THE LAST NIGHT IN THE CITY.
THERE are few
things which it is altogether pleasant to do for to "the last time."
I daresay many brides feel a little heartache when they give their
parents the evening kiss the night before the wedding. I think
most clergymen would falter a little over a farewell sermon, though
next Sunday they were to preach in an ancient cathedral instead of a
little country church. And so my heart is not altogether merry
as I draw my chair to mine ancient hearth for "the last time."
It is only a lonely hearth in the second floor of a great
house of business. The room is rather low, but quite large
enough for me; and it has one advantage which I have always
appreciated: its windows overlook a narrow strip of graveyard
belonging to a vanished London church. There is a great elm
which touches my panes, and makes a ghostly pattering when the wind
is high. I wish the church were still there. One Sunday,
its pastor preached in it for "the last time," only he did not know
it; and in the week the red flames came, and withered it up before
the eyes of the congregation. I have seen a picture of it, and
it was a pretty Gothic church. If it were here to-day it would
not have a score of worshippers. I should be one; or sometimes
I might remain at home and listen to the anthem and the preacher's
voice through my open windows.
I am an old man—I must be, for I have been in this very
house, one way or another, for fifty years. I entered as
junior clerk—a very junior clerk, just fourteen years old,
penniless and fatherless, and without home or friends in the great
city. But a home was kept for me on the banks of the river
Mallowe,―thanks to the courage and
industry of my only sister Ruth. She was some years older than
me; and when our father died she took his place, and ruled
everything for our poor, crushed, feeble mother, with that quiet
tenderness which belongs to strong characters. Ruth settled
all about my situation, and then she prepared my little outfit, and
at last accompanied me to meet the stagecoach. Mother did not
come further than our own gate. It was a very hot, bright
summer day, and the green lanes and fair meadows looked more
tempting than I had ever seen them before. When we reached the
corner of the common the coach had not come, and we stood beside the
sign-post and talked. Ruth did not exhort me; she only told me
in what parts of my trunk she had stowed away certain treasures; and
at last, when a white cloud of dust in the distance announced the
coming coach, she put her hand on my shoulder, and said—
"Now, Ned, never think you are free to go wrong because you
fancy it won't hurt anybody but yourself. IT
WILL. It will break up our home at Mallowe as much as
if it depended on your support and you failed to send money. I
shall not have heart to bustle about in the shop and among strange
people unless I have cause to be proud of you, Ned."
And then she bent and kissed me, and stood there, smiling,
while I climbed the coach. She did not move as long as we were
in sight; and very often during my first nights in London I dreamed
of my sister standing alone by the sign-post on the broad common.
Yes, Ruth was a wonderful woman. When my father died,
people advised that the shop should be given up and a school opened
in its stead. That would be proper woman's work, they said,
which the business was not. It would have been all very well
had it been only the village library and stationery goods; but it
was something beside. In or near our village were two
solicitors, with large connexions among the farmers and landed
proprietors about, and my father kept in his shop all the
requirements of their offices, and, what was more, he undertook
their copying. He had taught Ruth to help him, and she had
been his only assistant,—a fact over which there had been much
shaking of heads among the old ladies. Of course she must give
up that now, they remarked. Ruth said nothing at first, but
when they pressed her very vigorously, recommending particular
houses as suited for her visionary school, and even giving hints as
to what furniture she should keep, and what she should sell, then
she opened her mouth and spake.
"We know the worst of old things, but we can't guess the
worst of new ones," she said. "So long as I can I shall keep
what I have."
And so she did. The labours which she and her father
had shared, she managed to do alone. God knows (I say it
solemnly) how she did it. We had been orphans for a year
before I left home, and her example during that time was a great
boon to me. She was a living picture of self-denial, patience,
and cheerful industry, all the more edifying because she did not see
it herself, but was only a little proud of her success as a woman of
business. I fear our mother never quite appreciated her.
But Ruth will not let me say so. She always remarks, "Ah, Ned,
there was nothing to appreciate; I am very glad that our mother kept
me in mind of my faults." But then why was mother so blind to
mine?—and I might have had many more, and worse ones, and I
know she would have continued as blind. Dear mother! she is
gone where she is doubtless grown strong enough to understand the
daughter who puzzled her so sorely on earth.
London seemed very dismal to me when I alighted from the old
"Highflyer." It set me down at the "Saracen's Head," and as I
wandered out of the quaint inn-yard, I felt a strange sinking of
heart. The great world around was so strong, and stern, and
remorseless, and I so weak and lonely! It is not at first we
can realise that the vast tide of humanity is composed of little
individual waves, one not much stronger or swifter than another, and
all, and each (such comfort in that each!) carried along by
the pitiful hand of God, who remembers every face in the vast
throng, whether fair or faded, and knows every heart, and
understands all about each life! But at first we only feel the
terror of our own littleness. Coming from sweet country
villages, where we recognised every one we met, we shrink from the
unheeding crowd, with their blank, regardless eyes.
I was duly installed in my humble duties in the
counting-house of this establishment. I don't think I was very
bright; but every one was kind, and ready enough to give a helping
hand to the poor dazed lad from the country. To me they seemed
very clever those handsome, well-dressed, gaily-speaking young men,
my superiors. I did not believe I should ever be competent to
fill places like theirs. As I have said, they were very kind;
but I knew they laughed at me, and would not care to converse about
such things as I took interest in. For the first few days this
great house was as lonely to me as the streets. But one fair,
cool morning, I was told that "the master" had returned from his
summer holiday, and wished to see me—little Ned Garrett, from
Mallowe. This was the head of the firm,—the other partners had
been wisely chosen from among his best and longest-tried clerks.
I had never seen Mr Lambert; but I knew his history—how he was the
son of a far-descended fallen country family; how he put aside the
prejudice of his rank and entered business life as humbly as myself;
how by God's blessing on his diligence, he succeeded, until at last
he bought back the old family mansion, but still remained in
business, because he could not bear to give up the influence which
he used for good in London. I felt a little awe as I
approached his room—this very chamber. It was Mr Lambert's
then; it has been Ned Garrett's since. To-morrow it will
belong to somebody else.
He said very little to me. He was a tall, slender man,
with a beautiful old face and long silver hair,—no less a gentleman
because he was a merchant. He sat in a great brown leather
settle, behind a huge writing table, and he bade me be seated on a
little cane chair opposite. He asked if I had heard from home
since my arrival, and how were my mother and sister—"your your
sister Ruth," he called her, and the sound of the old household name
was like a breath of the breezes that blow over the sunny Mallowe.
Then he said he had heard good reports of me, and he should always
like to hear the same, and stretched forth his hand—a white, warm,
wrinkled, agèd hand—and shook mine
kindly, and I knew I might go.
But after that I never felt alone. I generally saw him
once or twice a day, only for a minute, and quite in the way of
business; but that always sent me back to work comforted and
content. The great millionaire—the man who had declined royal
honours—could not hold conversation with such a unit as me, as he
might have done had he himself been an old clerk with two hundred a
year, and a wife and children in a six-roomed house at Clapham.
The tide of life breaks into streams, the boundaries of which it is
not wise nor pleasant often to overflow. But the very
character of the man was a friend to me. From it I could
imagine the counsel he would give, and that it would be but an echo
of the brave womanly words I had heard under the sign-post on
Mallowe Common. I put the image of the quiet old gentleman
into my heart beside that of my dark-eyed, accurate sister.
They were the lares of my soul. I did not know all this
when I was fourteen, but I know it now.
Well, I prospered, and rose one step after another, and when
I was twenty-one I was in receipt of a fair salary for that age.
Early every autumn I took a run down to Mallowe, but not at
Christmas, because in those times we had no holiday then but the one
day. I never wanted a better change than to go home.
Early autumn was a slack time in the shop, so Ruth was free to roam
the country with me, and many pleasant rambles we had sometimes
together and sometimes with young people from the village, whom I
had known all my life. Ah, not even in London, had I forgotten
one—little Lucy Weston. I shall not speak about Lucy's looks;
I don't suppose she was a beauty to any one but me, and I don't
suppose she was clever. She was only a good little girl—a
daisy among women; and we always love the daisies most, because we
knew them best when we were young! Her father kept the Meadow
Farm, a dear old-fashioned gabled house, overgrown with creepers,
which wreathed round its quaint white-curtained lattices, and made
the whole place like a huge nest. Lucy was the only daughter; but
she had five brothers, great curly-haired, grinning, tramping,
good-natured lads, who came crushing round me to hear about London,
until, not having grown much since I first left Mallowe, I always
felt quite overwhelmed and breathless. Yet Lucy was a very
quiet thing in manner, and voice, and look. Just to see her
was as soothing as to hear an old psalm tune sun, softly by little
I have not got a vivid memory, but any minute that I like I
can fancy myself in the great parlour at Meadow Farm—a long low
wainscoted room, with some curious wood-carving about the ceiling
and fireplace, and wide windows along one side, beyond which lay a
splendid prospect of lane, and field, and hedgerow, mingling summer
charms with autumn wealth. The floor was bare except for two
narrow strips of plain green carpeting, which set off the cleanness
of the boards. There were heavy old chairs with cushions of
some kind of chintz, and a long well-polished oak table uncovered,
except when clad in white drapery for meals. The room boasted
no ornaments beyond a fox's head and brush, and a few firearms over
the mantelpiece, and three great beau-pots of flowers, one set in
each window. And what a noise the farmer and his sons made, as
they came tramping in, with loud honest laughter, and good old jokes
that could stand an airing almost every day, and among them little
Lucy with the breezes in her hair, and her cheeks a wee bit redder
from the family kisses. And last of all, "the mistress," with
her cambric cap and kerchief, and her broad sunshiny face, that
looked as if it remembered all the good harvests and forgot every
bad one. And then after them came tea and cake and fresh
fruit, borne in by a stout serving-maiden full of old-school
deference to her superiors, but always able to throw back a saucy
word to the boys, if necessary. And then we all gathered round
the long table, Lucy and I, somehow, side by side, and after a
moment's hush, there burst forth the Westons' customary tea-time
grace―Lucy's silver voice rising
among the others, like a minstrel's harp amid the clang of martial
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
After such a meal as that, on the last night of my visit in
the year of my coming of age, Lucy and I wandered out upon the
greenly downs behind the house. I was a little disposed to
envy the easy course of life in that nest-like home, and I
manifested this tendency by setting forth, somewhat vauntingly, the
advantages of city life. Perhaps I did it to hide my
discontent, perhaps to argue myself into satisfaction with my lot.
But Lucy went straight to the root of the matter. "There's a
'best side' to everything, Ned," she said, "and there's much to be
gained by living in London, but because we grant that, don't let us
cry down country life. I'm rather sorry your favourite Mr
Lambert thinks there is so much more to be done among the houses
than under the trees. I wish he would come down here and try."
"But life in the country is so narrow," said I.
She looked at me and smiled. "No one can do more than
he can, Ned," she answered; "and the narrowest life is wider than
most of our hearts. When people have a great many ways of
doing good, they sometimes get so confused that they do nothing."
I knew she was right.
"So you have made up your mind never to return to the 'fields
for good,'" she remarked after a short silence.
"I don't say that," I answered. (We were standing on a
slight eminence, facing the sunset.) "I daresay you would
refuse to live in the city."
"I don't think I should," she replied, shading her eyes; "it
would all depend upon circumstances."
"I shall not be able to afford to live in the country till I
am quite old," I said—"perhaps not then."
"Well, everywhere is God's world," she answered, turning
towards me; then added playfully, "but when you do come, don't make
up your mind there's nothing to do but water flowers and go to
sleep. There's plenty of work wherever there are sin and
sorrow; and sin and sorrow are everywhere. 'The harvest truly
is plenteous, but the labourers are few:'" and her voice was solemn
Ah, pretty Lucy! at the harvest supper some will meet us whom
their Father called into the shelter of His own house before the
burden and heat of the day!
"Dear me, but I'm grown quite a cockney," I said, after a
long pause. "If I am to live in the country again, I shall
want some one to show me how."
"You can easily find some one," she retorted.
"Will you?" I asked.
But at that auspicious moment we heard Farmer Weston's lusty
voice shouting our names, and Lucy sprang up with damask cheeks; and
ran fleetly to the house. I did not see her alone again all
the evening. But next morning as I passed the farm, on my way
to meet the coach, I saw her toying with her beau-pots in the
parlour. So I unfastened the wicket, and crossed the garden,
meaning to ask for an answer to my question. But the moment I
reached the window, Mrs Weston advanced from the recesses of the
room, and overwhelmed me with good wishes for my journey, and an
enormous cake and some ripe pears wherewith to beguile its tedium.
So perforce I returned to my city abode with an unsatisfied heart.
After a fortnight (scarcely a fortnight—I think it was only
ten days) came the accustomed budget from Ruth. It opened with
a bulletin of my mother's failing health, and good news of the
business, but the third page went on thus:—
"It has been a sorrowful week at Mallowe. Our dear Lucy
Weston was taken suddenly ill on Tuesday afternoon. She was
unconscious from that time, so no one was sent for, not even her
grandmother, and on Wednesday night she died. I know you will
be so sorry."
That was all. My sister passed to other topics.
Of course I went as usual to business, but I felt myself
worse than useless. The long rows of figures meant nothing to
me, and I was blundering on, with flushed, throbbing face, when Mr
Lambert came in.
"You are not well to-day, Garrett," he said, in his soft,
"Not quite, sir," I replied.
He looked kindly at me for a moment. "Have you heard
from home?" he asked. "All well there, I hope?"
"All quite well, thank you, sir," I answered.
He sat down opposite me, and wrote a letter. I could
feel his eyes upon me now and then. When he had finished, he
"Leave off work to-day, my boy, and take a drive out of town.
You're worrying about something—I shan't ask you what. I don't
believe it's your fault, so it will be sure to come right again,
Garrett." And once more he shook hands with me—the second time
since I had been in his house.
I did as he bade me. And I returned, not comforted, but
calmed, and strong enough to bear my sorrow. Comfort came by
and by, but not completely—not till I had been through a simoom of
misery which was destined to teach me that I and my first love had
been parted by the best and kindest separation which God can ordain.
Ah, Lucy, and it cannot be many more years before I shall
hear you singing again; this time a better Doxology than the one in
which I can always hear your voice to this very day. I have
never forgotten you! Looking upon my life, people might say I
did forget, and not too slowly; but where you are, perhaps you know
I sent an ordinary condoling message to the bereaved family,
and then I settled into my old life, and in due course the time came
round for my accustomed visit to Mallowe. I half thought I
would not go, but I forced myself not to flinch. I found
everything exactly the same. I thought Ruth gave me one or two
searching glances, but that was all. I believe it was only my
"You will go to Meadow Farm this evening, Ned," she said,
after tea; "you always gave them the first visit, and they might
feel hurt if you didn't now, poor things."
"I shall certainly go," I answered, looking from the window.
"Shall you come too, Ruth?"
"I think not," she said. "I am rather busy, so I will
stay at home, and then I shall be ready to take a walk with you
The Meadow Farm looked as nest-like as ever, and the
beau-pots were still in the windows. But the flowers missed
the dainty fingers which had arranged them so well, and they looked
faint and drooping. I entered the open door; the house was
very silent, but presently one of the brothers, crossing the
back-garden, caught sight of me, and came forward to bid me welcome.
He was as yellow-haired and ruddy as ever, but his step seemed
quieter—perhaps it had grown hushed while she lay in her coffin.
He led me to his parents. The father was laughing and chatting
as usual, but his voice and laugh were those of an old man.
The mother's face was as sunshiny, but not so broad. They were
seated in their great orderly kitchen. Mrs Weston explained
"that they felt the parlour chilly of an evening; they liked to be
where the fire was." The five brothers came in and sat down in
a half-circle. Presently the mother spoke about "her Lucy,"
and her husband joined in. They both shed a tear or two.
The eldest brother shaded his face, as from the firelight; another
got up and looked into the garden; a third asked if the horse were
put up for the night, and then went to the stable to satisfy
himself. It was very touching. They were evidently
trying to pursue their life as cheerfully as possible, but they
could not make it what it had been. I stayed to supper.
The elder brother stood up, and offered "thanks." There was no
singing. "We could not do it at first," said the poor father;
it was nothing but breaking down, and so we got out of the habit."
That visit did me good: the sight of their cheerful
resignation braced my own soul, and I returned to London, stronger
and happier than I had been since my last country visit.
After that, several years went quietly past. I advanced
in the office, until I was fairly a well-to-do man, and though still
but a salaried clerk, not without private dreams of ultimate
partnership. At last, when I was nearly thirty years old, I
found myself constantly a guest in the home of a fellow-clerk—a
young man, who lived with his widowed mother and a sister.
Their small neat house at Hackney was very different to great
rambling liberal Meadow Farm, and the occupants were as dissimilar.
Yet I believe competent judges would have considered Maria
Willoughby much more handsome and talented than the little daisy of
Mallowe. Of course, Maria was a town-lady, quiet, polite, and
self-contained—a conservatory exotic; while the other was just a
little flower, dropped from God's hand, and untouched by
horticulturists. But I grew to love Maria—not with such love
as I had borne for her, but with grave, reverent affection,
which would have placed her "in my home and near my heart," and kept
her there safe and honoured even to the end. In due time I
opened my suit; it was courteously received, and I believed myself
happy in a sensible, middle-aged kind of way.
Well, I don't want to say much about what followed. Let
this suffice. Here am I, Ned Garrett, a settled old bachelor,
and there is Maria, the wife of a wealthy City man, the son of a
long line of prosperous merchants. If she had come to me and
said, "I love this man—I loved him before I knew you;" or, "I see
him for the first time, but I know that I can love him as I can
never love you," I could have forgiven her and forgotten my own loss
and humiliation. But no! Only her mother wrote to me,
saying Maria had received a proposal from a gentleman who could
offer her a comfortable establishment and handsome settlements; and
as I could do neither, she had advised her daughter to act in a way
most conducive to the well-being of all parties, and Maria had been
prudent enough to consent. Do you suppose I was satisfied with
this? Not I. I insisted on seeing the girl and making
sure there were no underhand dealings or false representations.
But she only confirmed Mrs Willoughby's letter; and I don't know
what I said, nor how I looked, but both women quailed before me, and
I have never spoken to either since.
I think that would have cost me my faith in womanhood, had
Maria been my first love. It was then I learned to thank God
for Lucy's grave—for the gentle Hand that had not shattered my idol,
but only removed it to a place of eternal safety. And from
that time my heart has never yearned for a new allegiance. The
bitterness slowly wore away, together with the remembrance of her
who caused it. I know that Maria was pretty, graceful, and
refined; but her face never comes to me in sleeping or waking
dreams—while as for Lucy's, I could draw her portrait directly, if
my fingers had as good a memory as my heart!
Not long after that I got my partnership. It was but a
sober triumph for me. I wrote a letter to my mother and
sister, and then I walked out in the darkness alone. There was
no one else to tell. I knew Maria Willoughby would hear the
news from her brother, and I blushed at the coarse pleasure I felt
at her possible mortification, for I was now in the way to become a
much richer man than her intended spouse. Oh, if she had only
stood the ordeal! Yet even then I did not wish my success had
come earlier and spared her the trial. One would rather go
without jewels than pass through life decked out with pinchbeck, in
the fond belief that the glass and gilt were diamonds and gold.
We may regret the baseness, but not the detection. Let all
false things go!
Not very long after that my dear gentle mother died.
She had been so long ailing that she slipped out of life almost
unconsciously; and I am glad to remember that her last word was
Ruth's name. After the funeral I remained at home many days,
assisting my sister in her final arrangements. Had everything
been realised; there would have been a slender competency for her,
and I wished her to share my London home, and rest herself for the
first time in her life. But she resolutely refused. She
would live in the old house and carry on the business, aided now by
the orphan daughter of our village doctor. "When I'm an old
woman and you're an old man, Ned," she said, "then we will live
together if we choose, but not before. You might wish me away
if I came. Now, don't exclaim. I should be glad if
something happened that would make you wish me away. Shall you
never marry, Ned?"
I laughed, and told her, as she was the elder, I was waiting
"Don't talk nonsense," she said, giving an energetic snip to
some stuff she was cutting out. And there the matter ended.
But now, after many years, the time is come when Ruth is
content to rest assured I shall never need a fresher face than hers
for my vis-à-vis. For I find the long rows of figures
dazzle me, and the new-fashioned ways of business confound my
old-fashioned mind. And I also long for green fields, such as
that where I talked to Lucy more than forty years ago; and to
fortify this failing and yearning, I have argued with myself that it
is almost a sin for an out-of-date old fellow like me to keep on
grinding and moiling for more gold, which I shall never need for
wife or bairns, thus filling a post which might be better occupied
by some clever young man with both. So we two mean to live and
die together in a quiet country corner; and this very day I have
said good-bye to all my clerks, and left some remembrance in the
hand of each, just as Mr Lambert did thirty years ago, when he came
among us for the last time only the week before he died; and I
patted the head of a curly-haired lad from Glasgow, the very image
of Ned Garrett fifty years ago, and I have told him if he ever want
a friend not to forget his old master, buried in a certain snug
cottage, where I know even now Ruth is passing about the rooms to
see that all is in apple-pie order for my arrival tomorrow.
Yes, I, the old merchant, mean to rest for the remainder of
my days. Yet, at the same time, I remember her charge,
that in the quietest life "there's more to do than water flowers and
go to sleep." Ruth will help out my slow comprehension with
her keen eyes and clear voice. I only wish there had been a
touch of romance about her. It would have made her as perfect
as mortals can be. But romance is always sorrow.
Therefore I thank God for my sister's escape.
Now for one more star-lit gaze from my narrow window!
To-night I see the dim moonbeams over the graveyard of the vanished
church, and so far as silence goes, I might be on Snowdon, instead
of in the heart of London city; but I know that almost within a
stone's throw of my window nestle courts and closes where infamy
need never hide its head, even in such polluted daylight as can
enter there. I know, too, that in some of the giant houses
round me toil men whom the world respects and honours, but whom God
ranks with those other felons who snatch watches to buy bread they
are too cowardly to earn. And I own that Lucy's words are
true; this vineyard has been too large for me. My heart has
not been strong enough for its burden. I have done a little,
or rather I have helped others to do it, but it is such a little
that I have no temptation to stand where the Pharisee stood, and
boast of my good deeds.
To-morrow night I expect to look out on a far different
scene—on quiet meadows with great hills rising behind them.
Perhaps I shall hear the nightingale below my windows, and the
lights will all be out in the few cottages within ken, just as if
each were an abode of domestic peace and love. But I must not
forget my Lucy's words,—"There's plenty of work where there are sin
and sorrow, and sin and sorrow are everywhere."
Yes; God has brought me thus far on my way, and I can trust
Him to guide me to the end. He never gave me one sorrow or one
pang more than I needed. I find now that the days which were
hardest to live through are not darkest to remember. I only
wish I had known this at the time, for I was often haunted by a
dreary picture of lonely old age brooding over memory of sorrow as
painful to endure as sorrow itself. It was my own fault.
I should have trusted God's promises. It is rather late to
begin to have faith, when one is on the brink of the cold river, and
can almost see the gleaming gates beyond. But God is very
reluctant to say, "Too late."
THE FIRST DAY IN THE HOUSE ON THE HILL.
I LEFT London at
dawn, and arrived here before noon. My new home is not at
Mallowe, but a little higher up the country, within an easy drive of
that dear old place. This afternoon I have taken a fresh
survey of my premises, and I am as well satisfied as on the day I
bought them, for I am not one to like a thing less after it has
become my own.
The house stands on a hill, gradually rising from the river
side. Between the trees, by the use of a field-glass, I can
catch a glimpse of the Mallowe, like a silver thread wandering on a
greeny robe. Valleys are very beautiful, with their wealth of
vegetation, and their well-like coolness; but I prefer the
hill-tops. I think a valley is like youth, a lovely place to
saunter for a while, but where we do not wish to stay, and where we
could not stay even if we would. I don't say we never wish
ourselves back again, for many hill-sides are very bare and dreary.
But age is like a bower near the summit, whence we can see the path
by which we came, and from which many things which seemed ugly when
we passed them, look beautiful in the distance. And from that
resting-place we can survey the little bit of journey which still
lies before us, and we see that it is very easy and very short.
I know age is generally called "the descent of the hill."
What! go down to rest amidst the dampness and chills, and mists,
that always haunt valleys? No, no!
A narrow scarcely-used road, running between hedges, passes
our front door. It leads direct from our nearest village, or
rather attempt at a village, for I saw scarcely a dozen houses as I
drove through it. But there are a few great farms standing
back from this road, and enlivening it with their sweet sights and
sounds. One in particular seemed to come as near as possible
to my typical homestead. The dwelling-house stood in a bend of
the road, and a long, fair, dazzling flower-garden stretched before
the white curtained windows of the best rooms. At the back lay
the farm buildings, loading the air with scents of hay and new milk,
and stretching about, as such buildings do in pleasant places where
ground-rents are unknown. A great curly dog stood at the
stable door and looked at me reflectively, as if he knew I was a new
neighbour whose acquaintance he must soon make. All around
stretched broad meadows, rejoicing under the warmth of God's hand.
I could not resist alighting from my chaise, and leaning over the
hedge. Suddenly I heard a horse's step in the path behind it,
and a middle-aged man rode up mounted on a stout cob. He wore
light garments and a brown straw hat, and he looked full at me as he
passed. I almost think he muttered. I am afraid he
grudged my enjoyment of his possessions, for as he left the field,
he shut the gate with a sharp bang, and rode on to the house.
The sight of his face spoiled my pleasure. He reminded me of
an old spelling-book picture of "the dog in the manger." I
began to pity the woman who lived in that beautiful house, with no
glimpse of outer world except what he brought home to them. I
looked compassionately at an old labourer who was carting some soil,
an ancient man, with that patient, pathetic look which comes upon
the agèd when at work. I
feared he never got a single penny more than what could legally
claim for his poor failing toil. But, anyhow, he at least knew
of another Master, for as I passed I heard him singing in a queer
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green: he leadeth me
The quiet waters by."
There he paused to raise another shovelful, and then went on to the
last verse, as if it and the first dwelt specially in his mind―
"Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me:
And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be."
I was struck by the Scotch version and accent in an English
lane. A few yards off, a young man was mending a gate, and
from the likeness I concluded he was son, or more likely grandson,
to the cheerful patriarch. But he was not singing either psalm
or ballad. His face was quite gloomy—a handsome face, with
noble features, such as one rarely sees except in the highest or
lowest ranks. He could not be more than nineteen. Ah,
you see I am right. The old man was near the hill-top, and in
the brightness, but the lad was under the shadows of the valley.
Another twist in the road brought me to my own gate. So
that surly farmer is our nearest neighbour. Well, I hope I got
a wrong impression of him. Perhaps, before this day week, I
shall be sorry for my judgment. I hope so! I hope so!
Ruth was waiting at the wicket, and I wish a painter had been
with me to immortalise the scene—the little red-brick house standing
against the warm greens of very early autumn, the bright geraniums
in the foreground, the solid pillars of the entrance, relieved by
their snowy stone globes, and my sister in her black satin, gown,
with a lace cap on her head, and a cambric kerchief fastened about
her throat by the one heir-loom of our family, a little diamond
brooch presented to our great-grandmother by the famous Duke of
Marlborough when he was fêted
in some town where her husband chanced to be mayor. Two prim
serving-maidens stood in the background waiting to do me honour, and
I could hear the deep bay of a house-dog in the rear. Their
decorous faces broke into smiles when I entered, as if something in
my countenance promised to relax the reins of domestic discipline.
Oh, Edward Garrett, why are you not dignified! You and your
sister have both been business-people till now; you have made a
fortune, and she but an independency, yet she looks quite a grand
dame, and you! do you look like a gentleman of fortune? Go
and see yourself in the glass, and be humble: your house, and your
sister, and all that is yours, are far too fine for you, old fellow.
Go and hide your diminished head!
Then we had our dinner, and we ate it in the sunshine, at the
open window. Perhaps it was this, and Ruth's company, which
made it so much nicer than my chop or steak yonder in the city.
We were attended by a neat-handed Phillis. That is not a
quotation. The girl is really a Phillis—Phillis Watts, a
ploughman's daughter, who has doubtless derived her fanciful
cognomen from some relative on whom it had been bestowed by a
sentimental fine-lady godmother. The other servant came in to
help her to remove the dishes, and not thinking it right that I, her
future master, should sit by in perfect silence, I inquired her
name, and was answered in a quiet, refined voice―
"Alice M'Callum, sir."
The tone made me observe her more closely. She is a
slight girl, with brown, waving hair, pushed very clearly off her
brow. Her face looked pale and worn beside the ruddy Phillis.
There was nothing striking in the features, but much in their
expression, more particularly when seen in a country-servant.
Presently she removed the cloth and withdrew.
"That is a Scottish lass," said Ruth, "and a very superior
"Has she a brother and a grandfather?" I asked, "for I saw
two Scotchmen on my road here."
"She has some male relatives who work at the farm below,"
answered Ruth, taking up her knitting.
"Have you learned much about our new sphere, Ruth?" I
ventured to inquire after a little pause, for she had already
resided here nearly a month.
"Really, I have not troubled myself about any sphere outside
these rooms, Edward," she replied; "they have kept my hands full
"You have certainly arranged them admirably," I said, looking
round. It was no compliment. I never saw better
By and by I brought out this, my note-book, and began to
write. Ruth's knitting needles clicked awfully fast. I
know she thought me trifling.
"Is that your correspondence, Edward?" she inquired, in that
cool voice of hers, which always makes me feel so deferential.
"No; I 'm only writing about―about"―
"Your sphere, eh, Edward?" and the voice was cooler still.
"Well, yes," I answered, growing desperate, "and yours too,
"You needn't trouble yourself about mine," she said.
"'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.'
That's all the sphere I care about, Ned."
"That is just what I wish to illustrate," I explained.
"The words are plain enough as they stand," said she.
"Yet, Ruth, many seem to read them, 'Whatsoever thy hand
findeth not to do, fancy thyself doing it with all thy might."
"They are fools," she answered, decidedly.
"So are all of us," I remarked, "in one way or another;" and
then followed a long silence.
"Nevertheless, Ned," my sister began, in her softer, manner,
"I own even the wisest take long in learning that there is no better
work for them than the bit God puts into their hands. I know I
have often neglected some duties, because it was out of my power to
I could hardly restrain a smile to hear her use her own
shortcomings as proof of the weakness of "the wisest." But I
knew it meant no harm. It was only a habit she had acquired
through being the sole responsible person in the old home at
"And, Ruth," I answered, "there are also people who perform
the far-off duties before those near at hand."
"Ah, yes," said she, "like the young woman who could play the
piano, but had not learned the use of a thimble."
"And there are still others," I went on, "who yearns after
blessings they cannot get, and undervalue those they have."
"Ah, feelings are different from deeds," she said. "To
them we can scarcely say 'I will,' or 'I will not.' "
"I think God will help us through our yearnings for what He
withholds," I remarked; "but He will surely punish our undervaluing
what He gives, perhaps by making us realise that old school-book
'How blessings brighten as they take their flight.'
And speaking of school-books, reminds me that many people will not
learn what they may, because they cannot learn what they would, not
knowing that the path of possibility often guides safely through the
maze of improbability; and they seldom find out their error till too
"Yes, truly," assented Ruth, clenching my meanderings with a
"He who will not when he may,
When he will, he shall have nay."
And then she rose and went off about some household arrangement,
leaving me to puzzle out a few more thoughts on the wisdom of doing
first the thing which lieth nearest.
But it would not do. The silent beauty of the prospect
stretching far before my windows wooed me from my papers, and after
a few ineffectual attempts at perseverance, I put them aside, got my
hat (oh, joy! not a dingy beaver, but a cool, light straw,) and
sauntered out. Now, it's just like me to want to know more
about what I know already. So, instead of turning to the left
and taking the road I had never seen, I turned to the right and
pursued the path along which I had travelled at noon. It was
cooler now. The sun was getting low, and the shadows were
broader and darker. Very soon I came in sight of the Great
Farm, with its outlying houses. The young workman was still
lingering by the gate, which was now mended, and beside him stood a
slight figure in white cap and apron. As I drew near I
recognised the pale face of my servant, Alice M'Callum. She
turned and acknowledged my presence.
"A fine afternoon, Alice," I said. "Do you know, when I
saw you at dinner, I fancied I had met relations of yours in the
morning, and I suppose I am right."
"This is my brother Ewen, sir," she answered.
"And you have a grandfather too?" I went on. "I heard
him singing the Scotch psalms as I passed."
"Ah, he's always cheerful, sir," she said, and I though her
lips quivered a little.
"Has he gone to his tea?" I inquired, looking round, for he
was not in sight.
"No," said the young man. "He's just inside yonder
The words were civil enough, though rather abrupt, but the
voice startled me. Like his sister's, it was a refined voice,
yet there was in it a harsh tone of defiance, as if he were ready to
direct me anywhere, so as it took me away from him. I looked
at the girl. Her eyes were fixed on her brother's face, with
an expression of mingled pity and terror. There was something
in her countenance which made my heart ache.
"I will go and speak to your grandfather, Alice," I said.
As I drew near the tool-house, the old man came out.
Seeing me approach him, and recognising the traveller of the
morning, he gave me a sort of half-military salutation, and stood
"I find your grand-daughter Alice is one of my household," I
said. "She does not seem a very strong girl but our service
will not be hard."
"Alice is quite content, sir," answered the old man
"Were your grandchildren born in England?" I inquired.
"The boy was; Alice wasn't," replied the patriarch.
"Alice was born in the Highlands of Scotland. She says she can
just remember the place; but I doubt, sir, that's more from my talk
than from her memory. Ah, I see it as if I'd only left it
yesterday—aweel! I don't say it was bonnier than this, nor so
bonnie maybe," and he looked round, "but for a' that, sir, to auld
folk there's nae place like the auld place."
"What made you leave it?" I asked.
"Ye may well believe, no o' my ain will," said he, "but the
Earl, to whose forefathers mine had paid honest rent for a hundred
years, took it into his head to make a great sheep farm. So we
had notice to quit. Not us only, sir. More than thirty
homes were broken up on the same day. One or two hearts were
broken, too, I'm feared. Yet the Earl was a kind man, sir, and
had never been hard after a bad season. I suppose he didn't
know people could care for old walls that had no 'scutcheons on
them. I don't doubt he did it never thinking. But that
didn't save our sorrow."
"Was there any resistance?"
"No, sir; there were a few fierce words at first, but we
understood well enoo' that the Earl could do as he willed wi' his
own. And if his agents were kind-hearted folk, why should we
make their work painful' tae them? And if they were cruel, why
should we resist what we couldna' withstand, and gie them the
pleasure o' conquerin', as they were sure to do? We don't like
being conquered, sir; if we can't keep a field, we leave it."
"And what became of the evicted people?" I asked.
"They mostly went to Canada. All those I've heard of,
have prospered. If the Earl ever frets about the old people
who were sent to their graves a little before their time, he may
comfort himself wi' the thocht it was a good change for the many in
the long-run. That's way the Lord brings good out of evil,
"Your family didn't go abroad?" I queried.
"No, sir," he said. "I had only one son, and his wife
was a poor ailing creature, who would have died on shipboard.
Yet she had a wonderfu' spirit: there was no one said harder things
of the Earl than she did. At the same time, sir, if she could
have shown him a kindness, I'm sure she'd hae done it. So,
instead of going abroad, we came down here, and my son got a place
as manager on a farm, and we all did very well, only the wife died
when little Ewen was born. My son lived till both his children
were 'most grown up. We have had hard lines, sir, since then,
but I'm glad he died when he did."
"Why, how is that?" I inquired.
"Ah, sir, it's a terrible story, and might be better untold.
But you seem kind, sir, and however you may judge about the boy,
what I can tell will help you to understand Alice."
"Your grand-daughter certainly looks unhappy, Mr M'Callum,"
"She's just witherin' up," said the old man, with the strange
pathos of solemn calmness.
During our conversation we had strolled down the lane past
the farmhouse, and as M'Callum spoke thus, he paused beside a rude
fence which enclosed a low-lying woody meadow, through which ran a
"It happened there!" he said.
But Alice came running behind us, quite white and breathless.
"Grandfather," she cried, "Ewen is waiting for you to go to tea.
You know he must make haste back to finish his work," and as she
spoke she gave an appealing look, as if she only wished she knew
what was told and what remained unsaid.
"I'll come—I'm comin'," answered the old man, with a humility
like that of a child detected in some indiscretion. "Mind, sir," he
whispered, "it has nothing to do with her, except that it's
hurrying her away to be an angel in heaven."
We retraced our steps very slowly, for the old man was
unmistakeably feeble. Alice walked by his side in silence.
We found Ewen waiting for us where we had left him. Their home
lay down a narrow lane, leading from the road. I caught a glimpse of
it—a rude wooden cottage, with bulging windows.
"I have made your tea ready, grandfather," said Alice.
"Thank ye, my girl; and I'm sure, sir, we're kindly obliged
to Mistress Garrett for giving her leave to run out whiles, and do
us a turn at housekeeping. Good evening, sir."
"Good evening, Mr M'Callum," I answered; "good evening," I
added, turning to the young man, but he walked away as if he had not
Alice stepped before me and opened the garden gate. She
held it while I passed in. Then she said timidly, "Don't think
hardly of my brother, sir. His manner is strange, but he has
been through seas of trouble."
"Is he quite ashore now, Alice?" I inquired.
She did not answer for a minute, but her lip and brow
quivered. "I'm afraid, sir, it's as right as it ever will be,"
she said, and burst into tears.
"My dear girl," I began, "I don't want to hear anything you
do not wish to tell, but"―
"You'll hear it all soon enough, sir," she said, with a
desperate effort to stop her tears; "but I wanted you to know us a
little before you heard."
"Yet, would it not be best for you to tell me your own story?
Why should I be left to hear what other people say?"
"Then I've got no story to tell, sir," she answered with
sudden calmness. "The only story is what the people say, and
they say a lie!"
There was a clear emphasis in her voice which made me look
down at her. Her tears were dried, and her eyes were bright
and fixed, like those of a person fronting a railing mob.
"Then I should not heed them, Alice."
"Yes, sir, you would," she replied. Her flat
contradiction was quite respectful. She saw life from a
position in which I had never stood. She was the wisest in
By this time we had reached the hall. I held out my
hand to her, as Mr Lambert had given me his on the day I heard of
"Well, at least, Alice," I said, "remember, I am ready to
hear whenever you wish to tell. Do not be too sure that a
friend's aid is useless."
She let her hand stay in mine for about a minute. It
was very cold. Then she raised her eyes and opened her mouth,
so that I saw rather than heard her thanks.
I went into the parlour. My papers still lay about the
table, and Ruth had not returned. I wondered if she knew
anything of the tragedy of which I had caught a glimpse. I
resolved not to ask her about it yet, for I believed she had a
practical person's strong dislike to mystery. And what was
this mystery? It seemed connected with that handsome, abrupt
young workman, scarcely more than a youth. His sister denied
its truth, whatever it might be, but I knew that loving women have a
happy gift of disbelieving what they choose. Her grandfather
had certainly spoken less decidedly; and I could not forget his
words as we stood beside that low, deserted meadow, with its
sluggish stream. "It happened there." What happened?
It pained me greatly to see the suffering written on my
servant's face. When she brought in our tea she was as
composed as possible; but I had been behind the scenes, and I knew
there was a reason for her worn cheeks, and for the strange note
that sounded occasionally in her voice. Yet what could I do to
help her? It occurred to me, I might find an opportunity of
speaking to the young man alone. I know some people suffer
from strange reserve, which makes them more willing to open their
hearts to strangers than to their dearest friends. This arises
from a morbid sensitiveness which cannon bear constantly to meet
eyes that understand all about us. Now this disposition ought
not to be punished or preached at. It is a spiritual disease,
and must be pitied and cured. At the same time, I doubt if it
ever wholly disappears. To this day, I am glad Ruth never
guessed about Lucy Weston.
After tea, my sister resumed her knitting, and as I fumbled
with my papers, I caught her dark eyes watching me with an arch
expression. Presently she said
"How did you like your afternoon walk, Edward? Had you
"Hem—no," I answered, guiltily; "at least, I met Alice in the
lane, talking to her brother and grandfather. The old man
seems a shrewd, pleasant Scotchman, and he sent his thanks to you
for permitting Alice to look after his household arrangements."
"Ah, poor man! I should think myself a hard woman if I
denied him any comfort in my power to give," said Ruth.
"Any special reason for saying so?" I inquired.
"I believe the young man is as bad as he can be," returned my
sister. "There's one very dark story whispered about him in
the neighbourhood. He was tried for a fearful deed and
acquitted. So, of course, human eyes must henceforth regard
him as innocent. I shall not repeat the story, for I don't
know any particulars."
"I gathered something of this from their talk in the
afternoon," I said. "At any rate, his sister believes him
"She's one of those women who are made to be heart-broken,"
remarked Ruth; "she'd not love him less if she knew him guilty."
"Thank God for such love," I said. "It helps us to
understand His own."
"Yes, that's all very fine," returned my sister, "but it
seems hard one should be a martyr that others may learn a lesson."
"Yet it is often God's will," said I.
"Well, Edward," she answered, "I don't suppose He wishes it,
but as He permits it, of course we must be satisfied. He will
make it up to the sufferers in His own good time."
"He makes it up now," I said. "Love is ever its own
reward. It purifies the heart which holds it."
"So does fire purify silver," retorted Ruth, "but I doubt if
the silver likes the process while it is going on."
"Yet I am sure Alice would not give up her sisterly love even
if she could," I pleaded.
"Ah, she can't give it up, so that settles the question,"
returned Ruth. "There is no laying down the crosses that grow
out of our own hearts, and they are always heaviest?"
"The heaviest cross makes the brightest crown," I said.
"I suppose so," she answered. "But when one is
over-tired with carrying a burden on a long journey, one has not
always strength to look forward to the very end. The little
bit of road under each footstep is often quite enough!"
"Just so," I said, "and so doing, we shall suddenly find
ourselves on the threshold of Home!"
Then followed a long silence. At last I asked, "From
what service did you take Alice M'Callum?"
"From Mallowe Hall," answered Ruth. "I knew her by her
coming to my old shop, and I always had liking for her. She
was lady's-maid there, and she left because all the servants took
sides against her brother, and that she could not bear.
Besides, she wished to be nearer her relations in their 'trouble,'
as she called it. So I offered to take her, and she was quite
thankful to come, though our service is much inferior to what she
left at the Hall. I told her plainly she was a simpleton.
But she only answered, 'Never mind.'"
"Well, Ruth," I said, "I am truly thankful you acted as you
did. Few women would have courage to engage a servant who
expressly wished to be near a relation with 'a very dark story.'"
"I am not in the habit of judging individuals by their
connexions," she answered, "and I liked the girl's faithfulness.
Besides, for the matter of fear, I may as well tell you I keep
"Bless me, Ruth!" I ejaculated.
"Well," said she coolly, turning her needles, and beginning
another row, "better do that, than not do what you wish because
"When did you begin that custom?" I inquired.
"Twenty years ago," she answered "at the time when I hired a
youth to be messenger and odd man about the house and garden at
"Then you took two or three means of protection at the same
time," I said.
"I didn't know whether the lad would be a protection," she
replied drily. "He had been a convict, and he hung about the
village, saying he could not do anything, because no one would give
him a chance. I resolved he should not have that excuse any
longer. So I rode to Hopleigh and bought two pistols, and took
some lessons in their use. Then I hired him, and he slept in
the room over mine. He never knew about the firearms. He
thought I trusted him entirely. I think it was a harmless
deception. Had he shown himself unworthy of trust he would
have found out his mistake."
"Then you were not disappointed in him?"
"No," she said, "he is now highly respectable, and is head
man on one of the best farms near the village."
"Ruth," said I, gazing earnestly at her, as she sat opposite
me as upright as a dart, "you never told this before."
"Why should I?" she replied, returning my gaze with a sharp
glance from her keen hazel eyes. "You would have urged me not
to do it, or not to do such thing again, as the case might be.
And yet I'll engage you've been doing the like in London.
We're all willing to be a little brave or kind ourselves, but we 're
prone to wish our friends to shut themselves into safe, selfish
cupboards, just to save our own feelings and fears."
"Well, Ruth," I said, (thinking this was a good opportunity,)
"I've come to the conclusion I'll have a little conversation with
young Ewen M'Callum myself."
"Very well," she replied, "only you need not speak to him
beside pools in lonely fields."
"But supposing the best opportunity occurs in such a
locality?" I said smiling.
"I cannot get into you to direct your conscience," she
answered. "But don't follow my example in everything except
At that moment Phillis brought in our supper, and our
conversation fell into very ordinary channels, until we finally said
good night, and retired to our respective chambers.
I wonder if Ruth has really had no romance in her life.
I am not so sure of it as I was last night. She is certainly
like some apples I have seen, which have green, tart rinds, yet are
very sweet at the core. But if God has ever sent my sister one
of those special sorrows with which "a stranger intermeddleth not,"
she must have suffered very much, as such strong natures do.
They always shut their sorrows in their own hearts, which is very
like covering a crown of thorns with an iron helmet. God bless
her! I almost wish she had been born to rank and wealth—she
seems just the woman to save a country, like Joan of Arc, or
Elizabeth, or Maria Theresa.
Yet, after all, but few are needed to do these out-of-the-way
tasks which startle the world, and one may be most useful just doing
commonplace duties and leaving the issue with God. And when it
is all over, and our feet will run no more, and our hands are
helpless, and we have scarcely strength to murmur a last prayer,
then we shall see that instead of needing a larger field, we have
left untilled many corners of our single acre, and that none of it
is fit for our Master's eye, were it not for the softening shadow of
THE MYSTERY OF THE LOW MEADOW.
THE two following days were very
rainy, and I spent them in-doors arranging my books and papers
according to my own, fashion. But on Saturday the weather was
I did not go out till afternoon, and then I made my way down the
lane wherein stood the M'Callums' wooden cottage. I found it empty. I could see the glimmer of a fire on the hearth, and a fine gray cat
was seated on the window-sill, but the other inmates were evidently
out. So I sauntered on.
I had not gone very far before I came to a
gate. It led into a field where two cows and a donkey were feeding. It was a clear open meadow, lying full on the slope of the hill, and
commanding a fine view of the valley and of my dear old Mallowe. I
went in, and rambled about. I attempted a friendship with the
cattle, fully believing myself quite alone in the open eye of
heaven, when suddenly I caught sight of a man seated on a fallen
tree, resting elbows on knees and hiding his face in his hands. It
was Ewen McCallum.
I stood still. I feel an awe in the presence of speechless
suffering, for, with all its agony, I know it very often sits close
outside the golden gates of God's Paradise. In this case I could
scarcely hope so. Yet anyhow
there is royalty about anguish. I stood still; and it seemed as if
a solemn silence dropped over the meadows.
He sat as if he would never stir, and I scarcely wished him to look
up and find me watching him. So I went towards him with a brisk
step, and when he raised his head I bade him a cheerful "good
He responded and got up, gathering together a little cane and two
books which lay near him on the grass. He intended to go away, and I
was forced to devise an excuse to detain him.
"This is a fine prospect," I said. "Where does this field lead?"
"Into the road that goes to Mallowe," he answered.
"I suppose you leave work early on Saturday," I went on. "I hope
your grandfather has not suffered from the wet weather."
"I believe he is very well," he replied.
I felt that our conversation was torture to him, and that he was
merely enduring it by great effort of will. It was like holding a
wild animal, which only waits till our grasp relaxes, and then
bounds away to its hiding-place,
henceforth to be shyer than ever. I saw I should never get at him
through the ordinary avenues of neighbourhood and friendliness. To
such entrance his heart was closed. My only chance lay in a sudden
attack on some unexpected corner.
"I should like to ask you a question," I said, and was almost
frightened to hear my own words.
His face changed colour and his lips moved a little; yet there
seemed a thaw in his manner as he answered, "Very well, sir."
"I hear something is said against you in the village. I have not
heard what it is. Will you tell me?"
There was a long silence. We stood just beside the fallen tree. I
could see some little boats on the silver breast of the distant Mallowe, and thin smoke wreaths rising from the house on its shore. I heard a church clock
strike four. My companion stood motionless beside me, the outlines
of his face clearly chiselled against the pale blue sky—a handsome
face, full of passionate sensibility from which the old look of
fierce endurance had
fallen like a mask. At last he spoke: "They say I am murderer!"
I did not shudder at the dreadful word, and somehow there was no
query in my voice as I turned to him and said, "But it is not
"No, it isn't," he answered; "but it might be better for—for the
others—if it were!"
"No, no," I said, "the more the sin the greater the sorrow."
"Well, I don't know," he went on in a choking voice.
"If it had been
found true, and I had suffered for it, every one would have pitied
them; but as it is, they are only blamed and scoffed at for taking
"But you don't suppose they mind that?" I inquired.
"If they don't, I do," he said.
"Sit down again and tell me all about it," I said; "surely there must
be some way out of this misery; tell it from the beginning, and take
your own time over it," for I saw he was greatly excited.
We both sat down side by side on the fallen tree.
"It is a pity I was born," he said.
"Don't say that," I interrupted; "that might have saved your past,
but it would also cost your future."
"My future!" he ejaculated bitterly.
"Yes," I answered. "What do you call the future?
If you measure it by
the few fleeting years of mortality, you may as well style this
field the world."
"I'm a living text for all the sermons in the neighbourhood," he
broke out after a short silence. "There is not an idle reprobate in
the place who does not set forth my ruin in excuse for not caring
about his children's
education. I'm quoted as an instance of the folly of parents trying
to elevate their families above the station in which it pleased God
to place them. Every one is sure I should have been a better man if
I had not known
how to write or read. They can't argue the subject, but they can
point to me in illustration."
At this moment it struck me that the young man's whole manner was
not that of a country labourer. I had not noticed it before, because
my ordinary style of
conversation is so homely that I need seldom lower it for the
"Then your father brought you up carefully?" remarked.
"Yes, indeed he did," answered the youth; "and he would have been
angry if any one had called us poor people, and I was sent to the
best school he could find. But from the first there was something
wrong in me. The
schoolmaster did not like me, and I had not a friend among the boys. They knew who I was, and they did not care to receive me as an
equal. When I discovered that, I turned it over in my mind, till I
made out that according to their reckoning I was their superior; for
however poor we were, I came of a nation the English could never
subdue. They drove me to say so, and then they hated me, and I used
to go to and fro with black bitter anger in my heart. Oh, what folly
it all was! What folly!—if I had known then what real trouble
means―― Nevertheless," he went on, "I liked school for the sake of
learning, and I believe I got on pretty well. But when I was
fourteen my father died, and somebody got me a place in the
builder's counting-house at Mallowe. The builder's son had been my
schoolfellow, and the same week that I entered his father's shop he
went to college. I suppose I envied him. I don't know how it came
about, but I grew a very bad lad. There was something in me which
would not be satisfied with my work and my home. Then Alice got a
situation as lady's-maid, and grandfather went into lodgings, and
there was nowhere for me to go of an evening. And yet it was not
that either, for whenever grandfather called to see me I made some
excuse to get rid of him, and when Alice wrote to me I seldom
answered her letters. One of the young men in my master's shop was a
Londoner, and he seemed to have so much more life in him than the
others that I made friends with him at once. I got so fond of him
that he could persuade me to anything. I used to go with him to all
the cricket-matches and regattas within reach. Those things are
harmless enough if one goes to them in good company. But poor George
was not good company. And so I went on from bad to worse."
"Until "— I remarked, to lead him on, for he paused.
"Oh, the story is just like a common report out of a dirty
newspaper," he said, writhing.
"Never mind that," I said; "and we should not call such things
common if we only realised what anguish they each bring to
"Well, I got in debt to George. He gambled, and often had plenty of
money. Then we grew quarrelsome. One Saturday afternoon last summer
twelvemonth we went together to a boat-race. He drank a good deal,
betted and lost. I tried to get him away, but he only became very
angry, and used violent words about the money I owed him. At last we
left the place together. He had lodgings up here, and I meant to see
But he got so aggravating that my temper was roused, and I left him,
and returned towards the river. Just as I was passing the church I
saw Alice riding in her mistress's carriage, and she looked from the window and recognised me. After taking a walk, I went back to my
master's house and slept there; and on Sunday morning we heard that
George was found drowned in the water in the Low Meadow."
He spoke these last words in a low, horrified tone. It was the first
time he had told the story. I did no break silence, but waited till
he resumed the narrative.
"I was arrested that evening," he went on, "and own everything was
against me. I was last seen with the dead man, and we were heard to
be on bad terms. One or two people swore to seeing us together on the
road a good way from the river. One man, an ostler, knew the exact
time when we passed his tavern. It was half-past four. From that
house it would take about three-quarters of an hour to reach the Low
Meadow. I did not re-enter my master's house until half-past six,
which allowed me full time to go the whole distance and return."
"But your sister had seen you in the interval," I remarked.
"Yes; and as she was driving past the church, she had happened to
notice the time, and it was then about ten minutes to five. Her
mistress remembered this, and also that Alice had nodded to some one
on foot. That was all the evidence I could bring forward in my
"Slender as it seems, it was sufficient," said I.
"It might have been if Alice were not my sister," he replied. "But
every one is quite willing to believe that she swore falsely to save
"But her mistress partly corroborated her," I remarked.
"Not in the main point," he said. "The lady knew that my sister
nodded to some one as they passed the church at ten minutes to five;
but she did not see who it was. So the coroner gave a verdict of
and I was discharged, because there was not evidence whereon a jury
"But didn't they take into consideration the poor man's
intoxication?" I inquired.
"Yes; they consulted on the possibility of his slipping into the
pool; but many swore that he was sober enough to take care of
himself. I believe that was true."
"Then, what is your theory of his death?" I asked.
"That he was murdered, or, at least, that a struggle took place on
the bank, which ended in his falling into the water. There were
footprints of two people up to a certain point where the ground was
much trampled, and
after that, there was only trace of one."
"It is very dreadful," I said; "and no one else has been arrested
since your discharge?"
"No," he answered, hopelessly. "Suspicion did not point at anybody
but me, and so I must go through life as the murderer of the man who
was my companion and destroyer. There is no appeal from suspicion!"
"Then you left your old service at Mallowe?" I asked.
"I was dismissed," he said, "and there was no chance of getting a
similar situation. But I had been with my father a great deal when I
was a boy, and so I am handy at any out-door work. But even that was
not easy to get till Mr Herbert at the Great Farm took me on as a of
"There, at least, is a blessing," I said; "that saves you from being
a burden to your grandfather and Alice, and"―
"I wouldn't have lived upon them while there was a rope in the house
or water in the river!" he interrupted in the old desperate tone.
"What! sooner than bear the weight of gratitude, you would plunge
those who love you in despair?" I said. "I am sorry you are so
He groaned aloud—"O sir, have mercy on me. If you could only know
how I feel"—
"Ah, that is it," I said, laying my hand on his arm. "If I only
could! But, my boy, God knows all about it, and He does not
willingly afflict His poor children."
"But this false accusation—this wicked scandal—cannot come from
God!" he exclaimed.
"He permits them—He does not wish them," I replied, recalling Ruth's
remark. "No more did He wish a youth, the son of godly parents, to
go with evil company, and fall into wicked ways. You must learn to
pardon your neighbours' mistake. Your conduct has led them into this
breach of charity. You have been to them occasion of falling."
"And must the world always go on thus?" he cried.
"Remember, God overrules all these troubles," I went on. "He saw you
were proud and wilful, and He has been pleased to humble you, and to
put your steps into straight and painful paths. He changes your
neighbours' mistake into a merciful rod to correct you. You must not
cry out at the rod, you must be thankful for it, and repent of the
sins which brought it upon you."
"But the innocent suffer with the guilty," he
said, raising his eyes. "They feel the rod as well as I do."
"That is part of your punishment," I answered. "But do not
understand me that affliction follows sin as a judgment. God sends
sorrow to draw us back to Him, or nearer to Him, as the case may be. The judgment of sin
lies in our remorse for it, and our grief at consequences which we
cannot undo. It is right you should smart to see the troubles of
your dear ones; but yet those troubles may be a blessing to them."
He had buried his face in his hands, and I saw a tear trickle
between his fingers.
"Your grandfather bears it very bravely," I said, presently. "I
daresay he thinks little of any sacrifice which serves to steady
"That's just what he says; but it's killing Alice," he answered,
without looking up.
"You are killing Alice," I said, firmly. "She cannot bear it
because she sees you do not bear it cheerfully. Now, will you not
candidly own that you often speak sharply to her?"
"Who told you so?" he asked, in astonishment.
"My own knowledge of human nature," I answered: "when she comes near
you, the sight of her recalls all the misery and bitterness, and
doubtless you see she is whiter and thinner than she was two years
Then your heart rebels, and you ask yourself grievous questions
which you are not able to answer, and meanwhile you forget the smile
and the pleasant word which would send her away rejoicing. Next time
back whiter and thinner than ever, and the same weary work is done
"But what am I to do?" he said, looking at me with eyes of such
despair that I could hardly confront them.
"Humble yourself, and leave the past alone," I replied. Remember
that you have sinned, and forget that you have been sinned against. Draw your thoughts from your injuries to your errors."
He sat in silence for some minutes, then the church clock chimed
five, and he arose suddenly.
"Then you believe I am an innocent man, sir?" he said.
"I do, sincerely," said I.
"I'll try to do as you say, sir," he remarked presently.
"You must excuse my plain speaking," I said; "I don't often take
folks by storm as I have taken you."
"I wasn't worth the trouble,"
"Don't forget you are worth a good deal to two or three people in
the world," I answered, "and you'll set a value on yourself some day
He smiled sadly and shook his head, and so we parted, and I retraced
my way alone.
I had plenty to think about, in this grim commonplace tragedy which
had met me on the threshold of my retired life. I felt a warm
interest in Ewen M'Callum. He had passed through a dreadful trial,
but I could see it was
just the trial he needed. Think of his schoolboy pride in belonging
to a nation which had never been subdued! Ah, now he knows his own
weakness, and one has to know that before one can be really strong.
Then I pondered over the mystery of the Low Meadow. Even Ewen
concluded that his unhappy comrade had not met his death by mere
misadventure. If this were true, the young man's character might yet
by the discovery of the real criminal. But Ewen himself owned that
suspicion had pointed to nobody but him, and surely the police would
have tracked every possible clue they could find. It made me shudder
that the murderer might yet be haunting the neighbourhood, not even
aroused to confession by the danger and misery of an innocent
person. Now, what would touch such a heart as that? I should say
nothing, only I
know that God can do anything.
As I drew near home, there came through the open window a pleasant
clatter of spoons and china. It was tea-time. In the hall I met
Alice carrying the toast rack.
"I think you will find things get much better soon, Alice," I said,
She looked up at me with sudden brightness and asked: "Have you been
speaking to Ewen, sir?"
"Yes; and I believe I have got into his heart," I replied.
"Did he mind—I mean, how does he seem now, sir?"
"Well, Alice," I
answered, smiling, "I think he is quite as well as can be expected
after the operation!"
Then we went into the parlour, and Alice deposited the rack on the
table, and Ruth looked at her and then at me, and quite understood
that I now knew all about it. She is a wonderful quick woman, one of
the sort that
know things before they are told. I can never make out how she did
not guess about Lucy Weston.
"So you've had your conversation with the young man," she said, as
soon as the girls had left us.
"Yes," I answered; "and I have come to the conclusion that he is
as innocent as I am."
"Why, surely you didn't talk to him of what they say, Edward?" she
"Yes, I did," I replied. "I asked him to tell me all
"Well, that's delightful simplicity!" said Ruth, laughing;
"nevertheless, I believe simple people often do the wisest things. Let me put another lump of sugar in your tea, Ned."
"Thanks for your compliment," I said, holding up my cup for the
proffered sweetness. "Don't you know, Ruth, that my pet theory is
the mission of Thoroughfares ?"
"I want a report of that mission," said she. "I don't quite
understand its operations."
"Well," I answered, "when I was in the City, I used to notice that
streets through which no one could pass were always miserable. The
houses got bad tenants, and the bad tenants grew worse every day. I
one instance in particular. It was a long narrow street, opening
from a road and ended by a dead wall. The houses near the road were
well enough. But as you passed down the street, you saw that each
shabbier and dirtier than the last, until close to the dead wall you
found broken windows screened by torn shawls or dirty blankets,
through whose tatters you could see family operations not usually
carried on in the
eye of the public. It was a hopeless street—a property so bad that
the landlord vainly advertised it for sale. But in the course of
some improvements the dead wall was pulled down, and the lower end
of the street
thrown open to a rising thoroughfare. And before a year was out,
either the old tenants had departed, or they had mended their ways,
for there was no untidy window or slatternly woman to be seen. Now I
believe it is
just the same with our hearts. Sin or sorrow sometimes closes them
so that no friendly voice can echo through. And gradually all foul
things congregate therein. Then some hand must break down the
kindly violence, so that God's comfort may blow through like the
healthy north wind which leaves a blessing behind it. And that makes
suspicion and despair get ashamed of themselves and sneak out of
love to God and man passes up and down the new thoroughfare."
"That 's all true enough," said Ruth. "But don't you think that in
due time most hearts re-open without any interference?"
"Perhaps they may," I answered, "but they may remain closed too
long for their own happiness or the good of the world."
"Yes, that's quite possible," said she, and she looked very grave. "But still, Edward, don't you think some sorrows are best endured and
conquered in silence?"
"I do think so," I replied; "but then sorrow is not meant to close
the heart, but to open it, and if we feel our heart closing, we may
be sure we are neither enduring nor conquering, but succumbing."
There followed a long pause.
"A false accusation is a terrible thing," said Ruth at last, "for it
is very dreadful merely to be misunderstood."
"I don't believe you would mind even that," I remarked; "you are
brave enough to say, 'If God and my conscience approve, let others
think what they may.'"
"You are a wise man, Edward," said Ruth, drily. Now what she meant
by that, I cannot tell. I am sure she did not mean exactly what she
"It is to be hoped that you practise what you preach," she added
presently. "If you have made a thoroughfare in this young man's
heart, make a thoroughfare in his life as well."
"Please explain yourself, Ruth," I said.
"Why, don't you see he is cooped in a corner," she answered, taking
up her knitting-needles, "with a lie behind him, and the whole
village in front, hunting him back upon it? I suppose the world has
more places in it
than Mallowe and Upper Mallow."
"Well, now I think of it, I wonder he did not go abroad," I said.
"Yes, of course, brother," answered Ruth; "because you know people can
travel about so easily who have neither money, nor friends, nor
character, particularly if they have agèd or feeble relatives with
whom it is their
duty to stay. I must repeat, Edward, that you are a very wise man!"
"But if he went to London," I said, "then he wouldn't be too far
from his grandfather and sister—certainly he might go to London."
"Certainly he will," said Ruth, "if you send him."
"But still, out-door work there would be worse than here," I
remarked, "and, under the circumstances, other employment would be
hard to get."
"Then never talk to me again about your City influence," said Ruth,
"But, my dear," I pleaded, "we have only our own impressions to go
"Edward," said she, laying down her needles, and looking at me
awfully, as she used in the days of my Youth when I faltered in
repeating "my duty to my neighbour,"—"Edward, do you believe this
innocent, or do you believe him guilty?"
"I have no doubt of his innocence," I answered.
"Then do your duty according to your lights," said she; "that's all
the best of us can do."
"But I could not recommend him to any one without telling him the
whole story," I remarked.
"Certainly not, but I repeat, if you cannot get anybody to share
your convictions, or at least to trust them, I would not give much
for your City influence."
"But would he be better off anywhere, when once history was known?"
"I should think so. I presume a respectable merchant could hear such a
narrative without telling it to all his clerks and errand-boys. Were no confidences ever placed in you, Edward?
"Well, my dear," I answered, "let us call Alice, and if we can
ascertain from her that the scheme is likely to prove agreeable to her
brother, I will write to my old partners, and the youth's mind need not
be disturb about the
matter till we have a definite offer to make him."
"There! that will do," said Ruth; and she got up and rang the bell,
and in half a minute Alice's patient face appeared at the doorway.
"Alice," I said, "come in; I have some questions to ask about Ewen. We all believe him innocent—my sister, you, and I—but we fear it is
very hard to defy a general bad opinion. Do you think Ewen likes
"Oh, sir!" exclaimed the maiden, wringing her thin fingers, "do not
set him thinking about going abroad!"
"Don't be a simpleton, Alice," said Ruth; "now you are feeling for
yourself instead of your brother."
"Hush, Ruth," I interrupted. "Alice is only nervous because she is
weak and weary with sorrow. I am not speaking of abroad. I think it
is a great blessing that he could get honest work close at hand, for
Mr Herbert had as much reason as other people to mistrust him. By
the way, I wonder that did not help to re-establish Ewen's
"It could not, sir," she answered. " Every one knows that Mr Herbert
would not care if he were guilty, so as he could get him cheap."
"Now I fear that is rather uncharitable, Alice," said I.
"It may not be so, Edward," remarked Ruth. "'Charity thinketh no
evil,' that is to say, she does not suspect, but she cannot shut her
eyes to facts."
"I am not ungrateful to Mr Herbert, sir," said Alice. "His work has
been a blessing to us, for the other gentlemen round here would not
hire Ewen at any price."
"Well, what I wish to ask is, do you think your brother would
be better off in London? Take time to consider. There are many
questions to answer. Has he had sufficient warning to steady him? Can you and his grandfather bear to part from him?"
"Oh, sir," said Alice, with streaming eyes, "if he could get work
more fit for him than field-labour, and be out of sight of all the
people that shun and scorn him, grandfather and I wouldn't think
"Now I believe you love your brother," remarked Ruth quietly. But
the girl dropped her head and wept bitterly.
"I suppose he would have no objection to any plan of this sort?" I
"He would bless you and thank God for it, sir," sobbed my servant.
"Then don't repeat our conversation at present, and I will see what
can be done. Trust me, he shall not be left in his present misery if
I can help it."
"Though he must not forget it is principally his own fault," said
"And now you may go, Alice; and you may tell Phillis to get supper
"No, I'll tell her myself," interrupted Ruth; "and if Alice likes, she
can go straight off to bed, else Phillis will think she has had a
very bad scolding."
"I don't care what any one thinks, ma'am," said Alice, joyfully,
though the tears were still streaming down her cheeks.
"Now isn't that extraordinary?" remarked Ruth, when she was gone.
"What in particular?" I inquired.
"That girl's love for a brother who has never made her happy. People
who are wicked, or useless, or unlucky, seem always the most thought
"I suppose it is a provision of God," I said. "He longs to save them
from themselves. If we stood on shore and beheld a shipwreck, we
should throw out most ropes to those who could not swim."
"But still it seems hard," said Ruth.
"Well, so it did to the prodigal's brother," I answered, but, depend
upon it, when they both sat down at the the happier of the two; or,
at any family feast he would have been, had he loved his brother as
he ought. You see, he might have watched at the gate beside his
father, and then he would have been better employed than weighing
and measuring affection, and disturbing himself with reproachful
"Ah, yes, so he would," said Ruth; "of course I know God in His
wisdom manages these things best; and that just shows us how foolish
we must be; for if we had the reins we should do almost everything
"And yet, Ruth, I believe no fiction ever points so clear a moral as
one life lived fairly through," I observed, "and that is how God
sees every life from its beginning. We only read one or two chapters
out of each history,
or if we happen to see nearly all, we do not possess the key, which
would show us a hidden meaning."
"I suppose it is so," said she, folding up her knitting; then, with
a change of tone, she continued, "but if I were you, Edward, I would
write that City letter directly, so that it may go off by the next
I wrote it, and when it was signed, sealed, and stamped, my vigilant
sister was satisfied, and we had our supper and went to bed in
I did not go to sleep directly, for my room was glorious with
moonlight. I lay still and pondered over the events of the day; and
most of all, I mused over the depths of sin and suffering that might
lie hidden behind the
calm smiling front of such a tiny village as Upper Mallow. When I
passed Mr M'Callum and Ewen in front of Mr Herbert's farm on the day
of my arrival, how little I dreamed of the tragedies in which they
were both called to bear part! And so it often is. We read of
saints and heroes, of martyrs and sorely-tried folks, and then we go
out into the world, and marvel why we meet nothing of the sort. All our own fault! We cannot see the romance because our eyes are
too weak to pierce its commonplace vulgar wrappings.
"Just like a common report in a dirty newspaper," said poor Ewen of
his sad story. And yet, if we move the scene from an obscure village
to a great capital, and change the persons from unknown working
princes and generals, this is the stuff of which much hisstory is
made. We are all so taken with glitter and grandeur, that many who
would shudder to come in personal contact with "common" crime like
this, are ready
to spend years in writing the defence of some royal "suspect," long
dead and gone beyond the reach of calumny or justice. But I suppose
my mind is not strong enough to love great heights and long
would rather confine my interest to the little world lying close
round me. I always find that it contains far more than I can manage,
and I should often be quite disheartened if I did not remember that
our Saviour approved
her who just "did what she could."
Then I fell asleep. And when I awoke the room was bright with
sunshine, and I heard a low sweet voice Softly singing―
"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
For a moment I forgot forty years; but when I remembered all about
it I felt no pain, for I know Lucy is still singing in our Father's
upper chamber; and next to the sweetness of a dear voice, is the
sweetness of a voice
which we have made joyful.
Alice was the singer.
"WHAT are your
household arrangements for Sunday, Ruth?" I inquired of my sister
when I joined her at the breakfast-table.
"Why, of course, you and I go to church, Edward, and so does
one of the girls, and in the evening I shall stay at home, and they
can both go out."
"Shall you send them to church?"
Ruth shook her head. "I haven't hired their souls as
well as their bodies," she said. "I never speak about such
things to my servants until I am their friend. Because a girl
is in domestic service, why should we conclude that she is naturally
disinclined to her duty, and must be preached and driven into it?"
"But as a mistress you have a right"— I began.
"To set a good example, as far as I can, to give them time
and means for self-improvement, and to encourage them to do right by
not suspecting them of doing wrong," interrupted my sister.
"And, by the way, Edward, what 'rights' did you exercise 'as a
master' over your clerks? Not many, I expect, and I'd rather
follow your practice than your precepts."
The parish church of St Cross was not very far from our
house. As we approached it, its appearance did not gladden my
heart. It stood in the angle of a small green, flanked by a
few straggling houses of the meaner sort. In the midst of the
green was a wide pool of sluggish water, inhabited by a colony of
ducks. The church itself was a long low edifice of no
particular order of architecture, with an insignificant spire, and a
single dismal bell, more like a signal for an execution than the
summons to God's house. Around lay a little graveyard, wherein
most of the graves were covered down with huge flat stones, which,
not to be blasphemous, always suggest the idea that the survivors
had resolved to do their utmost to prevent a resurrection. Up
to the porch, between these gloomy tombs, ran a narrow path of rough
sharp stones. Certainly that path would never tempt any
shoeless wanderer. The porch itself was narrow, and the inner
doors were closed, and guarded by an injured-looking female in a
widow's cap. I paused in the porch and looked round,—and I
pitied the little children who would remember that church as the
place where they first went up to worship God.
Passing through the folding doors, which opened with a dismal
creak, we found ourselves in a passage-like interior, lit by narrow
windows filled with opaque glass. Now, I dislike opaque glass
even in city churches, for I think a ragged back wall is better than
a blank, and I don't see why a cat, peaceably creeping along a
coping, need disturb the sanctity of any congregation. But
opaque glass to shut out green trees and open sky! With a
shudder, I turned to the pew which the disconsolate widow opened for
us. It was not far from the pulpit, and was snugly cushioned
and carpeted. I did not discover the narrowness of the seat
until I had risen from my knees, and was, I trust, in a more
contented and devout frame of mind.
Then I looked towards the communion-table, hoping to find
some comfort there, but I only saw bare white walls, relieved by two
tablets whereon was written the ten precepts of the law. The
table itself was small and high, and grudgingly covered with shabby
crimson velvet, edged with tarnished gilt fringe. On it stood
two straight candlesticks. But above all rose the single
adornment of the building—a painted window representing the Descent
from the Cross. The colours were laid on so thickly and darkly
that the picture was only illuminated round the central figure—the
dead body of our Saviour, gaunt and wrenched, half-wrapped in
blood-smeared cloths. The painting suggested no idea but that
of fearful physical pain and exhaustion. I think angels veiled
their faces before the reality of that scene. Why should we
hold it up for our children to gaze upon while they weary of the
sermon, and long for the Sunday pudding? It was frightful!
Slowly the congregation gathered in. I saw Alice and
her grandfather, but not Ewen; I saw other faces which I had seen
pass my gate, but with which I could not yet connect any idea.
But just as the bell gave its last lugubrious stroke the bereaved
attendant bustled up the aisle with increased alacrity, followed by
the brisk step of a middle-aged gentleman. I recognised his
bronzed face and beetling brows: it was my nearest neighbour, Mr
Herbert of the Great Farm.
Close at his side walked a young lady, dressed very quietly
in gray mantle and bonnet trimmed with purple and black. They
both entered the great square pew immediately in front of ours,
evidently the pew of the church, with seats on all sides, and an
oaken desk in the middle. When I caught sight of the young
lady's face, in the midst of that dreary building, it came to my
mind like a line of poetry quoted in a dry theological tract.
Yet it was not a beautiful face. I do not suppose an
artist would have been satisfied with one feature. I think its
charm must have been that the veil of flesh was so delicate and
frail that the soul shone clearly through—a sensitive, shivering
soul, which would need a very warm mantle of love to pass safely
through this chilly, blustering world. There was nothing about
the face which will stand description, except perhaps the dark hazel
eyes, very intense and bright, yet with a look that somehow
suggested they had often glistened through tears.
She gave just one glance towards us, and then stood up and
opened her book to join in the service. For by this time the
clergyman had entered.
He was a young man, with plain features, and resolute,
sensible bearing. I knew his name was the Reverend Lewis
Marten. And the clear, distinct tone of his voice was the
first thing in the whole church which gave me unmingled
satisfaction. But when we kneeled down for the Confession of
Sins, imagine my horror to find that we were expected to go through
it in an undefined chant, rendered absolutely ludicrous by an
attempt to join, on the part of some old people on the free seats.
And I found the same thing went on whenever the congregation should
respond. I never say a word against cathedral-services—they
have trained choirs, and audiences, as a whole, highly educated.
But can the same arguments be used for little churches, dependent on
a singing-class or charity schools, and where the main object should
be to render the whole service intelligible and profitable to such
as cannot read, or have no book? I don't suppose God's Word
has any exact precept for or against such performances, but does not
St Paul say, "All things are lawful, but all things are not
expedient?" And he uses some other arguments which wonderfully
suit these customs when viewed from another aspect. I should
like to hear what the Reverend Lewis Marten thinks of the 14th
chapter of Romans.
We got through the prayers, and through an anthem which was
not in our hymn-books. It was performed only by the schools
and a few giggling boys in a pew behind the reading-desk.
While this went on, Ruth kept her seat, with that awful expression
of countenance which I know means a great deal of anger, with a
strong spice of contempt. I stood up, for I don't think such a
matter is worth a breach of the peace. I only think it a great
pity—a very great pity!
My hopes revived when the young clergyman mounted the pulpit
in his black gown. His face was so rational and open, so free
from the covert humility of priestcraft, that I felt sure his ideas
were not so mediæval as his
customs. I was right. But still I was disappointed.
Everything he said was true, but it was only half the truth.
He spoke of the sin of our hearts, the utter emptiness of the world,
and he garnished his discourse with pithy aphorisms, and flashy
poetry. But scriptural words of healing and comfort were not
set therein, like "apples of gold in pictures of silver." He
showed us the suffering without the salvation,—Golgotha without the
Saviour who died thereon. And the old men and women fell
asleep, the charity boys "swopped" their marbles, the singers
giggled and whispered, and the dark eyes of Mr Herbert's companion
turned ever and again to the fearful picture above the altar.
And I could not help being glad when it was over, and so I am sure
was the preacher.
When I turned to leave, I found the church had been but
thinly attended, and that the majority of those present belonged to
the classes which have but a loose hold on the stirring interests of
life,—young boys and girls, agèd
people, and those miserable-looking objects who haunt the regions of
clerical almsgiving. Now that is a view of religion which I
can never understand. To me, it seems that it should have the
strongest claim on those who are in the front rank of the battle,
that they should find God's house verily a house of refuge, wherein
to rest and recruit their strength for each new campaign. And
I am sure there is something wrong in the religion which fails in
this. By my own heart, I could trace how the declension might
proceed. Next Sunday morning, if it were wet, or if I were
weary, it might seem to me more profitable to remain at home with my
Bible and good books, than to attend a service which chilled and
disheartened me. And thus, a church-going habit once broken, I
might get so accustomed to my good books, that I might long for a
change, and take to essays and history, and so on, till at last I
might fall to the depth of newspapers and gossip. And thus it
may have been with the honest yeomen and buxom matrons who left
their empty seats before God in the church of St Cross.
In the pebbly graveyard we overtook our Alice, with her
grandfather leaning on her arm. I thought I should like a
little talk with the old man, for his face had been the best lesson
of the morning—a sermon beaming with the comfortable truth that one
may be very old, and very poor, and very tired, and yet very happy.
"What, Mr M'Callum," I said, stepping to his side, "are you a
deserter from the kirk?"
"Na, na, sir," he answered, with his blithe smile, "I'm just
a sheep that's been carried frae its ain field, and must e'en
pasture where it can; and, praised be God, there's grass growin'
"Is there no Scotch church within an easy distance?" I asked.
"Na, sir," he said; "the nearest is full fifteen mile frae
this. Aince on a time, I made shift to get there every
Communion Sunday—which was four times a year. But noo-a-days I
go but aince, so that I'm broucht back to the privileges o' my young
days. For ye see, sir, we lived in a country parish, and only
gathered for the Lord's Supper just after the harvest was in."
"I daresay you wish there was a Scotch church close at hand?"
"Aweel, sir, of course, there's nae kirk like the auld kirk,
to my mind; but still there's a poo'er o' grace an' glory i' the
Church o' England,—the twa are sisters like, sir; only the ane is a
sonsie gudewife in her brave white mutch, and the ither is a grand
princess in her jewels. They fa' oot a bit sometimes, as
sisters will, but there's the same heart i' them baith, sir, and
they've but ae Father."
"I am sorry to see St Cross has not a larger congregation," I
"The people hereaway don't go much to church, sir," he said:
"I've aften spoken tae them about it. Ye see, I'm an auld man,
and I've come frae sic a far-awa' place, that maybe they're mair
patient wi' me than if I was a poor body that had ne'er been ayont
the parish. I tell them about the shootin' grunds, and the
moors, and the deer-stalkin', and they're glad to listen, and then
after a bit, I can bring the talk roond—ye understand, sir?"
"And what do they say about neglecting church?" I inquired.
"Some say it's a dour place, and gies them the miserables;
and some say parson does tell them onything new, only that the world
's a wicked hole, which they ken well enough already; and some canna
stand the chantin'."
"And no wonder!" ejaculated Ruth.
"Aweel, mem," he went on, turning to my sister, "I think it
some queer mysel', mair especially as I canna hear what they say,
and I'm ow're blind noo to read the biggest print. Hoo the
honest Church o' England should want to mak' herself look a bit like
the Lady of Babylon, is what I canna understand. But still, I
aye say to mysel', if ane gies up the kirk, he gies up Sunday, and
then the days rin on without sense or meaning, like print wi' the
stops no put in. Anything's better than that."
"Has Mr Marten been clergyman here long?" asked Ruth.
The old man shook his head. "It seems but the other day
he came, mem, but time passes quickly. How long is it, Alice?"
"Just two years, grandfather," she answered.
"Aye, aye, just two years," repeated he. "I remember, I
remember, Alice. I think he's a good young man; he was verra
kind to us when—aye, you know now, sir! Only he thinks a
college education maks mair difference than it does, sir. He's
feared it keeps folk frae understanding him. And he looks at
things in a gloomy way; but that's aften the case wi' young folk.
Life comes unco hard tae them at first, puir things," and the old
man glanced at his granddaughter.
"Ah, by the way, Alice," I said, "I've a letter in my pocket
that you may as well drop into the post now, for I should like it to
go off the first thing to-morrow morning," and I handed her the
epistle hearing the London address. It caught her eye, and she
smiled brightly as she hastened down the turning leading to the
post-office, whilst we and her grandfather waited at the corner.
"Your granddaughter seems a blessing to you, Mr M'Callum," I
"Aye, she is that; and so is the boy, poor fellow—he'll be a
brichter blessin' some day. Thank you kindly for your goodness
to him yesterday, sir."
"What! did he tell you of the talk we had?" I asked.
"Yes; he seemed main thouchtfu' all the evenin', and yet he
wasna sad or sullen. An' at supper-time, he said, 'There's
some one else thinks I'm innocent, grandfather,' and then he told me
all about it."
"Does he never come to church?" inquired Ruth.
"He hasna come regular for a long time—and never since
then, mem," answered the old man. "Ye see, the folk would
hardly have sat in the same aisle wi' him! But he seemed
inclined to come this mornin', and I hope he'll mak' up his mind to
be there the nicht; he'll tak' courage i' the dusk, maybe."
"If Alice would like to pass the day with you, we will spare
her," said my sister, as the girl rejoined us. "Phillis can
manage to-day, and Alice must do as much for her in a Sunday or
Alice looked up into my sister's shrewd, brown face, and she
let that look be all her answer, leaving the audible thanks to her
grandfather. And so we parted.
"That was very kind of you, Ruth," I said, as we went on
"May it not be their last Sunday together?" she answered.
"Don't you think I know how a woman feels before a parting?—the more
fool she, for a man never cares!"
That is Ruth's way of speaking, whenever she is caught doing
a kindness. And it is astonishing how she always brings in
something complimentary to the male sex. And the worst of it
is, sometimes I can't say these compliments are unmerited. So
I generally let her take the field, whilst I retire into the nearest
"I'm afraid you don't like St Cross?" I said, presently.
"Like it?" she said, with bitterness. "Edward, I've
endured it four Sundays, and I wouldn't allow myself to say a word
to you about it, because I wanted you to see it with unprejudiced
eyes. But it drives me mad! If I could get at these
boy-singers in their white gowns, wouldn't I find out whether they
know their catechism! And I'll engage they don't! What
can a clergyman think about to put a parcel of lads into a seat
together, instead of each of them sitting beside his own father and
mother, and learning to behave in a reverent, godly manner?"
"It seems a mistake," I said; "but no doubt Mr Marten does it
in hopes of rendering the service attractive."
"Attractive!" she answered; "if any one wants such
attractions, why do they put up with shams? Why don't they go
where they can get the reality—to the Church of Rome?"
"But the sin of the Church of Rome is not so much her ritual
as her doctrine," I pleaded, rather wildly.
"Don't the two go together" said she. "I wonder the
Israelites didn't plead that it was only 'harmless ritual' when they
danced round the golden calf! Perhaps Aaron meant it so."
"But, my dear Ruth, the innovations at St Cross are very few
and faint," I expostulated.
"They're as much as they can be," she answered, grimly.
"There's a choir in white, and they and Mr Marten all turn to the
east two or three times in the prayers, and every response is
chanted, and there are candlesticks on the communion-table.
Anything more would cost money, and the church doesn't look as if it
had any to spare."
"These things seem to me so pitifully trivial as to be
beneath mention," I said.
"Is it wisdom to overlook the egg until the serpent is
hatched?" she asked.
"Mr Marten has a pleasant, sensible face," I remarked, "and
there is something I regret much more than these petty ceremonials,
and that is, the cold, repellent tone of his sermon. I should
like a little talk with him. He is a young man, and a glimpse
of an old man's experience can do him no harm."
"It would be less trouble to build a new church at once,"
said Ruth, cynically.
But that is just like her. I hope for the best, and she
prepares for the worst.
As we entered our house, it struck me painfully, that instead
of returning with God's peace on our hearts and tongues, we had come
back in a criticising, flaw-detecting spirit.
And what seemed worse, I could not conclude it was altogether
our own fault. I resolved, however, that Ruth's hopelessness
should not dishearten me. I must try to do good in my own way,
and I am always inclined to mend rather than remake. So in the
course of the afternoon I startled my sister by announcing that I
should write to our young rector, and invite him to spend an evening
with us in the course of the following week.
"It is his place to call upon us," said she.
"Certainly, Ruth, and doubtless he will do so; but you see I
do not care about a call, I want a long, friendly visit."
"Then I wish I could go to tea somewhere, and leave you to
fight out your battle by yourselves," she remarked.
"There will be no battle, Ruth," I responded. "I only
want to ask him the general position of affairs in the parish, and
how I can best make myself useful."
"Then he will say they want a new altar-cloth—not to say a
new organ—and also more funds, that the choir may be enlarged," said
"Well, I'll tell you what the church does want, Ruth," I
answered, "and that is, new windows. It is a sin that thick
glass should come between us and the blue sky."
"What, let in more light to the candles on the
communion-table" queried Ruth, sarcastically.
"The candles are not lit," I said.
"But I suppose they will be some day," she returned.
"They are not there for nothing, surely."
"Perhaps the sunshine will put them out, Ruth," I said.
"I hope it may!" she retorted, grimly.
I did not answer, but opened my desk, and began to indite my
letter to the clergyman.
"Won't you help me, Ruth?" I asked, after putting down the
"It is quite your business," she replied. But the dear
woman is far too active-minded not to interfere in anything when
asked. So presently she said, "You may send my compliments, I
suppose. And what do you mean to say, Edward?"
"Will this do?" I asked her, and read:―
"Mr and Miss Garrett present their
compliments to the Rev. Louis Marten, and hope he will do them the
honour of spending an evening with them in the course of the week.
Mr Garrett is anxious to get acquainted with the neighbourhood, and
trusts that Mr Marten will be willing to advise how he may become
"I suppose that will do," commented Ruth; "and yet, brother,
the fact is you want to advise him!"
"I don't deny that, but it is quite true I wish information
which he can give."
Ruth looked at me for a moment, and then her grave face broke
into a smile.
"Any one would say I managed you, Edward, but I doubt if I
do," said she. "I think you know how to get your own way
without making a struggle. But, by the way, I don't like
letter-writing on Sunday."
"Why, this is only an act of neighbourly kindness!" I said,
surprised. "We are always free to do good on that day."
"Certainly, Edward! and yet I think we should keep up every
possible distinction between the Sabbath and other days."
"You don't think the day of rest should be a day of idleness,
Ruth?" I asked.
"No," she answered; "but I think with Mr M'Callum that
Sundays should be the 'stops' in our life. I know some people
laugh at Scotch notions of Sabbath-keeping, but that is because they
never tried the refreshment afforded by the day, when life stands
still before the throne of God, and care and weariness are swallowed
up in His glory."
"But, Ruth, may it not be that while we try to keep the
letter of the positive law, we are in danger of neglecting some
moral duty?" I inquired.
She shook her head. "I don't think so. The very
day of rest helps to discipline the mind to distinguish between what
it wants to do, and what it should do. If a letter would
prevent a mistake, or save an hour's unhappiness, or give comfort, I
should say, write it—aye, and carry it yourself, though the task
occupied your whole Sunday. I was glad to see you give that
letter to Alice this morning. But what will do quite as well
on Monday, leave till Monday, and certainly this note can wait till
I felt that Ruth was right. And I put away my desk.
THE RECTOR'S VISIT.
THERE was rain on
Sunday night, and when we looked from our windows on Monday morning,
we found but a dreary prospect. Many leaves had fallen, and lay
sodden and decaying in the garden path, and the few remaining
flowers looked as if they only lingered to bid us a last good-bye. A
light mist hung over the scene, and shut out the distant meadows. Ruth ordered fires to be lighted, and advised Alice to put on a warm
shawl when she went to carry my letter to the rector. Winter never
finds my sister unprepared, and perhaps there is no instance in
which forethought saves more health, comfort, and good temper.
Alice returned in due time, saying she met the rector at his gate,
and he detained her while he read my missive and penned his reply,
which proved a very courteous one, stating he would have great
pleasure in waiting upon us that very evening.
Five o'clock found Ruth and me seated opposite each other, with the
lamp on the table between us—I lingering over the pages of a monthly
periodical, and she busy with a huge bagful of gay scraps, by which
I understood that patchwork was on hand.
"Phillis is a terrible blunderer with her needle," said she; "she
shall not live in the house with me, and not learn better. Patchwork
is good practice, and as the quilts get made, I can give them away
to the old people round."
"I fear they need blankets more than quilts," I ventured to say.
"Very likely. That is your concern," she answered coolly. "Money
buys blankets, and you are a rich man. But if you were bedridden,
Edward, you would know the comfort of a bright quilt to cover the
fuzzy blanket. And patchwork is quite a fortune in a house with a
sick child. Do you remember ours at home?—the silk quilt which
mother used to show us on holidays." And when I glanced at my
sister, some minutes after, her face was still soft and tender with
the recollection of the faded finery.
Every day, sitting opposite Ruth, I am struck with the exceeding
beauty of good old age. In youth, my sister was plain, her features
harsh, and her figure and movements too decided for grace. But Time
has dealt with her like a patient artist with his picture; so that
she is a noble old lady with a grand brown face, crowned with white
hair, and lit up by eyes which have not forgotten to flash and
Presently the gate clanged, and in a moment Phillis ushered
in the clergyman, who brought with him the peculiar damp chill
atmosphere of an autumn evening. I think he was glad of the welcome
offered by our cheerful fire, and he seated himself on a chair
indicated by Ruth, and rubbed his hands in the genial warmth. They
had no fires yet where he lodged, he said. He had not noticed the
deficiency until he saw ours, but he remembered he had been very
cold while studying. He must speak about it to-morrow.
And so we kept up a good-humoured chatter till tea was brought in,
and when we were fairly established round the table, with cheering
cups before us and a pleasant prospect of tea and toast, Ruth
enquired if St Cross were a comfortable church in winter.
"I regret to say it is never comfortable," replied Mr Marten; "in
summer it is close and dark, and in winter cold and damp."
"Yet it is well situate," I said. "The darkness is only due to the
narrowness of the windows and their thick glass."
"You are right, sir," he answered. "And why a church should be so
built I cannot understand."
"Nor I," I said. "To shut God's light from God's house seems to me
worse than foolish. Why do your not remedy it?"
The young man looked at me, and smiled grimly. "Neither my
predecessor nor I have been able to muster more funds than barely
suffice for whitewashing and cleaning," he replied. "The parish is
not rich, and the people do not seem liberal. At the present moment,
the church is absolutely falling out of repair. We have had one or
two collections in its behalf, but the money comes so slowly that I
fear the building will be in ruins before the requisite sum is made
"Why don't you repair first, and collect afterwards?" I asked.
"Sir!" exclaimed the young man in astonishment.
"Yes," I said; "why don't you get some kind friend's promise to make
good the deficit—if any?"
The rector shook his head. "I wish we had such a friend in Upper
Mallow," he said.
"Are you sure you have not? Have you asked every one?" I inquired.
"There is no one to ask," he answered, adding suddenly—"unless it
Ruth laughed outright.
"I should not wonder if it were me," I said.
"My dear sir, I did not expect this," said the young clergyman, very
"You need not thank me, Mr Marten, until you see whether I have any
balance to pay," I observed.
"Ah, I know you will," he replied, shaking his head. "I know my
parishioners. You are a stranger among us, sir."
"We shall see who judges them best," said I.
"My brother is always hopeful," remarked Ruth; "but I must say he is
"We must not attempt any serious repairs until springs," I said, "but in the meantime cannot we make some little temporary
improvements? I observe that the old people sit about in cold parts
of the church, where, if they be at all deaf, they cannot hear a
word. Why don't you give them those comfortable seats round the
"They are kept for the choir, sir," answered Mr Marten,
"Excuse me," I said, gently, "but in many churches, and certainly in
St Cross, I think a formal choir is a mistake."
"So do I," returned the young man, frankly, and Ruth gave an
unmistakable look of pleasure. "It was established by my
predecessor, who thought otherwise. I found it when I came, and I
have not abolished it because I dread meddling with existing
arrangements, and because I fear to deprive our services of what is
generally considered an attraction, lest our small congregation
should become still smaller. Many people believe they derive benefit
from the full carrying out of the ritual of the Anglican Church."
Here Ruth broke in. "They like fine singing and pretty altars. If
the ritual be performed shabbily, they don't care for it. Since I
have lived in this parish I have learned that many of your young
people walk to Hopleigh, five miles off, because the church has a
splendid choir and enticing decorations. Unless you can afford the
same, your ritual will never secure them, though it may drive away
people better worth keeping."
"I do not belong to the High Church party," said the young rector,
quite humbly, "and I am always sorry that St Cross wears the badges
of the same. But what can I substitute for the choir? We have no
charity-school on which to depend."
"Of whom does the choir consist?" I asked.
"Of the sons of farmers and tradesmen in the parish," he replied. "They meet for practice twice every week —after the Wednesday
evening service, and on Saturday
"You don't have them in a Bible class, then?" queried Ruth.
"I have nowhere to receive them," answered Mr Marten, dismally. "If
they came to my lodgings, the landlady would complain of their
wearing out her carpets, and our parish school-room—I dare say you
saw our little school in the aisle—the parish school-room is such a
rookery that their parents would think it an insult if they were
"A good opportunity to hint they should build a better one," put in
Mr Marten smiled, and shook his head in resigned despair concerning
the efficacy of such hints.
"Can't you have them in the vestry" asked my sister.
"Why, so I can!" he exclaimed. "It's rather small, but it will do.
I wonder I never thought of that!"
"Where there's a will there's a way," said Ruth. The young clergyman
"Mr Marten must pardon us," I said, "we are getting old," ("We are
old," said Ruth,) "and we forget sometimes that we have no
parental rights over young people. We are only anxious to do a
little good before we away."
"And old people can seldom do better than set the young ones to
work," observed Ruth. "I only made the suggestion because I thought
the class would keep them together, and they might go on with their
practising: and I think they would sing better standing decently at
their mother's side than now, when they are always ready to burst
into a giggle."
"Ah, I'm afraid they behave very badly sometimes," sighed the
rector. "But as the stoves will be lighted next Sunday, I will take
the opportunity to direct that the old people shall sit round the
desk and enjoy the warmth, and I must manage about the boys as well
as I can."
"Mr Marten," said Ruth, "you cannot tell how glad I am that it is
only a matter of 'management.' I feared we should have to fight out a
battle about apostolic succession, and an infallible Church, not to
say the Real Presence, and other dogmas."
"Ah, Ruth," I observed, "if Mr Marten were the staunchest advocate
of these doctrines, I should not attack them; I should only say—'Think of the old people, and do not keep them in the cold—remember
the people who can't read, and don't sing to them,"' (and I glanced
at our guest, in hopes he would take a hint from my words.) "Differences of opinion will never be reconciled by argument, but any
sect will shrink from confessing that its theories will not let it
work under Christ's great banner of 'Love to the brethren.'"
"I do not adhere to one High Church doctrine," said the young
rector; "but yet I cannot help thinking some of their innovations
"Certainly," I responded. "For instance, I like the idea of free
churches: the rich and the poor equal before God."
"I don't," said Ruth. "The rich and poor are equal before God; and
no arrangement of seats can make any difference. You look at it from
the wealthy point of view, and you like to flatter your spiritual
pride by a semblance of self-abasement. Some people seem to think
the poor are only made to practise their virtues upon, particularly
humility, like the cardinals at Rome when they wash the beggars'
feet. But just view it from the other side. Would not you rather sit
among your own people—the pensioner and the farm-labourer and the
servant-girl together—than flourish your rough hands, and poor,
coarse clothes among the silks and velvets of the gentry? There are
two sides to every question; but I always think it is best to let
people stay in their own places, just because I believe that in
God's sight one place in the world is quite as good as another, and
that the labourer's horny hand is as honourable as the prime
minister's worn brow. But their outward conditions can never be the
same till they're both in heaven. And if they be wise men, and
recognise their true equality, they will not wish it otherwise."
"Very likely you are right," responded the rector. "Viewed in that
light, probably the poor, as a rule, are happiest among the poor. But dropping the subject of free seats, I am sure you would not wish
to check honourable ambition. One is often struck with a great
disparity between the mind and the position."
"Certainly," said Ruth, with a humorous twinkle her eyes. "I knew a
man who blamed statesmen, and censured clergy, and had splendid
ideas of what he could do in their place, whilst his own home was in
disorder, and one or two of his children might have given him
valuable information about prisons and workhouses. There was a great
disparity between his mind and his circumstances, only it was the
"Oh, Miss Garrett, you refuse to understand me!" cried Mr Marten,
smiling. "I mean that a great mind is sometimes found in a lowly
place, and surely you would not wish such to remain in the position
wherein he was born."
"He'll often wish himself there before he dies," answered Ruth. "He'll find God gives hard work in the upper classes of His school. But he's sure to be promoted, not because he was too great to do the
easy tasks, but because he was great enough to do them well. God
wastes nothing, Mr Marten. If He make a genius, He has got something
for him to do besides breaking stones; but most likely He will keep
him doing that, till by virtue of the power that is in him, he does
it better than any one else. Don't you remember it is said when
Shakespeare got his living by holding horses, he did it so well and
was in such demand, that other men hired themselves under him, that
they might call themselves 'Will Shakespeare's lads?'"
"But still many geniuses are sad failures in the ordinary walks of
life," remarked Mr Marten.
"Ah, those are poor, unhealthy geniuses, who slip from God's grasp
into the devil's," answered Ruth. "They let go their Father's hand;
but I think He generally catches them against their will; only they
get so torn to pieces in the struggle that the best work they can do
for Him is the warning of their example."
"Still, there remain a few sad cases which cannot be classed under
any rule," said the clergyman, thoughtfully "Chatterton, for
"Yes, poor Chatterton!" replied my sister, in a tone so different
from her own that I looked up. "Almost every writer has said
something fine about Chatterton: heaps of sentimental pity, with a
spice of blame for his wrong-headedness, or recklessness, or want of
faith, which they seem to think brought down his miseries in
punishment. Not one thoroughly realises that he was only a boy—a
child—and that none of his faults and blunders need be wondered at. It was his time for being checked, and chidden and comforted
afterwards. But he was dropped upon the world with no one to screen
his follies until they were corrected. If he had only known a little
"I always understood his mother and sisters"――began Mr Marten.
"His mother and sisters must have been weak, shallow women,"
interrupted Ruth. "They believed all his poor, fine stories! Love
gives the greatest fool more wisdom than that. All you men blame
So do I; but I blame those women more. That boy had lived with them
sixteen years, and they did not understand him. It was a noble wish
to keep all his struggles to himself, but it was cowardly in them to
allow it. I can't believe they thought everything right; God help
them if they did, for the revelation came too late."
"They were very poor, and doubtless ignorant of the world," pleaded
Mr Marten; "but the whole story is sad and mysterious, like a
psalm of humanity with the love of God left out."
There was a pause.
"But the misery is," added Ruth, suddenly stirring the fire, "that
the same thing may be going on somewhere at this moment, and we
"God can do without our help," I said, softly, "if He does not show
us where to give it."
And then followed a long silence, which I broke at last by asking
the rector if he knew much of the M'Callums.
"I saw a good deal of them about eighteen months ago, when they were
in some difficulty," he replied; "but I have not called upon them
lately. The old man is very kindly, and the grand-daughter—your
servant, Miss Garrett—struck me as a good girl. But the young man is
as ill-conditioned and morose a fellow as I ever knew. Their trouble
was about him, and I fear there is little doubt he was guilty of the
crime imputed to him. He avoided me as much as possible, but I
ventured to speak to him once, saying I hoped he would be warned of
the wickedness and danger of neglecting his religious duties and
consorting with evil company, and he turned and answered me in a
terrible way—a terrible way, Mr Garrett."
"What did he say? " asked Ruth.
"His manner so astonished me that I can scarcely recall his words,"
returned the rector; "but it was to the effect that it was not his
fault if some bad people were more attractive than some good ones,
and that he guessed, in my day, I had done as much as he to deserve
"Dreadful, dreadful!" said Ruth; but she smiled as she said it.
Mr Marten looked aggrieved, and turned towards me. "I had only
spoken the truth with the authority of a clergyman," he observed.
"Why didn't you try speaking the truth 'in love'?
I asked; "that is St
"I certainly did not speak it in malice," he replied.
have said the same thing to your brother, had you such a relation in Ewen's place?" inquired my sister.
"Well, not exactly," confessed the rector—"circumstances make things
"Mr Marten," I said, "will you take a hint from an old man, who has
lived in the world more than twice as long as you?"
"Not one hint, but twenty," responded the young man, cordially.
"It is this: Never address the vilest outcast as you would not speak
to your dearest friend. Even were this young man the criminal you
think him, you and he have the mutual ground of a common humanity. The gentleman-parson should not have lectured the peasant, but the
man in you should have spoken to the man in him."
"You are right, sir," said the rector, heartily, "I accept your
reproof;" and he took my hand and shook it, adding, "and I only wish
the young man had shown himself wiser than me, by taking my blunder
in a more kindly spirit, for it is not pleasant to recall his
"Yet there was truth in it," I observed, "and he did not mean it for
the insult it seemed. He declares himself innocent of the murder,
and conscious of this, he felt the sting of your implied suspicion,
and retorted with the conjecture that, in your days at school and
college, you had perhaps fallen into many misdemeanours, such as
those he confesses, and which your wiser guardians regarded as the
foibles of youth, but which in his case exaggerating gossips blacken
into confirmed bad character."
"I can understand that," said Mr Marten, reflectively.
"Ewen was wrong to speak so," I went on; ''but I fear he was almost
in despair. The gentlest animal will turn upon its pursuers when it
sees no way of escape. He cannot justify himself further than he has
done, and his tormented soul was ready to take shelter behind the
mask of ruffianism. And if that mask be worn too long, Mr Marten, it
is rather hard to throw aside."
"You speak as if you believed his innocence, sir?" observed the
"So I do," I answered. "I noticed something strange in his manner,
and I heard dark whispers concerning him. So I asked him to tell me
all about it. And he did not omit one shadow from the gloomy
picture. I believe he is as innocent as you or I."
"Then I feel as if I could go and beg his pardon directly," said the
"That's right," said Ruth; "we shan't make mistakes in the next
world, so this is our time to practise penitence."
"He was with his sister at last evening's service," remarked Mr
Marten. "I daresay he came because his heart was touched by your
kindness. He sat in a lonely corner in the shadow. And when I
noticed him, I thought, 'That reprobate has come to God's house
because it is too damp to wander in the fields.'"
"And if it had been so, what did it matter?" observed Ruth. "If God
drives a man into church by wet weather or a snowstorm, all you've
got to do is to say something which will make him come again."
"Oh, dear, I am so sorry!" bewailed the young man; I feel as if I
should never be uncharitable again."
"Oh yes, you will," answered Ruth, "and be sorry afterwards, I
hope. That's about the best we can do, from the cradle to the
"It is always safe to hope for the best, Mr Marten," said I.
"So long as you prepare for the worst," put in Ruth.
"I daresay I have often done harm where I have tried to do good,"
said the rector, ruefully. "I am so lonely in this dull
country-parish, that my mind gets sour and jaundiced. I am inclined
to envy my brethren whose lots are cast in London. They have earnest
work to keep their souls healthy. If they wear out, that is better
than rusting out."
"Whoever can't work here, couldn't work in London," answered Ruth,
decisively. "If a man is not strong enough to walk to his own gate,
he needn't wish to climb mountains."
"Now, for my part," I said, "I think a country clergyman is a very
happily placed man. His work is ready for him, and it is not more
than he can do, if he go about it honestly and heartily. He is
surrounded by means of healthy relaxation, in the proper use of
which he can set a good example. He is known and honoured
everywhere, and he knows and cares for everybody. His education and
knowledge of mankind enable him to widen the narrow village life,
and connect it with the busy world beyond. Sometimes he can help his
city brother, for the restless tide of labour often throws a few
wanderers on his quiet shore, and he has it in his power to link
some holy memory with their recollections of his fields and farms. That is my portrait of your life, Mr Marten."
"It is so flattering that I do not recognise it," said he, with a
smile—rather a melancholy one.
There was a pause, for Ruth sat lost in thought. Suddenly she roused
herself, and asked, "Have you a refuge in the village, sir?"
"No, ma'am," answered the rector. "If belated travellers cannot pay
for a bed, we inhospitably refer them to the workhouse at Hopleigh. If they die on the road—they have done so once or twice—there is an
inquest, and the Union buries them. That is our English version of
the Good Samaritan. It is useless to disguise
"Then let us try to make it truth no longer," I said. "I know you
will have an earnest helper in Ruth, for refuges are her favourite
form of charity."
"Because, if they are well managed, they do so much good at so
little cost, and in such a kindly way," she remarked. "If we give
hungry men a tract on the goodness of God, need we wonder if they
throw it away with a curse? A meal and a bed would preach a far
"Certainly, if their hearts were sufficiently open to receive it,"
said Mr Marten, dubiously.
"There must be something to put them in mind," replied my sister,
"but I don't believe many people are so hardened as you think. Anything roughly knocked about gets battered and black outside, but
the tough rind may keep something very soft within."
"I shall be only too happy if you will help me to try the
experiment," said the rector; "my heart has often ached to see the
poor creatures starting on their long journey to the tender mercies
of the Casual Ward."
"Ay, you may well say I 'tender mercies'!" responded Ruth; "I am
quite astonished to find, that as a rule, workhouse chaplains think
they have no duty to discharge towards these strays. They don't want
But surely they might go in and commend the great family to Him who
remembers every one of them. That would comfort some, and a good
word can't harm the worst. And in the morning I think the chaplain
might go again, and see if any one wanted advice. A little counsel
is sometimes worth more than a fortune. If the chaplains can't do
it, I wish some one else could get permission."
"It will take us some time to get a refuge organised," remarked Mr
"We only want a six-roomed cottage, no matter how rough or
old-fashioned—the more so the better; it will be more like home,"
replied my sister; "and then we must get a nice, comfortable
couple to live in it, and act host and hostess. And of course you
must persuade all the village to help us, Mr Marten."
"O dear, dear!" said the rector, despairingly.
"Never venture, never have," I observed. "I will help you. I
believe I am a good beggar."
"You have let them lose the habit of giving," said Ruth. "Like
everything else, it grows easier by practice, sir."
"Well, Miss Garrett," he said, rising, "I must thank you for
originating so excellent a plan. I shall mark to-day with a red
letter, in commemoration of this visit, and in a few days, I
daresay, I shall bring you word of suitable premises."
He would not stay to supper: so, after a little more talk about the
best ways and means to further our plan, Ruth and I escorted him to
the door. The ground was still damp, but there was a pleasant drying
breeze, which made me long for a little ramble under the starry sky. So I proposed to walk home with our guest. Ruth expostulated, but I
put on my great-coat, and had my own, way.
The clergyman lived down the road, past the Great Farm, and as we
walked we chattered cheerfully about divers things, and it gratified
me to believe that the young man was in better spirits for his visit
to us old people. I know some of Ruth's words were very sharp, but
so are mountain breezes, and yet they do us good. They make us turn
about and look at things under different aspects, and that is a
healthier proceeding than
standing still, peering through our own little glasses, which
perhaps are yellow!
We turned the corner occupied by the Great Farm, and presently the
sound of hurried footsteps warned us of a wayfarer advancing towards
us. In a moment he came up.
There were no lamps on the road, and I could only distinguish a tall
figure, muffled in a cloak, and a face which looked very pale in the
moonlight. He was walking rapidly, but the rector turned and watched
his form as it swiftly receded into total darkness.
"Surely that is young Herbert," said Mr Marten, half aloud; "and
what can he be doing here?"
I remembered the name of the family at the Farm, and concluding this
individual to be one of them, nothing seemed more natural than his
presence close to his own home. And so I silently wondered at my
We parted at the rector's gate, and he detained me a moment to
congratulate me on having such a sister as Ruth.
"Her society is like a draught of quinine," he said.
"Ah," I replied, "her words have bristles on their backs, but we all
want brushing up sometimes!"
"I hope she won't spare me," he said; and I think he was sincere.
"Never fear," I answered. "Good-night."
But as I walked back, I wondered what made my sister so terribly
earnest about Chatterton.