A REAL LADY.
IT is hard to get
away from London now. Go north, go west, go south, go where
little clumps of woodland still remain to tell of the forest that
has been, go where the corn still waves in the sunlight, yet you can
scarcely get out of the sound of the woodman's axe and the builder's
hammer; and next time you go, you shall find your prospect bounded
by that ugliest bit of townishness, a row of houses that have never
yet been homes, with a "first-class hotel" at one corner, and a tiny
church at the other. What will the people be like, that are
born and reared in the dead-level of our suburbs? Surely they
will be a new tribe for the dissection of story-teller or moralist!
O for the good old times (not more than thirty years ago)
when there were bits of genuine country left on the very margin of
London, where the paved paths and tall houses suddenly ceased, and
almost a single turning brought one into a green lane, or upon some
open bit of heath or common, fringed with pretty country-houses or
old fashioned cottages.
Such a place was Bishop's Elm. It did not even boast a
High Street—only a High Row, flanking the north side of its little
green, and picturesque and rural, with tiles before the butcher's
shop, and trees overarching the seats outside the quiet hostel.
Simple, comfortable shops were the shops of that High Row, standing
in and out, with here and there a private dwelling-house between
them, standing farther back, and veiled with honeysuckle, like a
modest school-girl hiding her face in a bunch of flowers,—such
dwellings being especially patronized by single ladies or widows,
who wished to be in easy reach of the omnibus plying between the
local "Mitre" and the Bank, or to be able to keep an eye on their
boys playing on the green.
There was one especially tiny cottage, very much shut in by
the library and the linen draper's projecting on either side of it.
It had but four miniature rooms, and its tenant—one Miss Elizabeth
Leslie—was fortunately small in proportion to her house. She
was esteemed very genteel in Bishop's Elm, where society in general
smacked of retired retail trade, and even a clerk in the War Office
was regarded as somehow a stray line from the "Court Circular;" for
the Leslies had held land in the New Forest under a grant from
William Rufus. "Strong and Light" was the motto under the
rudely-carved stag's hoof that was still visible over the portal of
the ruined keep wherein it was "said" that the first Leslie had more
than once received the huntsman-monarch. That ruined keep was
the pride of the house of Leslie. Many houses might compete
with Leslie Place,—that fair Elizabethan mansion, which seemed yet
only in the Indian summer of its comeliness, but it is not every
family of mere county fame that can boast its genuine grey ruin.
Nearly a hundred years ago a profligate Leslie had sold
Leslie Place to some Mr. Smith or Jones, ship-chandler, from
Southampton, who had paid a good round consideration for the
"interesting ruin" on the estate. But Mr. Ship-chandler had
been cheated in that item of his bargain. The Leslie title in
the Leslie ruin could not be bought by the whole fortune of any such
Mr. Smith or Jones. It was truly theirs and their heirs' for
ever, by an inalienable right. Miss Elizabeth Leslie could
honestly talk of "our castle;" and whenever the little lady ventured
to spend a rare holiday, she went into Hampshire and took a week's
lodging in the picturesque hamlet of Lesleyholt, a green and
pleasant place, its moss-grown, heavy-eaved cottages, with their
little white-curtained windows, dotted like cleanly, curtseying
pensioners along the winding road. There they knew what
"Leslie" meant, and there she was bowed to and "madamed" from
farm-house to hovel, and honoured and consulted and considered, so
that it was no wonder if she quite pitied the good folk who had
nowhere better to go than Brighton or Scarborough. Not that she had
ever known any personal grandeur.
Her own father had been but a poor captain in the army; his
sword and decorations hung beneath his portrait in oils, over her
parlour mantel. She had also the Leslie coat-of-arms in a
frame; she had even copied them, a little feebly, into a crochet
anti-macassar. She had, too, some old-fashioned miniatures,
but they were laid away in a worm-eaten cabinet, because their
chased and jewelled frames had somehow long since disappeared.
But these pictures, and the sword, and the heraldry were a great
comfort to Miss Elizabeth; and who could grudge her a harmless
vanity, which helped her to live with contentment and dignity on a
small income, hardly won? For she had nothing but what she
earned herself, this mite of a woman, with her thin hands and her
neat commonplace head; but her slender brains had gone on working
diligently in their own small way for many and many a long year.
It was not for her to write scarlet and black romances, full of
beautiful demons and plain angels, and heroisms starting full-grown
from empty and idle lives. It was for her to compose alphabets
in rhyme—bird-alphabets, beast-alphabets, flower-alphabets. It
was for her to translate children's stories from the French and
German. It was for her to compile Mamma's Geographies and
The British Museum Reading-room knew Miss Elizabeth Leslie.
For these journeys the Bishop's Elm omnibus was very useful to her
in severely bad weather, or when she was so very busy that even an
hour had a definite value. At other times she walked—walked
through mizzling shower or scorching sun—walked and saw Bishop's Elm
young women, who went into town to make bonnets or dresses, look out
at her as they drove past. It never made her feel bitter; the
sword and the heraldry came to her aid then. The Leslie lands
had passed away in mortgages, and the Leslie diamonds had gone the
way of unredeemed pledges, but the Leslie traditions remained.
Miss Elizabeth did not lay these up in lavender as mere ornaments,
but kept them in use like good gold currency. "We cannot all
do and endure as much as each other," she would say to herself.
"There's so much in blood and breeding; there ought really to be
more difference than there is between us who come of fine
high-spirited stocks, and poor creatures whose fathers were perhaps
so underfed and overworked that their whole energies were turned
towards gaining a little physical enjoyment. Hunger and cold
bring the spirit down to a kind of sordid animal clinging to life
and its lowest luxuries. If my great ancestor, Sir Frank, had
never had quite as much to eat as he wanted, perhaps he might not
have been so ready to die rather than to break his word even to his
enemy." Not that Miss Elizabeth ignored the heroisms which she
saw really growing in want and obscurity, but kept her creed at once
unassailable and inoffensive by absorbing them into it. "Some
people are better descended than they know," she would say "good
blood proves itself." And there was a grand truth hidden in
Miss Elizabeth's fantastic notions, like a great man sporting in
masquerade. The world of progress may march on as fast as it
likes, but any aristocracy claiming nothing but duty and
responsibility is in no great danger of gainsaying, envy, or
Miss Leslie had her own niche in Bishop's Elm life. She
had no time to visit among the poor, and no aptitude for teaching
classes; but she was very fond of young people, and seldom had a
solitary walk or a lonely tea-table. She was an interesting
companion; she had histories and anecdotes to relate. And if
poverty narrows the sphere of vision on the one hand, it widens it
more than proportionably on the other. She, lady born as she
was, with pleasant titbits of high-life gossip, and side lights from
courtly circles, had gained, thanks to her spendthrift father, that
cheerful Bohemian knowledge of the world in undress, which, whenever
possessed by the well-bred, gives them such a finishing grace.
She, in her old, turned silks, could speak, with no fear of
derogation, of humble persons and homely incidents, which Mrs.
Stubbings, of The Lawn, shuffling in Genoa velvet and old point,
would not dare to mention without a prefacing apology.
Altogether, Miss Elizabeth Leslie was a wholesome influence
in Bishop's Elm. If her notions of honour and duty were a
little perverted in the course of their growth from the true root,
yet they had its sap within them, and were wholesome and heartening
beside the quagmire of money-getting and money-displaying which
threatened to swamp the little neighbourhood. It was a good
thing for boys whose fathers were apt to measure men by means rather
than morals, to hear her old-world stories of gallant gentlemen.
It was a good thing for girls who were accustomed to see the castles
of their future in a crystal flawed with pin-money and trousseau,
to listen to her tales of constant and devoted love. Her very
house was a standing lesson in a circle too much given to value
things only by what they cost. Poor little house, narrow of
passage and scant of room, it yet had the nameless grace which flies
from purchased comfort to settle on the home-made, thoughtful
makeshift. Every chamber had that which gives rank alike to
rooms and to people—a character; the cheerful, self-reliant
character of its inhabitant. Altogether, Miss Elizabeth Leslie
was a good little woman; and though her capital of character had
been given to her in small change, yet each tiny coin had the
genuine mint-mark, and those that were growing too out-of-date for
common currency might still serve very well for quaint ornament.
But among the many boys and girls who liked her amusing
conversation, and thought that to be on friendly terms with an
authoress was at least as good as a certificate of general
information and conduct, Miss Elizabeth had her favourites—queerly
chosen, it seemed at first glance.
Among the girls, she was most drawn to little Olive Straight,
younger daughter of the great paving contractor. The Straights
were well-meaning, common people. The father had all the
qualities of a good business-man, and something more, which made him
respect himself for what he was, and not for what he was not.
The mother was a weak, silly woman, so fondly proud of her
successful good-man, that she fancied the luxuries his right hand
had gathered round her had made her a perfect lady. Her pomp
was very burdensome to her sometimes, making her wish that they had
"got on" just as far as the villa where they first lived at Bishop's
Elm, and had never soared from its cosiness to the chill state of
Grecian Place, their present abode. But she would not have
abated that pomp in one iota. And now that she had all that
her wildest ambition desired for herself, it went further for her
children. She thought Emma, the eldest daughter, was a beauty,
likely to marry whatever she aspired for; and she looked forward to
her husband amassing sufficient wealth to release her darling only
son Percy from any duties except his toilet and his recreations.
Somehow, she never cast up Olive's prospects; Olive was so
thoroughly happy in her books and her drawings, that her future
welfare seemed tolerably secure.
Without slighting the child, the mother was not attracted by
Olive. She had not Emma's flesh-and-blood beauty, and soprano
voice, and untiring ankles. She was a plain little thing, Mrs.
Straight thought,—though, to be sure, she was the only one who had
her father's eyes. Olive was pale and thin—an old,
picturesque-looking child, too much given to sitting still and being
chilly. The doctors somewhat shook their beads over her, and
talked of skipping-ropes, and milk diet, and early hours; but it
never went farther than talk, and Olive was left in peace with her
history and her politics, and her epic poetry, and her queer bits of
paper, lined with processions of grotesque figures, whereon the
child went the way of childish notions, and pictured the fancies for
which she could not yet find fitting words. "Mrs. Straight has
made her husband get his pedigree drawn out," commented Mrs.
Elizabeth Leslie, "and a funny mess they have made of it. As
if child Olive was not sufficient assurance that there must have
been good blood somewhere."
Very different in birth and surroundings was her boy
favourite, young Tony Bollen. He was the only child of
Bishop's Elm Rectory—that modest brown building, half-veiled in ivy,
which stood on the western margin of the churchyard. The
Rectory drawing-room was an unused chamber, no lady-kind having been
resident there since the rector's young wife died when Tony was
born. The rector's only housekeeper was the good woman who had
been his baby's nurse; for, as he had lost the warmth of family
ties, he preferred to return to the freedoms of bachelor simplicity,
rather than to accept a hired mistress of the ceremonies, who would
destroy solitude without making it society.
The Rev. Anthony Bollen was a very genial man, and enjoyed
life heartily, yet with an enjoyment that seemed no exulting insult
over less-favoured mortals. Well fed, well clad, well mounted,
well-to-do in every meaning of the term; yet his kindly word to some
decrepit widow, hobbling home with her parish dole of coarse bread,
would send her on, with a smile on her withered old face, and a
warmth in her worn old heart, but with no bitter reflection on the
strange inequalities of human lot.
Physically, none of his flock had ever asked bread of him and
received a stone. His kind words were promissory notes that
were always honoured by kind actions, and there was more real
nourishment and comfort simmered over his kitchen fire, and given,
in a neighbourly way, by the hopeful hands of his honest cook, than
filtered through all the soup-kitchens and lay sisterhoods of half
the surrounding parishes. He found places for the parish
children when they grew up, got the sick into hospitals, took the
sting from pauper funerals, and was the general arbiter of humble
Bishop's Elm, since it knew few difficulties which were not to be
solved by a prompt half-crown, or a bit of plain common sense.
Like a wise man's commentary on a dull book, the rector's
life was better than his sleepy sermons. That rather limited
part of his economy which might be termed purely intellectual, ran
in the stiffest conventional groove, but his great human nature,
like a swelling river, turned into a conduit―overflowed that narrow
bound, and fertilized far beyond it. Unlike poor Mrs.
Straight, the rector strove to keep life as much as possible out of
livery. Perhaps there was nobody in Bishop's Elm, except Miss
Leslie, who knew that the Rev. Anthony Bollen came of a good, old,
gentle family, that had once been unfortunately allied to royalty.
His gentleness might even almost have lost something by any
conventional proofs thereof, as good lace is spoilt by ignorant
starching. It shone out supreme in giving comfort and grace to
the shabby furniture and roughly-ready arrangements of his widowed
home. Certainly, upon about one-eighth of its income, the
Rectory was a more comfortable house than Grecian Place. Tony
Bollen might travel daily to King's College, London, to learn Latin
and logic, but to learn manners and morals he need never to have
left his father's library or dining-room.
Of course Olive Straight and Anthony Bollen knew each other
parochially; under any circumstances, they would have met at the
church-soirees and school-excursions. But Olive, plain and
reserved, would have been by no means noticeable among the glowing
faces and rustling muslin paramount on such occasions, had not Tony
had opportunities of better acquaintance in Miss Leslie's little
parlour. He had all a lad's odd reverence for a girl who finds
amusement in studies which he hates as dearest work—a girl who reads
Plato and Plutarch. At first he was a little afraid of her,
but presently who could be afraid of a girl who did not know a
batsman from a bowler in the cricket-field, and turned white at
sight of a spider? Power to protect and assist what we have
once dreaded gives a very kindly feeling. No subject is so
humble as the subject who saves the king's life. Anthony
Bollen began to wish that he had a sister like Olive.
He also began to discover that Percy Straight, whom he had
hitherto despised as a "muff" and a dandy, was a very bearable
fellow after all, and that an evening at Grecian Place could be a
very pleasant evening. To be sure, Olive, though the first,
was not the last attraction. Like Tony, Percy was a student at
King's, and there were generally some college chums lounging at the
Place, and some of Emma's girl friends beside. There was
archery on the lawn, and bagatelle-boards in the dining-room.
Olive did not play at either, for her hands were weak and faltering
with extreme nervousness. But she watched with delighted
interest, and was glad when Tony won; and he thought he too was
solely glad to escape to her, and the engraving-stand or the
herbarium; and that he counted as nothing the silvery mirth and airy
frivolity, which perhaps were really as the laugh that sets us in
tune for thought and pathos. He did wish sometimes that Olive
could join more actively in the sports. She even tried once
again to please him; but she seemed so earnest in her sacred
gravity, so like an opal in a goblet of champagne, or a bar from the
"Pastoral Symphony" played in the midst of "I'd be a Butterfly,"
that Tony was glad when she went back to her shady corner and her
books, where he could join her when he liked; and never guessed,
poor boy, that half the charm was in the change!
So time passed on. Never a word of love was spoken
between them, and Olive was the only girl that Anthony did not kiss
at blind man's buff. But they knew the secret between them,
those two—knew it so well that nobody else guessed it—and they two
could talk for hours on the lawn, or chance to meet each other in
the lanes, without fear of the household raillery or restraint which
surrounded Emma Straight's numerous and complicated love affairs,
presently to be disentangled and wound up for ever round a
Oh, happy young love, which is all in the present! Oh,
fearless young love! all ignorant of pain—that sad root which, once
set, is never afterwards quite exterminated! Happy, fearless
love! not yet bidden to tasks and sacrifices which leave it
quivering in the agony of its own passionate strength! It is
life's blossoming time. But true and earnest natures carry
even their blossoms to that altar where their hearts will bleed
before God in the time of fruit. And Olive's womanly soul
pondered over many things.
At first it flitted across her mind that she would rather
Tony Bollen did not make such a friend of her brother Percy.
She loved Percy very dearly, but it was "with all his faults," and
that was a clause she could not endure in her appreciation of
Anthony. Poor, dear Percy, with his effeminacy and prospective
fortune, might glide harmlessly down a groove that would be direct
destruction to this penniless, stalwart young knight of hers, who
(and Olive's heart yearned proudly at the thought) must strike his
own light out of the flinty world, or live in utter darkness.
Olive herself took things too seriously, and, after the
fashion of such people (it may be partly in humility), was apt to
excuse and half-admire those whose faults lay in over-easiness.
Had she been a boy, she would probably have chosen her profession
before leaving off petticoats, and ever afterwards have consistently
worked towards the favourites idea. This being so with
herself, those who best know human nature will understand how ready
she was to admit the cogent reasons which Anthony gave for his
indecision on this very point. It was better to be over-long
than rash, she said to herself. The first loss of time might
be the least, after all. The plain shy girl had ambitions
within her, and with no scope for them in her own frightened
life—with health still something like that of a plant just kept
alive by shelter and support—she had made them all over to Tony.
He was to be what she would have been, with his sex, and strength,
Nevertheless, there had been enough misgiving in Olive's
heart to make it start with pain rather than surprise when, during
one of her afternoon visits to Miss Leslie, Anthony Bollen lounged
in, and was received by his old friend with a marked coldness which
even sent him off without any invitation to remain for tea.
"Let us begin as we mean to continue," said Miss Leslie,
sententiously, as she opened her chiffonier and set forth her
currant-jelly and seed-cake. "If Master Tony means to turn out
a good-for-nought, he shan't be written on my list of friends.
When a man can't decide what he is fit for, it is generally because
he is fit for nothing. The Bollens have always had energy and
spirit enough. I'm sure I hope some mistaken marriage has not
tainted the blood. If I were his father, I'd give him just
three months to make up his mind, and if he hadn't then, out he
should go, and let the world make it for him. It's wonderful
how many people find their own legs, once they are dropped."
"But it is not easy to decide," pleaded Olive, gently.
"You would not wish him to go into the Church rashly, and he does
not feel sure that he has the talents necessary for a lawyer or a
This never struck innocent Miss Leslie as a piece of special
pleading, but as the merest friendly justice, which she was far too
generous to gainsay.
"Then while there's an acre uncleared in Canada or Australia,
let him go over and cut down the trees," said Miss Leslie. "If
a young man has the true knight's spirit in him, and a drop of good
blood that will keep him from breaking his heart when he gets
molasses instead of sugar, he can't have a finer field than the
colonies. There he can find an atmosphere so clear and fresh
that he can lay out his own life without its getting moth-eaten
before it's half finished."
Olive laughed outright at this little spurt from her dear,
old-fashioned, conservative friend.
"I thought you were so fond of old ways, Miss Leslie," she
said, "old buildings, old institutions, old styles of
thought—everything which, as you say, reassures us with the sense
that somebody lived before us, and got safe home at last."
"And so, indeed, I am, Olive," returned the spinster, "and so
I may like strawberries, but that is no reason why I should not
sometimes prefer to give them away rather than to eat them myself.
Somebody made the past that I value, Olive, and shall we leave no
legacy to the future? Do you think that pioneering should be
left to the outlaw, and the outcast and the vagabond? I say
that the man who, having a past to value and valuing it, yet goes
out from under its shelter that he may plant its seeds in new
ground—I say, Olive Straight, that man is a knight and a hero; and
if any young man stands aside idle while this is to do, he is
without excuse, and his shame be upon his own head."
"But it is rather hard to go away," sighed Olive, thinking,
poor girl, of those who must be left behind.
"Therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus
Christ," replied Miss Leslie. "Christianity and knightliness
are the same thing after all, Olive. Whoever professes to have
the last without the first, only pays it the same compliment which
an ugly woman gives to beauty when she paints her own cheek, and it
is quite as transparent a sham. No, Olive, my dear, the
colonies are just meant for strapping fine lads like our Anthony,
with plenty of blood and sinew, and maybe, not too subtle brains.
And any woman who puts her puling fancies between such men and their
fitting career, is a poor common woman, and no descendant of the
ladies who sent out their lords with scarf and banner, and waited
patiently till they came again, or till the scarf was brought back
High words, that woke high echoes in the girlish heart, and
also a sudden sharp sympathy with all those dead women whose pain
and patience had both been finished so long ago.
"And now tell me about the trousseau," said Miss
Leslie; for a wedding at Grecian Place was imminent now, and Emma
was to have everything that a bride would, could, or should possess.
And, with a sort of contented consciousness of two levels for life,
Olive cheerfully stepped from her own, and entered upon an innocent
description of bonnets and lace and lingerie.
A wedding is a very engrossing affair, and during the few
weeks preceding Emma's there was but little general society at
Grecian Place, and Olive scarcely saw Anthony. Percy was glad
to keep out of the way of the dressmaking and upholstery
consultations, and Olive suspected that Anthony went with him.
Things were not going quite smoothly at the Rectory. Rumours
filtered through the Rectory servants to the Straight waiting-maid,
and were discussed among the muslins and ribbons in the
dressing-room, while Olive stood aside with burning cheeks.
Mr. Anthony was spending too much money; Mr. Anthony was suspected
of betting at the races; Mr. Anthony had put his name to bills; and
there had been such angry words overheard between him and his
father, that Mr. Anthony might even have done something much worse,
if one could only get to know the rights and the wrongs of it.
"If it had been anything but this," thought poor Olive.
If he had not cared for her, that would not have mattered at all.
If he had died, he would not have been dead to her. But to
fall short of the high ideal she had set up for him! Nay, poor
Olive did not put it thus, but rather—to be so unworthy of himself.
It was the wedding-day. Of course, Anthony Bollen had
been invited; but, among the long ranks of friends, his was the only
face that Olive missed. His father "assisted" in the ceremony,
the principal part of which was performed by a dean related to the
bridegroom. The old ladies thought that the rector was piqued
at this, and that it was the reason why he pleaded urgent business,
and left the breakfast-table as soon as he could.
As the phrase goes, everything passed off happily—pretty
speeches, plenty of the tears of uncontrolled excitement and
flutter, little spiteful compliments on Olive's "self-possession and
calmness"—and then the old shoes were thrown after the bride, whose
filial grief was soothed as soon as she was outside the paternal
gates; while Olive wandered back through the shrubbery, only to find
that repressed emotion will not always flow when its restraints are
removed, but rather dries up with a scorching pain.
It was Anthony Bollen who called her. He was standing
on the outer side of a scarcely-used gate, opening on a blind lane
leading from the high road, in which lane Mr. Straight had erected
sundry out-buildings and tool-houses.
It was a strange face to greet the bridesmaid, in her snowy
tulle and fluttering blue ribbons. It was a wild, passion-torn
face, and the hands that were put through the gate in unconscious
appeal were hot, soiled hands. Yet Olive's heart gave a glad
bound as she hastened towards him across the kitchen-garden.
Something was wrong, that was plain; but, oh! joy, he had come to
"I am going away, Olive," he said, half-shrinking back as she
stood in her scented airiness before him. "I am come to say
good-bye; I am off to Australia. I've been very foolish,
Olive, perhaps you'd call it wicked; and it must have ended in
wickedness if my father hadn't saved me. But he won't give me
another chance in England. He can't trust me under the same
temptations again, he says. "Oh! Olive, I am so angry and sick
with myself; and it is so hard to be sent away!"
It was not then that Olive remembered that it must be harder
still for the good father to issue the mandate that left him lonely
in his old age—not then that she felt it was hard for herself.
Poor Anthony! poor Anthony!
"I'll turn over a new leaf now," he said; "I won't trifle on
the edge of ruin any more. Only, Olive, dear Olive, I want you
to do something to help me to mend my ways. I have loved you
so long, Olive, and I do think you love me. Will you promise
to wait for—will you promise to marry me as I can come home and say
I am a prosperous, respectable man? Oh, Olive, if you will
promise, it will make the trying so much easier!"
God help her! Standing there with the sunshine on her
girlish white dress, and the sorest temptation of a woman lying in
wait for her loving soul.
"Oh, Anthony, Anthony!" she cried in her anguish.
"You will promise, then," he said gently, with a pitiful
assumption of assent which made it only harder for her to say―
"Oh, Anthony! I can't; I mustn't. It would not be
kind to you to do so. It wouldn't help you, Anthony; I know it
"You do not trust me," he said, woefully.
"I do—I do!" she cried; "it is because I trust you so much
that I will not promise. Do your duty for God's sake, dear
Anthony; it will be easier to do it so than for mine. Oh,
Anthony! don't you remember your father's last text—'Seek ye first
the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you?"
Sweet, simple, literal faith! If unfulfilled in this
world, it carries one happily through it to that other life whose
glorious secrets are written in gold under the silvers lines of
"The engagement would seem to hold us together," said
Anthony, gloomily. "If you felt as I feel (which is not to be
expected), you would appreciate, as I do, what a blessing that would
be when we shall be so far apart."
There was a pause. Olive was crying. Anthony
stood before her looking dreamily over the sunny fields stretched
out before them, with the grey Rectory gable peeping between its
clustering elms. The church clock chimed two.
"It must be because you don't trust me," he repeated.
"Oh, Tony! it would be very wrong of me, but if I didn't
trust you—if I was not sure you would come back—I don't know that I
could send you away like this."
"I shouldn't have troubled you, little darling," he said,
more tenderly. "What am I that I should make you miserable!
Try to forget it, Olive, and be happy."
"No, no!" cried Olive. "Only be worthy of yourself,
Anthony. Be what God means you to be. Oh Anthony,
Anthony! I shall so long for you to come back!"
She could not have been so candid in a calmer moment, but to
Anthony she had never seemed purer, nobler, or more maidenly than at
"My little tender Olive," he said, "you ought to have nothing
hard to bear. But I see my father crossing the back meadow,
and he will be searching for me. Keep my secret.
Remember me. Pray for me. Good-bye, good-bye!"
And he was gone. But in his heart lay the doubt, "She
can't care for me so very much, or she could not have been so firm."
And she went back to the house, threading her way among the
guests, until the last departed; and then she went to her own room,
and threw herself on the floor beside her little white bed, and
prayed in that dreadful agony which can find no more utterance than
broken cries on the name of the tender Father—God.
Olive concealed nothing, yet nobody guessed anything.
In the evening, when the family were vaguely wandering in the
drawing-rooms, which looked oddly dismantled, and ruinous with
redundant bouquets, white draperies, and disordered chairs, some
intimate acquaintance dropped in to tell the story of young Bollen's
sudden departure from Bishop's Elm for Southampton, about an hour
before. Olive instantly owned that she knew it, that Anthony
himself had spoken to her over the garden wall after the happy
couple drove away, and told her of his going, and said "good-bye."
As this was a more direct communication than anybody else had
received, she was instantly applied to for authentic details, and
found that what she knew in that way was scanty enough.
"Well," said Miss Elizabeth Leslie, commenting on the whole
story, "let's hope it will make a man of him at last, and perhaps
he'll come back to England for a wife, even in my time."
And then the little wheel of Bishop's Elm life rolled on
again the same as ever. Except that Emma, settled in the
nearest West-end quarter, woke its envy now and again by driving up
to Grecian Place in her dashing chariot, and airing the contents of
her trousseau among her old friends, who would appreciate its
magnificence better than her stylish new circle, whom it took a very
great deal to startle, and which when startled was too high-bred to
show it. The little gossiping soirées, the croquet parties,
the parish festivities, went on just the same. Only one old
man and one quiet girl looked oftener at the sky and the
weathercock, and put a dear name in the simple prayer "for all that
travelled by land or water."
That very year Mr. Straight had heavy losses in business.
The stables were reduced to one plain carriage and one man-servant,
though Percy was allowed to retain his hunter. Even in the
house sundry retrenchments became visible, though Emma's withdrawal
and Olive's quieter inclinations naturally reduced its gaiety and
expense. Poor Mrs. Straight fretted sorely—presently fretted
from a buxom matron to a whining invalid, amused and interested only
by her own half-fancied ailments. But all the year, before the
reverses as well as after, Bishop's Elm coteries had noticed a
change and an improvement in Olive. It was not that she was
gayer—she was almost graver than ever―but a kind of strength seemed
growing up in the girl. Her step was more elastic; her style
of thought was more pronounced. She had risen above her
softer, weaker self on the occasion of Anthony's departure, and her
whole nature, physical as well as moral, was growing to the height
and fibre of that supreme effort. That was perhaps the first
line of Olive's true history. If there are some heroes of one
heroism, as some poets of one poem, there are others who emulate
nothing so much as their nobler selves, who are unconsciously
jealous lest the future should disgrace the past. Modifying
the old proverb that what man has once done, man can do again, such
feel that what themselves have once been, they must continue to be.
One independent action, one firm exertion of will, strikes the
key-note for the straying tones of character, and keeps them in tune
to the end. Little, delicate, timid Olive was melting away
like a waxen mask in the sun, and revealing the true Olive
beneath—quiet, reserved, but firm, self-reliant, and energetic, with
that strange energy which supplies bodily strength, or does without
She would need it all. Business did not recover itself.
Retrenchment, never for a moment abandoned, steadily increased.
The family would really have been more comfortable in a smaller
house than Grecian Place. It was rather chill now, bedroom
fires were abandoned; rather large and dreary now they had no
visitors. But they shrank from so plain an announcement of
reduced fortune. They would struggle and hope a little longer.
Even Olive, though she would glance half-envyingly round Miss
Leslie's snug little domicile, could not bear to quite put away the
sweet delusion that brighter days would surely come again.
Two long years, and never a word from Anthony Bollen.
She heard of him. His father, the rector, would drop in of an
evening at Grecian Place, oftener somehow in these days, when the
ladies did not dress for dinner, and the folding-doors between the
drawing-rooms were not set open. He liked a quiet rubber at
whist, and he liked to hear Olive play. Her music had not been
in request in the days of Emma's brilliant symphonies and fantasies;
but now her simple ballads and old-fashioned hymns were very
acceptable. Best of all, he liked to talk of his boy Tony,
ever seeming proudest and happiest when dwelling on the roughest and
hardiest details of the lad's bush life. Tony had nursed a
comrade through the cholera. Tony wrote his short graphic
letters among sheep-carcases, by the light of a candle he had made
himself, stuck in a candlestick of similar manufacture. Tony
rode out days and nights among the wild cattle. Tony was no
silken Candy, after all.
Olive was glad for his sake. Only, along with her
thankfulness there grew a feeling of pain and fear. She had
said truly that she trusted him, but the more this trust was coming
home, the more she sometimes felt that she might have given it too
hard a strain. What if Anthony thought so too? But Olive
had determination enough to put away these qualms, and to reassure
herself with the thought —"Come what may, what I did was right."
In sunny July (a particularly sunny July, when skies had been
clear so long that people were almost watching for clouds) two
events broke over Grecian Place, white and glaring in the midst of
its parched lawns—Straight and Company failed utterly; and a letter,
with Australian post-marks, came for Miss Olive Straight.
It was to her the cup of wine which God generally sets before
us in our days of weariness and heaviness. In its strength she
went through them. Say not that she was selfish to find refuge
in a joy that could scarcely console her father and mother and
brother, for she set this joy to serve them. She did not cry
out that it was hard her time of rejoicing should be so shaded and
silenced. She thanked God that it gave her fortitude and
courage to shield her dear ones as much as she could, taking every
possible burden upon herself, so mercifully armed for the occasion.
"A king's daughter could not fall more gracefully," said Miss
Matters settled themselves somehow. There was
"something" for the family, but it was not so much as one year's
income had often been. Mr. Straight had been an honourable
man, and there were no ample settlements on wife or children to
screen him in his misfortune. Olive was proud of that.
If others might suffer somewhat in the calamities that had come upon
them, they themselves suffered most of all. How grey her
father's hair turned! How silent he sat in the shadiest corner
of the little parlour of the mean house on the green which they
presently rented. Olive could never look at him without a
starting memory of the words, "A wounded spirit who shall bear?"
And amid all her wildest grief that day when he fell down on the
pavement of the High Row, and was carried home unconscious, never to
speak or move afterwards, there was a strange sense of relief for
What were they to do? Olive knew that she must think of
that, as she sat in her new mourning in the stifling parlour with
the ghastly funeral cake and wine upon the table. Need had not
been so imminent while the father lived. There would have been
sundry agencies, sales on commission, and such other means as
mercantile men use to convey assistance to a fallen brother, too
broken down to recommence the fight, but yet too proud and
persistent to sink at once into the genteel almshouse. But
that was all gone now; and Olive knew she must not reckon upon
Percy. Poor Percy! He was the saddest spar in their sad
wreck. Before the crash of the home, there had been watching
nights, weary disgraced mornings, when Olive had fervently thanked
God that Anthony Bollen was safe at his hard, honest work on the
other side of the world. Poor Percy! people had made excuses
for him in those days, who shook their heads behind him now.
There is a morality in the world, which sees more hope for a man who
drowns his future in the best champagne, and fills a betting-book
for the Oaks, than for one who will condescend to stupefy himself
with ale, and is seen hanging about the doors of sly betting-dens
near Oxford Street. Percy had sunk to this depth now, and the
euphemisms of "a, wild young fellow" were exchanged for the plain
epithet of "a black sheep." But just at the time of his
father's death, he was lying helplessly ill—worn out as no man is
ever worn by work, broken down as none are ever broken by sorrow.
"When he mends a little, I think you will be able to manage him,
Miss Straight, but you must begin in time," was the doctor's
opinion. What a verdict on a young man's life of
What should Olive do? There was something in her which
revolted from becoming a governess, even were her education in the
right style. She could not teach music, nor calisthenics, nor
Paris French. Besides, her need was for more than a
governess's salary, and she must keep to her poor mother and the
miserable Percy, whose presence would prevent any possibility of
pupils at home. She could not help envying Miss Elizabeth
Leslie, with her queer, half-mechanical genius, and actually
persuaded that little lady to take her to the British Museum
Reading-room and let her help to hunt up and copy out references.
It was something in the way of work that earns money, and therefore
a comfort. But she could not wait long to ponder her lot and
after a certain plan had fructified in her head for three days,
Olive Straight went through a form of consultation with her
bewildered mother, got a carte-blanche to do whatever she thought
best, and straightway went off and invested half of her pitiful and
fast-dwindling capital in the good-will of the Bishop's Elm Library
and Fancy Stores, which then happened to be on sale.
Mrs. Straight cried out bitterly. A daughter of hers
serving behind a counter, at the beck and call of anybody who came
in with money in their hand! What would the Rev. Mr. Bollen
say? What would Anthony say? Of course, Olive had made
up her mind that he would never think of her again after this.
And what a disgrace to poor Emma, whose husband's family were so
well-connected and so proud!
Olive bit her lip, and drew in her breath hard. For
though she thanked God she had not yet required to ask help of her
brother-in-law, yet he had managed to convey to her that though he
might be forced by his magnanimity to throw her a crumb or two (he
had received a full portion with his bride), yet it was a very
unfair burden, the mere fear of which made him feel himself to be a
sorely-injured man. Her mother's words dropped the first spice
of anxiety in her thoughts of the rector and his son. And it
struck her that even her friend Miss Leslie might consider that "she
had crossed one of those boundary lines" which that good lady
"considered society was bound to respect."
Left lonely in her own familiar village!—left to live like a
ghost, seeing, but not recognized; watching, but not sharing!
The very thought chilled Olive, especially as of late, even under
most unfavourable influences, she had found less satisfaction in
study and thought, and more interest in action and society.
But her heart was strong enough to push aside the paralyzing doubt
that fell upon it, and to say calmly, "I have done what is right!"
And what came of it? This came first. That very
night, after Mrs. Straight and Percy had both retired, there came a
sudden little rap at the door. And when Olive opened it―for
they had no servant living in the house—who was there but Miss
Elizabeth Leslie, with her little silk dress tucked up about her,
and a great plaid shawl thrown over her head.
"Let me into the parlour to speak to you, child," she said;
"I won't stay a minute. Child I've heard the news. The
rector heard it in some shop in the High Row, and he came and told
me, and would have called to congratulate you, he said, only you
must be so busy. He's ever so pleased. You've done the
right thing, Olive. You're a noble woman, child."
"I was afraid you would not like the shop," said Olive, with
a deprecatory smile.
"Well, child, I've often said that born ladies find it hard
to be brought to it. They find it easier to starve, or to live
like slaves in other people's houses, Olive. Poor things, it's
one of their natural disadvantages. You can't expect many
women to be great enough to triumph over prejudices that have been
growing stiff and strong for nine or ten generations. But you
had none of that folly to cripple you, Olive. You could see at
once, that any honest work is honourable. Bless you, child, to
do more work and better work than most people, is the real meaning
of nobility, child. It is not my fault if words get perverted.
As to trade, I think if I was a man, perhaps I'd sooner cut down
trees, or catch wild bulls by the horns, like somebody we know, but
the Bible itself, Olive, commends trade in the wise woman, 'who
maketh fine linen and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the
merchants.' I think it is an excellent opening for women,
though not under the common masculine idea of fitting women's work,
whatever is tedious, trivial, and underpaid. You'll never find
a man say it is 'unwomanly' to do anything which brings in a
shilling for twelve hours' work! But you'll make three times
my income, with half the labour and worry. A stock in trade is
a better capital than a commonplace little brain. You can
insure the one against fire, but you can't insure the other against
cracking! Good-bye, Olive child, and God bless and prosper you
in all your ways. Good-bye."
And so Olive Straight settled down to her new way of life.
No doubt the Australian letters, coming regularly, kept up her
courage, and by-and-by one of them enclosed a ring—a very quiet
little ring—which henceforth graced her left hand. But she had
her trials. Though her mother presently felt herself far more
at home in the snug parlour behind the shop, with duties of
household needlework and china-washing, than ever she had felt in
the idle state of Grecian Place, yet whenever she had a fit of
languor or depression, she was apt to repine over the lost glories,
which in her inmost heart she was secretly glad were not likely to
return. Then business itself would fluctuate, and terrify
Olive with pecuniary care, keeping her on the alert, not only to
gain, but absolutely to earn, every possible shilling. She
laid herself out for employments of which the old conservative
mistresses of the library had never thought. She addressed the
begging circulars of all the charitable institutions within five
miles of Bishop's Elm. She deciphered, arranged, and fair
copied the confused manuscripts of the queer old lady who lived in
"The Nest" behind the Rectory, and who was always making discoveries
about the fate and future of the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
She engrossed and illuminated the address of the parishioners when
they presented an epergne to the rector, on the "silver year" of his
service among them, and "charged" for her work, much as she would
have liked it to have been a labour of love. She was up early
and down late. She persistently set Percy to work too, though
it was hard enough to bear with his blundering and fretfulness, at
being made to do with so much trouble what he knew she could
accomplish so easily herself. He thought her unkind, but she
understood what was good for him, and was firm. He benefited
by it by-and-by. His poor shallow mind was half gone now, but
the effort of exertion braced it up, and he also became so much
stronger physically, that in due time he was fit to take a situation
in the office of the Bishop's Elm auctioneer. It was little
more than a boy's place, either in duties or salary, but the slender
pay went far in their thrifty household, and gave the poor wreck an
humble right on the river of life. He would go to church now,
and Olive took his arm proudly, thanking God that this poor lost
coin of His seemed finding its way back to His treasury, albeit its
Divine superscription had been sadly worn away and clipped under the
Circumstances never brightened very much, but life did.
Olive learned to trust in a certainty underlying the uncertainties
of her income—to find that in work and trade the rule of investments
holds good, and that loss in one item generally involves profit in
another. She even discovered that there are few excitements so
healthy and genuine as the excitement of making both ends meet, and
barely succeeding! And the best definition of happiness which
her experience had brought her was, rather more work in hand than
one can conveniently do.
She did not find her old life so closed to her as he had
expected. The rector (the only one outside her own family who
understood the ring upon her finger, though Miss Leslie guessed and
held her tongue) was her staunch friend, and that, after the fashion
that she liked—not interfering with her independence, but throwing
work in her way, and upholding her generally. There was
scarcely a family whom she had ever visited that did not continue
cards of invitation, which she frankly accepted whenever she had
time; but presently she found that she had not time, and often did
not wish she had. There were new interests come into her life,
and striking deeper roots than the old ones. She found that
ancient acquaintanceships could be kept up on a firmer basis than a
morning call, or two annual parties. And in many a house she
became welcome as the easy family friend who looked in after tea,
and was sent for and consulted in emergencies of all sorts.
Society had not taken liberties with her—rather she had taken the
liberty of hinting to it that it might remove its paint and false
hair, for she liked it better as it really was!
Among her trials came sorrows. The rector fell ill—not
a sudden illness, but not long enough for Anthony to be recalled,
even had his father permitted it. "Why should he come home to
my dust?" the good man asked. "Heaven is everywhere, and I
shall be with my Saviour there. Let him stay where he is, and
not interrupt the prosperity that will bring you two together the
sooner. I'd rather die before you go, Olive. I should be
very lonely without you. You have been a good daughter to me.
I have very little to leave. Clergymen should not die rich.
I have nothing that would be any use to a strong young man like
Tony, or a fine helpful woman like you. Just a trifle that
will provide for my old cook Hannah and dog Keeper. Hannah
saved my life when I had rheumatic fever twenty years ago, and
Keeper saved my silver spoon when the burglars visited me six years
since. So I think they deserve it."
The next Australian mail took the news of his father's death
to Anthony Bollen, and Olive Straight put on deep daughterly
mourning, and Bishop's Elm began to bestir itself and to whisper
that something else would be coming next.
It was three years after that, and nearly ten years since the
summer morning when Anthony Bollen and Olive Straight parted by the
side-gate, that the Bishop's Elm Library and Fancy Stores were again
in the market. Mrs. Straight was dead. Percy was doing
well enough to be trusted alone, and even to be a frequent visitor
to his brother-in-law and sister Emma. Anthony Bollen was a
prosperous man, and Olive Straight was going out to Melbourne to be
A young woman no longer; it was a woman of thirty-one,
capable, comely, and cheerful, who went about, brightly, buying her
wedding outfit. Miss Elizabeth Leslie went shopping with her.
Some people never get older. Miss Leslie must have been fifty
for a long time, but she stayed so. Olive was part of her very
life now, and what she should do when she was gone, Miss Elizabeth
could not imagine.
Anthony had written asking Olive to be ready to marry him on
very short notice. He was waiting an opportunity to come for
her, but the exigencies of his colonial business were such that he
could not fix beforehand when he would start, nor could he remain in
England more than a week. Olive had written back, bravely,
that it was a pity to have such expense, fatigue, and inconvenience
over a formality. Should she come out to him? Olive
almost trembled when she had done it, it seemed so foreign to what
Miss Leslie called "delicate womanly reserve;" but when her friend
heard it she approved it heartily.
"You are no green girl marrying a nonsensical boy.
You're a sensible woman and (I trust) he's a sensible man.
There is romance and romance, my dear. The pretty young kind
is very sweet in its way, and unless we have it at the proper time,
we seldom have the other in its turn. But there's a time to
carol 'Lady-love, lady-love,' and another to sing 'John Anderson, my
jo, John.' Besides, true, pure women are never so squeamish as
your half-bred, giggling misses.
It seemed like a dream to be living in the dim London
lodgings where she spent her last days in England. She was
thankful for the very whirl in which they were passed. It
saved her from thinking over-much of the graves in Bishop's Elm
churchyard, and the sunshine over the lawns of Grecian Place, and
the field-view from that little gate in the blind lane. It is
hard to tear one's life from its old setting; it gets damaged in the
process, or at least it seems so. Like the old clock or the
old carpet that looked so handsome in the niche or chamber which
they fitted, but show, as spoiled and shabby in the new spruce
unhomely house. Exile is a death with a voluntary action in it
which adds the passionate anguish of sacrifice. But Olive's
was an exile of love, and she went to it, rejoicingly. Oh,
what a poor love it must be, that is so wise that it counts all the
cost beforehand, and will not incur the risk!
There was a pathos in Olive Straight's departure—leaving her
youth and its surroundings behind her, and going out to a strange
future in an unknown land. It would not have been half so
truly touching, had it possessed more of the common elements of
interest—had she been young and beautiful, very rich or very poor,
anything but the middle-aged, contented, well-to-do woman that she
was, with her simple, silent love strong to stir the deep roots of
Only two people saw her off—little Miss Elizabeth and poor
brother Percy. There was a fresh breeze blowing through the
docks, that stirred some old-fashioned perfume that Miss Leslie
always kept about her person. There they said those few last
words, which, after all, can have so little more in them than there
is in a parting till to-morrow, though they will be remembered and
re-rendered as fondly as the written message of a hand that can
write no more. "Let us hear from you as often as you can.
Take care of yourself. Good-bye. God bless you!"
And a gate closes, or a mooring is loosened. And one goes back
by a path that was never trodden alone before, and one goes forward,
with forgotten tears unshed, and wonders how the stars look dim, or
why the sun is changed.
But Olive braced herself, she had looked forward to this as
the crown of her life. Only it was hard to leave Miss Leslie
and Percy alone. It seemed even selfish. She had all the
pleasure, and they had all the pain. Only she was not her
own—she was Anthony's. It comforted her a little to reflect
when the sea-smells began to creep chilly to her heart, that Miss
Elizabeth and her brother had lost nothing but herself, and she had
left everything for Anthony. And then her healthy nature
stretched out its roots towards their new soil, and pondered no more
over the transplanting.
She had a hard voyage; gale after gale, and nearly all in the
wrong direction. The passengers were ill and impatient; the
ship's officers too busy and anxious to cheer them up. Olive
found work to do, and did it. Always somebody lying lonely in
their berth, or prostrate on the deck, helplessly staring at the
sky. People to be soothed from fear in the storm, and from ill
temper the day after. She became a useful favourite. She
was asked whether she was going out to join a brother, and she owned
frankly that she was going to be married, and had not seen "Mr.
Bollen" for ten years. She did not think enough of herself
now-a-days to be shy, and was too whole and active to be
nervous,—looking back upon her old girlish identity with a sort of
indulgent pity, and thanking God for nothing so much as for the
rough trials that had braced up her soul, just as the wild
sea-breezes were bracing the frames of some invalid
When the ship cast anchor at Melbourne, and Mr. Bollen came
on board to fetch her, there was a little respectful curiosity felt
to see the meeting. A great, strong settler, (was it possible
he had grown?) with a brown, hairy face, and rough, easy garments,
came tramping over the deck, and glancing to and fro at the groups
of ladies standing about. It seemed as if he would have passed
Olive, if she had not stepped out, with hands held forth.
"Olive, I shouldn't have known you!"
"I should have known you anywhere, Anthony!" But she
thought no reproach.
"Why did you come alone? I told you not," he said.
He had hinted that she should hire a companion, but she, so long
used to set aside comforts that were urged upon her, had
instinctively and innocently disregarded the injunction.
"I dare say you are very tired," he said. "There will
be plenty of time to see after your luggage, if you have a
portmanteau of immediate necessaries. Some very urgent
business is calling me from Melbourne—of course I could not go till
your ship came in, and I saw you in safety. But now I can
start to-morrow morning. I shall only be away two or three
days, which will give you time to rest, and you are expected to 'put
up' at my partner's house. His wife is a nice kind woman, and
they have a sweet little daughter, who will be pleasant company for
you. Two or three days more, Olive, and then no more parting."
There was an effort in the last words, as if he was conscious
of some coldness, and wished to atone for it. But the thought
of his temporary departure came to Olive like a chill. He had
been ready to come to England for her at a great sacrifice, and now
she had saved him this, he seemed unprepared for smaller sacrifice.
Olive did not reason this out any more than we analyze the pang of a
sudden sting, but she felt a longing for some touch from the dear
old past, some craving even for the wild pain and hot tears beside
the side-gate on Emma's wedding-day.
He took her to her temporary destination, and after a brief
welcome, the hostess disappeared, and the two were left alone
together. Then, in quietness, they first mentioned the dead,
and the absent, and the old days. It struck Olive then, that a
sudden gulf seemed to yawn between the past and the present, and
that somehow they spoke of her former self as a third party.
Then it was, that Anthony Bollen's first startled greeting returned
on her ear like a discord, and assumed a morbid fascination over
He left her. She went up to her strange chamber in the
strange land. There was a terrible loneliness upon her.
She would have been glad to have her chests with her, to find some
poor reassurance in their familiar contents. Anthony might be
close at hand. He was, in truth, inhabiting the nearest house,
which was to be her future home. She could look from her
window upon it—white and substantial, among the bright young trees
of its garden. She could see the curtained lattice of his
chamber. But he had never felt so far away, all these ten
years, when night after night, she had finished her work, often in
the small hours, and looked at his portrait, and put his name in her
prayer, and sunk to sleep to dream of him. Olive Straight had
never prayed but humbly and reverently, as a docile child to a wise
Father. She had never raised a perverse will to snatch fancied
blessings from the Divine hand. But yet she was to learn that
there may be a greater bitterness in granted prayers than in denied
ones. Oh, if this voyage could be as if it had never been, and
she could find herself back in Bishop's Elm, doing her humble
duties, enjoying her quiet friendships, living in the glory of a
dream that was so far better than its reality.
She did not rebel; she did not even give definite shape to
the pain and doubt creeping through her heart. She was willing
to attribute all to fatigue, to loneliness, to the sudden shock
generally felt when the long waves of the past break over a strange
present. She would be better if she had something to do.
The very leisure of hand and mind was so new to her, that it alone
was trying and disconcerting. To-morrow she would provide
herself with needlework, and have her boxes fetched, and make
herself busy among old associations.
So she did. She made herself very pleasant and friendly
to her hospitable entertainers, the Grays. They were English
people too, and partly Londoners; and she could tell them of the
changes which had taken place about their old home, and the new
railroads that had been made, and which of the old local celebrities
were dead or gone away, and who reigned in heir stead. In
their turn they could not speak too loud in praise of her affianced.
They were not the sort of people to notice that she looked a little
wistfully at Ellen Gray, the pale, dark-eyed, only daughter, about
whom the mother was quite anxious, she was so delicate and
"She may grow out of it; I used to be just so," Olive said
"Mr. Bollen always said that," Mrs. Gray responded in
delight. "He made Ellen quite a favourite for your sake."
God's will be done. Letters came from the absent lover.
Alas, alas! the letters were so different from those that had come
to England. The meeting had changed them too. This was
not the woman he had once loved. And his heart kept faith to
its old ideal.
"I'm afraid Miss Straight has missed you sadly, Mr. Bollen,"
said cheerful Mrs. Gray, as, on the evening of his return she met
him on her threshold, coming in slowly and soberly; "for, though
she's one of the pleasantest ladies I ever met, it's not been to
please herself that she's been so chatty and sociable to us, and she
can't help turning quiet at times, and all to-day she has scarcely
said a word."
Once more alone together. Hand to hand, eye to eye.
Only for a second. His hand dropped; his eye fell. This
was not his Olive. No.
"Anthony"—it was a low, thrilling voice, that gave his heart
a curious leap—"you find me very much changed, I know."
"Time changes a' things; he'll no let them be,"
quoted Anthony, with an affectation of playfulness. He did not
remember where the words came from. They had been echoing in
his head these last few days, as bits of jingling rhyme will echo.
Olive looked up quickly. It was easier to state the case in
any words but her own, and she carried on the quotation:
"But I'd rather have the ither ane than this Bessie
There was something in her voice and manner which said what
she meant, and which stung Anthony Bollen.
"What reason have I given you to say that?" he asked.
Do him justice. He too had been fighting his battle out
in the lonely bush. All these years he had been dreaming a
dream that had not come true. But on the lone Australian moor
he had vowed to himself to be faithful and honourable. He
would not go back from his plighted troth. He would accept
this bright balsam that had grown where he thought he had planted a
tender lily. There might be other lilies near at hand, but he
would keep his faith and wear the balsam, and "make the best of it."
"You have given me no reason but that it is the truth," she
answered gently; "I am not what you thought me. Anthony, let
me go home."
"My dear creature," he said, with masculine energy, but not,
Olive saw, without a sense of relief, "don't propose such strong
measures. I leave a gentle, fragile, fading girl, whom I love,
Olive, with all my heart and soul. And, after years and years,
I find a fine, capable, heartsome woman instead. It must be a
little startling at first, Olive. In fact you are your own
rival. You would not think much of my constancy if I could
transfer my allegiance in a day. But there is nothing painful
in the change. Far from it. Most people would think you
Most people! Patience, patience!
"Let me, go home," she pleaded.
"You must own it's a great change," he went on, in eager
self-excuse. "Fancy taking this long journey alone! The
timid little pet you used to be! It's odd what a charm we
strong, rough men find in weakness and softness. I cannot
think where you have found so much pluck and energy."
"From doing my duty!" said Olive, looking at him with bright,
brown eyes. "God set a task and gave me strength to do it.
And now, Anthony Bollen, God bless you always in everything, and I
will go back again, thanking Him for saving us both from a dreadful
"And everybody will say that I have behaved very badly to
you," cried Anthony bitterly.
There was a shade passed over Olive's face. It was not
impatience; it was not contempt. But it was like the look of a
man who has to brace his comrade's courage against ghosts and
"Some people will lay all the blame on me," she said calmly.
"But never mind that. If that was all, it would be but
little." That was the only hint she ever gave of the agony
with which love lay dying within her.
So set the dream of a life. It was not made into an
acting tragedy. People only heard that plans were changed—that
Miss Straight was going back to England. Mrs. Grey told her
husband that "she thought Miss Straight had acted very wisely; there
was a great deal more in her than there ever could be in Bollen;
that, for her own part, she did not think much was to be expected
from such long and separated engagements; and that Miss Straight was
the right woman to make a capital old maid, and a very happy one
into the bargain."
Mrs. Gray never suspected any substantial suffering in the
quiet matter-of-fact woman, who, during the day or two before her
departure, did not forget to dry a few Australian flowers, because
her old friend Mrs. Leslie kept an herbarium, and would like such
important addition to its glories. That she felt vexed at so
much trouble and waste of time for no result, Mrs. Gray, as a
thrifty house-wife, did not doubt, and even cast about in her kindly
brain whether she could not do something to lighten such sense of
the fruitless toil and worry.
"It's a pity to go home so soon, after coming so far," she
ventured to say, when Olive was fain to commence her repacking.
"If you'd stay a while longer, that weariful Mr. Anthony would soon
be out of your sight, for I know he must be off to Sydney for a
spell by-and-by. And then you might rest and enjoy yourself
with us, and maybe stay on, and see how we keep Christmas among the
roses in Australia."
"Thank you very much," Olive answered, gently. "But I
should like to spend Christmas at home; and our captain expects to
get in by that time."
Christmas at home! Words have so many meanings; and
Life gives such pathos to many a household phrase!
The night before Olive started on her homeward-bound journey,
in the Ocean Star, she called Ellen Gray into her room, and
gave her some delicate lace, that she had bought for herself to wear
as a bride, and a pearl brooch intended for the same occasion.
"I don't think you need fear them to be unlucky gifts," she said,
sweetly. "Good wishes cross unluckiness, and avert any omen.
Besides, we don't believe in omens, dear, do we? We believe in
"She could not have cared much for me," said Anthony Bollen,
as he stood on the quay, while the ship's moorings were loosened.
"She could not have cared much for me, or she would never have done
it. She will be happy enough; she has it in herself; she will
be very happy."
SOMEBODY else knew that.
Say good-bye to her, standing on the deck watching the sun go
down. The pilot noticed her standing so all that evening; and
vaguely wondered whether it was homeward bound or outward bound with
her. There was a little playing child that kept running to
her, and clasping her skirts, and she always smiled and stroked its
hair, and did not put it away from her.
What was she thinking about? Of the old Bishop's Elm
life to be taken up again, with the glory gone off it? Of the
kindly friendships which made such pleasant figure on a sweet old
background, but were scarcely enough by themselves? Of the
duties on which she had mounted step by step out of reach of the
homely happiness which had cheered her ascent? Never mind.
The pilot heard her voice once. Half-singing,
half-chanting, in sympathy with the slow, strange monotone of the
grey sea at her feet:
"O Paradise! O Paradise!
The world is growing old;
Who would not be at rest and free,
Where love is never cold?
O Paradise, O Paradise,'
'Tis weary waiting here,――――"
And there she ceased. The pilot noticed it, because the hymn
was one which his mother had taught him, and he had never heard it
since. He remembered it afterwards, and spoke of it.
Say good-bye to her standing on the deck, watching the sun go
And presently the English papers recorded in succession—
"Steamship Ocean Star, from
"Ocean Star—not heard of."
"Part of a wreck, thought to be the Ocean Star, seen
off the rocks at the Cape."
Then, at last, the paragraph:—
"A MESSAGE FROM THE
OF THE Ocean Star.—A bottle containing
paper was washed ashore at Algoa Bay last week. We report its
contents that they may the sooner reach the eyes for which they were
intended, and perhaps be some satisfaction to other anxious friends
of the lost. The following is written in pencil, on paper,
apparently the fly-leaf torn from a book.—'Ocean Star,—The
ship is sinking fast. Dear Percy and Miss Elizabeth, there are
£200 in letters of credit on the Royal Bank of Australia, and £150
insurance on my life and property in the Australasian Assurance
Office. This may be useful in saving you trouble. I am
not afraid; God is so good. Yours in everlasting love, OLIVE
S.— Whoever finds this, please to forward to Miss Elizabeth Leslie,
High Row, Bishop's Elm, near London.'
"She died royally," sobbed Miss Elizabeth, as she read it.
Let the faded orange-flower fall; there are fadeless flowers
in heaven. Let the blighted life go; there is immortality
But was it a blighted life? When the fair mansion is
built, do we care that its scaffolding is knocked away? When
the flower is mature, what do we care for the screens and props
which reared it?
So she spends her CHRISTMAS AT HOME;
and she is very happy. God takes care of that.