Tales on The Parables (III)

Home Up Poems by Isa Duchess Agnes Songs of Consolation Poems: a Miscellany The Argosy (1866) Tales on the Parables Poetry Reviews Cotton Famine Round the Court Peggy Oglivie Esther West Fanny's Fortune A Heroine of Home Little Folk's History Deepdale Vicarage Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]



LEAVEN.

――――♦――――


CHAPTER I.


THE Haycrafts had prospered in the world, so everybody said; and certainly they deserved to prosper in the world, for their devotion to it was unlimited.  But if the reward had been great, so also had been the toil and trouble which had secured it.  There were those who remembered them as quite poor people, Mr. Haycraft only a managing clerk in a City firm, Mrs. Haycraft cooking her own dinner, while the servant went out with the children, not because the dinner required the most attention, but because nobody was supposed to know that she was drudging in her little kitchen, and all the world would be certain to see her carrying a baby.

    All this was long ago, however; so long ago that Mrs. Haycraft had certainly forgotten it, though some people had stronger memories.  Mr. Haycraft had gone into business on his own account, and succeeded; so everybody said.  He may have known the proverb, "Nothing succeeds like success," or he may not: he certainly acted upon it.  He believed that success, to be real, must be apparent, and he therefore made success apparent before it was real.  In this he was steadily seconded by his wife, so that any upward move they made was made in advance, as it were.

    Thus the pair led an anxious life of it in secret.  Many a day had Mr. Haycraft worked ten times as hard as ever he had done for a master, and worked, too, with ruin staring at him over his desk-rail, till his hand shook, and his brow ached, and his brain reeled, and he lived ten years in every five.  And many a day Mrs. Haycraft sat in her drawing-room scheming to keep up appearances, and finding it harder work than cooking in the back kitchen ever was.

    It was in this first era that their children were born to them—three daughters; and very lovely children they were, growing up likewise into very lovely young women, tall and slender, neither fiercely dark nor gently fair, but clear-browed, dusky-haired, soft-eyed maidens.  At least this description suits the two eldest exactly, Harriet and Maria being very much alike; but the youngest, Lilias, added a more sportive grace, a more vivid fancy, and a warmer heart, all of which told in her aspect and her eyes.

    It was in the second era that they were formed—for this world and for the next—that they got their shallow, showy education, their love of dress and display, and their dread, and hate, and shame of poverty, however honourable.  And yet their mother believed in her heart that she had done the very best for them, and that they had well-nigh reached the highest point of mental culture and superiority.  And she had done her best according to her notions.  Even in the nursery she had been careful that they came into contact with nothing vulgar; and when Lilias was a baby of two years old, and Harriet was only eight, she had engaged a superior nurse to be with the children always, one whose speech and manners were alike above reproach, and whose piety had been included in the recommendation, as a guarantee for her strict integrity.  Mrs. Haycraft had been sometimes a little jealous of this woman's sway over her children; but it was exercised so gently and lovingly, that there was no ground of offence.  She had left them when there was no further need of her services, when Lilias at seven went to school with her sisters; and she had speedily been heard of no more—forgotten, as though she had never lived among them, and given her life so fully and freely to their service.

    It seemed to Mr. and Mrs. Haycraft a complete justification of all that they had done when their eldest daughters married; for they married early, and they got the two best matches in the neighbourhood, as far as money went.

    Harriet married a Mr. Armstrong, the son of a man who had made an enormous fortune in one of the ephemeral trades of London.  He was still a young man, though looking older than his years, for he was coarse, sensual, and overbearing.  But Harriet seemed to think him all that was manly and noble, and she was quite formed enough to know her own mind at three-and-twenty.  Her sister Maria was only twenty when she, too, married, within the year, a friend of Mr. Armstrong's, a man old enough to be her father, almost her grandfather.  No undue pressure was put upon her.  She was like a child tempted with cakes and toys, who realises the cakes and toys, but not the condition attached—the hard lesson, the distasteful medicine, the new and strange, and, perhaps, the unloving faces.  There were many things she knew that her father could not afford.  Mr. Scales could afford anything; and it was whispered to her that a time might come when her father would be taken away, and that he could leave her nothing at all.  Nothing!

    Maria was in haste to be as rich as her sister; to have as fine a house, as beautiful gardens, as much jewellery, as many dresses.  Mr. Armstrong spent lavishly on his beautiful wife, and gave her trappings of gold, just as he mounted superbly the harness of his horses.  Alas for poor Maria!  Mr. Scales was anything but lavish; he was unutterably mean.  The fine house and beautiful grounds were there, but he lived in the heart of them, much like a rotten, dried-up kernel in a glossy, beautiful shell.  The young wife soon found this out, and owned it, with the frank grief of a child, and with many sobs and tears.  And so the unequally yoked pair began to lead a most unhappy life.

    But even Maria was partially reconciled to her fate when her father died, worn out with the long struggle to stand well with the world, and when she knew what were the consequences of being left with nothing.  Everything had to being be given up to the creditors, the furniture sold off, the pretty house abandoned, and Lilias and her mother had to become dependents on the bounty of the sisters' husbands.

    Mrs. Haycraft went to live with the Armstrongs, while Lilias was handed over to Mr. Scales.  Mr. Armstrong would willingly have taken both; but he would not humour "that miserly fellow," as he termed his brother-in-law.  No, he was determined to make Mr. Scales do his share.  And owing to this resolution it came to pass that the helpless mother and daughter were treated with anything but delicacy and kindness.

    Lilias being a proud and sensitive girl, resented it bitterly; and finding that she would have to beg or to fight for even the smallest allowance, as Maria had to do, and that without a claim upon the niggard her begging or fighting might have less effect, she looked out at once for a situation.  Her friends opposed her, every one, and Mr. Armstrong even offered her money, but he did it in a way which offended her, and she carried out her purpose.  Soon after Mr. Armstrong settled on his wife's mother a hundred a year, and desired Mr. Scales to do the same, and in the squabble about this Mrs. Haycraft left the roof of her son-in-law, and went to live alone in lodgings.

    It was a sad and lonely widowhood for her, and it made her very bitter.  She was especially bitter with her youngest daughter, and blamed her freely for what had happened, especially as Mr. Scales made her conduct a plea for the non-payment of the hundred a year fixed by Mr. Armstrong.  He expressed his willingness to provide for the young lady under his own roof, but not otherwise.

    Lilias had found a situation in the neighbourhood as nursery governess to the children of a Mr. and Mrs. Ogburn, and she had not, to use a quaint North-country phrase, her sorrows to seek.  It was about as uncomfortable a house as the poor girl could have entered.

    A cook and a nursemaid comprised the whole establishment, far too small a staff of servants for so large a house and family.  As a consequence everybody was over-worked, except the mistress, who spent her superabundant energy in scolding.  She had no objection also to do a little cooking, but with her children she could not be troubled at all.  They were a pack of little savages, and the keeping of their persons tidy was a task which left the cultivation of their minds a long way behind.  Lilias did her best, in a slipshod way, to get a little reading and spelling into the heads of her pupils.  Also there came to her a freshening memory of her own childish days, and of the nurse to whom she (perhaps because she was the youngest, the little one) had been the most tenderly attached, and who, when father and mother were receiving visitors or paying visits, or idling away the sacred hours, had gathered the children round her, and taught them hymns and holy lessons, and knelt with them in prayer.  And she gathered those unruly ones round her, and tried to teach them, too, something more than the prayer which each repeated like a charm at nightfall.  So much she felt constrained to do; but the time had not yet come when the holy influence working secretly within would penetrate her whole life.  Lilias had much to learn and to suffer before this.

    And in her troubles with the children she was driven to make an ally of the nursemaid, a black-eyed rogue of a girl, who lightened toils, and amused her in her weariness.  The girl had the profoundest admiration for the governess, and pronounced judicially in the kitchen that she was "more of a lady than the missus."

    But this association was not good for Lilias, not even harmless, as it might have been for most.  Her education had been, of its kind, as defective as the others, and her nature was as luxuriant and untrained.

    Lilias learnt to think lightly of the misdemeanours which furnished her with amusement.  Emma had her young man, and was wont to meet him at odd times.  She was especially fond of giving baby an airing on Saturday afternoons, and by no means fond of the company of the elder children on these occasions.  It is to be feared Lilias aided and abetted her in escaping from the latter, even to her own cost.  The girl had confided to her that she was going to be married.

    One evening, when Lilias was doing some needlework for the nurse, who had still the baby in her arms, though it was hours past the time when he ought to have been asleep, it came into to her head to ask how she had got acquainted with her lover.

    She answered readily, "My cousin and me were going to the theatre on Boxing Night.  We had left our places for a bit of a holiday.  She's a 'general' up in Holloway, my cousin is.  There was a crowd at the door, and we were in it tight as tight, when I feels something pitching against my ear.  It was a nut-shell; but I couldn't see who throwed it.  There was another came, and hit me on the cheek, and then one went right into my ear, and I kept putting up my hand, and looking about, but still I couldn't see where they came from.  He told me afterwards it was he as flung them.  Well, when we were going home, at eleven o'clock it might be, a young man comes up behind, gets on before, and then turns and has a look at me.  I had a good look at him, too, you may be sure.  He gave a nod, and says he, 'I'll see you home.'  Says I, 'I can see myself home, thank you;' but he walked all the way with us, though we did not speak.  I was always meeting him after that, and he always nodded, and said 'Good evening!' quite polite.  Then I didn't meet him one day; but I knew now where he worked.  It was at a smith's, and as I was going into service again the next day I went and had a look at him.  He caught sight of me through the smithy door, and laughed, and I ran away.  Well, I went out that evening to buy something.  It was after work hours, but I didn't meet him, and I stayed out a goodish while.  And what do you think?  When I got home, there was my gentleman sitting at tea with my mother."

    "He knew her, then?" said Lilias, interested.

    "Not he.  He watched me out, and went straight indoors to my mother, and said he was after me; and he made hisself so uncommon sweet that my mother was quite taken with him."

    "And what did you do then?"

    "I didn't say anything before mother, but when I got him outside, I told him it was like his impudence."

    "But you did not send him away again?"

    "No, it was no use he had set his mind on me," she answered, with evident admiration of his boldness.  "Mother thought I had been keeping company with him, and he asked me to marry him off-hand, for he was in full work, and earning good money."

    "It was very dangerous," ventured Lilias.  "He might have been a bad character."

    "Oh, no fear," replied Emma, "so long as it's one of our own sort.  I wouldn't speak to a gentleman that way for nothing," she could say.

    And this was Lilias Haycraft's sole companion—this rude, bold girl; and she was finding her way, by many a simple service, and by a never, failing sympathy, to Lilias Haycraft's heart.

    One day Lilias had obtained leave of absence for an hour or two, after the children had gone to bed.  They had been as tiresome as possible, and it was late before she started—quite eight o'clock.  She was going to visit her sister Maria, whose husband was absent that evening, and the opportunity might not soon again occur, for Lilias was no longer openly welcomed to her sister's house.  She and Mr. Scales had come to an open rupture, and that gentleman had expressed a wish to see her no more.

    It was an hour's walk to her sister's house, and in the eager confidences which they poured out to each other, time passed unheeded.  But at length Lilias was about to go, seeing with consternation that it was long past ten, when the master's knock resounded through the house.

    The master himself followed.  After looking about him a little he came upstairs, and encountered Lilias standing her ground in defiance.  Mr. Scales had been drinking freely.  Lilias stood and looked contempt at him with her great grey eyes, but left him to speak the first word.  Maria was about to say something conciliatory.  "My sister," she began.  But he passed her over.

    "What are you doing here?" he asked of Lilias, rudely.

    His voice and manner exasperated the girl, but she only threw back her head, and darting at him a look of withering scorn, turned, and putting her arms round Maria, said, "Good-bye, dear.  I'll come and see you as soon as I can."

    "You'll do no such thing," said Mr. Scales; "you'll never enter my house again."  He went up to the bell and rang with fury.

    The maid was not far off, for she answered the summons before she could have had time to quit her legitimate abode.

    "See this person to the door," he shouted, losing all command of himself.  "She is not to come here any more, do you understand; and if ever you disobey me in this it will cost you your place, I can tell you."

    "I don't care if it do," retorted the girl.

    "Go down stairs, Mary," said her mistress, and the girl went away, leaving her master to show Lilias out.  Beside himself with rage, he pushed her through the open door, and closed it upon her with a force which shook the house, and made Maria sink trembling on her knees.

    Lilias hastened down the steps and away from the house with burning indignation, chilled by a feeling of uneasiness at finding herself out alone, almost in the midnight for the first time in her life.  She shivered as she went forth into the lonely road.  She was feverish with excitement, and the night was bitterly cold.  She walked on swiftly; then she fancied that she heard a footfall keeping pace with hers, till the walk became almost a run, and her heart was beating hard against her side.  There was no one either behind or before her, and she reached the Ogburn Villa without having met a living creature.

    To her dismay, the outer gate was shut; but it had a bell, and Lilias seized and rang it with panting eagerness.  She stood waiting, but there were no answering signs from the dark and silent house.  She began to feel very faint; she had had nothing save the schoolroom tea, following a more than usually meagre dinner.

    She rang again with all her might.

    Still no answer.

    Somebody was coming along the road at last, coming nearer and nearer on the sparely-lighted pathway.  She was standing in the circle of light thrown by a lamp opposite the gate.  The surrounding darkness would bide her from the passer-by, and she was about to step into it.  But what had happened to her?  The lamp was reeling, her limbs refusing to sustain her.  She tried to grasp the wall, and slid heavily to the ground.

    A quick step crossed the road and stopped where she lay, a face bent over her closely, a face expressive of pity more than astonishment to see a fair young girl in such pitiful plight.  He lifted her head, as one would lift a broken lily, and having lifted it, forebore to lay it down on the damp earth.  The face he saw was fine as statuary marble.  It was thin, and that made it more spiritual than was natural to it, for it had not lost the roundness of early youth.  He could see the pathetic loveliness of the still brow and of the sweet curving lips, the perfect shape of the closed eyes.


"The stranger raised her on one arm, and thus
supporting her went at the bell."


    By way of doing something, the stranger raised her on one arm, and thus supporting her went at the bell.  He had seen her pull it, as she stood in the light there, before she fell.  But there was no answering result in his case any more than in hers, and he must have nearly pulled it down.  Exasperated at his powerlessness, he was about to lay down his burden, leap over the wall, and ply the knocker which was most likely to be found on the house-door inside, when his burden stirred and moaned.  Once more the stranger bent over her, and asked, in a voice which had the tone of a gentleman, if he could do anything for her.

    After a few minutes she spoke, recovering rapidly.  "I must have fainted from cold and fatigue," she said.  "I cannot get them to hear the bell."

    "Neither can I, and I have tried my best," he answered.

    "It rings downstairs," she said "and I suppose they ceased to expect me to-night, and so locked up the house and went to bed."

    "Who are they?" he asked, thinking the excuse insufficient.  "Is this your home?"

    "I am only the governess," said Lilias, with a touch of her natural satire.

    He laughed.  "Shall I get over the wall and knock them up?" he asked.

    "My mother's lodging is not a great way off.  Perhaps I had better go there."

    "Will you take my arm?" said the stranger, convinced by her voice and manner of the girl's respectability, and treating her with profound respect.  He would have done the same, however, had she been what he at first had taken her to be.

    "I think I can walk without assistance, thank you," said Lilias, still faintly, "but I shall be glad of your escort a little way."

    There was that in the manly voice which reassured her, and she still trembled at the desolate streets.

    "You had better take my arm," he repeated, kindly, and Lilias left the Ogburn Villa leaning on this utter stranger.

    As the tinkle of that down-stairs' bell reached Mrs. Ogburn's ears as she lay awake that night it ought to have sounded, and sounded again, "Her blood shall be required of thee."

    Lilias at length reached her mother's lodging, and with the exchange of a few more sentences, in which Lilias explained her dilemma, as far as she could, and her companion expressed his sympathy, they parted.  "I am at home now," she said, "thank you."  She stopped as she spoke, and he, lifting his hat, bade her good night, and was gone.

    He returned, however, saying, "You may find the same difficulty here."

    "Oh, no, my mother will be sure to wake, if no one else does.  See, here comes a light.  Thank you, thank you," she repeated.

    He went away this time, and Lilias was admitted without delay.

    The poor girl longed for her mother's arms, as she had never longed since her babyhood; and there was her mother looking cold, cross, frightened, angry.  People are not apt to be sympathetic, knocked up out of bed on a bitter November night.  Lilias explained what had happened, and was met by a storm of reproaches.  What business had she to stay out so late?  What business had she to be at Maria's at all?

    Lilias broke down and wept, and thought everybody cruel and unjust. alike, and said so, and went to bed without tasting food.

    On the morrow she was too ill to proceed to Mrs. Ogburn's, and her mother had to go and make her excuses.  Mrs. Haycraft had spirit enough to defend her child, angry as she was with her, and she met Mrs. Ogburn with so much firmness and dignity that that lady felt herself under some restraint.  She was going to say that she would not have under her roof a young person who frequented the streets at such hours, instead of which she told a story, and said that no one had heard the bell, adding that Mrs. Haycraft was aware that she was not obliged to take her daughter back after what had occurred, and that it would be impossible for her to account to any other lady for the absence of the night.

    Mrs. Haycraft told her she might do as she pleased, and left her haughtily, but it was to vent all her vexation and affront on Lilias

    During the day, however, Mrs. Ogburn changed her mind.  She had intended to dismiss Lilias without a character; but Lilias suited her exactly, and she thought that to keep her without one would be better.  She found the children, let loose upon her while the nursemaid was occupied with other duties, which seemed nearly all day, insufferable.  It was wet and cold, and she had a commission to execute, and no one to send.  Before the evening was over, she sat down and wrote, in what she considered dignified terms, asking when Miss Haycraft would be able to resume her duties.

    So Lilias went back and resumed her slavery, ten times the slavery it had been.  Mrs. Ogburn knew that she possessed a power over her which she had not possessed before, and she used it.  It was open to her to doubt the correctness of Lilias's behaviour, or at least to profess such a doubt, for she did not feel it, in a specific form; it needed only to be young and poor, to be pretty and unprotected, to awaken such doubts in Mrs. Ogburn's mind.

    Lilias winced under her hints and sneers.  She longed to turn upon her the full light of her scorn, but she dared not; and thus it was that the bondage reached her spirit.  Her character was in the hands of this woman, who might destroy it with a hint; that much of it certainly on which she depended for bread.  The world was beginning to seem very hard to Lilias.



CHAPTER II.


FIVE years have passed away—a large portion of the individual life, a portion which determines much, if it be in the middle stage of it—often all the future of a man or woman.  Those years have wholly changed the life of Maria Scales.  Mr. and Mrs. Scales have been at the sea-side for a week.  It is August, and the weather is oppressive even there.  Mr. Scales is worse than usual; he is a confirmed invalid, paralysed, and helpless.  He is worse than usual, that is to say, more restless, fretful, and irritable, and also evidently more alive to what is going on around him.  They are sitting in a handsome ground-floor apartment, communicating with a bed-room behind.  Mr. Scales never goes up stairs, even at home; and Maria always sits beside him, for he cannot bear her out of his sight.  He is perfectly silent and quiet, indeed he is usually so, except when he misses Maria, though perhaps she has not been ten minutes out of the room.  "She is terribly tied to him," say her friends; only he is just like a child, and goes to sleep in the middle of the day, and to bed long before the day is done.

    Maria is pale, but not colourless, thin but not worn.  There is an altogether new expression on her face.  Soul and body appear to be in harmony, and that harmony in itself is health.

    Now she rises, and drawing near to her husband with a look, which has in it more of the daughter than the wife, and more of the mother than either, she asks if he will come out for an airing.  He shakes his head, and signifies refusal.  But she knows that it is always so, that he does not like to be disturbed, only the doctor has said he must be roused to take a little out-door exercise every day if possible.  So she coaxes and persuades him, and at length rings for his servant to come and prepare him for his chair.

    How much he knows, how much he feels, how much he remembers, it is impossible to say, connected speech is so difficult to him, so unintelligible to others.  Maria is thankful when she sees a gleam of appreciation come into his face.  The doctor thinks he has neither taste nor smell.  Food the most exquisite and the most tasteless seems alike to him.  Maria in the bloom of her youth and beauty is wedded to a man half dead.

    There was a lengthened period after his seizure, during which life seemed confined to the body alone.  He saw without seeing, heard without understanding, appeared insensible alike to pleasure and to pain, certainly to the former.  The good things of this world had turned for him to dust and ashes; the lessons of that terrible time of many months' duration had sunk deep into the young wife's heart, and would have produced an apathy of despair, or a deeper, deadlier, more hardened worldliness, if something in her heart had not risen up to meet them, and that something was the leaven of Christian truth implanted in the old nursery days.  She felt as if she had fallen asleep and had dreamt a terrible dream; a nightmare dread had come upon her, but now she was awaking.  Life could not be such a nightmare, with the eyes of the Father in heaven upon it, with the light of the Saviour's love chasing away the darkness, that she might rise and live.

    Not all at once was Maria's heart leavened with the spirit of the kingdom.  She set herself to do the duty nearest to her, and strength came, and newness of life in the way which she humbly trod.  She watched and waited on her helpless husband, whom in that bad dream she had wholly hated, as devotedly as if she had entertained for him the tenderest regard, so that before consciousness and memory returned to him in any measure he had got so accustomed to her presence, her voice, her hand, that he clung to her like a sick child to its mother.

    He has been coaxed out of his chair by his wife, and leans upon her arm.  She leads him half way along the upper terrace of the Grand Parade, and seats him in the sunshine, looking out upon the sea.  It is quite quiet there, though there is a crowd upon the beach below.  Mr. Scales cannot bear the crowd.  He is great-coated and shawled, while Maria's morning dress is of muslin, with a mantilla of lace.  The cool breeze from the sea is delicious to her, but it makes him shiver.  The seat is too exposed, and they move away to another.  In a very short time he tires, and wants to go in-doors.

    She rises and leads him away, back to their lodgings on the Parade.  She tries to gain his attention to the beauty of sea and sky; but to no purpose.  He only asks if it is time for lunch.  It is not more than eleven o'clock; but there is a cordial which he may take.  She administers it with her own hands.  His servant unwraps him, and seats him in his cushioned chair.  They have brought it down with them.  She places a footstool for his feet and a table on which he may rest his arms, and leaves him.  She would not do so now, only she has promised to see Harriet this morning.  Harriet arrived yesterday with her husband and children.

    Maria goes forth again and walks along the terrace.  She looks out with eyes of dreamy sadness upon the sea, many-shaded and ever restless.  It is neither still nor stormy, but just crisped with a light steady breeze.  Her face is sadder than usual.  She loves the sea, but it invariably makes her sad.  She walks along the whole terrace, and returns again.  Harriet has not yet had time to be abroad, but doubtless the children are.  She descends to the lower stone terrace—the upper is laid out like a garden.  From it she can see the nursery-maids and their charges, sitting or moving on the bright shingly beach.  She tries to discern among the busy groups her sister's children, and succeeds.  There they are with their nurses.  Baby smothered in fat and finery on the lap of a staid elderly woman; his predecessor, a little chubby thing, clinging round the neck of a stout girl, who can hardly hold her as she jumps with delight while they run before each chasing wave.  Two girls and a boy are there besides in sea-side suits of blue serge and black glazed hats with blue ribands.

    Maria has beckoned, and they have seen her.  The girls are running to meet her, their yellow manes flying behind them.  They are fine, strong, straight-limbed girls, larger and coarser in form and feature than ever their mother was.  The hope of the house, Master Joshua, is his father's image, but in finer clay—in porcelain, perhaps.

    Maria had time to go down on the beach with them and ask for the infant Hercules, as she chose to call her baby nephew.  She then inquired of the nurses when Mrs. Armstrong was likely to make her appearance on the scene.

    "There is mamma!" cried the boy, catching sight of her in the distance.  "There is mamma!" echoed the little girls, jumping for joy, and they and their aunt set out to meet her.

    Could that be the slim, lily-like Harriet, that portly British matron?—a perfect type in face and figure of all that is most comfortable, most prosperous, most egotistic in the character.  No one would have recognised her who had not seen her during the last years and beheld the growth of that wonderful girth and expansion.  In five years, too, fashions change greatly, like everything else, by only changing a little year by year.  Harriet had grown stout and florid, and her flounced costume, or costume of flounces, made her look stouter still.  And Harriet was in the height of the fashion—a fashion suiting youthful faces, and not the best of these, and slim, youthful forms.  Her head was crowned by a very small high hat, a perfect contrast to Maria's quiet coiffure, which, though it followed the prevailing mode, did so with a limit, showing two rich bands of plaited hair at the back of her head, only thick and heavy because the rich brown locks were so.

    Mr. Armstrong was by Harriet's side, in a very light tweed suit, yellow sand-shoes, and a white felt shell hat, round which he had fastened a puggaree.  He too had gained flesh, and it did not lie lightly on the huge frame.  His very eyes stood out with fatness.  The self-complaisance of the wealthy Englishman was stamped on every feature and on every gesture.  Harriet had made a good wife to him, had worn her chains as ornamentally as possible, covering them with gold rather than with flowers, and she had greatly improved Mr. Armstrong's manners, unknown to that gentleman.  They had wealth, they had goods, they had children in plenty—all that money could purchase of comfort, of ease, of service, of pleasure—and an inscrutable Providence had refrained from inflicting on them any of the lesser ills of life.  Mr. Armstrong's children had never had the measles!  If he had been a poor man he would have had to nurse four of them while Mrs. Armstrong was getting over her fifth confinement.

    And nothing on earth would have made Mr. Armstrong believe that he had not deserved all these good things, or conversely that the people who possessed none of these good things had not failed to deserve them.  Mrs. Armstrong had come to share in this belief.  They went to church once a day on Sunday—all respectable people did.  It would be the most wonderful of earthly phenomena, if it was not as common as the daylight, that it never occurred to them to ask themselves what it was all about.  Why people should call themselves miserable sinners once a week who thought themselves anything but miserable or sinful.  How they could listen to the beatitudes, and acquiesce in the blessedness of the poor in spirit, and the meek, and those who mourn.  If they had heard them for the first time from the lips, say, of Chesub Chunder Sen, they would have voted them a string of pagan curses, spoken in bitter mockery.  They despised the poor in spirit, of course.  The meek!  Why, meekness was always to be suspected.  As for the mournful, it was generally people's own fault if they were depressed.  Christianity might as well never have existed for all the influence its spirit had exercised on these nineteenth century church-goers.  The idea of self-denial never came into their minds.  And as for universal charity, it was to them universal humbug.

    They were family people.  It was a phrase of Harriet's, and of her husband.  It is a phrase much in favour with the British Philistine.  Yes, they cared for their own, because they were their own.  Social duty, social tenderness they comprehended not.  It never came into Harriet's heart to feel a pang when she saw little feet naked to the cold, because she had kissed that pink pair at rest in their dainty cot, or to pity the little pinched faces that sometimes looked through the lodge gates at home, having wandered from a wretched suburb not two miles off, because the roses on the cheeks of her own little folks bloomed all the year.

    A little girl seized hold of each of Mr. Armstrong's hands, and left their mamma and aunt Maria to come on behind.

    The former appeared greatly fluttered by something she had to communicate.  She seemed quite relieved when her husband was fairly out of earshot, and turning to Maria, she whispered, "You won't guess who I saw yesterday."

    Maria did guess.  Yet she said, "Not Lilias?"

    "Yes, Lilias," was the answer.

    "And where is she?  What is she doing?" asked Maria, eagerly.

    "I could not have spoken to her," replied Harriet, in a tone of reproach.  "Mr. Armstrong and the children were with me; but even if they hadn't, I don't think I could, after the way in which she behaved."

    "Did she show any desire to speak to you?" asked Maria, making no comment on her sister's words.

    "Not at first," replied Harriet.  "You know we went to the station to meet a friend of Mr. Armstrong's, who was coming to dine with us, and I saw her stepping out of one of the carriages of the down train.  A gentleman, whose face I could not see, was handing her out.  She started, and drew back when she found I was looking at her, and then she would have come forward, but I looked as if I did not recognise her."

    No one could look that better than Mrs. Armstrong, as her sister knew.

    "How could you, Harriet!" exclaimed Maria, with tears in her eyes; "and you don't know where she has gone even!" she exclaimed.

    "How should I?" asked Harriet, indignantly.  "You know very well that Mr. Armstrong would not allow me to have anything to say to her.  It is very hard, I think, to have such a person in one's family.  I'm sure it broke poor mother's heart."

    "Do you think she is staying here?" asked Maria.  "I at least am free to seek her;" and she sighed.

    "I suppose she has come to stay here," said Harriet.  "I caught sight of her again in a carriage, with the gentleman and a little girl."

    "Oh, Harriet, I hope we shall find her!" cried Maria, her heart beating to faintness.

    "I am sure I hope not," was Harriet's reply.  "I hope I shall not see her again.  Indeed, I think she will leave the place when she knows we are here.  I could not bear to meet her again, and, to do her justice, she seemed very much ashamed of herself when she caught sight of me the second time, and stooped down, pretending to kiss the child, a poor, pale little thing.  Our fly went quite close to hers in passing.  I do hope, Maria," she concluded, "you won't go seeking her out here.  My children don't know of the existence of such a person.  We've never mentioned her name from the first."

    There came no answer from Maria.

    "You are coming into tea this evening," said Mrs. Armstrong.

    "I think not," answered Maria.  "Mr. Scales is getting very restless.  I fear we shall have to take him home again.  Good-bye," she added mechanically, and turned sadly away.  Not her sister Lilias' fate, however dark it might be; not her husband, stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted, depressed Maria, like prosperous, respectable, well-satisfied Harriet.

    To get rid of her sadness, she walked away in the opposite direction before she ventured home.  "Lily, Lily, my little sister Lily," her heart was crying, with pangs of tenderness.  She had gone back to the early days when Lilias was the baby, thought so merry and so wise, and such a miracle of baby beauty.

    It was as Maria had anticipated; in another week she had to return home with her husband, leaving Harriet to enjoy herself in peace, for Lilias had not appeared.  In vain had Maria spent every hour which she could spare in looking for her.  She had paced the terraced parade at all times, till she knew its frequenters at any distance.  Often and often had she followed a form taller and more graceful than others, only to turn disappointed from the face of a stranger.  No Lilias was there.

    It is necessary to go back a little, to take up the thread of Lilias Haycraft's story; back to days after that November night, when she fainted at the inhospitable door of Ogburn Villa.

    In the afternoon, when nurse was ready to take care of the children, Lilias was not seldom sent to do errands for Mrs. Ogburn, especially if the weather was bad.  It spoilt people's good clothes to go out in the wet, Mrs. Ogburn reflected, and especially to get into those nasty omnibuses which people who lived in the loftier suburban regions were compelled to do, if they wanted to reach the lower region of shops and shopkeepers.

    It was about a week after the night of her faint that Lilias had been thus sent forth to encounter sleet and slush in matching some wools for Mrs. Ogburn, and procuring some stockings for the feet of young Master Ogburn, who had grown out of his last year's set.  It was between four and five, and already the wintry day was darkening before she had made her purchases, and with her hands full of packages, took her seat in the return omnibus.

    There was in the omnibus only one gentleman, leaning on an umbrella which he had planted between his legs, and one poor woman with a bundle in her lap and a wedding-ring on her finger.  Lilias, who was feeling particularly depressed and miserable, took no notice of either.  The young gentleman and the poor woman alike sat gazing at her, the latter unconsciously refreshing herself with the beauty which shone even in that gloom with its divine lustre.  Lilias could not look miserable, feel what she might.  The mouth might take a sadder curve, and the eyes a more mournful gaze; but nothing as yet could dim their lustrous shine, or change the ivory of the fair brow, the rose-leaf hue and texture of the cheek.  Man and woman alike felt glad to look on her.

    But there was something more than a perfectly reverent regard for her beauty in the gaze of her opposite neighbour, continued because she was gazing as persistently out of the misty window into the gas-lit street through which they were passing.  There was something of recognition in his look, but he did not venture to address her.

    The poor woman with the bundle signalled to the guard to stop.  She and her bundle had arrived at their destination, diving into one of the side streets of the crowded thoroughfare, and the omnibus went on.  But Lilias had taken the opportunity of mentioning the place where she wished to be set down, and at the sound of her voice the face of the gentleman opposite to her lighted up suddenly.  When he spoke the recognition was mutual, and Lilias blushed rose-red as he said, "I was not quite sure until you spoke; but I am glad to meet you again.  I hope you are well—that you got no harm by being shut out the other evening."

    All this was said, rather disjointedly, before Lilias had recovered sufficient self-possession to speak at all, the source of her embarrassment being in reality that she had never ceased to think of the kind and courteous stranger since they had parted on that night.  He on his part had been absolutely haunted by the form of his companion, and still more by her voice.  When he heard it again it seemed quite familiar, and not at all like the voice of a stranger.

    They were young, each seemed good and fair to the other, and they could not sit opposite for half an hour without speaking, as Fate had introduced them to each other.  The stranger drew from Lilias more of her circumstances than was altogether necessary, and more concerning Mrs. Ogburn than was altogether prudent; and when she got out of the omnibus, he also got out unquestioned; and as she would not allow him to carry her parcels, he held his umbrella over her till he had seen her to Mrs. Ogburn's very door.

    "I have looked for you every bright day," he said at parting, "now I shall look for you every gloomy one;" and the words made the girl's heart beat strangely as, having said good-bye, she ran up the steps of Ogburn Villa without once looking round.

    Lilias and her new friend had made no appointment; from this Lilias would have recoiled with a strong instinct which as yet was not lulled to sleep.  But they met, nevertheless, again and yet again.  They learnt each other's habits.  He was poor like herself, she hoped and believed, from something he had dropped; but he was a gentleman, she felt sure of that.  He came up about five o'clock in the omnibus regularly; but he was not so regular in going down.  He was sometimes so late that he met Lilias out with the children, and exchanged smiles and bows with her.  He took his work home with him, that was it.

    What was it that tempted Lilias, when he asked her name, to say Lilias Lindsay?  The name was her own, it is true; it was her middle name, given to her in baptism, and therefore it cost the thoughtless girl no shame to utter it.  She was not telling a lie.  It seemed to keep him at a little distance, too.  Perhaps he did not really care for her.  He had never said so in as many words.  Not a syllable of love had ever passed between them.  He might only be amusing himself with her, after all.  Alas! what a pang that thought gave her, that unworthy thought, for she put it from her as unworthy as soon as she conceived it.  Was he not uniformly kind, gentle, respectful, sympathising, chivalrous in his ideas of women, and in his treatment of them?  Yes, he was all these to Lilias, and she loved him unbidden with her whole heart and soul.

    Lilias's treatment at Ogburn Villa had become worse and worse.  Mrs. Ogburn's insolence was unbounded.  There was a cause for it.  Mrs. Ogburn had a brother home from India, and the more Lilias repulsed this gentleman, the more desirous he seemed to be of her favour.  He had found out that she was well connected, and he could see for himself that she was exceeding beautiful, and he insisted on her being treated less as a servant, and more as a member of the family, which meant that he wanted to see her in that stupid drawing-room in the evening.  It had been opened in permanence for his entertainment.

    Mrs. Ogburn felt exasperated, and she began seriously to wish to get rid of Lilias at the cost of any amount of inconvenience to herself, and Lilias retailed her persecutions to her friend.  Things were coming to a crisis, she said, and she should be obliged to leave.  Had she a home to go to?  Yes and no.  Her mother was poor, and had urged her to remain where she was at present.  Then came the history of her wrongs, real and fancied, and her relations were voted savages.  Just at this time, too—Christmas time—her friend was going away.  Would she write?  He would leave a letter for her at the little stationer's shop, where the post-office was, and he hoped to find a letter there for him on his return.  He had told her his name on the occasion when Lilias had given and yet withheld her own.  It was Christopher Ward.

    He went away; and never had a Christmas and New Year seemed so dismal to Lilias.  Only she had her letter—her first letter.  She carried it about in her empty little purse, and felt richer, richer than Mrs. Ogburn and her Indian brother rolled into one.  It was thus that a correspondence commenced; and that their meetings, often brief and unsatisfactory, continued till the month of March was in.

    But Lilias had been watched for weeks, and at length Mrs. Ogburn, in a fit of fury, owned it, and virtually dismissed her.  She was to go at the end of the quarter, which was now close at hand.  Then she wrote to her lover a hurried note.  "She has found us out," it said.  "I cannot tell you what she said, but there was a grain of truth in the bushel of scandal, and I must see you no more.  If we meet again"—the last sentence was intolerable—"If we meet again, it must be to say good-bye for ever."

    Instead of saying good-bye for ever, the next day Lilias left a little parcel at the stationer's, and called for it later in a cab.  And in the cab was Mr. Ward.  As they drove off Lilias covered her face with her hands and wept.

    She had left Mrs. Ogburn's without her quarter's salary, or even her clothes; but she had laid on the hall table a note requesting that they should be handed over to her mother, which Mrs. Ogburn proceeded to do.  That lady was altogether much edified or built up in her opinion concerning Lilias's evil behaviour, and she chose as her successor the very plainest person of the score or two who presented themselves for the vacant situation.

    And she did not communicate to Mrs. Haycraft the news of her daughter's flight in the gentlest manner.  It fell upon the poor woman with a terrible shock.  She had been making up her mind too, just then, to have Lilias back again, acknowledging to herself that she had been rather harshly treated.  And now she was gone beyond recall.  Mrs. Ogburn sent for her to tell her that Lilias had left her house, that for some time she had been carrying on a clandestine correspondence with a gentleman, and that she had been seen to go away with him at last.


 
CHAPTER III.


AFTER the repulse which her hasty and almost unconscious advance to her sister had met with, Lilias was driven to the hotel where she had been going to stay.  It was late in the evening when she issued from it again, and she was closely veiled, and chose to walk with her companion on the loneliest part of the cliff.  She only issued from it once again, and that was to enter a carriage with all her belongings, and drive away to a solitary house several miles distant along the coast.  She had said to her husband—for her husband he was as far as he or she knew—that there were people here who knew her intimately, and from whom she could not conceal the fact of her marriage.  He had been on the point of saying, "Don't conceal it, then; let them, let all the world know it," for he was, if possible, more disgusted with his mode of life than she was.  And yet he had held back many a time before from an open declaration of that which had been so long concealed, the concealment itself creating its own necessity.

    Christopher Ward was the second son of a poor but proud family, who had devoted him to business in despair, and sent him to a city office with heart-burning and shame.  Having carried off Lilias from the shelter of a respectable roof, he married her.  If he had carried her off innocent and loving, as he knew her to be, to a life of sin and shame, as hundreds of young men of his rank and education do, he would not have been the man he was; he would not have won the ready friendship of every man, the tender esteem of every woman, the love of every child that came near him.  Nor would this Lilias have loved him as she did.  He was incapable of contemplating an act so dastardly, but he made the great mistake of concealing his marriage, a mistake of which time increased the offence, while it made the reparation more and more difficult.

    He had not, it is true, contemplated any action at all; but his love and hers had proved too much for him.  Lilias loved him for himself, he could see.  "She does not know I have anything in the world but what I stand in," he said to himself, and it was true.  And he loved her in return, as it was in his passionate, affectionate, impressionable nature to do.

    So he soothed the weeping, trembling girl, who had committed herself only too easily to his care, and took her straight to his landlady's house in Highgate, saying, as he presented her, "Here, Mrs. Watson, I have run away with a young lady, and I mean to marry her to-morrow.  You must give her a room for a night."

    And Mrs. Watson, who knew nothing of her lodger, except that he paid his lodgings, and had unexceptionable shirts and stockings, took Lilias in without more ado, saying, "Lawk, Mr. Ward, what a one you are for a joke!"

    She was quite taken aback, as she phrased it, with Mr. Ward's easy way, and thought the lady would turn out to be his sister, he treated her so sober-like.

    How well Lilias remembers every incident of that evening.  How they had tea out of a battered metal teapot, and cut their bread and butter with knives worn to dagger-points, and how, making up their minds to forget everything, they got childishly gay, and had an hour or two of the strangest spirits, Lilias especially.  Christopher thought he had never seen her equal for beauty and for wit.

    At length he became tender and confidential, thinking of the morrow.  He could see her alarm and sorrow when he told her that he was the son of an English gentleman of property.  She paled, and whispered that "she thought he was poor."

    "And so I am poor enough to please you, I hope," he said; "and besides, nothing can take you from me after to-morrow."

    This confidence was one-sided, however, for Lilias feared to speak of her relations.  She had never set him right with regard to her real name.  The name he knew her by was Lilias Lindsay still.  And he had made her promise that she would keep their marriage a perfect secret, and have nothing more to do with her unkind, her heartless family.  "There is nothing so bad as half-kept secrets for getting one into trouble, and making one tell a pack of lies, and there is nothing I hate like a lie," he said.

    And Lilias promised.  She would have promised anything he had asked—poor, infatuated girl! and she let the precious opportunity, which lasted but a moment, slip away.  "He hates a lie," she thought, "and he may think that I am false if I tell him that I have another name."

    Then she had been shown up-stairs into a little room at the top of the tall house, and left for the night; not to sleep—she was too excited for that—but to look out at a little window, out into the cemetery, and on the white monuments standing distinct in the moonlight.

    More than once she thought of slipping out and running away.  But she loved this man so that the thought of never seeing him again almost made her swoon with pain.  It was more than she could bear to think of.  What were her mother and her sisters to her now?  They would soon cease to miss her.  They did not care for her enough even to make it necessary to write and tell them she was happy.  She thought differently by-and-bye; but now all other love was dim and shadowy in the light of the passion which had fired her heart.

    So she banished such thoughts, and sat all night at the window, looking on the signs and symbols of death, and musing on the sweetness of life.  In the morning she was married, and Mrs. Watson lost her lodger, and was highly indignant thereat.  Christopher took Lilias away, and kept her till after Easter at a pretty farm-house he knew of up among the Cumberland mountains.  And Lilias saw the spring come over the valleys, and rejoiced in the spring.  They were very happy in those early days, this careless, heedless pair.  Lilias was very deeply in love, and Christopher Ward believed himself to be as deeply in love as she.  He was very fairly so, but such a love as hers comes only once for all, and not to all, by any means, even once.  It was already beautifying her whole nature, clothing her with a new grace, the grace of a lovely humility.  It might end in purifying and ennobling her, and it might destroy.

    She strove to forget and to bury her past; but life is a whole, and cannot be separated in this way.  As the flame of passion burned purer and clearer it threw a steadier light upon what she would fain have hidden from herself, the sacredness of the ties she had rent asunder.

    Then they had come back to London, and settled down, and Lilias had striven hard to give to their bright little dwelling the sacred stability of home, a task that grew day by day more and more difficult, as it became apparent to the shrewd eyes of servants that there was something wrong somewhere.  They could feel that some kind of sanction was wanting to this union, and they jumped to the conclusion that it was the legal one.  The virtuous were shy, the unworthy were obtrusive.  More than once a servant went the length of absolute insult, and was dismissed by high-spirited Lilias on the spot.  But her spirit was forsaking her in view of such petty torments going on endlessly.  They made another reserve, too, between her and her husband.  She could not tell him that he had placed her in a position which she found untenable.  And oh that promise!  If she could only have written and told her mother that she was married and happy, it would have been a consolation.  But she was strangely timid with Christopher.  She would sit at his feet sometimes with her wonderful hair sweeping the floor about her, looking like another Magdalene, so sad was her averted face, trying vainly to summon courage to speak.

    A year after her marriage a little daughter was born, and her bliss and her pain culminated together.  Had her mother ever loved her as she loved this little morsel of humanity?  How should she bear it if these little hands in the time to come should never clasp hers more, if these little feet should depart from her wilfully for ever?  Many were the tears she shed over the unconscious face that nestled in her bosom.  But more and more impassable was the barrier between her and a return to perfect sincerity of life.  How could she look in the face of her child's father, and tell him that she had all along been heartless and false?  No, she could not.  She suffered in silence, and when she went about her daily life again she felt that she must bear her burden to the end.  She lived but for her husband and her child.  Even the best of wives and mothers own some distractions, social or otherwise.  Lilias had none.  Her life was too concentrated in deed to be healthful, and she was becoming far from strong.  The child did something for her.  It necessitated greater activity, and she loved to walk out with it, and have it continually in her sight, to its nurse's extreme discontent.  But for that daily walk she saw little of the outer world.  She never murmured that her husband went into society from which she was excluded.  He was too generous and affectionate not to strive to make up to her in every possible way for the isolation she suffered.  Every autumn he took her away to some place of his own choosing in Scotland or Wales, and stayed with her there in peaceful seclusion.

    And Lilias would forget her false position and the difficulties it entailed, and become once more tenderly gay.  Then little Lily would bloom afresh, not only with the out-door life and the added freedom, but as if she sympathised in the freer moral atmosphere, and drank in new life from the happiness of those about her.  Never were parents blessed with a sweeter child.  She was not in the least like either of them, nor could either see in her any likeness to any one they knew.  They were fair and she was dark, at least her hair and eyes were, with a shadowy, not a brilliant darkness.  They, at least Christopher, was robust; she, as she grew older, was more and more fragile.

    It would have been difficult to say whether the father or the mother's love for this child was the more intense.  Christopher was the most indulgent of the two perhaps.  He had an uneasy feeling that the child was losing something, that as his child she ought to have had something of consideration and association with other children.

    Life would have been different to Christopher but for that false step of his; very different, both to him and Lilias.  He would have given much to be rid of the weight upon his heart, especially whenever he happened to be the companion of his now fast-failing father.

    Christmas was the time he dreaded because of this.  It was the saddest season for Lilias too.  Then her husband was sure to be absent, and she would have been hardly a flesh-and-blood woman if she could have forborne in her loneliness many a jealous pang.

    "I don't like Christmas, mamma," said little Lily, evidently feeling the influence on her mother's spirit, and also full of certain conversations with the maids.  "Do other little girl's papas come and kiss them on Christmas morning, and bring them pretty presents?"

    "Sometimes, my darling," answered Lilias.  "Your own papa has sent you a pretty present in a box—a real Christmas-box—which you and I will open, and perhaps find a lovely new doll."

    "But, then, papa will not be here to see," objected the child.  "Where is he gone, mamma?" she asked, suddenly.

    "To see his friends, darling."

    "And have we no friends, mamma?" asked the child, sadly.

    "If Lily is a good little girl," replied the mother, sending back her tears by force upon her aching heart; "if Lily is a good little girl, papa will take her to see his friends some day."

    "And mamma too?" said the child.  "May I ask him?"

    "No, darling, you must not ask him.  You must wait till he is ready."

    There was nothing the matter with the little darling—nothing that could be named.  She never complained; but she got thinner and thinner, and there was a failure in her small appetite, and a proneness to fatigue on the least exertion, which woke an anxious fear in her mother's heart.  They took her to a celebrated physician, and he said there was certainly a want of vitality, and prescribed change, fresh air, a visit to the coast, and plenty of milk to drink.  Thus it was for the sake of their child that Lilias and her husband had come down to the sea-side within easy distance of London.  But Lilias herself was far from strong.

    And that repulse of her sister's had wounded her deeply, though she tried to think it was well that her advance had not been met.  A depression which she could not shake off seized upon her.  Christopher could only remain for a few days, and though she was grieved at his going, she was glad to be alone, that she might give vent to her bitter grief

    But she was not alone.  There was little Lily clinging to her with wistful sympathy, reading her face, and reflecting its most mournful expression.  For the child's sake she must rouse herself, at least in the day-time.  In the night she might weep unrestrained.

    It was a sad, lonely house to which they had come, directed by the people of the hotel when they had asked if a lodging could be found at some little distance from the town.  Its owners were reduced gentlewomen, who rendered themselves invisible to their lodgers, and for that matter the only servant might have been a reduced gentlewoman too.  The house stood away from a tiny village, in the midst of a neglected garden, which had on one side for a wall the moat of an ancient ruin.  All round stretched the green flats, bordered by the grey sea-sands, with here and there a solitary fort.  It was a bad exchange for the cheerful little town on the first slope of the cliff.

    But there Lilias and her little daughter stayed week after week.  One servant had been left at home in London, and one Lilias had brought with her chiefly to wait upon the child; and she would send oft the two to ramble in search of wild flowers, while she herself sat on some point of the ruin looking out mournfully over the dreary scene, for dreary it ever seemed to her then and afterwards.

    Christopher came down once or twice, for a day or two, and went back to town again, and once or twice he wrote to say he was disappointed of a visit by being asked to go home.  His presence there was often called for now, for his father's health had latterly begun to fail.  Not that, as yet, there had been any anxiety on his part, but the old man was fading, and Christopher was his favourite son, and many a pang it gave him to meet his father's confidences with his own silent deceit and acted lie.

    And during his absences Lilias would feel more wretched than ever; for then, though he wrote to her, she never answered him.  She was in that condition of bodily illness so much misunderstood and so much abused, called nervousness.  All sorts of sick fancies came into her head.  Her time of happiness was gone past.  Her husband's affection was becoming cold.  Her child, her little angel, was about to be taken away from her.  Perhaps she would sicken and die while her father was absent, and could not be recalled.  Sitting among those ruins she seemed to see around her the ruins of her life, and only a barren waste of existence stretching on before her, grey and desolate, and haunted by the memories of the past.

    At length Christopher came down to stay, and to plan their usual autumnal excursion.  He thought of laying hold of some little vessel, and, sailing across to France, make their way to Étretat.  Lilias revived, and as if the child really brightened with her mother's smiles, and drooped under her mother's sadness, little Lily was in the gayest spirits.  Christopher himself seemed the least happy of the three.

    And just when they were ready to start a letter came recalling him.  His father had become suddenly worse.  The family physician had desired a consultation, at which his father requested him to be present.  Thus called, Christopher hurried away to his home in the West of England, leaving Lilias once more alone.  He was present at the consultation, and heard the worst actual and anticipated.  The worst anticipations might be warded off for a time if they could succeed in arresting the progress of the disease.  But the result, though it might be delayed, could not be averted, and it was a fatal one.  Day after day Christopher stayed on, unable to leave his father.  It was his annual holiday time; and when at length he returned to the lonely house by the shore, it was only to bring Lilias and the child back to London.  His father had rallied a little, and his holiday was at an end.

    On this occasion Christopher had made up his mind to tell his father of his secret marriage, and beg his forgiveness, only he desired to prepare Lilias for one of two results, either an angry repudiation of his relationship, or a complete forgiveness, in which case his father might desire to see Lilias and the child immediately.

    Christopher had returned from the City.  He had dined, and Lily had sat beside him as usual, and chatted all through the meal.  He could not wait for her till dessert.  Then he led her into the drawing-room; and the three established themselves for the evening.

    Lily then spent her happy hour with papa, and went off with her maid.  The room was hushed, only she seemed to leave behind her a sweetness in its atmosphere.  Lilias had been lying listening to their prattle, and had only risen from her sofa to give little Lily her good-night kiss.  Her husband took up his book, and very listlessly Lilias laid hold of the day's paper and began to glance at it.

    But the peace of the evening seemed destined not to last.  It was broken by a furious ring at the outer bell, which had not ceased tinkling after the peal when a servant entered with a telegram.  Christopher seized it, tore it open, glanced at it, and ordered a cab before the girl had gone out of the room.

    "It is from my mother," he said to Lilias, who had turned away her face.  "My father is dangerously ill—cannot survive the attack.  There is not a moment to lose," he added, looking at his watch.  "I must go home without delay."

    Lilias rose, and would go and see his things put up, but he prevented her.  He had just time to catch the last train, and he would only put up a few things in a bag; the rest could be sent to him.

    "I fear it will be over before I get there, from the words of the telegram," he said, coming down bag in hand, and ready to start in less than five minutes.  "And, Lilias, you must be prepared to come to me the moment I send for you.  I can't stand this any longer, and I shall tell my father all about you if he is able to bear it."

    "Oh, Christopher!" cried Lilias, "I am so glad."  Then, to his astonishment, she burst out weeping.  She had just remembered her own fatal falsehood.

    He tried to soothe her, but she would not be comforted.  "Can you forgive me, Christopher?" at length she sobbed.  "When you married me I did not give you my real name."

    He stood back and looked at her in amazement.  "You gave me a false name?" he cried, fiercely.

    "No, not a false name, only not my whole name.  My name was Lilias Lindsay Haycraft."

    "My God, what have you done!" cried Christopher, turning pale in his turn.  "Married in a false name!  Do you know that you are not my wife, and that your child is illegitimate?"  He believed it.  His hot blood was up.  "False in this, you may be false in all."

    "That was just what I feared," she answered, wonderfully calm.  It was the calmness of despair.  There was nothing now to fear.  The worst had come to pass, and nothing could hurt her more.  "Don't blame me more than I deserve," she added.  "I did not give you my full name at first, and I had not courage to set it right, lest you should say what you have said to-night; and how I loved you then."

    She turned from him as if she made this last appeal to other than him.

    The servant announced the cab.

    "I would go and leave you free," she said, "if it were not for the child, for you do not care for me now."

    "I care for you more than I ever did," he answered, but the tone was a bitter one, "only you have done me and your child an irreparable wrong."

    "Oh, now I see how I have been punished, Christopher.  Spare me," she cried.

    "Lilias, I shall lose the train.  I must go."

    He paused an instant in the hall, looking as if he meant to spring upstairs and have a look at the little one, but he denied himself, and hastened away.

    He was forgetting to say farewell to Lilias.  Little things appear great at such moments.  She stood the picture of despair, when he turned and kissed her hastily and was gone.

    Left alone to brood over her error, and the terrible, unforeseen penalty which her husband had told her attached to it, Lilias's unhappiness may be imagined.  The night on which Christopher left her she spent in sleepless misery, and complete prostration followed.  She sat all day when no eye was upon her, with bowed down head and hands idly folded.  Her little girl laid aside books and playthings, and crept to her side, drooping in sympathy.

    Next day a letter came from Christopher telling her that all was over.  His father was dead.  To the heated fancy of Lilias the letter was cruelly cold, and she wept over it long and bitterly.

    "Papa is not dead?" said little Lily, trying to comfort her.

    "No, my darling. It is his papa."

    "And your papa?"

    "Is dead, too."

    "Everybody dies," sighed the child, with an anxious look.  "Will my papa die?"

    "Not for a long time, I hope, darling; not till you are quite grown up."

    "And will you too, mamma?" and a spasm of fear contracted the child's brow.

    "Some day, my love," Lilias whispered.  "When I am grown up?"

    "I hope so."

    "Oh, mamma, I don't want to grow up," cried the child, clinging to her.  "I don't want to grow up and have no papa and mamma like you."

    "But you would not like to leave me, Lily, even to go to God?"

    "No, mamma.  And where do people go when they die, mamma?"

    Sooner or later this question comes to the lips of every child.  "To God, my darling," whispered Lilias, softly.

    "But I do not know God, mamma," came from the childish mouth—a gentle whisper, and yet as the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.

    With humble and contrite spirit, Lilias tried that highest task which falls to earthly parent to make her child know something of the Father in heaven.

    On the following day she had little Lily dressed, and taking her out with her, she called a cab, and ordered the driver to set them down at the corner of the road where her mother had lodged.  The desire to see her mother and sisters, and to be reconciled to them, had become an uncontrollable longing.

    It was a bitterly cold day.  A cutting east wind swept the hard grey road.  Lilias took her little girl's hand, and walked along it.  She passed and re-passed the house.  At length she found courage to inquire.  She remembered the name of the lodging-house keeper, and inquired for her.  No such person was known there.  The same answer was given by the dwellers on either side.  They too were strangers.  Bound by no social ties, loose as the drifting sand of the desert, further search among these dwellings seemed vain.

    Lilias, however, accosted an old milkman, whose form she remembered, passing along the road with his basket of addled eggs on his arm, and his pail of milk and water, or worse, in the other hand.  He had stopped in front of a house with his shrill mew.  And the old man, who had been there for years, did remember something, owing to his daily gossip with the servants.  The people had gone away, he knew not whither.

    Lilias looked down at her darling, and saw that she shivered and seemed fatigued.

    Anxiously she hurried back to the cab, and ordered the man to drive home.  "Lean on me, love," she said to the tired child; and she put one arm about her and drew the little head upon her breast.  There, as the cab rolled on, little Lily fell into a kind of sleep.  Her mother never lifted her eyes from the still face.  The child was very pale, the tender shadow under the eyes had deepened.  The dark lashes rested on it.  The delicate eyebrows seemed traced on alabaster, and the blue veins showed through the transparent temples.  What did the mother see there besides to stamp such a look of dread upon her face?

    But when the child looked up, with the stopping of the vehicle, that look had changed.  Her mother's face bent smiling over her.  She was led cheerfully into the warm drawing-room, and undressed by her mother's hands.  "I must not take you such a long way in the cold weather again," she said.  "You and I must amuse ourselves at home."

    They dined together early, Lilias watching every morsel her darling ate.  A mouthful or two of chicken, a few spoonfuls of a delicate pudding was all she could manage.  What would Lilias have given to see her with the appetite of many a labourer's child fed on bread and bacon?

    In the afternoon, what with the warm room, and her mother's exertion to amuse her, little Lily became quite lively again, with the gentle sportive liveliness peculiar to her.  Her colour became even brighter than usual, and she shared her mother's tea with zest.

    Lilias went up stairs with her at bed-time, and saw her undressed by the nursery fire, noticing how attenuated was the slight frame.  Then she heard her say her evening prayer, kissed her tenderly, and left her to sleep.  Then she went down stairs, changed all at once from the smiling, winning mother, to the woman whose heart is nigh to breaking.  She took off the stern restraint which her love had imposed, and abandoned herself to sorrow.

    But weeping cannot last for ever.  She wept herself as calm as a statue and as white, and as she wept there fell from her the last remnants of falsehood and fear, and there came to her the longing which fulfils itself only in a divine reconciliation.  Then, late in the night, she sat down and wrote a letter to Harriet.  It ran:—


"DEAR, DEAR SISTER,—I cannot think you will spurn me when you know all—all my sorrow for doing as I did, and all my longing to see you again.  I am not what you think.  I am married, at least till yesterday I believed I was, and I know I am in the sight of God, though my own folly and wickedness has led to some illegality.  But I can explain this when I see you.  Dear sister, for the sake of old times, come to me or bid me come to you.

"Yesterday I tried to find our mother, but failed.  I cannot think that she has gone where I can never tell her how deeply I repent every sorrow I have caused her.  Let her and Maria know where I am.  I have one little girl, whom I love so much, that if she were taken from me I think I must die, and she is so fragile that I sometimes fear she will go.  My husband is away.  Come and see me and my little darling, and comfort your sorrowful and repentant sister, L
ILIAS WARD."


    This letter happened to reach Mrs. Armstrong at a very critical time.  Her home was a large and handsome house situated in a suburb, not very distant from a poor and disreputable neighbourhood.  It was from this neighbourhood that a serious trouble had arisen—small-pox was raging there.  But let not the reader suppose that its loathsome aspect had been seen within the walls of that handsome house, with its park-like gardens, carefully enclosed.  No, the fear of it had entered, and that seemed enough to set its inmates at variance, and fill it with anxious gloom and discontent.

    The one thing Joshua Armstrong dreaded was disease.  He dreaded it more than poverty, more than danger by land or water, fire or flood.  With this dread, which passed all bounds of prudence and sense, he had succeeded in infecting his wife, who had more than once called in the doctor because her children's cheeks were flushed, or their appetites impaired by repletion.  And the doctor, who had some wit, would shake his head over them, and say, "Keep them on a low diet, keep them religiously on a low diet for a week or two, or I cannot answer for the consequences."

    And now small-pox was raging close at hand.  Ominous bills s were posted up concerning it.  Vaccination and re-vaccination were the order of the day.

    Pending the operation, Mr. Armstrong ordered his whole household to keep within the bounds of his domain, and hold no communication with the outer world, on pain of immediate dismissal.  The servants murmured.  Cook had a mother whom she helped to support, and liked to visit fortnightly.  The housemaid had an accredited young man, to whom she was engaged, and whom she saw much oftener than was sanctioned by the authorities, as he was in the habit of coming nearly every evening over the fence into the paddock at the foot of the kitchen-garden.  The under-housemaid had a cousin.  The staid nurse had a married sister and her family.  The wet-nurse had her child, for whom Mr. Armstrong paid ten shillings weekly, while the poor little thing was dying for want of the food on which the infant of a stranger throve so finely.  The coachman had his wife, and the stable-boy his "gal," and one and all were denizens of the obnoxious district.

    There would have been a general revolt when the edict went forth, but the servants knew that the master, and for that matter the mistress too, would be obeyed, and that there were not many such liberal and easy masters and mistresses within a very large circuit indeed.  So they stayed and murmured, disobeyed and were suspected, till all was discontent, and discomfort, and gloom.

    Then Mr. Armstrong submitted his own bulky limb to the lancet, and on the same day Harriet and her three eldest children underwent the same operation.

    After an interval the servants were subjected to the ordeal, certainly without sufficient consideration for consequences, and in less than a week the well-appointed household was minus half its hands.  Servants make much of slight ailments.  Some wept, some took to bed, some declared they were poisoned and would die, laying their death at their master's door.

    The cook basted her sirloin with one arm; but a joint weighing twelve or fifteen pounds could not be conjured on the dining-table without two, therefore two servants had to bring it in between them.  Well-polished boots became an impossibility.  In short, the servants, for a week or ten days, avenged themselves thoroughly on what they considered the crotchets of their employers.

    It was at the time when the domestic trouble was at its height that the letter came.  Harriet put it from her, with one slight perusal, as if it had contained the dreaded infection itself.  In its humility she read shame and guilt in its repentant grief.  Hastily she thrust it from her into the recesses of her desk, and did her best to forget it.  She would not let the appeal rest in her mind, lest it should reach her heart.

    It might not have been so easy to do this at any other period of her leisurely life; but just now trouble seemed to have set in with a flood.  The wet-nurse had fretted herself ill because of her dying baby, and so his infant majesty, the youngest Armstrong, was ailing too.

    The weather had become damp as well as cold, and for several days the children had been confined to the house.  The three eldest, Alice, Edith, and Joshua, had quite recovered from the visible effects of re-vaccination, and still they were not well.  In private Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong had begun to have their doubts on that tender subject.

    They had invaded the drawing-room one day, as they were always free to do when lessons were over; but their mother noticed that they were unusually quiet.  The eldest came and sat down on a hassock at her feet, and leant her head, with its mass of tawny hair, back against her knee.

    "You are burning your face quite crimson, Ally dear," said her mother.  "Get up and take a seat away from the fire."

    "I am so tired, mamma," said the child, yawning, "and my head aches so."

    "Lie down on the sofa, and I will throw this rug over you," said her mother.

    The girl did as she was bidden.  Harriet glanced at her from time to time; but the crimson glow on her cheek did not fade.

    "My head aches dreadfully," she said once as she caught her mother's eye.

    "And mine too," said a voice from under the table, where little Joshua was lying coiled up on the edge of the great woolly white hearth-rug.

    Their mother slipped quietly out of the room, and sent for the doctor.

    It was late before he came.  Very probably he thought there was but little need for his services.  He made his inquiries, ordered some medicine, and promised an early visit on the morrow.  On the morrow he pronounced the oldest girl suffering from scarlet fever, and the others most likely sickening with the same.  A few more days of suspense, and all but the infant were stricken with the fever in its most malignant form.  The disease so dreaded had come in another shape and from a different quarter than that so carefully guarded against.

    Harriet was a true mother; she took neither ease by day nor rest by night, watching over her suffering children.  And Mr. Armstrong himself, when danger was apprehended, took his station by the bed of his little son, while the mother was with her girls, moving about in his stockings, and awkwardly but tenderly ministering to the sick child.

    All had been done that skill and care could do, and yet the children were sinking.

    "I would give all I have and begin life again as my father did," said Mr. Armstrong to the doctor, standing over little Joshua's bed, "if I could only stop his suffering."

    "His suffering will soon be over, poor little fellow," said the doctor significantly.

    "Can nothing more be done?" asked the father in an agonised whisper.

    "He is in the hands of God," said the doctor.

    The great frame of the man shook with his sobs.

    "Bear up, my dear fellow," said the doctor, laying a hand on his arm, "you are distressing the child."

    Mr. Armstrong commanded himself at once.

    "He wants you," said the doctor, turning away.

    The child stretched out his arms, and his father took him and held him in his own strongly and tenderly till all was over.

    The boy was the first to go.  The mother had to choke back her tears, for the others were in danger, and yet it was a danger she seemed unable fully to realise.  At least she did not realise its end.  It seemed to her that the one having been taken, the others must be spared.  And yet in the space of a single week all four were gone.

    One after the other they died in the arms which were strongest to bear them at the last—their father's—their mother standing by stricken in anguish too deep for tears.  With that instinct of looking upwards which even children have at the approach of death, they said their simple prayers, gave their farewell kisses, and departed.

    Only now and then are parents called to suffer such a calamity as this.  Only here and there in our cemeteries is such a bitter bereavement recorded on the stones of memorial.  Such cases impress the imagination in the endeavour to realise what it must be: so many childish voices silent for ever, so many ever busy little hands and feet at rest, so many vacant places at the table and the hearth, so many little garments and cherished playthings to lay away out of sight.  What must the reality be in the home they filled and gladdened once, and then left empty, silent, desolate?

    For days and weeks Harriet Armstrong looked like one stunned and bewildered.  She and her husband talked in whispers, and moved as if they feared to awake the sleepers.  The whole house was silent as the grave.  December had come.  At Christmas the house was not to be borne.  Harriet went away with her husband, leaving her baby to the care of the nurses, a thing that she had never done before.

    Before she went Maria came to her.  She had been unable to come sooner, and had heard of the fourfold bereavement with an indescribable shock.  Maria was a widow.  In one night had come upon her husband that second seizure which paralysed brain and nerves for ever.  There are some people whom sorrow renders effusive, others whom it renders cold in manner, flinging as it were all their warmth back upon their suffering hearts.  Harriet was of the latter.  Cold words and lifeless kisses were all that greeted Maria's warm caresses and springing tears.

    But during their interview Harriet rose and went to her desk, and brought out a letter, putting aside as she did so with trembling fingers a pretty silver pencil-case, her own last birthday gift to her eldest girl.

    "Would you look at this, Maria?  It came just before, and I put it away, intending to take no notice of it, but now—She paused, and tears came into her eyes.  Harriet never could express herself very freely.

    But Maria knew that she meant her heart had softened, as the hard clod softens under the thunder rain.

    Maria read the letter from Lilias in silence.

    "Go to her, Maria," said Harriet.  "I have been hard and unforgiving; I see it now.  Oh, Maria, I have been thinking of the time when we were little ones.  If we had been taken away then, as my children have been taken, we should have gone together to our Father in heaven, whom we were taught to love, and not to dread."

    "My darling, try and say, 'His will be done!'" said Maria.

    "I am trying," she answered, "but it is so hard."

    Maria lost no time in hastening to Lilias.  It was not too soon.  Lilias had made up her mind to leave her husband, under the impression that her marriage had been invalidated by her falsehood, which would have been the case only if her husband had been a party to it.  Watching over her sweet and fragile child, the lessons of her early days had come back to her, and had caused her to come to the resolution which almost broke her heart.

    Of course, the false impression was speedily removed, and Lilias restored to her husband, for she took refuge with Maria till his return.  Both of them were glad to regain perfect integrity of life by the open acknowledgment of their union, though they have still something to suffer in the total estrangement which the Wards insist on maintaining towards Christopher and his wife.  Lilias has the added sorrow that her mother died alienated and unhappy, and he that his father died deceived; but they have taken into their hearts the Divine forgiveness, and are at peace.

    The lives of the sisters had drifted far apart, their circumstances had been widely different; and yet amid these diverse circumstances one living principle had been at work—the little leaven leavening the whole lump.  The grace implanted in their early years by the hand of a stranger, and lying dormant in each heart for years, quickened into life in the furnace of affliction, had triumphed over worldliness in every form, and united them at last in the bonds of a living faith.

    The sisters are wonderful friends; they are fellow-workers too, for Maria, whose life had threatened to be so lonely and so loveless, has leisure and money at her command, and spends it freely in doing good; and Harriet and her husband will give liberally, especially to help the children of the poor.  They have a fund which they call the children's money, and it is what they would have spent on those who are provided for in heaven.


――――♦――――


[Next Page]

 



[Home] [Up] [Poems by Isa] [Duchess Agnes] [Songs of Consolation] [Poems: a Miscellany] [The Argosy (1866)] [Tales on the Parables] [Poetry Reviews] [Cotton Famine] [Round the Court] [Peggy Oglivie] [Esther West] [Fanny's Fortune] [A Heroine of Home] [Little Folk's History] [Deepdale Vicarage] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk