The Dead Sin & other stories III.

Home Up Recollections A Retired Life The Secret Drawer By Still Waters Doing and Dreaming Family Fortunes At Any Cost Rab Bethune's Double Short Stories, etc. Poems Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

Google

[Previous Page]


THE OLD MIRROR.


IT was a golden wedding at Hornton Farm, and fifty people were assembled in the twelve-roomed house.  Well might the grandfather-host laughingly say that, like the patriarch, his house was too strait for him to dwell in.  All his seven children had married, and all the seven couples had been blessed with offspring, and none could be banished from this great family feast, and so everybody was there, except Aunt Martha's husband, Uncle Graham.  Even the last new baby was brought, the mother pleading that it would be nice for him to tell his own grandchildren that he had been present — a piece of maternal foresight which called forth much applauding merriment.

    They were a pretty sight, those strapping lads and winsome lassies, suddenly brought together, with all the excitement of new acquaintance and all the familiarity of established ties.  There were one or two decided conquests on the spot.  Two men cousins declared immediate allegiance to Meggy Mee, who had the part of grand-mamma's namesake, right hand, and general factotum.  They followed her through pantry and storeroom; they were faithful even in the kitchen.  Was it for love of her good-humour and activity, or because she had the key of the cupboard?  That was an impertinent query which arose among the other cousins.

    And yet, while all the girls laughed and cavilled over Meggy's admirers, they did not marvel at any adoration bestowed on Clarissa Verdon.  And yet her claims were slighter — no good-humour, no activity, no key of the cupboard, only a handsome, daring face, a glory of brown hair, and a rose-coloured silk in the latest mode.  Clarissa came from London.  There were two sets of cousins from the metropolis — the Verdons and the Grahams: the Verdons, wealthy and assured — the Grahams, poor and timid.

    Why had Aunt Martha married Uncle Graham?  What was there in him?  An ugly man, who did not belong to anybody, and had no rich friends to get other rich friends to buy his pictures.  There were only three Grahams: the other cousins had often heard it was a good thing there were no more.  Tom Graham was quite a young man, twenty years old.  The girls were younger; and Patty, the eldest, did not show much at the feast, for she was so handy with her needle that her aunts gave her many opportunities of usefulness in their bedrooms.  Lottie was only a child, and she sat beside her brother and took hold of his hand, for her frock was so scanty and faded that her younger cousins did not think she could be good society, and so left her to herself and her brother.  And it is to be hoped they enjoyed themselves, sitting against the wall, with the great table driven up in front of them.  As their Aunt Verdon said, it must have been quite a treat to them to see so much gaiety, poor things!

    There was only one cousin who did not think their position signified the height of enjoyment — for them.  From the midst of the merry group to whose wit and beauty she contributed so largely, Bella Kerr often glanced wistfully at the pair by the wall.  Ned Verdon, with his curly black hair and well-arched nose, whispered in her ear that plain Tom Graham did not carry his fortune in his face; but still Bella thought there was something in Tom's countenance which handsome Ned's had not.  Ned would never have let a little sister sit beside him in that awkward, cuddling way — nay, Ned was often scant of courtesy to the magnificent Clarissa, whom he would have adored if she had not been his sister!  And then Tom looked so pale and delicate, yet not like that petulant and imaginary invalid, Laurence Verdon, who played the rτle of sufferer to such perfection, and had travelled all over the world in pursuit of the health which, by the help of hard work and temperance, he might have found at home.  Poor Tom! she knew he was industrious enough already — not for himself alone, but for his family also, dutifully lightening the heavy burdens of his failing, disappointed father.  And she knew Tom had ambitions of his own.  The needs of each day required those copies which he made from old masters, and those pretty bits of landscape which he contrived to find within easy rides from London.  But the needs of Tom's soul required more.  Bella had heard her Aunt Martha lament that Tom never would rest, nor take his pleasure like other young men, that when he had done his copying and sketching, he made designs of his own, which Aunt Martha could not deny were very pretty, and might be as good as anything if he had time to work them out and Tom said there never would be time, unless he began to make it.  Only his mother thought of his dedicate chest, and the dreadful headaches he often had, and of the cough that always came in winter; but she did not think him an invalid, who must be compelled to put aside his work, just because she could not afford a doctor to tell her so.

    Bella Kerr, who came from a midland county, had never seen Tom Graham until that morning, when he had said, "How do you do?" and she had answered, "Very well indeed, thank you."  Therefore she felt rather afraid to address him, and he having been politely repelled by some other cousins, was now quite established by the wall, and little likely to make an overture to her.  Bella sat and thought it over.  He was certainly her cousin.  And he was a little younger than her — about one year.  And he seemed a diffident, gentle youth, to whom kindness would do no harm.  So at last, when Ned Verdon was not looking — for, somehow, she was afraid of his mocking black eyes — Bella sprang up, and crossed the room to the Grahams.

    "I'm afraid you're rather cold out here," she said; "why don't you come nearer the fire?"

    "Oh, we are very comfortable," said Tom; "it was a little cold at first, but the room is thoroughly warmed now."

    "So it is," assented Bella.  "I almost think it is nicer here than on the hearthrug.  The fire is best at a little distance."

    "You have sat so close to it, that it has scorched your face, cousin Bella," remarked Lottie Graham, who was a young person of the age of ten.

    "Have I," said Bella, feeling her cheeks, where the wavering flush betrayed another cause than the flame.  "I think I have.  I shall stay here till I am cooler, thank you," for Tom had moved to offer her a seat.

    "Where is your sister Patty?" she inquired.

    "Up-stairs," replied Lottie.  "When Aunt Verdon saw Aunt Kerr's cap, she liked it so much better than her own that she had Patty to alter hers to be like it."

    "What a shame of Aunt Verdon!" said Bella, sincerely; "she should have made Clarissa do it."

    "Clarissa!" echoed little Lottie; "why, Clarissa does not like work, and she got Patty to put the ribbons through her ruffles, and she said it was good practice for her because — "and here Lotty paused, for Tom touched her foot under the table, and Bella had sufficient tact not to inquire "Because what?" for she had heard Aunt Martha tell Aunt Verdon that they should be very glad to find Patty a place as assistant lady's-maid, or humble companion.  Poor Patty — who was just sixteen, and as sensible as if she were sixty!

    "Do you like London, Thomas?" Bella inquired vaguely, feeling the pause rather awkward.

    "Yes, London is a glorious place," he answered.

    "I should think it was rather dismal — all rows of dirty brick houses," remarked Bella, who had never been there.

    "Ah, but when you think of all the life in those dirty brick houses!" he answered, his face illumined by a strange light which never lit up Ned Verdon's — "when you think of that, London is like the shabby binding of a poem written by God."

    Bella had never heard anything like this before, and she scarcely knew whether it was beautiful or blasphemous, only the words or the tone gave her a thrill, like the cathedral organ on Christmas morning.  So she started a subject which lay more within her comprehension.

    "I shall soon see London, now," said she.  "Aunt Verdon has invited me to return there with them.  I suppose you often visit the Verdons?"

    "London is a large place," answered Tom, "and the Verdons live at one end and we live at the other."

    "At any rate, I am sure to see you all in London.  You will be able to come over once or twice while I am there?" she pleaded.

    "I hope you will come to see us," said Tom, rather evasively.  "You might arrange to give us the whole day, and then I would take you over the galleries."

    "Ah, I should like that," responded Bella, cordially, "for you must be such a good guide, because you are so clever about such things.  I suppose you will be a great artist some day."

    "If I'm spared, I will, please God," said he, and the words sounded as lowly and reverent as a prayer.  And somehow Bella's eyes moistened and the lashes fell over them.

    "I'm sorry Uncle Graham is not here," she said presently.

    "So am I," he responded; "but father never goes out.  He says the excitement wears him more than his work."

    "Perhaps he has worked too hard," said Bella; "but at any rate you help him now."

    "As well as I can," he answered; "I shall help him better soon."

    "I dare say you help him more than you think, already," Bella said, rising in response to a call from Clarissa Verdon.  "But take care, Tom, and don't overwork."

    She never noticed that she called him by the familiar abbreviation.  But he did, poor boy.  And his heart gave a little leap, although she was only his cousin and a year his senior!

    "I like her the best of them all, Tom," whispered Lottie.

    "Yes," said Tom, in his simple, honest way, "and I shall draw her face for the angel's, in my picture of 'Elijah in the Wilderness.'"

    And he thought if he could only paint it as it looked to him that minute, there would have stood on his canvas a being of beauty, at which the whole world must gaze and wonder.

    Poor Tom!

                    *                           *                           *                           *

    They were to sleep four in a room.  Clarissa Verdon, Meggy Mee, Bella Kerr, and Lottie Graham.  For the sake of Clarissa, they had the best of those bedrooms which were given up to the younger folk, and Clarissa also secured the good offices of her cousin Patty, who, to tell the plain truth, was to sleep in the little corridor.

    There was only one mirror in the chamber, and that was rather dim with age and damp.  But Patty rubbed it up, till it gave back a pleasingly softened reflection of Clarissa's dazzling charms, and for full half an hour that young lady usurped the whole of it, heedless of the merry raillery of Meggy Mee.

    "When one has the cupboard key, one needn't mind one's looks," Clarissa retorted; "but for poor me, 'my face is my fortune,' as Ned says, and so I treasure it like a miser.  (Patty, you're pulling my hair!)"

    "Does it bring in good dividends?" asked mischievous Meggy.

    "It is not invested yet," said Clarissa, carrying on the metaphor.  "I was not so weak as to take shares in a bankrupt baronet or a scribbling poet."

    "Not even to be 'my lady?"' said Meggy, archly.

    "I should not care to be 'my lady' except to 'my lord,'" said Clarissa; "any City man may be Sir John or Sir James. I would not look at a baronet unless he had a very good fortune to bless himself with."

    "Then, Clarissa," said Meggy, "when a man pays attentions to you, do you coolly reckon up his belongings, so much for and against?"

    "Certainly I do," returned Clarissa "don't you?  Surely, now, you would never marry cousin Richard while you had a chance of cousin Will!"

    "I wouldn't marry Will if there were not another man in the world," answered Meggy, reddening.

    "I dare say not — not till he asks you," observed the sceptical Clarissa; "and if I were you, Meggy, I'd marry as soon as I could.  You're such a useful creature that nobody will want to push you off their hands.  Your very brothers and sisters will like to keep you as an old-maid-aunt for their brats.  Perhaps you'll say next, that you'll like to be an old maid, eh, Meggy?"

    "I won't say anything about that, but I'd never marry for the sake of being a wife," said Meggy, stoutly.

    "There's somebody needn't think about old maids, grave as she looks just now," remarked Clarissa, waving her hand towards Bella; "I know two gentlemen who are dying for her at this moment."

    "Perhaps I'm not dying for them!" interrupted Bella scornfully.

    "And to take her to London will be quite homicidal," pursued Clarissa.  "I will be candid.  I don't think she's as handsome as I am — she's not in the stately style, but she has — a — je ne sais quoi — that will turn the men's heads directly they see her.  I saw her waste one or two ravishing attitudes this very night."

    "When was that?" asked Meggy.

    "She wasted them on Tom Graham," Clarissa went on, regardless of his sister's presence.  "On Tom Graham, who, whatever he may be as an artist, does not know a pretty woman when he sees her, for he never even looked at me — the booby!"

    "Yes, he did, cousin Clarissa," interrupted little Lottie, bold to defend her brother.  "I know he looked at you."

    "Eh, child, because he said something?" inquired Clarissa, stooping forward with a gratified smile, eager to feed her vanity with praise even from those she despised.  "Then what did he say?"

    "He said — he said —" stammered Lottie, seeing Patty's warning face behind Clarissa's shoulder.

    "What did he say?" stamped the beauty.  "Patty, you're running the comb into my head, and I believe you are making signs to the child.  You needn't.  I shall only laugh at whatever he was fool enough to say.  Flowers must submit to common flies as well as to butterflies, as my poor poet used to remark."

    "He said," Lottie went on, thus encouraged, "that you had a magnificent face, as beautiful as Satan's daughter, Sin."

    "What does it mean; what did he mean?" said Clarissa, standing upright with her damask cheeks perceptibly paler.

    Patty came to the rescue, fearful lest a fit of hysterics should reveal her brother's imprudent observation to the whole house.

    "It's in the second book of 'Paradise Lost,'" said she — "a sort of allegory.  Tom read it to me just before we left home."

    Clarissa's colour slowly returned, and she laughed.  "It had an ugly sound," she observed rather stiffly; "but upon my word, I should not have thought Master Tom made such shrewd observations.  What did he say about the others, child?"

    "I think it's scarcely fair to ask," whispered Patty deprecatingly.

    "Leave me alone," said the impatient beauty.  "Quick, child!  Tell me what he said!"

    "He did not speak about many," answered the chidden Lottie.

    "But what did he say about any?" pursued Clarissa, giving her a little shake.

    "He said he liked Cousin Bella best," said Lottie, in despair.

    Clarissa shrieked with laughter, Meggy giggled, and even Patty smiled.

    "And didn't he say any more?" asked Clarissa, when she was able to speak.

    "Yes, he did," said Lottie, emboldened by her apparent success — "he said her face was like an angel's, and he should put her in his picture of 'Elijah in the Wilderness.'"

    "Bravo!" exclaimed Clarissa, dragging the crimson Bella before the antique looking-glass.  "Look up, look up, my dear, look up, and behold the face of an angel!  I wish you joy of your first conquest, Bella.  You know you may drink nectar from the commonest cup, and then throw it away.  Actually an angel, Bella!  And upon my word, it was no bad comparison."

    There the hard voice lowered, and the bold face softened; and if Tom had seen Clarissa then, she would not have recalled "Satan's beautiful daughter, Sin," for at that moment her own good angel came close to her, and whispered to her heart, "You, too, might have looked like that."

    Bella Kerr stood before the mirror.  She just raised her eyes to her own shadow.  Her lips were trembling, her eyes moist, her cheeks flushed, but there was a glory all over her — the rosy dawn of her nobler nature.

    Clarissa got up and kissed her.  The good spirit was still whispering, only fainter.  "Ah! my dear," sighed the City belle, "such compliments won't brighten you up long.  'Angels' will sound tame.  You'll even be glad of 'Satan's beautiful daughter,' just for a change."  And then she laughed, and the whisper in her heart was silenced.

    Bella and Lottie were to sleep together, and when they were both in bed, Patty came in for the candle, and after she had kissed her sister, she went round and kissed her cousin.  And Bella drew her head down and kissed her on both cheeks.

                    *                           *                           *                           *

    Bella Kerr went to London with the Verdons, and spent three whole months in their elegant, shiftless home in Bloomsbury.  The, little country girl did not like it at first.  After the conversation of the gay visitors in her uncle's crowded saloon, her evening prayer and chapter were strange and uncongenial.  But, alas! as night after night she never reached her chamber till after midnight, and then with well-fagged mind and feverish body, the simple devotions were first curtailed, and then forgotten.  How could she read the Bible, when Clarissa would not stop her vain, frivolous chatter?  Bella said to herself it would be out of season, profane, ostentatious, forgetting that whatever makes a duty out of place, should be itself instantly put aside.  And soon in her secret heart, Bella shrank from the godly, humble ways in which she had been reared.  They made such discord with Cousin Ned's sceptical witticisms, and Cousin Ned and some other gentlemen said she would be such a charming girl, when she had outgrown all the Methodistical cant with which the parsons kept down the good people in the country — and Bella thought she should like to be a charming girl!

    She saw Tom Graham only thrice during that long stay in London.  First, he was waiting at the coach-office when she arrived, but so was Ned Verdun.  And Ned hooked her arm through his, and did not ask Tom to accompany them.  Next time she saw him in his own home, where, with some difficulty, she prevailed upon Ned to take her.  She spent the day there.  Ned left her in the morning, and called for her at night.  It was such a gloomy, poky place, in a back street in Finsbury, and the rooms were so small and low, and smelt so stuffy.  And worst of all, what with care and hard work and fretfulness, Aunt Martha had lost not only all her loveliness — that were but a small loss — but all her lovableness, and could not conceal her suspicions that her niece had only come to spy out the barrenness of the land, and to carry away a pitiful report to the rich relations in Bloomsbury and the country.  Bella thought Tom must have a hard time of it, especially now his sister Patty had gone to her first situation, and all the household comfort depended on the repining, muddling mother.  She was glad to go out with him — away to St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower.  And Tom was so considerate and pleasant, and somehow so much politer than Ned and Laurence, with all their West-End polish and habits of good society.  But when she ventured to say something to that effect during her homeward ride with Cousin Ned, it was met with such a torrent of mocking raillery that she trembled to mention Tom again.

    But once more she saw him.  One Sunday evening he actually presented himself at the Verdons, to ask if his Cousin Bella would like to hear that famous preacher, George Whitefield, in his new chapel at Moorfields.  Aunt Verdon began to make excuses, but Bella said she would go, for there was something in Tom Graham's quiet eyes that brought up her own godly home so vividly to her, that she could have cried to feel herself alone in the midst of that gay, thoughtless family, with their flaunting candelabras and worldly music, arresting the shocked attention of the good, worthy folk passing to divine service.

    Bella went off to put on her hat and mantle, and as she came back, threading her way among the trains of the ladies, and the lazily outstretched feet of the men, towards her young cousin, sitting apart silently watching the gaudy scene, she somehow thought of an old black-letter book she had read at her grandfather's, in which good John Evelyn described his last glimpse of the profligate court at Whitehall.

    They had to hasten in order to arrive at the chapel in time.  They got a seat not far from the pulpit, whence Bella could see the sea of eager, upturned faces below.  Bella never forgot that night, though she lived to try to forget it.  She never forgot the hymn, a new one that she had not heard before, which Tom whispered was written by one of those brothers Wesley, at whom the world was just beginning to wonder.  Often, afterwards, it echoed through her mind — in strange places, too — theatres and ball-rooms, and wan midnight vigils: ―


"One family we dwell in Him,
     One church above, beneath,
 Though now divided by the stream,
     The narrow stream of death.

 One army of the living God,
     To his command we bow:
 Part of his host have crossed the flood,
     And part are crossing now."


Bella had heard much beautiful music since her arrival in London, but for her none had such a mystic charm as that burst of voices, with the one voice beside her, clear and sweet, although so low.  The very thought of her cousin's obscure, patient life, the vague, tender yearning of her woman's heart over the pathos of his quiet face, all softened and attuned her spirit for the sermon; so that the voice of George Whitefield seemed like the voice of God in her own soul; and life suddenly looked such a serious, happy thing, so different to the tinsel existence in her Uncle Verde's house.  Alas, it was only a peep within the veil, but in the end, it was not given for nothing!

    When they left the chapel, it was a rough and stormy night, and they had enough to do to hold their cloaks round them and keep up the umbrella, so there could be little conversation.  But Bella spoke so warmly of the enjoyment she had, that Tom ventured to ask if she would like to go again next Sunday, because, if so, he would gladly call for her.  And Bella promised, thinking she would be heartily glad of such a profitable escape from the vain Sabbath evenings in Russell Square.  And they said good-bye at the Verdons' door; and, in the flare of their flambeau, Tom Graham's face looked so bright and happy!

    Alas, alas! Bella had not reckoned on the light fire of persecution she was called to endure through the week.  Ned feigned to check himself in his genteelly profane sallies, because such manners were not like "the good young men at Moorfields."  And when Bella chanced to laugh, or to utter a harmless joke, Clarissa asked "if that was permitted to one of George Whitefield's saints?"  And Ned made himself very agreeable all that week, though he never missed an opportunity to throw in a spice of mockery about the last Sunday evening.  And then for the next Sunday evening he got invitations for a soiree at the house of a literary lion of noisy fame, and Bella was so charmed by the celebrated names that would be there, that the echo of George Whitefield's voice grew faint, and at last she consented to leave an excusing message for poor Tom.

    More than once, amid the hollow compliments of the gay assemblage, she thought of him contentedly trudging through the frost from Finsbury, only to receive a cold apology from a half-insolent lackey.  She knew exactly how he would look when he found she had failed him; how he would bow his head and say nothing, but go a-way, and perhaps stand silent amid the joyful praises at Moorfields.  She thought she would write to him in a day or two.

    But next Tuesday there came a command for her to return home.  Handsome Ned looked so sorry when he heard it, and was so grave all the day after.  And in the twilight he caught Bella alone in the library; and there he told her that tale which makes the dullest woman's heart beat faster: how he loved her — how he could never love another in the same way — how she had taught him more respect for religion than he had ever known before (poor vain child! how could she believe him?) — and how he thought she could make him anything she liked, if she would only take him in hand.  And with these more elevated sentiments he mingled tempting baits concerning his prospects at the bar, and his father's late success in speculation.

    And the end was that Bella Kerr left London with a ring on her finger, and an assured promise of a speedy return.

                   *                           *                           *                           *

    Hornton Farm again; but the grandfather and grandmother were gone, and Meggy Mee was mistress there — a maiden lady, as Clarissa had prophesied.  A happy, useful woman, and seldom without willing guests, gaining more love from her hired servants than some women win from their daughters.

    There were two visitors on that Yew Year's day, when the snow was thick on the ground.  At least, a lady and gentleman arrived, but the gentleman only stayed to change his travelling dress for evening costume, and then went off elsewhere.  They were London people, and had journeyed in considerable state, with a man-servant and a maid, and heaps of luggage.

    Meggy Mee led the lady into the tea parlour, where a comfortable meal was provided.  But the town madam seemed weary and ill at ease, and presently asked for her room, declining Meggy's company there, or any attendance beyond her own maid's.  And Meggy at last ceased her hospitable offers, bade her guest good night, and put away her bohea and sweet cakes with a sigh and a little shake of the head.

    But even the maid was not kept long in waiting.  As soon as she had unfastened her mistress's hair, and robed her in her flowered dressing-gown, she was peremptorily dismissed.  Yet the lady seemed in no hurry to retire to rest.

    She was still a young woman — not yet quite forty; and the haggard wanness of her face was by no means that of time, or even sickness.  It gave the idea of constant indulgence in paints and similar pernicious adornments, of late hours and irregular diet, of strong whims strongly thwarted.  When carefully dressed and pleasantly excited, she might still be a handsome woman; but sitting there in careless loneliness, she was only a ruin — and not a ruin gently made by time, but rather one laid waste by fire.

    She awaited the tardy return of her lord and master, gone to some heavy dinner among the hard-drinking squires of the neighbourhood.  Such complaisance was no wifely habit on her part; but she did not know how his degradation might be received by the steady servants of that regular family, and perhaps she had some lingering, womanly wish to screen him as much as possible from the censure of the strict and maidenly household.  Be that as it may, she felt the time hang heavy on her hands, and looked around for something to lighten its passage.  But the room was one of those old-fashioned dormitories which are meant for nothing but sleep.  There were only one or two books, and the lady read their titles and dropped them wearily — the Holy Bible and the Pilgrim's Progress had nothing to do with her.  She sauntered round the room, carrying her candlestick in one delicate hand, and carefully passing the other over the carved fronts of the tall cabinets.

    Suddenly she paused.

    At the end of the room, farthest from the dainty white-draped toilet-table which had been prepared for her, stood another, bearing an ancient mirror in a smooth ebony framed.  The light which she carried fell full on her face, and she saw her own reflection.  But why should it make her start and shudder? — Why?

    Because, as if the ghost of her own youth had suddenly looked over her shoulder, she saw beside that passionate, hollowed visage the memory of a fresh, fair face, which to one had seemed even as the face of an angel!  Because suddenly, in front of that old mirror, Bella Kerr, and what she might have been, stood face to face with Mistress Edward Verdon, and what she was.

    She sat down on the chintz-covered ottoman before the looking-glass, and covered her face with her hands, and thought over that night when last she slept in the grim old chamber.  The fifty who had gathered under that roof-tree then, where were they now?

    What of Clarissa Verdon, with that strange, strong beauty which does not fade, but ripens — Clarissa, with her clever head and sharp tongue — Clarissa, overwhelmed with that terrible flattery which is only the mask upon a death's-head.  Poor Clarissa, none the less a lost woman because she was a prince's favourite!

    What of Clarissa's brother Laurence? — so handsome and so refined in his valetudinarian youth; a Sybarite, who shivered in the summer breeze, and might only feel the softest and taste the finest that wealth could buy.  Why did he lay up no love for himself in those times? — For dark days came, when the mind grew weaker than the weak body, and yet strengthened it with that terrible strength for which men knew no cure but the lash and the chain.  And Bella shuddered to think of the cell in Bedlam, and the rustling straw and the roaring curse!

    And what of handsome Ned?  Bella's head bowed lower.  This was he, who had said she might make him anything she liked, if she would but try — this sodden, bestial man, who sometimes made her wonder whether God gave everybody a soul, or made some no higher than the beasts that perish!  But Bella did not think that just now: she thought of him as he looked in the Bloomsbury library twenty years before, and of all the aspirations she then had for his sake, and all their miserable failures.  Bella had been true to her husband, according to the outward truth acknowledged by the heartless women of her circle, but not true with a truth she could bear to think upon, along with the remembrance of the whispers of that far-off summer-night.  He had loved her — better than she had ever loved him, and in his breast there still lingered a maudlin fondness, while she had only a quiet contempt.  Poor Ned!  Poor Bella!

    "Best to be dead!" she cried, in her agony of remembrance and remorse.  And as she so cried out, she thought of a grave not very far off, where Tom Graham waited for the resurrection morning.  A lowly, lonely grave — a little apart from the tombs of his kindred — with just a name upon it, and an old date, nearly twenty years ago.  For Tom Graham had died young.

    "He was the last who cared for my soul!" cried Bella, as in one flash of unspeakable anguish, the dead lad's face smiled on her, and the very sound of the Moorfields' hymn rang in her ears.  Somehow, none of her bitterest memories brought such an exquisite pang as that, but then the blessθd tears came too.

    Presently she grew calmer, and when her sobs ceased, she crossed the room and rang her bell.  But she had retired to the gloomy recesses of the great settle, her face shaded by her hand, when her maid obeyed the summons.

    "Willis," she said, "have I not heard the name of Graham since I have entered this house?"

    "Yes, madam," replied the waiting-woman; "that's the young person as sits with Miss Mee, and seems a sort of companion, like."

    "Will you give my compliments to Miss Mee," pursued the lady, "and tell her I shall be eternally grateful if she will allow Miss Graham to come to me."

    The words were but the common form of affected politeness.  Yesterday she would have used the same for the loan of a fan.  But to-night they were sincere.

    Miss Graham made no delay.  When she came, she was but a slight girl of six-and-twenty, and wore a white muslin apron.  But the stately lady rose from the sofa, and opened her arms, and kissed her.

    "You are my cousin Lottie," she said.

    "Yes, I am Lottie," said the other.

    "And do you remember when we were in this room together before?" asked Bella.

    "Yes, indeed I do," she answered, with a smile quickly breaking over her sweet face.  "I remember it as though it were yesterday!"

    "There have been great changes," said Bella.

    "Yes, indeed," said Lottie.

    "Do my uncle and aunt and Patty still live?" inquired the lady.

    "Yes, and my mother enjoys good health," said the young woman.  Patty is a sad invalid.  She met with a severe accident in saving the life of one of her lady's children.  And so my lady kindly allows her a pension, and she lives with my parents.  My poor father has been fit for nothing since Tom was taken: you Knew that Tom is gone, ma'am?"

    "Yes," faltered Bella, "I heard of his death; but — but — I was travelling at the time — it was just after my marriage.  I suppose you scarcely remember him, Lottie."

    "Ah, madam," said the girl, "if angels be at all like what they were on earth, I should know him if he stood here this minute."

    So would Bella; and perhaps he did stand there, though they could not see him!

    "I remember he was always delicate," said Bella; "and was he long ill at the last?"

    "No, he gave up work only a day or two before he died," she replied.  "The pencil fairly dropped out of his hand, he was so afraid of over-self-indulgence.  Ah, there never was anybody as good as Tom!"

    "It was hard that he should die so young!" said Bella.  "Did he cling to life?"

    "I can scarcely say," answered Lottie.  "He had seemed rather sad for some time before — as if something had troubled him.  Patty says there was a far-off look on his face, as if he were waiting for something.  Patty never wearies to talk of him.  Her lady kindly gave her leave to come and nurse him."

    "Did he feel sure he would go to heaven?" whispered Bella.

    "He had heaven safe in his own soul," said the girl.

    "And I suppose he never deserted Mr. Whitefield's ministry?"

    "Never," replied Lottie; "he was at Moorfields the last Sunday before he died.  He thought a great deal of that good man, and when there used to be accounts of the conversions under him, I've heard Tom say that by God's blessing he hoped some would heed the very echo of Wh1tefield's words, after his living voice was silent."

    "Did he finish" — and Bella paused, with a choking in her throat — "did he finish a grand picture that I saw him begin at Finsbury, a picture of Elijah and the Angel?"

    "O yes," answered Lottie, smiling with reverent delight at this recollection.  "He finished it, but it was odd he never thought so himself.  He was always touching it up.  It was not sold until after his death.  We should have liked to keep it ourselves, but we couldn't afford to do so."

    "I suppose he never spoke of me?" said Bella, in a very soft, subdued voice.

    "No," replied the other, venturing to take the white, jewelled fingers.  "I've often wondered over that.  For I never forgot you, cousin Bella.  I thought you were so very beautiful."

    They sat silently, hand in hand, for some time.  Then Bella gently rose, and Lottie Graham withdrew.

    That night appeared the first leaf from the seed planted by faithful love.  That night there was joy in heaven over a sinner that repented!

    Oh, it is hard to repent! — hard, hard, to find our souls suddenly torn from all the ties we have linked about us — hard to have no familiar face which would not scoff if we opened our hearts — hard to climb the heavenward path over the ruins of old habits and associations.  But the grace of God has strength for hard things.

    It strengthened Bella.  The change began the very next day, so that cousin Mee thought she had been wrong in her first impressions of her visitor.  Ned Verdon, too, was almost startled by his wife's gentleness; indeed, it half-sobered him.  And the Hornton villagers long remembered the grand town lady, who looked so sad and said so little, but left such considerate kindnesses behind her.

    And then Bella went back to London, with two daisies gathered from Tom's grave, folded in her Bible.  She did not look at them often, only sometimes, when the world seemed very bitter and heartless.  She showed them to her husband, and spoke of their dead cousin.  And Ned Verdon listened quietly, and then slipped his arm round her waist, and kissed her.

    But it was up-hill work.  God's mercy is infinite, but He does not always choose to lift our self-made burdens for us.  With patient devotion Bella might rekindle the perishing torch of her married love, until Ned absolutely preferred a quiet evening with her to the jolliest club-dinner.  But she could not make their hearts and lives one, as should be the hearts and lives of man and wife.  Still, out of that broken sympathy, out of that necessary loneliness, there grew the pitiful yearning reverence of the higher nature for the lower — the passionate remorseful tenderness of the one who goes forward for the one who is left behind.  And Ned had some faint intuition of this, and there was sometimes a look in his eyes, bleared and faded now, that made Bella go away and hide herself to weep.

    It came to an end at last.  He was carried into his own house, thrown from his horse almost at his very door.  Like a dead man he lay for days, and like a dead woman his wife walked to and fro.  Was this to be all!  No parting at the gate of the valley of the shadow? — no last word for a pledge of love and forgiveness to keep through the solitude afterwards?  Kneeling in the middle of the room, where lay the unconscious body, she asked this of her Father.  And at the very last, her prayer was granted, and her heart was satisfied.

    "God bless you, my Bella."

    And that was all.

               *                     *                     *                     *                     *

    Long years after — years of quiet, solitary duty — Mistress Verdon slept once more in the old room at Hornton.  And the chamber was strangely chill, and the servants went and came softly, as if a footfall could disturb one whose only awakening would be the trump of God.

    There came one gentle old woman — very agθd, though she was years younger than the dead.  She drew the covering from the calm face and held it aside while she gazed.  Then she tenderly put it back and whispered to herself —

    "She looks like an angel once more, and now she is one."


――――♦――――

 
A CHANCE CHILD.


THERE had been a funeral from a little, old, deep-windowed house in the chief street of Dingwall, Ross-shire.  An old maid's funeral, attended only by a grave, decorous "writer," two young men, strangers in the place, and a girl, little Mary Dallas, who had no more right to that name than she had to anything else in this wide world of ours.  For she was a "chance child," with a black veil over all her history previous to the day when the "writer," Duncan Gair, put her, a two-year-old baby, into the charge of worthy Miss Vass, with such sum of money as paid a little more than her expenses, but was not to be mentioned beside the value of the sterling godly upbringing that she received.

    Miss Vass had been a scrupulous and a proud woman, with the pride of a race of decent farmers; and she had taken two days of consideration before she had written her consent to Mr. Gair's letter, inquiring whether she would undertake the control of the worse than orphan baby.  The payment for so pleasant and womanly a duty was a sore temptation to her pinched table and thinning wardrobe, and her yearning clinging to the town and home of her birth.  But, welcome as the money might be, Elspeth Vass was not the woman to do for its sake what she would not have done without it.  She had referred to many good books and to sundry portions of Scripture, and had wrestled long in prayer.  Elspeth was not one to display her mental processes, except as they involuntarily showed in the few dry sentences of her tardy reply:—

    "That, seeing what was done could not be undone, and that the Lord had expressly declared that He himself would not hold a child responsible for its parents' evil ways, unless it followed in the same, she did not see that it would be inconsistent with her duty as a Christian woman to undertake to do her best to direct the bairn to better paths."

    She had added, "though it was overlike to be ill-guided by its hereditary nature, if there was any truth in birth or breed," but under the double reflection that Ezekiel says nothing on that point, and that it was a queer-like thing for a single woman to write to a bachelor, she drew her pen through those lines, and fair-copied the letter without them.

    It was no fairy elf, of high-born grace and lustrous beauty, that Elspeth Vass took from the arms of Mr. Gair's old housekeeper.  Just a thin-faced child, with grey eyes and light-brown hair, coarsely dressed in a thick woolsey, with no mother's pride wrought into braid or frill.

    "I didna think I could tak sae kindly to ony wean in my auld age," said the Lowland housekeeper.  It's no' in me to be unkind to a bairn, God forbid! but I've just passed them by like.  An' she's no' bonny, and she's backward wi' her tongue.  Master says that that failin' will be worth a tocher to her if she keeps it when she's grown.  It's the way men talk, Miss Vass, wantin' to have all the crackin' to theirselves, and us to mix the toddy to help them on.  But if a mony canna help frae lovin' an auld dumb dog, that was never a beauty at his best, just because he loves them, what for am I a fule to be taken wi' a wean that tuk to me?  She has a kind o' way as if she was thankful for little things that maist bairns take as their right.  Ye'll hae an easy handful o' her, Miss Vass."

    Miss Vass was rather doubtful.  She could not forget the child's parentage; and, being accustomed to walk safe paths of antecedent and precedent, she was not sanguine enough to hope that she might have come across that exception which proves the rule.  But with all her rigid strictness, she was not a prejudiced woman; and when the little girl showed herself gentile and docile, her kind old heart opened readily to her, though her strong principle never neglected to apply the wholesome discipline which her womanly consciousness taught her was most likely to check any dangerous tendencies in this hopeful shoot of a tainted tree.  Mary was brought up in habits of punctuality and unremitting industry, of self-denial and self-control.  Miss Vass watched carefully over the subtle and moral influences of conversation and general reading, even surrendered her national laxity of judgment upon Mary Queen of Scots; and to satisfy the girlish yearning for a heroine of beauty, love, and pathos, supplied her place with the image and story of sweet, pure Magdalen of France.

    And so, for full fourteen years, the young girl lived with the old woman in the little old-fashioned house, the only home they had either of them ever known.  And truly happy had those fourteen years been, albeit their quiet calendar of steady plodding in the common day-school, little household duty, and diligent evening needlework, had been enlivened by no red-letter days more startling than a drive to Strathpeffer, a tea-drinking at the manse, or a trip to Inverness.

    Mary had grown up a healthy-looking, well-mannered girl, useful about the house, and clever at her needle, but with no more prettiness than good habits, good temper, and superfine neatness are sure to produce.  As was only natural, Miss Vass had occasionally certain private cogitations.  Mr. Gair had said not a word about her ward's parents, beyond the simple fact that they and their child were no credit to each other.  She did not know which of them supplied the funds which the lawyer doled out.  She could not form the slightest idea of their respective positions in life, nor whether Mary was far from the scene of her birth, or unsuspiciously near it.  Like the wise woman that she was, she reflected that if she could not repress these wandering wonderments, much less could the child, so much more immediately interested.  Therefore she resolved that no unwholesome mysteries should surround the secret, like ghouls about a corpse.  There it was, a sad and serious truth, to be recognised, and solemnly covered up, without prurient peep or touch.  So when Mary was a lassie just entering her teens, Miss Vass did not repress her timid hints, but met them boldly and truthfully, as she would had it been a story of death instead of disgrace.  Truthfully, tenderly in utter truthfulness, she answered the questions with which Mary sought to probe the world's ways about such matters, offering no insulting pity or weakening consolation.  It pained her — pained her honest virtuous heart, doubtless, far more than bitterer things had pained poor Mary's mother's — to see the child, spiritually the child of her own soul, go about her daily duties with a graver face and a lower voice than before.  But she took no notice.  Only once when Mary was sewing, with a thoughtful face and an occasional sigh, Miss Vass ventured to say, with a dramatic imitation of lightness whose success astonished herself―

    "A penny for your thoughts, Mary bairn."

    "I was thinking," said candid Mary, "of a fable that our master read to us once at dictation class.  How there was a man doomed by a wicked spirit to wander, without a friend or a penny, through a desert country.  But the man was attended by a good genius, and wherever he came the genius provided him with friends and home, and found money for him, and dug wells for him, and made trees grow over his path.  But then we know there are no genii, after all;" and the fingers resumed the sewing, and there came another sigh.

    "My child Mary," said Miss Vass, laying her thin, pale hand on the girl's warm shoulder, "there is God.  Need you turn to these poor fables — though I own they are pretty enough — while you have the true histories of Joseph, and David, and Esther?  Let the ancient heathen that were born in the dark, and the modern heathen that choose it, talk in riddles about fairy and genii, fortune and luck.  Let us call Him by the name He taught us — God our Father.  Our Father, Mary bairn!  Let us trust Him, Mary.  He never asks us to trust Him till we have proved Him.  The youngest beggar-child, before it can know the want of bread, has been fed a deal more than starved.  Need you wish for genii, bairn?  Does not the angel of the Lord encamp about them that fear Him, and deliver them?  He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into water-springs.  Mary bairn, the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, and if we are his, then He and his are ours.  Trust in the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed — body and soul, bairn, heart and head!"

    That night Mary kissed Miss Vass with a warmth that showed she had received her heartening words with all their underscore of emphasis.  And the good old maid had lain awake some little time thinking of the girl and her future.  The hints which Miss Vass had conveyed to Mr. Duncan Gair had elicited nothing but the reply that Mary would be expected ultimately to depend upon herself, and that he was sure she had been so reared that she would find it easy.  With a prayer for the lassie's wellbeing, temporal and eternal, she had fallen asleep, to be awakened by the sunbeams, and Mary's voice a-lilting blithe as ever — and it was nothing but blithe.

    Miss Vass was one of those women who sit well in the saddle of life till the last, and die quickly, before their foot is out of the stirrup.  She was only ailing for a day or two before she died, and was even up and dressed — in her afternoon dress, too, lace cap, point collar, and pearl brooch — when death came.  She had not broken her habits for him.  It was the woman's version of the royal spirit that takes a sick man to the battle-field, to drop dead of disease before the bullet can reach him; that gives the dying captain voice for one more conquering command.  It was sense of duty, to be done as long as possible, — and once more.

    No "last words," so called.  Her last words were to give Tibbie Seer, the charwoman (for they kept no servant), some currant scones for a relish with her tea, — "she'd had a hard day's work, poor body, and didn't look over-strong."

    So is it often with the bravest and best.  What is death to them, that they should say his litany?  Do we stop to cower and tremble before the outside porter of our Father's mansion?  Straight on, straight in, with the same step that we always walked.  "O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?"

    It was all over.  Tibbie Seer stayed in the house from the death to the funeral, and Mr. Gair came to and fro, and the nephews in Aberdeen wrote to appoint the day of their arrival for the funeral.  Mary Dallas lived on, lonely amid her breaking home; lonely and sad, as the fondest daughter bereaved of the best of mothers, but not dutiless, and therefore not comfortless.  Miss Vass had left everything arranged, with a kind and righteous arrangement, as became a Christian.  Her furniture and the current amount of her little annuity were to be made over to her nephews.  Their father, the husband of Elspeth's only sister, dead long ago, had paid the debts of old Mr. Vass's long illness twenty years before, and had been kind and brotherly to Elspeth in her days of penury.  In justice to his children, one sickly and the other married and struggling, she must return them what she could.  It was not adequate to the debt she owed their father; and so, thinking of the little great-nephews and nieces, growing from and wearing out so much, she had firmly set aside her natural leaning to the better-provided Mary, and to the bequest of money and furniture she had even added, "and all my wearing apparel."  Mr. Gair told Mary this; and in all her grief the girl arose to fold and arrange and pack for the benefit of others.  She even went through the little store of lace, carefully repairing the slight decays which negligence would soon reduce to utter worthlessness.  It was her last service to her friend, to make her legacies as valuable as possible.

    But something there was for Mary's self.  The little black-paper profile of Elspeth Vass when a girl.  It had its history.  It had been procured as a gift for Elspeth's lover, who had immediately after gone away to Edinburgh, and had forgotten the plain, grave woman in the far north, until he remembered to send back her picture and her true, sensible letters, on the eve of his marriage with somebody else.  It was no secret in Dingwall; for, against Elspeth's wish, he had been inclined to parade their engagement before he left for Edinburgh.  But she did not make a moan, nor run away, but took his ring from her hand, and stopped working at her homely trousseau and household plenishing.  She wore out the first, piece by piece, as she needed it, and used the other to brighten her old-maiden abode.  Sorely, sorely did the false lover misunderstand this brave and sound nature; but she was avenged in the galling sincerity which crept into his self-comforting formula, "that she had never really cared for him, being worthy of some one far better."  Also the little pearl brooch, and the silk-bound embroidered album, wherein Miss Vass had stored the quaint, queer bits of literature and art which had crossed her own humble by-path — the striking metaphor remembered from the Sabbath sermon, the verses written by local talent upon local interests in the local journal, the flower-painting on rice-paper bought at the laud's lady's stall in the charity bazaar, even one or two caricatures by that clever lad Bob Rose, who went to London, and got some of his things into Punch, and died young.

    All these for Mary Dallas, quietly described as "my dear and dutiful pupil."  Little things truly, scarcely worth so much as the oldest household thing that was to go to the strange nephews, but precious to Mary, with a preciousness beyond the highest commercial value — something that could not be bought.  The visible traces of a good, true life that had lovingly mingled with her own.  The thought of them, and of all that they suggested, lay at the girl's sad heart, like the pure guardian snow round the patient flowers in winter, while Mr. Gair told her that she was now to be sent to London, to live with and assist a widow lady, who was starting a boarding-school in the suburbs; and explained that her allowance of twenty pounds per annum (just half what it had hitherto been) would cease entirely when she came of age.  Mary was to go first to Edinburgh, and rest a day and a night with his old housekeeper's sister, and then she was to go on to London, where his own brother, a solicitor in Gray's Inn, had engaged to send a responsible person to meet her at the railway station, and conduct her to her destination.

    Mr. Gair was not an unkindly man, though his old housekeeper described him as "ane o' thae canny bodies, that hae lockit theirselves up sae safely, that they dinna ken whaur to find their ain key;" and there was in his manner to Mary much of that sort of careful consideration with which we provide for the transit of a valuable and fragile parcel.  But Mary did not notice this, thinking so much of the precious portrait and jewel and book that bore their testimony to so much more.  In a sort of unconscious, natural way, she felt that what we have once had we can never lose, except by our own will.  And she thanked Mr. Gair so warmly, that he clapped an extra padlock on his heart, in self-defence, lest she should find the missing key, and enter the castle by storm!  And then she went away and packed her three treasures in the safest corner of her old hair-trunk.



    An iron-grey, taciturn man was Mary's custodian from King's Cross to her final destination.  There was but little of the beauty or majesty of London to be seen in the shortest cut from the New Road to Brixton.  And Mary's heart sunk within her at the sight of one dreary street after another, all sordid with dirt and bad weather, and filled with a density of squalor and wretchedness new to the Highland-bred girl.  Gradually, however, the roads widened, the houses looked more like homes, and trees and shrubs, albeit in their wintry nakedness, broke and beautified the grim lines of brick and mortar, like pleasant fancies amid stern facts.  "It improves towards the end," thought Mary hopefully.

    Alas! presently the cab turned off the main road, and struck into a purlieu of new-built villas, duly stuccoed, and standing close together, two-thirds of them with a great white mark upon their windows, to proclaim that the desirable family residence was still untenanted, while all the rest had that painful cheap newness about the window drapery and visible furniture which suggests households built on sand, and the constant presence of the broker's man.  No tiniest patch of green before the houses; no distinction between road and footpath — both in miserable equality of stone and dust and slush.  No foot-passengers — and that seemed no wonder — and one or two tradesmen's carts prowling about to pick up new customers, only to be served on the strictest ready-money system.

    It was in the heart of this wilderness that the cab stopped.  Before a villa exactly like hundreds round it, both in its building and its furbishing, individual only in the little brass plate, engraved, "Establishment for Young Ladies."

    Mary's escort stayed with her until he saw her and her poor belongings safely into the hands of Mrs. Lambert, described on her own circulars as the "lady superintendent" of the establishment.  Mrs. Lambert led Mary up-stairs, volubly informing her that the house was very quiet just now, and the "dormitory" in fact empty, since "term" would not begin till next week.  Mrs. Lambert knew that "term" would bring at least one day-pupil — the builder's daughter, and one boarder — the child of a widowed Italian artist, who was engaged to teach his language or his art, should any young ladies require either, which understanding had enabled Mrs. Lambert's prospectus to boast of "the services of Signor Barti."  Others would surely turn up.  Mrs. Lambert argued from innate consciousness that many people put off things to the last moment; and having sown her circulars broadcast, with "term-time" duly notified, she was now diligently touching up her silk dress for that momentous day, before which she would surely have many inquiring callers.

    Poor Mrs. Lambert!  Her deceased husband had been a struggling man, lacking robustness in health, education, and character.  In her own bedroom she had a drawerful of the prospectuses of different defunct companies which he had served as secretary, together with divers specimens of the ores and minerals whereon they had founded schemes of golden wealth — sad relics of a married life which began in sentiment and ended in weary shuffle.  A strong, good nature would have been sainted in the trials she had passed through; a weak one like hers was soured and spoilt.  A faded, shifty, and shiftless woman, she stood before Mary Dallas with the Scotch breezes still cool on her fresh cheek, and the bracing teaching of Elspeth Vass still girding up her soul.

    "Perhaps you will not mind my leaving you for the present," Mrs. Lambert said.  "As soon as you have arranged your little matters as far as you need, you can go down to the drawing-room, and I will join you there by-and-by.  You will quite understand that I am very much occupied — new house, new school, and my own two dear fatherless boys, and a most useless servant, Miss Dallas; and I'm afraid it is against me that I have not been long used to such a state of things."

    Mary readily excused her; and after opening her box and correcting the deficiencies of her travelling toilet, she duly repaired to "the drawing-room," where, during an hour of solitude, the coarse drugget with the Brussels-like pattern, the hired piano, the vases on the mantelpiece (with price-ticket still sticking on), the red and blue volumes, ormolu inkstand, and heap of circulars on the table, all became as drearily familiar to her as long-known faces that had never worn a friendly smile.  At last, however, a latchkey rattled roughly into the street-door, and there were noisy steps about the passage and lower stairs, and presently a dirty serving-girl summoned Mary to dinner.

    The meal was served in the chamber behind the drawing-room, a narrow apartment looking out into the cramped yard.  It introduced Mary to the whole of the Lambert family — shock-headed, shy, uncouth William, a year or two younger than herself, and pale, peevish, cripple Jemmy, of not more than eight or nine.  Also it revealed the whole spirit of the scrambling, ill-managed household, where the mistress scolded the maid for delinquencies due half to her own want of foresight, and half to the deficiency of the domestic machinery, and the maid sulked, until goaded to answer back; where the boys handed no dish till it was asked for, and partook of what was offered them without any thanks — Mrs. Lambert's "manners" being an acquirement, and not a growth, and reserved, like her music and French, for the sphere of school-fees.

    There were no regular duties for Mary yet.  So when Mrs. Lambert disappeared again to her dressmaking work in her bedroom, and William went off with a noisy slam of the street-door (he had a situation at a library and stationery depot not far off), and little Jemmy hobbled back to his corner of the bony old sofa, Mary went up-stairs and brought two or three old ciphering books, in which she had pasted any little picture or poem that had come in her way; nothing choice — for those were scarce, and had gone into Miss Vass's album, which Mary was not equal to looking through yet —but cuttings from stray penny papers; ay, sometimes after they had come as wrappers from the market.  But for the poor little cripple, left with idle head and hands, they would be as much a treat as a picture-gallery.

    So they were.  Jemmy was no engaging child: he had all the repelling faults of neglected deformity — a spiritual attitude of helpless but malevolent self-defence, a greedy claiming and ignoring of unaccustomed kindness.  All this Mary found out over her picture-books, in the first afternoon of their acquaintanceship.  But she would not see it; she assumed that divine blindness to evil which is the best ground from which to combat it.  Or, at any rate, she called it by different names — names that would attract all her sympathies instead of repelling them, shyness instead of moroseness, sheer suffering and solitude.

    His childhood and affliction made him the most approachable of the little circle, which was sufficiently unsympathetic to make her presently thankful even for his ungracious attachment.  Had Mary been of unadaptable material, her orderly, systematic training would have been but as a stone about her neck to swamp her in this morass of incapability and confusion.  But Mary had that true soul of order which does not spurn chaos.  She had been trained not to put tangled skeins out of sight, but to unravel them.  A stranger and a subordinate in this house, she could not fix hours and frame regulations; and during her first experience of this disorder and irregularity she had hard work to keep any hold of her straying duties.  But gradually she seized the very innermost secret of order and method, which consists in doing the right thing at the right season, instead of the wrong thing at an appointed time.

    The more people need a right influence, the slower they are to recognise it.  Mrs. Lambert began to congratulate herself that her household and her school went more easily than she had anticipated, and to take pride in her superior management.  Jemmy accepted all Mary's little schemes of interest and amusement, and was perhaps so ecstatically grateful for the shilling paint-box that she bought him that he forgot thanks, while William was sullenly content to find his old grievance, the unpunctuality of meals, gradually fading away.  The little foreign boarder whispered to the day-pupils such pleasant rumours of interesting stories and merry games, that when a certain mother fell into a lingering illness, her three little girls were instantly placed with Mrs. Lambert.  Nor did a suspicion of the mainspring of all cross that lady's mind, even when, after one half-holiday's upbraiding and final "notice" to her overworked servant, that aggrieved damsel retorted that "she'd ha' been off of her own accord long ago, if it hadn't been for Miss Dallas, who didn't go on the rampage and mix up what you could help and what you couldn't."

    It was a godless household.   There was a profession of religion, to be sure, but it, too, was something to set in the account of the school-fees.  Mrs. Lambert kept sittings in the nearest church, and taught her pupils the catechism, and kept a form of morning and evening prayer on the schoolroom mantel-shelf.  But the spirit of Christianity did not show in the morals or manners of the place.  And Mrs. Lambert's false standards and wrong-headed maxims were none the less pernicious because they entered ears too young and ignorant to detect their inconsistency and grossness.  A soul may be poisoned, as a constitution may be spoiled, by unfit food in infancy.  But Mary was in greater danger than any of the others, for standing on a footing less of pupil and more of equality, and also slowly winning the good graces of the principal, that principal took it upon herself as a kindly duty to hold forth to the friendless girl upon beauty, dress, and possible chances and prospects in life.  Nobody but those who know by experience (but all may who keep their ears and minds open) can understand how rotten is the morality and how false the virtue of merely respectable and genteel women.  Not worse than the other sex — surely, surely not!  But only too ready to be as bad mentally — to prostitute their minds to the level of the other's actual vice, and to stop short merely where the bargain grows too speculative.  If their unhappy confidants cross that line, and play a losing game, — "Well, well, well, — and after all their virtuous conversation!  They never before believed in such iniquity existing in the world!  No, indeed.  As for Cleopatra, and Fair Rosamond, and Mary of Scotland, they were queens, and great beauties, and altogether quite different from this little common creature — pah, droop the subject, and never resume it again, if you please!"

    But God's ways are not man's ways.  He makes the hour of danger the opportunity for salvation.  Mary Dallas dated her spiritual birth from the days of her residence in that moral desert.  There it was that God's Spirit quickened the good seed faithfully planted by Elspeth Vass.  Like most well-trained children, Mary could not remember when she had not had thoughts of God and religion, and aspirations after goodness and heaven.  But the veil of the Temple had not been raised — she had never entered the Holiest of Holies.  She could not fix the day when the Secret of the Lord was revealed to her; she only knew that in her spiritual isolation Christ became more than a sweet ideal, a high Example — became Saviour, Guide, Brother, Friend, and All in all.  From conscientious duties, prayer and Scripture-study became delights never to be foregone, or even needlessly curtailed.  Communion with God became a comfort as real as might have been communion with her dear old protectress, only far higher, lifted beyond all possibilities of frailty, change, or death.  Even towards the aliens around her she felt a tie which they knew not of.  Her divine Brother was theirs also, and she only loved them with a more pitiful tenderness because they did not know to rejoice in the sweet relationship.  Years and years after, when she had no more cause to lament a decay in religion than has the sober wife in the golden wedding to regret the shy ecstasy of the bridal morn, Mary would yet look back fondly on the bright days of her first love, when the barren dormitory was as the gate of heaven, and God's voice pealed through the very commonplace sermons in the parish church.

    So she lived, useful, active, self-denying and liked.  Liking, and that a very selfish liking, seemed the fairest growth possible to the shallow hearts around her.  Mary had no time to think about that.  It is not those who best deserve love who find time to sit down and talk about wasted affection.  Mary had always eaten the crab apples in Miss Vass's garden with a contented spirit; but who so pleased as she when the minister's wife sent them the gift of a box of peaches?  She did not heed the lack of love till she found love, and then she rejoiced with an exceeding great joy.

    It arose out of Miss Vass's album and Jemmy's paint-box, and it came about in this wise.  One day when he had been very, very ill, Mary had produced her treasure for his amusement, sure that Elspeth would have said it could not have a better use.  She had left it in his room overnight, for he woke early, and worried his tired brother by his uneasy restlessness.  Jemmy was confined to bed just at that time, and Mary did not find opportunity to visit him until about noon on the following day.  There she found him propped among his pillows, wrapped in a dirty red shawl, diligently daubing away at Elspeth's own prim little sketch of Inverness Castle, the only specimen of he handiwork which had been deemed worthy of the book.  To snatch it away was only to see its hopeless disfigurement, and to drop it in disgust and anguish.  Mary sat down at the foot of the bed and wept bitterly.  Presently a little figure came crawling towards her, and long, cold, bony fingers tried to draw her hands from her face.  Mary still wept on.  Presently the little figure began to heave, and a sobbing wail broke forth, "I wanted to please you, Miss Dallas.  I thought I would make it look so much nicer; and I did think it looked nicer," with the sobbing sigh of a disappointment as great as any artist's over a rejected masterpiece.

    Mary roused herself with a womanly recollection that the room was too chilly for the half-dressed child, and she tried to put him back into his bed again, but he clung about her neck.  "Don't be angry with me, Miss Dallas.  Don't say you'll never be good to me any more.  You have been so good to me.  Oh, Miss Dallas, won't you forgive me? — forgive me!"

    Mary stopped her own tears to quiet him, and though she had not much voice to trust, one or two reassuring kisses coaxed him down upon his pillow, still clinging to her arms and crying, "Forgive me, forgive me!  I didn't mean to make you so sorry; didn't really!  I thought my painting was so pretty!"

    "Darling, darling," said Mary, with her quivering lips, "if you could have painted it as well as that Michael Angelo I read about to you last week, I should have been just as sorry, for it was drawn by my dear Miss Elspeth, and I so loved her that the way she left it seemed to me to be better than any other way.  But I know you didn't mean any harm, and my dear good Miss Elspeth would be sorry that my love for her should make me angry with anybody else."

    "Oh, I wish I could put it back again," sobbed Jemmy, "for I do love you so dearly, Miss Dallas, and I wish you would love me as you did Miss Elspeth.  Mamma always calls me her poor afflicted child, and when I asked her if people would love me, she used to say that if I was good most people would pity and be kind to me.  But I want to be loved as if I wasn't lame and humpy, not because I am."

    "My darling, my darling!" said Mary, "you've seen how I grieved over dear Miss Eppie's drawing, though it wasn't very grand; but just because it was hers, it was worth more to me than the finest picture in the Queen's gallery.  And so I love you, Jemmy, just because you are yourself.  I wouldn't wish you in any way different  — unless a little stronger, for your own sake; and that, please God, you'll soon grow, Jemmy."

    But that he never did.  From that day henceforth these two belonged to each other as no others there belonged.  Duties are apt to find their way to the fittest hands, and Mrs. Lambert soon left in Mary's charge all those little ministrations which a mother should grudge to anybody but herself.  Slowly and reluctantly, Mary became aware of an ever-increasing weakness and deformity in her little charge, and presently found it her duty to mention this to the mother.  With all the ejaculatory grief which is so thrilling and so cheap, Mrs. Lambert bewailed her poor martyred one, for whom her empty purse could procure no scientific aid.  Vehemently did she put aside the few sovereigns which Mary offered from her own little hoard, until the kind girl humiliated herself into the very humblest persuasions, when she suddenly became mollified and acquiescent.  So it was Mary who paid the fee, which seemed so heavy, for the great surgeon's few doubtful and indeterminate words, and it was Mary who bought the sundry surgical appliances which he vaguely suggested as possible benefit.  It was Mary, too, who now and again hired a little hand-chair, to take Jemmy for an airing in the cool of the summer days.  She bought no new dress that season, and her last year's straw bonnet was only cleaned and altered.  "Missis don't go for to deny herself anything, miss," said the then reigning servant-girl, another strong partisan of Mary's; "and if people's own flesh and blood don't put themselves about for 'em, why should you, that ain't no ways belonging?  But don't cry, miss, for you've a right to do what you like with your own, if anybody has."  And Mary held on her path of loving sacrifice.

    It was something to see the little, pale, thin face, paler and thinner every day, brighten whenever she approached.  It was something to mark the patience which her love and counsel had substituted for peevishness.  It was something to hear Jemmy, soothing her in his turn, echoing back to her own heart the sweet truths she had taught him — how Jesus loved him, yes, even more than she did, and how he was going to Jesus.  She did not want, and she did not receive, any gratitude from Mrs. Lambert, who took everything as a matter of course.  But it was something to find that William warmed towards her in his rough, curt way, and sometimes even shyly joined in the cheerful evenings that she spent at his little brother's bedside.  The boarders missed her sadly out of school-hours, but the little Italian, now growing a tall girl of fourteen, delighted to act as her deputy and Mary herself walked in and out among them, generally with some stimulating suggestion, and always with a pleasant word and smile.

    The end came at last.  Came slowly, oh, so slowly, that the few neighbours who had lived opposite them long enough to know anything about them, looked daily to see if the blinds were down yet.  The school was suspended, as it was thought, on the eve of death, but the faint, failing life flickered on for a week after that.  But the end came at last.

    Sight dimming in the shadow of Death, ears muffled under his touch, and the deformed expression passing from the poor wan face, and suggesting something of how that angel would look, who would be but little James Lambert made perfect and glorified.  Heaven was close to him now; it was nearer to him than the bony old sofa or the little paint-box.  He had pondered out its beatitudes, as we strive to imagine a new home in our near future.  Every now and then the conclusions of his simple logic came in questions that made Mary's heart leap within her.

    "I may see your Miss Elspeth, mayn't I, Mary?"

    "Perhaps.  Just as the Bible tells us we shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob."

    "I wonder how I could know her?  If she knew you loved me, she might like me too.  I don't even remember papa."  Something of the loneliness of the Valley of the Shadow was paining even the simple child's trustfulness.

    "Everybody will love you there, darling.  Jesus is there, remember; and He loves you, and knows exactly what you will want to make you happy."

    "Take hold of my hand, Mary.  I'm so sorry for that picture I spoilt; but you did forgive me, didn't you?  I wonder I'm not more sorry to leave you.  But I have been so very tired.  And poor mamma, too!" added the considerate tenderness which God had taught his little one before He called him to Himself.

    Put down the little hand.  Cover the face which now beholds our Father which is in heaven.

    "Miss Mary — miss, dear — don't take on so.  Them that keeps in their tears always has a dreadful burst out at last.  I'm sure you've been as good to him as ever you could be, and you ain't got nothing to repent.  The missis, she's grizzled a bit regular this long time, specially over bein' put out of her way, and now she's downstairs comfortin' herself with that jelly that was sent over for pore Master James — and bother my silly tongue, miss, I didn't mean to say it if it hurts you!  Only I don't see why you should be a-breaking your good heart — you that doesn't belong to him."

    But Mary wept on.

    Nigh two thousand years ago, One who knew all the secrets of humanity asked this question:—

    "Which of these, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves?"

    And the answer came:—

    "He that showed mercy on him."



    It was not very long after little Jemmy's death that Mary Dallas received from Mr. Gair, with her yearly remittance, a notification that it ceased henceforth.  She made an arrangement to remain with Mrs. Lambert on payment of a sum of equal value with her former allowance; but when it fell due, Mrs. Lambert was short of money, and it stood over for awhile, and when at last it was paid, it was presently borrowed back again, until it was established as a sort of running loan between the two, and Mary fell into a daughterly habit of just asking for such sums as she needed for her modest requirements.

    Time rolled on.  The stucco blistered and fell in the wilderness of villas, and their rapidly successive tenants grew shabbier and shiftier.  But the school was kept open somehow.  Every term changed almost all the day-pupils; and it was really rather trying to Mary's emotions to be constantly required to bind up hearts that were breaking at parting from her.

    Of the household, Mademoiselle Barti, orphaned by the death of her unprofitable opium-eating father, still remained teaching what he had once taught.  She might have learned more elsewhere, but she cluing to Mary, who took care that her position was more remunerative than her own, by stoutly withstanding all delays or encroachments upon her salary, and by finding leisure for her to give lessons out of doors.  But William went away — went off to try his luck in America.  Of course his mother resisted his going, sourly and excitedly, with every painful suggestion and sentimental foreboding, according to the fashion of selfish women whenever their indolent wills are stroked the wrong way.  It took all Mary's skilful management and soothing influence to let the lad go away in peace and good-will, instead of in wrath and defiance.  Her kind wishes were stitched into almost every garment of his little outfit.  And when Mrs. Lambert found herself chronically disinclined to letter-writing about American mail-time, Mary took up the slighted correspondence, and never less than once a month did the exile receive a closely-covered sheet from home.

    Just one of those simple, neighbourly kindnesses that cost time and trouble, while too humble and commonplace to return any remuneration of self-gratulation and vainglory.  Even William Lambert himself did not fully trace out the influence under which, when sorely tempted to enter a New York dancing den, he turned away with a twinging recollection that to-morrow was the day which generally brought the kind innocent letter from England.

    And so the years passed by: not slowly or wearily.  Time never passes so swiftly as in pleasant monotony.  Events, and not years, weary us into old age.  But it is not everybody who can make monotony pleasant; and then the decay of rust becomes worse than wear.  An appetite must be healthy to enjoy plain food, and a nature must be sound to thrive on small interests.  Small interests indeed!  Those young ladies who need the excitement of two cross love-affairs — both clandestine — a ball that does not begin till midnight, and a sensational novel every clay from the circulating library, must chink the interest very small which can be derived from constant occupation, the contrivances for our own bonnets, little loving notes from some of our removed pupils, letters pro bono publico from New York, and snug evening readings of Walter Scott, Miss Austen, and one good monthly periodical, with our adopted sister Clara Barti.  But what do the angels think?  And which would sensible people prefer, the mustard without the meat, or the meat without the mustard?  And, generally speaking, that is the choice which we have to make.

    What is there further to say about Mary Dallas from the time she came of age until she was thirty-two?  All that time the history of her soul was written in characters too minute to show on any page but the pure scroll of a heavenly record.  Was it not a waste of the "best years of her life," do you ask?  Mary Dallas, living in the strengthening atmosphere of that simple faith which holds


"That the happiest year we know
 Is the last, which leads us home,"


ignored all such phrases.  The duties, and trials, and blessings of each day seemed enough for her, and in them these "best years" were "wasted," in the opinion of those who hold them to be profitably employed only in those pitiful arts of husband-hunting, which secure either failure in endeavour, or sorer failure in success.

    Did Mary never think of love and marriage?  Truly, she did, and most modern girls would have laughed her high ideals to scorn.  Happy and occupied, safe from that ennui which is the real bane of single life, she was quire ready to admit that a true marriage is the completion of womanly happiness.  She would be happier married, she quietly believed — (oh, how she would love and labour then!) — but she was happy enough as she was.  If God willed this blessing to her, well and good; if He did not, well and good still.  "No good thing will He withhold from them that love Him."

    What a strange peace would fall on London, drawing-rooms and country coteries if such doctrines entered there!

    Older and wiser now, with insight beyond the superficies of life, Mary Dallas often gave a silent thought to her unknown father and mother.  In that sorrowful matter she thought no longer of herself, but of them.  Were they living yet?  Were they repentant of their sin, or only jealously cautious of detection?  Did they — either of them — ever remember and long for their unknown child?  Once, when this feeling was strong upon her, the plain, practical woman wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Gair, in Dingwall.  No answer came for weeks, making Mary feel that the prompt business-like "writer" sought instructions before he replied.  But the answer came at last, short and stern, yet with a turn in the wording as if the old man involuntarily wished to disclaim responsibility for its civil harshness.  "He could appreciate her feelings, but she must remember that he was not at liberty to violate professional secrets.  Also, though he was sure her letter had been dictated only by feelings that did her great honour, yet it became his duty to remind her, that all interest in her ended at her majority, and that she must acknowledge that full justice had been done to her unfortunate position by the superior breeding and education to which she certainly did credit."

    It was a cruel blow to poor Mary, buoyed up with hope, and the cruellest part was, that she instinctively felt that the cold closing warning came direct from the fountain-head of father or mother — too selfishly fearful of man's detection to be sincerely desirous of God's forgiveness.  But she bore it bravely enough, did her work as well as ever, walked out with her pupils up Brixton Hill, and went to week-night service in the evening, where a stranger preached from the text, "Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven."

    She took it as a heavenly message to compensate for the cruel earthly one — a fresh water-spring in the parched wilderness.  And she went home and prayed for her parents, that one strong prayer which remains to weakest, farthest, most helpless love, "Take them in thy hand, O my Father, and as thou knowest how, so deal well with them."

    So she lived from her twenty-first to her thirty-second year.  That period became a date in her life, because William Lambert returned.  He had been a slight, pale, rather rubbish-looking youth when she had "seen him off," with a warm grasp of the hand, twelve years before; but it was a stalwart, brown, bearded man who came to the door at ten o'clock one summer night, and, asking hurriedly "if this was not Mrs. Lambert's," caught Mary's hands and kissed her brow before she could answer him.

    Oh, those were merry days!  It was midsummer holiday, and there was nothing to do but gratify all the good-humoured whims and wishes of the welcome guest.  Now a morning spent in the West-end of London, which had never grown too familiar to Mary to seem other than an enchanted fairyland; now a picture gallery, now a concert, now a long day in the sylvan glades of Richmond or Kew.  They all went — and they all enjoyed themselves.  Mary had no special share beyond packing the picnic basket, and keeping the time-table.  It was just life struck on the sweet chords of leisure and friendship — and competence — for William had prospered, and they did not need to reckon the railway fares, or to weary themselves for want of a fly.  How good Mary found it!  And she never troubled herself to wonder why some other lives are set to that tune from beginning to end.  Wise-hearted Mary knew that it is better to come to pleasure with a good appetite than to drink its sweet cup till it pall.

    William Lambert was to return to America, but not for a year, and after the first wild ecstasies of reunion and rehabilitation, he settled down for the meantime in the home among the grimy villas, only changing it by the hiring of another servant, and airing it by a current of wider and freer social life.

    But they had not all lived together more than two or three months, when Mary Dallas foresaw what was going to happen.  That William Lambert would not go back by himself.  That Clara Barti would not wish to stay behind him.  They would take Mrs. Lambert with them, — and she would be left alone.

    Mary Dallas was human, and she wept in the solitude of her chamber.  But she was Christian, too, and heroic, and she dashed the tears away, and confessed her selfishness on her knees before God, and asked for help to be happy in her friends' happiness.

    So, walking bravely on in that path of loving duty, it seemed to grow smooth beneath her feet.  No maudlin expressions of sentimental self-sacrifice, no sense of injury, ever rose from her lips to cloud the lovers' sunshine.  "If I am not to live in the pearl palace myself," she thought, cheerfully using the imagery of a favourite nursery story, "at least I can be the good fairy who keeps it bright for the knight and the princess."

    And there she had her direct reward.  All virtues and vices are repaid in their own coin: only some have long credit; but this came in ready-money.

    William and Clara were more to each other than she could have ever been to either, but neither were less to her than they had ever been.  Nay, rather more.  There were times and seasons when they had a lover-like preference for dual solitude; but the innocent alacrity with which she left them to themselves made them pleasantly welcome the cheerful readiness with which she always returned to them.  Clara was jealously watchful that her own new happiness should rather increase than diminish her adopted sister's, and under this fresh softening influence, William's esteem developed into all sorts of affectionate attentions.

    When the year of William's English sojourn waned towards its close, practical arrangements came into the love affair.  Practical questions are to love what bridges are to a river — they may either add use to beauty, or destroy beauty for ever.  Unfortunately, outward influences generally tend to the latter result, and most lovers have to keep their happiness in spite of their surroundings, rather than with their assistance.  Happy are those who have one such friend as Mary, ready even to discuss the ways and means for a household across the ocean, without any discontented murmur for the vanished hope of some nearer home, where she could act maiden-aunt, name-mother, and all the other sweet little prerogatives which single life gathers from married happiness.

    Naturally enough, the first proposal was, that Mrs. Lambert should accompany her son and his wife to their new home.  But against that she resolutely set her face.  Life had nothing remaining for her now, she whined, yet at any rate she would lay her bones in her own country.  Then would she like to stay in the same house, and keep on the school, receiving from her son (who knew nothing of the unsatisfactory state of Mary's salary for the last ten years) such allowance as would render her independent of change or misfortune?  This suggestion she consented to take into consideration, and kept it there until very late in the marriage preparations, when she suddenly informed Mary that, availing herself of such allowance, she should remove herself and her furniture to her native town of Rutland, and share house with one of her early cronies still residing there.  Mary heard her out with bright attention, and assenting to all her repining provisions for her own comfort and enjoyment, only made one proposition, that the widow should not name this new scheme to her son until Mary should speak about it again, which she promised to do in a few days.  For Mary knew that Clara's sensitive nerves were already too highly wrought under the sense of a breaking past and a strange future, and that William had cares enough without any needless burden from others' whims and necessities, and that both would be morbidly conscious of any inconvenience or suffering that the course of their lives chanced to inflict upon others.  They should know nothing about this measure, which threw her out, homeless, to begin life anew, until she had, at least in some measure, settled herself in some remunerative position.

    And before a week was over, she herself cheerfully unfolded the plan to William, making as though it was the very best thing that could have happened to all parties, since she had secured the post of matron in a small home for orphan boys.  Just what she had often longed for, she said.  She had loved all her old pupils very dearly; but then they had their own fathers and mothers to care for them.  These she would have all to herself, to train and to care for, in health and in sickness; and then both William and she simultaneously thought of Jemmy, dead so long ago, and tears came into Mary's eyes, and William softly shook her hand, and told her she would be the right woman in the right place.

    Then followed the wedding, and the last long farewells.  Mary was the universal helper and good angel, keeping even Mrs. Lambert up to as high a mark of cheerfulness and complacency as she dared to set for that lady's temper — acting as William's right hand and Clara's stronghold.  The worst of it was, she was so good, that they missed her almost too sorely when they were out on the Atlantic together.  But William, A MAN, determined not to break down where a woman had kept up, and Clara dashed away her tears, knowing that Mary herself would bid her to smile for William's sake.

    Oh, blessed are the influences that bind us to our noblest selves!



    Years and years. The scene is changed from the grimy wilderness of villas to a plain country-house, with a simple flower-garden in front, and vegetable beds and orchards behind.  There is a hum of young voices coming from what was perhaps once the drawing-room, and numberless little shirts are fluttering from the lines in the drying-ground.  There is a brougham before the portico, from which a tall, grave gentleman has just alighted — a doctor.

    One of the little orphan scholars let him in, and led him (though he knew the way well enough) to a room on the first story.

    A cheerful room, although the chamber of hopeless sickness.  The carpet was bright, and the looped-backed curtains were fresh and spotless, and there was a crowd of cheap little photographs hanging over the mantelpiece, and a work-table beside the snowy couch, which was turned towards the glorious landscape of hill and valley that stretched before the open window.

    Its back screened its occupant from the opening of the door, nor did the doctor wait to see her before he announced―

    "Good cheer, Miss Dallas!  I have brought you the news of your election."

    "God be praised!" said a clear, sweet voice; "only I'm afraid I've got before some poor body that needed it more."

    And the doctor drew up his chair to the side of his patient.

    Older and thinner, and with the worn look of pain, it was the same peaceful contented face of Mary Dallas that smiled up from the pillows.

    "When you are there," he said, "you will soon be ever so much better.  You see they can muster every appliance to lighten each special form of weakness or pain.  And won't you have a stall-full of work at the patients' annual bazaar, and won't you hold a levee of your orphans, juvenile and adult, on every visitors' day!"

    The physician had quite an affection for this patient woman, whom he had seen in the midst of her active labours in the orphan school, suddenly succumb to a hopeless form of spinal disease in so advanced a stage, that she must have gone through a world of exhausting pain before she made a sign.  "Were you right to conceal so much?" he had asked gravely; and she had answered earnestly, "I would not, if I had suspected anything.  For I know, giving the first trouble is often giving the least in the end.  But I thought it was too easily borne to be anything serious!"

    That was the secret of much in Mary's life.  The brave spirit did not recognise its own superior powers of endurance, but thought, "Surely the troubles I bear so well cannot be so great as those which weigh others down."

    Watching her as she lay, the good doctor saw her eyes wander tenderly round the little room that had been the sanctum of her middle-age.  Mary was one of those women who grow to love chairs and tables and walls.  Besides, that room had memories of its own.  William and Clara had come there in the only revisit they were ever likely to give to their native land, and as Clara had proudly introduced her two children, William, standing on the hearthrug, had pointed kindly to the rows of littler portraits on the wall, with the quotation, "Thou hast many more children than she which hath an husband."

    "You may go in whenever you like," said the doctor, to recall the thoughts that he saw were over-busy; "once a change is to be made, the sooner it is over the better."

    "Thank you, I dare say I shall go next week," answered Mary Dallas; "and thank you again, sir, and all my other good friends whose kindness has found me such a happy home for the rest of my days."

    Alas, it was only a place in the Hospital for Incurables!


    Six years after!  How long long are six years when they are passed lying on a couch — just sometimes carried, couch and all, to another room or to the garden-terrace!

    There is a sound of weeping in the corridor.  One little nurse cannot restrain her sobs, as she tells another that―

    "Miss Dallas went off last night.  Seeing how pleasant and cheerful she'd always borne her pain, it was strange to see how glad she was to go when it came to the end.  It didn't seem anything awesome to her; one would have thought she'd gone that way ten times before, she was that trustful and sure."

    "She'll be missed dreadful," responded the other.  "She was the only one who ever went in twice to see that old Mrs. Lomas, who certain can't excuse her ill-temper by her affliction, for the cross look had grown on her face long before her trouble came.  But Miss Dallas always had her chair stopped at her door, and would sit hours with her, till she actually sweetened her up a bit."

    "Yes," said Mary's nurse; "and she's wrote on a bit of paper that Mrs. Lomas is to have her canary, and all her books are to go into the house-library, and I'm to have her clothes, and there's some little ornament or other named as a keepsake for each of those young men and women that came to see her regular — her old orphan-scholars.  If your great rich men left their hundreds of thousands as just and as kind as she's left her bits of things, the world would be better sorted, I'm thinking.  And now I must send to the post.  She wrote this letter three days ago, directly the doctor told her what she must expect, and she gave it to me, and told me to send it off directly it was all over.  The young lady whose grandma I nursed, before I got the berth in this hospital, hadn't a happier face when she gave me her wedding-cards done up ready to be posted directly after her marriage.  It's addressed to 'Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, Chesnut Place, Brooklyn, New York.'  That's the people she always wrote to.  There'll be sorrow there, I expect, when they get this."

    Good-bye, Mary Dallas, good-bye.  They come in and look at you, with that sweetly-surprised smile on your worn face.  Old crippled women are carried in on their chairs to see you for the last time, and they sob with the fervour of youth that they cannot be lifted up to kiss your cold cheek over the coffin edge.  Some of your orphans come; your kind physician comes.  They say to each other that you were a good, true, Christian woman.

    Good-bye, once more, sweet Mary Dallas, with the wondering smile on your parted lips.  Did you find more than even your bright faith expected?  And did not the King answer and say unto you, "Inasmuch as ye have done kindness unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me?"


――――♦――――


[The Salt of the Earth]

 


 

 [Home] [Up] [Recollections] [A Retired Life] [The Secret Drawer] [By Still Waters] [Doing and Dreaming] [Family Fortunes] [At Any Cost] [Rab Bethune's Double] [Short Stories, etc.] [Poems] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

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