Tales on The Parables (V)

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OLD GARMENTS.

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CHAPTER I.


IN the High Street of a certain well-known provincial town stood the house of Doctor Hook.  The house was of red brick, faced with grey stone, and boasted the whitest of steps and the brightest of brass knockers: an old-fashioned, substantial house, with an air of old-world stateliness about it, which its newer and finer neighbours somehow lacked.

    Doctor Hook was by no means the first physician in the town, as far as reputation went.  He stood third, perhaps not for want of ability, for the Doctor towered above his fellows in mental as he did in physical stature.  He could see far more clearly and surely into the nature of a disease than could his opposite neighbour, Doctor Dunscombe, who rattled about in his carriage and pair, dressed so splendidly, and who spoke with such a tone of authority.  And he was a far sweeter natured, more sympathetic human being than Doctor Blandford, of Blandford Villa, in the new town, who drove in a dismal little close pill-box, moved upon the tips of his toes, as if constantly fearful of awaking a sleeping patient, had upon his face a look of perpetual concern, and spoke in a tone hardly above a whisper.

    Yet Doctors Dunscombe and Blandford occupied posts of honour in the Infirmary, and were selected, in turn, by their fellow-citizens to be put forward on great occasions; whereas Doctor Hook was totally ignored.  Of course, he had his patients, who swore by him and by him alone, and took the liberty of applying to the treatment pursued by his rivals a word of obscure etymology, but clearest meaning, viz.—humbug.

    Doctor Hook went his own way, and that way was not, at the time we would indicate, an altogether evil way.  To all outward appearance, indeed, it was an excellent one.  He drove about in his open, decidedly fast and unprofessional vehicle, a picture of health and energy, doing his patients good by his very presence and by his cheerful voice and cheerful views, and staying longer with them sometimes than he need have stayed, because he did them good thus—more good than medicine, some of them said.  Then he came back to his home and his wife; and few men had such a home and such a wife—a home in which comfort and refinement dwelt on equal terms, the one never encroaching on the other; a wife with a mind at once cultivated and original and a heart full of wifely devotion.  Mrs. Hook was at this time a fine, handsome, middle-aged woman, of high mind and still higher temper; but who, in spite of her temper, which showed itself only in a certain hardness to offenders, lived on terms of the most unbroken felicity with her husband.

    At holiday times there was also his schoolboy son, a repetition of himself, with just an additional dash of spirit, a frank, headlong, passionate, yet humorous and kindly lad.  The persistence, amounting to obstinacy, which young Spencer showed on occasions only gave his doting father room to hope still greater things of him.  Just for want of such a resisting power, he himself had stuck at what he was.  Thanks to his high-minded Martia that he had not sunk a good deal lower.  Time was, it was said, when the Doctor's doings had not been so correct; and it was singular how retentive were the memories of his fellow-citizens concerning that time.  Doctor Dunscombe still spoke of it in clearly actionable terms, and Doctor Blandford shook his head over the terrible effects likely to result from dissipation in a man entrusted with the keys of life and death, as he grandiloquently phrased it.  Neither of them associated with Doctor Hook, though they were very civil to him when they met, and this also Doctor Hook went on his way unheeding.  His life would flow along in any channel deep enough to hold it, like a strong stately river, or it might dash itself in steep and narrow places, over every barrier like a desolating flood, but it would never stagnate in the shallow slimy pools of envy and jealousy.

    Besides, he had no further ambition for himself.  It was all centred in his son.  Spencer would carry everything before him.  He had distanced young Dunscombe at the school.  He would go to college directly, and distance half a dozen Dunscombes.  Spen. would take to the great art of healing.  Spen. would make a reputation; not a shabby provincial reputation, but a national, perhaps a European one.  The lad at his grammar-school had already begun the study of physical science, and was already enamoured of his future profession, and eager to make all the learning of the schools subservient to it.  Spencer was in very truth a boy of splendid promise, and both father and mother seemed to hold their lives bound up in him.

    But how had Doctor Hook earned such a reputation from his fellow-townsmen?  Had he indeed earned it? or was it made up of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness?  The strangers who came to settle in the place so thought and averred.  The Doctor regularly attended the Cathedral services.  Nobody enjoyed a beautiful anthem more than he.  His domestic relations were perfect.  His conduct irreproachable.  His money matters correct.  His dealings just and liberal.

    Nevertheless, there was truth in that accusation of dissipation which stuck to him, though it was a thing of the past.  He had come to the town a young fellow of twenty-one, whom nobody knew, as assistant to his wife's father, Doctor Leighton, who lived in the very same house which his son-in-law still inhabited, and was, in his day, the first doctor in the town.  The young man took everybody's fancy by storm.  He was so handsome, so good-humoured, so clever.  His qualities of head and heart gained him the esteem and love of the good old doctor and the affections of the doctor's only daughter, Martia Leighton, then a very beautiful girl, a couple of years his senior, and her father's housekeeper, and general adviser besides.

    The young people were at once attracted by each other.  Spencer Hook fell in love with Martia on the very first evening of their acquaintance, as she sat at the head of her father's table, so sweetly, and yet so stately grave.  He has a picture of her as she was then, in the very dress she wore—a puce-coloured silk, cut very low, with a fall of delicate white lace over the bosom, and a couple of strings of pearl round her slender throat, golden brown curls invading the ample forehead, crisp round curls like those on the head of a young child, and the hair behind rolled up, nearly on the crown of the head, in a subdued and more graceful version of our modem fashion.

    Spencer Hook was engaged to Martia Leighton within the year; but her father was cautious in giving her, his all (and everything he had went with her), to the young stranger.  He insisted on their waiting for two more years, at the end of which he would make a partner of his future son-in-law, and then allow the marriage to take place at once.

    It was not good for young Hook this waiting, especially as he had by no means enough to do, and, young as he was, he had already imbibed a love of so-called pleasure.  For a year or two before he came to Doctor Leighton, he had, while pursuing his studies at Edinburgh with the utmost success, been spending his little patrimony in riotous living, the companion of the fastest of his fellow-students.  Having at length come down to the husks, and not finding them pleasant eating, he had formed and acted on the best of resolutions: he gave up his indulgences, forsook his boon companions, and, having taken his degree, began at once to seek for employment.  It might have been better for him if he had found the return path a hard one.  It was all very easy.  He lighted upon Doctor Leighton, and comfort, and respectability, and good prospects all at once.

    Spencer Hook came from the north of England.  There still lingered in his speech, and would linger till the end of his life, a trace of the Northumbrian burr.  He had come of a stalwart, vigorous race too—of that there was evidence in his broad shoulders and ample chest, in his stalwart figure and clear though dark complexion.  But they were a race, too, of strong passions and strong propensities, who loved to dare the very verge of moral, as they did of physical, danger.  Spencer's youth had been overshadowed by a great calamity—the greatest of all calamities, a vicious father.  Only a tender and devoted mother had stood between him and that calamity, and had spent herself in the effort not only to hide and screen his father's vice, but, when it could not be screened or hidden, to make as light of it as possible, in her desire to save him from pain and shame.

    Shirley Hook was one of the smaller proprietors of the county, but he had entered upon life with an embarrassed fortune, and had already cut off in his father's lifetime the entail of his property before he met the lady whom he ultimately married.  She was without fortune, except a single thousand pounds, which were settled on herself.  It was a love match on both sides, and to that love the lady trusted for the salvation of the man she had married.  Whether there was originally any virtue in him no one knew, but he was a fearfully dissipated man when Spencer's mother married him, in the hope of reforming him.  She had surely seen the possibility of better things in him, or she would not have entered on the task which seemed to others hopeless.

    And for a time she appeared to succeed; but the appearance was a deceitful one.  Suddenly, and as it were without the least provocation, he broke out again and became worse than ever.  Possession, infatuation, are the only fitting words to apply to his conduct, for he would sin and be exceeding sorry; be exceeding sorry and then go on to sin.  And every time he did this he became distinctly worse.  The evil seemed to invade a greater and greater portion of his nature, to take a firmer and firmer hold of his life.  Each time a larger extent of his property was recklessly gambled away, each time greater inroads were made on his constitution, each time the will of the man seemed more hopelessly enslaved.

    Time after time would come a period, growing briefer and briefer, when his unhappy wife would venture anew to hope, when, yielding to her pleadings and remonstrances, he would become sober and sensible—nay, even set to work to retrieve his fallen fortunes.  But in vain she thought, "Now I will screen him from every temptation; I will never leave him, waking or sleeping; I will be with him when the tempter comes to him, and help him to overcome."  In some way or other he would manage to elude her vigilance and to disappear, returning more spent and broken and hopeless than ever, till the very poison which was killing him became a necessity of life.  Whenever the impulse came (whether it came from without or from within, driving him, like one whom Satan drives, into the wilderness) he was whirled once more into the vortex of vice, which must one day destroy him.  And he knew it.  He knew he was breaking the heart of his wife, and yet he went on breaking it.  He knew he was killing himself, but with the very pains of death laying hold of him he would drink the poison which roused their fangs of torture.

    At last it came to this that the man had no will except to do evil, and that continually.  He had lost everything that he could lose, except life and soul, and these he was ready to stake on the fatal self-indulgence.  He had lost his property to the last acre; he had lost his health; he had lost name and fame, and even friends, the lowest and the worst of them; he had lost his very manhood.  But the strangest thing was that, among all his losses, he had never lost the love of his devoted wife.  He had disappointed her hopes; he had ruined her prospects.  He had given her for her youth and her love only trouble and anguish, and she loved him still.  There must have been something in him worthy of it surely.

    All that she could do at last was to screen him from the eyes of his son, for a son had grown up in their home to the verge of manhood.  He was sent to school at an early age away from home.  His mother yearned to keep him, for he had been her chiefest solace—a gentle, loving and yet brilliant boy; but it was not to be thought of.  Her life was one constant self-sacrifice, and she saw as little of the lad as she possibly could.  Often at vacation-time had Spencer been bitterly disappointed, and that too in his warmest affections, by being sent somewhere else instead of home, while some elaborate excuse was given why he could not be received by his parents.

    It was only in her letters that the mother's heart flowed forth, and in them Spencer learnt to worship her.  At length he went up to college, and she knew that the time was coming when her son must know the full extent of his father's misdoing, if he had not already guessed it.  No more excuses could be made to keep him from home, and at home the truth must be revealed to him.

    When she could no longer, therefore, screen her husband she made light of his sins—a false and fatal step not successful in deceiving her son as to their extent and disastrous consequences, but confusing and darkening the young man's conscience and judgment concerning them, apart from their consequence.

    She did not live, however, to reap the bitter fruits of the seed which she had sown.  And her son was destined to be orphaned of both his parents in his early youth.  During his first and second college vacations his father had conducted himself better than usual.  He had not left his home, nor had he behaved in any outrageous manner.  His wife had bribed him, as it were, by supplying him with more than the ordinary allowance of drink, to remain quiet; and he had remained quiet, though often in a state of inebriation.

    When Spencer returned at the end of his third year, his father was not visible.  His mother said he was ill in bed and under the influence of an opiate.  The son knew but too well what that meant, and reconciled himself to his father's absence, but it was more than usually intolerable.  It had been a late and cold spring up among the hills, and the house was in a lonely and exposed situation.  It was more like the beginning of March than the end of April, and the wind howled round the house, when it was shut in for the night, like a host of demons seeking entrance.

    Spencer's mother had received him with an anxious and pre-occupied air, and her absences were frequent even in the course of seeing him enjoy his first meal at home.  At length she disappeared altogether, and Spencer thought he heard strange noises in the house, especially in the pauses of the wind.

    An old servant came to him at last, and told him, with a scared face, that he must go for the doctor, his father was worse than usual—in a dangerous state in fact.

    He jumped to his feet, and in a moment was ready to go; but he wanted to see his father first, or at least his mother, and would not take the old servant's "nay," though she had nursed him when he was a little child.  He, too, was scared, as he went along the passages of the rambling old house, by frantic shrieks, which were certainly not the wind.  But the old woman had gone on before him, and entered the room where his father was.  And his mother came out of it, and turned him back, and entreated him to go for the doctor.

    He went, battling with the wind under the starry night; but the doctor, who lived three miles off, was absent, attending a woman, still further up the valley.  Spencer followed, and brought him back with him, but not till half the night was spent.

    And in the meantime what had transpired in the room where the wife watched over the husband, in the terrors and agonies of delirium tremens?  Fearful fancies took possession of him, and kept him crouching in corners, stretching out the palms of his hands to keep off his ghostly assailants.  Then a fit of fury would seize him, and he would spring at his wife with uncomprehending eyes, evidently taking her for one of his fancied foes.  She managed once or twice to elude him, but at length he closed on her, and held her with crushing force.  Still she used her voice to soothe him, and wrestled with him gently without calling for help.  She would not cry out even for mortal hurt, and mortally hurt she was in the struggle, before the unhappy man sank into the stupor preceding death.  In his ravings he had managed to stab her with a pocket-knife which he had concealed in his hand.

    And to the very end she screened him.  When he was dead, and she too was dying, she would not allow her son to be told of the manner of her death.  Only the doctor and her faithful servant knew.  She feared that the horror of it would blight his life, which would be sufficiently sad and desolate without such knowledge.  It was hidden from him without positive falsehood, for she was suffering from heart disease as well; but it may be questioned whether she was right in saving him from the sadder knowledge which was hers.

    It is a natural and generous impulse which tries to save the young from the knowledge of the deepest evils and from the pressure of the hardest necessities of life; but to hide from them the consequences of sin is another thing.  In these the voice of God speaks, and speaks in a language which the youngest can understand.  Be that as it may, she died and made no sign, and Spencer was thrown upon the world a solitary orphan.  His mother's thousand pounds came to him the day he was of age, and a little from the sale of his father's house, and he chose the profession of medicine, and continued his college career.

    As is natural in youth, his grief for his mother soon faded away.  There was no restraint upon his actions, and he took, as if by instinct, to a life of indulgence in pleasure.  Was the taint wrought into his nature, the dreadful taint which would not wear out save with the very blood and the brain of him who owned it? and would it end in destroying the heart and conscience, the energy and will, and self-control, nay the very soul itself?

    As yet his pleasures were social rather than sordid; he was gay and reckless rather than vile; but young as he was he had tasted the cup which brings longing to the lips, only not yet was it unquenchable.  Spencer Hook had a fine nature, and we have seen that at this point he righted himself and played the man.  He had inherited his mother's virtues as much as his father's vice, and none could say what the result would be in the future which was still before him.


 
CHAPTER II.


DOCTOR LEIGHTON'S patients took to his assistant immediately, especially the younger farmers and squires of the neighbourhood.  Of necessity he was out among them at unseasonable hours, and out among them meant drinking freely.  But he kept within bounds, and for a long time this went on unnoticed.  He loved Martia passionately; but the quiet evenings at her father's fireside, with the doctor snoring in his chair and Martia sitting opposite with her embroidery, chafed his eager spirit, till he would drive out into the night with glee, to join some jolly set in one of the country houses in the neighbourhood, where the guests would stay on till morning broke in upon their revels.

    Such conduct could not long remain hidden, and accordingly it came to the knowledge of Doctor Leighton, who remonstrated in no measured terms—indeed, withdrew his countenance and favour from him at once, and without any promise based on future amendment.  The doctor was terribly disappointed, and in the bitterness of his disappointment told the young man that he must consider the engagement between him and his daughter at an end.

    When Martia also avoided him, and would have nothing to say to him, all hope seemed at an end.  He flung his good resolutions to the winds, and the town was soon ringing with his noisy misdeeds.

    "Doctor and Miss Leighton are quite right to have nothing to do with such a scapegrace," said the public opinion of the place; but a lofty instinct whispered to Martia Leighton, "We are quite wrong.  We, and we alone, can save him.  We, and we alone, are sending him to destruction.  What this man needs is not a fear and a torment—it is a forgiveness, and a love which shall overpower his nature and save him from his very self."  It was, indeed, that which he needed; but Martia Leighton did not know that it was a love and forgiveness higher than her own, a love and forgiveness which should have power to renew that nature of his, and not merely to patch it over, like new cloth upon an old garment.

    Martia's mind was of no common order; it could not linger in indecision.  Having listened to that whisper and accepted the conviction which it carried to her, she lost no time in acting on it.  Instead of avoiding Spencer, she sought him on the first opportunity, while he waited in the consulting-room the return of Doctor Leighton from his morning round of visits.

    Spencer Hook was sitting in her father's chair when Martia stole softly upon him.  He was thoroughly depressed and miserable, and had covered his face with one of his hands as he sat.  He was in fact meditating a request to Doctor Leighton, and that request was to allow him to break free from his business engagement and leave the place.  He could never hope to be so fortunate again.  He had been an utter fool.  Probably he would be an utter fool to the end of the chapter, and throw away other and lesser opportunities as he had thrown away this one, till he sunk to the dismal dregs.  What matter! there was no one to care—no mother's heart to break, no father's grey hairs to bring down with dishonour to the grave.

    Martia stole upon him, and stood beside him before he was aware—stood over him at her full stately height, and spoke the words of warning which came to her lips.  She knew what he would say, and he said it.   He said, as he had thought, that there was no one to care.  That since she had renounced him he was utterly reckless.  He had not been reckless heretofore, he had only yielded to temptation, and she did not know what the temptations of his youth had been.  He was unworthy of her, had always been unworthy; and the best thing she could do was to forget him, and let him go his way, and that way was the way to ruin.

    But she had known also what she would answer, and she answered.  "I have not given you up; I hold myself bound to you still.  Your way will be my way; your ruin my ruin."

    He had started up when she began to speak.  As she spoke his whole soul was stirred.  He had loved her before with youthful, passionate ardour, which clung, as it were, to the outward form of beauty, but now, for the first time, there stood revealed to him the woman's soul, and his love changed in a moment into a passion absorbing the whole spiritual force of the man.

    "No, Martia," he answered, standing erect and ennobled.  "The sacrifice is too great.  I have never loved you as I love you now; but I will not link your fate with mine.  I will try to be worthy of you even thus far; but I cannot be sure of myself.  It is in my blood, this beastly craving.  My father died of delirium tremens."

    "You are not free, Spencer," she had answered, and quitted the room as her father entered it.

    It was certain that Spencer Hook did not ask to be released from his engagement to Doctor Leighton, otherwise he would have had no difficulty in that direction.  He stayed on, and his conduct became again all that could be desired.  When others drank wine he drank water, though he did not profess to be a total abstainer, and such was the hilarity of his spirit and his general bonhomie that he escaped excessive pressure with comparative ease, but the wine-drinkers themselves never forgave his defection and never believed in his reformation.

    At the end of the two years, Doctor Leighton withdrew his embargo on the engagement, and Spencer Hook was married to Martia Leighton.  But the town had never forgotten that curious outbreak of his, and those who did not know him still credited him with a secret love of liquor.

    There never was a happier union than that of Spencer Hook and his wife.  Their companionship was perfect.  They seemed never to need any society save their own, and therefore their society was charming.  In the first year of their marriage two events had occurred, and since then their lives had flowed on uneventfully.  A son had been born to them, and old Doctor Leighton had died rather suddenly.

    After that the chief incidents within their home had been such as little Spencer cutting his first tooth, little Spencer going into trousers, or little Spencer falling sick of the measles.  Then followed the boy's going to school and his troubles and successes there, and now he was about to go into the larger world of college.  His father was to take him up to Cambridge and enter him at Trinity.

    So young Spencer Hook was entered of Trinity College, along with Charles Dunscombe, Doctor Dunscombe's eldest son.  These two had been at school together at a small grammar-school in the neighbourhood, whose only advantage was that it allowed them to be much at home, the lads generally spending the Sunday with their families.  The two boys had been companions without being friends.  Spencer had indeed the greatest contempt for Charles Dunscombe and his sneaking ways, but their comings and goings threw them together, and though their bickerings were ceaseless, they still continued to associate with each other.  Charles was a large, lymphatic lad, selfish and sensual, but not deficient in brain, for with only the advantage of a year in age, he had managed to keep pace with the brilliant Spencer.

    At college they were thrown together again, and got on rather better, owing to Charles's decided ability; but Charles got into a bad set and Spencer with him, and the animal propensities of the former speedily developed.  He became one of the worst young men of the day, steadily and soberly vicious.  He drank a great deal, but was never drunk.  He indulged himself in every possible way, and yet made his allowance cover all his indulgences.  And he tempted others to become ten times worse than himself.

    On his equally liberal allowance, Spencer got into debt, and made his father excessively angry, not because of the money, which he could well enough afford to lose, but of what it indicated.  Cigars and wine and even brandy, it went sorely against Doctor Hook's grain to pay for, and he said he would never on any account pay for them again.

    Nevertheless he had to pay for them.  Spencer when he finally left the university left it in debt, but he left it also with honours, and his father once more set him free from embarrassment, though not without heart burning and bitterness.  His son's youth appeared to him to be about to repeat his own, and he knew how narrowly he had escaped an utter shipwreck.  He doubted, too, if any influence could be brought to bear upon his son as strong as that which had met himself at the turning-point of his career and saved him.

    And he kept him therefore jealously under his eye.  Doctor and Mrs. Hook had never cultivated society.  Martia did not care for it, and the Doctor's social sympathies, which were particularly strong, were abundantly satisfied in the course of his professional duty.  His son's, which were equally strong, were not satisfied at all.  He had to fall back on young Dunscombe, who had returned to his father's house on a footing precisely similar to his own, namely, to be his father's present assistant and future successor.  The two young men took their degrees together, and were introduced together into the sphere of their future labours.  Each was provided with a riding horse, and they were constantly to be found riding in the same direction, though their work could hardly have lain there with anything like frequency.  The worst of it was that they had little or no work to do, and what they did was but nominal, not real, responsible work.  Their fathers both were in the vigour of life, and declined to give up.  Then a great cloud of misery fell upon the Hooks.  Spencer had unmistakably wandered into evil ways.  There were dinners laid for three, at which only two were present, and where all the talk that passed between the Doctor and his wife were the merest formalities of the occasion, because before the servants they could not speak of the subject nearest to their hearts.  There were nights, too, when the servants were sent to bed, and the unhappy father and mother watched and waited for their prodigal son.

    How could they influence him, when all the pleadings of affection had failed?  They had pleaded with him each of them alone and they had pleaded with him together, and he had faithlessly promised an amendment, which never ensued.  Latterly he had been altogether mute.

    One evening the Doctor and his wife sat together in the drawing-room, waiting for Spencer, when the clock on the mantle-shelf struck twelve.  The Doctor looked up from the last page of the British Medical Journal, which he had read through, and waited silently till the last silvery stroke had ceased.  Then he looked at his wife, and said, firmly, "Martia, let us go upstairs."

    She rose, with a heavy sigh, the still beautiful woman whose lightest wish had been a law to the man before her, and took up her key-basket, a little straw toy, lined with satin of her favourite plum colour.  She was evidently reluctant to go, and she gathered up likewise some bits of feminine work, with which she had been trying to occupy herself, and paused.

    The Doctor lit the candles, and handed her one, and she moved away slowly, leaving him to turn off the gas.  He went the round of the house, and even across the yard to the coach-house and stable, to see that all was secure before he joined her in her dressing-room, where he found her sitting, without having made the slightest preparation for the night.  He advanced, and set down his candle beside her's, with stern set lips and knitted brows.  A mirror had showed him Martia with her woeful and weary looks, and his heart was set against his son.

    Doctor Hook had come to a resolution, and had announced it to his son in the presence of his wife.  It was that if he kept them waiting for him once more till beyond midnight he should find his father's door shut against him.

    "You have not undressed, dear," said Doctor Hook, in as free a voice as he could command.

    "No," murmured Martia.  "I think he will come soon, and you will let him in this once more, Spencer?"

    "The hour is past," said Doctor Hook, "at which I told him he should find my house doors shut against him."

    "Just this once," said Martia, and she was the firmest of the two by nature.

    He was the softest.  Yes; but has the reader ever had any experience of the hardness of a soft nature?  If so, he or she will bear out the assertion that it is the most immovable of all hardness.

    "Martia," he replied, "when had you ever need to ask me twice for anything that was mine to give?  This is not mine.  My word has gone from me, and I cannot take it back.  I have done it once too often.  He thinks he can play with me, and transgress with impunity the rules I lay down."

    "It is such a cold night, Spencer," said the night, "It would be hard to keep him out to night.  The river is frozen over."

    "Martia, have I ever been hard to you?  I have loved you more than son or daughter, more than self, God knows."

    "Yes, yes, my husband.  You have been so good to me, so good and kind," said Martia.  "I shall never forget how tender you were of me when our Spencer was born, and I went down to the gates of death for that one precious life, and how you loved the little one!"

    The words were natural—came naturally to her lips; but they were cunningly cruel, cruelly cunning, in their power at that moment.

    Dr. Hook shivered where he stood, but he answered not a word.

    "My child, my child," she moaned.  "To think of his being shut out to-night."

    "Martia!" said her husband, upbraidingly, "you unman me.  I cannot think of what has been, but of what is.  The boy's flesh has been too dear to us, and his soul has suffered.  We have hidden his faults from our very selves.  We have come between him and their punishment, and he has grown insolent, disobedient, hardhearted.  Yes, Martia, his heart is hard, hard as the nether mill-stone.  He has his hands upon both our heart-strings, and he wrings them to torture.  Night after night you sit and watch for him, and sigh so wearily, and look so worn, that I cannot bear to see you.  And what is he doing while we are suffering?—laughing at some feast of fools.  I never was hard like that.  It was because I had no mother that I went astray.  Do you think I would have done it with such a one as you?"

    "I do not know," she answered wearily.

    The Doctor waited again for a few minutes—they seemed hours to Martia.

    "Come away and let us put the lights out," he said at last,

    He had scarcely finished speaking, when a horse galloped up the street, some one dismounted, and a loud knock sounded at the door.  Then the scene in that room became tragedy of the suppressed modern sort, but none the less tragedy in all its pity and terror.

    "That is his knock," said Martia.

    Doctor Hook only moved a little further from the door.  He was silent.

    "Let me go to him," said the mother, faintly.

    No response came from her husband's lips.  He took up the extinguisher, and put out one of the candles."

    Another knock, longer and louder than the last.

    "I must go to him," cried Martia, wringing her hands together.  "Spencer, say I may?"

    "No," he answered, firmly.

    "Spencer, I am going," she whispered hoarsely.

    He seized her by the wrist and held her fast.  "Let me go," she cried; "by all that I have suffered, let me go.  If you ever loved me, let me go, Spencer."

    He held her fast.

    "You are hard, hard, hard," she said fiercely.

    "Hush, wife," he answered; "your words are wounds.  They are making me as faint as if the blood were welling from my veins.  But you shall not open to him, for your act is mine, and he will despise us both.  I think it will harm him less to be out a night in the cold than to find that our words are worthless."

    Another knock.

    And hardly knowing what she did, Martia clung to her husband for a moment.

    "Be calm, dear wife, be calm," he murmured over her, for she trembled violently.

    Then all at once she started back from him, crying, "He is gone!"

    A horse's hoofs were echoing down the street.  The drops as of a mortal combat stood on the Doctor's forehead.

    Then Martia's passion found vent, as she stood before her husband, and both were conscious of that strange disembodiment which they had felt once before; but now their spirits met in wrath and not in love.

    "My son! my son!" she cried; "where will he find shelter—driven from the roof which should have been free to him, free as the skies above us?  A father should forgive, as God forgives."

    "And He," replied her husband, reverently, "forgives and chastens."

    Doctor Hook was by nature reverent, and in his misery there came to him a remembrance of the God whom he had forgotten.

    Had Martia gone mad?  "No, I cannot bear it," she cried wildly.  "I must follow him.  I must go!"

    Was it a presentiment?  She felt as if the night would kill him.  Something in the cold, cruel darkness seemed to her waiting to devour him, and she could not stay.  To her husband's terror and amazement she threw on a shawl and bonnet in a moment.

    "Martia, are you mad?" he said.  "Come back," for she moved towards the door.

    "I will never come back, unless I bring him with me," she answered, and was gone.

    He did not think it well to follow and to restrain her by force.  She would come to her senses presently.  But what a blow she had given him.  He almost reeled into the chair in which he had found her seated when he came upstairs.  "Has it come to this?" he murmured; "after all the love of a lifetime, has it come to this?"

    "She will turn again," he thought.  But she had taken the keys and unlocked the door.  He heard the bolts drawn, and started up.  Then the door closed, and she was out in the streets.

    Still he did not follow.  Though he could hardly realize that the fierce, passionate woman who had stood before him a few minutes ago, so stern and grey, was his own Martia; still he trusted in her.  We all trust in each other to act quite mildly and sanely, till some whirlwind of passion strews the wrecks of our confidence before our eyes.

    As Doctor Hook sat there, he seemed to remember, with unnatural vividness, every separate day of the three-and-twenty years he had been united to Martia, and every day of all those years seemed to have a separate dearness.  These two had grown so one, that the same thought often rose in both their hearts, and met in the same words upon their lips.  And yet it had come to this!


 
CHAPTER III.


WHEN Martia went out into the street it was already silent and empty.  She thought she could hear a faint echo of horse-hoofs in the distance, and that was all.  A little sobered by the fresh air and the freedom, she walked rapidly along, but as yet without a purpose, driven only by her inward violence of grief and love in conflict.

    She was outwardly restrained; but she would fain have uttered such a frantic cry as would have wakened all those windows sleeping in the white moonshine.  At the end of the long street where the road divided, and both the ways led out into the open country, she was forced to pause and reflect.  The two ways, like those which meet us into every turn in life, asked their silent question, gave out their unescapeable "Choose!" and brought Martia still more to her senses.  She deliberated.  Spencer would not ride all night; he would stop somewhere.  She would follow him—track him, if possible, even through the darkness.  Two young men came up just then.  They walked with unsteady steps, intoxicated doubtless, and making their way home to their lodgings in the town, most likely from some inn by the roadside.

    "Leave her alone," she heard one say to the other.  "She's an old woman, Bill."

    But Martia Hook, the delicately brought up and tenderly-guarded woman, was at that moment impervious to insult and beyond the reach of fear.

    She stopped them and asked if they knew which way a horseman had passed.

    One could not say.  The other pointed to the road which led down to the river.  Then they passed on, singing a tipsy glee about not going home till morning, which sounded horrible and unholy in the saintly night.

    Martia took the road pointed out to her.  The frosty stars seemed staring at her with their numberless, pitiless eyes.  The moon—she had never liked the moon, it was a peculiarity of hers—seemed mocking her with a grin of its death's-head face.  Yonder was the river, but its shine was deadened by the frost which bound it.  It gave out only a dim gleam in the moonlight.  No bridge crossed the river there; but only a ferry, and an old-fashioned inn stood by the nearer bank.  The towing path ran in front of it—between it and the water.  And the horses stopped there, and the bargemen drank, as also did the carters passing to the mill on the stream beyond, and the townspeople on their holidays or evening rambles.  They sold good cider at the little inn.  It had upper chambers, too, which were let in summer-time as country lodgings, and the traveller could always find there a clean if homely bed and a supper of trout or grayling.

    "Perhaps Spencer has stopped there, and put up his horse for the night," thought Martia, while still at a distance.  It was not unlikely.  As she drew nearer, there were lights flitting about, lights and a clamour of voices.  At any rate, here she might ascertain something concerning him; and if she should find him there, and bring him back, and they two return together, her husband would not refuse to let them in, and there would be peace.  The old love was tugging at Martia's heart—the love that was before this young man had lived, and had sufficed if he had never been.

    She went forward to the river's brink, and for a moment failed to realise the meaning of the scene before her.

    A horse was being led up to the inn.  She did not notice that it was dripping, panting, trembling.  Only it seemed lame, and two men were leading it.  Another man and two women half dressed, with shawls about them, were by the river's brink.  The man held a lantern, and leant over the edge of a boat which lay upon the ice.  He was looking by its light into a great hole in the frozen river.

    The man looked up at the new comer, and seemed paralysed with awe.  He knew her; he had known the horse, and he guessed who the rider must have been who had gone down there into the darkness.  Rather, he had guessed before, and now he knew it must be so.  The mistress of the inn and her maid also recognised Mrs. Hook, and began weeping loudly.

    "What has happened?" asked Martia.

    "He has gone under the ice, and we can do no more," answered the man.

    "Who?"

    There was no answer.  None was needed.  The whole truth flashed in an instant upon the miserable mother.  It was her son's horse she had seen led up the bank.  It was her son who had gone down to death under the icy water, and with a great cry Martia fell upon the earth like one dead.

    This was what had happened.  Spencer had found that his father was determined to carry out his threat, which he had seemingly presumed to think an utterly childish one, and he could see a faint glimmer of the light in his mother's room before he applied himself to the door.  When it was not opened to him as he had expected, and he saw that he was wilfully detained outside, he had remounted and ridden away.

    He rode along the very road which his mother had followed later, but with no intention of stopping at the roadside inn.  His intention was evidently to cross the river, and go out into the open country beyond, though whither no one knew.  The country was studded with farmhouses and the seats of the smaller gentry, at many of which Spencer was known.  He had, in fact, as was afterwards ascertained, just come home in that direction, and walked his horse over the ice to boot; but in returning it is supposed he sprang on it recklessly, without dismounting, or the insidious thaw, which had already began, had thinned the ice at that particular spot, for there was a crash and a great cry.  The innkeeper and the ostler, who had not yet gone to bed, heard it, and ran out to find a man on horseback struggling in the water, where the ice had given way.  As they drew near, the man had jumped off the horse, and with another lesser crash, and with no cry whatever, had disappeared.

    The men had used the most frantic exertions.  Their shouts had brought out every inmate of the inn—the mistress and her servant and the one traveller who chanced to be sleeping there that night.  The women held the lights.  The men with the oars of the ferry-boat broke the ice in a wider circle, and drew out great wedges that the drowning man might rise to the surface.  For the same purpose they got out, with great effort, the terrified and unmanageable horse, and left him on the bank.  They pushed the boat upon the ice, and leaned over it to catch the rider the moment he appeared; but they looked in vain.  Minute after minute passed, and he did not appear.  Minute after minute, and the time passed when it was possible for him to appear as a living man again.

    They now carried Martia in her insensibility into the inn and sent for Doctor Hook, and he came and remained all night with his wife, watching over her terrible return to consciousness, and directing still further efforts for the recovery of the body of their son.  These proved unavailing, and it was only after some days, when every vestige of ice had disappeared, that it was found, fearfully disfigured, floating in a little rushy cove several miles below.

    During all this time Doctor Hook bore himself like a brave man, though he was deeply changed.  But for Martia—she was altered out of knowledge.  The Doctor, indeed, had trembled for her reason or her life—one or other, he thought, would go.  Perhaps that had something to do with the control which he evidently kept over his own sorrow.  But she did not die, and her reason kept its seat.  She lived and suffered.  Before that terrible night, Martia would never have been called old.  She was old when she rose again from her sick bed.  Her hair had not turned grey, she was as erect as ever, but her whole colouring had changed, to her very lips and eyes.  It was completely washed out, and turned to an ashen greyness.

    When the body was found, her husband felt that it was necessary to tell her, though he shrank from the task more than he would have shrank from the operator's knife, if it had been to cut off his right hand.  He shrank to open her fearful wound, for they had never once spoken together of their great sorrow.  The old confidence, the old communion of spirit, was at an end between them, and that, too, when both needed it most to make life seem bearable.  And yet he knew she must be told.  He knew she must have the option of looking upon that dreadful thing which was once her son.  Would her reproaches burst forth upon him then? and the man believed that he would bear that they should kill him rather than that she should pass through another agony.

    He told her in the twilight, as she lay on the sofa in the darkened drawing-room.  She could not see the working of his face, and his voice was like the voice of a man who has been long time sick.  "Martia, Spencer has been found," he said; and, after a pause, "where would you have him buried?"

    She shook her head, expressive of the small matter it was to her where they laid him.

    "You will not see him, Martia," he rejoined, in the same tone.

    She acquiesced at once.  She does not care, she will care for nothing more, thought her husband, as he left her presence to make the melancholy preparations.  But he did her an injustice.  She cared for him.  Through her own sufferings and by her old perfect sympathy, she divined what his must be.  Like a tide that has been back far over dismal rocks, the old love was sweeping in, filling all the recesses of her nature.

    Martia was an eminently sane person, though she was capable on occasions of acting on a sudden impulse.  Her impulses had always something of reason in them, if indeed they were not the highest reason.  She abstained from looking at the remains of her son, not only from a natural shrinking, but that she knew that her horror and anguish would redouble his.  And yet she could not draw near to him, and tell him this.  That night lay between them like a wrong.  Uncheered by the only sympathy which was worth anything to him, Doctor Hook went through the ordeal of burying his murdered son.

    Murdered!  Yes, that was the terrible thought which laid hold of the overwrought, sensitive brain of the man.  He had murdered his boy, and sent him unprepared to his account with God.

    It was not till after their lives had been established in their ordinary routine once more that the change which had been wrought in Doctor Hook became apparent.  He had no longer the clear steady head he used to have, nor the fine genial temper.  He was shaky and irritable; not the latter at home though.  To Martia he was full of the tenderest consideration.  But his patients, and they were more or less like his friends or his children, began to notice in his speech and behaviour something which had not been there before, something of uncertainty and indecision "Can the Doctor be drinking again?" was whispered at length by one member of a family to another.

    They feared it was so, and, thinking of the great calamity which had come upon him, some among them, who knew not the stay of the mourner, were fain to say, "No wonder."

    Yes, the Doctor was drinking.  He had never given up his glass of wine at home; indeed latterly, before this trouble, he had indulged in it freely, though without excess.  The strenuousness of his self-control had gradually relapsed.  He had passed the time of life, he thought, when he could relapse into his one vice.  He held that he had fairly conquered it—that the "taint of blood" had, in process of tune, been eradicated entirely—that he was free.

    But in the prosperous and happy years which had gone by there had been no strain upon him.  He had been in no temptation.  All at once the temptation had come, sudden and strong, and had found him unarmed to meet it.  His wife never came down to dinner now.  She had little appetite, and eat what she could eat in the earlier part of the day, taking a cup of tea in the drawing-room, while he took his dinner in the dining-room below.  Then perhaps he had his horse out and drove away to visit some patient, and Martia would be in bed before his return, and he would go into the study for an hour or two before coming up to her, and all the while he was struggling to throw off the nightmare of self-accusation which tortured him, and he was left thus to struggle unaided and alone.  At last Martia stumbled upon the dreadful truth, and it roused her as nothing else had had the power to do.  One day she resolved to go down to dinner with him and encounter that tête-à-tête which must be agonizing, as everything that had to be done by these two alone which they had formerly done in the presence and with the companionship of their son was agonizing; but the very thought of it brought on one of the dreadful headaches to which she had been subject ever since that fatal night.  Prostrate and nearly blind with pain, she had to lie on the sofa.  Before dinner her husband came to her, bathed her temples, held the cup out of which she drank a little tea, laid her easily on a pillow, and screened her from the fire.  In short he did all that the tenderest heart and the kindest hand could do to ease her.  Then he left her in the half-darkened room and betook himself to his solitary dinner.

    But he could not eat.  The first morsel seemed to choke him.  To see her suffer was driving him mad.  He swallowed a glass of wine, and again tried to eat.  But in vain.  At length the almost untasted meal was removed, and the Doctor swallowed another and yet another glass.

    At length he rose from the table, and laid hold of a more potent spirit.  He took out a bottle of brandy, and helped himself with reckless freedom.  He had lost the power to act; very soon he had lost the will also.  And there he sat, hour after hour, drinking and staring, and sometimes weeping.  The servants, mostly old and trusted, consulted in the kitchen on the possibility of stopping the mischief.  They had seen it, of course, before any one else; and they had, to their honour, kept it to themselves religiously.  The Doctor's man, unbidden, took him in coffee, but was silently dismissed.

    Martia had been asleep.  Two or three hours of rest in the quiet and the healing darkness, had lightened, almost banished, her headache.  She looked at the time-piece.  It was ten o'clock.  Should she go upstairs to bed?  After her refreshing sleep, she hardly felt ready for this.  She wondered if the Doctor had gone out, or if she would find him in his study.  She would go and see.


"His arms were spread out on the table before him,
and his head laid upon his arms."


    She went accordingly, peeping in at the study door, where all was darkness.  She next stepped across to the dining-room, hardly hoping to find him there.  And yet there he was.  His arms were spread out on the table before him, and his head laid upon his arms.  Was he asleep?

    She went up to him, and touched him gently, and at her touch he looked up, but with such a look—dazed, insensate, brutified.  When he saw her, he began crying, foolishly and childishly, aloud—a pitiful spectacle.  The whole truth was laid bare before her at a glance.  He was hopelessly intoxicated!

    Martia had saved him once; could she save him yet again?  She would try.  The fire was out.  There was only ashes on the hearth, and it was cold; but she stayed beside him.  If possible, she alone should see the depth of his degradation.  She took away the wine and spirits from before him, and locked them in the sideboard.  Then she sat down to wait till he should be partially sober.  She managed to drag him into the library, where a fire was still burning, and to lay him down on a sofa there.  Then she sent the household to bed, and, when he had slept for some time, she helped him upstairs to his own room.

    He woke in the morning oblivious of the greater part of the past night, but distressed and wretched concerning what he could remember.  And yet, even before breakfast, unable to resist the craving for a stimulant, he went and took some brandy.  The Doctor's downward career seemed likely to be very rapid indeed.

    But that evening Martia came down to dinner for the first time since their bereavement.  Her husband had been drinking already, and the craving for more was upon him in full force.  Before he touched anything, he asked apologetically for some brandy.  The man set it on the table, and he helped himself.  The servant then went out of the room for a minute, and, to the Doctor's amazement, Martia came over and took the bottle, and pouring out a full glass of the fiery fluid, swallowed it in a moment.

    "Are you ill?" he asked, in concern.

    "No," she answered, simply, and was seated before the servant re-entered.

    Again the Doctor hardly touched the food set before him.  Drink was what he desired, with a fierce and burning desire; but during dinner he took but little—a single glass of sherry, which he noticed Martia take likewise.  From time to time he glanced uneasily at his wife.  She ate.  The brandy had given her a false appetite.  Her colour had returned—that is to say, there was a flush upon her cheeks, and a brightness in here eyes, which had not been there for many a day; but it was a strange, ghastly flush and brightness.  The servant looked on in astonishment.  His mistress was looking suddenly like herself again, only a bit excited," he reported downstairs.  The veins on her forehead and hands were swollen.  The brandy and wine were taking effect on her extremely temperate habit; yet she kept possession of her faculties, and did not lose her self-control in the very least.

    The dinner over, she did not leave the table, on which a slight dessert had been laid.  The Doctor poured himself out, almost mechanically, a glass of wine.  Two decanters, full, were on the table.  Martia reached over and took the other and did the same.  What could it mean?

    "Let us go upstairs," said the Doctor, leaving his wine untasted.

    Martia assented, and went, leaving her's also.  To her husband's horror, she reeled as she left her chair, and he had to assist her up to the drawing-room.  There he rang for tea, and told the servant that his mistress felt her head ache.  He had put down the lights, that he might not see her flushed face and strange aspect.

    The Doctor did not go out that evening.  He sat in the drawing-room, beside his wife, full of the strangest apprehensions.  But through all the desire was tormenting him.  At length, when an hour or two had passed, he stole downstairs, and entered the dining-room.  He poured out and drank another glass of brandy.  When he turned, Martia stood behind him.  She had risen and softly followed him.  Almost in fear of her, he laid down the bottle, and she seized it at once and began to pour out another.

    "Martia!" he exclaimed, in horror, "you do not like it."

    "I loathe it," she said, shudderingly.

    "Then why do you take it?" he asked.

    "Because you take it," she answered.

    Yes, certainly, Martia was going mad.  She stood holding the brimming glass.

    "I loathe it," she repeated, "loathe it like drinking blood; but I will drink glass for glass with you.  I will go step by step with you down the road of ruin," and before he could prevent her she had swallowed the whole.

    He hurried her upstairs before the spirit should take effect, and got her into bed; but he did not leave her again that night, though a little later he might have done so with perfect impunity.  He sat by her, and watched the uneasy slumber—the restlessness, the moaning, the sickness—all the poisoning symptoms of inebriation.

    Had she saved him?  I think not, and yet he was saved though as by fire.  All night long he wrestled, as Jacob wrestled with the angel, seeking no longer the mere outward reformation of the life, but the inward regeneration of the spirit.  He no longer desired to subdue the sin which had power over him because of its bitter fruit of suffering.  He saw what it seems hard for the refined and educated men of our day to see, unless embodied before them in the coarse and foul deeds of the dregs of society—the exceeding sinfulness of sin.  He cried out, not, who shall deliver me from this tyrannous vice, but, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  "I amended my life once," he said within himself, "and it has been like the new cloth on the old garment.  At the first strain it has given way, and the rent is made worse."

    Doctor Hook came out of that sorrowful vigil another man—no longer trusting in his own strength or in his own righteousness, but clothed with the righteousness which is of Christ.

    When Martia woke to consciousness, her husband was still by her side, watching over her with a worn and sorrowful look, which had yet something quite new of hope and elevation in it.  Surely he had not been sitting there all night, and into the grey dawn of a winter morning?  She tried to speak, but was too sick and wretched, and only made a moan.  He soothed her, and ringing for a servant to bring her a cup of tea, left her in the woman's hands.

    He had work to do which must be done, and he went about it earnestly while Martia lay thinking how her plan had failed, and must fail from its inherent weakness, that is to say, long before her husband had begun to feel the effects of the poison, she would have succumbed to its influence entirely.  But she rose and dressed, and was ready to go down to dinner with him, and repeat the scene of the previous night if need were—nay, she would go on repeating it every night of her life.  This woman had a tenacity of purpose which nothing could defeat.

    The Doctor came home early, and joined his wife by the firelight in their drawing-room.  Martia's shaken nerves were in a tumult.  As she looked at the strong, noble face, so grave and sad, and yet so kind, she burst into hysterical weeping.

    "We are the two most wretched creatures in all God's world," she cried.

    "Yes, Martia; but it is God's world, and not the devil's, and not ours.  It is His who makes all things new.  We had never been so wretched if we had sought His renewing grace.  It is not yet too late."

    But Martia burst into still bitterer weeping.  What of her son, her only one—was it not too late for him?

    As if he divined her thoughts, he spoke of him and prayed her to leave him in the hands of Him who was the Eternal Father, wiser and tenderer than any earthly parent.

    In the days that came after, when they could bear to talk of it, they took up the sorrowful theme again, and found that each had the hope that the young man on that particular night had not been drinking, but had been in a right mind even for momentary repentance, and on this point they were yet to be satisfied.


 
CHAPTER IV.


SEVEN miles across the country, at the distance of an easy ride, stood up a range of little hills, and at the foot of one of them lay a large dairy farm.  The house was very lonely, and travellers often stopped there for refreshment, leaving behind some little present in money for the servant, as no charge was made by the hospitable master.  It was a long low house, very old and picturesque, crossed by great black beams without and containing within traces of former grandeur in the spacious hall and lofty fire-place.  Around it was a terraced garden, not a fashionable garden, but sweet in the sunshine, with bushes of southern wood and great beds of purple thyme, masses of dewy lilies and clusters of scented roses and clove carnations.  Roses and honeysuckles crept over the whole long front and round the ends of the house.  In the centre was a wide doorway, which led straight into what had been a hall, a great stone-paved, beam-roofed apartment, which was kitchen, reception-room, and sitting-room, in one.

    All the dishes and covers were arrayed there.  All the hams and flitches hung there.  The cooking and baking and sewing went on in it and most of the life of the house.  To the right a door opened into the parlour, a room half the size.  You went up a single step to it, and found it carpeted and curtained and furnished with stuffed chairs and a piano, Miss Bessie Hope's private property.  Into this the more privileged guests were led, when they had the benefit of Miss Bessie's company to boot.

    Bessie was the farmer's only daughter, and spoilt youngest child.  He had sons besides, but they were married and away from him, and had been for years.

    Bessie was a dainty little lady in muslins and lace, with hands that were white and slim fingering her music.  Bessie's mother wore an apron, and her hands were thick and fluffy from much making of pastry and handling of butter and cheese.

    The other half of the long house, the length of hall, kitchen, parlour, and all, was dairy.  It was shaded from the sun at that end by a grove of trees, and kept as sunless and cool as a cellar.  The milk of sixty cows, feeding all round on the rich meadows and lying under their bordering elms, poured into it in frothy streams every day.  The milk of sixty cows went all at once into the huge tub, to be mixed with rennet and turned into the curd of a single cheese, while the whey was poured out again into the long troughs at which fed an equal number of swine, black and white spotted, but all sweet and clean, in the yard behind.  Above the dairy was the cheese room, which held a cheese for every day in the year.  And every cheese was turned in its place every day, so that there was work enough on the farm.  Mr. Hope had a man and a lad to milk and to muck the byre, which stood at a little distance, and to feed the beasts.  Mrs. Hope had her maid to scour and clean beneath her watchful eye; but Bessie gave no help and was asked for none, not that she was selfish or unwilling.  She only did what she was set to do—mindless as the china shepherdess which stood on her parlour mantle-shelf.

    When the cows were driven into the yard for milking, with much clamour and shouting—much more than seemed in the least necessary with the sleek, quiet beasts—and all the invaded pigs squealing and grunting in concert, Mr Hope, a big man with almost purple red face, came forth in his white, elaborately stitched frock, with his three-legged stool in his hand, followed by his two satellites and by the servant-maid, who had to assist in the great operation, all carrying their stools, but Bessie sat still in her parlour at the other end of the house and entertained the strangers, if there were any.

    In this way Bessie had often entertained Charles Dunscombe and Spencer Hook on their botanical excursions.  Either the flora of the district must have been unusually rich, or the youthful botanists must have been unusually exhaustive in their treatment, from the number of times they appeared there with those tin boxes on their backs.  But Mr. Hope knew the fathers of both.  He was a patient of neither, for the good reason that he had never been a patient of anybody's in the whole course of his life.  He knew them by repute however, and he made their sons welcome, and never took it into his bovine head that they came just a little too often.

    They came and chattered with Bessie in the parlour, or loitered with her under the elms, always the two together.  "It would be different if there was only one," thought the mother, allowing it all; "but there can be no harm in the three being together; and Bessie is so lonely.  She is not the least like a child of mine," she added to herself, with secret pride.  "Bessie should have been a lady; perhaps she will be one some of these days."  Whether Bessie was not in the least like her mother it was impossible to say, for it was impossible to say what her mother had been like in the general obliteration of feature and shape which had taken place in that excellent matron.  But Bessie was very slim and very pretty and had a childish softness of mind which gave to her pretty face an expression of utter innocence.

    Nobody had been near the farm for the space of an entire month; but, then, it was winter, and though the roads were good in the hard snowless frost, there was nothing to bring anybody there.  True, young Dunscombe and Hook would drop in when they were riding that way, even though the botanical excuse had worn itself out, but there might be nothing to bring them that way.  Bessie was very dull; she had a pony now, and rode; it was doing her good her mother thought, for she had not been well lately, and for the last few days she had not been out at all.  She sat in the parlour working and doing something which she did not wish to be seen, for on the least noise, indicating the approach of any one, she hid her work in a little drawer, which she kept half-open in the table at which she sat.  It might be some Christmas present she was at work upon, intended as a pleasant surprise to father or mother.

    She was sitting thus when her ear caught the sound of a horse's hoofs in the distance, and she started up and stood leaning against the casement.  From where she stood, though she could not see any one advancing up the road, she could catch the first glimpse of any comer on the path which led to the house.  Her eager breath dimmed the frosty pane, and she took out her handkerchief and wiped it.  The rider came nearer and nearer, at length he turned from the road into the pathway, and she caught a glimpse of him.  It was Charles Dunscombe.  She sighed and dropped into the chair again, looking disappointed and dull.  All the eager light had faded from her face at once, and you could see that she was out of health and nervous and spiritless.

    Charles Dunscombe alighted on the terrace and came into the house.  He was welcomed both by the farmer and his wife; they asked him to sit down or step into the parlour.  It was the most leisurely time of their day, in the afternoon, before the evening milking.  But there was something unusual about the young man.  He had not come in in the ordinary way, which was after standing as long as possible with Bessie at the parlour window.  Where was Bessie, that he had not seen her nor she him?  He would neither sit down nor go into the next room, and his face was very grave.  At length the truth came out.  "You don't know, I suppose," he said, with a good deal of feeling, "that young Hook is dead!"

    "Dead! God help us!" exclaimed the farmer, loudly.  "What did he die of?"

    "It was an accident.  He was drowned."

    "And such a fine handsome man," said Mrs. Hope, putting her apron to her eyes.

    "How did it happen?" asked the farmer.

    Charles Dunscombe repeated the details shortly.  "I was riding near," he said, "and I thought you would like to know."

    "Won't our Bessie be grieved about him," said her mother, tearfully; "and what a thing for his poor family!"

    Charles Dunscombe could not stay to hear their lamentations over his companion's fate.  He pleaded that he was in haste, and would come back another day if they would allow him.  He had no intention of staying on this occasion, which was extremely distasteful to him, but he wanted to be able to come in future, when this should be forgotten.  He bade the honest couple good day, and mounted his horse and rode off at a rapid pace.

    "What can Bessie be about?" said the mother.  "I don't like to tell her the news.  She'll take it ill, I fear."

    "She must know some time," said the father. "And the young man, after all, was nothing to her."

    So Mr. Hope went out upon his work, thinking reflectively on the uncertainty of life, but by no means ill at ease.

    Mrs. Hope was ill at ease.  She had a kind of half conviction that her daughter had cared for one of these young gentlemen, and that the one she had cared for was Spencer Hook.  So, after sitting a little time to recover her composure, she went in search of Bessie.  She did not expect to find her in the parlour, but the door which led by a ladder staircase to the bedrooms above was in there—the proper staircase for the floor opening into the cheese room, and the communication being closed.  Mrs. Hope opened the parlour door and pushed, but something lay against it; something heavy, like a basket of clothes, had been set down there by that thoughtless Bessie.  Mrs. Hope pushed harder, and at length got in her head.  What was her terror to find that it was Bessie herself lying in a heap on the floor!  By a wonderful effort, in which she nearly squeezed herself to death, Mrs. Hope got herself into the room, and shut the door, and knelt beside the prostrate figure.  That Bessie had been listening there, she was quick enough to know, and that it was the fate of Spencer Hook which had affected her so severely there was little doubt.  Mrs. Hope threw open the parlour window, drew her daughter into the middle of the floor, and in doing so made another discovery, before which she lost er presence of mind entirely.

    In Bessie's hand was a little garment, which she had neglected to put into the drawer as usual, if the fact had not otherwise been plain to the mother's eyes.  Instead of doing anything to help her daughter, Mrs. Hope wept and wrung her hands and wailed, "Her father will kill her, when he knows.  Oh, her father will kill her."

    And Mrs. Hope had cause for her fear.  The choleric man was mild as a cow on most occasions, but he was subject to fits of temper which made him a perfect madman.  There had been more than one almost tragical scene enacted in that homely house.  Father and son had come to blows there, which might have stained its hearth with murder, and one son was yet a wanderer and an outcast from his home because of it.

    Mr. Hope indeed knew his failing, and tried to guard against it.  He had even gone to his clergyman and confessed it and asked advice, and he had been told that nothing less than the renewing of his whole nature would save him from it.  But he had gone on in his old ways, guarding himself as he best could against its consequences, by rushing away from temptation and behaving not very unlike one of his own bulls when it raved round the pasture in a fit of passion.  He had been known to run away from his own servant for fear he should kill him for some slight offence.

    And now, passing by the parlour window, as he retraced his steps along the terrace, he heard his wife weeping and wailing, and looking in beheld his daughter lying senseless on the floor.

    He entered immediately, half angry already that Bessie should be making a fool of herself, as he concluded in his own mind she was doing, about a young man who was nothing to her.

    "What's ado?" he cried in the parlour doorway, in no gentle voice.

    He was not answered, but he took in the situation at one glance.

    Bessie was coming to herself now.  She sat up with her elbow on the floor, to see her father literally glaring over her.  He could not speak with the tide of fury which choked him.

    The girl rose and stood helpless and drooping before him.  He clenched his fist as if to strike.

    "Oh, don't hurt her, don't hurt Bessie," cried the mother, attempting to come between them.

    Her husband pushed her aside.  His speechless rage was more terrible than any amount of abuse.  He went up to Bessie and shook her violently.

    "I am married, father," she pleaded, holding up her hands.  But he would not hear.  With one terrible word he flung her from him, and fled out of the house.

    "Father has killed me," said the girl, when she could speak, holding her hand to her side.  She had pitched against the table, and felt a great pain where she had struck it, a pain which never left her.

    "But, Bessie, are you really married?" gasped her mother.

    "Yes, I am married, and he is dead," she answered in heart-breaking accents.

    "Why didn't you tell us?  It was wrong not to tell us, Bessie," said Mrs. Hope.

    "I was frightened," she answered, "and Spencer said he would tell you himself He wanted to tell his own father first."

    "But you're sure you're married?" reiterated Mrs. Hope.

    For answer Bessie opened her little purse and took out a wedding certificate and handed it to her mother.  It was perfectly correct, and dated back seven months.  One day in June, Bessie, with her unrestricted freedom, had ridden away and met her lover, and they had put up their horses and taken the train to another town and been married there before the registrar.  But nothing of this did Bessie tell her mother.  She was frightened, as she said, and she had to be put to bed now in the little room above, alas, never to rise again.

    It was days before her father asked for her.  Her mother was keeping her out of the way, he thought, and he too had seen the certificate, and was longing to see his daughter and go through a tacit reconciliation with her.  His fury never lasted long, and only left behind it an unusual shyness and awkwardness till the first meeting with its object was over.  And the mother was keeping Bessie out of his way so long.

    It was she who spoke first, however.  "We must have the doctor here, John."

    "What for?" he asked.

    "For Bessie," was the answer.

    "Is she ill?" he said, rising hurriedly.

    "Oh, not like that," said the mother.  "It's not time yet; but she has a constant pain in her side.  She hurt herself falling against the parlour-table."

    Mr. Hope knew on what occasion that was, and looked down uneasily.

    "It isn't much like?" he inquired.

    "But it wants the doctor, John," said his wife.

    "I'll fetch him," answered the farmer.  "Who is it to be?"

    "I would like Doctor Hook," said his wife.

    "He must be told that she's married, then," he stipulated, "and to whom."

    "And so he ought," said Mrs. Hope.

    With poor Bessie's marriage certificate in his pocket, Mr. Hope, harnessing the pony to a light vehicle, half cart, half car, drove into town, and called on Doctor Hook.

    The Doctor was at home, and received him kindly, not that he knew him, even by sight, for many knew the Doctor by sight whom he did not know at all.

    "My daughter is ill," stammered the stout, red man.  "Will you come and see her?"

    "What is the matter?" asked the Doctor.

    "A pain in the side," replied Mr. Hope, fumbling in his waistcoat pocket; "but you see, she's married, and I'm very sorry, sir; but will you look at this?" and he handed the certificate to Doctor Hook.

    "You don't mean that your daughter was married to my son?" said Doctor Hook, perusing it twice over.

    "But I do," said Mr. Hope; "and what's done can't be undone.  Will you come and see her?" he added, seeing the Doctor hesitate, or rather, look utterly confounded.

    "When did you know of this?" said Doctor Hook, sternly.

    "About a week ago," answered the farmer, "and I've nigh been the death of her in consequence.  Whatever's the harm done, I've done it," he added, in a choked voice.

    "I will come and see her," said Doctor Hook, in a subdued tone, and Mr. Hope made his awkward bow, and left him, wondering that so little had been said after all.

    Doctor Hook was thinking mournfully.

    "When is all this trouble to end.  One wrong bringing forth another; when will the procession cease?  Has this man also upon his head the murder of his child?"

    But Doctor Hook did not meditate long.  He was soon on his way to the farm, and all but overtook the farmer on his.

    The Doctor was shown into the parlour and up the ladder-staircase into the little white nest, where Bessie lay, almost as white as the sheets and coverlets and with that pathetic look of hers—that look of helpless innocence stronger than ever.

    The Doctor was very tender to the poor girl, and promised to come and see her again.  There was no immediate danger; but she was not to be allowed to rise.  She was to lie there for many weeks, till her baby came to her, for either the shock or the subsequent blow had almost brought on a premature confinement.

    So Bessie lay there, and counted the days and the Doctor came to her every week, and then another visitor came with him, whom Bessie had not expected to see.  It was Spencer's mother.  Ever since her husband had told her—almost fearing to do so, lest the added wound, the added proof of her son's alienation, should prove too much for her—she had longed to see Bessie, and now she had come.

    Her coming affected the girl more than anything else had done.  It was her displeasure she had most feared, perhaps because Spencer had feared it most.  It put her into a little faint flutter, which Martia herself undertook to calm if they would leave them together; and the Doctor went away, and left his wife sitting beside Bessie's little bed, holding Bessie's hand.

    And Martia drew from the girl, as no one else had done, her sad story of disobedience and wrong—disobedience and wrong which had poisoned all the happiness it was to have Spencer love her and make her his very own.  How in those past summer nights, when the garden was dewy and fragrant, and its bunches of white lilies stood like ghosts in the moonlight, or invisible in the still sweeter darkness, she had slipped down the ladder-stair, and gone out to Spencer—out at the little parlour-window, and they had strolled away together.  "And it was like living in fairy-land," said the girl, with mournful, wistful eyes.

    She had crept out at the window when all the house had gone to rest, and they two had roamed about for hours, so that Spencer, who had to leave his horse tied at a distance from the house, had often been long past midnight in reaching home.

    This accounted for his frequent absences.  Would it account for that last absence in defiance of his father's threat?  Martia asked her if she could name the night on which she saw him last.

    She did, and it was on the night of his death.  "He wanted to get away sooner that night," she said. "He was going to tell you all about it," and Bessie raised her deprecating eyes to Martia's face.  "He said he could not bear to go on any longer deceiving you."

    "He wanted to get away sooner," repeated Martia, bringing her back to the point.

    "Yes; and as we passed the meadow at the foot of the lane he found that his horse had broken away.  He had tied it to a rotten branch.  He chased it all over the meadow and back again before he could catch it, and I stood shaking at the foot of the lane.  It was such a clear night, and the meadow is overlooked by father's window.  If he had only looked out, he would have seen him racing about after the horse."

    "And then?"

    "He caught him at last," said Bessie; "and then he had to come home with me, and the fear that father would find us out, had made me like to faint, and I could hardly get in at the window again.  In getting in I made such a noise that I woke the swallows in their nests up there.  I could see one looking over the edge at me, and I wouldn't let him go, for I thought father would come, and I knew he would kill me."

    There was a pause, in which Martia had turned her head towards the window with eyes full of tears, tenderer and more thankful drops than had stood there since that awful night.

    "I think I shall die," said Bessie, breaking the pause.

    "Oh, no; you are young," said Martia, "and you have your parents to live for, and you will have your child."

    "But I don't seem to care," said the girl drearily.  "I am tired."

    Martia tried to cheer her, but the task was a difficult one, she was so sweet and patient, and yet so passive and hopeless.

    At length the Doctor came for his wife, and she took her leave of Bessie, promising to come soon again.

    Before another week was over Doctor Hook was summoned in haste, and Bessie's baby was born.  There was no hope from the first.  Bessie never rallied, but gently and imperceptibly sunk from sleep to sleep, from scarcely-breathing life to hardly stiller, whiter death.

    It was well that only Doctor Hook was witness to the scene enacted in the farmhouse then.  Bessie's father called upon them wildly to witness that he had killed his child.  He wanted to denounce himself publicly, to give himself up to justice, and it was all that the Doctor could do to restrain him from going off to a magistrate at once.  The farmer had loved Bessie more than all his other children.  She was the only girl among a band of rough boys, the youngest child, singularly gentle and timid and sensitive, bursting into tears if her father showed the slightest anger, while the others had to be ruled with the rod, and were not very sensitive even to that.  For her sake he had resolved to restrain his bursts of passion and had to a great extent succeeded.

    The Doctor pointed out to him that his self-accusation was impossible of proof, that the shock of hearing of Spencer's death or her fall might have affected her, but that neither of these, nor the accident of her hurting her side on the table, was the immediate cause of death.

    He might not have prevailed to calm him, however, had he not used other pleas than these—had he not spoken to him as one sinful man to another, and pointed out to him the way of salvation, a salvation not from any penalty of sin, but from sin itself, the most terrible of all penalties to him whose eyes have been opened to perceive—the penalty expressed in the awful words, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust; let him be unjust still: he that is filthy, let him be filthy still."

    Bessie died and was buried, but Bessie's baby lived and throve.  Mrs. Hope nursed it for Martia; she would not part with it sooner, considering nursing her forte; but the boy was named Spencer, after father and grandfather, and Martia had claimed him as her own.

    And so the old house in High Street echoed once more to childish feet and was brightened by childish laughter.  In her love for the boy Martia lived over again the days of her motherhood, and was almost tempted to think "new things as dear as old;" only for this child they feared the snare of indulgence more than they had feared it for their own Spencer.  They feared far more the loving of his flesh so that his soul might suffer for his sin, and they tried to lead him early to the Saviour.

    The Doctor had laid down his old habits completely at the foot of the cross.  The temptation was outside himself, as it were, and he took means to guard against it.  One night he and Martia went out together, and walked to the river's brink, not to that spot we know of; but to a quiet reach where it flows past a meadow on either side and reflects an ancient bridge.  And into the river, at a sign from the Doctor, Martia threw something that glittered as it fell, and, making a slight circle on the surface, sank to the bottom like a stone.  It was the key of the Doctor's excellent wine cellar.

    Mr. Hope perhaps found his task a more difficult one, for his friend and clergyman can bear witness to more than one communion when, kneeling at the altar, the tears have rained down the farmer's face because of some recently passed fit of fury, which, after all, he had striven to conquer by other means than racing round the pasture like a bull.


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