They saw a good deal more of the parks than ever they had done before, and slept the sounder and the sweeter for it.

    Nor was Grace idle on her own account.  She was busy learning.  Her education had been somewhat neglected, a very uncommon thing in Scotland; but the girl had been so well, and strong, and helpful, that her services had been in too much demand at home, owing to the accident which had made her father an invalid in his prime.  She did not belong to the peasant class, but to the class immediately above it, in which there is far more of the struggle of life — the upward struggle — not so much for a mere rise in the world, as it is called, but for nobler things — knowledge and use and scope of being.

    Her youngest uncle on the mother's side — he was not older than an elder brother might be — was about to begin his career as a doctor, having been a successful student of medicine, when he was cut off by an infectious fever, caught in ministering to the poor in the crowded wynds of Glasgow.  It was through this uncle that Grace had become acquainted with her betrothed.  Andrew Middleton belonged to a higher class than Grace; but being poor and his own master, nothing hindered him from making love to the noble-looking country girl, and to bind her to him in his absence.

    But had Andrew Middleton belonged to a far higher class, and had his character been still higher, he had chosen a bride who was worthy of it all.  The form of her mind was both strong and simple — a rare combination.  She went straight to all her ends, and these were ever open and clearly defined.  There was nothing little about her, and she acted and spoke with a freedom in which her pure and sunny nature seemed to revel.  For instance, she was not ashamed to be seen with a child's copy-book on the table before her, writing page after page in order to improve her too childish hand, and bring it up to the standard she had in her mind — the smoothly-written letters of her lover, of which one could catch a glimpse now and then, as far as penmanship was concerned; for of their contents Grace, with the noble reticence, so clearly defined from concealment, which she could practice, never spoke at all.  After the arrival of one she would go about the house with a warmer smile on her perfect lips — she had the sweetest mouth — and caress and fondle the baby by the hour; that was all.

    And she was spelling her way right through an old dictionary, and doing the meanings at the same time; and nothing hindered her accepting the help of Mr. Arthur in the task.  There was no coquetting in the clear grey eyes, raised in the abstraction of study; in the pucker of the white forehead over some particularly hard word.  There was no simpering and blushing; the hue on her soft cheek was deep and steady.  She was in earnest in her task, and made rapid progress in her simple studies, for she was resolved not to shame by her ignorance the gentle breeding of her future husband.

    With its preoccupation and its shield of love and truth, Grace's heart was safe enough.  Not so Arthur Esslemont's.  He had reached the prime of manhood without having loved.  He knew little of` women, being without a sister, and he was in love with Grace before he was aware.

    Then he did what such a man was sure to do, he suffered and gave no sign.  He went on meeting her, helping her, teaching her, preparing her, as it were, for another.  It was sweet, too, if it was bitter, and he shut his eyes to the desolation that would follow.  He could not think what life would be if this soul, which had filled his with its sweet truth and purity, should be withdrawn.

    The time drew nearer and nearer, and then there came a respite — a respite which should have opened Arthur's eyes to the danger he had incurred, it was hailed by him with such desperate hidden eagerness.  He had been prepared, not to bid her good-bye — he was unequal to that — but to tear himself from her, and to write a little farewell note accompanying a parting gift.  And now he had bought the books and written her name in each of them, her name and the date, and tied them up in a parcel, which he was going to leave behind him, when, as has been said, a respite came.  The missionary's wife had fallen ill, and the party was unable to proceed.

    It vexed Grace, the delay, it was easy to see that.  She seemed more cast down than any one seemed to think possible.

    The Indian mail was due then, and she expected a letter from her lover.  Duly it came too, and it happened to be delivered at the breakfast table.  Arthur stole a glance at her face as she read it.  Mrs. Brown was too busy to notice, and Mr. Brown had already gone.  His glance became fixed as he saw astonishment, bewilderment, fear, grow into deadly horror.  The deep bloom of health could not fade out of her cheek, but her lips became pale, and her hands shook and fluttered the flimsy sheet.

    Still she said not a word, and Arthur dared not ask if anything was amiss till she rose and left the table.

    "Something is wrong with Miss Stuart," said Arthur, as he, too, prepared to go.

    "What do you think it is?" said Mrs. Brown.  "I did not notice her particularly, and there never is anything wrong with her, you know."

    "She has had bad news, I think."

    "In her letter?"

    "Yes."

    "Shall I go to her?"

    "I should if I were you."

    But Arthur had to take his departure.  He could not go to her at any rate, so he might as well go to business; and yet he might as well have stayed where he was for all that he was able to do when he got there.  Over ledgers and letter books, and foreign letters would look Grace's face, transfixed with horror, and he would find himself speculating as to the cause of her distress, instead of calculating percentages and discounts.

    After a time Mrs. Brown did go up to Grace, and on knocking once or twice gained admission.  She was shocked and grieved to find the girl so utterly sorrow-stricken.  And Grace at once revealed the cause of her grief "Read that," she said, thrusting a letter into Mrs. Brown's hands.  It was from her betrothed, putting an end to their engagement, and offering to compensate her for the loss of her time and money.  By the date the letter reached her — and he had taken care it should reach her in time to prevent her sailing — he would be the husband of a lady, the sister of a brother officer, to whom he had become attached almost before he knew what he was about.  Absence and other causes had weakened his affection for her, he said, and he knew he had been to blame; but perhaps she would some day thank him for the release.

    And she had written already:—

    "I thank you now; and as for compensation, I will leave that to the lady you have chosen.  She has need of all to make for what you cannot give her — an honest and true heart.

    "From Grace Stuart to Andrew Middleton."

    It was a withering reply.  Poor Mrs. Brown was aghast.  She thought a great deal more was necessary to such a conclusion, and she begged Grace to wait, and let her husband see both letter and reply.

    Grace knew her own mind quite well.  She knew it was all over between them for ever.  Never another word of hers should bridge the gulf between them.  But she answered, "Yes; let Mr. Brown see them, and Mr. Esslemont too.  I have nothing to hide from them, and I scorn to shield such a one as he."  Then she rose up and went about the house as usual, shutting up her pain in her heart, pressing it into her very soul.  But she was restless; oh, so restless.  She tried to eat, and the food seemed to choke her.  She took the boy in her arms, and carried him out; bore him away along miles and miles of street, and square, and park, and came back restless as before.  When evening came, she looked like one who has been through fire.  Her bloom withered and parched.  And yet she was so strong to bear it — so strong.

    Arthur Esslemont came home — he called it Home now — as early as he could; and he had not been long in his rooms before Mrs. Brown came to him, crying out about the terrible injury which had been done to Grace.  There in the corner, on the sideboard, lay her books, her copy, and her slate, for Grace was very thorough in her determination to perfect the groundwork of education before she attempted a superstructure.  There was something strangely pathetic in the simple task-books lying there.  Would they be laid aside now for ever?

    They met as usual in the family room.  Mrs. Brown went and came.  Mr. Brown was absent, attending a meeting.  Grace was not occupied with her books to-night.  She was sitting idle, the blanched look on her lips, and a far-off gaze in her eyes.  The fire of indignation was burning low; and her face was tenderer and more dreamy than Arthur had ever seen it.

    Suddenly she roused herself; almost with a start, to greet him.  "Has she told you?"

    "Yes," he answered.  "I know how you have been treated, and can scarce believe it possible."

    "I was thinking just now," she said, "how unbelievable it was, and only for a moment, you know, I could have thought it was all a mistake.  But here is the letter."

    It was in her purse, or rather outside of it, clasped by a bit of black elastic.  It was not there that she had kept his letters in days gone by.  She had kept them, in her simple pious trust, between the leaves of her Bible.  She had taken them out now, and they were tied in a bundle to be burnt.

    She held the letter out to him, and he took it with eager, trembling fingers.  "You have been very kind to me," she said " you, and all here; and it is right that you should know that I have not been false now that all is changed?"

    "I would never have thought you false," said Arthur, impulsively.

    "Ah, you have never been deceived," she answered.  "I think I shall never believe any one to be true again."

    Arthur read the letter, and muttered "villain" between his teeth.  "And yet it is to himself that he is falsest, Grace," he added.

    "Yes; I have thought of that," she said.  "He once was true.  Once he would not have done this for worlds.  How he must have changed!"

    "So much that if he had kept his word, Grace, and allowed you to come to him and be his wife, you would have found no happiness."

    "How can it have been?" she cried.  "What can have changed him?"

    "Life changes all of us, Grace.  We share the growth of all things, the good seed and the thorns.  And now tell me what you are going to do.  You have answered the letter."

    She gave him the answer without a word.

    "He deserves this.  You are right to reject his money;" and he gave her back the letter with approval.

    "I must go home now," she said, "for I must not spend any more.  I must go home and make up my mind what to do."  She was facing the future; and it was so terrible that there came into her eyes a look, a wild look, as if she held a wolf at bay.

    "Don't go away, Grace," said Arthur, rising, and standing before her.  "Stay;" and he stretched out both his hands to her with a look which there was no mistaking; a look which said plainly, "Stay with me always."

    "No! no! no!" she cried, starting up in her turn.

    "Hear me, Grace," he said.  "I have struggled against my love for you, because you belonged to another; now I have a right to ask you to be mine, to ask you to let me make up to you for what you have suffered.  Will you let me, Grace?"

    "I was his yesterday; can I be yours today?" she cried, in the impatience of pain, and with a cheek that flamed with indignation.

    "Forgive me," he stammered, and held out his hand; but she would not see it.  Mrs. Brown came in at the moment; and, with a great sob, Grace fled to her room, where she sank on her knees before her little bed, not to rise again till the great struggle was over, in which she resigned her heart to God.

    Grace had been but a great beautiful flower-bud in the garden of God.  In that night of sorrow she burst into a perfect flower — a pure, tender, passionless, devoted woman.

    And in the room beneath, Arthur Esslemont, sleepless too, sat writing to her, pleading for pardon for the hurt he had inflicted on her by his abruptness, and asking but to be her friend in the future.

    In the morning they did not meet as usual, for Grace preferred to keep her room, and that same day Arthur carried out his intention of going away for a time.  When he returned Grace was gone.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER III.


ANOTHER season of life had passed over the Esslemonts.  The promise of spring had given place to the burden and heat of summer, and now the time of harvest is at hand.  They are men of middle age, with confirmed characters, and settled prospects.  What have they made of the life which began so much alike for all?

    Frank Esslemont is at the head of the firm still; nay, he is the firm himself.  He is also, for anything that can be said to the contrary, the head of his father's family.  Nothing has been heard of Charles for some time.  Mr. Frank Esslemont is very glad that nothing has been heard of his brother, for it had been most unpleasant to refuse him a clerkship in the office; and what else was to be done with one so drunken and disreputable.  He would have been a perpetual disgrace.  There would have been scenes in the office, and before the clerks.  No. Mr. Frank had done the best thing possible, had given the prodigal money, and begged that he would go away, and not trouble the firm any more.

    Mr. Frank had not told Mrs. Frank of this little incident, which, though he had done the best thing possible, still gave him uneasiness at times.  There was not much sympathy between him and Mrs. Frank, though they never clashed.  One does not expect a feather pillow to clash even with sword and armour.  Mrs. Frank was more than ever like a feather pillow, and Mr. Frank Esslemont was not cased in any armour save the padding of prosperity.  So they never clashed.

    Mr. and Mrs. Esslemont lived in town.  Mrs. Esslemont did not like living in the country.  Their house was in a fashionable West End row, and Mrs. Esslemont, who could not have borne the crowing of a cock in the early morning, was quite indifferent to the rattle and roll of carriages up to the small hours.

    She could rival her sisters now, and outdo them in the costliness of her dress and jewels, in the splendour of her home, and in the magnificence of her entertainments — and she did this.  Having done it she was content, being by nature indolent.  She did not care to out-rival anybody else — to conquer new kingdoms.  She was good-tempered as ever, and smooth and obstinate; not with a contentious obstinacy, but with the obstinacy of the pillow, which always comes back to its own shape, however it may be patted, or punched, or sat upon.

    And all had gone smooth with her.  She was still beautiful, unwrinkled, unsprinkled with grey, fresh of flesh, tinted with rose colours.  Her violet eyes were bright as ever, but there seemed to be no soul behind them.  They were like the eyes of the waxen figures in the hairdresser's window, made of glass.  And she was growing more self-indulgent as she grew older, and cared more for comfort even than for display.  Mr. Frank Esslemont was a rich man now, fabulously rich; but still as devoted to business as ever.  The leisure which he once panted for, now, when it might have been his, he did not care to take.  After a terrible struggle, the house of Esslemont had risen from its ashes a Phoenix of prosperity.  Mr. Frank took the credit of its resuscitation, and he deserved it.  It was all his work.  Indeed, just when it was beginning to rise, Arthur Esslemont had been fool enough to retire with what he was pleased to call a moderate competency.

    But even now, with all his riches, Mr. Frank Esslemont had no thought of retiring.  He was not a miser.  No, he was exceedingly liberal in spending, but in getting he was insatiable, and he was content to go on getting gains which were spent in vanity; content, except when something stirred in his heart far down as if stifled, as if pining for light and air and breath of life.  Mr. Esslemont had a son at Cambridge.  He was coming into the business in the course of time, but there was no hurry; and in the meantime he might be cultivating the manners and getting the education of polite society, seeing that he would be a man of fortune.  But that something would stir in the father's heart, not at the young man's extravagance, he could make allowance for that, but at his open scepticism.  He, the father, told his son that such open scepticism was unbecoming, ill-mannered, absurd.  But he could not help a memory of his own father's lessons and his mother's prayers, like a low wind, reaching the smothered things beneath the rank growths of the world in his soul.

    So the money kept pouring in and streaming out of Mr. Frank Esslemont's coffers, and the rattle of it drowned the murmur of that low stir underneath.  And that wealth, how little any benefited by it; how much of it turned to ashes.  His son gambled and rioted, his daughters dressed, his servants wasted in his household; the food of many a starving creature went daily to the dogs.  He gave in charity, but most of that was wasted too — went into the waste paper basket in summonses which were not attended to, and reports which were never read.

    On a certain Wednesday, the great London dinner day, Mr. Frank Esslemont's mansion was blazing with light from garret to basement.  The footman had drawn down the Venetians and closed the curtains on the last of the March daylight, that he might see how the table looked in the blaze of the chandeliers, with its glass and silver and Bowers.  Mrs. Esslemont's maid had just done the same thing, the better to judge of her mistress's toilette, which she had begun.  A similar process had been gone through on the floor above, where two of the young ladies were attiring themselves for the dinner-party.  They were lovely girls, beautiful with the beauty of the flesh — alas! they had little of the beauty of the spirit.  Their young hearts were hard as a beaten track with vanity and worldliness.  Any chance seed of good that may have fallen upon them had been devoured as surely as if they had been the veriest outcasts.  In infancy they had been daily and hourly instructed in their home — the nursery — in idle gossip, and vanity, and evil speaking.  The school had not counteracted but increased the knowledge acquired, and now, as young ladies, they practised these lessons, or respectfully listened to the superior accomplishments of their mother and their mother's friends.

    "Fanny," said the eldest, "our old blue silks will do very well to-night.  There is nobody of the least consequence coming."

    "No; mamma can't ask anybody to meet Uncle Arthur and his wife," said Fanny.

    "It's a pity, for I like Uncle Arthur," returned Fanny's sister, in a patronising tone; "but his wife looks the schoolmistress all over."

    "It's the way she dresses in high black silks," urged Fanny.  "Do you know she might be made a great deal of, she has the most beautiful hair if she would only dress it properly" (Fanny meant bulge it out with sofa stuffing), "and she has such a lovely neck and arms.  I was in her dressing-room one day, and before she dressed she didn't look at all common; only when she rolled up her hair like a very proper nursemaid, and put on her best black silk, she looked common enough."

    "But she hasn't the least style, and mamma overheard her telling about her school and the charity children she used to teach; and when Mr. Bonus asked her how she could give up all her time to it, she told him she was paid to do it, it was her work.  And mamma said he looked so puzzled, and said, 'Oh, indeed,' as if he didn't know what to make of it."

    And while the young ladies were chattering thus, Mr. Frank Esslemont sat in his study ill at ease.  He was not dressed for dinner, and yet he was idle, sitting over the fire in his luxurious arm-chair, with a contraction on his brow, the sign of a still sorer contraction in his heart.

    The Times was lying on the table; but it was no money-market intelligence which affected the prosperous merchant, no loss by land or sea, neither failure, nor misadventure, it was only a sudden glimpse of a poor pale face in a city street, and that face would haunt him and follow him even here.  It was in the fire; it was yonder before the heavy drawn curtain; it would meet him at the dinner-table, perhaps keep him waking in the night.  He rose and went to dress, trying to shut it out, as he had been trying all the day.

    It was the face of Charles Esslemont, but so changed and yet more like to what it had been in youth than was the face of the bloated dιbauchι.  It was worn with suffering, and the eyes had the pleading look of pain.  He was thin and poorly clad, buttoned up from the east wind in an overcoat which there was nothing under.  His shoes were worn like a beggar's.  Was he a beggar?  His eyes, out of which the very colour seemed struck, had met those of his brother, and finding no recognition, had been withdrawn.  Charles had always had a certain meekness and timidity.  A thin hand had been pressed on the hollow, aching chest, and the ghost of Charles Esslemont had vanished in the crowd.

    And this was what haunted the prosperous merchant — a real, veritable ghost.

    He dressed and re-entered his study.  Then, as the dinner-hour drew near, he ascended to the drawing-room.  He had been expecting Arthur earlier than the other guests, but he had not come.

    They arrived, those other guests — an alderman and his wife, a brother merchant and his, a middle-aged rich bachelor, and a young doctor.  Five minutes the master of the house waited — ten minutes — and still no Arthur.  The dinner would be spoilt.  He need not stand on ceremony with his brother, and so he rang, and in due time dinner was announced.  Two vacant places remained at the board, one of which seemed waiting for a ghostly guest with the wan face of Charles Esslemont.  The dinner went on, and that too vanished; at least it seemed so to Frank Esslemont, who ate and drank and spoke as in a dream.  Time vanished; the guests vanished, and Arthur and his wife had not appeared.

    "I will order the brougham round, late as it is," said Mr. Esslemont, "and go and see what has become of Arthur."

    "I wouldn't trouble myself, if I were you," said Mrs. Esslemont, yawning.  "It will be some trifle or the other.  Mrs. Arthur has a headache perhaps, and she doesn't feel the importance of keeping a dinner engagement."

    "You will go to bed, of course," said her husband, without heeding her words, for he rang the bell to order the brougham as he spoke.

    On that same evening another Mrs. Esslemont sat in the old-fashioned drawing-room that had been Arthur's mother's.  The old-fashioned square had fallen off in the years that had elapsed since she had lived and died there.

    The great seething waves of London life had poured round it and had cast up mire and dirt.  Still it held up its head a little, though surrounded by poverty and squalor.  One or two doctors lived there, and one or two solicitors in criminal practice, and one or two of the big well-built mansions had been turned into charitable institutions.  The curate of the parish lived there also, in order to be near his work, for he was a man who, as far as means were concerned, might have lived anywhere he had chosen.  The curate of the parish was Arthur Esslemont.

    Arthur, finding himself at leisure from business, had studied and taken orders, that he might work among the poor of London — the mighty city which the best of her children are learning late to love, as the Jews love their Jerusalem, chiefly because of her sorrows.  He may have been mistaken; he knew many who thought so and acted differently but he felt that he could go to them more freely as the accredited messenger of the Church — of that body of men and women who are bound to seek and to save.

    And he had a companion in his labours.  Entering a school one day, which he had learned was free, and supported by the charity of some who had once been connected with the district — entering it in pursuance of his work, to place in it, if possible, some orphan children, he had suddenly stood face to face with the one woman he had ever loved and longed for.  "Grace!" he exclaimed.  "Mr. Esslemontl" she answered, and they shook hands with an eager clasp, which seemed to bring together the past and the present, and was the earnest of a union never to be broken.

    Grace's story was soon told.  She had in her dire necessity taken her slender means in her hand, and spent it in qualifying herself to become a teacher.  Then she had found this post, and stuck to it.  In a very short time Grace had become the wife of Arthur Esslemont, and his greatest earthly help and encouragement.  They had no children.  None were sent to them, Grace said, with quiet humour, because there were so many more in their part of the world already than could be taken care of.  They had no children, and yet their house had a nursery, with more than one little snug white bed, and a kind, motherly nurse in it always ready in waiting.

    And what is more, the little beds were rarely empty; nor yet the great play-room above, with its balcony level with the roof, and filled with flowers, and its toys and pictures, and space inside.  Many a wretched child was carried away from the one room which held the dead and the living, the cradle and the coffin, and housed there for a time, to dream of the place ever after as a sort of earthly paradise, to remember the morning bath, and the evening prayer, and the pure food, and the quiet, and the beauty, in the midst of their awful contrasts — foulness, and curses, and poisonous things, and unquiet, and horror.

    Sometimes a whole family were accommodated, that their noise might not hinder the recovery of the poor weak mother, their noise and their crying for the food which she could not rise to procure.  Sometime an ailing one was taken in for weeks, and even months, and sent back a new creature.  What friends do for friends in times of trouble, that Arthur and Grace did for the poor.  And these people were their friends.  They knew it was not alms which they received, but love.  That makes all the difference.

    Grace was sitting tranquilly awaiting the return of her husband, to go and make her simple toilet, and proceed to the dinner-party at her brother-in-law's.

    The light of the March day was dying, dying early, in the smoke-laden atmosphere.  She looked at the timepiece.  Arthur was late, and perhaps she had better go and dress in readiness for him.  He was visiting in the parish, and might stay till the last minute with some poor creature in need of his aid.

    With this she rose and went to the window.  There her attention was attracted to a forlorn figure, pausing on the edge of the pavement, and evidently looking up at the house.

    It was a man, closely wrapped in a shabby greatcoat, with the torn shoes of a vagrant, and one worn, skinny hand upon his chest.  He was coughing slightly, and his eyes were fixed upon the nursery windows.  "He is some one belonging to the children," said Grace to herself.

    Just then the shabby gazer caught sight of her, and turned away.

    Oh, if he could have known that in that house they often spoke of him, and so tenderly; and that, oftener still, they prayed for him there.

    It was Charles Esslemont come to take a last look at his early home before he crept away into a den to die.

    Grace stood looking after him.  There was something more than usually pathetic in the man's looks.  He had evidently fallen from a better worldly estate.  And he was ill; he was reeling, as if about to faint.  Grace was ready to run out into the street to prevent him falling on the pavement; but there was her husband coming up.  The man actually staggered against him.

    And Arthur was taking him right into his arms!

    Charles Esslemont, in turning away, had become so faint and blind, that he reeled up against Arthur without seeing who it was.  He knew not till his brother's voice, uttering his name, sounded in his ears, coming, as it seemed to him, out of a great distance, or out of another life.

    He recovered to find his brother holding him fast, and leading him towards the steps of the house from which he had just turned away.

    "Where are you taking me, Arthur?" he asked.

    "Home," was the answer.

    "But you don't live there!"

    "I do."

    "I cannot come in there."

    "Grace will welcome you gladly."

    "Who is Grace?"

    "Your sister."

    "I did not know you lived there, and I came to have a last look."

    The door was open, and Arthur led him in.  Grace was waiting to receive them; and her husband drew her into the dining-room, along with him, and shut the door.

    "Grace, here is Charles."

    He was more miserable than even he looked.  The room was running round with him.  He grasped at the wall for support.  Between them they placed him in an arm-chair, and chafed his hands, for he shivered from time to time, and they were deadly cold.  A little brandy revived him.  And, oh, the terrible eagerness with which he took it!

    His hollow cough resounded through the room.  "You are ill," said Grace, kneeling by him on the hearth-rug.

    "Dying," he answered.  "I must be going, or I shall die here, and I don't want to trouble you now."

    "You are not going," said Arthur.  "You must stay where you are."

    "We will not let you go again," said Grace.

    Another round of hollow coughing.

    "Charles, you must let us put you to bed," said Arthur, "and send for a doctor."

    "You are very kind ; but it's no use.  It's too late."

    "Why didn't you come to us sooner?" said his brother.

    "I thought you didn't want me.  I saw Frank to-day, and he turned from me; passed me by."

    "I have sought you everywhere," said Arthur, deeply pained.  Grace had already left them to prepare a bed and order food.  She returned to them soon to say that both were ready.

    "I do not care for food," said Charles.  "I have tasted none to-day; but I will take the brandy."

    "But you must see the doctor first.  Brandy is a dangerous drug.  I dare not give it except as such," said Arthur.  "Let me take you up to bed."

    Arthur took him upstairs into the comfortable room, where a fire was already burning, and helped him to undress, weeping as he did so over the stockingless feet and poor shirtless body, which, indeed, he washed with his own hands.

    Grace had already sent for the doctor, one whom they knew in the square.  He came almost immediately, and examining the patient quietly, pronounced his skill of no avail.  "He ought not to be left," he added, significantly.

    And he was not going to be left.  Arthur, seated by his side, remembered the dinner-party, long after it must have got through its first and second courses; and Grace, coming and going, remembered it too, but with no thought of joining it.

    "We had better send a message," she said.

    "Or send one of the servants with a note.  Frank ought to know," replied Arthur.

    The latter course was decided on, and the letter was written, and with the needful delays, sent off by hand.  Then the nurse was installed by Charles's bed, and Arthur Esslemont and his wife at last sat down to an improvised dinner of the simplest kind.

    "It is strange that I should have met Charles when I was thinking of him more than usual," said Arthur.

    "What a blessing that you happened to come up just then!  He might have been gone a few minutes later."

    "Stranger still; I was detained by the dying bed of one who was an inmate of this very house when we were boys."

    Grace looked her interest, and Arthur went on.  "But for an odd name, which had stuck to him through life, I should not have known him.  My father round him sitting on the doorstep one winter evening, literally frozen, and he was brought into the house, and kept for a few months as a sort of kitchen boy.  At the end of that time he ran away, ran away to join his parents, who had come out of prison.  He went by the name of 'Boffy,' and was a clever little fellow enough.  My mother tried to teach him all she could, and stored his memory, as he could not read, with texts and hymns.  He has forgotten them all, and only remembers his comfortable bed, and the beef and pudding, comparing it with the prison fare which has alternated with the fare of the thief and the tramp.  I could make no impression on his hardened mind.  When I told him he was dying, 'Yes,' he said, 'I'll soon get my ticket-of-leave from this here world, only I don't suppose I'll be sent back again.  I'm out on ticket now, but I wish they'd ha' let me stay out my time.  It was a deal more comfortable than this.  But it don't matter, nothing matters,' he murmured on; 'nothing matters here nor there.'  I left the wretched being lapsing into unconsciousness, waited upon by a being, if possible, more wretched still — his mother.  Youth and wickedness are dreadful, Grace, but old age and wickedness are more dreadful still."

    "I don't think I'll go out to-night, after all," said Mr. Frank Esslemont, summoning the footman once more.  "Counter-order the brougham."

    A plainly-dressed woman-servant had brought a note, and this was the order Mr. Esslemont gave on reading it.

    The woman was still waiting for an answer, and would only be in time to catch the last omnibus.  Mr. Esslemont stepped out into the hall.  "Tell your master," he said, carelessly, "that I will see him tomorrow."

    If he had wished to see his brother Charles he ought to have gone that night.  It was too late on the morrow.

    That very night death came to the wanderer — came with a sister's arms about him, and Arthur kneeling by his bed.

    As he sank there was something he desired to say, but it could not be heard.  Only he smiled his old, sweet smile.

    "It is all over," was the greeting with which Arthur met Frank on the morrow.

    "When did he die?" asked the latter, mechanically.

    "About daybreak," replied Arthur.  "Will you come and see him?"

    "No.  I would rather not.  It is no use to harrow up one's feelings?"

    "He is beautiful in death," said Arthur, "and smiles so peacefully.  His last smile came to us almost as an assurance that he had found mercy.  We may not limit the grace of God: but, oh, brother, what a harvest here on earth!"

    After a pause he went on.  "I am glad you found him, though, that he may have a decent burial, befitting my father's son."

    "Which will matter little, Frank, either to him or to us.  Death has done for him more than we can do — has eased him of all earthly pains and penalties.  We may trust he is gathered unto God; but we know that he has sown the earth with the seed of sin and sorrow, and the harvest is still to come."

    The words awoke no echo in the heart of Frank Esslemont.  He had not lived the life of a reprobate, and earned for himself poverty and pain.  He and all belonging to him were rich and prosperous, and from henceforth even that whispering in his heart was hushed.


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