Tales on the Parables Vol. 2 (II)

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THE CUMBERER OF THE GROUND


CHAPTER I.


MR. ASHWORTH was Rector of Pendock Pendock in the Forest of Dean.  To visit the rectory for the first time was to feel at a loss where to find the said Pendock, and to wonder if the entire parish consisted of the rectory itself and the grey old hall visible from its windows.  But the parish consisted not of one village only, but of three, hidden and stowed away in the forest glades namely, Pendock, Pendock Dean, and Helyar.  Not a trace, however, of one of them was visible from the rising ground on which the church and rectory stood, nor from the other rising ground, with a dip between, on which stood Helyar Hall.  Nay, if you found out and reached the highest ground in the neighbourhood, or the highest in the old forest, the famous Rocking Stone which a child may sway with a touch of its finger, and a giant could not move from its place you would see nothing but trees: trees over hill and dale and height and hollow; trees hiding glade and river and village alike, and seeming to stretch in an unbroken density as far as the eye can see.

    But down among them it is not so.  Lovely glades open up on every side, where brooklets run noiselessly among velvet mosses, where great oaks stand singly or in groups of twos and threes, and the ferns glance in the sunshine with broad plumy leaves.  And the cottages nestle by the brook-side, and little children run out into the glade and scamper back again like rabbits.  And the river is at hand, for you can hear it murmuring in answer to the murmur of the wood; and you wonder why it should be here and yet there, till you come to know its turnings and windings.  For the river is the "winding Wye," and it curves, and doubles, and loops itself up, as if it wanted to linger on its way for ever.

    Wood and river between them seem muttering a Druid spell.  Walking in the wood is like "walking in a story" that describes it best.  You start as if someone called your name, and it is the coo of the wood-dove; you have heard there is a beckoning, and you wonder if it is only the waving of the fern, you stand still to watch a bee plunge into a foxglove bell and swing there; hear a whirr and a flutter, feel a touch, and turn about to meet a pair of bright eyes almost on a level with your own.

    Then the silence is broken by the sound of the woodman's axe, and the spell is broken with it, and you think of the time of good Queen Bess, when the forest furnished oak for the ships that chased the Armada.  Or another and ruder sound summons you into the presence of to-day.  It is the kind of chant with which the miners cheer the way as they tramp home from the mine.  Wild, gaunt, dismal figures they are, in shirts and trousers loosely bound round the waist, the shirt thrown back, and showing their bare, shaggy breasts, and on their heads nothing whatever save masses of matted hair.  They are the parishioners of the Rev. Henry Ashworth.

    The Rev. Mr. Ashworth was a gentleman and a scholar he was more, he was a thoroughly kind-hearted, noble-minded man.  He had spent the best part of his life in the forest, and against its drowsy spell he had signed himself with the sign of the cross, and had called on himself to endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  So he trod the forest ways with great broad-soled boots, often ankle-deep in mire, to preach in the little mouldering church that was nearest to the poorest of his flock, and oftener still to minister to the sick and the dying, carrying comfort for the body as well as for the soul in his great flapping pockets.

    Mr. Ashworth had married a lady of rank and birth, belonging to a poverty-stricken branch of an aristocratic family.  To settle down in the forest for life was by no means what she had looked forward to in marrying Mr. Ashworth.  Perhaps she had visions of lawn sleeves and a bench in the House of Lords.  At any rate, she had anticipations of preferment, and hoped to see her husband attain at the very least a deanery in one of the three not far distant cathedral towns.  She would have enjoyed the position of wife to the Dean of Worcester, Gloucester, or Hereford, more than any other position on earth.  Its quiet dignity and ease would have suited her exactly.  She liked society in a mild form, good and well-born society, but not too much of it.  She was too refined, too luxurious, too lazy, to care for the fierce competition of fashion and of social success in metropolitan circles.

    But she had married a man of no ambition, at least of no worldly ambition, a man who was content to trudge through the forest ways on duty, and to trudge through them on pleasure too, pleased with the simple successes and triumphs of a naturalist; a man with a strange unaccountable love of humanity in its meanest forms, just as he prized his tin box full of unsightly weeds above the rarest exotics; a man who often did the duty of a country doctor in addition to his own, and who delighted to plant fruit trees in the cottage gardens, and to graft them with his own hands.  Providence had surely dealt in irony towards Miss Lechmeer in letting her see only the wonderful personal beauty and dignity of her future husband; for she had said, deliberately, "If I had had any idea of his tastes and pursuits I would not have married him."  And as Mr. Ashworth was not given to seeking preferment he did not find it.  To get good things one requires to be on the lookout for them; and to be on the lookout for the good things of this world did not suit the quality of Mr. Ashworth's mind.  He was a man who took root, too, wherever he was planted, and he had ever an objection to be rooted up.

    So Mrs. Ashworth was condemned to live such a life at Pendock as was possible for her.  When she could make her escape from it for a time, she was only too happy to join her aristocratic relatives in Cheltenham or Bath, and such times became to her more and more of a necessity.  No matter that she left her husband at home, or only carried him with her as an escort, to conduct her to the scenes she loved and leave her to their enjoyment, no matter that she left her children behind her to the care of a hireling; change and society were necessary to her, and that was enough.  Besides, her husband's children got on very well without her, which was true, fortunately for them.

    Mrs. Ashworth disliked children, and she had actually been burdened with two.  To hear her speak of the trouble they were to her you would have supposed that she nursed them, fed them, and kept them from morning till night, and slept with them from night till morning, as low-born mothers must.  But no such thing.  She kissed them every morning when they were brought to her fresh from their baths by their old Welsh nurse, and every evening when they were carried off to bed by the same; and that was about all she ever did for them when they were mere babies.

    The eldest eldest by about three years named Adelaide, was a child after her mother's own heart; the second, named Mary, was after her father's.  Perhaps it was because of the three years' interval between their ages that the training of the two was as different as their dispositions.  Adelaide went to school from a very early age, the age of ten; while the nursery governess who had instructed her and her little sister up to that time, stayed on with Mary till she was fifteen.  Adelaide's school was in Cheltenham, and she was much with her mother's aristocratic old aunts, and as she grew up, much with her mother visiting.  Mary, the father's child, stayed at home or trotted by his side on a little shaggy pony, carried a basket for him every now and then, and wore cotton gloves, and worked in the garden.

    But then Molly, as her father called her, was a very plain little girl, dusky-browed, rather fat-faced, and decidedly dumpy of figure.  Her nose and her lips, too, were somewhat thick, and she had only the largest and softest of dark doe's eyes and clouds of jet-black hair to recommend her.

    To her mother they did not recommend her in the least.  She used openly to wonder where the child could have dropped from, to marvel at her being child of hers at all.  Certainly Molly was more energetic than elegant; her elf locks were not always tidy, her plump cheeks were apt to glow like homely cabbage roses, and her big feet to catch in her mamma's long dresses, bringing down upon her a tirade on awkwardness.

    Adelaide grew up into a very beautiful girl, rarely pale, and superbly elegant.  Her dark hair was smoothly parted over the perfect forehead, and coiled round the small graceful head.  She was taller than most girls, and her figure had an undulating softness.  Her eyes were of darkish grey, but they drooped under the whitest of lids, and had a half-open, dreaming look.  All her features were small and delicate, and her hands wonderfully so.  No one could venture to suppose that such hands were ever intended to work at anything but an embroidery needle.  Nor did they.

    Let no one run away with the idea that Adelaide Ashworth was a hateful or contemptible human being.  She was neither; not then in the blessed time of youth, nor ever, was she such.  She was beautiful and graceful, modest, and sweet, and good.  In her youth-time she was like one of God's own lilies, that "toil not, neither do they spin," and yet have their place and their praise in merely shining where they stand.  If she could have died then there were those who loved her who thought it might have been better than living as she lived.  For at the time when this story really commences her youth was over and gone.  The blossom of it had fallen, and fallen fruitless, to the ground; and there was left of it only dust and ashes, the dust and ashes of disappointment and vain regret.

    At this time Mr. Ashworth had been ten years a widower, and his daughters had reached the sober-sounding ages of thirty-five and thirty-two.  Sober-sounding; for I doubt if Molly was more sober now than as a little maid of ten.  Indeed, I think she grew less and less sober as the years went on; for her mother had been a constantly restraining influence, and her death had been a relief both to her father and her.  Not that they thought so, it was utterly unconscious, but still they breathed more freely, came in with muddier feet, kept more obnoxious pets, and made a greater litter than ever, and, above all, had more people coming about the place on more unwarrantable pretexts of sickness, poverty,&c.

    As for Adelaide, she did not interfere with them at all.  Though the elder sister, she left the housekeeping entirely to Molly, whose mission it was, and who waited on her hand and foot besides.  For instance, it pleased Molly to stand behind her sister's chair, and brush out her long silky tresses, Adelaide liking the sensation extremely, while she knotted up her own thick locks unassisted.  It pleased her, too, to kneel, in the privacy of their bedchamber, and wash Adelaide's dainty feet, while she utterly refused a return of the humble service.

    Ever since her disappointment that was the way in which Molly and her father spoke of a certain event in Adelaide's life she had taken very little interest in herself or her surroundings, except what of personal care was necessary to preserve her beauty and to keep her always fresh and dainty as a lady should be.  That disappointment had taken place ten years ago, just before her mother died.  She was then a very beautiful young woman, but she had not had many lovers.  She lacked the element of interest, and appeared only coldly elegant.  Molly, if she had had the opportunities of her sister, would have been ten times as much sought after.  She was interesting then and always; but there was nobody for Molly to interest except the old ladies at Helyar Hall, and Molly had interested them.  However, just at the age of twenty-five, Adelaide made the acquaintance of the second son of Lord Fenmore.  He was some four years her junior, and fresh from Cambridge, in sickly health, and with an over-sensitive temperament.  Adelaide suited him exactly.  She was far from mindless, and yet she had no objectionable activity either of mind or body, she was so perfect in repose, could do nothing and say nothing with such graceful composure.  The young man fell in love with her, and engaged himself to her without consulting the superior powers; and the superior powers avenged themselves.  They put no veto upon the engagement, they even admired the choice which their son and brother, had made; but they steadily refused to furnish an income.  And so the affair dropped.

    Adelaide suffered a serious collapse when it was finally broken off, and they ceased even to correspond.  Their communication by letter had been by far the most vivid part of their courtship.  His poetry read very well in prose, and her prose was lighted up by a light and delicate humour.  Adelaide suffered in dignity and in affection.  The idea of blighted affections has been used for ignoble purposes, and may provoke only a smile; but Adelaide's gentle affections were blighted no other word describes the process so well.  And there is no process more melancholy.  Adelaide came down to Pendock, where her mother was already laid up with wasting sickness, only to add to the general depression.  She had always been a great deal away from home, and her mother feared the dullness of the place for her favourite daughter; but she could not drive her from her death-bed, and Adelaide had no wish to go.

    After her mother's death her father's house became Adelaide's permanent home, and both father and sister had begun a series of indulgences with a view to render it endurable to her.  She had none of their active pursuits and enjoyments; books and fine embroideries for her own wear were her only occupations, these and a little music.

    Except for the pony carriage, Adelaide would have known nothing of the forest and its wondrous charm.  She utterly refused to tread its tangled and devious paths, and there were only certain broad tracks which the carriage could take.  Of course there were days and weeks when it rained in the forest, when under the trees was a universal and perpetual shower-bath, and there were weeks and months when winter reigned there supreme frosts, when the banks, with their delicate leaf traceries, of which they were never bare, showed fairer than the fairest embroidery in the world; snows, when the trees were crusted with white, and shone like alabaster, and made cathedral arches of black and silver in endless vistas, which glimmered into distance like a glimpse of the temple not made with hands.  Then there was nothing for Adelaide but her needle and her books.

    Her reading, like herself, was curiously limited.  It consisted almost entirely of fiction and devotion the "Golden Treasury" alternating with Bulwer Lytton's last novel.  Though she did not know it, the spell of the forest was upon Adelaide, turning her religion and all her life into a dream.

    Their nearest and indeed only neighbours were the Helyars of Helyar Hall, and there had always existed the greatest friendship between the hall and the rectory; only it was long since the friendship of the hall had been of any social value; long since the huntsman had issued from its gates to join the meet in the mid-forest; long since the dancers had danced upon its oaken floors till daylight looked in upon their pastime; long since the Helyars of past generations, from their frames on the great dining-room wall, had looked down upon the huge venison pasty, large and round as a shield, which used to grace the feasts of bygone days.

    Mrs. Helyar had come to Helyar Hall a bride, and had lived there a happy wife, enjoying the neighbourhood, enjoying her visits to London, enjoying everything that came in her way.  Her children were born there two daughters, and at last, amid great rejoicing, a son and heir.  There she had spent several years of widowhood, and had left it, as the last Mrs. Helyar had left it for her, when her son brought home his wife.

    Then another heir had been born, and the succession to the old hall seemed secure for at least two generations; but old Mrs. Helyar had lived to see them pass away.  One after the other, in youth, and manhood, and middle age, her son, and her son's wife, and her son's son, all were gone; and she and her daughters had come back to the old place again.

    Her daughters the young ladies as they were called, but not in mockery had each numbered her threescore years and ten; the old lady was drawing nigh to a hundred, and for the last ten they had been years of torpor and suffering, sometimes the one prevailed, sometimes the other.  It was truly a life in death, a long-prolonged dying.

    It was the height of summer.  The rectory ponies trotted along the sward of a broad path through the forest, and the rectory carriage bumped after them in the peculiar manner in which carriages bump over uneven turf.  The path looked like a glorious avenue, with magnificent vistas opening out on every side, and wonderful effects of light and shade; but Adelaide expressed her thankfulness when they came out at length upon a road.  The sisters were going into town to do a little shopping, &c.; for Adelaide was going to pay a visit to her mother's relations at Weston-super-Mare for the season.

    They entered together the quiet sleepy shop of the country town; and Molly set herself to aid her sister in selecting some pretty muslins to be made up in readiness for her seaside visit.  It took some time, for Adelaide was fastidious in her tastes; but at length she had selected three of the finest and prettiest.

    "And won't you have one of each as well?" she asked of Molly, who had also come to buy.  "No, dear," says Molly. "I would like to look at some prints. I should tear such muslins to pieces the first time I took a walk in the forest."

    Besides, she thought in her heart they would not be of the slightest use when she had done with them, and she was in the habit of buying dresses which made down after the season or two into frocks for the village children.  "Take one of these for evening wear, to please me," said Adelaide; "and let me make you a present of it."

    And Molly accepts, with pleasant thanks, and gets her prints besides, and after visiting the dressmaker, a few doors off from the draper, they re-enter the pony carriage, and drive once more along the level highway, and turn again into the broad forest path, and so home.

    "I am going to stop at the hall, Adelaide," says Molly.  "Poor Mrs. Helyar has been rather worse this day or two, and I shall go up and see her.  One never knows but it may be for the last time."

    "I don't think any set of people ever had such dull neighbours," returns Adelaide.  "What a blessing it would be if poor Mrs. Helyar was to die!"

    "Yes, a great blessing," says Molly, but somehow in a different tone.

    So she stops at the hall gates, and runs up the steps and across the lawn, and in at the open door, and goes straight up-stairs with all her open air freshness about her.  The old lady sits in her chair half asleep, her maid working beside her.  Many an hour's relaxation poor Harriet owes to Molly, who will come and sit with the old lady for an hour or two at a time, and let her out to walk in the grounds.

    "How are you to-day, Mrs. Helyar?" says Molly's bright clear voice.

    And the old lady, with a half start, recognises her, and stretches out a trembling, withered old hand, which Molly continues to hold in hers as she kneels down beside her.

    "I am still here, my dear," says the old lady, rousing up yet more.  The fresh voice is pleasant to the drowsy ear, and the fresh face is clearer to the dim eyes.  "I am still here," she repeats, "a cumberer of the ground."

    "No, not that," says Molly.  "We do not call the tree when the fruit is gathered a cumberer of the ground."

    She enunciates every word distinctly, and the idea reaches the listener's mind, and she nods her head in approval.

    "We know it has to wait for the spring," says Molly, speaking again, with the enforced distinctness which gives her voice a tone of strong assurance.

    Tears come into the attendant's eyes as she repeats the words.  Everything has to be said twice over to the old lady, who nods in response, "Ay, ay."  Then she wanders off into something about "Willie."  Willie was her grandson.

    Then the attendant explains that her mind is wandering a little, for she has lately been afflicted with utter sleeplessness.

    After a pause, however, she turns round with startling abruptness to Molly, still holding her hand, and asks, "Who are you?"

    "I am Molly, dear Mrs. Helyar; Molly Ashworth."

    "Ay, ay, little Molly.  They were very fond of each other, these two, Molly and Willie," she says.

    Molly caresses a little longer the withered hand, then rises and kisses Mrs. Helyar on the cheek, and steals away.  But her visit is not over.  She has still to see the other ladies of the family, to whom she is, to use a homely phrase, "welcome as flowers in May."

    "We have had a delicious drive," she says, tripping in upon them.  "Adelaide and I went into town today, and bought some pretty summer dresses, and it was so bright and yet so fresh in the forest, I thought we might meet you as we came along."

    The Misses Helyar still crept out in the sunshine, while the old lady sometimes insisted on driving out in all weathers.

    "We have not cared to go out to-day," said the eldest.  "Such a strange thing happened last night.  We have both had nervous headaches all day.  Has Harriet told you?"

    "No," says Molly, a little mystified.

    "Mamma insisted on getting into the carriage at twelve o'clock last night, and driving about for hours," said Miss Helyar.  "You know it was a moonlight night, and she took it for day, and made Harriet dress her; and then Harriet was obliged to call me, and I had to wake Thomas and tell him to get out the carriage, for she sat crying and wringing her hands, and asking to be driven 'home.'"

    "Dear me, how mournful!" says Molly, her great eyes dilating with sympathy.  "And did you go with her?"

    "Yes," replied Miss Helyar.  "We both went, and we told Thomas to keep as near the house as he could; but I assure you it was hours before she would come in, and we were drenched with the dew."

    "It was dreadful," said the youngest Miss Helyar, shuddering.  "The bats flew into our laps and into our very faces, and I thought the owls would have followed them."

    "I wonder some of your people did not hear us, for we were round by the rectory, and past the churchyard wall," said the eldest.

    "No one can have heard you, I think; but I wish you had knocked me up, I might have had the power to soothe her," says Molly.

    Molly had tried this power of hers before now.  She had it in a remarkable degree.  And just now she was exercising it, by her mere presence, on these two poor women.  Half their trouble seemed to have evaporated in telling it to her, and meeting her kindly sympathy.  Then they returned to the subject of the summer dresses, and the Misses Helyar said they had been thinking of getting some lighter things.  Would Molly go with them to choose?

    Molly cheerfully assented, and the very next day was fixed by Miss Helyar; so that she would have to make a precisely similar excursion to the one which she had just made, bumping along the same turfy forest road into the same sleepy little town and shop, only with the Misses Helyar instead of her darling Adelaide for company.

    Molly, having promised to come, took her way home, thinking not of the dullness of these lives, but of the strange and awful necessities which guided them; thinking of that eerie drive in the moonlight, which filial duty and tenderness had compelled, the gibbering old woman, with wits all astray, by their side, and the owls and bats for attendants.


 
CHAPTER II.


THE week that followed was a very busy one for Molly, for she had to look over her sister's entire wardrobe, and see that all her pretty things were properly got up, and altered, and added too, as was requisite for her visit.  It never struck Molly that her sister ought to have done all this for herself as she went about it, sometimes hot and tired with the work, while Adelaide sat under the walnut tree on the lawn, in an easy chair set upon a mat, dreaming with drooping eyelids over "The Christian Year."

    "But at length all was accomplished, even to the last and most tiresome work of packing, Adelaide putting in with her own hands on the top of a monster trunk, her Prayer-book and "Golden Treasury," her "Christian Year" and Hymn-book; as wherever she might be she spent an hour or two daily over these.  The trunk and its lesser satellites were sent to the station in the cart, and Adelaide and Molly followed in the pony carriage in due time.

    When the train arrived Molly ran along and discovered an empty first-class carriage, and then ran back and saw her sister into it, standing nodding and kissing her hand in self-congratulatory mood as the train puffed out of the station; for Adelaide disliked numbers, and close carriages, and travelling companions, and Molly had succeeded in getting her a carriage all to herself and had sent her off in the greatest possible comfort.

    There we leave Molly for the present, and follow Adelaide.  Very nice and fresh she looks, or rather her attire looks, as she leans back on the dark cushions of the carriage.  She has on one of her new chintz muslins, elegantly made at least it looks so upon her with a loose scarf of the same, and a tiny lace bonnet on her head.  When you look more closely you find that, in spite of faultless teeth and perfect hair, she seems older than she ought to be.  She never had any colour, but the nameless, clearness of youth is clean gone, there are wrinkles, actual wrinkles, round the mouth and eyes, a general deadness of appearance on cheek and brow.  But she is alive to the least discomfort.  The dust is blowing in clouds along the line, and she rises and shuts the windows all but an inch at the top.  She has hardly settled herself once more when the train stops.  The guard comes and opens the door with a bag in his hand, deposits it under the seat, and makes way for its owner.  She sees a gentleman stepping into the carriage, but for the moment is occupied with the care of her skirts puffing out in the direction of the door.

    The gentleman sits down opposite, and exclaims, "Adelaide!"

    She raises her eyes and encounters those of Geoffrey Fenmore, once her accepted lover.  The faintest blush, but it is a very lovely one, rises on her face, and she holds out her hand to him with her old grace of greeting.

    "It is an age since we met," he says, awkwardly, evidently feeling the position.  But she cannot be awkward, and she does not indulge in feeling.  She tries to put him at his ease, and succeeds, asking after mutual friends and acquaintances.  She has much to learn, and for one thing that he is no longer plain Mr. Geoffrey, but Lord Fenmore, the two lives between him and the peerage having been cut off.

    He feels a little piqued at her perfect calm, begins, as he sits opposite to her, to wonder if it is real or assumed, then to speculate if it would be possible for him to shake it.  Silence has stolen over both of them, and in the silence Adelaide's eyelids droop, and her companion watches her face.  Its old charm steals over him the sweetness of its repose.  He becomes quite poetical concerning the time when it was the one face he loved to look at.  He thinks there are not many nay, he is sure not one he would like to look at for a lifetime so well even yet.  He realises all that he suffered at the time their engagement was broken off, and what must she have suffered?  He has never seen her since.  What has she been doing with herself all those years? he ventures to ask; has she been abroad?

    "No," replies Adelaide, "I have been living at home."

    "Forgive me, but I forget where that is.  You were living with your relatives in Cheltenham when when we first met."

    Here was another awkward allusion and he had stumbled over it too.

    "Yes, but since we met last," she answered, calmly, "I have been with my father at Pendock, a little place in the forest, with hardly any interval."

    "I hope you have pleasant neighbours," he says next, by way of saying something.

    "There is only one family near the place at all," she answers.  "It consists of three ladies, and their united ages make more than a couple of centuries not far from two and a half indeed.  You could not fancy anything so dull."

    "And why do you go on living at such a dismal place?" he says.

    "I have no choice," she answers, but with a smile.

    "What a wrong I have done this sweet woman!" he thinks.  "She went out of society because of the breaking off of our engagement, and has never returned to it again all those years; but it is a wrong which can be repaired, thank Heaven!"  And then, in the silence following, he thinks what unity it would give his life to make the lady who was his first love the wife for whom he is even now on the lookout.

    So when the train stops, or rather shows signs of stopping, at the next station, he says, in an agitated voice, "May I ask where you will be staying for the next few days?"

    She gives him her address, already written on her card, and the train stops.

    "Adelaide, you will let me write to you?" he whispers, pressing her hand.

    He is gone.  The train is again in motion.  Adelaide is leaning on the arm of her seat, trembling and in tears.  "Oh, I have not deserved such happiness," she says to herself over and over again during the journey, as she looks back on the long, aimless, effortless, useless years in which her one feeling had been disappointment her one desire to forget almost that she lived.  Ten years of a life, and what to show for it?  She could count the collars she had embroidered; she could almost number the books she had read, for she read but slowly.  Oh, if this happiness, once more promised her heart told her it was once more promised should indeed befall her, she would be so different!  Happiness was so good for people.  It was like the sun to the tree.  Fruit could not ripen without sunshine.  In the sunshine of happiness she would bring forth much fruit.

    Thinking such thoughts as these, Adelaide reached her journey's end at last, almost forgetful for once of the discomforts of heat, and dust, and travel.  She did not write home that evening.  She would wait for another day before she told her sister of the meeting with Lord Fenmore.  Another day might bring her a letter from him.

    And it did.  He lost no time in taking advantage of the permission to write, and he wrote with more of fervour than he had ever shown, asking that the past should be bridged over, and that their old engagement should be renewed.  "It need be renewed only for the shortest possible time," he wrote , "for there is no reason on my side and I hope there is none on yours against an almost immediate union."

    She had no reason to allege, though she put in a little plea against herself on the score of age a plea which he of course refuted; and in a day or two he was by her side, once more her acknowledged and accepted, and perfectly satisfied, lover.

    And in the meantime she had astonished nay, electrified Molly by the news of her meeting with Lord Fenmore and the renewal of their old relations; and Molly had tried to electrify her father, and had very indifferently succeeded, and she had then rushed off to expend her unexhausted battery on the Misses Helyar, who very coolly intimated that they were sorry it was not herself that was going to marry Lord Fenmore, and then declared warmly that they were very glad.

    Day after day brought fresh intelligence from Adelaide.  One letter stated that her visit must be shortened, for Lord Fenmore was asking her to fix a ridiculously early day; the next announced that the day was fixed, only there was one between from Lord Fenmore to Mr. Ashworth, containing the terms of a handsome settlement.

    The day was fixed, and Adelaide came home to make her preparations for finally leaving it.  She responded with the most perfect sweetness to Molly's demonstration; but if she had before been self-absorbed in her disappointment, she was now ten times more self-absorbed in her new-found happiness and triumph.  Molly, unselfish as she was, felt just a little blank and chill at the way in which Adelaide threw herself into the future, as if the present had in it nothing worthy of love and the past nothing worthy of regret.  She could not help feeling how differently she herself would have prepared to leave father and sister and home how little of exultation there would have been in her spirit as the time drew near.

    Lord Fenmore was coming to visit them for a few days before he came to carry off his bride, and great were the preparations made for his coming.  Pendock had been so long unused to guests.  It was the morning of the day on which he was expected.  The sisters were to drive to the little station to meet him, and everything seemed very happily in train for his reception, when Molly was summoned suddenly from her sister's dressing room.

    Down in the hall she found a frantic woman, shawlless and bonnetless, panting for breath, incoherent with sobbing, dirty and dishevelled, who seized hold of her with both hands, and managed to get out the words, "My little Jim is scalded!  Come, for God's sake, Miss!  I can hear him screeching all this way," and she placed her open palms against her ears, and gave a cry that brought everybody in the house to the spot.

    "Tell me what you did to him before you came here," asked Molly, getting white about the lips; but keeping very calm, and forcing the poor woman to be calm too.

    "You said flour was good when Wat Stokes was scalded, Miss, and I put on all I had in the house.  Jim's poured the boilin' water right down his bosom.  Oh, come, Miss; come!"

    "I'm coming.  Jane, get my hat, and wait on Miss Ashworth.  I want some things."

    She took her keys, and went into the store-closet and fetched a bottle of salad oil.  Then she got some lint, some oil-silk, and some sticking-plaister from her fatlier's medicine-chest, a pair of scissors, and a sponge.  She forgot nothing.  Last of all she filled a breakfast-cup with jelly, and in as short a time as it takes to tell, she was hastening through the forest at the woman's side; flying would describe it better, for the woman kept quickening her pace till it became a run.

    They found the poor little fellow exhausted with weeping, and all the women and children of the village buzzing about like bees.  Molly's first task was to send them home to their own domestic concerns, and to feed the child with a portion of the jelly and light cake she had brought with her.

    Thanks to the scantiness of the boy's clothing, and the way in which his mother had filled his poor little bosom with the flour, the skin was not much off and the dressing was an easier matter than Molly had apprehended.  Still, she had to dress the bad places with the lint and oil, and stick on the oil-silk over them with little strips of the plaister, and give a great many directions as to the care of the blisters and the child's food, before she got away with a promise to come again tomorrow.

    Then Molly had to hurry back through the heat, a mile and a half at least; and stopping to look at her watch, she arrived at the pleasant consciousness that she would be too late for the drive to the station, late for dressing, late for everything.  And she hurried on faster than ever, arriving just in time to see the pony carriage come round to the door.

    Hastening into the dining-room, where she caught a glimpse of her father and Adelaide, she flung herself on a chair and threw down her hat at her feet, sitting a few minutes before she could find composure to speak.  Truth to say, Molly did not at that moment present a genteel figure.  Her hair was untidy.  She was very hot, and had had no lunch, which caused her to look a little fagged with her exertions.  Her print dress was soiled with contact with the cottage floor; in short, she was not presentable.

    Adelaide was standing ready dressed, cool and fresh in her lace and muslin, and a little, just a little, shade of annoyance on her face.

    "Oh, Molly! what a fright you are!" was her greeting.

    "Well, Molly, my dear!" was her father's.

    "I fear I'm too late to go to the station," said Molly, and she felt ready to cry with disappointment; "but I could not help it.  Poor little Timothy Wells has been pouring a kettle of boiling water over his chest, and I have had such trouble with him, and it has been such hot work,"

    "You certainly do look hot," says Adelaide.

    "You should lie down here for half an hour before you dress.  This is the coolest room in the house."

    "Don't you think if I made haste and threw on my dress I might still go.  We could drive a little faster, you know," pleaded Molly.

    "You would be hotter than ever, Molly, and more flustered; and there is nothing I hate like people in a fluster.  Papa is ready, and has offered to go," said Adelaide.

    It must be recorded Molly was not herself that day.  She burst into tears.  Adelaide hastened to soothe her, saying she had overdone herself.  Mr. Ashworth walked to the window, and pretended not to see.  Then Molly left the room, and he told his eldest daughter rather coldly that he was waiting; and they got into the pony carriage and drove away.

    "I wish Molly would not be such a child," said Adelaide.

    "And I that she may never be less like one," said her father.

    "But I don't see why she should have to care for all these people," said Adelaide.

    "They have few to care for them besides," said Mr. Ashworth, shortly.

    "They seem quite to expect it," said Adelaide.

    "Yes; I am happy to say they do," replied her father.

    "Oh! but I mean they are not in the least grateful.  They expect it as a matter of course," she rejoined.

    "And I repeat that I am glad they do," replied her father, somewhat sternly.  "When they cease to expect loving kindness from us in the midst of their sufferings and deprivations, they will cease to expect it or to seek it from Him whose name we bear, and whose work we are sent to do."

    Adelaide was silenced.  She had mind enough to feel the full force of her father's words, and they sobered as well as silenced her.  I fear Lord Fenmore found his reception far from overwhelming in its warmth.

    The warmest of it was from Molly, who had bathed her face, and cried and bathed it again.  She did not often cry, and so perhaps, having once begun, found it difficult to stop; and by the time the party returned she was so humbled by her trouble that she was prepared to lavish herself on the least worthy individual she came across.  She was so kind and so genial, so self-possessed by dint of having put herself entirely out of the question, that her lordly brother-in-law elect, whom she had succeeded in making thoroughly at home, expressed the most flattering opinion of her, to Adelaide's immense relief

    Lord Fenmore was, indeed, very much pleased with his bride's surroundings.  They were plain Pendock Rectory was a small and not very well-appointed house but they were perfectly unpretentious.  Mr. Ashworth was a thorough gentleman, and Molly was charming.  Next day there was a dinner at the hall, and the Misses Helyar had actually caught a commissioner to meet His Lordship, and the venison pasty duly appeared.

    The days were spent in exploring the forest; and, as Lord Fenmore had a true though thin vein of poetry in his character, he found them pleasant days enough.  Molly was more with her sister's lover during the visit than Adelaide was herself.  It was she who took him to the Rocking Stone, a good long walk, and a rough clamber at the end of it.  It was she who took him on the river, down past Tintern and Monmouth; and up to the Wyndcliff another half day, when they came back calling each other Molly and Geoffrey.  It was she who risked her life with him in a coracle, a boat in use among the ancient Britons, and consisting only of a basket-work frame, with a piece of tarpaulin stretched over it.  And, indeed, they very narrowly escaped ducking, or drowning, for Lord Femnore, getting rather energetically into the airy bark, so nearly capsized it, that thrusting down his umbrella to steady it, he fairly scuttled it.

    Luckily he had sufficient presence of mind to keep the umbrella fast in the hole it had made, and so allowed Molly to get out again in safety, and followed himself in high glee over the adventure.

    But Molly could see the difference when he was with Adelaide how tender and devoted Geoffrey was then.  She would stand at a window and watch them take their after dinner walk, never to any great distance, only across the lawn, perhaps, and through the field beyond, where Molly could see the two figures loitering along by the hedgerow, under the primrose sky, could see Geoffrey catch Adelaide's hand and hold it as they walked.  Then she would turn round into the room, and sigh with a certain sense of desolateness a sense of having been left out in the plan of life, though there was not a spark of envy in the breast of tender-hearted, high-principled Molly Ashworth.

    The visit of Adelaide's bridegroom-elect terminated to everybody's satisfaction; and all the arrangements for the wedding had been made in accordance with the wishes of the bride.  She was to be married from her father's house, and by a clergyman of the neighbourhood, her father giving her away.  Molly was to be her only bridesmaid; and the only guests were to be the Helyars, with whom Lord Fenmore and his friend Colonel M'Gregor and the Dowager Lady Fenmore had been invited to stay when they came down for the ceremony.

    It was a very pretty ceremony, and far more solemn and effective than a crowd of bridesmaids in a city church would have made it.  The bride wore her bridal white with a wonderful drooping elegance.  Molly was in pale bright green, with clouds of tulle about her.  The old ladies were superb, Mr. Ashworth grave and dignified.  The school children, in a state of awe and wonder, were behind with osier baskets full of flowers, and when it was all over they marched before, with the schoolmistress at their head, and strewed their flowers all the way between the church and the rectory.

    When Molly and her father were left together at last, they felt a certain sense of relief in that the affair was over, and yet neither of them were particularly cheerful.

    "I'm going to lay aside my finery," said Molly, "and then we'll have a nice cup of tea, and perhaps begin to feel more like ourselves, papa."

    "Have you not been feeling like yourself, Molly?" said her father, laughing.

    "No, not a bit, just this minute I had the funniest feeling that I have been exactly in this situation before, left alone with you just as we are now everybody gone for good."  She tried to jest, but there was a huskiness in her throat.

    "I wonder if I shall ever wear this dress again," said Molly, looking down at her pea-green skirts.

    "Of course you will," said her father.  "You are going to visit Lady Fenmore."

    "But I can't leave you, sir," said Molly, shaking her head.

    "Then I must come too," said her father.

    "But you can't leave the parish, sir."

    "I can leave the parish as easily as you, I think, Molly.  If I go they will only lack their Sundays' service; if you go, you will find that half the children have tumbled into the fire, and the other half into the water, and that there was nobody to take them out.  Seriously, Molly," he went on, changing the subject and his tone; "have you not noticed that I am growing an old man that I am failing, in fact?"

    She looked up in his face with a keen pang.  Was he really failing, and had she never noticed it?  He waited for her to speak.

    "Oh, papa !" she cried, "not tonight, don't let me think that to-night."

    "My child," he said, tenderly, "I did not mean to hurt you.  I do not think I am going to leave you.  I have, please God, some strength left for His service yet.  All I meant to say was that I must soon have help.  You have long been my curate, you know, but I feel that I need help in the services, and you cannot give me that.  I think we can afford it now that Adelaide is gone.  We shall drop the carriage, of course.  You don't mind that, Molly?" he asked.

    "Not at all, papa.  I would rather walk than ride any day," said Molly.  "And we could do without Jane," she added, entering into his plans, though still slightly jealous of the help he was about to seek at other hands than her own.

    "Exactly," said her father.  "Then I can keep a curate, for I have saved all that you will ever need, my darling child, and it will spare me longer to you I daresay, for I begin to feel the damp of little Helyar?  It gives me a feeling of oppression at the chest, and my head is giddy at times."

    "Oh, papa! why did not you tell me before?" cried Molly, with tears in her great eyes.

    "Time enough, I think," he answered, smiling, "when you take it so to heart."

    "But why did you not have help before?  Oh, how blind we were not to see that you needed it!" she went on.

    "Now, Molly, be reasonable," he answered.  "It is quite time enough to be giving up half my work; but we shall set about looking for this curate directly."

    It was some time before Mr. Ashworth could find a helper to his mind, the young men who presented themselves before him by letter were so full of crotchets so Mr. Ashworth took the liberty of calling what they called their opinions.

    "But," he said one day, in consultation with Molly, "I would take the most crotchety among them if I only thought he had the root of the matter in him the true love in his heart.  If the root is there the fruit will come in its season.  Some fruit is meant for bread and some for wine, Molly; and it was the fruit of the vine He always spoke of or, at least, oftenest and most pointedly spoke of, something beyond and above the actual needs of the soul for bare life something that not only kept it alive, but intensified that life."

    "And yet, papa, He calls himself simply the bread of life," she answered.

    "Yes, my Molly, He is the bread and wine in one the all in all; but take you and me, His poor servants, I think we have brought forth for these people perhaps only bare bread.  We have been content to nourish in them simple honesty and common decency.  We have cared for their bodies, and taught them to care for each other's bodily welfare, and to trust in their Creator and Redeemer: but you could fancy a Paul doing more for them; or, in quite another and a different way, a john feeding them on quite other spiritual food, and to far different and higher results."

    "But John and Paul were saints and apostles," objected Molly.

    "And saints and apostles are not to be expected nowadays, is that the inference you make?" said her father.

    "I suppose it is," said Molly.

    "Then we are acquiescing in the modern notion, that Christianity is somehow weaker, less of a force in the world than it was in the early days.  People do not confess this always, but the notion is in their hearts.  As for this young man, Montagu," he went on, "I think I shall give him a trial.  He will work, at least, for he evidently thinks us in a benighted condition."

    "I should fear he was terribly conceited," said Molly.

    "No; I think he is an enthusiast rather.  He sends me quite a little history.  He was educated with a view to the Church, for there is a 'living' in the family; but, just before taking orders, he learnt to believe that such as he, entering the Church as a mere profession, did infinite injury to Christianity.  Then he read for, and was called to the Bar, living all the while in the best and gayest of London society; and, lastly, he finds himself called with a higher calling to fulfil his original destination.  He has recently taken orders, and desires for a time to be absent from the scene of his former worldly pleasures.  He desires, literally, he says, to forsake all and follow Christ.  Christianity, he thinks, demands sacrifices as great of a nineteenth century clergyman as of a first century apostle.  He evidently favours us," concluded Mr. Ashworth, "because we have nothing tempting about us."

    Molly took his long and interesting letter, and read it without further comment.  When she had finished, she agreed with her father that Mr. Montagu should be invited to Pendock.

    He was, accordingly; and came, and saw, and conquered.  The vacant curacy was filled up on the spot.  The next and immediately-pressing question was where he was to live.  There were no farms in the forest, therefore there were no farmhouses where he could lodge; the cottages were too mean, and the town was too far distant.  The only alternative was that he should remain at the rectory, where a bedroom and a study could easily be found for him.  He did, indeed, propose to live down in the village; but he yielded to Mr. Ashworth's persuasions, and to Molly's lighter raillery.

    "We might build you a hut in the forest, or scoop you a cave out of the cliff," said Molly; "but you would not find them quite as comfortable as the room we shall give you; and then, as the room is in existence already, there is a distinct saving of trouble."

    Molly liked Basil Montagu at first sight; she found that with all his self-denial, and it was rigid, he was no gloomy ascetic.  He had a wonderfully high standard of life and duty, but he could be jestful and innocently gay the while.  He was not to be petted, as Molly would have found it in her woman's heart to pet him; but he was not bent on the mere self-will of needless sacrifice.  "I am a little afraid of the 'mint and cummin,'" he said once, "but I should forget greater things."

    The people took to the new curate wonderfully.  He was more familiar with them in a week than Mr. Ashworth had learnt to be in a lifetime, and yet it was a familiarity which bred no contempt.  If he was wearied, he would sit down on their bench; if he was hungry, he would eat of their bread, and, somehow, make it sweeter to their taste.  He never troubled himself to make things easy to them, but would treat them to his deepest thought and richest eloquence.  In a dim way they understood it; they understood that this man desired to give them of his best, of himself not of meaner things.

    Of all Mr. Montagu's sayings and doings Molly sent an account to her sister.  There was little else she had to write about, while Adelaide had so much.  She had returned from her tour, to Fenmore Castle, and was entertaining her husband's guests.  Then they were going up to town for six weeks, to come down again at Christmas, to entertain more guests, among whom Adelaide hoped to see her father and Molly.  And she was so happy.  She had everything she could desire; everything at Fenmore was so much to her taste so her letters ran.

    And Mr. Ashworth and Molly went and saw for themselves that it was so; that she was wonderfully happy, that the husband and wife suited each other exactly; that their sky seemed for the present without a cloud.  Never in her life had Molly spent so gay and happy a Christmas as this at Fenmore Castle.

    But on the first day of their return, when she and her father were left to their private and confidential evening chat, Mr. Ashworth startled Molly by saying, with a sigh, "I see no change in Adelaide."

    "What a strange thing to say, papa!" exclaimed Molly.  "What change did you expect to see?"

    "My dear," he said, "Adelaide has always been a puzzle, and very often a pain to me.  She is so good that I always expect her to be better; but she brings no fruit to perfection."

    "Don't say that, papa look how perfectly sweet and patient Adelaide can be.  You know I am not always sweet and patient," said Molly.

    "No, my love; and yet I am more hopeful concerning your disturbance than her quietest calm," said her father.

    "Papa," said Molly, speaking hurriedly, "did you never think we two were a little like Martha and Mary?  I am Martha, you know; and I always thought that she was rather hardly dealt by."

    "No," replied Mr. Ashworth; "I do not see the least resemblance Mary was not absorbed in self-contemplation. Adelaide seems to me more like the barren fig tree not the one, thank God, that withered under the curse of the Saviour, but the one that stood in the vineyard, and was respited for yet another year.  'If it bear fruit, well.'  We are not told that the fig tree perished, being found fruitless at the last."

    Just then Mr. Montagu came in, and Molly hastened away to hide her tears.


 
CHAPTER III.


WHEN their Christmas guests had gone, Lord and Lady Fenmore preferred to remain at home rather than go up to London.  Adelaide had been very well received in society, which had talked her over before she made her appearance, made the usual number of blunders and misstatements concerning her, and then accepted her at its highest estimate, because she seemed to belong to it.  It had reported her as a great beauty, lowly born a "village maiden" when that exploded, she was an old love of Lord Fenmore's, and her story was quite romantic.  Then it saw her, and found out about her aristocratic relations, and was satisfied.

    But Adelaide did not care for society; she was in her element at home.  And what was that element?  It was something very fair to the sight at least, to the first sight.  Where Adelaide reigned there was peace, to begin with, quiet and beauty were supreme.  But round her the air grew heavy with self-indulgence; gently, very gently and slowly, it spread about her, centre as she was of a large household mistress of many destinies.

    Her husband was the first to succumb to the influence.  Parliament assembled, but his place was vacant, though he had taken it with a certain enthusiasm resolved to throw what weight he could into the scale of a wise but cautious progress.  Adelaide did not care to go up to town, and she represented it as such a bore, such a loss of health and comfort, such a martyrdom, for such poor results, that he was content to remain beside her, and let the great questions of the day, as far as he was concerned, take their chance.

    But it told through all the house, down to its humblest servant.  The housekeeper had been on the alert, with her well-disciplined staff, to serve the new mistress as punctually and promptly as she had served the old.  But who could remain on the alert with Adelaide?  Later and later had grown the breakfast hour, less and less used the horses and carriages.  Fenmore was in a fair way for becoming a perfect Castle of Indolence.

    If the Sabbath-day was cold or wet, Lord and Lady Fenmore inhabited their luxurious rooms, and spent their time in reading and lounging, and their example was speedily followed by the servants, and theirs in turn by the young people of the village.  The rector marked the falling off, and was at a loss to account for it at first; but at length he traced it to its source.  The very same thing, he thought, keeps Lady Fenmore sitting in her drawing-room, so beautifully pure and calm, and Sally Lipscombe standing at her cottage door, unwashed and hideous, the absence of one thing rather, and that perhaps the noblest thing in life effort.

    It was evident that a deteriorating influence was at work, but what was the rector to do?  He was not a clergyman of Mr. Ashworth's type, with a supreme sense of duty, nor of Basil Montagu's, with a passionate self-devotion.  He was a sensible and rather worldly man, of energetic character, to whom exertion was wholly agreeable, and who felt grievously vexed to see sluggishness and disorder gaining the upper hand.  But, again, what could he do?  He preached several energetic sermons on the practical duties of Christianity, not one of which had the slightest practical effect, and there the matter ended.

    Lord Fenmore had taken up his duties as a landlord much in the same spirit as he had taken up his duties as a legislator, with enthusiasm.  But here, too, his efforts flagged.  There were bad bits on his estate, and he had determined to see to them.  The village at the park gates was kept tidy enough in outward appearance, and at one end of it there was a neat row of almshouses, inhabited by ten of the oldest women in that or any other parish, all decently cared for by the bounty of the Lord of the Manor; but hidden away here and there were wretched tumbledown houses, unfit for human habitation, where the rain came in through the roofs, and soaked through the thin walls, inflicting on the inmates the lingering tortures of rheumatism, or cutting them off in their prime with acute disease.  And on the border of the estate there was a valley a valley which yielded Lord Fenmore four-fifths of his wealth, and yet looked neither happy nor smiling, but a very valley of the shadow of death where all the cottages were wretched, and tumbledown, and dark, and damp, and where human beings swarmed in ignorance and ill.  It did not belong entirely to Lord Fenmore, and the mines were not worked by him; but still he held there almost unlimited power for good, and, what was more, he had resolved to exercise it.  He had resolved to build and to plant gardens, and to favour these poor men in their efforts, here as elsewhere begun, to try and raise themselves by education and temperance to a higher level than that of beasts of burden.

    And Adelaide kept him by her side, with her reading, and her poetry, and her music, and her refined tastes, till he almost forgot the existence of Brookdale.  Now there was a tree to cut down which obstructed a pretty view, and now a grove to plant where a foreground was wanting; here there were flower-beds to turn into grass, and grass into flower-beds.  It was always the same little trifles consumed their lives.  They gave little parties, and went to little parties in return; little friendships sprang up between them and their neighbours, who found the new Lady Fenmore "very sweet indeed."  But all greatness was dying out of their lives, all nobleness, because all self-sacrifice was gone, and they were sacrificing to self instead.  And let no one believe, or try to believe, that Christianity can exist without greatness and nobleness.

    At Easter the Dowager Lady Fenmore paid them a visit, and went away lamenting more than ever the fate of her son.  She lamented, too, over her neglected schools, and over her neglected village; for she had had her own narrow sense of duty, and had superintended the education of the children, put a stop to the quarrels which sometimes rent the almshouses, and fought bravely against the general disposition to slatternliness among the village matrons.  Now she saw with horror that Miss Johnson, the certificated teacher, might neglect to instruct her charges to be content with the station of life to which it had pleased God to call them, nay, might inculcate feelings directly subversive of that precept, without rebuke.  That old Dorcas Green might, and did, lift her stick to Nancy Withers; and Nancy Withers might, and did, pull off Dorcas Green's cap unreproved; and that Sally Sole and the rest of the maternity of Fenmore village might stand in their doorways unwashed and unkempt for ever, without the least chance of interference.

    Later in the season Lord and Lady Fenmore went up to London, and Molly joined them there, coming back from her ten days' visit somewhat sad and thoughtful.  Her darling Adelaide was sweet as ever; but with her eyes opened, as they had been by her father's words, she did not fail to see that her sister's life was one of pure selfishness.  Every one about her was absorbed in its details in the arrangement of her rooms, of her flowers, of her dress.  Molly was forced to acknowledge that the new happiness, the great opportunities which had come to Adelaide, had had no effect; even the emotions they had raised had passed away.  She was sweetly satisfied instead of sweetly discontent that was all.

    Life in the forest went on much as usual.  No one missed Adelaide save Molly.  She missed having to do so many little things for her, she missed her exactions even those which had hindered her most in the matter that lay nearest to her heart.

    "Certainly, Molly," her father had said to her on more than one occasion; "you illustrate the truth of the words, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'  You gave all and received nothing, as far as your sister was concerned, and it seems to have constituted your greatest happiness?"

    "Next to doing things for you, papa," she answered once.  "Yes, I suppose it is more blessed to give than to receive," she went on, after a pause, during which Mr. Montagu had joined them, "and yet you know it is the receiver who confers the greatest blessedness in that case."

    "I shall begin to be afraid of you, Miss Ashworth," said Mr. Montagu.  "You are an alarming sophist."

    "Am I?" she answered, in a half-mournful tone, without looking at him.

    He was looking at her fixedly and tenderly.

    There was, in truth, a sadness stealing over Molly.  Adelaide was gone, and her father had now another companion far more helpful than she could ever be.  Mr. Ashworth had never had a son, and Basil Montagu seemed to take the place of one, for he was a son who had never known a father.  There was something very touching in the attachment which had sprung up between them the young man evidently looking up to the old, and yet the old man returning the reverence in another form.  They often did double duty for the sake of companionship, the two going together where one would have sufficed.




"She stretched out her hand for the letter, which he had
evidently finished, but he did not give it."


    Autumn had come again.  It wanted but a month to the anniversary of Adelaide's marriage, when one morning at breakfast Mr. Ashworth received a letter.  It was from Fenmore, for Molly had looked at it as it lay beside his plate, and she was anxious that he should open and read it read it to her, or hand it over to her; he always did one or other.  It was from Lord Fenmore, too, and he only wrote on the more formal occasions, leaving the correspondence to his wife, and sending affectionate messages through her.

    "Papa, what is it?" exclaimed Molly, as he perused it in silence, and with an altered and alarmed expression growing on his face.  "Oh, papa, what is it?"  She stretched out her hand for the letter, which he had evidently furnished, but he did not give it.

    "It is sad news, my love," he replied, "I fear your sister is very ill indeed."

    "Let me read it," she pleaded, with outstretched hands, and Mr. Ashworth withheld no longer.

    Lord Fenmore wrote in haste, and in evident distress.  Adelaide was ill had had a shock of some kind.  Would one or both of them come without delay?

    "Let us both go, papa," cried Molly, whitening to the lips, as she always did in great emotion.

    "Yes, we will go together, and at once," replied Mr. Ashworth, soothingly.  "Mr. Montagu, I can leave everything in your hands?"

    "Oh, yes," replied Mr. Montagu, "leave everything to me.  I hope, however, it is nothing very serious."

    "I do not think Lord Fenmore would have written as he has, if it was not deeply serious," replied Mr. Ashworth.

    But it was far more deeply serious than they imagined.  Adelaide was living was likely to live, might live for years but yet life for her was over.  Pain even was over for the time though it had been terribly acute, and might recur again and again, pain was over.  But she was powerless, stretched upon a couch from which there was no hope that she would ever rise again.  The spine was affected, and she had lost the use of her limbs.  The doctor had given the strictest orders that she was not to be moved.

    And so she lay there in the room into which they had carried her when she had fallen a fluttering heap on the terrace in front of her home.  It was a ground floor room, and looked from the terrace over the lawn and into the park a lovely and noble scene; but she lay there, darkened in her corner, not caring even to see the light, with closed eyes mostly, suffering, suffering all the props of her life had given way at once.  Her readings of meditation and prayer and hymn seemed to have left a blank in her mind.  Her soul seemed to her to be like her body, deprived of power and motion.  But what Adelaide thought in these first days of anguish she spoke of to none not even to her husband.  It would almost have been a consolation to him if she had murmured a little desired this or that to he done for her, been impatient and exacting.  But no; she seemed entirely absorbed in suffering.

    Mr. Ashworth and Molly had been prepared to see her, but it was a terrible shock to both.  She was so like one already dead, lying there so utterly white and still, with her folded hands and closed eyes.  They hushed their steps as they drew near her, and strove to repress their grief; and because Molly's would not be repressed any longer when she met the suffering eyes of her sister after she had stooped and kissed her, she had been led gently but firmly from the room by her sister's husband.

    But after that Molly took her place bravely by Adelaide's side, and would not be drawn away again; and the days passed on, bringing no visible change.  Mr. Ashworth returned home, and left her there, and yet her presence seemed but little comfort to the invalid.

    It was an infinite comfort, however, to one person, and that was to her sister's husband.  He scarcely ever left the house, roaming from room to room, unable to do anything, and Molly would come forth at intervals to cheer and sustain him.  Hope is hope, if even it is vain; and Molly could not relinquish hope.  She even ventured to whisper hope to Adelaide; but she put it from her Molly was almost dismayed to see with what vehemence.

    One day Molly was sitting beside Adelaide alone.  The nurse was in the grounds, Lord Fenmore in the library, a general hush prevailed.  Molly became sensible of it suddenly, and fancied she could hear her heart beat.  She would fain have read to Adelaide; but when she had offered to do so Adelaide had declined.

    "Molly," said her sister, in a voice so clear it made her start to her feet on the instant.

    "Yes, dear," said Molly, coming to the front.

    "This is the anniversary of my wedding-day, is it not?"

    "Yes," said Molly, with a violent effort of self-suppression, which suffused her face with crimson.  Longing as she was to fling her arms round Adelaide, and sob, "You poor, poor darling!" she answered only, "Yes."

    "Where is Geoffrey?" said Adelaide next.

    "About the house somewhere," answered Molly.  "Shall I go and fetch him?"

    "What is he doing?"

    "Nothing," answered Molly.  "Shall I go?"

    "Not yet," she said, and paused.

    She closed her eyes again, and murmured, as if to herself, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth."  Then she looked up once more, with a strange new brightness, into Molly's face, and said, "But now I shall live in pain, Molly; but it will be life not death."

    "Thank God, darling," said Molly, falling on her knees.

    "I do," said a sweet voice, out of the silence.

    Neither Adelaide nor Molly knew how long that silence lasted, but at length it was broken by the former saying

    "Now, Molly, bid Geoffrey come here."

    She went in search of him.  He was in the great dull library, but he was not reading.  Those loaded shelves contained nothing that could interest him.  At that moment nothing interested him; he felt as if all his possessions had crumbled into dust.  To feel so utterly powerless and impotent was terrible.  He was telling himself that the calamity that had befallen him was worse than death, almost wishing that he and she could be laid together without delay in the old family vault, which had opened so often lately, and that all that he had might go without further delay to his almost unknown, distant heir.

    Thus Molly found him, and she hastened up to him, her great dark eyes full of unshed tears.  She laid her hand upon his shoulder, and made him look at her, as if that look of hers would communicate something which words would fail to speak.

    "What is it?" he said, almost impatiently, for the look had communicated all that he was most unwilling to receive consolation, hope, joy.

    "Something has happened to Adelaide," she said.  "There is a great and happy change."

    He started up.  "She is not dead!" he exclaimed.

    "No; not dead."

    "Can she rise?  Is she better?" he went on, excitedly.

    "No; the change is not an outward one; but it is as great as that.  She bids you come to her."

    He rose to go.

    "I will come when you call me," said Molly, taking his place.  "Go to her alone."

    Adelaide held out her hand to her husband with a smile; every trace of suffering except the marble pallor banished from her face.  "We must begin our life today, Geoffrey," was her greeting; "our real true life.  I am not going to die."

    "No, my darling," he said; "but to live thus "  His voice broke with the pain of it.

    "Geoffrey," she said, solemnly, "I wished at first to die; it seemed hard that I could not.  My life seemed only a dull, terrible, hopeless, meaningless misery as I lay here; but now I understand.  I was not living then, I am living now.  I understand it all, I might have done so much, and I did nothing, less than nothing, in the world, for I lowered your life and the lives of others.  Nay, do not deny me.  Now there is one thing I can do; let patience have her perfect work in me, but I must no longer hinder others.  I must no longer hinder you, Geoffrey; you must live to God."

    She stopped exhausted.  He sat and held her hand in his.  At intervals they spoke.  They settled what their plans for the future must be.  An hour after, when Geoffrey sought his sister-in-law, and found her where he had left her, his whole aspect had changed.  He too had been thrilled through and penetrated by a strange newness and sweetness.

    And from that day life at Fenmore underwent a swift and silent change.  She who lay in her room there, motionless as a statue, helpless as a new-born babe, was the soul of all the healthful movement, all the helpful exertion of which it was the centre.  Geoffrey and Molly worked hand-in-hand.  She would not allow them to stay by her except in their hours of rest and leisure; but they came to her to be encouraged in failure, and invigorated in weariness.

    "You know I have time to think," she would say, or, "You know I cannot be discouraged, because I never attempt anything."

    They brought her reports of all they did of every family raised to self-respect and cleanliness by a decent home; of every child, in black Brookdale especially, rescued from ignorance and premature toil, and sent to fulfil the happy school-days which make bright as it ought to be the beginning of life.  And through all the household the same spirit permeated, not perhaps so quickly as the spirit of indolence and selfishness had done, but still it leavened all more or less; and duty was once more enforced, only with higher and gentler sanctions.

    So the winter wore away and the spring came.  The trees wore the delicious misty green of the budding time, and Adelaide's bed was drawn nearer to the window that she might see it, see the spring.  And she did see it, as she had never seen it before, and not a murmur escaped her as she watched the glorious earthly resurrection, that not a spark of its fresh vitality fell upon her; that while the bare brown trees put forth their buds by countless millions, no power stirred those poor limbs of hers.

    Molly had never been at home, except for a few days at Christmas.  Her father had been only too glad to spare her to Adelaide, and he had rejoiced unfeignedly at the work which was doing at Fenmore, therefore he had even urged Molly to stay.  The old Welsh nurse, who had been with him since Adelaide's birth, kept house for him and Mr. Montagu; and he insisted that they were happy and comfortable.

    But now it seemed as if Mr. Ashworth was longing for Molly back again.  He doubted if Mr. Montagu would remain at Pendock; the incumbent of the family living was sick.  Mr. Ashworth thought it would be Mr. Montagu's duty to accept it when he died; it would not be his duty to bury himself down in the forest, entirely forgetting that that was what he himself had done.  Of course he would miss Basil much; he had been like a son to him, therefore he was bound to urge his going from him all the more if it was for Basil's advantage, or, rather, the advantage of Basil's cause, lest unconscious self interest should favour his desire to stay.

    All this Mr. Ashworth wrote to his youngest daughter; and there was a forlorn tone about his letters sometimes which went to her heart and filled it with a great desire for home.  "Basil and I have been at the school today, and he has been finding fault with the button-holes.  Ah, Molly! you have spoilt me as an inspector, for I can just manage to make out which is the button and which is the hole, and I won't be able to do that much longer unless you come back.  Basil knows all about it, though.  He can manage the girls, and the men and women too, but he can't manage the boys.  The boys are getting over us completely.  You could always manage them best."  And again, "Old Mrs. Helyar is dead at last; she died in her sleep.  How strange and sweet that must be, especially when one has lived so long, to lie down in this dim and troubled life, and wake up to the brightness of everlasting day!  We are to bury her on Thursday next.  I fancy it will be a mournful scene.  She has survived all who knew her, all her daughters seem quite aged now.  Molly, I hope I shall not live so long.  God willing, I would wish to die before I became a burden to myself or others."

    Molly did not show this last letter to Adelaide; but she could not help showing her anxiety to get home; and Adelaide saw it, and hastened, in her new unselfishness, and consideration for others, to send her from her side.

    "Of course I will miss you," she said, "and Geoffrey will miss you, too; but you have stayed too long away from poor papa.  Tell him that I have been thoughtless and selfish as usual in keeping you here."

    "That I won't," said Molly, "for I know he has been glad to spare me to you; but I think I will go now, dear, if you are sure that you will not feel too lonely."

    "I am thinking already of the new pleasure it will be to write to write to you.  Ruffle suggested it" (Ruffle was Adelaide's maid); "at least, she suggested how I might do it by propping up a little desk and inkstand before me."  And Adelaide looked positively happy in the prospect of making this new effort happy, and so lovely to look at, for her excessive delicacy had restored a look almost of childhood to her face.  She seemed tenderer and fairer now than ever she had looked in her vanished youth.

    The next two months Molly spent at Pendock, finding her hands pretty full of simple domestic concerns, which had fallen into arrears in her absence.  She and Basil Montagu were again thrown together in constant intercourse, like that of brother and sister.  But Basil was somewhat changed; he was graver, less careless and buoyant; for with the fixing of his faith on Christ he had seemed to cast all care away from him one of the happy few who can fulfil the difficult precept, "Be careful for nothing."

    But the world would not let Basil Montagu be at peace.  It wanted to drag him out of his happy obscurity.  It offered him rich livings, and called them "spheres of usefulness," and, above all, it kept leaving him money, which there seemed no way of spending down in the forest, though he was not one of those who fear giving men a little of that for which they had not laboured.

    But he was unsettled; and he didn't ask Molly's advice so readily as he had done at first.  He consulted her father instead, and they had private and confidential conference, into which she was not invited.  Molly watched his devotion to her father with strangely-mingled feelings half admiration and half jealous affection and was unsettled and unhappy too.

    At the end of the two months, however, she was summoned back to Fenmore.  Adelaide had had another and severer attack of suffering, which would not leave her as the last had done.  And even yet she did not die.  Life was strong in her, terribly strong to suffer.  Weeks and months went by, with ever-recurring paroxysms of pain, during which husband and sister would wring their hands in secret, and pray that she might be taken away.  Her father came and went, seeking to comfort her, and it was she who comforted him and them.  Fresh tortures were heaped upon her in striving to kill the terrible pain.  Her shrinking flesh was seared with burning iron, and yet there was no complaint.  When torment ceased the white lips wreathed once more into patient smiles.

    But when the last was fixed in death, Geoffrey and Molly, brother and sister evermore, clasped each other's hands, and murmured, "Thank God, thank God!"

    "Our darling is dead," wrote Molly to her father, "and she looks so lovely, so pure, so perfect, like an offering made to God.  She has borne her fruit, the rare fruit of a perfect patience, and taken it with her to the Saviour's feet."

    Molly went back with her father to Pendock a few days after the funeral, to resume her old life, chastened and quieted by the experience she had passed through.  Basil Montagu was still there.

    He begun by comforting her in her sorrow, so she thought, and ended in loving her.  But no, he had loved her from the first; only in her sorrow he showed her that love, as the only true solace which earth can give.

    "What are they doing over by Helyar's Oak?" said Molly one day, as they walked by the river.  "I thought I saw men working there behind the trees.  Let us cross over and see what it is."

    The ferry was lower down, and the spot was a lonely one, for there was no path there, and the wood-green thick to the water's edge.  "I want you to promise something," said Basil.

    "Not till I know what it is," said Molly, with a forcible shake of the head.

    "It is only that you will not explore in the direction of Helyar's Oak for the present," replied Basil.

    "Explore!  I have been there times without number," said Molly, with a slight contempt for his ideas of forest exploration.

    "But not lately?" queried Basil.

    "No, not for ever so long; I would like to go now," said Molly, "out of pure contradiction."

    "Don't then, I beg of you," said Basil.

    "But why?"

    "That is just what I don't wish to tell you," said Basil.  "Will you promise not to go?"

    "Well, yes," deliberatively; "if you will promise to make it plain by-and-by, I can wait," said Molly.

    "By-and-by, then," he answered, smiling, and clasped her hand.

    Another spring came, and one morning Basil Montagu led Molly to the river bank opposite Helyar's Oak.  The bank was low just there, and you wound among the trees and over the uneven ground, and came suddenly upon the view of the river.

    Suddenly they came upon it, and stood still and looked into each other's faces, but with very different expressions.  Molly looked startled, filled with admiration and delight, Basil looked expectant of it all, and eagerly watchful of her.

    There before them, the trees all round it, standing back a little, as in awe of a solemn thing, stood a church.  The fresh white stone gleamed against the dark background, the river ran in front.  The church was small, but a perfect gem.  They could see every detail from where they stood, see them double too, mirrored in the stream.

    "Beautiful!" exclaimed Molly, and the eager hands clasped, and the great dark eyes dilated.

    "And you have done this," she said; "this is your secret."  And she stood awhile gazing on the beauty which had been new created there.

    "Let us go near?" she said, after a pause.  They took a little boat which had been moored there on purpose, and crossed the river; and there they stood before the porch hand in hand, and walked round the walls.

    And they did not speak again, for the place was so tenderly solemn.  They heard the mingled murmur of the river and the wood, and in imagination the praise of the unborn generations filled up the space between, and seemed floating upwards from the forest sanctuary.

    It was twilight, in a familiar room, before they spoke together of common things again; only the commonest things of which these two could speak just then had a divine radiance upon them.

    "Your father opposed it very much at first," Basil was saying.

    "He would be sure to do so," answered Molly.  "In the first place, in his heart he wanted so dreadfully to keep you with him; and in the next, he thinks your talents and influence would be of use in the world.  He thinks they are buried here."

    "Yes, as the seed is buried, Molly, I hope," says Basil, "which will grow into household bread; or as the slow-growing acorn is buried, somewhere in the century to come to be a shelter from the storm and a covert from the tempest.  Having taken root here, here I mean to stay.  If I do my work here well, the influence will go
 

"'In widening circles, to the darksome lanes
  Of London's self.'"


    "And he opposed your building the church at Helyar?" says Molly.

    "Yes; and when I was not to be hindered, he wanted something plainer and less costly."

    "But you would make no compromise," says Molly.

    "I would make no compromise," he repeats.  "I told him it was for the poor.  It will just hold our Helyar folk, with their wives and children.  It will stand like that, Molly, only richer toned, more beautiful, when the next live hundred years have come and gone.  Was it not worth doing?"

    "Well worth doing," she murmurs.

    "And you would not rather have the money it cost?"

    "I would not rather have the money it cost," she echoes, earnestly; adding, "You think me utilitarian, Basil."

    "I, too, I hope, am utilitarian," he answers.

    "I would put all to use the stone, the labouring hands, the beauty they wrought, and have been wrought into all, material and art and life to the uses of the soul."

    "Do you think pain and suffering enrich our lives?" she asks.

    "I cannot doubt it," he answers.  "Without pain, and suffering, and death, our lives would lose their deepest significance.  But the pain and suffering must not be self-inflicted.  They must come to us naturally they must come from God."

    "You were once," she says, "almost an ascetic."

    "Yes; and it taught me the true self-denial the giving up of one's whole self to God.  Say that I could forget all cultivation, give up every cultivated habit, and live a hermit in these woods, with hair shirt and scourge; would not the life I gave up to God be altogether a poorer affair than that which holds all the joys of home, the love of wife and child, health and purity of body, knowledge, poetry, art?  'Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit,'" he concludes.

    "But we must be sure," she answers, "that we hold all these for Him."  There is a tender stress on one little word the word "we."  A few more days, and it will be the symbol of their united lives.  "We must be very sure."

    "Else it would be better to part with all," he replies.

    "And so it would.  But be sure, my love, that life will put us to the test."

 

――――♦――――

 
THE GOOD SAMARITAN

CHAPTER I.


COVENTRY CRESCENT was situated in Coventry Road, a genteel thoroughfare leading to a genteel suburb of south-eastern London.  The Crescent was considered genteeler still, in consequence, it is to be presumed, of its retirement from the world behind a screen of thin, unhappy-looking young trees, and the fact that its houses were a shade more uncomfortable and a trifle dearer than their neighbours in the Road.  Outside they looked all very much alike, with as little individuality as a row of bandboxes.  Each house had a few feet of ground in front laid out according to the taste of the tenant; but, to judge by the result, their tastes must have been wonderfully similar.  A square of turf, with a round hole in the middle of it, and a shrub in the middle of the hole, a square of turf with a narrow footpath of gravel round it, and the variations of which these devices were capable, represented the gardens.  A mile or so of them became awfully monotonous.

    The character of the Road, and of the houses from doorstep to chimney-pot, was stamped on everything, and that character was dullness dullness unmitigated and deadly, deadly, let it be repeated, for dullness is the most unnatural condition in life.

    How it came to be called Coventry Road no one knows; perhaps it was because the people who lived there were on the road to Coventry, while some of them had already reached that undesirable destination.  They were such a friendless and unfriendly set, unvisiting and unvisited.  At certain times of the day you might almost have thought it was an uninhabited quarter.  Nobody came out of the endless doors, nobody looked from the countless windows.  The muffin-man, as he traversed the road, with his frantic ringings, seemed an escaped lunatic, bent on waking the dead.

    At an early hour in the morning the male population made a daily sortie en masse, and took their way to the station.  Some hours later, if the weather was favourable, the nursemaids issued and took their way to the open ground behind the Crescent, with babies and perambulators.  As for the ladies of the quarter they seldom made their appearance at all, especially in the winter time.  For the amount of seeing or being seen of men which they enjoyed, they might as well have been shut up in Eastern harems.  Add to this that the broughams of some half-dozen rival practitioners were seldom out of the Road, except when they were in the Crescent, and you will have a picture, as clear as a subject so colourless can be made, of Coventry Road in its outward aspect.

    And what of the interiors ?

    It is an old idea, that of the strange revelations which would take place on the uncovering of a city's roofs to some keen observer; but it is one apt to occur to the passer along that Road with its quiet and its sameness.  If one could but look within each of those square, papered boxes, what things one might behold!  What struggles! what tragedies! what pities! what terrors!  Sameness and monotony would vanish amid the scenes hidden so closely behind those dull windows those drawn curtains those firm-shut doors; for it is the staple of humanity which is really interesting, not this or that refined sample of it.

    In the particular interior with which we have to do on a certain evening there was, at first sight, nothing remarkable.  The damp ground-parlour was left in darkness and solitude; the maid-of-all-work was busy in the kitchen behind.  Above were the drawing-rooms.  They counted as two in the advertisements, when a house in the "desirable locality of Coventry Crescent" was to let; in reality they were one room, with a superfluous door in the middle, and another at the side.  In this instance, however, the advertisements were justified; the folding-doors were shut and bolted, and, on one side, a piece of furniture rested against them.  These doors divided a family.  The front room was, as far as its space allowed, a perfect furniture ware-room.  A piano occupied the wall opposite the fireplace; a couch was stretched across the window; a chiffonier stood up against the folding-doors, whatnots filled up the corners; a table stood in the centre with chairs in advance guard.  As for the occupants, as far as space was concerned, they had not been thought of.  They were there, however, in considerable force.  A woman of middle age, with a complexion which had been fair, and hair which was red, with obstinate brown eyes, and a loose weak mouth.  She was sewing something which looked more than homely, and looking up every now and then to chide an unruly boy, who purported to be learning his lessons, but was surreptitiously teasing his sisters at theirs.  He had his mother's eyes and his mother's mouth; though he had darker hair, and a more delicate face.  He was about ten years old.  His sisters, aged respectively twelve and fourteen years, were pretty, fair-complexioned, golden-haired girls.

    It was November, and there was no fire in the grate; but the small room was sufficiently heated by two flaring gas jets.

    "I want to do my practising, mamma," said the eldest girl.

    "You must play softly, then," said the mother.

    "Yes, what a bother it is!  I wish we could have the piano down in the breakfast parlour."

    "There isn't room there, you know."

    "Couldn't we have it up in our bedroom, mamma?" suggested the younger.

    "Oh yes, mamma, that would be jolly!" said the boy.  "We could make as much noise as we liked there."

    "Nonsense!" said the mother; "go on with your lessons."

    Whereupon the eldest girl sat down to the piano, and the youngest entered into a hot dispute with her brother as to his right to intrude into their room upstairs.

    Now for the other side of the folding-doors!  There the furniture was scanty, the light subdued, the inmates absorbed and silent.  A low fire burned in the grate, an old book-case, full of well-worn books, stood against the wall; a shaded lamp threw a circle of light on the written pages which strewed the table.  On one side of that table sat a man of middle age, but with a pathetic look of youth on his delicate face.  He had not grown middle-aged; he never would grow old.  He had not grown, but faded.  On the other side sat a girl of sixteen.  Both were busy, but the man paused often to think, while his companion went on steadily filling the long folios with close, clear writing, in which there was not a superfluous stroke.  She was copying from her father's interlined, confused, half jottings, yet she never seemed at a loss.

    The man took up a book, and, after running half way down the index, paused, and put up his hand to his forehead, saying, "How bad my eyes are getting!"

    "You know you can see further than I can," replied the girl, looking up with a smile.  She was a little short-sighted.  "Let me look up the passage and read it for you," she added.

    He handed her the book.  She found the passage and read a sentence.

    "That is it," said her father; "let me see."

    He took the book.  "Copy down to this," he said, and handed it back to her, and both set to work again in silence.

    But the silence was speedily broken by the strumming of the piano in the other half of the divided room a subdued strumming which, from its very expression of restraint, was more calculated to irritate than the loudest noise.  The man sighed once or twice, and once more lifted his hand to his forehead.  At length he put down his pen.

    Not a motion of her father's escaped the girl, busy as she was.  "Shall I go and ask Edith to stop playing for a little while?" she asked.

    "No. I will walk up and down a bit, and dictate to you," he answered.

    She laid aside the sheets she was engaged upon at once, and took a sheaf of loose scrawl paper.  Her pen was in her hand.  She looked up with a smile of encouragement, and said, "Now, papa."

    He walked up and down for a few turns in the narrow space, trying to collect his thoughts.  Strum, strum, strum, strum, went the piano strum, strum, strum.  Then a suppressed burst of childish laughter was heard quite distinctly through the folding-doors.  He came back to the table and sat down again.  "I believe I must give it up for to-night," he said, and leant his head on his clasped hands.  How thin and white they were!  A dry sob came from his parted lips.  The girl rose, came and stood by his side, and laid her hand with caressing touch upon his shoulders.  Her whole face had changed.  She was not a particularly pious girl, as most good people account piety; but if a painter had wanted a model for a picture of true religion, Violet Verral at that moment would have furnished one.  In her great love for her father, in the passion of pity for him which wrung her heart, she had raised her eyes, not to that poor ceiling, but to the Infinite beyond; and grief, and love, and pleading, which in its fervency became faith, wrapt her young face.  In that poor room, out of labour and sorrow, the tie between heaven and earth became, for the moment, complete.

    When her father raised his face again, she stooped and kissed his forehead.  "You have been working too hard, papa," she said.  "It is time you gave up."  She went to the window, and drew aside the curtain.  "It is a lovely night.  Come out for a walk."

    He rose mechanically, and they left the room together, and soon after the house.  The moon was sailing in majesty through white billowy clouds, as they passed up Coventry Road, past the dull monotonous grey houses, out into the open country, so lonely and so lovely there and then.

    Edward Verral had been what is called "a youth of promise."  He had gone up to Cambridge from a country school, and carried off a fair amount of honours.  Poor, and left to his own resources, he had chosen literature as a profession, and become a "writer of promise" next.

    He made a success to begin with, and on the strength of it married immediately a girl quite as poor and friendless as himself.  The young wife was, however, brave as well as beautiful, with a heart as strong for duty as for love, and they were "only too happy;" her own pathetic words, when the end came to her to both.  They lived in a cheap lodging, and laughed at the world.  On the wave of that first success the young author went on swimmingly.  He must earn bread and cheese, and therefore he must write anything, everything that came to hand.  No matter, some day he would bring out "the new poem" which he had planned, the new novel, of which he had conceived the plot; and then why, then, he would be free to write the best that was in him, careless of whether it paid or not.  For the present he wrote "pot-boilers" articles for magazines and journals of the kind called "padding."  His name and initials gained a certain reputation for such.  His gentle, graceful morality, his playful fancy, his not too deep but genuine philosophy, and his easy style, had happened to find favour in certain circles.  One publisher seemed to think he could not have too much of it, and kept him busy writing from week's end to week's end, paying him liberally, too.

    Was that first success really good for him?  He himself sometimes doubted if it was.  Perhaps if he had first encountered failure it would have led to a higher success in the end.  At any rate, it would have enabled him, if he had braved it, to meet failure in the future without flinching.  Once overcome, it may be overcome again.  It has lost its terrors as a final thing.  Never having encountered it, Edward Verral had a morbid dread of it.  He shrank back from every attempt that brought the risk of it, as all newer and higher attempts do, and this not so much from cowardice as from a certain gentleness and delicacy which could not bear to encounter opposition or rebuff.  But he would never have sunk into a mere literary drudge if his young wife had lived.  She was already looking round for something that she might do to set him free from the taskmaster Necessity.  Already, and before a year of their married life was over, she was dead, leaving a little helpless infant, and her husband out of his senses with grief.

    The first thing which roused him was the question, "What was to be done with the baby?"  Her last words came back to him from the grave: "Take care of the little one; she will grow up to bless you.  I wish I could have stayed to help you," she added.  Did she guess, with the sure instinct of love, how much he needed help?

    The young wife had no living mother, neither had her husband.  There were no relations on either side who either would or could have taken the infant.  The nurse had carried it away during that last sad scene in the death-chamber, and it was when her term of office had expired that the question of what was to be done with it roused the unhappy father.  He must not part with it; that was his first resolution.  Had she not entrusted it to him? and she would never have parted from it!

    It was a resolution, however, encompassed with difficulties, and which did not go far to answer the question of what was to be done with it.  Their lodging-house keeper, who appeared to be considerably above the generality of her class, came to the rescue.  Her daughter, she said, had taken quite a fancy to the motherless baby, and was willing to devote herself to the care of it, if enabled to forsake her present occupation in order to do so.

    Mr. Verral was only too glad, and the terms were arranged without loss of time.  The young lady and she was a lady-like young woman left the business of her uncle the bookseller and stationer.  She did not say that this respected relative sold cigars, and that his trade in the sale of books was capable of expansion, being chiefly confined to copies of "Bradshaw."  Need it be said that this young lady became, as she had determined to become, the second Mrs. Verral?

    She had been very good to the baby, and she was far from cruel to the child, even when she had children of her own, in whose way little Violet might be supposed to stand, for to the child of his first wife and only love Edward Verral was both father and mother.  He watched over her with a watchfulness that never slacked.  She was always with him, sitting beside him, quiet when he was busy, wild with delight when he was idle enough to play, though even when he was busy he never stopped her childish prattle, and it never hindered him in his most serious work.

    Mrs. Verral the second never interfered between them.  A truer, tenderer-hearted woman would have been far more jealous of the place the child held in the man's affection.  Indeed, she was not jealous at all at least for herself.  She had got what she wanted in her marriage a husband and a home and she belonged to the class of women who are not exacting as to the qualities of these.

    She was prepared to endure a reasonable amount of neglect, and to undergo any amount of drudgery on her side of the bargain.  Perhaps she had her share of both; at any rate, with a young incompetent girl as her only servant, she had had plenty of the latter.  Her enjoyments were all of the simplest and cheapest kind, and were always postponed to her domestic duties.  She had no extravagances and no tastes; but for all this she was as purely selfish as a human being could be.

    She was also ambitious, with a low ambition, for her children.  She coveted for them riches and the society of the rich; coveted for them, seeing they were not rich, the semblance of riches; looked upon their dawning loveliness as something which would one day bring them to the rich man's heaven upon earth.  To this end she dressed them, that is to say, over-dressed them, and insisted upon sending them to the best, that is to say, the dearest school in the neighbourhood.

    That item of schooling had become, among other items which underwent the process of multiplication by four, rather a serious one to Edward Verral.  There were so many extras "extra for music," "extra for drawing," "extra for dancing and deportment," besides the ten guineas a year paid for each not learning English grammar, reading, writing, and arithmetic.

    A further sum was demanded to "advance" Mrs. Verral's eldest girl in music, that meant to place her under a music-master instead of a music-mistress.  Now, Mrs. Verral flattered herself that Edith was a born musician, and music formed a valuable attraction, and was therefore to be cultivated up to the highest point.  Her father knew that her talents and proficiency were both of the poorest order, and therefore proposed that she should give it up, and that she and the others should go to a plainer school, where more attention was paid to solid acquirements.  But he was unprepared for the result of his proposal.  Mrs. Verral broke into wild revolt.  She raved of the injustice done to "her girls," in seeking to remove them from a genteel school.  (How Edward Verral hated that word "genteel!")  He was going to give her girls what she was pleased to call "a common education."  He had never proposed anything of the kind for his girl, and she was not going to put up with it, after slaving herself as she had done for him and his.

    Edward Verral had put an abrupt end to this, for was not "his girl" sitting there, her eyes dilating with astonishment, her nostrils quivering with pain?  And when her step-mother had left the room, she had flung her arms round her father's neck, and begged to be taken away from school, and allowed to learn at home, so that the expense might be spared.

    Violet was persistent, and her father yielded, as he always did yield.  She was taken from school, and Edith and Lucy were both placed under the new music-master, who gave lessons to the "first-class young ladies" of the "first-class school" in Coventry Road.

    This arrangement proved entirely satisfactory to both parties.  Mr. Verral was determined that Violet should lose nothing by it, and he himself saw that she studied.  It became a pleasure to him to teach her, and he got out his own old school-books his Latin grammar and his Euclid and set her to work on them.  In return for the time he spent on her, she became his amanuensis and helper in his work, long since declined to drudgery; but in which he began to take more than a drudge's interest, now that she could appreciate it.

    It may be supposed that there was not much sympathy between Mr. Verral and his wife.  He had married her because his baby girl had put her little arms round her neck, and cried bitterly when it was put into her baby head that she was going away.  And she had married him, caring for him after her fashion after a fashion which would have slain, if it could, his nobler self.  The value of his work in her eyes was a money value, the worth of anything just as much as it would bring.

    It had, alas! only too much of this value in his own eyes, still it had also a value beside this.  When it ceased from that latter value it would cease from the former also, more than most.

    And it did so cease.  The publisher who had taken so much of it began to slacken in his desire for it; to hint at deterioration, to suggest improvement, and finally to insert his articles under other names.  He was "a physician," and "a clergyman," "an old hand," and "a new hand" by turns.  It went against the grain of his scrupulous nature to accede to this, especially when the name gave a weight to a particular article to which it was not entitled.  But he yielded, and the yielding unnerved him.  He tried other houses; but the taste of the public had changed.  They wanted more highly-seasoned wares.  Nothing less than genius would serve them, unless it was spiced with infidelity, or seasoned with a strong flavour of immorality.

    Then he found that he must accept harder and less-paying work the harder the less paying, for they had lived up to their income, slender enough at its best; and now, with a lessening income, their expenditure, or rather their requirements, were increasing year by year.  He edited the British Poets from Chaucer downwards; compiled educational works without number; wrote for children, big and little; wrote for illustrations, and for illustrations, the latter course being found necessary with some of the favoured artists, who always illustrated from their own point of view, with a lofty disregard of the author's ideas on the subject.  It was weary, dreary work, and had told heavily on the sensitive nerves and brain of Edward Verral.  The rejection of an article would often paralyse him for days.


 
CHAPTER II.


THE doctor's brougham stood at the door of Mr. Verral's house, No. 16, Coventry Crescent.  It had stood there a full half-hour.  Nos. I5 on the one side, and 17 on the other, had peeped from behind their curtains, and ascertained the fact. Nos. I5 and 17 knew all about it already.  They knew all about the resources of the Verral family, in that wonderful way in which people's concerns get known by their neighbours, by means of their minutest words and acts.

    The little doctor had tumbled out of his brougham, followed by another gentleman, whom they knew to be a consulting physician.  The doctor was caressing a little smooth, brown tube his stethoscope and he shook his head.  He was saying, "Poor fellow! there is very little use in your coming, Dr. Down, but it will be a satisfaction to the friends."  Nos. I5 and 17, or rather the female representatives of those houses, divined all this with the most perfect correctness, and sighed and sympathised with quite a genuine sympathy.  It took a great and grave calamity to rouse their sympathy, and this was the greatest and gravest of all calamities which threatened No. 16.  Nothing less than the loss of the master the household prop and stay.

    Two years have not improved the aspect of the rooms at No. 16.  Things wanted renovation sadly there.  They had been rapidly deteriorating, like the health of their owner, and like him, some of them seemed to have gone beyond the mending point.

    The folding-doors stood open now.  The dull, cold light of a November noon showed the ravages of decay on the house and its master too.  A worn-out couch had been wheeled into the back room, and on it sat Edward Verral a lean, stooping figure, on which the threadbare coat hung loosely.  He was breathing hard, and a red spot burnt on either wasted cheek.  He was labouring under the excitement of the doctor's visit, along with a physician of repute.  The verdict had been anticipated long ago, and yet it came with nearly the same shock of doom.  He had read it in the physician's face.  He would never have read it in the friendly practitioner's, who invariably said everybody was doing as well as possible till they were dead.  One would have thought from his unimpaired satisfaction that they had done as well as possible then too, which was true perhaps.

    Mrs. Verral had not stayed in the room during the examination.  It was Violet who stood by his side.  She, too, read the unuttered sentence in the stranger's eyes, and her heart beat to sickness with a new weight of dread.

    "How long can I hold out?" asked the patient, gathering calmness as became his manhood.

    "We can hardly say in such cases as yours," replied the physician.  "You may get along for a month or two, with care, but it would hardly be well to promise so much.  In any case," he added gravely, "it is best to be prepared."

    Edward Verral bent his head in acquiescence.  Neither father nor daughter could speak just then.  Each had to conquer a mighty agony.

    The doctor and his companion took their leave softly and reverently, the latter giving to Violet, as he passed out, a few simple directions as to diet.

    Mrs. Verral rushed upstairs to meet them, as they quitted the house, asking abruptly what they thought of her husband.

    "We have not concealed the truth from him," replied the stranger.  "You must have seen it coming.  Unless some sudden change takes place, he cannot last much longer."

    They escaped from her lamentations, and she hurried into her husband's presence.  He was sitting as they had left him, only Violet's arm was round his shoulders.  Neither of them had spoken, but both felt calmer now, for each at the moment was living in the other, without thought of self Mrs. Verral entered weeping, and flung herself into a chair.

    "What is to become of me and the children?" she wailed.

    "Hush, mamma!" said Violet, firmly.  She had always called Mrs. Verral mamma, never mother.  "Papa is to have a little warm wine now.  Will you come and get it for me?"

    She led her from the room then and there, with a peremptoriness which in her was so unexampled that it gained immediate acquiescence.  On ordinary occasions Violet was gentle and submissive to a fault.  Downstairs, in the parlour, Mrs. Verral burst forth afresh, "Whatever shall we do?" she sobbed.  She indulged in various cockneyisms in unguarded moments.

    "We must do all we can to keep his mind easy," said the girl.

    "If he had only been guided by me, and increased his life insurance when he first fell ill, his mind would have been easier now, I should think," she exclaimed.

    This was a sore subject.  It had been broached in the family council, at which Violet generally formed a third.  Mrs. Verral had urged this very plea then, and it had been eagerly negatived by her step-daughter, who had truly said that her father could not do anything dishonourable with an easy mind.

    Mrs. Verral did not see that it was dishonourable.  Of course he would be examined, and it was the company's look-out if they took him on examination, as they were very likely to do, for the symptoms a year ago were still unpronounced.  She did not see it then, and she saw it no clearer now.

    But her step-daughter turned on her almost fiercely.  "You will kill papa if you speak in that way," she said.

    "I always knew that it was your fault that he would not be guided by me," was the reply.

    And, indeed, but for the true heart and fresh conscience of his child standing by him, Edward Verral would have yielded in this, as in lesser things, and died all the sooner and more sadly for doing it.

    Violet put aside the blame.  Her grief calmed her quickly.  "I will take up his wine now," she said in a calmer voice; "and then, perhaps, he will be able to go on a little with his work.  He is so anxious to finish it."

    She carried up the glass, trying hard to still her heart and steady her hand by the way.  She held it to his lips, and when he had swallowed the wine, and rested a little, the physician would have been no little astonished if he could have looked in on his late almost prostrate patient.

    The shock of his certain doom, after its first effect had worn off sobered Edward Verral.  He felt less feverish and excited than he had felt for many a day.  "I wish it had been different for your sake and theirs," was all the allusion he made to the verdict of the physician.

    From this day the affairs of the family went on as usual.  There was more pinching and scraping on the part of "poor Mrs. Verral" down in that back kitchen of hers, as her neighbours knew.  The maid-of-all-work looked out for better quarters in consequence.

    The unfinished work was a long and laborious one could no longer be laid aside, in order that any surplus energy might be worked up in some way that would meet any extra demand.  Alas! there was now no surplus energy, though there were many extra demands, such as wasting illness always makes.  On many a day the languor of disease prevailed so utterly that little or nothing could be done.  Dictation had become too great an exertion to him.  And still he lived on lived through the long, dismal winter; never had winter before seemed so dismal and so long.  His life seemed hanging by a thread; but still the delicate fibre held out and did not snap.  The brain eked out the life of the body, with a life of its own.  But the unfinished work was laid aside, and the folding-doors were opened, and the whole family were united in their time of trial.  Edith and Lucy, and even little George, had their share of waiting on papa, and vied with Violet in their affectionate care.  The latter even stood aside that they might make manifest a love of which he was assured in her.

    When his work was laid aside Mr. Verral seemed to get worse more rapidly, as if he had nothing now to do except to die.

    One day, however, he seemed better than usual.  The east wind had gone.  The spring was in the air.  It had blown over the March violets in many a western wood.  Edward Verral took a fancy, a craving, to have out his work once more.  Violet sorrowfully and with much tender remonstrance brought forth the unfinished task.

    "It seems as if I could not die," he said; "and if I cannot die I must work."  And there came over him an overwhelming desire to live.  For the first time he prayed for life.

    He wrote a little, rested, and wrote again.  It was terrible work, and he left off too sick and weary either for hope or fear.

    Edward Verral's fortunes were certainly at the very lowest ebb.  Owing to the delay in finishing his task the finances were utterly exhausted, and until it was finished there was no hope of a supply.  When he rose the next morning, he did not know that it would be possible to find the day's dinner, as certainly it was not possible to pay for it; and butcher and baker had already threatened to strike.

    Sick and weary he had gone to bed at night, and sick and weary he rose in the morning, and came creeping down to breakfast.  It was with but languid interest that he picked up the letter which the postman thrust through the hole in the door which represented a letter-box.  He picked it up and carried it downstairs in his hand.

    The children had breakfasted and gone off to school, and Mrs. Verral had breakfasted with them; only Violet had waited for him.  There was a fire in the grate, and a little kettle boiling by it, and she busied herself making him a fresh cup of tea and a morsel of crisp toast.  While her back was towards him he gave a sudden cry a strange, startling cry which made her drop the bread among the ashes.  Her young heart had been so oppressed with trouble that she feared the utmost evil, and turned on him a face white with terror.

    She saw him sitting with the open letter on his plate, his hands clasped, his head bent in the attitude of prayer.  She thought not of the letter.  Was he going to die then and there?  He opened his eyes and looked at her with unearthly gladness.  He held out his hand and drew her towards him, and she trembled in every limb.  "My darling," he whispered, "all our troubles are over."  But she did not understand, and fell to weeping bitterly.  Very soon, however, he made her understand it all.  A distant relative had died and left him five thousand pounds.  What a fortune it seemed to him!  What would it not do for him?  Buy back his life from the gravel?  He felt it had done that already.  The spring of life within him, which was about to stop, had been suddenly wound up again.  He felt himself drinking the new wine of hope and joy, and gaining strength with every drop.

    Let no man despise money.  It is the fruit of men's lives and labours.  It represents one knows not what of strong and pitiful self-denials, represents sufferings, perhaps sins.  To Edward Verral, as to many another man, this not very magnificent sum represented life, and all that made life good to him.  It was not only hope and joy, but honour and honesty, freedom and the future of his children.

    He himself went in search of Mrs. Verral, and told her the news, which she received in a sufficiently depressing manner, beginning in scepticism, and ending in the assurance that it really was nothing more than a fair compensation for the past; nothing calling for special thankfulness or unusual cheerfulness.  But even her want of sympathy did not chill the new warmth at Edward Verral's heart.  He went back to Violet and partook of his tea and toast with unmitigated pleasure.  Then he wrote the necessary letter to his cousin's executor, and declared himself less fatigued than he had been for months.  The very weather was propitious.  The wind was keeping out of the east, and the air was soft and balmy.  He would go out he who had not been over the threshold for a whole season who thought he would never have gone out again.  He and Violet went out together.

    The next thing that was to be thought of was the disposal of the money when it actually came to hand, which it did with very little delay.  Here Edward Verral's chief, indeed, only adviser, was his wife, in whose judgment on money matters he had the strongest faith.  He forgot that there is the greatest possible difference between saving money and safely investing it.

    Of course the first thing to be done was to pay every debt to satisfy every claim.  Thanks to simple living, and Mrs. Verral's frugality, it was done with less than a hundred pounds, the children's school-fees being by far the largest item.  Then the doctor called, and was astonished to find his patient escaping from his hands in this fashion, and when informed of his good fortune, insisted on his leaving town immediately, and spending his time up to the middle of May at least on the south coast.  "It will really give you a chance, my dear fellow," he said.  "You know you are not firm, there is nothing firm about this spurt of improvement; but if you can establish it you may be all right again; do almost as well with half a lung as with two whole ones."

    And Edward Verral took the doctor's advice and went to Hastings, taking Violet with him; and the whole family spent their Easter there, and were a happier and more united family than ever they had been before.  Also the work, which had been in hand so long, got itself finished, being worked at for a short time daily, and left off whenever it became fatiguing.  At the end of May, when he and Violet returned to town, no one would have known Edward Verral for the same man.  The cough, the emaciation, the weakness, were gone.  The lung healed, and in the words of the little doctor, "he was all right again."

    Now, Mrs. Verral had been meditating much as to the best investment for the money, which they had been freely living upon, and the bulk of which was deposited at very low interest in a perfectly safe bank.  Ever since the announcement, which she had received so unsympathetically, her heart had been burning in secret to secure the money for her children.  Her first idea was to buy a house.  She had a notion that it was the safest of all investments, simply because it couldn't be carried away in one's pocket.  Therefore on a house she had set her heart.  And she had fixed on the actual house, too, before Mr. Verral and Violet returned.

    It has been mentioned that there was an open space behind the Crescent.  It was open, and it was elevated.  There one could see the Crystal Palace on a fine day, flashing in the distance like another sun, and the breeze blew fresh there from the Surrey Hills and the gardens of Kent.  On that gentle elevation (they called it a hill) the aristocracy of the neighbourhood were located.  The church had been planted there, and the clergyman's house, with its ample garden.  Opposite to that was the villa of a rich churchwarden.  The houses for the most part were built in pairs, and looked very handsome and showy, well plastered over, to hide the bad, crumbling brick of which they were made, except when the occupier, as was not seldom the case, had erected his own dwelling.  A pair of these houses, newly built, remained unoccupied, and on these Mrs. Verral had set her heart.  Whatever happened to Edward, Mrs, Verral thought, if she had these two houses she would be safe.  The one she could live in, and the other she would draw the rent of.  The rent was 80 per annum, and the price of each house was 1,000.  2,000 were, therefore, invested in the houses, and the Verrals left Coventry Crescent and entered one of them.

    Certainly at first the investment was not a profitable one.  The furniture of the house they had occupied in Coventry Crescent was altogether too poor, and small, and shabby for the new house, and it had to be furnished afresh.  Then for the first six months everything in it seemed to go wrong.  Everything had been put up for show and not for use.  There was not a bit of honest work about it.  There was not a lock that would fasten, or a bell that would ring; everything, before the summer was over, was cracking and gaping.  When the autumn rains set in the cement had to be renewed, and had to be carried round the back of the house, where the paper peeled off the walls with damp, for the rain came through them.  One windy night, too, half the slates were blown off the roof, and the terrified servant rushed down from the attic declaring the house was coming about her ears.  In short, there was no end to the cost, and no getting honest work at any cost.  Then the other house did not let, and the sun and wind did equal damage there, though the internal machinery was yet intact.  The larger house, too, necessitated a larger outlay in every way.

    But fortune having once turned her face towards Edward Verral, seemed to smile more and more.  In other and more fitting words, there had come to him one of those periods of release from trouble and anxiety which come to most a rest and refreshment by the way.  He was offered the editorship of a monthly magazine, with a salary of 300 a year, a post which he was well able to fill, and one which he had often tried to obtain.  He accepted it gladly, and found his health benefited by the new interest and excitement, and by the daily journeys to town, while the work was too leisurely and too well organised to cause any pressure upon him.

    One evening he came home to find that the house had let at last.  A gentleman had seen it, and been satisfied so well that he had fixed upon it at once.  Mrs. Verral had shown him over it herself and she had never seen any one so easily pleased.

    "And did you point out to him," asked her scrupulously honourable husband, "that several little things would want looking to directly?"

    "Oh, it is all right," answered Mrs. Verral.  "He did not seem particular about trifles.  I have no doubt he is rich.  Indeed, he had every appearance of it.  I am sure I am very glad.  It will be so pleasant to have nice neighbours?"

    "How do you know that they will be nice?" asked her husband, smiling.  But he got no answer, only Mrs. Verral launched out in praise of the liberal spirit in which Mr. Wood had met the questions of rent, repairs, &c.; of the politeness of his speech, the thickness of his gold chain, and the size of the diamond that glittered on his little finger.

    The entry of the new neighbours took place almost immediately.  Their furniture arrived first, and was of the newest and finest.  Not very substantial, perhaps, but then not in the least old-fashioned, or faded, or cumbrous.  Then came the wife and two daughters in a hired brougham, and in a cab behind two more, who were mere children, and a couple of maids.  They had come by rail, though only from another suburb, it appeared, and Mrs. Verral sent in her servant to ask if she could be of any use to them, and if they would come and rest in her drawing-room till their own was prepared.

    They accepted the offer with unusual frankness, and trooped into Mrs. Verral's house, and Mrs. Verral ordered tea for them, and entertained them as well as she could while Mr. Wood superintended the arrangements next door.  He had need, for never had Mrs. Verral seen a more languid and lifeless woman than Mrs. Wood.  Mrs. Verral noticed that neither she nor her children were particularly well dressed, and she put it down to carelessness.  She did not appear to care for anything, neither for her new house, nor her fine furniture, nor whence she came nor whither she went.  She had a look of suffering in her eyes which might, perhaps, explain it, and she had the appearance of one who does not sleep at night.

    The girls were tall, quiet, colourless girls, about the age of Violet, and there was a gap between them and the little ones, caused by the loss of several new-born babes.  Mrs. Wood spoke of them, Mrs. Verral thought, as if their loss had not affected her much.  The liveliest of the party were the children, two very pretty blooming little creatures, who sat together at a window, and chattered and laughed in a low key.  Mrs. Verral's party of young folks came home from school, and were duly introduced; and at length Mr. Verral himself arrived.  Then Mr. Wood came for his family, and the circle of introductions was complete.  From that day an intimacy flourished between the neighbours.  Mr. Wood's children were sent to the school with the Verrals.  Mr. Wood's daughters took their music lessons with Violet.  The Verrals failed to notice that with all this they knew nothing whatever of Mr. Wood's circumstances.  Certainly, Mrs. Wood was anything but a gossip.  There was nothing to be got out of her.  It transpired through the children, however, that they had formerly been living in a much humbler style.  Mr. Wood had risen in the world; that was it.

    But if the Verrals knew nothing of the circumstances of the Woods, the Woods knew everything concerning the circumstances of the Verrals.  There could not be a more gentle, unsuspecting, friendly soul than Edward Verral.  The social charities were rooted in his heart.  He had quite grieved over the lack of intercourse with his neighbours in Coventry Road.  He was too shy to make advances, but he was open to the slightest, and ready to exchange genuine sympathy and genuine tenderness for much poorer coin.  And now every morning he encountered Mr. Wood on the way to the station, and they walked together and chatted on the topics of the day.  Mr. Verral was glad to find that on all the most important of these his neighbour agreed with, nay, was ready to take even a higher tone than himself.  Then, they bought their papers and travelled up together.  Mr. Verral had taken a first class ticket for the season, to avoid the draughts.  Mr. Wood travelled first class of course.

    A great many acquaintances seemed to be made in the trains.  Mr. Wood, though a stranger in the district, seemed to know two or three gentlemen already.  It transpired that he knew them in the City.  Mr. Wood had an office in the City; that was another important item of information a very important one in Edward Verral's eyes.  His friend, from all he saw of him, was doubtless an excellent man of business.

    Another fellow-traveller by the daily train was Edward Verral's opposite neighbour the churchwarden.  Somehow, he invariably chose another carriage than that in which Mr. Wood and he were either seated, or just about to enter.  He chose another carriage, and even looked another way.  And yet he had called on Mr. Verral and asked for a subscription towards paying off the debt of the church asked him indeed to take a card and collect for it.  Mr. Verral gave his own subscription a rather handsome one but refused the collectorship; but he and the churchwarden, Mr. Goldy, had parted on amicable terms.  Besides which, every Sunday Mr. Goldy saw Mr. Verral sitting in his pew, at the head of his family, and handed him the embroidered bag into which he dropped his sixpences, and the children their pennies, for the weekly collection; and if he chanced to meet him outside the church door, he invariably bowed and was even at pains to recognise him.  And the clergyman, being with Mr. Goldy on one occasion, had done the same, acknowledging Mr. Verral as a member of his church.

    Edward Verral went to the church because it was the church of the district, not because he had any special liking for the clergyman, Mr. Gainsford.  He did not dislike him in any way.  He under whose ministry Edward Verral had once tasted the bread of life had gone out of reach, but he had taught him the secret of extracting spiritual nourishment out of what was set before him.  Mr. Gainsford was not extreme.

    He was neither high, nor low, nor broad, nor narrow, as far as Edward Verral was able to discern.  He was what is called eloquent, though he wanted the simplicity of true eloquence, and was exceedingly ornate in his compositions, and strong in his denunciations of unpopular vices.  He had come there on speculation: the church had been built on speculation a speculative builder erected it.  The churchwardens had speculated in it, and so had the incumbent; and for all these speculations the future flock were expected to pay, and were paying.

    Still the church was needed; for the district had grown up in the wonderful way in which London suburban districts grow, and it was churchless; and Mr. Gainsford's deepest motive and that of all concerned, for aught any one knew, might have been the service of Christ; only Edward Verral had a strong feeling that a church ought not to be in debt any more than an individual; and that the constant parade of that church's debt did no little to decrease the horror with which upright men ought to regard debt; and no little to increase the feeling that it might be honourably incurred with very remote prospects of paying, and to lessen the restraints of patient self-denial.  On the other hand, the church also did something towards the making of the district a real community.  It would have done this more thoroughly if there had been any poor to care for; but there were none, and that was not the church's fault.  Still the Sabbath bell drew these men and women together and gave them some community of feeling.  With very few exceptions, and with more or less regularity, every family in the place, that is in all the new roads leading to the church, assembled there, and united in the worship of God.

    There was one glaring exception it was glaring because the man was evidently well-to-do, and because his well-to-do mansion was set down next to Mr. Goldy's, opposite the church.  That had not been the owner's fault, however, for his house had been there before any other, and before the church itself.  The property was freehold, and the house was unlike all its neighbours, a substantial, unpretending, two-storied house, ample in size, but perfectly plain, its only ornament being the profusion of flowers which luxuriated in the wide garden almost all the year round.

    And the owner, who seemed a childless and solitary man, would walk in his garden, and sit in his garden, and hear the church-bell ring at his very ear, and make no sign.  It was not that he went to any other place of worship.  There were dissenting families in the neighbourhood, and no one thought the worse of them.  But this man was no one knew what an atheist a man out of the pale a man to be avoided and shunned.

    He had strange ways too.  Parties came to his house, but they were not arrayed in orthodox silks and muslins.  Garden parties, with outdoor teas and strawberry feasts, at which the guests were evidently working men and working men's wives and children.  His neighbours could not understand him at all.  There was only one who longed to know him, that was Edward Verral.  He felt sure the man was worth knowing; but he was even shyer than himself.

    Mr. Lawrence was a singularly noble-looking man of middle age or more.  He was tall, erect, and well-proportioned, looking like one who had possessed, and still possessed in a measure, great physical strength.  But it was strength without coarseness, without grossness.  He was not worn with self-denial, and yet you could see that a self-indulgence was unknown to him.  His hair and beard were grey, but still showed how black they had once been, and under the grizzled eyebrows there burnt in the fine dark eyes a clear and steady fire of refining intellect.  This was the man whom Edward Verral saw, and this was what he saw in him; but all that passed between them was a shy gaze, each when the other was not looking.  They had no opportunity of studying each other's faces in the close proximity of a seat in the same railway carriage, for Mr. Lawrence, when he went up to town, travelled third class.

    One morning the conversation between Mr. Verral and Mr. Wood turned upon investments, and Mr. Verral stated frankly that he had still about two thousand five hundred to invest.

    "A nice little sum," said Mr. Wood, "but take care you don't lose it.  It is not easy now-a-days to find a safe investment which pays."

    "One must risk something, I believe," said Mr. Verral.  "For myself I am as ignorant of business as a baby.  Do you happen to know of any investment at once good and safe?"

    "I do just happen to know of one thing," replied Mr. Wood.  "A friend of mine, who wants to realise his capital at present, has some shares to sell.  They would not pay alarmingly, perhaps about seven and half per cent.; for the shares are at par, you see."  Mr. Wood spoke with extreme deliberation, and with a contraction of his brow, as if he taxed his powers of consideration, and when he had spoken he took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead, though the weather was severely cold.

    "Seven and a half per cent.!" repeated Edward Verral, "that is a great deal; it is three times what I get at present."

    "Oh, the great concern you deal with won't give anything like value for your money.  You must risk a little, you know.  Its shareholders do that; they risk a great deal, and you pay for it, and it is fair enough after all.  I have a good bit of money in the concern I speak of and I don't want to lose it.  But you must do nothing rashly; think over it, and let me know if you entertain the idea, and then I will appoint a meeting at my office, and we can go into the matter."

    What could be fairer, or more considerate than that?  Edward Verral reported the conversation to his wife, and she was delighted.  She urged the immediate acceptance of the offer.  "His own money is in it; you couldn't have better security than that," she said.

    The seven and a half per cent. had an infinite charm for her.  Why, it would add a hundred and twenty-five pounds to their yearly income, and Mrs. Verral pleaded and proved that a hundred and twenty-five pounds was just what was needed to assure their perfect comfort.  "We might save a little out of it, you know," she added, "for a rainy day.  One can't tell what may happen."

    It was very true.  One could not tell, and the unuttered thought in the wife's mind flashed into the husbands.  What if this improvement in his health should be only temporary?  What if he should die?  The money thus invested would enable his wife and children to live in comfort, and keep their modest position in society.  When he thought of what it would have been if he had left them before, he shuddered.  He could see, more clearly, it seemed, from where he stood, the great black gulf of poverty which had yawned for them.  And he thanked God for his respite.  So in the evening, when Mr. Wood had had time to dine and repose himself, Mr. Verral looked in upon his tenant and neighbour to tell him that he accepted his proposal to arrange a meeting at his office for the purchase of the shares.

    Without loss of time the meeting was arranged, and took place in the office, which seemed to Edward Verral quite an imposing place, with its space and freedom from bustle.  Doubtless the clerks were stowed away in less luxuriant quarters, for Mr. Wood spoke of "my people," which gave Mr. Verral the idea of quite a little crowd of satellites.  Only a small boy, however, was visible.

    Mr. Wood's friend was even more plausible than himself and Mr. Verral recognised him as one of the gentleman to whom he had seen Mr. Wood nod familiarly on their way to the station.  "I was once a near neighbour of yours, or rather you were of mine," said the friend.

    "Indeed," said Mr. Verral, inquiringly.

    "Yes, in Coventry Crescent," replied the friend.

    "Ah! I have always regretted," said Mr. Verral, "that one knows so little of one's neighbours here."

    And it gave him greater confidence to find that the man was his neighbour.  And the business was gone into, and the papers examined, and the transfer arranged.  And then they had a single glass of wine together, and a biscuit out of a small bag, brought in by the small boy, and parted mutually pleased.


 
CHAPTER III.


IT was spring again, and the months had passed kindly over the Verrals.  Mr. Verral had been a little timid about himself all the winter, and had taken the greatest care to protect himself from cold and damp.  But now the winter was over, and he felt such a sweet grateful sense of security, that his whole heart went out in thanksgiving to God, and charity to his fellow-men.  It added to this feeling of security that he had duly received the quarter's interest for the money which he had invested in the Victoria Joint Stock Banking Company, one of whose four joint managers he was now invited to become.

    "I know as much as a baby about business," he had repeated.

    And Mr. Wood had answered jocosely, "We will put you out to nurse."

    And Edward Verral, with his fatal facility for yielding, allowed his name to be put upon the management, where he was assured that, as editor of "Sunday Readings," it was highly useful.

    As, no doubt, it was, in decoying and cheating those who were thereafter induced to join the Victoria, which was neither more nor less than an elaborate swindle.

    And suddenly the bubble burst, so suddenly, it seemed, that Mr. Wood had no time for preparation.  One fine morning he was missing from his fine new villa on Coventry Hill, he and all his family.

    The servant came, in the morning, her eyes red with crying, to the door of Mr. Verral's house.  She had been up all night, and neither master nor mistress had come home.  Something dreadful must have happened, she was sure.  She was brought into the breakfast-parlour, and Mr. and Mrs. Verral came to her, to hear whatever she could tell as to the movements of the missing family.

    Master had sent her out with a note which she was to take, and wait an answer, and she had waited, she did not know how long.  The other servant had got a holiday to see her mother in the country, and was not returned.  There was no answer to the note (Mr. Verral found it had been addressed to one of the directors of the Company).  When she got back Master was waiting, but Mistress was gone.  Master did not say when she would return; the children were with her.  Then Master himself went out.  He did not say anything to her, he took nothing with him he walked away, and he had never come back.

    All this was got out of the girl by dint of cross-examination; but it amounted to very little.  The simplest solution seemed to be that some terrible accident had befallen one or more of the party, and that they were detained somewhere, perhaps close at hand.  The mystery would doubtless be cleared up in the course of the day.  That there was something to clear up, and something unpleasant too, was manifest.  Mr. Verral made up his mind to call at once at Mr. Wood's office, and see if he could find there a clue to the strange proceeding.

    But first he bethought himself of seeking the gentleman to whom the servant had carried the note.  Mr. Verral knew him as one of the directors, and he lived in the neighbourhood.  To his address, therefore, Mr. Verral at once proceeded.  He was only a lodger there, was the first information he obtained; and further, that he had gone into the country for a day or two.  With this Mr. Verral was obliged to be content, but it gave him a feeling of uneasiness for which he was unable to account.  He hastened into the City, and went straight to Mr. Wood's office.  It was closed.  The small boy stood at the foot of the stairs, with another boy belonging to one of the other offices in the large and lofty building.

    "I shouldn't wonder if the governor had sloped," he was saying.

    "Is Mr. Wood upstairs?" asked Mr. Verral, but in a very unexpectant tone.

    "No, sir, he's not been here this morning," said the boy.

    "Do you know where he is to be found?" asked Mr. Verral.

    "No."

    "He is very late," said Mr. Verral.  "Did anything like this ever occur before?"

    The boy stared.

    "Was your master in the habit of coming late?"

    "No, he always came in to look at the letters."

    "Are there any letters?"

    "Heaps."

    "Let me look at them."

    "I can't, sir, Master's got the key."

    Mr. Verral paused, deliberating.

    "I don't think he'll come, sir," volunteered the boy; "I think he's gone off."

    "Gone off?" repeated Mr. Verral.

    "Gone for good, sir," said the boy, looking preternaturally knowing.

    "What makes you think so?" asked Mr. Verral, who, though he told himself there was nothing in all this, was turning faint with dread.

    "Because there's been people here for money, and Mr. Wood has kept on putting them off.  And one man said he would take the law of him if he didn't have his money back."

    This was terrible confirmation of the dreadful thought that was fast taking possession of Edward Verral's mind, that Mr. Wood had vanished.  But no, he would still drive it out; it should not take possession, the thing was absurd.  There was his house full of furniture.  Back to it he would go now, and see if its master had returned.  The day was wearing on.  It was close to the end of the month, to publishing day at his office, and yet Edward Verral went back to Coventry Hill, neglecting all else in the fear that had come upon him in his restless desire to know what it was he had to dread.  Back to the house, and then back again to the office of Mr. Wood.  He was spending the day in the trains, and still there were no tidings at either place.  He forced himself at length to go and transact some absolutely necessary business in connection with the coming out of his magazine, and then he returned once more to his inquiry at Mr. Wood's.

    The boy had been home, and had returned again to his post at the foot of the stairs, more out of curiosity to see what would happen than any other motive.  He was getting tired, however, and was going home again, but he refreshed Mr. Verral's mind by recalling to him the other two directors "the other gents," the boy called them.  Mr. Verral remembered the addresses, in the Kensington district, and rushed off in search of the men.  But no such men and no such places were to be found.  Apprehension of evil was becoming certainty.  One last visit to the City, and then he would go home and rest.  Tomorrow he must act, he must institute inquiries of a more public character.

    Worn in mind and body, as a man of delicate organisation alone can be worn, Edward Verral passed down Cannon Street.  The business hours had ended. The last light of a May day was passing, and there was falling on the City a deep and sweet repose.  It looked grander and loftier than in the bustle of noontide.  Edward Verral's pace gradually slackened.  The excitement which had sustained him died down.  Wearily he dragged himself to the well-known building, and looked up at its blank windows.  They seemed to him like the sightless eyes of death.  He ascended the stairs.  All the doors were closed and padlocked.  It was silent as the grave.  Feebly he shook the door of Mr. Wood's room, and the noise startled him.  He had to stand still and lean against the wall, and he took off his hat to wipe his forehead.  Then he came down again, feeling utterly crushed and broken.

    He got into the train, and went back to his home.  A policeman was in the carriage with him had sprung in as the train moved off.

    "This is a bad business," said the man, as they drew near the station.

    "What is?" asked Edward Verral, gently, but wearily.

    "This swindling business," answered the man.

    "What do you mean?"

    "I am sorry you're concerned in it," said the official, kindly.

    "My name is Edward Verral," said his vis--vis; "there must be some mistake."

    "No, sir, no mistake.  You're the gentleman I'm looking for.  I'll have to trouble you to wait at the station a minute, and then come back with me."

    "But why?" asked his companion.

    "It's this affair of 'the Victoria.'  The directors have been getting money on false pretences.  You're the only one we've lighted on yet, the other three are off.  I hope you'll come quietly, sir."

    "But I am innocent," said Edward Verral, as the train came to a stop at the station.  "God knows I am innocent!"

    He could say no more, something seemed to choke him.  The red tide of life had burst its boundaries, and was welling to his lips.

    Now it had happened that Mr. Gainsford had been to a meeting at Exeter Hall, and that his friend and churchwarden, Mr. Goldy, had been detained in the City.  He was a ship-broker, and the sailing of a first-class Indiaman on the morrow had kept him and a staff of clerks busy over bills of lading and other papers, which had come in at the last moment.  He and Mr. Gainsford consequently met on the platform of the Cannon Street station in waiting for the very train which was to carry Edward Verral towards the crowning misery and misfortune of his life.

    Mr. Gainsford was on that evening in an unusually excited mood.  He was not naturally an excitable man; quite the contrary.  His florid eloquence was not the effect of inward heat.  His flowers were not even forced; they were simply artificial.  There was no hypocrisy in the artifice.  He worked at them conscientiously.  Thinking it to be his duty to make his sermons as fine as possible, he did that duty.  There was much that was manly in Mr. Gainsford.  He was of a slow temperament, and what genial warmth might be in him had never been kindled, had been sedulously quenched, rather, by a life which had been devoid of natural grace, and starved of natural affection.  He was, however, a conscientious man, as far as his conscience was enlightened.  The light there might be dim, but it was not altogether darkness.  With all his heart he believed in his Church and in her ministry.  With all his strength, if he had been called upon to do so, he would have battled for her rights, even to his own worldly loss.  He had not taken the priest's office for a piece of bread only.  He wanted an income as big an income as he could get but he liked to work for it.  And over and above, he desired to contribute to the strength and stability of the body to which he belonged.

    That evening Mr. Gainsford had been listening to words which stirred him deeply.  He had been listening to lamentations concerning the Church and her dangers from without and within.  Through the worldliness of her clergy, and the inconsistency and luke-warmness of her members, she was losing ground among the churches; nay, these sins of hers had much to do with the spread of open infidelity, an infidelity coarse, irreverent, full of malice and mockery, which, considering their objects were fiendish, could at least, however, boast that it was disinterested.  He heard it stated, and he had reason to believe that it was true, that in London the working class as a body had deserted her, and that the middle class, outwardly her adherents, were largely composed of Pharisees and Sadducees of people who went to church because it was respectable, the custom of their class, the habit of their youth.  Then the speaker had wound up with a keen and almost fierce invective against mere perfunctory preaching and ministration as very nearly the root of the whole growth of evil.

    Mr. Gainsford was meditating on these things when Mr. Goldy came up to him and shook hands.  "Ah! I did not expect to see you," said the clergyman, starting, as keenly absorbed people will do.  "Have you been at the meeting?  I did not see you there; but it was crowded."  The meeting had taken complete possession of Mr. Gainsford's mind.

    "The meeting!" replied Mr. Goldy.  "Ah, I remember your speaking to me about going 'The Church in Danger' or something of that sort.  No; I have been in harness, working up to the last moment, a ship going out tomorrow.  Everything gives way to that, you know.  'Wind and tide will no man bide.'"

    "I wish you had been there," said sincere but rather dense Mr. Gainsford.  He had never been able to perceive the fixed quality of the character of Mr. Goldy; to perceive that even his (the Rev. George Gainsford's) eloquence nay, the whole eloquence of Exeter Hall would not and could not have the slightest effect in changing a single notion of that hard head, a single feeling of that obdurate heart.  "I wish you had been there," he repeated.  "There is a good deal of truth in what was said tonight about the Christianity of our churches, and the small amount of practical result they show.  Now, take our own church.  I own I am discouraged and disappointed at the results of my ministry."

    "The church is full to overflowing, and every seat is let," said the well-satisfied churchwarden.

    "But how wretched is the help given to any good cause out of such a flourishing congregation!  Look at the collection for the Church Missionary Society, for which I preached a sermon last Sunday!  And look at the debt!"

    "Ah, the debt!  That will take time, you know.  It will be a good thing some day."  Mr. Goldy meant the incumbency, and in his own mind he thought that allusion to the debt the only real thing in his companion's speech; the rest was pure professionalism.

    "I hope it will," answered Mr. Gainsford!  "I am willing to devote myself to the work entirely, and the labourer is worthy of his hire; but I could wish that they showed more love for the church, even if it did not benefit me in the ]east."

    "Very right and proper in you to feel so," said Mr. Goldy, not in the least believing in the existence of the feeling, and yet quite approving of the expression; "but people now-a-days have so many calls upon them."  Mr. Goldy gave his two-guinea subscription back out of the interest of the loan he had made to the church, and Mrs. Goldy had wrought two antimacassars and a dozen d'oyleys with her own hands for the opening bazaar, so that Mr. Goldy was perfectly satisfied with his own givings.  As for the other claims upon him, if they had been made they had certainly not been acknowledged.

    But Mr. Gainsford accepted the plea.  Had he not given away the half of his last year's income to some very unsatisfactory poor relations, who threatened to hang like a millstone round his neck for the rest of his life?  "Still," he said, "I think I must tell them plainly that they might give a little more to the house of God, and spend a little less on themselves.  I can't speak so plainly to the lust of the flesh; but the lust of the eye and the pride of life are sufficiently apparent in the congregation.  I have a conviction that many, too, are living recklessly above their means."

    "Quite true," said Mr. Goldy.  "It is very lamentable."  Mr. Goldy was not living above his means.

    The train had come up, and they took their seats; and, finding themselves alone together in a first-class carriage, continued their conversation.  "Do you know I heard for a fact to-day that Mr. Wood, our opposite neighbour, you know, who took a house from Verral, has turned out a perfect swindler, and has absconded.  He took a whole pew for his family, and gave us a five-pound subscription to the fund," added the churchwarden.

    "We ought not to take that man's money," said Mr. Gainsford, with unusual warmth.  "We ought to return it."

    Mr. Goldy smiled a smile of superior wisdom which said, that is all very well in a clergyman, but his money is just as good as anybody else's money.  "I fear he has let Verral in for it too," he said; "he trusted him, I hear."

    Mr. Gainsford had a particular horror of dishonesty of all sorts.  He was not a generous man; he had neither received nor been able to give generously, and he thought no one had any business to get into trouble through trusting people.  Human nature was not to be trusted.  "It is a scandal," said Mr. Gainsford, meaning the whole business.

    "Verral is extravagant, I dare say," replied the other.  "He had a little money left him, and speculated with it; that is the whole secret."

    When the train stopped, Mr. Goldy, with his hand on the carriage-door handle, saw a policeman jump out of the carriage immediately behind them, and then assist a gentleman out.  The gentleman was Edward Verral.

    The policeman jumped out hurriedly, and dragged his prisoner after him.  Edward Verral sank upon one of the benches in the station, holding a white handkerchief stained with blood.  Mr. Gainsford, who was the next to alight, saw at a glance that something unpleasant had happened.  He recognised the bleeding man, who saw him too, and by a gesture implored his help.  But he had averted his eyes so quickly that it was impossible to say if he had seen that.  He was in no mood to attend to Mr. Verral.  He was thinking of far more important matters: the danger of the Church, the shortcomings of his flock, and his own duty in regard to them.

    Mr. Goldy followed the clergyman.  The policeman was standing so as to screen his prisoner from further observation.  Mr. Goldy advanced and stood still a moment.

    Edward Verral stretched out a trembling hand to detain him, but was too faint to speak.  Mr. Goldy looked to the policeman for explanation.

    "It's a bad business, sir , and this gentleman's got mixed up in it."

    "Ah! with Wood, no doubt," said Mr. Goldy.

    "Yes, sir.  Do you know anything of him?"  Mr. Goldy shook his head and closed his lips.

    "He's not to be found, sir," said the policeman.

    "I dare say not," replied Mr. Goldy.  "I always thought he was a bad spec."

    "I'm sorry for this here gentleman, I am," said the policeman, "but I must do my dooty."

    "Oh, of course of course," replied Mr. Goldy, nodding his head over the sinking form, as if it had been utterly inanimate; and with that he followed his friend.

    The train had puffed and panted out of the station.  The platform had almost cleared, but there lingered one who had come out of a third-class carriage at the tail of the train; it was Mr. Lawrence.  He drew near, bending his keen bright eyes on Edward Verral.




"What has happened ?" he said to the policeman.


    "What has happened ?" he said to the policeman.

    "I have been obliged to take this gentleman into custody," replied the man , "and he has turned ill."

    "There must be some mistake," said Mr. Lawrence.

    "No, sir," said the policeman, civilly.

    "Yes, oh yes, it's all a mistake," murmured Edward Verral.

    "What is the charge?" demanded Mr. Lawrence with a tone of quiet authority.

    "Swindling," answered the policeman, a little sullenly.

    "Oh, it is certainly a mistake," said Mr. Lawrence.  "I feel sure this gentleman is as innocent as I am."

    "Maybe, sir," said the policeman, "but I must'nt be hindered in my dooty.  The mistake is none o' mine."

    "I don't want to hinder you, but to assist him.  Can I be of any use to you?" he asked, stooping over Mr. Verral.

    "Much," was the answer.  "Will you take a message to my wife?"

    "Gladly; but I could not leave you here."  Turning to the policeman "Must he go with you?  Is he not too ill to be moved?"

    "I don't know what to do," said the perplexed functionary, "except that I must not leave him."

    "When is the up-train due?" asked Mr. Lawrence.

    "In twenty minutes," replied the policeman.

    "Then take him into the waiting-room, and I will fetch some wine.  Mr. Verral, a little patience, and this matter will be cleared up.  It is my belief you have fallen among thieves."

    Better than wine and oil were these words to Edward Verral.  "Thank you, thank you," he said.  "I feel better already.  It is an old complaint, this bleeding."

    Mr. Lawrence fetched a flask of wine, and stood over him while he drank a little.

    "What will be the proceedings taken?" he asked, turning to the policeman.  "I mean to stand by this gentleman, and I don't know exactly what will be required?"

    "He'll be brought up before the Lord Mayor's court to-morrow, sir; and if they think he's likely to come out innocent, they'll give him bail, if not, not, for it's a bad case, sir."

    "I'll be there," said Mr. Lawrence, addressing himself to Mr. Verral.

    The white, fragile hand of the latter tried to grasp that of his neighbour, large, muscular, even horny.

    "And the message to your wife?" said Mr. Lawrence.  "Shall I tell her how you are detained that it will soon be over make the best of the truth, in fact?"

    Mr. Verral nodded.  He was recovering a little, but could not speak for fear of increasing the haemorrhage.  Mr. Lawrence walked up and down with the policeman, and slipped a sovereign into his hand.

    "Make him as comfortable as you can," he said.  "You see how ill he is.  Make him comfortable at any cost, and I will see you paid for it."

    "All right," said the policeman; "and here's our train."

    Mr. Lawrence saw them seated, and once more clasped his neighbour's hand, as if to give him strength and assurance.  Then he turned away, and went to communicate the sad news to Mrs. Verral, a task from which he could not help shrinking.

    On the morrow, Mr. Lawrence, escorting Violet, who had insisted on being present, appeared in court.  On hearing the evidence, bail was allowed to the prisoner, and Mr. Lawrence offered himself and a friend.  With difficulty they got Mr. Verral conveyed to his house, and laid upon the bed, from which he was never more to rise.  Happily, when the time came, Edward Verral was able to prove that, instead of assisting to make victims, he had himself been victimised, so that he escaped with the wreck of his little fortune.

    But he was an instance of the terrible suffering inflicted by thieves.  The blow had again undermined his delicate constitution.  It had, in reality, left him half dead.

    It is not seldom that the thief leaves his victim thus, though we do not find that victim by the roadside dying of his wounds.  There may have been no outward violence; but trace to its consequences the work of the dishonest man, and you will find that it includes murder as well as robbery in its results.  Fallen among thieves!  There is no calamity so common in our day, for it is not only the professional thief whom we have to dread; it is dishonest servants, dishonest traders, dishonest men of business, who bring ruin and even bereavement upon families.  Who has not known or heard of a dishonest servant making her mistress suffer, not in purse only, but by so increasing her anxiety, and giving her (while, perhaps, in feeble health) so much distress of mind and bodily exertion, that mortal illness has followed?  Who has not heard of workmen who, by their dishonest practices, have wasted their master's time, injured their master's credit, damaged their master's business, till care and trouble had wrecked their master's health?  Look at the consequences which follow in the track of dishonest trade, the canker of our time!  The builder builds dishonest houses that will not shelter their inmates.  The walls are insufficient to keep out the damp.  It is nothing uncommon, in the poorer class of houses run up in the London suburbs, to find the walls stained with a leprous mildew, and the paper peeling off in a single season.  The drains are ill-constructed and ill-trapped, perhaps connected only with a cesspool.  Foul air enters the house in summer, cold and wet penetrates in winter: the cold strikes the vital part of a little child, and it is laid in its early grave: the damp fastens upon aged limbs, and they are racked with rheumatic pains.  The strong man, fatigued with his day's labour, lies down and drinks in the poisoned air, and, stricken with fever, dies in his prime, leaving his wife a widow and his children fatherless.  Better for the man who built these houses, and made a mushroom fortune out of them, that he had begged by the wayside than done such devil's work as this.  Look at the chalk and water that is sold for milk which the poor mother buys to nourish and strengthen her sickly child.  Is it wonderful that the child gets more sickly still, and dies, or grows up shorn of half its strength and half its life by the cruel robbery?

    And while all this is going on around us, we are passing by on the other side, seeing our neighbours suffer through their ignorance, or their poverty, or their helplessness, instead of making vigorous and united efforts to put a stop to it.  What is wanted is a spirit of Christian neighbourliness the feeling of community.  Instead of that there reigns the unchristian and evil spirit of caste, carried so far that Brown with 500 a year declines to be on speaking terms with ]ones, who has only 200, and must live in a smaller house, and keep a single servant; while Robinson, with 1,000 per annum, is not aware of the existence of either, or certainly classes them together as "small men."

    Edward Verral did not recover.  He took to his bed, and lay for weeks, constantly visited by Mr. Lawrence, in whom he felt that he and his children had found a friend who would not desert them in the time of trouble.

    In one of the long chats which the neighbours often had together, Edward Verral discovered that the terrible inconsistencies of professing Christians had driven Mr. Lawrence, as a young workman, from communion after communion; and that he was one of those who only want a truly Christian fellowship to draw them into the visible Church.  Mr. Gainsford, when he came to minister at Edward Verral's death-bed, more than once met Mr. Lawrence there.  The latter made a point of leaving the presence of the former, till one day Mr. Gainsford detained him, holding out his hand with the words, "I have heard of your great kindness to our friend."

    "No great kindness," replied Mr. Lawrence.  "He is my neighbour."

    It was said pointedly, and with a glance so penetrating, that Mr. Gainsford reddened and stammered out, "One has sometimes to be careful of one's neighbours though, as our friend can testify."

    "Such things could not happen," said Mr. Lawrence, "if we were truly neighbourly.  Robberies like Mr. Wood's would become an impossibility.  I think Mr. Goldy could have enlightened our friend as to the character of Mr. Wood if he had chosen.  Cain was not the last to say, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'  We Christians are saying it every day."

    "Pardon me," said Mr. Gainsford, with some asperity, "you say we, but I never see you in church, and I have heard that you do not attend any place of worship.  Are you a Christian?"

    There was a momentary flash out of the deep dark eyes, and Mr. Lawrence spoke with suppressed passion.  "If to believe in Christ as the Son of God, and to love and worship Him with my whole soul be a Christian, I am one, and if to strive to obey His great commandment, to do unto others as I would that others should do unto me to love my neighbour as myself be a Christian, I am one."

    "Let us understand each other better," said Mr. Gainsford, with a puzzled expression; for the creed which Mr. Lawrence had recited was one which he found it difficult to deal with.  "These are undoubted marks of a Christian, but you are offended by some of the doctrines of the Church.  Is it not so?"

    "No," said Mr. Lawrence.  "It has been her practice which has been my stumbling-block, or rather the practices of her adherents.  Sir, I was a workman, and I was a Christian, in your sense of the word.  I belonged to the Church.  I belonged also I still belong to a great trades' society, and I found more of the spirit of Christianity in the latter than in the former an acknowledgment of our common brotherhood, a desire for the common benefit, a willingness to make sacrifices for the common good.  In these things lie the secret of their strength, and not in the wisdom of their action, which is often doubtful, and sometimes bad.  Sir, I had a right to look for these things in the Church of Christ, who Himself had handled a workman's tools, and who said to His disciples, 'All ye are brethren.'  Did I say I found more of them in a secular society than in the Church?  In the Church I found them not at all.  If I entered one with my fellows, it seemed as if there was no place for us there.  We were set in a back pew, or a draughty passage.  For myself, I took a vacant seat in a pew, and the well-dressed family on whom I had intruded (I had had a bath, and my coat was clean) had migrated by the next Sunday to another.  I shook the dust from off my feet at that church door, and would have no more of church-going."

    "You are fighting, but I am dying," said the gentle voice of Edward Verral.  "Perhaps from where I stand I can see clearer than either of you.  Don't you think, Lawrence, that you make it too much of a personal matter?  And then your protest, being a silent one, is liable to misconstruction.  If you had stayed in the Church you might have made that protest heard ere now."

    Mr. Lawrence shook his head.  "I have given up the visible Church and fallen back on the invisible."

    "I protest against that," said Mr. Gainsford.  "In spite of all hindrances the visible Church ought to bear and must bear, if she is to continue, if her candlestick is not to be removed out of its place a clear resemblance to the invisible; but we must carry on the argument at some other time.  Let us pray."  And Mr. Gainsford fell on his knees and repeated, with striking simplicity, the collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity: "O God, the protector of all that put their trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; increase and multiply upon us thy mercy, that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal."

    He ended with the Lord's Prayer, and he and Mr. Lawrence shook hands over it.

    Edward Verral died, and Mr. Gainsford and Mr. Lawrence came together still more frequently and intimately, in having to arrange the affairs of the family, in whom the former had come to take the strongest interest.  The pair of villas were re-let.  They were all the living of the widow, and she and her family moved into the Crescent once more.  The three younger children remained at school, as the only means of fitting them to earn independence for the future, while Violet took up her father's pen, and more than justified his fondest hopes.  Like him she made an early success; but who does not know how different a first success is which is won to be laid upon a grave?  It ceases to be an earthly triumph, it becomes a spiritual dedication.

    As for Mr. Gainsford, a great though by no means a sudden change took place in him.  God employs two supreme solvents of human character love and death and Mr. Gainsford had fallen under the power of the former.  It intensified his whole nature.  He saw more clearly and felt more deeply than he had ever done in his life before.  His attachment was a hopeless one.  He had not the means to marry.  The debt on the church was nearly as heavy as ever, and Mr. Gainsford's heart was heavier under it.  After the interest on the debt was paid, and the necessary expenses of the church were met, very little remained for the share of the incumbent.  But even that little he gave up.  He had less than a hundred a year of his own less than the pay of a good mechanic and on that he made up his mind to live for the reduction of the debt.  And he did live on it.  He took a third-rate lodging in Coventry Road, and lived with a plainness which might have satisfied the severest critic.  But he began to look ill and worn.  His sermons fell off too, in his own estimation.  He began to be a great deal too much in earnest to make up sermons, and he was only learning to preach them.  At length his health threatened to break down utterly, when, thanks to a munificent giver, he weathered the storm.  To the fine old man who sits in the Verrals' pew, with dark penetrating eyes fixed upon the preacher, the church owes its freedom from debt and the clergyman some new views of Christian duty.  As for Violet, she sits apart while her husband conducts the sacred service, and then they go home together to plan new schemes of usefulness which shall give to their district the unity of action and communion of spirit which befits a Christian church, and to add to these things the crowning grace of charity.


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