At Any Cost (3)

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CHAPTER XIII.

DIVIDING WAYS.


WHILE Tom went back to his duties, sorrowfully thinking what a tangle this world is, and how much pitiful excuse there is for the errors and follies of others, and how little safety for ourselves, unless at every step of the way we look up for the guiding of an unseen hand, and down at the path for the footprints of the Master, Robert Sinclair was speeding away to the north, with his mind full of many things.

    “I must be prompt and decided,” he mused.  “My mother is a woman who is always easy to lead, unless her own mind is fully made up.  They won’t be able to go back to Quodda.  There will be a new schoolmaster in the schoolhouse, and I don’t know another house into which they could put their heads — they couldn’t live in a mere hovel, though of course they will have to cut their coat according to their cloth (and that will be narrow enough!), and my mother would make the best of whatever was needful.”  So far, he thought, though silently, in words; but there was a reflection beyond, which he left unexpressed, even to himself — a thought that since their poverty might be little beyond destitution, it would be well that they should not endure it in Shetland, where the Branders were almost sure to go, sooner or later.  He had not the remotest idea of what Tom had hinted —that the mother and sister should join him in the south, and either live with him in London or near him in Stockley.  “If only my father had lived a few years longer!” he sighed.  “By that time, doubtless, I could easily have done for them everything I should like — without crippling myself.  If one has to give away ones first little savings, how are they to increase so as to be of real service to one’s self or to anybody else?  If I managed to spare them thirty or forty pounds a year out of my little salary, how could I ever get on?  It would not be the mere pittance which I should sacrifice, it would be all my prospects of any future wealth.  If I could only get on unburdened for a few years, I should be able to give them enough and to spare!”

    Oh, how dangerous it is when future generosity looks so easy and delightful, while present duty seems so hard as to be impossible!  When we think of what we will do, when certain circumstances have come to pass, and not of what we can do in the existing necessity!  And we forget that the changes to which we look forward will be more searching than we contemplate — that when the fortune is made, the friend may be gone beyond mortal reach — that by the time our purse is full, our fingers may have got an inveterate habit of drawing its strings.

    When Robert reached his mother and sister, he found that they had been proceeding, firmly and bravely, with all the matters in hand.  They had chosen the father’s grave under the shadows of St. Magnus.  It seemed to Mrs. Sinclair a kindlier resting-place than the bleak upland graveyard at Quodda would have been.  “There are trees here,” she said to Olive, looking dreamily at those growing round the ruins of the earl’s palace and the bishop’s house, and thinking of the ancient avenue in Stockley church, down which she had walked on her wedding morning.  They had bought their simple and scant stock of mourning, and were already making it with their own hands.

    “You should not have allowed mother to do such a thing, Olive,” Robert said almost angrily.  “She is not taking much heed to anything just now, but everybody will think us most cruel and regardless to permit it.”

    Olive looked up, surprised.  “I don’t think this is the sort of thing that hurts mother,” she said quietly.  She herself did not feel the more comforted since her brother’s arrival, as she had looked to be.  “Somehow, Robert seems outside the circle where the sorrow is,” she pondered, “and it seems to me that it is only those who are inside it that can console each other.”

    By-and-by, it might have been noticed that what the three debated over together, the mother and daughter re-discussed when alone.  Of course, they could not go back to Quodda; they felt that Robert’s wish was that they should not return to Shetland.  They decided that they would not do so.  Robert never asked them whether they would wish to be near him.  They said not a word about this to each other.  They only said that it might be best if they remained where they were for the present.  Living would not be costly in Kirkwall.  It would not be a great expense to get a few of the old household gods shipped to them from the more northern island; probably the incoming schoolmaster might take over the others at a valuation.  No definite suggestion came from Robert.  His hints were always negative.

    One or two old friends came from Shetland for the funeral, among them Mr. Ollison from Clegga.  They hinted, in their homely, kind way, that they hoped there was “something for the widow.”  Yes, Robert said, he was thankful to say that his father had made a certain provision by insurance.  (He did not say how small it had necessarily been.)  And he himself was doing very well, and hoped soon to be doing better.  He added that rather proudly, as if he resented any inquiry; at least, so the old men thought.  They had not been unprepared to render a little help, if they could have done so in their own neighbourly fashion.  “But it is a right spirit in the young man to be so independent,” they said to each other.  “And it leaves the more neighbourly help for such widows as have not such children of their own.”  And one of the old gentlemen, who at times made little investments in stocks and shares, resolved that for the future he should patronize the office which enjoyed the benefit of Robert’s services.  “There may not be much profit on my business,” said he, “but it will do the young man good with his employers, when they see that his old neighbours have such a good opinion of his principles and abilities.”

    Robert returned to London, highly satisfied with himself.  Everybody had told him what a comfort it was to them, for his mother’s sake, to know of his existence.  Well, of course, he would do something the moment the insurance money was used up; they must make that last as long as they could, certainly; and by that time, he would know better “where he was.”  Had he not already made one or two little speculative investments, which, if they turned out well, would at once realize what would have seemed a fortune in his eyes three years ago, but which he now characterized as “a nice little windfall”?  (Did he notice how his financial vision was changing?)  It would have been wasting his “opportunities” had he failed to make those investments.  It would be ruin now to disturb them.  No, no; everything would end well for everybody.  He had not taken his mother and Olive into his confidence, because women know nothing about business.  They ought to feel they could trust him in any case.  And from the first, the world would treat them very differently from what it would if he was not in existence.

    And then he fell into a reverie over a true history he had once heard.  It was the history of a poor artist, the only son of a gentle but decayed family.  His early works had given great promise, which his later ones did not fulfil.  People had said he worked too much; that he seemed almost to grudge the necessary appliances for the proper practice of his art, and did not seek the inspiration and culture he might have got from travel and from the masterpieces of other minds; that he seemed not to care to risk rising to the height of his own genius, but was content to toil on level lines, which brought him safe profit.  He had been called mercenary and sordid.  His mother had spoken of him as if he had sadly disappointed her; it had been discovered that his sisters did not trouble themselves even to go to see his pictures.  People had pitied the mother and sisters for their withered hopes, whose fruition might well have lifted them out of their narrow life of elegant leisure and genteel economies into one of affluence and influence.  But the mother and sisters dropped away, dying not long after each other.  Then it had been noticed that the brother’s stream of merely salable work grew slack; that he treated himself to some travelling and to some leisure, the result of which was a picture which presently made his name.  People said that all this was the beneficial consequence of his entering on his mother’s little fortune, and one or two got so far as to hint that, under all the circumstances, she might surely have made some self-denying arrangements in his favour during her lifetime.  One acquaintance, bolder than the rest, had ventured to ask how much he had inherited.  And the artist had quietly answered, “Only about one hundred and fifty pounds a year, but the sense of security and of relief from constant responsibility was the real blessing,” and he had been judged a poor-spirited creature to have had so little courage to fight the battle of life on his own account.  And it was only after he was dead, when his one or two bosom friends were at liberty to speak out, that the general public learned that from the very first, those leisurely critical women had been dependent upon him for every morsel of bread they put into their mouths, and that all he had “inherited” had been the cessation of the need for supplying their wants, and of the fear lest he might fail to provide for their future.

    “That man was a fool,” decided Robert Sinclair.  And perhaps he was; but there is some folly which is nearly divine, as there is some seeming wisdom which is altogether devilish.  It was a pity that true story should have had any existence, so that it could come into Robert Sinclair’s mind just then.  He did not accept it as any guiding for himself.  He was not yet base enough to think that without discretion and reserve on his part, Mrs. Sinclair and Olive might develop into such chill vampires as the artist’s family.  But the story had its influence nevertheless.  The selfishness of those dead women's lives had left its pernicious trail behind them.  From every life — nay, from every event in every life — there is distilled an essence, a medicine or a poison to be the blessing or the bane of the lives or the events which follow.  And while some leave the precious legacy of their life’s wine poured out in loving service, and others the strange bequest of their life’s wine turned to vinegar by its reservation for themselves, there are yet others who drop a strange and subtle poison, which falling often into the most generous wine poured out by their contemporaries, chills and impoverishes it, and even gives it a taint which may prove deadly to some.  And if there be woe to those who have lived for themselves alone, and who leave the world poorer and not richer for their having been in it, surely there must be woe, woe — a thousand times woe! — for those who have so lived that they have made the unselfishness of others seem to be folly — and have stamped the nobility of self-forgetfulness as mere madness!  For the former only lay waste the plains of earth, but the latter poison the well-springs of heaven.

    Olive Sinclair went back to Shetland alone, to select and carry away such remnants of the old home as she and her mother might venture to keep.  The “merchant” at Wallness undertook to convey these in his cart from Quodda to Lerwick, and to ship them to Kirkwall in a little vessel he used for his own trading purposes.  He seemed at first to have a curious hesitancy about undertaking the business, but in the end he named a charge for it which give him a very fair profit.

    “I would not have taken any money at all if it had been from the old lady and the lassie,” he remarked afterwards, “but there’s the young fellow to the fore, doing so well everybody says, and hand in glove with that Brander of St. Ola’s, who is screwing all he can out of us.”

    Olive paid the money.  She thought the charge ample, but she made no observation, though she could not help remembering many a difficult account which her father had cast, and many a tangled correspondence which he had unravelled in quite a friendly way, for the old merchant in bygone days.

    Then she said good-bye to all the simple neighbours.  The expressions of their sympathy concerning the sad changes in the family, and of their congratulation concerning her brother’s future, were alike received rather silently.  She had never been very popular in Quodda, though everybody had always thought her clever — far more clever than Robert.  “If she had been the boy instead of the girl she would have done wonders,” they said to each other, watching the cart as it drove away, with Olive seated behind her household gods; looking, not back at the villagers, but out upon the blue sea and the familiar rocks.

    “I don’t feel as if I could work for myself,” she thought.  “But I can work for mother.  And I suppose that is the way God always spares one something to give one strength!  And if father thought too well of everybody else, why, there’s only the more need that I should justify his faith in me.”

    And then, in their lodging in Kirkwall, the mother and daughter began that sort of life whose story is never fully written.  They went out of the temporary furnished lodgings in which Mr. Sinclair had died, but they did not require to leave the house.  The landlady, a poor widow herself, found them an empty attic, low-roofed and queer-cornered, for which she would ask but a humble rent.

    “One room will do for us in the mean time,” observed Mrs. Sinclair.  “Robert will not take a holiday to come so far north very soon, and by then we may have got into something better.”

    “One room will do for us in the mean time,” responded Olive, but she echoed her mother’s speech no further.

    At first, while Olive was looking for work, they had to make some inroad on the insurance money.  But that inroad Olive was determined should not long continue.  She got a little daily teaching, which brought in a few weekly shillings, barely sufficient to pay for their food.  Then she got an evening engagement to keep a tradesman’s ledgers; this brought in a monthly stipend which would just meet the rent.  Early in the morning, late at night, and in the intervals between her teaching and her book-keeping, she toiled at knitting and at white seam.  The gains of such labours were indeed infinitesimal, but they must not be despised, because they were needed.  She found out what economy means when it has to be exercised, not in cash but in kind.  At Quodda schoolhouse, despite the chronic scarcity of money, there had always been a certain humble affluence; nobody had had to study how much they could afford to eat, or whether they might put another peat on the fire.  But now she knew where to draw a line far within the limit of her healthy young appetite, and she learned how to make up a peat fire, not so as to get the most warmth from it, but so as to make it last the longest.

    Yet it is only when we get down to these barren places of life that we find how rich their soil really is, if only it be properly developed.  Olive began to discover that the midnight moonlight and the ruddy dawn have a secret of their own, which they keep only for those eyes which rest on their beauty a while, when hard work is over, or ere hard work begins.  She began to feel as if she had private rights in the grand old cathedral on which her little window looked.

    “What should we do without St. Magnus, mother?” she would ask cheerily.  “How good it was of all those unknown men in the dark ages to rear its beauty for our delight!  And I believe they did it all the better, that I don’t suppose they thought much of posterity, but rather of the worship of God, and of doing a good day’s work for those they loved.”

    Olive found, too, that when one gets down on a level with the poorest, so that they trust one with the real secrets of their life, one finds that there is a good deal of Spartan endurance and of quiet self-sacrifice still going forward in the world.

    In after years Olive Sinclair did not find those days of strain and stress at all bad to remember.  She used to say then, that she believed by the time she was an old woman she would be chiefly interesting on account of what she could tell of that period.

    But then memory, with its curious alchemy for extracting pleasure from pain, always rejects pain from which pleasure cannot be extracted.  The true suffering of those hard days was that, during their course, Olive felt as if she could plant no cheerful hope in any “after years,” could foresee nothing but one long course of lonely, ill-requited, unremitting toil, uncheered by sympathy or appreciation.  There was no possibility of saving, it was as much as they could do to pay their way, scanty as were their needs; a few evil days would plunge them at once in debt — either to Robert or to somebody —and Olive soon began to feel that it would be almost more galling to accept aid even for her mother from him than from strangers; and to think, too, that such a feeling was very unnatural, and that she must be very wicked to indulge in it.  And yet why?  Must there not ever be a deadly bitterness in taking alms from those whose justice would have saved us from need for them?  As for any ambitions of her own, even the laudable one of providing for her own future, for the helpless old age that must come at last after the longest life of toil, Olive soon realized that she must harbour none.  “Perhaps Robert will keep me then out of charity,” she thought, still not without some bitterness, “and perhaps he will have a wife who will look askance at me for needing help, and will give me an old dress and a moral lecture.”  And Olive was right enough in her keen judgment of the way of the world, though she blamed herself for the edge on her words.  For with those who think that to be lucky and rich is in itself to be meritorious, to be poor from whatever cause or course of events is to be disgraceful; he who, like Jack Homer, —


Puts in his thumb and pulls out a plum,
    And cries, “What a good boy am I!”


is sure to agree with the poet’s “new style Northern Farmer,”


That the poor in a loomp is bad.


    At other times, Olive would look bravely forward to the very workhouse itself.  “If one has to go there after one has done one’s very best, one does not need to blush for one’s self, but for the world,” she reflected.  These sombre meditations were reserved for herself alone, for her mother she had only bright announcements of her latest triumph in the way of earning or sparing.

    Letters reached them from Tom Ollison oftener than from Robert Sinclair.  Tom had written a frank and friendly letter in response to the telegram which had intrusted him with news of the father’s death, and the correspondence had continued since.  His epistles were the one breeze from an active, prospering outer life, which stirred the two women’s monotonous days.  Mrs. Sinclair rejoiced in the coming of those letters, because they gave her some assurance of her son's welfare, though when Tom’s allusions to Robert seemed rather curt and guarded, she often feared lest Tom had seen that he was looking ill or overworked, and was keeping something back.  And so in truth Tom was, but it was not what she dreaded.  Little as young Ollison knew how it really was with Mrs. Sinclair and her daughter, he felt an instinctive reluctance to tell them of Robert’s social progresses; of the dinner parties he so constantly attended, where his dress and appointments were of the most irreproachable; of the little suppers he gave among the young brokers and their more youthful clients, foolish youths of fashion who were fain to hope to meet their extravagances by dabbling a little in speculation, and of whom therefore “something might be made.”  Tom had been asked to several of these little suppers, and had gone — once.

    Probably, despite these seeming extravagances, Robert Sinclair’s expenditure was not large, it was only made exclusively for what in his eyes was his own benefit.  Tom could not understand Robert.  His habits seemed steady, he drank little, he held somewhat aloof from the fast talk of the men whom yet he gathered about him — perhaps gaining weight with them by so doing.  He made an outward profession of religion.  But all his being was absorbed in one thought, that of “getting on.”  The scramble seemed but to grow fiercer, the nearer he got to the goal of fortune; but then, alas! fortune has no goal — it ever recedes, often only to vanish in thin air at last.

    Tom said to Robert more than once, concerning his thoughts, his ways, and his friends, were these true, were those quite upright, were the friends worthy?  Robert did not say much in self defence.  He only persisted in the thoughts and the ways, made more friends of the same sort, and saw the less of Tom.  Life is full of such separations.

    Olive marked her mother’s rapidly ageing face.  She noted that her mother spoke less than of old.  She would sit in silence for hours now, and her loving manner towards her daughter changed to one of absolutely supplicating clinging.  It seemed to Olive sometimes as if her mother was actually asking her pardon for still loving the son, who showed so little love in return.


 
CHAPTER XIV.

A SECRET HISTORY.


DURING one of the conversations which Robert and Tom had together, soon after the return of the former from the north, young Sinclair said, rather suddenly, and apropos of nothing which had gone before, — “Tom, do you know anything particular about your Mr. Sandison?”

    Tom Ollison looked up at him with a quick, puzzled glance.  The question seemed to have a strangely familiar ring about it — as if he had heard it before — an experience which we have all of us known, and which has given rise to many elaborate theories concerning the action of the dual brain, and to more startling ones about pre-existence.  Probably such experiences are generally to be attributed to nothing more than a sudden quickening, by some new combination of circumstance, of some old line of thought and feeling, and our memory is not of the word or action which seems to stir it, but of a recurring mood of our own.  At least, Tom Ollison quickly realized that it was so in the present instance.  A minute’s reflection convinced him that what he really remembered was his own feeling of conjecture and bewilderment when Mr. Sandison himself had asked, — “Tom, did your father ever tell you anything about me?”  And just as he had answered then, “No, sir, except that he told me what great friends you had always been,” so he loyally answered now, — “No, Robert — except that he is very much better than his words, and I have an idea that, in this world, that is very ‘particular,’ and indeed ‘peculiar’!”

    “Ah,” said Robert, and shook his head, going on mysteriously, “I suppose he does not like it spoken about.  Perhaps some rebellion against his destiny accounts for his atheism.”

    Tom did not ask what “it” was.  He always bitterly repented of having confided Grace’s assertion to Robert.  It was not so much that he yet doubted its truth, in the bald, materialistic sense of a fact.  But since those early days he had himself been down into the depths — into depths from which he felt he could never have risen, but for a clinging, childlike faith that God was with him even there, and had hold of him even in the dark, and that God knew and believed in Tom Ollison, while Tom Ollison could not know or believe in God!  And suppose Tom Ollison had been still in those depths, would God have grown tired of him and let him drop?  Perish the idea!  Then, too, in rising out of those depths, Tom had not scrambled back to the brink whence he had fallen; that would be no salvation from any Slough of Despond.  God had brought him out, like the Psalmist of old, into “a wealthy place,” upon the richer soil nearer the Celestial City.  Tom could say his creed again, now, firmly and joyfully — feeling, indeed, that he had never believed it before; but then it did not mean to him quite the same which it had meant in days when he had thought he believed it, and would have argued stoutly in defence of its very words.  (The alphabet is not the same to us, after we have learned to read, as it is when we are learning its letters.)  Atheism was not now to him the frightful mystery which it is to those who seem to fear that God’s existence may be endangered if it should ever be denied by the majority of his children, who can only live and move and have their being in him, as he in them.  He now saw man as related to God, in the deepest part of his nature, as he is in his bodily existence to air and earth and fire and water; and he saw that by them man breathed and fed, and was warmed and refreshed, before he could articulate their names, and even if he was so blind or so idiotic that he could not see or comprehend them.  Tom could recognize atheism and infidelity as the spiritual iconoclasts of the world, even as Judaism and Mahomedanism had been its idol-breakers, emptying shrines of maimed or distorted images, to make way for the living form of the God-man.  That memory of his own good father tenderly tending him through the foolish rage of his delirium had stood Tom in good stead again and again.  God could never disown his children who did not love him, because they did not know him, or could not see his face.  His other children could only love him the more for such pain and such patience.  And as for Peter Sandison, was there not perpetual prayer in those pathetic eyes of his? — and for what were they forever seeking, if not for God himself?

    Tom Ollison was glad of one thing: that even in those early days, wherein one is so tempted to repose confidences in those with whom we are already familiar concerning those who are still strangers, he had never yielded to the temptation to tell Robert of the sealed leaves of the Sandison Bible, or of the strange inoccupancy and desertion of the best rooms of the Sandison house.  The latter fact did not seem to have struck Robert, whose brief visits had been quite naturally passed in the dining-room and in his friend’s own apartment.

    Robert observed that Tom allowed his last remark to pass without response, and he drew an unfavourable inference from it.  Probably Tom was getting “queer” himself.  Well, there was really so much free thought among the members of the learned societies in whose libraries Tom’s life-work lay, that perhaps such a reputation might be good for him rather than bad; but still it was a pity, considering how Tom had been brought up.

    However, Robert said nothing on this subject.  Perhaps he was all the more eager to proceed with his news, because Tom manifested so little curiosity.

    “Well, of course, you know that Mr. Sandison came from Shetland,” he narrated, “and perhaps, though he was such a friend of your father’s, that is all you do know.  It is wonderful how much we all take for granted, especially concerning our elders.  But when I was in the north this time, the old men who came to my father’s funeral, in their natural desire to know all about things in London, let fall expressions which let me know that there was a mystery somewhere, and once I had got as far as that, be sure I lost no time in getting as far as I could go.  So you really have not the least idea that Peter Sandison is no Shetlander, except by repute, and that he has no better right to the name he bears?”

    “I only know that he and my father were friends from their earliest years, and that one of my first memories is of hearing his name mentioned with respect at Clegga.”  Tom spoke with a coldness quite foreign to his usual manner.  He wished to check Robert’s communications, yet he would not absolutely silence him, lest it should seem as if he feared what might be said.

    Robert went on.  “They say he was brought to the island in a ship, when he was a baby, and was given in charge of the old couple, who provided him with a name and a starting-point in life.  One of the old men said that Peter Sandison had been a very dashing, eager sort of boy, but that a great change came over him after his foster parents’ death.  It was thought that then he first discovered the secret of his birth.”

    Tom said nothing.  He was silently adjusting this new fact beside many an old one.  Robert went on.

    “Then they say there was a rumour that he had another terrible come-down in London, years after.  They had only a vague story of that, without names or dates, gathered from the reports in home letters of other Shetlanders in the metropolis.  They said that he had fallen in love with a young lady, who was supposed to be rather above him in circumstances; not that she had any money of her own, they said, but she was the daughter of some government pensioner, and she made poor Peter understand that it wouldn’t be nice on his part to take her from her genteel home, and turn her into a wife and a general servant all at once.  I dare say she made him believe that, for her own part, she was ready with any angelic sacrifice for his sake,” laughed Robert, with the manner of one who knows the wiles of the sex — the easy confidence of the serpent-charmer, who will not be bitten.

    “Well?“ said Tom Ollison, with a sharp note of interrogation.  Robert Sinclair’s mirth jarred and fretted him.  As he would tell this story, let him hasten to its end.

    “Well,” echoed Robert quite complacently, “that happened which might have been expected to happen.  While Peter Sandison was toiling and moiling among his books and catalogues, laying shilling to shilling, and pound to pound, a certain smart fellow, who knew both of the courting couple, dashed into a bold speculation, made his fortune, and carried off the lady’s heart.  It was only a modern version of the old ballad, don’t you know, —


Let him take who has the power,
    And let him keep who can!


They say she made excuses that she was beginning to have doubts about Peter she thought that some of his views were queer, and that perhaps it was risky to trust herself to a man with so doubtful an origin.  But of course one can see what all that was worth.  Well, I don’t blame her.  It is easy to blame people.  But we must each do the best for ourselves, and a woman’s marriage is always her best or her worst bit of business.  She hasn’t markets every week.”

    What could Tom Ollison say?  All the true romance of his pure young heart was up in arms against such a defilement and desecration of life’s sweetest sanctities.  And yet by this time he fully realized that to argue over them with Robert Sinclair would be worse than useless, would only lead to further desecration, like a struggle in a church with one who has insolently spat on its altar steps.  And every nerve of his warm, true nature was tingling in sympathy with Peter Sandison.  Atheist, was he?  If so, then whose was the root of the blame?  The beloved disciple had pertinently asked, “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?”  Was it a grievous perverting of Scripture for Tom to feel that in the very spirit of that question another might be asked, “He who finds no ground for faith in his brother whom he hath seen, how can he have faith in God whom he hath not seen?”

    Oh! how glad he was to think that at the very beginning he had not been tempted to swerve from his allegiance to his father’s friend, even for that bright, peaceful Stockley life which Robert had held so lightly!  But while he pondered, Robert went on again.

    “The old fogies told me all this news quite simply — just as they knew it.  They could supply no dates, no margin narrower than a decade.  Nor did they know the names of this false lady and her successful lover.  The beauty of it was that I saw directly that I could supply both.  They only gave the other halt to a half story I half knew before.  But as they never dreamed of that I got off without any suspicious questionings.  Does nothing strike you, Tom?  Don’t you see through this?”

    “No,” said Tom stubbornly; “I only hear all you have told me.”

    “But don’t you feel a clue?  You must surely have heard something on which this throws a light?  Do you know, I should not have been a bit surprised if you had taken the wind out of my sails by telling me you knew all about this long ago.  Do you mean to say you cannot give a guess as to the identity of the nameless parties in my tale?  Try.”

    “I am not going to try,” said Tom.  “I shall know when I am told.  Guessing on such subjects is an unjustifiable throwing about of mud, and then some may stick on quite innocent people.”

    Robert was silent for a few minutes, perhaps only because he was lighting a cigar.  Probably it would have been quite impossible for him to trace the line of thought which carried him on to his next remark.

    “Have you heard anything of Kirsty Mail since she left the Branders’ service?”

    For Tom had never told him of his chance encounter with her at the railway refreshment buffet on the day when Robert went to the north.  Tom could scarcely have told whether his silence on the subject had been instinctive or intentional.  He told him the facts of the case now, as briefly and baldly as possible.

    Robert puffed his cigar for a minute.  “That girl will come to no good,” he decided.  “She was one of those who will have their pleasure and their leisure at any cost.  If I had told all I knew she would have been out of the Branders’ house long before she was.”

    “If you thought she was going wrong you should have spoken to somebody,” said Tom.  “Even Mrs. Brander herself,” he added rather faint-heartedly, “though she might have discharged her, might have kept an eye on her, or have interested those in her who would have done so.”

    Robert shook his head.  “Not likely,” he observed easily.  “And besides, it does not do to mix one’s self up with these matters.  It isn’t understood.  If one does so, people think there is something at the bottom of it.  And before one knows where one is there is a mysterious rumour floating about one.  And it will turn up some day to do one damage, when and where one least expects it.”

    “Well, good bye now, Robert,” said Tom quite suddenly, unable longer to endure his companion’s mental and moral atmosphere.  It had never before occurred to him that probably the self-condemned accusers of the sinful woman in the New Testament had barely crept away from the presence of her and her merciful Master, before they began to whisper innuendoes against him whom they had left speaking to her with kindly courtesy.  It is scarcely in early youth that we discover that society, like the air, is filled with floating matter, ready to settle everywhere, and to convert wholesomeness into poison.  So while we hermetically seal the food we wish to preserve, let us consider the wisdom which directed that the right hand should not know what the left hand did, and which was feign to seal every good deed with secrecy — “ See thou tell no man.”

    That very afternoon Tom availed himself of a leisure hour to go to the railway station, in the hope of seeing Kirsty, and of making some appeal to her better feelings and good sense.

    He found another “young lady” at the refreshment buffet.  This one had black hair and bold black eyes, with which she stared at him for a full minute before she answered his quiet inquiry after “Miss Mail.”

    “Miss Mail?” she echoed, “Miss Chrissie?” with a mocking emphasis on the abbreviated name.  “Oh! we don’t know anything of her here, and don’t want to.  She’s gone.”

    Tom felt his face hot under the girl’s cruel glance.

    “She had a cousin, barmaid at the Royal Stag,” she went on.  “That one took to robbery  — at least a man she knew did, a man that had run away from Edinburgh with her, and she was put into the dock with him, only they let her off.  I don’t say your Miss Chrissie did anything in that style, but she lost her place here through her carryings on, and when the man got his sentence I suppose the two girls went off together.  Nobody has heard of ‘em since.

    Tom turned and went back to Penman Row.  By that time it was twilight; and it seemed to him that at every corner he saw a face and heard a laugh which might have belonged to Kirsty Mail.


 
CHAPTER XV.

IN THE DEAD OF THE NIGHT.


AND so for years, while Olive Sinclair toiled and spared in the old attic in Kirkwall, and while her mother waited and prayed and sealed her yearning maternal love in a gentle silence, the life of the two young men in London advanced steadily up the grooves which each had found for himself.  Tom Ollison saw his father several times, but not by his going to Shetland, or by the old gentleman coming up to London; they agreed to break the long journey for each other by meeting at Edinburgh, which spared Tom the sea voyage for which he had little leisure, and saved the father from travelling on “those railway lines which, despite their smoothness, he mistrusted far more than the roughest waves of his own North Sea.  Once, indeed, Tom went to Shetland.  He did not stop in Kirkwall, except on his return journey while the vessel in which he journeyed lay in dock to take in passengers and cattle.  Mrs. Sinclair and Olive came down to the shore to see him, and to exchange a few friendly words during the brief interval.  It pained Tom to see how the schoolmaster’s widow had become quite an old lady, with silvery hair smoothed beneath her black bonnet, and with pain and patience writ large on her sweet and mobile face.  But what an interesting woman Olive had grown! rather too slight, perhaps, but gaunt no longer.  What fine lines had come out in her countenance!  What a wonderful light there was in her eyes!  Tom only wished he could have prolonged his stay.  Yet though there was nothing in the neat black garments of mother and daughter to rouse in his masculine unconsciousness any suspicion of the hard life of struggle and privation which they were living, somehow he felt that he would not have much cared to enlarge on Robert’s career to them, and that perhaps it was well he was limited to more general information as to the wellbeing and prosperity of the son and brother.  But now that he had seen Olive Sinclair again, he felt he must see more of her, and to his dismay he found that henceforth her friendly letters were no longer a welcome, temperate pleasure, but a longed-for, passionate delight.

    In those years, Tom’s life enlarged greatly in many ways.  He went abroad more than once, deputed by Mr. Sandison, to do work which had been offered to that well-known and respected, “though eccentric,” bookseller and bookhunter.  He lived a real life in those foreign cities, working amid their workers, and making friends among them.  He was more than once at the great book fair at Leipzig.  But he always came back, with an unspoiled heart, into the strange, subdued life in Penman Row, and the hearty, homely sociality of the homely folk among whom he worshipped.

    Tom paid occasional visits to the Branders’, though the intervals between such visits grew ever longer.  He could ill brook to bear the ignorant contempt with which the whole family regarded the simple peasantry of his native island, from whom too, he knew by his father’s letters, every penny was being extorted and every right gradually withdrawn, and to whom were extended none of the amenities which once made feudal power a possible form of friendly protection.

    There were times when it almost dawned on Etta Brander’s darkened perceptions, that about this young man with his “Quixotic ideas” there was something finer than about her father and Robert Sinclair.  She even got so far once as to think to herself that the world might be a pleasanter world if everybody was like him.  But then it was no use to dream of what “might be;” it was clear that the world was full of quite another sort of people, and “it was of no use to be singular.”  She was inclined to pity Tom a little for the long hours which his work seemed to absorb, and for the nature of his recreations, the long country rambles or boatings on the river, solitary, or with some companion as hard-working as himself — the occasional game of cricket or quoits during his Saturday afternoons at his favourite Stockley.  How different all these were from the gay, exciting diversions — the dances, the polo, the operas, and the pigeon-shooting matches, without which she felt she could not live!  And yet young Mr. Ollison never looked bored, as she constantly felt.  Why, she even wearied so utterly of the monotony of travelling in Switzerland, that she got her father to push on to the southern gaming tables that she might snatch the feverish delights of rouge-et-noir.  Afterwards she always said that she did not wonder that gentlemen enjoyed speculation.

    Mrs. Brander did not make much demur over the transformation her daughter worked in the family sphere.  She herself had been brought up in the straightest old fashion not to dance, not to go to a play, not to read a novel.  Some forgotten ancestor of hers had rejected these things, perhaps in the days of public Maypoles, of the libertine Wycherley and of the notorious Mrs. Aphra Behn.  For generations afterwards the family had walked blindly in that ancestor’s footsteps, doing right (as far as it was right) wrongly, since they did it not on any principle, but because it was “the custom” of the most select section of the “respectable” society in which they had been content to move in those days.  But now things were changed.  Mrs. Brander’s new friends were “fashionable,” and had other standards.  So for these, she quietly deserted her own.  She did not honestly change them, as anybody may change any custom, even in sheer loyalty to the very principle which may underlie it.  When she alluded to her changed social tactics, she did not say, “Things are changed,” or “My views have changed.”  She only sighed, “The times are changed,” “People think differently nowadays.”

    She little knew that it was words of hers which put an end, finally, to Tom Ollison’s few and far-between visits to Ormolu Square.

    On that evening, she had first descanted long on the graces and accomplishments of Captain Carson, whom Tom had met there again and again.  Long before this, Tom had known that the captain was the heir of the good squire of Stockley, the unworthy heir, to whose advent into place, the Blacks, and all the other old tenants, looked forward with dislike, and even terror; since the young man’s character was of a kind calculated to check and destroy all the good influence of proceeding generations, while it had already betrayed himself into the power of eager, mercenary men like Mr. Brander, who would put every pressure on their weak and self-indulgent tool to force him to extort from his ancestral acres more rapid and showy gains than golden harvests and rosy orchards, and a race of loyal and honest men.  Already strangers had been seen about Stockley, who dropped suspicious hints concerning a big new public-house, a possible distillery, and plenty of speculative building, as facts looming in that future which was only held back by the frail life of one ageing man.  Tom would have been ready to deduct a good deal of the evil report of the Stockleyites concerning young Carson, as due to their fond clinging to a happy old régime, and their natural shrinking from a new and doubtful one.  But Tom had not been left to form his opinion of the man from these alone.  At that solitary supper of Robert’s at which Tom had put in appearance, he had heard Carson tell a foul story and crack a vile joke.  His name had figured disreputably once or twice in the daily papers, and was seldom omitted from the suggestive chat of society journals.  Mr. Brander did not disguise his own judgment of the man, especially of late, since the interests of his succession had been mortgaged, as he said, “to their very hilt.”  Nay, Mrs. Brander herself saw no necessity for disguising her knowledge that “the poor dear captain had been very wild,” while she went on to say “what perfect manners he had, and how sweet his disposition seemed, and how she was quite sure his heart was thoroughly good at bottom.”

    Tom Ollison could not help thinking what different measure was meted to Captain Carson and to Kirsty Mail.  But he knew that to draw any such parallel would seem to Mrs. Brander like insanity, and would be regarded by her as a personal insult.  So, wishing his words to carry some conviction, rather than to merely relieve his own feelings, he only said,—“The more attractive such men as Captain Carson may be, the more pestilential are they in society.”

    “Oh, now you are uncharitable!” cried the lady; “we must always hope for the best.  I don’t believe the captain would harm a fly.  There are so many temptations for men of rank and wealth that we must not judge them hardly.  I believe the captain really aspires after better things.  He told me that he finds it a real treat to go sometimes to St. Bevis’s Church, it is so sweet to hear the trained choir singing in the dim, religious light.  There is always hope for a man who is religiously disposed.”  There she paused for a while and then asked, “Is it true, as Robert says, that your poor Mr. Sandison is an atheist?”

    Tom felt his face flush.  Had his sacred, though rash confidence been thus bandied about?

    “Madam,” he said, “I have never heard Mr. Sandison name God.”

    “Ah,” sighed the lady, “I feared and foresaw that it would be so.  And once it was so different.  He thought and spoke a great deal of sacred things.  And most reverently, too — or, of course, I should not have allowed it.  Only he permitted himself to think too deeply, and to venture to think in new ways.  I foresaw how it would end.”  She sighed again sentimentally, and then bending over her crewel work, said, in a lower voice, “He and I were once rather friendly.  Poor dear Peter!  Without doubt, he has mentioned that to you, when he has heard of your visits here.”

    “He never did so, madam,” Tom was glad to be able to reply.  Tom had been unable to suppress sundry conjectures which Robert's hints had aroused, but he had never given them voice.  “He never mentioned that, madam.  But when I said I had never heard him name God, I was going on to say, that had I gone into his house a pagan, I am sure I should have asked what God my master served, whose service made him so tender and true in his dealings with all men.  Perhaps he has learned, maybe too bitterly, to trust words less and deeds more.”

    For many a little secret had Tom discovered to his master's credit, as, for instance, he had come across the hotel bill for that Christmas dinner for the Shands which had aroused Grace's ire (though even note could not guess that the festivity had been first planned in kindliness to himself); and he had discovered that the wheel and the Shetland prints had been bought to give the old attic a homely look for his eye.  And was be going to discuss the mute agonies of the noble soul which haunted Peter Sandison's pathetic eyes, with this shallow dame, who fancied she had faith because she did not know that faith is of the heart and the life, and not of the lip?  No, never.  And from that day he never returned to Ormolu Square.

    Etta Brander and Robert Sinclair had been long openly engaged, and their approaching marriage was even being discussed by this time.  Everybody regarded Robert as one of the most rising young men in the City.  He had made one or two very lucky hits.  But life was a hard and constant strain upon him, being, in one of its aspects, a gambling game, in which at any time much of the luck might set against him; on the other, a perpetual struggle to keep his resources up to the ever-rising water-mark of his ambitions, and the needs which grew out of them.  People told Etta that she was a very fortunate girl, and Etta grew quite satisfied that to consult high-art authorities on the furniture of one's future home, and to invent æsthetic novelties for one's trousseau, was vastly better than any idyllic love in a cottage, though somehow all the poets and the painters seemed to find the latter the better subject whereon to exercise their gifts, and she found it very nice to buy pretty pictures of people whom in real life she would have only pitied and patronized.  For her, there were few lovers' confidences in the gloaming, few lovers' roamings in forest or on seashore, but she saw quite as much of Robert as she wished at the balls and dinner parties to which they were both invited.  Etta's own ambitions were growing daily, and as she knew that “business” meant means to gratify them, she never grudged to find “business” her very successful rival.

    “Etta,” said one of her friends to her once, “at one time, I half thought you were in love with that naughty Captain Carson.”

    “Perhaps I was,” Etta calmly admitted, “I think I liked him better than I ever liked any other man.”

    “And yet――” said the friend significantly.

    “And yet I shall marry Robert Sinclair,” Etta answered; “that is quite a different thing.”

    Etta had heard little — and asked nothing —about the mother and sister in the far north.  “They were living quietly in a cathedral town there,” she said.  That had a pretty and an aristocratic sound.  To do her justice, she knew nothing more.  Possibly Robert had encouraged her dislike to the thought of ever visiting those remote islands.  Mr. Brander himself had gone to his northern estate several times, and had always returned in a bad temper, saying “he would be glad to wash his hands of the whole concern; it was the worst investment he had ever made; he might as well have acted like an old woman, and put the money into consols!”

    It was just before Robert and Etta were married, that one evening, as Mr. Sandison and Tom sat together at supper in the dining-room at Penman Row, Grace came in and announced, in her very sourest manner, "that somebody had been a-calling for Mr. Ollison.  But when the boy fetched me to her, I told her you weren't in, and I didn’t know when you would be in.”  Seeing Tom’s reproachful expression Grace went on, “Well, you weren‘t in at the minute, though I knew you’d be home directly.  But she wasn’t one of the sort to come about a decent house.  I’ll warrant she’ll come again, sharp enough, so I thought I’d let you know first, and you can tell me what is to be said to her.”

    “Who was she?” Tom asked.  Old Grace could understand such questions by her eyes, though they did not reach her ears.

    “She was a bad one, whoever she was,” answered the old woman.  “Dressed in tawdry finery, with a fluff of yellow hair and blue eyes, a-crying, and all in a fuss.  Coming begging, of course, and making you believe she meant to reform!

    “Kirsty Mail at last!” exclaimed Tom, rising from his chair.  “And to think she has been sent away like this!”

    Grace could see the young man’s agitation.  She laughed in her dismal, cavernous way.  “Oh, that sort don’t kill themselves often,” she croaked.  “And when so, maybe it’s the best thing they can do.  I gave her a good piece of my mind.”

    “Woman!” said Mr. Sandison, “if there is no mercy in your heart, is there no reflection in your bosom which should teach you words and thoughts far different from these?  If not, how can God himself help you?”

    There was something awful in the master’s tone.  It sent a strange thrill through Tom.  It was neither loud nor angry, only unutterably piercing and sad.  The words could not have reached Grace’s deaf ears, scarcely even the voice, yet for the first time since Tom had known her, she quailed visibly.  Her sallow face blanched, and as it did so, a weird youthfulness swept over it, and a wild light as of fear and defiance flashed in her black eyes.  But they could not meet her master’s.  Without another word she sidled out of the room, as if from the presence of something which she feared to face, yet on which she dared not turn her back.

    Mr. Sandison rose from his seat.  “That poor soul, driven away from the door,” he said, in low solemn accents (he knew all that Tom knew of the story of Kirsty Mail), “where is she now? and what will be her thoughts of God to-night?”

    “Wherever she is, God is with her,” said Tom quietly, “and whatever are her thoughts of him, he has only loving thoughts of her.  And surely,” he added, with a slow, gentle reverence, “he will marvel, if, in a world where he sent his own son in his own likeness, there are those who will mistake such as Grace Allan for any representative of him.”

    Once again, Mr. Sandison threw Tom a quick, bright glance, like one of sudden and happy recognition.  He did not say another word, but walked straight from the parlour upstairs, and into his own room.

    Tom did not linger long behind.  It struck him that he could no longer say he had never heard Mr. Sandison name God, and that he had now named him, not as any unbeliever might, but from the standpoint of one who entered into his yearning love, defeated by human hardness, and who suffered, as a son might, to see his father misrepresented and misunderstood in his own family.  And it struck Tom, too, that, for the moment, it had not startled him to hear Mr. Sandison speak so, despite the belief he had held for so many years concerning him, and the silence which had confirmed it.

    The three bedrooms of the establishment were all on the same highest landing, above the other flats of closed-up rooms.  Grace was in her room already, but all there was darkness and silence.  Mr. Sandison was in his; he believed he had closed the door behind him, but the latch had slipped, and it stood slightly ajar.  As Tom passed, he saw the master of the house kneeling by his low bedside, his face buried in his hands.

    Tom crept by, with a blush on his face for his unintentional intrusion.

    In the dead of the night he awoke suddenly.  It seemed to him that somebody had passed down-stairs.  Yet the sound which had penetrated his slumbers was scarcely that of a footstep, rather of a hand drawn stealthily along the outer wall, groping in the darkness.


 
CHAPTER XVI.

THE SECRET IN THE BIBLE.


TOM OLLISON’S half-dreamy conjecture had been right.  In the middle of the night Grace Allan, who had never been to bed, left her room and stole down-stairs to the parlour.

    There was something aroused in her which must be satisfied in one way or another, at any cost.  What did Mr. Sandison know about her?  Did he know anything?  And if so, how had he learned it?  And was there not something to know about himself?  What lay between the sealed fly-leaves of the family Bible?

    She determined to risk anything to find that out.  She did not hope to do so and to escape detection in so doing.  (She had already tried numberless times to do that.)  No; she would be at the secret anyhow.  After she once knew it, whatever it might be, probably Mr. Sandison would think thrice before he put her out of the house for her inquisitiveness, or before he again “cast up“ against her what “was none of his business,” what he had no right to know, and that, after she had lived “so respectable” for nigh fifty years.

    It was odd that deaf Grace, who had not heard one of her master’s words, had made out a bitter reproach where Tom Ollison had heard only a pathetic appeal.

    She went down into the parlour, still groping in the dark, found a candlestick, and got a light.

    Then she took the big Bible from its shelf and laid it on the table.

    But somehow, a little hesitation seized her, as if she could not hasten to do what could never be undone.  So she left the Bible lying closed, while she cleared the supper table and tidied the apartment, as she usually did before going up-stairs to bed, but had failed to do on the preceding evening.

    All this was only the delay of nervous irresolution, it meant no relenting change of mood.

    So, at last, she drew a chair to the table, and set down the candle beside her, a little spot of light in the surrounding gloom.  Then she opened the Bible, and fumbled at the sealed leaves with fingers which trembled strangely.

    How little do any of us know when and how we shall take the judgment-book of our own lives into our hands, and opening it, perhaps in pride and malice, to read the sentence of another, shall find instead the simple home-thrust, —

    Thou art the man!

    One seal was broken!  So cleanly too that she almost thought it might be mended unnoticeably, and her heart beat faster with the thought that if she had such good luck with another, she might so repair the damage as to be possessed of “the truth“ about her master, without his knowing where she had found it.  But that was not to be.  The second seal smashed and fell in fragments.  Yet she scarcely noticed that disappointment in the fact that the leaves were now so widely parted that sundry papers fell from them into her lap, and that she could also distinctly see between them.

    They were both entirely blank.

    The secret then was among those loose papers.  Eagerly she turned them over — one or two old letters, and a few dim and yellow cuttings from prints.

    Then came a low, terrible, incredulous cry.  For one moment the papers fell from her hands, but in another she was wildly seeking some clue for their arrangement so as to get the whole narrative in its dreaded sequence.  Each scrap of paper had a date written upon it, and how instinctively she seemed to know which was the earliest!

    This was a bit of old newspaper, thin in texture and weak in type, suggestive of old-fashioned provincial journalism.  It was only a short paragraph, and it ran — “Last week, one evening, a Buchanness fisherman found a baby lying at the foot of the Duller rocks.  The child, a boy, had evidently been exposed for some time, as it was in a very suffering condition.  The fisherman was directed to it by its cry, which he mistook at first for that of a sea-bird.  He carried the poor little waif home to his wife, and, to the credit of their humanity, they have resolved to take charge of it for the present.  There is no clue as to those who must have so wilfully and cruelly deserted the child.  Only a lad reports that, in the early morning of the day when the baby was found, he met a strange woman walking very fast in the direction of Ellon.  He did not notice anything about her, except that her black shawl was fastened by a silver brooch, formed in a plain hollow circle, which caught his eye through the sun glancing on it as he passed her.  His impression is that she was young and not tall.”

    (There was just such a silver brooch formed in a plain hollow circle, sticking in the pincushion in Grace Allan’s bedroom.  She had worn it at her throat on the preceding evening.)

    This scrap of printed matter had been evidently enclosed in a letter bearing date two or three years later.  As Grace hastily scanned its contents she found this must have been written by the Buchanness fisherman to his sister, married and childless, in Shetland.  It set forth that his own wife being dead, and he resolved on going to Newfoundland, he purposed committing to the charge of her and her husband the adopted child of whom he had already written, and whom he was sending to them by trusty hands, along with certain of his savings, which would assist in its maintenance until it could “fend for itself.”

    This letter was endorsed in Peter Sandison’s handwriting.  “Found among the papers of my adopted parents after their death.  My first discovery of the truth.”  And the date was given.

    Then came a narrow printed slip with a date not long subsequent.  This was only an advertisement offering reward or advantage of some kind to any person coming forward able to give any information whatever which might lead towards the discovery of the antecedents of a male child, found deserted among the rocks of Buchanness, on such a day of such a year, and believed to have been deserted by a woman wearing a black shawl, with a silver circle for a brooch.

    This advertisement had apparently elicited one letter — the long and rambling letter of an uneducated person.  But it was not too long or too illegible for Grace’s patience.



"It was too long, or too illegible, for Grace's patience."


    It set forth that, years before, the writer, a seafaring man and a native of Buchanness, having engaged for a voyage from one of the more southern seaports, had been leisurely journeying towards his port by easy stages, stopping with sundry relatives on the road; that he had thus stopped in Ellon; that while there, chancing to look from his bedroom window at a very early hour in the morning, he saw a woman go past carrying a baby in her arms; that he took a good look at her, wondering who she could be, since there was something in her dress and appearance different from those of the women of that neighbourhood who were likely to be abroad at such an hour; that she was short in stature, pale and dark, and wore a black shawl; that, of course, he thought no more of the incident, travelled to his port, went his voyage, and never even heard of the baby deserted among the rocks; that many years after, while making purchases in the shop of a nautical instrument maker in London, he had been particularly struck by a woman who appeared to be acting as a working housekeeper in the establishment, because her face seemed familiar to him, though he was utterly unable to fix the memory; he had asked her whether she could help him at all—whether, on her side, she had the least idea of having ever seen him before, that she had answered decidedly and sourly, “Certainly not;” that he had remained unconvinced, and had even asked one of the shop-men what her name was, and was told she was a Miss Grace Allan, and belonged to London, and was, said the man, such a perfect porcupine of propriety, that she had probably construed the seaman’s good-natured question into an insult; that he had thought no more of the matter; that it was only afterwards, when returning through Ellon, that in quite a casual way the remembrance of the woman he had seen in the road there flashed on his mind, identifying her with the London house-keeper (whose blank denial of all recollection of him was therefore quite truthful, since, on the first occasion of his seeing her, she had not seen him), that being near Buchanness when the advertisement appeared asking for information concerning the desertion of the child, he then, for the first time, heard the story, already forgotten by all but elderly neighbours; that, with the exception of the black shawl, he could not speak as to what the woman was wearing whom he saw in Ellon, but that he could swear that the instrument maker’s housekeeper wore for a brooch a flat silver circle, because he took special notice of it, thinking such would not be an unsuitable design for a gift he was at that time about to make; that he gave all this information for what it was worth, not seeking reward, which indeed he would not take; that it was nothing in itself, yet might lead to something; but that he was bound to say, in conclusion, that the London instrument maker was since dead, and that his establishment was utterly broken up and scattered.

    The only other document was a sheet of foolscap, on which was set forth a list of the places which Grace Allan had filled, between her leaving the instrument maker’s and her coming to Peter Sandison’s.  Considering the number of the years in this interval, this list was not short.  For the increasing acerbity of Grace’s temper and the inconvenience of her deafness had made her an unwelcome and awkward inmate of the households which she had entered.  She had been indeed a poor old woman, very low down in the world, and with a very gloomy outlook, when, all unexpectedly, the offer of the post of Mr. Sandison’s housekeeper had come to her.

    She had believed that she quite saw through her new master’s acceptance and endurance of her infirmities.  He had secrets of his own, which made him quite content to stand aside from the ordinary comforts and amenities of life, secrets perhaps which made it safer for him so to do.  From the very first she had asked herself, sourly, “What could he have hidden in those locked-up rooms, which nobody ever entered — ay, which she had never entered yet — after all these years?”

    Ah, and she had asked herself also, “What had he got hidden between the sealed-up leaves of the big Bible?”

    As the remembrance of that old wonder and suspicion turned round and stung her, the loose papers fluttered from her hand to the floor, leaving in her grasp only that in which they had been folded, and which she had thought at first was but a blank wrapper.  She saw now that there was writing upon it.  There were but a few words; and how strangely they seemed to dance before her eyes!  What was wrong with them, or with her?

    They were in Peter Sandison’s own handwriting, and they were nothing but a transcript of the texts — “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”

    “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord taketh me up.”

    She gathered up the papers and put them back between the severed leaves.  She had no longer any thought of hiding what she had done.  What did that matter now?

    She sat there still and silent.  The sweet spring dawn was brightening outside; a silver shaft of light stole softly even to that gloomy parlour.

    How well she remembered that red, red dawn over the eastern sea, when she had sped along the desolate roads, amid the treeless, hedgeless fields of dreary Buchan, with her baby at her breast! her one thought, how to put far from her the shame of it, and, above all, the burden of it; for there was none to share it with her.  She remembered all her thoughts that day, and all that had gone before, as one might remember a story that was told one of another.
            .            .            .            .            .            .

    Once or twice, in the long, long years since, she had vaguely wondered whether that boy had lived or died.  Once, when her way had been very hard — just before Peter Sandison had crossed her path — she had half-wondered whether it might not have been well for her to have struggled for his infancy, if, haply so, he might have defended her old age.  But it was wonderful how seldom she had ever thought of him at all.  The remembrance had never made her pitiful to one forlorn child, nor merciful to one sinful woman.
            .            .            .            .            .            .

    Old Grace Allan sat in the pale morning light; but it was not of past things that she thought.  Nay, she thought of nothing.  There was only once more a bitter protest against the penalty she had to hear.  It seemed to her now, that the penalty from which she had shrunk in her young womanhood had been light indeed, though it still seemed to her “but natural” that she should have struck a deadly blow to escape it.  And that it should turn up like this, after all—how hard, how hard, how hard it was!  For to Grace’s narrow mind this was no simple fulfilment of the everlasting law that, somewhere on some day, sin shall ever find out the sinner, it seemed to her a special providence, and therefore specially cruel.  Was she, after all, to be condemned as a would be murderess and a lifelong hypocrite?  It was not fair!  Such measure was not meted out to everybody.  She would not bear it!  She would escape somewhere, somehow!  Futile as she had just proved such efforts to be, she was ready for them again.  Experience is such a puzzling teacher.  When we do well, and yet fail, she says distinctly, “Try again.”  When we do badly, and fail, we are apt to catch that echo.

    Grace had laid her plans well when she was young and vigorous in mind and body, and they had all come to nothing.  Now she had no plans to lay, nothing to start upon, except the blind rebellion within her.

    She would go away from here; she did not know where she meant to go.  She did not know that she forgot to take anything with her, even a bonnet or shawl.

    She did not notice that she left the Bible lying open on the table, ready to tell its tale.  She knew only her own wild determination not to meet the eyes of Peter Sandison.  She would have shrunk from them less had her story been new to her son this day.  But he had known it all the time; he had never looked at her, unknowing of it.

    The candle had gone on burning in the wan dawning.  It was at the socket now, and when it flickered and went out, that roused her to the consciousness that it was now broad daylight.  What was to be done must be done quickly.

    She stole from the parlour and crept through the shop.  Then, with chill and trembling hands, she unfastened the front door.  How heavy the bolts and bars seemed!  But they were all undone at last, and the morning air blew freshly on her withered face.  She closed the door behind her very gently, lest any noise should penetrate through the house and rouse the sleepers in the far-off bedrooms.  And then she went down the street, moving slowly, close by the houses, even drawing her hand along their shutters, as if she would have been glad of some support.  If her mind had not been dead to all outside of herself, she would have noticed a woman standing half-inside the old-fashioned porch of a neighbouring house — a woman who had spent the whole night walking to and fro and in and out of the quiet lanes in the vicinity, terribly fearless of the belated and half-tipsy wanderers who had greeted her with gibe and insult, and meekly obedient to the policeman’s gruff behest to “move on.”  This was a young woman, dressed in thin garments of tawdry finery, with a fluff of golden hair about her face, like a neglected aureole, and with blue eyes which looked like faded forget-me-nots.  It was Kirsty Mail.

    When Kirsty saw Grace issue from the door of Mr. Sandison’s house she herself but drew back farther into the shadow, not wishing to be seen by her who had met her so inhospitably on the previous evening.  But when she saw the old woman creep along, with her strangely groping hands, and marked her grey head bare to the morning breeze — for Grace wore not even her cap — then Kirsty felt that something was wrong, and first she peeped from the porch, and then she stole after the fugitive.

    On and on went Grace, and on went Kirsty after her.  It struck Kirsty very soon that the old woman was going she knew not whither.  She walked like one blind, and every moment her step became more automatic.  “Is she out of her mind?” reflected the younger woman.  “Perhaps she is one of those who have fits of insanity, and it may have been a fit coming on, which made her so harsh to me last night.  Poor old soul!”

    Suddenly the old woman paused, made one more stumbling effort, and sank to the ground.  Kirsty was by her side in an instant.

    The world was waking up by this time.  Two or three workmen were hastening to their daily labour, a shop-man was taking down his shutters, and a policeman was lounging at a corner, waiting to be relieved from his duty.  These all crowded about the two women.  They looked rather suspiciously at poor Kirsty; but when she declared that she knew the old lady, that she was the housekeeper at Mr. Sandison’s in Penman Row — they were not so far from that quarter as to be ignorant of the name — and when Grace herself was discovered to be speechless, they found they could not do better than accept Kirsty’s guidance.

    So they carried Grace Allan back, staring, wide-eyed, and unresisting, Kirsty following, rendering kindly little attentions.  Penman Row was still empty and silent.  The prolonged ringing of the door-bell gave the first notice to Mr. Sandison and Tom that something unusual had happened.  The men told where and how they had found the stricken woman.  While they carried her up-stairs to her own room Mr. Sandison, going into the parlour to search for some homely restorative, discovered the ravaged Bible.  And Kirsty, cowering down beside Tom, sobbed out, —

    “I missed you last evening, and I didn’t think I’d dare to face her again; so I was watching about for a chance of seeing you this morning.  It seems just like providence.  Poor old lady!  She makes me think of dear old grannie.  I’m glad she was dead before she knew that I — Oh, Master Tom, I’ve been a wicked woman.  D'ye mind that picture you gave me in Lerwick, because I fancied it was like grannie?  Well, I’d always kept it, though with its face downwards, in my box, because I couldn’t a-bear to see it.  An’ only the other night, Cousin Hannah — her I’ve been with since I went wrong — got it, and took it out o’ the little frame, that she might put in something else, and she tore up the little picture o’ the good old wifie at the wheel! An’ ever since then it’s haunted me!  As long as I could keep it at the bottom of the box, out o’ sight, it seemed different.  But once it was tore up it’s never been out o’ my sight.  An’ it’s been more like grannie than ever.  An’ I’d come to ask you, Master Tom, if you thought there was anybody who would let me do a little rough work to earn a bit of honest bread, an’ I’d promise to keep out o’ their sight.”

    “In the mean time,” said Mr. Sandison, as if he had not heard a word that she had said, though he had entered the room and had stood behind her while she was speaking — “in the mean time perhaps you will kindly give a helping hand in this house of trouble and sickness.  At present there is no woman here to wait upon — my mother!"

    Kirsty gave a low cry of eager obedience and sprang up stairs.  Mr. Sandison threw Tom a glance, which emphasized and illuminated his last words.  Then he, too, went slowly up-stairs.  But he did not go straight to the attic.  Tom heard him unlocking the closed doors, and then he heard him pacing with slow and heavy steps about those long-deserted chambers.

 That morning’s post brought Tom an elaborate little box containing the wedding cards and wedding cake of Robert Sinclair, Esquire, and Miss Henrietta Brander, and in that morning’s paper he saw the announcement of their marriage at a fashionable church.


 
CHAPTER XVII.

IN THE OPENED DOORS.


THROUGH the day, doctors came and went at Mr. Sandison's summons, but he himself was not visible, and poor Kirsty, coming down-stairs on divers errands, was Tom Ollison's only source of information.  She reported that “Mrs. Allan had had a stoke,” and later on, “that it was little likely she would ever be about again,” though, they said, “there was no danger for the present.”

    In the twilight Mr. Sandison came into the parlour, where Tom was seated rather forlornly.  He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder, with a strong and yet a half-caressing grasp.

    “Come with me,” he said; “we will have no more secrets in this house.  We will let the fresh air blow through every place, as God means it shall, and as it always must, at
last.”

    He led the way up-stairs.  He opened one of those mysterious doors—no longer locked— and went straight into the room.  Seeing that Tom hesitated on the threshold,
he turned and said, “Come in, come in.”

    What little daylight was still lingering outside found now free access to the apartment, for the white blinds, ashen with age, which had hitherto shut out any obtrusive gaze on the part of inquisitive opposite neighbours, were at last drawn up.  The windows themselves, too, had evidently been open for some time, but the gentle breezes of a calm spring day had not yet sufficed wholly to dispel the ancient, stagnant atmosphere, and perhaps it was very well that the fading light was merciful to the dimness and dust of years of neglect.

    What did Tom see?

    Tom saw only what, to a heart which has power to understand it, is ever the most tragic sight of any:—the signs of a hopeful, cheerful, ordinary life, which has been suddenly arrested by some great blow, some awful agony.  He saw nothing but a pretty little apartment, prepared with care and taste, and full of those touches which betray a strong human interest.  There was a stand filled with flower pots in the central window, wherein the dead plants stood like skeletons.  There were pictures on the walls, beautiful steel engravings—there was one of these standing on a chair, with the hanging cord drawn through its rings, but not yet knotted.  This was Landseer's touching presentment of the faithful dog resting its head on its dead master's coffin.  Peter Sandison had put it out of his hands, all those years ago, that he might open a letter which was brought to him—a letter whose mercenary falsehood and perfidy had closed those rooms from that day to this, turning the happy home that was to be into the charnel-house of dead hopes that could never be.

    “Ay, I have been very foolish,” broke out Peter Sandison.  “I need not tell you the tale.  I dare say you have heard as much of it as needs be.  I am not the first man—and I fear I shall not be the last—who has lost his sight of God, and his joy in God's world because—he had happened to fall in love with the wrong woman!”

    The sadness and pain of a lifetime was crystallising, as in true hearts they always do crystallise, sooner or later, into humour.  A good deal of heart-break goes to the making of epigram.  The human mind throws out its sparks, like metals do, beneath hard blows!

    “But do me justice, Tom,” he went on.  “I never meant to make a dramatic sensation in closing up these rooms.  In the first day of my disappointment I locked them up in sheer disheartenment and bitterness, and then I could not bear to face them again, and deferred doing so, and then there seemed no reason why I should, and then it seemed easiest to let them lie as they were, since the rest of the house amply sufficed my needs.  I knew that even if they were never opened in my lifetime, they would tell little to those who would come after me.  But what a waste it has been!  Somebody ought to have made a home out of those rooms all these years.  A house which is hindered from producing a home is as great a wrong to humanity as is a field which is kept from producing food.”

    There was silence.  Mr. Sandison resumed, “About that poor soul up-stairs, Tom, I need not say anything.  She never knew that I was her son till she evidently found it out this morning.  I was a desolate infant, Tom, as desolate as was poor Fred, the shopboy.  And in mature life I sought out my mother, for I could not believe that she had really intended all that had come upon me.  I found her poor and helpless, but fenced in by strong barriers from the shame and reproach of her old sin. O Tom, I could not bear that my words should fling it back upon her, that my hand should tear down the barriers of credit and respect behind which she had entrenched herself.  I thought if I once had her in my house, that during years and years of close acquaintance, there would come some softer moment—the vaguest expression of some regretful yearning.—Ah, Tom!

    The infinite pain in the tone of those last words was his sole expression of the completeness of his disappointment.  Tom said nothing.  What was there to be said?  The young man's mind went back to poor Grace's early confidences, and to the mingled feelings they had aroused within himself.

    “And so I lost God, said Mr. Sandison in a quiet, even voice.  As he spoke, Tom looked up at him, and their eyes met.  Perhaps there was some question in those of the younger man.  “And so I lost God, Mr. Sandison repeated.  “I cannot say I ever ceased to believe in Him, but I lost Him.  Does a poor child cease to believe in his father, when he misses him in a crowded street, and takes the wrong turning, and goes wailing along among the strangers who give little notice to him or his trouble?



“And so I lost God,” said Mr. Sandison.


    Tom could not help reflecting how it was those who had been infidel in the deepest sense, unfaithful to all the claims of dutiful love and service, who had been the readiest, and the harshest, in calling this man atheist.  O poor Grace Allan!  O unhappy Mrs. Brander.

    “I had gone rather deeply into theology in my young days, Mr. Sandison went on.  “My head had asked many questions, without answers to which my intellect would not rest satisfied.  But I found that sort of satisfaction would not serve me here.  One cannot feed one's heart on abstractions, however logical or poetical.  It was a Father and a Friend whom I wanted; a Father whose very face would satisfy me—a Friend who would walk with me and take council with me over every step of my way.

    “These are the longings of all hearts, said Tom gently.

    “There seemed no such Father, and no such Friend for me, pursued Mr. Sandison.  “And the world I lived in seemed as if it could not have been made and managed by such an one.  Tom Ollison, what I am about to say I could say to few, but I think you may understand me.  I had lost God; I had lost all reflection of Him in the human faces round me—perhaps only because I had looked for Him most where I was least likely to find Him.  And then it came into my mind that all I could do, was to try to do my utmost to act as I should like to think God would act if He was living—a man—in the world to-day.

    “He who willeth do do God's will, he shall know of Christ's teaching, quoted Tom, in an undertone.

    “Ay!” said Mr. Sandison, fervently.  “And it is wonderful how many lights come out in dark places, when one tries to follow that out.  The great doubts and agonies of the human heart cannot be met by anything but the great facts and experiences of human life.  You must have noticed that it is only quite lately that I have taken to reading the Gospels, and have left off going over the Proverbs of Solomon, and nothing but the Proverbs, every night, getting through the whole book once every month?  I dare say, after what Grace said, you thought I chose that book as being the most practical, or as some people would call it, the ‘worldliest,’ in the Bible?”

    Tom smiled.

    “In a way, I did so,” Mr. Sandison conceded.  “I knew that you had learned the Scriptures from your youth up, and that nothing in them could be new to you, as mere matter of fact or literature.  And I knew, by what I had gone through myself, that you would presently get interested in all sorts of intellectual problems—about the evidence of miracles, about the precise nature of inspiration, about the puzzle of unfulfilled prophecy, and such like difficulties—all difficulties which our minds must grapple with, according to the lights of our generation—but on which each new generation generally throws new lights, showing the lights of the generations preceding to have been but darkness.  I wanted your faith to find instinctively a wider basis, so that fluctuating opinions on any subject might disturb it no more the rooted tree is disturbed by the summer breeze which lightly stirs its branches.  I wanted to bring home to you, that Divine wisdom has a strong and sure hand in the conduct of this our present life, for that is our best reason for trusting it to lead us through the mists and up the heights.  The prophecies of the Proverbs are not unfulfilled; for we see them worked out in weal or woe in our own lives, and in every life within our range!”

    “I have felt as you do, sir,” said Tom, “that the most satisfactory answers of the intellect are no help to the doubts of the heart.  But I don't think I could have got help while standing apart, as you seemed to stand, sir.”

    “Ah!” cried Mr. Sandison, “there it is!  There are some who seem only able to find God by going out into the wilderness; and we may notice that these hermits were generally men of peculiar history and of peculiar character.  Nor do I suppose they themselves ever dreamed that their recluse habits had any of the special sanctity which those who admired their final goodness were too ready to attach to them.  Those habits were simply a terrible need to those men—an heroic cure for greater loss and evil; and their stories show us that this cure worked by way of healing them enough to make them susceptible to some gentle touch which led them gradually back to as much human fellowship as it was possible for them to bear.”  He paused.  “Tom,” he said presently, “you don't know how much good you did me when you didn't shun me because of the report you heard.  And again, when I found that your faithfulness to your father's friend could outweigh the charms of the pleasant life at Stockley.  And again, by sundry true words you spoke on sundry occasions.  Tom, as I looked into your frank young face, I caught again a reflection of the countenance of the Divine Father and Friend.”  Mr. Sandison said this in a slow, dry tone, as if the utterance were difficult.  Strong emotion scarcely dares to filter itself through speech, lest speech give way before it.

    Tom understood him far too well to breathe a single word.  They sat in silence for a long time—till the twilight faded into darkness, and there was nothing but the dull glimmer of a street lamp to dimly reveal the outline of their figures and of the furniture.

    Mr. Sandison was the first to break the spell.  He rose up, saying cheerfully, "Well, the house is open now.  Let God's breeze blow through it, and God's sunshine brighten it, and let us watch patiently to see what living seeds they will bear into it, and bring to blossom within it."

    He was speaking half of the closed-up and desolate rooms, and half of his own closed-up, desolate heart, of which they had been but the result and the type.

    That night, before Mr. Sandison went to rest, he stole up to the room where the aged woman lay, in her strange life-in-death.

    Grace's room had always been comfortable.  Peter Sandison had seen to that from the first.  But poor Kirsty's zealous efforts had done much for it during her day's attendance.  A liberal fire was glowing on the hearth, for the spring nights were still chilly.  Kirsty had got the shopboy to bring her in some spring flowers—crocuses and daffodils, and these stood in a brown pot on a little table beside the bed.  From the bed itself Kirsty had removed the drab coverlid and had substituted a white counterpane, which she had found in the linen closet to which she had been given free access; and over the foot of the couch she had thrown, for added warmth, a coarse scarlet blanket.

    If the poor thing can't speak and can't hear, said Kirsty, speaking audibly as she went about the room, then there's the more occasion she should see what's pleasant.  And there's the master to consider, too.  And this is the master's mother, it seems, and there's been terrible trouble of some sort.  The world's full of trouble, and there's always somebody's wickedness at the bottom of it.  I think the master will let me stay and nurse the poor old lady.  This house is just a heaven to me.  Oh! what a fool I was to think nothing was so good as pleasure and finery; and what a price I've paid for my folly!  I wonder if I'll ever want to be bad again?  I'm feared I should, if I was in sight o' folks like the Branders, so I suppose that shows I've not really learned a bit of wisdom yet—except it may be that I'd have sense to keep out of the way of such like.  How different it might have been if I'd gone to that watchmaker's quiet house in Edinburgh.  And what's to become of poor Hannah?  When the master said that if I'd stay and do the nursing he'd get somebody for the housework I could not help thinking of her, but I daren't mention her, for she can't be trusted to keep from the drink for two hours together.

    When Kirsty saw the master coming into the room, she rose from her low seat by the fire, and passed quietly out.

    Mr. Sandison carried in one hand the big Bible, which he had brought up from the dining-room.  In the other hand he had an inkstand, and behind his ear there was a pen.  He laid the book on the table beside the invalid.  He did not look at her as he did so.  She gave a deep groan.

    He opened the volume, turning to the flyleaves, between whose severed pages lay the few old papers which that morning had wrought such havoc in a lifetime's hypocrisy.  He took them up, one by one, still not looking towards the bed.  He turned away and went towards the fire, taking the seat which Kirsty had vacated.  He knew that Grace could see every movement.  One by one, in no haste, but with gentlest deliberation, he put those papers on the blazing fire.  It swiftly caught them up and consumed them utterly.

    Then he rose, and went back to the open Bible lying on the table.  He took the pen, and wrote on the blank fly-leaf, in large, bold characters, From Peter Sandison to his mother.

    Then he turned the book, and held it towards the invalid.  She could easily read what was written there, and when she had done so she raised her pitiful eyes, and they met his.

    No word could pass between them now.  But she fumbled with her numb hands, and grasped his, and drew it upon her pillow, and kissed it—once, twice.

    Peter Sandison bent down and kissed her cheek.  There was a moisture on it.

    That was all.  He summoned Kirsty to resume her watch.  And he went away, only waving back his hand before he closed the door.

    Thank God ! he said to himself.   “And who knows but this might have come to pass long ago, if I had been wiser?  Thank God that He will reveal our sins to us, though He will also blot them out!  The truth, at any cost!  Love can strike root in nothing else!


 
CHAPTER XVIII.

TWO ON THE CLIFFS.


LATE in the following summer, Tom Ollison paid another visit to Clegga.  He had been longing very much to do so, but the suggestion finally came from Mr. Sandison.  (Had he noticed how much more often those Kirkwall letters had arrived since Tom's last visit to the North?)

    “I wish you would bring your father back to spend the winter with us, Tom, he said; “don't you think you could persuade him?  You know there are plenty of spare rooms now!  I never thought how they were wasted; while they were shut up, but now it seems a terrible waste to think of them open and empty!

    Mr. Sandison did not go very much into those deserted rooms.  His life had grown into his parlour and his shop.  Still he went into them, determined to lay forever the ghost of the old shrinking.  With his own hands he finished hanging the engraving which he had laid down in his moment of despair nearly a quarter of a century before

    With his own hands he threw away the ashen plants which had withered in loneliness, and planted fresh ones whose sweet smell stole through the quiet rooms.  He chose none but those with a sweet smell.  Mrs. Black sent him roots from Stockley.  He even broke his old habits so far as to accompany Tom on a Saturday visit to the Mill—perhaps induced to do so by the constant repetitions of Mrs. Black's pathetic wish “that Mr. Ollison's great friend should for once see the old place as it always had been—since nobody knew what changes might be coming.  For the old squire of Stockley was at last gathered to his fathers, and the distant heir, the Branders' friend, Captain Carson, reigned in his stead.

    And so Tom went off to the far North.  But he had first written to his father to ask whether he should not stop at Kirkwall and try to induce Mrs. Sinclair and Olive to accompany him to Shetland and be their guests at Clegga, and take another look at the old places and the old faces which once they had known so well.

    Did Tom know to what he was steering?  In after days he never could be quite sure at what precise point a thought turned into a hope.

    He sent his invitation beforehand to Mrs. Sinclair and her daughter, and they had many debates over it in the wide old attics which had grown a dear home to them.  They had prospered so far that they had ventured to take another room, and Olive had grown used to her unremitting toil, and so accustomed to her constant cares and economies, that she could find interest and excitement in the fluctuations of her earnings.  There had been no further encroachment on the little fund realised by her father's life insurance, and Olive was even accumulating tiny savings of her own, made on the sound and sure plan of settling her maximum expenditure by her minimum earnings.  Very tiny savings indeed they were, savings which would little avail against disaster if it fairly came, but which might go very far to avert disaster.  They would not have supported her in a long illness, but wisely laid out, from time to time, they might do much to preserve health.  Olive began to think, hopefully, that however long she might live, and however little she might be able to save, she might continue so useful to the last that she might eat the bread of independence to the end.  Only she must be quite sure to outlive her dear mother.  Every night and morning she offered that one prayer.  Everything  else she could cover with the great petition, Thy will be done, but she could not quite give up this special plea.

    And that is only because God's will is not done! she said to herself. For if it was, I could surely feel that I might safely leave dear mother to her only son, not only to his support, but to the tenderness of his love and the warmth of his hearth.

    When Tom Ollison's invitation came, Olive went to her little store and counted it over, and made many minute calculations.  She made up her mind that she and her mother could dare to afford this treat.  Under no other circumstances could they get so much pleasure at so low a price.  This would cost nothing but their fares in the boatthey would need to make no preparations to enjoy the bountiful hospitality of Clegga.  Not that she could bear to go quite empty-handed among the poor old wives and fatherless children who had once been her parent's pensioners; but if she sat up through only one night, her busy fingers would manufacture sundry little gifts for such without cost of money or of working hours.  Yes, they would go!

    Mrs. Sinclair heard her daughter's determination a little wistfully.  She had hoped for an invitation to visit her son after his marriage, and she had made up her mind that if one came, why even that sacred “insurance money” must be taken that it might be accepted.  It would not be robbing Olive; no, no, once Robert saw his mother, he would be sure to make it up to her; it was not the money that he would grudge, it was only that he didn't quite realise how things were!

    She was right that it was not the money he grudged in this matter.  He would have paid the cost of the journey many times over, so long as she did not take it.  (On the same principle or rather no-principle he would probably have liberally aided any impecunious relatives who had known how to thrust their poverty upon him at inconvenient times.)  Poor little lady, with her worn black dress, and the patient pain in her beautiful eyes, what a discord her appearance would have struck in his garish, rapid life!  “Mother is happiest where she is, he said to himself.  And there was not only heartlessness in the reflection, it ended in a sigh.  He felt there was something about him and his wife and his home which would trouble Mrs. Sinclair.  “Mother would understand, he said, and sighed again.

    So once more the two women went down to the dock and met Tom, and this time they went on board with him.  The young, strong man and the high-spirited maiden were very tender and watchful over the little mother.  They said aside that this going back would try her a little, and they wondered, in their inexperience, to notice that while her tears would start fast and faster, her smiles also grew brighter, and she became quite eager in her recognition of points and places which stirred old memories.

    They had a happy time in dear old Clegga.  And in the long quiet walks which Tom and Olive took together along the roads which waved up and down the low, green hills looking down on the wide blue sea, they opened their hearts and spoke to each other, as hitherto each had only silently thought.  And if, as that pleasant sojourn drew to a close, there came long silences in those walks, it was not because they had nothing more to say, but because there was so much to say, which they felt they could trust to each other's thoughts, almost better than to any words.

    Olive Sinclair owned to herself this much —that whether Tom Ollison had loved her or not, she might easily have loved him, only that she knew such feelings were not for her.  She would never leave her mother.  Well, she had her mother to love and to work for, and what would life be without that?

    And Tom Ollison asked himself whether it did not seem very hard that Peter Sandison should be left in loneliness at last—a loneliness haunted by memories of deprivation and wrong; a very different loneliness from that of his own father, with his wholesome memories, his large local influence, and the cheerful coming to and fro of his prosperous married children.  Tom did not feel as if the seed of one's own happiness must be planted in the pain of others, and watered by their tears.

    But Tom had the masculine right of action and enterprise.  Where Olive must have silently taken up what she felt to be her duty, he could seek to elicit her opinion on such matters, and could lead her on from generalities to their own particular cases.

    And so it came to pass that the first breathings of the great love of life between those two, were mingled with tender thoughts of others and careful consideration concerning them.  It came to them as the corner-stone placed solemnly on the edifice of affection and duty—not as the missile of a battering-ram rudely hurled against it.  They could measure what it must be, by knowing how much these were, and by finding this was supreme above them!

    And Mrs. Sinclair, with the keen vision of one who had been through these experiences, foresaw what was coming, and so sitting alone on the bench outside Clegga, overlooking the sunny bay, she strove to brace her heart for this sacrifice, and to win strength to say that if it was to be well with her child, then it should be well with her.  Yet at the thought of the vanishing of the days of quiet love and labour in which her wrung heart had found all the rest it could ever find in this world, she could scarcely repress the last cry of patient anguish, How long, O Lord, how long!

    And while Mrs. Sinclair sat thus, Tom and Olive strolled slowly down the road where she and Robert had travelled on that wild December morning when our story commenced, but which was now rich with wild flowers, bright in the summer sunshine.  And Tom said to Olive that he would never have dared to ask her to love him, if he had meant such love to disturb the sacred duties already in her life—that he thought the love of life should mean two gladly bearing together the double duty that had been divided between them.  And then they said to each other that they could not at once very clearly see how their future was to work itself out, but that surely their love would be strong enough to grapple with all details, and not a sickly sentiment on which no cross wind must blow, lest it slay it altogether.  And they said, too, that their duty was owed to good people, who were not likely now to prove themselves inconsiderate and selfish for the first time in their lives; though of course they must expect to find them human, with all the little human moods and weaknesses, which, after all, seem but a cement to bind together human virtues.  And Tom said to Olive that he thought those must have a very poor idea of all that is involved in twain being made one, who feel that such unity is endangered if not nursed in solitude; and that he thought there is little fear of any household, however constituted, not falling in the main into right relations around any married pair who love, honour, and respect each other.  And then Olive said softly, that Isaiah had made it one of the signs of national prosperity that old men and old women should dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.  Then they had come nearer to particulars, and Tom said that he feared Mrs. Sinclair mighty shrink from life in London, and Olive answered that she sure her mother would be happy anywhere with those she loved.  And then they said how, in London, she would not be far from Stockley, and might, perhaps, have a double home if she wished.  And then they fell to still homelier discussions of ways and means, which even a listening angel might have almost envied, because of the divine alchemy with which their human hands could transmute filthy lucre into pure love.

    That night Tom Ollison told Mrs. Sinclair that he would never take her daughter from her, but that Olive had well-nigh promised in her mother's name that he should be accepted by her as a son.  And Mrs. Sinclair put her hands on his shoulders and drew down his face and kissed him with the fond motherly kiss which he had not known for years.  And she longed to ask him and Olive to forgive her for the doubt and pain she had that afternoon, but she kept silence because she thought it would hurt them even to hear of it.  And then she went away and wept a little, because she had never seen Robert's wife, and because she could not help believing that her own son would feign be as kind and good as Tom, but had somehow failed to seem so!


 
EPILOGUE.


AFTER all, Tom Ollison and Olive Sinclair were married sooner than they had dared to hope on that summer day when they had stood hand in hand among the wild flowers on the road over the cliffs.  Life's path broadened before their feet, as it ever does before true heart and the resolute will.

    And now they live in the old house in Penman's Row, and Olive has brightened the shady rooms with the pretty tastes and fancies which love and happiness have developed in her, as the warmth of spring brings out the crocuses and snowdrops.  As Tom sits at the head of the table in the dining room (for Mr. Sandison has said that he is only too delighted to abdicate the post of carver and sit aside at leisure to criticise his successor) Tom wonders if it can be the same dreary room into which he was ushered on his arrival in London, for everything seems different except the quaint mirrors and comfortable cat, who has exchanged the old red coat on which he then lay for a soft cushion.  The upper rooms are Olive's more especial domain; but more and more often, as she sits in the twilight playing on piano and crooning old songs, Peter Sandison steals up-stairs and sits listening in the shadows. Mrs. Sinclair found the gloom and excitement of London life rather too much for her at first, and made long visits to her old friends the Blacks at Stockley; but as time passed on she seemed able to store up the cheerfulness and calm she gathered there, and to bring them back with her, along with the big nosegays and stuffed hampers which Mrs. Black never failed to send.  By her own choice her special apartment, was the wide, low attic which had formerly been Tom's room; and her son-in-law gave her an exquisite surprise by bringing her familiar household goods from the far North to furnish it.  Better goods could have been bought near at hand for less than the cost of the transit of the old chests and clumsy chairs, but he wanted to give her a gift, and she seemed already to live so wholly in the spirit, that one need give her naught but what also had its value wholly in the spirit, consecrated by tender emotion, by memory, and by hope.

    It was hard to find the point of view from which Robert and Eta Brander regarded the new arrangements in Penman's Row.  They came there once or twice: but the West End of London is very far away from its other quarters, and a lady who, like Etta, never travels except in her own brougham, and is very fearful of its panels being scratched, cannot venture often into the city.  Besides, Etta's constitution is steadily growing less adapted to London, except during the few weeks of the season.  She is always trying the climate of some new watering-place, or the effects of some fashionable cure for those vague maladies which occupy those who have nothing else to do.  Robert has his fine house very much to himself, and though it is not very far from Ormolu Square, he does not see much of his wife's parents, he and Mr. Brander having separated their business interests.  The younger man considered that the elder was getting slow and subsiding into grooves, where he himself would never have made the fortune he had made, and with which, therefore, Robert was not going to be content.  The wheel of life goes fast with Robert Sinclair, and his face has a wan, hunted look, not like those who live by hardest daily labour, but more like that of the needy adventurers who hang on the very outskirts of honesty.  He is rich and likely to be richer, though none know so well as himself what sharp corners he still turns sometimes, and how near ruin may be after all.  Sometimes he asks querulously, If life is worth the living?  But it has never yet dawned on him that perhaps he has made a bad bargain, and that love, and friendship, and duty, high thoughts, and pleasant household ways and holy aspirations, are what do make life worth living, and that these are in the forfeit when we will get on at any cost.

    Tom and Olive know well that the son whom she sees so seldom is in the mother's heart when she goes away and sits for hours in the quiet attic, where no sound penetrates save Kirsty Mail's gentle footfall as she goes to and fro in the chamber where Grace Allan still lies, cut off from speech and hearing, but with a pleading look softening her hard eyes, and a habit of kindly clasping bending her stiff fingers.  Tom and Olive are so happy together that they do not resent the shadows of sin and sorrow amid which they carry sunshine, and their home is not less sacred to them because they often say to each other that it seems to be a miniature copy of the workings of God's providence in its widest ranges, and that while they twain represent its active life and its material progress, its very existence is rooted in the martyred life of him who, taking nothing for his own, bore all and forgave all and in the loving heart of her who is still waiting for the return of that prodigal son of modern life, who has mistaken gold for food, success for satisfaction, and worldly power for the peace which passeth understanding.



THE END.

 


 

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