OF course, the
little household at Number Two had their weaker, wearier moments,
when the hardship of the hour bore heavily upon them; when Regret
looked back, and Fear looked forward. Mrs. Withers might be
tearful sometimes, and Charlotte might speak rather sharply and
sternly; Lucy might be a little fitful, and even Hugh become silent.
But they each understood the other, and when Mrs. Withers heard the
hard ring in Charlotte's voice, she knew it was but sympathy growing
into anguish, and hastened to hide her tears; and when Lucy said a
disheartened word, Hugh would rouse himself to a joke.
Alas, it was not so harmonious at Number One. The
crisis in Will Ramsay's life had come: that crisis when it is
decided whether a boy shall fully live out the special life God has
given him, safe and happy in the love and confidence of his kindred,
or whether he shall fight it out desperately—what might have been
his stronghold turning into a hostile camp, because his foes are
those of his own household.
Poor Mrs. Torpichen! Over and over she lamented that
there was no man set in authority above her grandson! She
thought she did her best, because she scarcely ever opened her
mouth, without letting fall some expression intended to have weight
with Will. Every sermon she heard, every book she read, every
memory she awakened, seemed to her to bring forth new and old
arguments on her side of the subject. Were not doctors,
lawyers, and clergymen, the great exponents of the highest relations
of man with man—healing, helping, and constructing? Were not
the army and the navy grand buttresses of the nation? As for
the civil service (to which grandmamma secretly inclined, as being
least exposed to infection or danger) was not it that administration
of affairs without which nothing else could go on? As for
engineering, which Will talked of, it was a comparatively new
employment, and nobody knew what sort of people would mostly take it
up; for her own part, she remembered there was a text in the Bible,
"Meddle not with those who are given to change." As for the
backwoods which Will muttered about sometimes, who went there but
prodigals and scapegraces? Her son Tom, who had gone abroad,
had not been the brightest of the family, and his travels had
certainly not improved him, or he would not have left off writing to
his mother;—but there! if her heart was to be broken, the will of
God be done!" and Mrs. Torpichen's handkerchief would go up to her
Poor dear lady! She was making herself very miserable,
and quite forgot—as we are all apt to do—that misery is a very
infectious disease, and that its symptoms may be more dangerous at
eighteen than at sixty-eight.
Will Ramsay could no more change the true bent of his mind
than the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots.
He could not even be made to feel that his own inclinations were
wrong. But he could easily be convinced that other people
thought so. He felt that he was making Mrs. Torpichen unhappy.
He could scarcely enter into any conversation without either
submitting to be talked at, or causing a quarrel. He began to
feel that though he could not be other than he was, it was still
possible that he might really be one of those prodigals and
scapegraces in whose ranks his grandmother seemed always ready to
He began to wonder whether some of these prodigals and
scapegraces were as helplessly unconscious of real shortcoming as he
was himself. He began to feel a secret sympathy with all black
There was no joy in his home life now. If his
grandmother was kind to him, the first sign of docility on his part
caused the poor lady to eagerly press forward her old object, and so
to repel him with a bitter sense of his own undutifulness and
ingratitude. He never sought Elizabeth's sympathy; and Mrs.
Torpichen did, and therefore gained it. Perhaps also, sympathy
with her grandmother cost Elizabeth less than would sympathy with
her brother. The one would have involved long walks, sittings
in the cold laboratory, interest in words and ways of thought
foreign to her own. The other only meant a dreamy assent
delivered interjectionally in the course of her fireside
romance-reading, or at most a feverish scratching up of emotion by a
little sentimental talk. Her relations to Will in the present
seemed to her but a bore, a commonplace trifle, but already a vision
was beginning to rise of Will in the future, a prodigal returning to
her prayers and her guardian-angelship. She rejected the one
shy feeler for her fellowship which Will ever extended—a proposal to
go for a long walk—and then went off to her room and prayed for him
with many rounded phrases.
Will began to made acquaintances with whom he had nothing in
common but a feeling of outlawry. They were no more willing or
able to talk on his favourite subjects than Mrs. Torpichen herself.
They were simply out of tune with their homes as he was with his;
and, to tell the truth, poor Will felt a sharp pang to find himself,
as he phrased it, "in the same box" with such people. "But it
may not be their faults," he argued. "I suppose I shall soon
be as bad as they are!"
Will began to stay out late of an evening; there was nothing
to win him home. He began to smoke. He began to go to
sundry entertainments which he could not even mention at Number One.
It was all very dreary. He did not enjoy any of it. He
used to sit in the music-halls and think of that evening's talk with
Charlotte in the laboratory, and of her singing afterward. It
was such an honest, wholesome kind of pleasure which he really
wanted, and yet he was turning to such sad husks, in his hunger and
Except from the windows, he had not seen anything of the
Witherses for some time. Charlotte had been working very hard,
and her absorption in Hugh had naturally made her pleasant evening
with him seem a dim and distant memory. She intended to give
the Ramsays a return invitation some day, and was scarcely aware
that weeks after weeks were slipping by.
Will absolutely tried to lie in wait for Hugh Withers.
"If he be anything like his sisters," thought poor Will, "he would
be a friend worth having, and he might invite me in sometimes of an
evening." Will might easily have called on the Witherses
himself: but whatever he did was snubbed now-a-days, and he hated to
hear them included in the snubbing. One can very easily be
made shy of giving one's self innocent pleasures. It
absolutely took far less courage to go straight "to the dogs"—to
places and people that Will felt quite deserved Mrs. Torpichen's
But Hugh Withers was not to be caught just then. Will
sauntered about at such hours as he had been accustomed to go to and
from his office, and little dreamed that Hugh had finished Office
work forever. Once or twice he saw the brother and sister in
the distance, returning from their evening walks; but then, with
some strange perversity, he always kept out of their way.
It was one of those sweet days which spring sends into winter
to herald her coming, when at last he met Charlotte, returning home
in the tender gloaming.
"I have been hoping to invite your sister and you to spend an
evening with us," she said, after the first greetings were over,
"but I have found it rather hard to get an evening when we are all
"I have been almost coming, without an invitation," said
Will. Will could speak easily to Charlotte Withers, because he
could say just what he meant. When he was natural, he was
polished. The "blunt cubbishness," which Mrs. Torpichen
constantly deplored, was the effect of constraint.
"I wish you would," Charlotte answered laughing, "because
then it would not be inhospitable to leave you to the tender mercies
of which of us happened to be free! But I really wish you
would come in that way," she added, seriously. "It would be so
kind to Hugh. Hugh is going blind."
Her quiet voice, with something which he could hear in it,
sent a thrill through Will. Going blind! a lad no older than
himself. And all the while he so restless and dissatisfied.
"I can come in this evening, if you will let me," he said
impulsively, and so Charlotte opened the door, and invited him into
the little passage with its faded floor-cloth and spindle-legged
chair. But just as they entered, she paused.
"Hark!" she said.
A strain of sweet melody floated down the house. It
started Will with its strange unearthly beauty; he almost felt as if
only his soul heard it, and as if it was going to tell his soul some
secrets of itself.
"It is my brother playing," said Charlotte softly.
"Did he always play so?" Will whispered.
"No," she said; "he always dearly loved music, but it is only
since his loss began that music has come to him."
She knew it was so. When first Hugh resumed his darling
violin, even amid the awkwardness of unused touch and half-forgotten
technicalities, she heard at once that the secret was opened to
him—that secret for which a price has always been paid, though alas!
there are those who pay the price and do not win the treasure.
But they all will, some day. We all shall. The geniuses
of earth are, merely those on whom a ray of Heaven's common light
has fallen. We shall all walk in it some day. Let us
reverence our humanity, and from its heights guess what is before
"He is studying music now," Charlotte went on, steadily; "he
means to make it his profession."
"Miss Withers," Will broke out, "I can't go and talk to him.
I couldn't bear myself, I should be so ashamed. You don't know
what a lazy coward I am."
Charlotte smiled brightly into his face.
"You must not say that," she said, because you must remember
God has sent our Hugh a very heavy burden, and therefore
proportionate strength to bear it."
"I believe I'm not worth having troubles sent to me to stir
me up," said Will.
"I have not the least doubt you have your full share," she
answered; "some of the worst troubles show least."
"I haven't a right to be in the world at all," said Will,
desperately. "I do nothing. I am nothing."
"Be something, then," she said. She felt Will was in
dreadful earnest, but that a half-mirthful manner was least likely
to drive him back within himself.
"It is very easy talking!" cried poor Will.
"Come in here, then, and let us have a talk," she said,
leading the way into a tiny side parlour.
Will dropped into a chair in the slouching style which had
come over him lately.
"I don't know what I ought to do, and there's nobody to
advise me!" he said.
"I don't suppose I can be of any use," said Charlotte, still
keeping the banter in her voice.
"I suppose not," answered Will, with a rueful smile as the
ludicrousness of the situation opened on his mind; "for my
grandmother says that I want a man set over me to keep me in order."
Charlotte laughed outright now, and Will joined her.
But she drew up a chair and sat down beside him.
"Why, what is the matter, really?" she asked, cheerfully.
"I can't take to office-work at all," he said; "and I've
never cared to study anything except mechanics and chemistry.
I want to be an engineer, and I'd like to go abroad."
"And that grieves Mrs. Torpichen, I suppose?" said Charlotte.
"Yes, that's it," he answered simply. "We have
connections that could get me into the War Office or Somerset House;
but what is the good of a fellow starting good in a way of life
where he knows he will go wrong? I hate being cribbed up, and
having the same sort of work to do, day after day, and year after
year. I think I'd take to drinking, and I'd be ready to choke
the clerk that sat next me, just to make a change! I'd like
best to go abroad and rough it. I'd not be last in any place
where he is the foremost man who can turn his hand to most things.
But grandmother says that is selfish, and that it is my bounden duty
to stay with her and Elizabeth, as I'm the only grandson and brother
they have. And I can see there is something in that, and it
does seem hard, or I'd have run away long ago, and taken my chance
Charlotte looked at him thoughtfully. He had grown much
older in those last few weeks. He looked less happy and less
energetic. His under lip hung a little loose, he spoke with a
kind of careless recklessness. She knew something of the
dangers of this easy, kindly nature, apt to be smothered by duties
imposed by those who deny it its rights, and to be utterly crushed
beneath a load of blame and misery which it is far too simple and
lowly-minded not to take wholly upon itself.
"It will be, as you say, very hard for Mrs. Torpichen and
your sister to part from you," she said, quietly; "but then will it
not be even harder, if you stay with them and do not prove yourself
all you might become elsewhere—if indeed, you are absolutely not
quite a credit to them?"
She felt that the loyalty of his nature was such that it
could only assert its own rights in a dutiful light—only claim what
it must have, by understanding that to be really unjust to ourselves
can never be kind to anybody else.
"What do you yourself think you ought to do?" she asked, very
"I don't know," he answered, pitifully. "It seems hard
that there is nobody to whom I can speak about it who can possibly
There was a pause. Without at all noticing the
frankness with which he set her aside as an adviser, Charlotte was
casting a swift mind's eye over his position. She scarcely
noticed it of herself. It was quite natural to her. The
one hindrance to the full power of such clear, simple natures as
hers is, that they are sometimes silent when they ought to speak,
because they cannot believe that the idea that comes to them can
possibly have failed to reach another mind.
The pause lasted three or four minutes. Charlotte's
heart was uplifted by that strong yearning to help and comfort which
is the swiftest and surest prayer.
"Mrs. Torpichen thinks you ought to have some masculine
advice?" she said, quietly.
"Yes, she is always saying she must write to my Scotch uncles
about me," answered poor Will.
"I think you had better ask her to do so," said Charlotte.
"They will be better able than she is to consider the matter in your
light, and it will be far easier and happier for her to accept their
decision,—because she will rely on their judgment—than to come to
one herself. I can understand her anxiety at having your fate
so wholly in her own hands," added Charlotte.
"It's not a bad idea!" cried Will, jumping up with boyish
ardour. "It's jolly! It's a wonder I never thought of it
before. I'll go home and tell poor granny this instant."
"No you won't," said Charlotte, smiling; "you will go and sit
awhile with my brother, and he shall play to you. You must
excuse Lucy and me because we are busy."
"What a bother that women like these have to be busy at
commonplace work," thought Will, as he followed her to her brother's
room. "But who knows whether the commonplace work may not have
something to do with making them what they are. A drop of
essence may be stronger than a whole bottle of dilution."
Will stayed with Hugh two or three hours, and in the
intervals of the music they talked. Mrs. Torpichen would have
been surprised if she had heard her grandson, and had seen the
tender chivalry with which he helped and watched his fast-darkening
companion. It would surely have destroyed her doubts of poor
Will's gentle-manhood. But then, when Charlotte herself
brought in the little supper-tray, and served the homely bread and
cheese, Mrs. Torpichen would probably have thought it a very curious
phenomenon that Will should happen to reserve his most attractive
manner for people like this; and if she had made that observation
then, Will would have been only more than ever blunt and gauche when
the solicitor's wife called at Denver Corner, and would have
instituted all sorts of invidious comparisons between that poor lady
and Charlotte Withers, really unjust to the former, seeing she had
not herself provoked them.
"Well," thought Will, as he hastily crossed the little court
to his grandmother's house, "it would be an awful thing if I turned
out such a bad fellow that I couldn't go near people like that.
I don't believe they'd shut anybody out, but I might easily find
that it was too awful to go in."
TORPICHEN was terribly
startled when her grandson volunteered the request that she would
write to his Scotch relatives and take their advice as to his future
career. It is bitter indeed when one's own words turn round on
one. It is like meeting one's own ghost. One feels that
one's house is divided against itself, and cannot stand. The
poor old lady shed a few tears, at first she said that of course his
uncles would agree with her, and then she said that it could not be
expected their advice would be as considerate and affectionate as
her own. But Will still urged her to write, calling her by the
old style of "grannie" which he had quite dropped of late. And
Mrs. Torpichen wrote. There were one or two curious blisters
on her dainty perfumed note-paper, and when the Scotch aunt saw
them, she said, "She's been sprinkling her scent on the letter.
She was aye a fule body, and it gaes past my comprehension what the
captain saw in her dochter, wha keened na word o' ony catechism but
the cauld kail they starve pair bairns on i' the Erastian Kirk o'
The two Scotch uncles met in consultation. The one was
a retired captain of a Dundee whaler; the other was a dominie, with
sons in the Canadian timber trade. The Scotch aunt sorely
wondered "what garred sic a fine lady as Madam Torpichen to ask
their opinion: but aiblins she finds the Ramsay bluid ower muckle
for her, and maybe she's sair misguided it, and 's fain to share the
scaith wi' those who dinna share her blame." The dominie said
that doubtless if Elspeth's premise was correct, and the young man
was not exactly an exemplary member of society, there was much truth
in her inference as to Mrs. Torpichen's motives in seeking counsel.
Still she had a moral right to that counsel, which a wiser woman
would have sought before—and when the others had given their
opinion, he would be most happy to give his. Aunt Elspeth said
she would advise her nephew to go as far away as ever he could: if
he was a worthy man he would make a fortune the sooner, the wilder
the settlement; and if he went to the dogs, they might never ken it,
and at least he would not disgrace them. The captain said he
thought the lad had better get his wull—let him fight his ain
battle; he'd had to do so himself; he wasna ane for makin things
ower easy for young folk. And then the dominie added that
doubtless their nephew had inherited some of his father's
adventurous traits, and that they had their place in the world's
work, since everybody was not privileged to have gifts in the
preaching of the Word, or the education of the young, but were
nevertheless not to be despised. With the leave of his brother
and sister, he would indite an epistle to Mrs. Torpichen, which
should embody their united sentiments, and he would also give her
the address of a gentleman in London, who being on that spot now,
and who having been on almost every habitable spot on the globe,
would be well qualified to give much minute information, and to
settle the young lad's varying inclinations.
That letter from the North came in on a day full of sunshiny
showers. Will's heart beat fast when he saw it, and he fancied
the doom had gone forth against him. Mrs. Torpichen knew
better. She had been prepared for defeat from the moment her
grandson had asked her to communicate with his Scotch relatives.
She glanced at the paper, and simply saying, "You are to go,
Willie," she covered her face with her hand, and Will saw a tear
trickle between her fingers. Such thin, frail fingers!
Will remembered her lullabies, and her fairy tales, and her
Christmas stockings. He went up to her, tried to take her
hands, and he said, "Grannie, if you say the word, I won't go."
She felt a great sob thrill through him. And she put her arms
about him and drew him down and kissed him, and said, "But I won't
say it, Willie. It is God's will, and it is best, my darling."
And the kind old heart was comforted and the hot young heart
was soothed. And there was a great peace.
Of course, Will called in at Number Two, at the earliest
opportunity, and told the Witherses that he expected he should be
going away, somewhere, very soon now. And Charlotte and Lucy
were a little silent over their work that afternoon. And Lucy
said at last:
"As soon as anything pleasant comes, it seems to go, Lottie.
I wonder why we should have grown to like best the one who is going
away. It seems as if it made it all no use, Lottie."
And Charlotte paused in her writing, and gazed straight
before her, with eyes that ceased to be conscious of the narrow
walls of Denver Corner.
"Parting is not losing, Lucy," she said. Those we like
best are nearest to us wherever they be. There are no such
things as time or space to the eternal soul."
But the words sounded over poor Lucy's head, and she thought
of the pleasant evenings she had planned, and the cheerful
neighbourliness to which she had looked forward. And there was
a pain in the girl's heart. And the pathos of that pain was in
Charlotte's also, but then Charlotte had learned that pathos is to
life what dew is to flowers, its charm and its refreshment.
It was presently decided that Will should go, in the first
instance, to Upper Canada, and then work his way on to the West.
The gentleman to whom his Scotch uncles had introduced him, made him
acquainted with two young men who were going there, the one a
practical farmer and the other a practical engineer, with little
money indeed, but rich in the kind of knowledge and the ready will
which make the best capital to start with in a new country.
Will's chemistry and mechanics would both stand him in good stead,
and he would be exposed to none of those dangers of half-idleness
and utter aimlessness, which diluted many a strong young life at its
first out pouring.
Two or three more visits had been exchanged between the women
of the two houses before this definite decision was made. Poor
Mrs. Torpichen began to find a real comfort in Charlotte Withers.
Charlotte had been in America, and that seemed to draw the country
of her grandson's choice nearer home. Charlotte was qualified
to deliver responsible opinions as the outfit necessary and
desirable. She actually went with Mrs. Torpichen on a shopping
expedition. She had all sorts of dexterous "tips" as to the
way to make things comfortable and serviceable for a long time.
It was she who wrote "W. Ramsay" over and over again down a long
piece of tape, that Will might never be without a label to affix to
any little personal property he might acquire when there was nobody
to make it for him. It was she who threaded those twenty
needles in the "bachelor's housewife," which she made herself.
It was she who thought of stocking Will's little writing-case with
thin foreign paper and envelopes. And yet she did it all so
that none, not Will himself, noticed that the suggestions came from
Elizabeth Ramsay, of course, joined in all the work and all
the consultations. But she was slow and inefficient with her
needle. And she did not know anything about the condition and
requirements of Canada, her sole knowledge of it being derived from
the histories of the good French nuns who had known all about the
wants of their time, and in courage and wisdom had gone forth among
the Indian savages and their own rough pioneer countrymen. She
did not like Will's two future companions; she said "they were
uninteresting; especially the engineer, who had already been in
Montreal, and yet knew nothing about a Dame Marguerite who had lived
in the old fortress." She forgot that when the young man had
inquired whether she meant the old fortress that was built before
the earthquake she herself did not know there had ever been an
earthquake in Canada, and indeed was inclined to flatly deny that
any such occurrence was possible in so cold a climate.
There came a time, just at the very last, when Will walked
into the parlour, where all the ladies were sitting sewing, and said
that he was going down toward the docks about some business in that
neighbourhood and asked if anybody was inclined to take the walk
with him. He had a lurking wish that Charlotte would respond,
and he was not disappointed. Mrs. Torpichen thought that her
grandson was rather inconsiderate in his request, and on Charlotte's
behalf raised a mild remonstrance that the way was unpleasant and
the hour rather late. But Charlotte said she knew the place,
and liked it best in the dusk, when the narrow streets between the
high, grim walls were so deserted and still, that if the scene lay
in Venice, she thought every one would see a solemn beauty in it.
Upon which Elizabeth remarked that it could never possess the tragic
interest of Venice, and Charlotte rejoined that doubtless every
emigrant ship was laden with a greater number of tragic and pathetic
stories than have survived for us in Venetian history.
The two started off together, and had walked some little
distance before Will offered Charlotte his arm. It was the
first time the boy had ever offered his arm to any woman but his
grandmother, and it was the first time Charlotte had accepted any
arm since that had been withdrawn which she had once trusted as the
guard and stay of her future life. She remembered that, and
looked back upon her old girlish self, full of spontaneous joy and
bright with unconscious hope, as she might recall the image of
another person. But she took to herself the strengthening
thought, that as long as life lasted, new duties would come, and so
it would be always endurable.
Before they reached Wapping it was quite dark, and at
Hermitage Wharf they had to wait while a ship passed out of dock
into the river. All seemed dreamlike—the lights in the windows
of the houses on the wharf, the rustle of the night breeze among the
trees, the low gurgle of the water. And the ship was moving
out, like a life going forth. And the lamps might go on
burning, and the leaves budding and the water sobbing, when that
ship might lie broken and stranded on some rock in mid-ocean, never
to come back any more.
"I shall be going out just like that, very soon," said Will,
quietly, when the ship was through and they had resumed their walk.
"I wanted to go, awfully, but I see there's a sadness in it, now."
"But you want to go still," said Charlotte. "And a
happy going away is always sad. It is only terrible to go away
without a regret."
"I know it is best to go," Will answered, "though now I
almost think I could stay at home and make myself settle down to
anything. I don't mean to say I should be happy, but that it
would not make me wicked. When one has had one's will offered
one, it makes one nearly able to give it up. It is the feeling
that one has not had one's chance that drives one mad."
"It is the hardest thing to bear," Charlotte answered, "and
is only to be borne in the faith that one chance is withdrawn that a
better may be given."
"You do not think grandmother will fret after me—you don't
think my going away will really hurt her, do you?" asked poor,
"No," said Charlotte, bravely. "She will miss you very
much, of course, but then that is alleviated by hearing from you
very regularly, and it is a natural trial. The unnatural one
would be if you did not prove exactly what you should. That
would hurt her terribly; that might kill her. I think many
people die of that disappointment."
"I wish I could do something to please you all, and make you
all proud of me," cried Will.
"Just do right," said Charlotte warmly; "and if even shame
comes in that way, see it but as the earthly shadow of heavenly
fame. Never mind praise, never mind false accusation, never
mind what your duty is, heed only that you do it."
"If we look at things in that light," said Will, "it makes
everything worth doing well."
"And if we do once see life in that light, and also act as if
we did," said Charlotte, "I think that we need not fear lest no
hard, heroic task will find its way to our hand."
"But I seem to be only pleasing myself," said Will; "you
can't think how that idea has vexed me since I have got my own way.
I shall go out to do the kind of work I like, and shall be free to
have my own ways in all little things. There will be nothing
for me to do to please any of you—except of course in keeping
straight and steady and then that is just serving my own real
"I can tell you what you can do," Charlotte answered,
quickly; "you can always write home regularly. You can put
aside an experiment that those at home shan't miss their looked-for
letter. You can't tell what a kindness that means. You
can't tell how a day wastes, when the postman does not bring what we
expected in the morning. If we don't think of these things for
ourselves, nobody can tell us about them. We may get a hint
that our silence caused a little apprehension, but nobody will say
to us, "It made me sit in forlorn idleness day after day; it took
all relish and nourishment from my food; it made me unable to enjoy
the little pleasures that clustered about my life." Do you
know, Will, it is worth while to make an effort, and a sacrifice of
convenience, just to post our home letters ourselves, and to be over
particular as to correctness of postage? I know a case where a
whole life was changed for the worse, in the present world, by the
delay caused in the transmission of an underpaid letter."
"But all this is such a little thing," cried Will, "and it
will be all for my own pleasure, too! And I'm afraid I shan't
be able to write the kind of letters which grannie or Elizabeth will
care much for."
"I wish you would write a letter to me sometimes," said
Charlotte. "I know many of the places you will see, and of
course I often think of them, and wonder if they are changing, and
"Of course, I shall be only too glad," answered the gratified
Will. "Maybe I could get you some news about people you have
known, too—not friends, you know, but that sort of familiar
neighbours one likes to hear about when one is away."
"Yes," said Charlotte steadily. "I shall be very glad
to hear whether some names are still over the old stores and
offices. But I have no friends in America just now.
Everybody I once knew believes something which I know to be false.
They believe that my father did a dishonourable thing—something for
which he might have been arraigned and punished. But he died
just before the suspicion arose, and so he was condemned without any
possibility of trial. We are making restitution for the injury
that was inflicted on others by somebody, but certainly not by our
"But may not that seem to some people as if you believed it,"
said Will, after a pause, while he held the arm on which Charlotte's
hand lay, very closely and firmly to his side, and felt that wave of
yearning devotion which rises in every warm heart when it learns
that the being whose serenity seemed divinely far from stain or
cloud, has yet its own wound and its own shadow.
"I do not care how it seems," Charlotte answered, gazing
straight into the darkness before her. "I feel only like one
on whose domain some outrage has been committed, and who desires to
make restitution to the injured, that the wrongdoer may have to
answer to himself alone."
"If the real sinner was found out, could he be punished yet?"
Will asked, with a boyish sense of justice.
"Yes: he could be forgiven," said Charlotte. And as
Will noted the thrill in her voice and the light that flashed into
her eyes, he sounded, half unconsciously, that depth of the universe
which hides the secret that forgiveness is as terrible to sin as is
the sun to the pollution which it reveals and destroys.
"If he liked, he could pay me again what I have repaid,"
Charlotte said, quite simply. She would not be insolent in her
magnanimity: she would be glad to let him make all the restitution
in his power, even to compound interest for back years. She
would not fear lest the evil-doer should fancy that so he atoned for
his sin. We grow very fearless of such errors and shortcomings
if we look into our own hearts and watch how justly their mistakes
Charlotte had not been suddenly betrayed into this
confidence. She had wished to give it, partly because she felt
that too real a friendship had sprung up between Will and her, for
it to be quite kind and just that he should be ignorant of the line
on which hung so many of her thoughts and actions: partly because,
in the spirit of the inspired advice to confess our sins one to
another, she felt that as Will had spoken out his troubles and
temptations to her, it was best she should show her trust in him and
so save him from that sense of one-sidedness which embitters the
recollection of so many confidences, and partly because the
simplicity and humility of Will's own estimate of himself, had not
failed to carry its own hint to a heart that was noble enough to be
also ever watchful to receive a new sweetness or light. She
felt that she had often been hard,—that she had measured others by
her own ideal standard, rather than by the inner struggles she so
well knew. The days had been—and not so very long ago—when she
would have been stern to such dim efforts and aspirations as Will's
own. Charlotte would be just, even to herself; and she knew
she had lived a high life and been brave and dealt courageously; and
yet when she judged herself spirit to spirit, with this boy who had
done nothing yet, who indeed had had time to do nothing, and who
regarded himself as nothing, she felt that God teaches his lessons
in many ways: to some by seemingly successful struggle, and to
others by consciousness of failure. And she thought of the
currier of Alexandria who told Antony the Hermit that when he rose
in the morning he thought within himself that the whole city, from
the greatest to the least, would enter into the kingdom of God for
their righteousness, whilst he for his sins should go to judgment,
and of how Antony answered, "My brother, like a good goldsmith thou
hast gained the kingdom of God sitting still in thy house, while I,
as one without discretion, have been haunting the desert all my
time, and yet not arrived at the measure of thy saying."
Charlotte's own kindness and consideration for Will Ramsay
had made her wonder whether she had always been as kind and
considerate. There had never been any bitterness in her
remembrance of her lost lover, but she began to wonder whether there
had not been something undone on her part, which, if done, might
have made the story no memory, but a joyful present reality, and
spared the pain which she clearly saw must be greater for him than
for her. If she had seen from his point instead of her own!
If she had felt that it was only natural that he should make an
inquiry which it was equally natural for her filial loyalty to
resent as an insult, then she should have been strong enough first
to bear the pain and then to lead him to see from her point and to
bear with her! It was the self-accusation of a noble nature:
the beautiful crowning discipline which God had sent her (though she
did not notice that) by the hand of her own loving kindness to Will
With that passion for consistency between the ideal and
reality which is the sign of a harmonious nature, Charlotte was
already surveying her life to see where the new-recognized weed
might be still growing.
"I ought not to be vexed because our old neighbours and
friends cannot help making a mistake," she said, bravely. "If
you will take the trouble, I think I will send out some little
remembrances to some of them by your hand. I believe they will
like to hear of us. I am sure they will be sorry about Hugh.
I know they pity us, and that used to be hard for me to bear; but
what does it signify? It is the form in which kindness must
come from them under the circumstances, but as we know we do not
need pity, the form breaks before we touch it, and pure oil of
kindness escapes and anoints us." She spoke cheerily, but as
Will looked down at her under the gaslights, he saw the sunshine of
her face was April sunshine.
In a way beyond any that had occurred to Charlotte's mind, it
was well for Will that she had told him her little story. The
young are so ignorant, and ignorance has such terrors. In our
first thunderstorm we think the end of the world is come. It
is a great blessing when some pure heart, whose strength or grace
has won our admiration, dares to reveal to us that a cross upholds
the one, or that the other blossoms from a chasm. If we set to
work on a book of problems, about which we had no assurance, the
difficulty of the first might make us fear that the whole were
deceitful catches, but when we have seen the explanation of a few,
we have courage to work at the others, though their solution may
escape us for years. The young have had no time for that
patience which worketh experience, that experience which worketh
And then the two walked slowly home, and that was their last
talk together. Charlotte went with Mrs. Torpichen and
Elizabeth to see the last of Will when he went on board his ship,
and his little cabin seemed all the homelier because she stood in it
a moment; and not through all the voyage did he disturb the little
bag which she hung on one of its pegs, and when he had to remove it,
at the close of his journey, he could almost have wept.
And so the boy went out to his wild and lonely life; with
that best angel by his side—a strong faith in a woman who could
brace, and comfort, and sympathize. This was not love in any
narrow sense to which that holy and wide word is too often limited.
Charlotte was but the morning star in the lad's life. She was
meant for another's sun; but her rise on his vision gave the promise
of his own dawn, and till then, could keep him content in the
twilight, without the terrible temptation of closing the shutters,
and lighting farthing candles.
AND so the years
began to pass. American letters came regularly to Denver
Corner; perhaps they might not have come quite so regularly, if Will
had not felt that he must never write to Charlotte Withers, unless
he wrote also to his own home. The letters home were sometimes
a little puzzling: all his news was so likely to frighten or shock
poor Mrs. Torpichen, or to be utterly uninteresting to Elizabeth.
Will's dutiful nature did its best. It was Charlotte who
received the long screed about the last experiment or machine, or
the wild adventure on the prairie. It was Mrs. Torpichen who
got the photographs and curiosities; it was Elizabeth who received
the pretty Indian ornaments. It seemed typical of his
relationship to the three.
There was once when something in Will's letters gave
Charlotte a sweet dream. He did not forget Lucy. Lucy
had been the first link in the chain which connected him with the
Withers. And Lucy was Charlotte's sister, and might easily
become very like her, with an added charm like that we find in a
flower we knew in its bud. Something said to Charlotte that if
Will Ramsay came home on a visit, he might take Lucy back with him.
It might be only one of those sweet love fancies which run in
woman's brains when their own love story is settled or over.
But it had to perish; God only knows how many such sweet fancies do
perish! But this was put away, unfaded, among the hyacinths
and snowdrops which Charlotte wreathed in Lucy's coffin.
And so Charlotte and the blind brother were left to complete
their work of filial honour. Joyfully, with that beautiful
pride which delights in the exaltation of another, Charlotte
presently found that her hard task would be easy in Hugh's hands.
For others beside herself presently discovered that God had given a
wonderful gift for the gift he had withdrawn, and that the sight,
closed to the human face, pierced into the human soul, and brought
thence secrets which it could tell to each in that magic music which
has its own interpreter in every heart.
There fell no light on the ancient sorrow—on the shameful
doubt that rested on their father's name. But the pain had
somehow passed. They spoke of the story now. New friends
heard it, even though they were scarcely admitted to that charmed
sanctum of the heart where all secret things must be made manifest.
Broken ties of old acquaintanceship were re-linked across the ocean.
And some who had been most ready to condemn the dead man who could
not plead his own cause, had reason to bless his daughter for the
tender hospitality she extended to wandering unmistakable prodigals
of their own. Then, indeed, she could forgive them utterly,
though her keen knowledge of the world discerned that her motives
would be misread.
Mrs. Torpichen and Mrs. Withers grew friendly, which made
Denver Corner the more sociable, especially as they became too old
and fragile to care often to run the risks of the busy thoroughfares
that lay beyond its quiet precincts. Chatty, easy-minded Mrs.
Torpichen brightened and consoled Mrs. Withers as nothing else had
succeeded in doing. An equal friendship brings into play many
healthy little emulations that may often slumber amid much stronger
claims on the affections. Mrs. Withers brought out her old
silks and laces and the one or two heirlooms of jewellery that had
been spared from sale, because of their small money value. She
had excused herself from these amenities, when Charlotte had
ventured to suggest them, but Charlotte did not grudge that her
wishes were fulfilled under an indirect influence.
Elizabeth Ramsay did not yet notice that her life was growing
lonely—that she was living in her land of dreams through the years
when only the energies and hopes are strong enough to bid real life
glow with ideal colour and warmth. She still read her poems
and romances, and her manuals of devotion, and now, raised above the
pinch of a girl's pocket money, decorated her room with photographs
after Fra Angelico, with pre-Raphaelite tiles and glass, with carved
angels and Italian rosaries, in place of the old print of Sir Philip
Sydney and the pine-cone cross.
She went to matins and vespers, waking her grandmother and
Betsey at untimely hours as she creaked down stairs to the former,
and keeping them waiting for their tea till she came back from the
latter. She had visions of a conventual life, with tinted
sunshine stealing down long aisles and organ music in the distance
and soft-stepped women gliding to and fro. Only she fancied
she fell in love with the curate, and the vision got curiously
mingled with another, of a wedded pair going out together to plant a
mission chapel and baptize South Sea Islanders or Red Indians.
She thought how she would teach the little heathen children to sing,
and how if she was left a widow she would still stay on among the
wild people, who would have learned to love and cherish her for her
husband's sake and her own. It happened that the curate had
been engaged before ever Elizabeth had seen him, and he presently
got married and accepted a cure among the laudanum-eating farmers of
the fen country. And alas for poor Elizabeth, she did not even
find that sweet after-glow of womanly tenderness and maternal
yearning which such fanciful emotions will sometimes leave behind
them in justification of their humble relationship to the great love
"that makes the world go round." If he had died—if he had gone
away and been lost to sight before he married—it might have been
different, and Elizabeth might have ranged his influence among that
of the Fra Angelico pictures and had a definite name in her
thanksgiving or on All-Saints' day. But his bride, and her
bridesmaids, and a bit of their wedding cake, made Elizabeth quite
sure, not only that she had never loved him, but that she had never
even fancied she had.
Of course, she constantly met Charlotte Withers, but the two
lives, that went on side by side, never mingled. She pitied
Charlotte—pitied her for her father's misfortunes; pitied her for
her hard life in the past; pitied her for her brother's blindness
and its exigent claims on her time and devotion. Which pity
was as wise as that of one who, longing for a nugget buried
somewhere in a far country, pities the man who owns fair fields and
stately houses and uncounted stores at home.
Out in the West.
THERE came a day
at last, years after Will had left London, when the usual American
letters left at the two houses in Denver Corner were not in his
Elizabeth saw the strange superscription as she came in from
matins, and idly thinking that one of "the partners had written for
Will," let it remain unheeded, till her grandmother came down
But while the other lay unopened in Charlotte's hand, she
felt that it had not come alone; that angel fingers were closed
about it, holding it from her gaze, till the angel heart could fold
her heart in its own consciousness of communion, in its own
rejoicing sense of all old things not lost but made anew. She
went away to her own room—her sacred room now—the place whence the
angels had fetched sweet sister Lucy.
And there she read the story of Will's death, but there was
no thought of death in her mind, for all death had been slain for
her long ago. What about that old story of Elijah's departure.
Shall we cavil at the ancient historian because, in telling the
story of one departure, he rose so high that he dared to tell the
truth which is true of all?
Now and again, as she read, she paused and gazed straight
before her into quiet Denver Corner. A wide and bright
panorama was passing through its gray seclusion. There were
wide sweeps of hills and silver rivers and primeval forest, such as
she had known so well. And there was a train, swiftly dashing
over the country. And among its passengers there was one
familiar face, bright with young life so strong and full that it
need scarcely flag for three-score years to come. And then a
sickening sway in the rushing train, and a crash and shrieks and a
mass of horror and anguish. And there, low on a green bank,
lay the familiar face, pale and convulsed, till a cry of terror
rises: "The up train is coming," and then that brave friend of hers
springs to his feet, and snatching a whistle from his pocket blows a
long blast shrill and clear. There is an awful silence, and as
the nearing engine slackens speed, the wounded man drops down,
smothered by the life-blood that welled up in that supreme effort.
And presently there are helpful hands among the chaos, and strong
men dash away tears, and feel for a moment that God is living yet!
For the up train is saved, and Will Ramsay has died for his
That was enough—quite enough for Charlotte Withers. If
she had read no more, her heart would have been quite satisfied for
her friend whom God had permitted to grow in her sight to the height
of the unselfishness and heroism that was in him. He had died
for his fellow men. That was enough. She felt but one
added thrill when, reading further down the newspaper extract
enclosed in the letter, she found that two or three lives of
national value had been in that imperilled up train. And years
had to pass, and a great war had to call out all the manhood of a
young race in its passionate agonies, before Charlotte Withers could
say, "My friend's heroism saved the men who rendered these heroisms
possible: my friend gave himself for those who freed the slave from
his chain and the slave-holder from his sin." But she knew
that Will had died for the good of his fellow men, and that is the
grand beauty of it after all, whoever those fellow men may be.
There was something else for Charlotte in that
newspaper-cutting. That doomed down train had started from the
familiar township of her youth, and more than one well-known name
was in the list of killed and injured. There was one man who
had been her father's trusted friend, and the verdict of whose
opinion, had it been outspoken in her father's favour, might have
averted much of the suspicion attaching to his name. Of late
there had been some renewal of the ancient friendship between this
man's family and the Witherses. This man's children had not
turned out well, and one boy had found his way to London, and was
trying very hard to redeem his past errors. And Charlotte and
Hugh had been very tender and patient with the remorse and the
struggles of one whose father had shaken his head at the first
rumour adverse to his old friend, their father. That man was
dead now: killed almost at Will's side. He had not died
instantaneously. It was told among the incidents of the
catastrophe, that he had just lived to drink a little water and to
gasp, "I should like to live to tell them I at least knew their
father was innocent."
Nobody else would know what that meant. Nobody else
would think of that old scandal. But Charlotte knew. And
it was as nothing to her now. All the old bitterness, the old
cry for justice, had long been silenced. She and her mother
and Hugh and Lucy had all known that her father was innocent; and
one other, not of their partial blood—this frank Will Ramsay —had
never seemed to doubt it. That sufficed. That form of
justice on which she had once felt ready to stake the balance of the
universe seemed a very poor thing now, almost an insult. But
if a false suspicion had been so hard a trial to her own hot and
haughty youth, how terrible a temptation might be any revelation of
the truth to this man's son, despondent with past failure and weak
in new resolution. Years younger than herself, he had perhaps
scarcely heard of the old slander and his father's connection with
it. He need never know. She had no doubt that if she
chose, she might follow the clew of these last words, and publicly
vindicate her father's memory, and shift the burden of shame to the
name of him who had veiled his sin under hypocritical severity.
But standing there, in the sweet autumn sunshine, in the quiet room
whose silence seemed melodious with heavenly voices, Charlotte vowed
that she would rise up between the dead and the living and strive to
stay the plague of evil. Even Hugh should never know of this:
it could not increase his confidence in his father's innocence, and
lest her own manner might be a little altered next time the prodigal
son came to their home—even if it was but with an added tenderness
and consideration—it was best that Hugh's should be preserved from
any shadow of change. And Charlotte lit a taper and cut off
the end of the paragraph, and held it in the tiny flame till it was
all consumed away.
That night Hugh was to play in a great hall in the
fashionable quarter, and Charlotte, as usual, was to go with him.
But when she went to him and calmly told him her solemn tidings, her
brother wistfully felt for her hand. "We will not go out this
evening, Lottie," he said.
"Yes, we will," she said: "who knows how somebody may want
some message your music may bring them? Shall we be weak
because Will was strong?"
"But while we are human we must feel human sorrow, Lottie,"
pleaded Hugh, searching her face with his poor blind eyes, as if he
felt something had come there since they had been closed.
"Yes, we will," she said quietly. "I could be very sad
to-day, but not for Will. I am crying for him, Hugh, but they
are only such tears as a glorious sunset brings."
Some of the exaltation of her mood she conveyed to poor Mrs.
Torpichen. "I suppose I ought not to be sorry I let him go,"
said the old lady, wiping away the slow, cold tears of age.
"It has always been a great comfort to me that he did not go without
my consent. It is curious that I can't make myself understand
he is dead. Not having seen him for years and hearing the news
like this, is so different from having illness in the house, and
seeing the empty chairs and folding away the clothes. My real
giving up of my boy was when I let him go. And I can't help
feeling that he has shown the gallant spirit of his forefathers, and
maybe it is better, after all, to die saving lives than taking them,
like the young officers who were the heroes of my young days.
Maybe it will not be long before I see Will again. Of late, as
I have sat dreaming and dozing, I have sometimes almost forgotten
that he was not up stairs in his little laboratory among his
chemicals. God forgive me for saying they had a nasty smell.
It was true enough, but it would be sweeter to me now than essence
"Nobody could have ever had such a darling brother as mine,"
cried Elizabeth, "and nobody can have loved Will like his only
sister! I meant to have written to him to-morrow—I had not
written very lately, but Will knew that my heart was always with
him. It is grand to have had such a brother, and to be able to
look back on years of such uninterrupted love as ours. Nobody
ever even shared our love; we have been always all in all to each
other. Our hearts were so satisfied, they craved no more."
And Elizabeth went away to her own room, and placed a crown
of white flowers over Will's portrait, and planned how her mourning
should be plain, with deep white sleeves and cuffs like those of a
Sśur de Charité; and how she would have Will's hair set in jet and
crystal, and wear it daily till her death, and leave directions that
she should be buried with it on her breast, and the story of Will's
heroic death folded in her hand.
"I should not have thought the Witherses would have gone out
to-night," she said to her grandmother, half reproachfully, as the
accustomed cab came to take Charlotte and Hugh to the concert.
"Why not, my dear?" sighed the poor old lady, whose ideas of
social relationship were most elementary. "They are not
"They might have stayed at home, if only out of sympathy for
me," sighed Elizabeth. "They cannot care for Will as we do,
but they might enter into our feelings."
At the concert, nobody took much notice of the pale, grave woman in
black dress and white muslin neckerchief who came in with the blind
violinist. The applause which greeted Hugh's playing was loud
and long. Yet it died away into a strange hush, when the
player raised his sightless face as though he was gazing across the
throng. He was about to play again―something not in the
programme; and there was a flutter and a settling down of
Nobody in this world had ever heard that music before, and
those who were near the musician said that his magic touch seemed to
follow a listening in his face, till they almost forgot the music
they heard, in watching the reflection of the music he heard.
It began with a joyful airy gladness, a harmony of sunshine
and singing and laughter. Then one or two harsh chords were
struck among the glad sounds that still went on, but with a pathetic
note in them. And then there crept in a sweet, solemn mystery,
and still the glad sounds went on till they caught its dignity into
themselves, and then the music marched on majestically, like years
made worthy the living—till suddenly there rose a strain so piercing
sweet, so terrible sweet, that the people drew in their breath.
A rest—and then the music again, soft and shadowy, like music from a
mountain echoing in the valley.
Charlotte sat like one entranced. She knew this music
was her brother's monument to the memory of her friend. She
scarcely noticed the thunders of applause that greeted its close,
she knew that the music was made for her, the outward expression of
her brother's life-long love. All she did was something she
had never done before, and now she did it unconsciously. She
stepped straight upon the platform, and took Hugh's instrument in
one hand, and his hand in the other, and led him away.
"Who is that lady—the violinist's wife or some enthusiastic
artiste herself?" was whispered among the crowd.
"Oh, dear no," was the answer of the wise ones; "that is only
Mr. Withers's sister. She is an old maid, and keeps house for
him—just a Nobody."