Rab Bethune's Double (V.)

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CHAPTER XXV.

LEWIS AND MARY.


WHILE Lesley Baird was consuming her own heart in the solitude of Edenhaugh, on Mary Olrig in the crowd of London during these later months there had settled a great calm.

    The work which Lewis Crawford had procured for her had never failed her.  Where she needed instruction he found her an apt pupil.  She gave great satisfaction to her employers, as those always do who can bring brains and interest to what is often called "mere mechanical work."

    Advised by Miss Kerr, Mary put advertisements into one or two well-selected newspapers, and so secured for herself other work similar in kind, and which, though much less profitable, was also less pressing and could be done at her leisure.  Solitary as all this occupation was, it was but as a cell with doors opening into many quaint by-paths of the outer world.  The people with whom it brought her in contact were not often quite common people.  Even most of the old law-stationers had a fine flavour or tone about them such as gathers on wine, stained glass, and human character, if left undisturbed in still and shady places.  As for her other employers, they numbered people with hobbies and crazes,—one, a dear old lady, sweet and gracious as spring lilac, who had strong convictions that the Isle of Man had been peopled by the lost Ten Tribes; another, of high rank, who accepted Mary's help in arranging valuable papers, to which her own position gave her access, and in whose mansion Mary went happily up and down—now taking tea with the marchioness in her boudoir, and then with the housekeeper and the ladies' maids in their little room downstairs.  Mary was, like her grandmother, old Mrs Haldane, as little troubled by such transitions "as a collie dog." But her practical experience of them convinced her for ever of the ease with which many of those theories which people pronounce "too fine for real life" could be worked, if in the hands of the right people. "The right people" became, indeed, Mary's general desideratum; and she and Clementina Kerr joined heartily in the creed that the only reform worth mentioning was first to find the "right people," and then to set them to help making others to be like themselves.

    In those days Mary's mind was brought in contact with one or two other minds which afterwards had great power in moulding the world.  She deciphered the crabbed caligraphy of the early writings of a young barrister, who, in due time, became one of the rulers of the Empire, and a leader in philosophy and poetic form.  In years to come, countesses might contend for a few minutes conventional chat with the great man amid the confusions of crowded conversaziones.  But Mary had had her quiet interviews with him before he was jaded by contact with official antagonism.  When, amid fame and fortune, all sorts of accusations and insinuations were hurled against him, Mary remembered how courteous he had been to the nameless girl who worked for him, how considerate in his requirements, how prompt in those payments which were ever sweetened by thanks for intelligent interest and co-operation that "were not in the bond."

    Then, henceforth, Mary always had Clementina Kerr.  Not that they spent much time together; but Mary proved the truth of something Lewis Crawford remarked to her, that after one once knew Miss Kerr one never felt lonely, for she always seemed to be everywhere!  Certainly, it made a great difference to know, when one's hand could scribble no more, and one's recollections began to grow a little too pathetic, that there was a bright room downstairs where one would be made gladly welcome, and somebody sitting there who would give one something fresh to think about within the first five minutes.

    Further, Mary Olrig was no longer weary with a vague unrest, haunted by a lost face.

    She and Lewis Crawford were friends—friends by a common knowledge of the very foundations of each other's lives; friends by mutual succour.  Nobody can tell what a wholesome comfort it was to Mary to encounter one whom she had welcomed to the vanished home on the Edenlaw.  Our past remains as present while we find it in another's memory.

    Yet Mary had not lost her old aims because they no longer tormented her; but she had a strange feeling that she had lost her old standpoint, and that the loss was all gain.  Her thoughts no longer came to her as her own, as the fancies and sentiments of girlhood and youth.  It seemed to her as if the voices of others began to speak through her,—voices of the sad or the sinful, the agèd or the weary—voices of stunted lives like Rebekah Putnam's, or of stultified souls like Kate Joyce's.  It seemed to be given her to tell how the world looked to such, and that her own part was only so to present these sayings and outlooks that they should rouse in others the same sympathy or pity or indignation which they had awakened in her.  Mary often felt as if she should hate herself for having escaped into such peace and freedom, while others remained in confusion and bondage, but for some hope that she might be as a voice to plead that wiser thoughts should search out wiser ways of life, since human souls do not live by bread alone, nor by mere wages, weekly or otherwise.  Mary found that her former ambition for literary success was transformed into this hope of "opening her mouth for the dumb, in the cause of all such as are left desolate."

    She soon began to feel that it was this hope which made her present life satisfactory.  It suited her; and if it helped her to render her fellow-creatures any true service, then all was well and good.  Otherwise she felt, as she copied long bills of costs or big briefs on wearisome legal technicalities, that she was not producing anything for which the world was really the richer, and for which "the labourer is worthy of his hire."  And she was acute enough soon to detect that it was this fact which underlay the uncertainties even then impending over work of the class she was doing.  The old law stationers often shook their heads and told her "times were always growing worse."  Old trade customs, which had brought great profit to middlemen, were falling into desuetude; ancient circumlocutions, useful only to make useless work which would earn wages, were being gradually dispensed with.  The law printer, too, was supplanting the law scribe.

    "And as soon as the law printer has got the whole field to himself, I expect common-sense will bring in sound laws to gradually supplant him in his turn," said Lewis Crawford; "and transactions which now entail endless parchments and vain repetitions will be carried through as easily as the purchase of a book or a loaf."

    Mary Olrig was the first person to whom Lewis Crawford had ever opened out his mind, which he had hitherto used only as a receptacle for all sorts of experiences and reflections.  Clementina Kerr had seen into his heart.  But he had inherited from his mother the humble and reverent nature common to simple races, and their habit of silence and attention in the presence of seniors and superiors.  The very few people whom he had hitherto come across who were at all likely to appreciate his cogitations had always been seniors and superiors.  There had been his first patron, the old schoolmaster; then the spectacled and learned (though needy) "doctors" and professors who had taught the evening classes of an " Institute," which he had found time and means to attend; then the old Italian physician; and lastly, Clementina herself.

    With Mary Olrig all was different.  Over her, for him, there would ever rest that magic halo with which we always invest those to whom we first give out ourselves.  It is as though they had opened for us a new sense.

    Mary Olrig pondered over Lewis Crawford's remark.

    "There seems to be something unwholesome and unsatisfactory in depending for one's living on anything that is not in its very nature useful, and therefore necessary," she said.  "It seems to me that the work of our life should be an end in itself, and not a mere means to an end, and that end but our own sustenance.  Don't you think the most satisfactory ways of earning a livelihood are by doing things which we should do in any case, out of love, or kindness?—"

    "For instance?" asked Lewis as she paused.

    "In the case of women, preparing food or making clothes," she answered.

    "You would not like to be a dressmaker?" said Lewis, with a smile.  He had lived close to the simplest realities of life, and Mary was a poet.  This enabled them to be quite direct in their communications.  It is the artificial and the vulgar who must deal in euphemism.

    Mary looked up at him with humorous eyes.

    "No," she said.  "I should like to make clothes, for comfort, warmth, and beauty.  I should not like to make dresses at the dictation of folly, vanity, and fashion.  So I should like to prepare food for wholesome appetites, not entrees and dainties to tempt jaded gluttony."

    "But the sewing woman who makes neat linen and snug woollens can earn but a very few shillings a week," said Lewis.  "It is the Court milliner who makes her thousands.  Something has gone wrong somewhere.  It is not the worthiest work which earns most money, but rather those employments which involve some sort of personal degradation, because they serve, not necessities, but fancies, or vices.  The jockey can earn more than the mason; the comic-singer leaves the schoolmaster far behind.  The poor seem to me to be almost as much the slaves of the rich as they were when they were called slaves.  If they are to eat bread, they must do what the rich bid.  I have puzzled over it for a long while.  So does everybody who begins to think about it.  Your poet Burns was struck by the painful spectacle of one mortal standing before another and begging for 'leave to toil.'  I can see the pain and the perplexity; but I can't see any way out of it.  Our old friend the Italian doctor fancies that it is all in bad government, and that he and his party could set up governments that would put all these things straight.  But I fancy it goes deeper than governments."

    "If we could only do without money!" said Mary, reflectively.

    Lewis whistled.

    "Well, the next best thing is to do with as little money as possible," she persisted.  "Every want we can abolish must be a link struck off our fetters.  At any rate, that's the point at which we can begin without delay.  The less I want, the less afraid I shall be lest my work should fail, and the more ready to begin any better work, though it may not be paid so well.  It must be a great comfort to be you—earning money by doing an undeniably good work."

    "Do you know, I am not so sure about that," returned Lewis.

    "What! when you are righting wrongs, and getting people their just dues?" cried Mary.

    Lewis shook his head, slowly and thoughtfully.

    "The more I see of these poor people whose cause Mr Hedges has taken up," he said, "the more I doubt whether their good fortune will be a real blessing to them.  When we began our enquiry, they were all living happily together and doing honest work.  Already most of them are idle.  One has taken to drinking.  One of the girls has broken off from her old sweetheart, a ploughman, and is engaged to an idle vagabond whom she thinks a gentleman.  Two of the families have ceased to be on speaking terms, each believing its own rightful share of this wealth should be larger than the other's.  All this moral destruction and disunion is the price to be paid for one or two large houses and some fine clothes.  Out of it I have gained my increased salary and securer position.  And the thought destroys my pleasure."

    "Yet justice is justice," pleaded Mary, "and these people had a right to their own."

    "But is it necessary for anybody to give up something good for something not so good, simply because they have a 'right' to it?" asked Lewis.  "I am beginning to wonder whether the root of all the perplexity we have been discussing does not lie in our regard of money, of good, of gold."  He paused,—and went on in a low, deep voice: "I shall have a fair income henceforth, and very soon I shall have no mother.  Shall I be richer or poorer than in the old days?  And what if it had been my increased income which had cost me my mother?  It is so in many cases.  It is so in the case I have been speaking about.  Labour, love, and peace are bartered for a few thousands."

    "Somehow, all that is best in my own life has come to me through poverty and pain," he went on.  "So I can scarcely help glorifying them.  I know I have had no 'rights' to give up, except so far as there may be giving up in cheerful submission to God's will in deprivation.  And I have not cheerfully submitted.  I have bitterly rebelled.  But of late, I begin to wonder whether, from the highest point of view, a struggle such as mine has been does not give one a better chance of the best things, than is enjoyed by such as my—," he checked himself—"as Rab Bethune."

    His eyes and Mary's met as he uttered that name, softly.  It was the first time it had come into their conversation in London.

    "Have you heard that he is going to marry Miss Ben Matthew?" whispered Mary.

    "I have," he answered.  "I saw it in a newspaper."

    "I knew it from my grandmother," said Mary.  "I did not tell you, because I cannot bear to speak about the family after the cruel way in which you were treated."

    "They did me no harm," he replied.  "If they had fulfilled my hopes, I should never have known Miss Kerr or you.  Remember that."

    "It was my poor mother I was sorry for," he went on, in a very quiet tone.  "She had trusted my father.  She believes in him still.  And if his own people had shown a little pity for her, it would have soothed and comforted her after all her wrongs and trials.  I cannot understand why they were so angry and so fierce.  It was not as if I had made any claim on them.  From the first, I had feared the truth.  I only asked for a little help that she who had always believed herself my father's wife, might end her life in peace.  If they had thought very highly of my father, I could understand their resenting such an aspersion on his character, because, you see, it meant deception and desertion on his part.  But they called him villain, fool, and every opprobrious epithet.  They said they knew nothing of him, and wanted to know nothing.  They would not even assure me that he was dead!"

    Mary looked up quickly.  In the cottage on the Edenlaw, Lewis had not chanced to mention this detail of his interview with the Bethunes.  "Certainly he must be dead," she said; "for the laird had no younger brother.  If your father was living, the estate would belong to him."

    This aspect of the case did not seem to strike the young man with any particular force.  "I went to the graveyard," he said, "to see if I could find any memorial of him.  When I failed, I could scarcely help hoping he might still live; for if so, he might yet be sorry for my mother."

    "Does she speak of him still?" asked Mary, very gently.

    "Yes," he answered.  "Lately, since she has failed so much, she mistakes me for him, and tells me she has never mistrusted me; she was always sure I would come back."

    "When she went through what she thought was the ceremony of marriage," asked Mary, "was it the name of Crawford or Bethune which was used?"

    Lewis shook his head.  "She does not know," he said.  At that time she spoke very little English.  She thought the man whom she calls 'them minister' belonged to one of the English ships.  But she is sure my father was never generally known on the island by any other name than Crawford."

    "How, then, did you come to connect him with the Bethunes at all?" asked Mary.

    "It is very singular, and yet simple enough," Lewis explained.  "When he parted from her, leaving her in Australia, he left an address with her which he said would find him.  It was 'Lewis Crawford Bethune, of Bethune Towers,' care of some firm of solicitors in the City of London.  Actually, she never thought this was his own name, but rather that of some relative who would always know his whereabouts.  Therefore before she left Australia to follow him (I was not born then) she caused a letter to be written to him as 'Mr Lewis Crawford, care of Lewis Crawford Bethune.'  When she arrived in London and went to the lawyer's office, it was 'Mr Lewis Crawford' she asked for, and though they put a great many questions to her, and bade her call again, yet, in the end, they declared they knew no such person.  As I grew up she used to tell me about these things, but I think she forgot the name of 'Bethune.'  Remember how very foreign and untaught she was!  I never knew this name till after her illness began, when, in desperation, turning over all our little properties in search of some clue to guide us to help, I came across the identical scrap of paper on which my father had written the London address.  I hurried off to the city lawyers', only to find that their offices had vanished before a new railway station, and their very firm had actually ceased to exist in the 'Law Directory.'  My only chance remained in tracing out 'Bethune Towers,' which I did without difficulty, and I must own I started off in a wild hope that there I might find my father himself.  Instead, I found only kinsmen, who repudiated all knowledge of him or his doings.  I myself had realised the deception which must have been practised upon my poor mother.  But, oh! it was hard to hear that hard old man laugh to scorn the idea that any deception had been necessary with 'a mere savage.'"

    "Do not think about it," said Mary, proudly, as one might shake off any chance defilement.  "And I used to think Rab Bethune looked so bright and kind!  I know the Bairds liked him too,—and they knew him very well."

    "I felt I could have liked the young man myself," admitted Lewis, cordially.  "He did not say one harsh word of his own accord; he only echoed, 'As my father says.'"

    "Nobody could see you two and doubt a blood relationship between you," said Mary.  And then she told him how the glen had been mystified and horrified by the story of Rab's "double."

    "Well," decided Lewis, "if they had given me a night's shelter, I should not have known you.  If they had given me a little money, I should not have met Miss Kerr.  Do you wonder that I glorify poverty and pain for myself?  We must all speak of things as we find them!  Only I am so sorry for my poor mother.  What can set things right for her?"

    "Only God Himself!" said Mary; "and we can't guess yet all the blessing that means!"


 
CHAPTER XXVI.

MOETIA, THE MOTHER OF LEWIS.


THE silent, patient life of Lewis Crawford's mother was rapidly drawing to an end.

    During those days Miss Kerr almost lived in Soho Court.  This dying woman, whose nature had been expressed in no mere words, but wholly in how she had borne and what she had done, seemed to have a strange inspiring influence on strenuous, militant Clementina.  Here was one who had accepted wrong as if it was but her right, and who had lived the life of a saint under the stigma of a sinner's shame, who had endured in the strength of the love which had brought her over the seas in search of him she called her husband, who had trusted in God as she earned her poor bread day by day, and who had never glorified herself as a martyr or a heroine, but had ever humbly sat in the lowest place.

    "It seems to me to be a life fulfilling the Christian law," mused Clementina.  "Do you know, Mary, sometimes lately I have been pondering over the parable of the king who gave a great supper, and whose invited guests would not come.  I have been wondering whether those in the highways and hedges whom he finally 'compelled' to come in, may not typify those whom hereditary influence, and circumstance, and necessity have wrought to that self-denial and self-abnegation which so few of us make our own by choice.  And as even among those was found one without a wedding-garment, so even among these there may be some who fail to accept the blessed compelling with the hands of humility and submission."

    And Clementina Kerr sighed.

    Clementina would have liked to take Mrs Crawford into the country, where the dying eyes might rest on green fields and blue distances, and where the sweet sounds of Nature might soothe the clouded brain.  But the invalid showed something like terror at the thought of being stirred from her shadowy chambers.  And her old friend, the Italian doctor, upheld her in the feeling.

    "You would like to go into your country places, signora," he said, "and they would do you good, because they would bring back your childhood to you and thoughts of happy days.  For you, troops of angels would be going up and down your mountains, but not for her.  They would only make her sick with longing for the islands with the palm-trees to which you cannot take her.  I know, signora," he added with a wistful dignity, "for I too am an exile!  Let her stay where she has worked and loved.  These make any place into home."

    Clementina yielded.  She soon found that the sick woman had pleasure in what she would have thought disturbing.  In the early morning she liked to hear the slamming door which announced that such a one had started to work.  The warning bark of the butcher's dog was to her as the voice of a friendly guardian.  The song of the sempstress's caged linnet hanging opposite her window was more to her than the warble of a myriad unknown songsters.

    Her thoughts were always of the love in the life surrounding her.  When she heard the men going out very early: "They must be in full work: how pleased they would be for the wives and the little ones!"  When the poor drinking shoemaker opposite came home sober on Saturday evening—"What a happy hour his wife will have!"  Did the postman leave a letter for the sewing girl across the way―"That will be good news from abroad; she has dear brothers in Australia."  Even when the dog barked―"There he is, faithful to his master's charge"; while, as for the linnet, it was always "singing to cheer up its dear little mistress."

    She did not like anything to be removed that something better might be substituted for it.  "Let it last while it can," she said.  "Somebody liked to make it to get bread for his little ones: it seems a shame to spurn what his love made."

    "A sweet fancy,—the growth of a gentle mind," observed Clementina aside.

    The old Italian bent upon her the eagle eyes under the beetling white brows.

    "Is it only a fancy?" he asked.  "I thought the signora believed in God, and that God made all things; that God is love, and that God is our Father.  Therefore surely we too must be love at the bottom of us, however badly we may be sometimes spoiled.  It is not I who say this: it is the signora herself."

    Clementina stood gazing out thoughtfully on the crowds of shabby people going so cheerfully to and fro in the narrow places.  It seemed to her as if a radiance illuminated the sordid scene, a radiance which the Father Himself may see there always.  For were not all these feet going on the errands of love?  And were not the homely wares, the cheap crocks, the nice brown loaves, the rough clothing, and the simple groceries, all made and sold for the sake of love, household love, family love, neighbourly love?  The people might not know it if one asked them; they might answer that they worked for money.  But what do they want money for?  Just to buy household food, to keep up household fire, and to discharge all the obligations which bind families into communities.  On what a solid mass of love the world really rests!  By what a force of love it moves!  Never mind that at the moment the sounds of a matrimonial squabble came up on the air, or that a toil-worn mother gave her peevish child a sharp slap and left it crying.  These were but accidents raised by passing circumstances, like the breezes that ruffle the ears of the rooted corn, or the winds that raise the waves on the breast of the ocean's depth of calm.  Yes, Clementina Kerr felt that God and Nature are too strong for the evil in us, and can secure their balance even in those lives which seem most vicious and worthless.

    How had the dying woman reached this greatest of those secrets which are so constantly hidden from the wise and prudent, to be revealed unto babes?  Surely she had learned it in those dreadful days, when a stranger in the bleak foreign land, with her inarticulate babe at her breast, and so her life had been lapped in peace and joy, though outwardly it had been so wronged and sad.  Love had made all things lovely to her, so that naught seemed common and unclean.  And now, those who wanted to bless her parting soul could find nothing meet to offer it save the consolations of love itself!

    Clementina found that other hearts besides her own bad also been strangely drawn to this pathetic woman.  When it was found that Miss Kerr and Miss Olrig had taken the invalid in charge, homely women, with house-key on finger and milk-jug in hand, used to "venture" to stop them in the street to ask "how the poor foreign lady was," saying "she always looked so pleasant," and never "passed without a smile, just as if she was an old friend."  "She always nodded up to my window," said the little sempstress who owned the linnet.  "An' it used to make me feel as if I'd got a sister across the way, though I reckon she'd been quite the lady in her own land."  The baker's child brought over her kitten, saying she thought "it might amuse the lady, who'd always taken notice of the cat when she came to the shop."

    Mrs Crawford slept during the greater part of two or three days before she died.  A strange greyness, an indescribable expression, would sweep across her face sometimes, and the watchers would sit breathless, thinking she was passing away.  Yet again and again she awoke smiling and whispering, once with a strange, triumphant archness.

    "I knew I should see Lewis again.  I always said so!"

    "He has never been away; he will never leave you," responded Clementina.  But the invalid heard her with a puzzled look.  And her son said quietly:

    "It is not of me she is thinking now."

    Her mind had turned back to the lover of her youth.

    There were no parting words.  There had never seemed, with her, one thought of parting.  Only Miss Kerr and Lewis were with her at the end.  It came at last in a sleep on which she had fallen, with her son's hands clasped in both of hers.

    Lewis rose with one low, bitter cry, and vanished into the inner apartment.  At that moment the door bell rang.  Clementina did not heed it.  But the Italian doctor answered its summons, and Mary Olrig softly entered the room.

    "So it is over?" she whispered.

    "Over,—" echoed the old physician.  "Gone where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."  He had heard those words in Clementina's readings, and had kept repeating them ever since.  For the wicked had troubled his life very sorely, and he was an old man now, and tired out in body and soul.

    "I think she has had the best of life, and has made the best of it," cried Clementina.  "She has loved and been loved—and has learned her lesson.  I have had the best of life too; but I have not made the best of it, and I did not even see the lesson till now."

    The fiery little woman sat down on a chair and wept aloud.  She forgot in the pang of humility, that God's North wind does His errands of mercy as well as His sunbeams, for whom it clears the way.  Even tempests and volcanoes are all His ministers that do His bidding.  And the fiery hearts burn up the dross of evil for Him, and the strong hands fight His battles!

    The mourners' peaceful grief was not broken up by any of the pumps and parade of death.  The son and Clementina with Mary and the old Italian, would be the only mourners.  It struck Lewis, whose heart was often secretly sore with the sense of his mother's life of unmerited humiliation, that, after all, the funeral train of many a queen does not number two women of so rare a quality as these two friends of his.

    Next morning Mr Hedges, the solicitor, found a black-edged letter among his business correspondence.  It was the intimation of Mrs Crawford's death, in Mary Olrig's handwriting.

    "Departed this life, yesterday evening, Moetia, mother of Mr Lewis Crawford."

    "So the poor woman's gone, and the young fellow will be free to come back in a few days," mused the lawyer.  "She had an outlandish name.  Of course she was a foreigner—one sees traces of that in her son.  'Moetia.'  Why!  That is it!  So it is!  Now I see why I seemed to know the name of 'Lewis Crawford.'  This is a very small world, after all."


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

MR HEDGES' MEMORY.


THE day after his mother's funeral Lewis Crawford returned to his post in Mr Hedges' office.

    He had lost the one natural tie he had on earth—the one presence which had pervaded the whole of his existence hitherto.  Yet he was conscious rather of peaceful exaltation of mind than of rending pain of loss.  Between his mother and himself love had never been wounded: there were no old scars to prick and burn under the falling of tears; his sorrow only writhed against submission in the solitary pang of remembering the wrongs which had been heaped on the meek head of the dead woman.  "The sting of death is sin," the sin of somebody, somewhere.  His mother could never now receive justice on earth, and this, and this only, made him realise that the great change had actually passed over his home.  Otherwise she seemed to be still with him—her brooding love merely raised a little higher, and raising him with it.  Perhaps the singular quietness which had enveloped her of late years helped the feeling: her love had so rarely been in word, but ever in presence and thought.

    Lewis had no intention of making any outward changes in his life.  The two simple rooms, little more than a room and a closet, which had sufficed for his mother and himself in their poverty, would amply suffice for him in his competence, and they were the best outward semblance of home which remained to him in this world.  He had those self-helpful habits of a hermit or a pioneer, which are necessary to all who determine never to be driven by circumstances into mere conventional relations.  When Lewis Crawford should choose a wife, it would be because he sought a companion for mind and a solace for heart, and not merely a somebody to keep his accounts and look after his larder and linen.  He was unwilling to leave the old ways laid down by love in the past, until he should find new ways led into by love for the future.  After all, it is seldom your clinging, leaning people who can afford to live poetry.  It takes a great many self-dependent habits before we can dare to be faithful to our own hearts, or pitiful to the needs of others.

    Mr Hedges met his young clerk with such signs of sympathy as might be shown by a good-natured dumb animal.  The emotional part of the worthy lawyer's nature was mostly dumb, but was none the less sterling for being so, and was in far less danger of jarring on the recipient.

    The ordinary morning work of the office went on as usual.  Clients came and went, and attendances were made at those mysterious tribunals known as judges' chambers or vice-chancellors' courts.  It was only when the business of the day was nearly done, that Mr Hedges sauntered out of his private sanctum and sat down sideways on the tall stool opposite young Crawford's desk.

    He did not speak for a few minutes.  Then he asked Lewis if he meant to remain in his old quarters.  The affirmative answer was followed by another silence, broken by the remark―

    "Your mother's was an uncommon name.  I think Miss Kerr must have told me she was a foreigner.  There is something in your appearance out of keeping with your Scotch surname.  But I don't think I was ever told of your mother's nationality."

    "She was a native of Tahiti," Lewis answered.

    "Ah!" said Mr Hedges.  "And your father was Scotch?  And she had been long a widow?"

    "She lost my father before I was born," returned Lewis, with sternness audible in his voice.

    "Ah!" reiterated the lawyer, turning on the stool and fully facing the youth.  "And where did he die?"

    "We never knew when he died," said Lewis coldly.

    "Were not you born at sea—between Australia and Great Britain?" asked Mr Hedges.

    "Yes," Lewis answered, with cold brevity.

    "Miss Kerr did not tell me that," observed the lawyer, with a significance which Lewis would have noticed, had not these inquiries set all sorts of wrung chords a-jarring in his soul.

    "Have you any knowledge of your father's people?" asked Mr Hedges, after another pause.

    "I know to what family he belonged," answered Lewis.  His spirit chafed against these questions.

    "Do you know any person of the name of Beaman?" asked Mr Hedges.  He spoke carelessly, with that change of voice which generally implies a change of subject. Lewis was grateful, and hastened to reply, also with a change of tone:

    "No; at least I do not think so.  Do you mean in connection with any work in this office?"

    "No," said Mr Hedges, with a sudden brisk determination.  "No; I mean in connection with your own affairs.  I thought you might know the name.  Let me help your memory,—Francis Beaman—the Rev. Francis Beaman—a man who had travelled, who had been chaplain, I think, on some ship."

    Lewis reflected.  "No," he repeated; "I am sure I have not heard the name.  How do you connect it with my affairs, sir?"

    "In this way," said Mr Hedges, settling himself on his stool, and holding up the indicator finger of his left hand in his regular professional manner,—"in this way, Crawford.  When I started in life I started as articled clerk to a firm named Crewdson and Field."

    Lewis's dark face paled slightly.  This was the legal firm whose name his father had left with his mother when they parted—the firm to which she had subsequently made her fruitless application, and for which he himself had sought in vain before his despairing journey to Bethune Towers.

    Mr Hedges had paused.  "I see you know that firm," he said.  "When I saw your mother's peculiar name, all the story came back to me.  I suppose you know she had once visited the office of Crewdson and Field?  I remember her visit, though I never saw her.  The clerks who did see her spoke of her.  We knew our principals had an interview with her.  Here was a young woman, a foreigner, speaking English imperfectly, asking for a Mr Lewis Crawford.  We knew nothing of such a person; but the coincidence of the name with part of that of a client of ours, then lately dead, made the firm pause on the matter for enquiries.  She was questioned as to being quite sure of the gentleman's name.  She was absolutely sure.  What made her come to us?  She wanted to see a Mr Crawford Bethune, who would know all about Mr Lewis Crawford.  Then she showed us a piece of paper with the name of our client, Lewis Crawford Bethune, of Bethune Towers, care of our firm, written upon it――"

    "I have that piece of paper still," observed Lewis.

    "This made our principal still more inclined to hesitate," Mr Hedges went on, "especially as she persisted that she only wanted to communicate with this gentleman (whose real existence and death were facts known to us), that she might hear of the 'Mr Lewis Crawford'—who was to us wholly apocryphal.  At last, the principal persuaded her to say what she wanted with this person, whoever he might be.  She said she was his wife, married to him in some outlandish place in the South Seas.  Knowing that our real client had died on his return voyage from Australia, our principal thought his only course was to tell her to come back in a few days, that he might have time to communicate with the gentleman who had succeeded to the estate of Lewis Crawford Bethune, childless and unmarried."

    Mr Hedges paused for a moment.  "Of course, the matter was spoken of with interest in our office," he went on, in a deprecating tone.  "I must confess that the general feeling was that probably our client had been a villain, and that the poor young foreigner, whose earnest, simple manner raised considerable sympathy, was much to be pitied."

    Lewis raised his head loftily.  "I know," he said—"I know.  It was scarcely possible for you to think otherwise."

    Mr Hedges resumed: "Our principal's letter to Lewis Crawford Bethune's successor brought an immediate telegram that no parley was to be had with the applicant; and this was promptly followed by a letter saying that Mr Bethune had had a hint given him that he was likely to be troubled by impostors of this sort.  If the woman came again she was to be told that no such person as Lewis Crawford was known, and if she had any claim concerning such a person she had better advertise, taking care, in her own interest, that she was first armed with her marriage certificate.  We all talked it over in the office, and our feeling was that Mr Bethune might have shown some pity for the poor girl who had undoubtedly been deceived by his kinsman, but that probably he feared to do so, lest she had friends who might be inclined to levy blackmail and give trouble."

    "Friends!" echoed Lewis, bitterly.  "She had no friends on earth, except the second mate and the stewardess of the ship in which she travelled from Australia.  They helped to settle her into a living in London, and never lost sight of her till the mate was drowned, and the stewardess had a paralytic stroke, and was forced to go to the workhouse of her native place!"

    It had indeed been a helpless combination against rank and respectability!

    "Gently, gently, Mr Crawford," said the lawyer, kindly.  "Our principal had nothing else to do but to follow out his client's instructions.  He did not like his task.  The girl herself was a perfect picture of simplicity and bewilderment.  I remember hearing that she spoke English very imperfectly, and said nothing except in answer to questions.  Our principal told her that nobody knew anything of any 'Mr Lewis Crawford' and that the 'Mr Lewis Crawford Bethune' of whom she had hoped to make inquiries was dead.  Then I think he exceeded his commission by asking her a few questions.  She said she had been married in Tahiti, in the cabin of a ship in harbour,—did not know the minister's name nor the date!  The firm gave her Mr Bethune's advice about advertising, and sent her away.  We were all more than ever convinced that she was the victim of a Briton's villainy.  And there are plenty of them in all our colonies, Mr Crawford,—the more is the pity of it!  But wait,—"

    Lewis was scarcely listening.  He knew all this before.  But the recital from a stranger's lips brought back with renewed vividness the thought of all his mother must have suffered in those days.  Oh, if she could but have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

    "It was nearly four years afterwards," Mr Hedges went on, pointing the ruler significantly,—"I remember well, for by that time I was just out of my articles, and our old principal was dead, and his name was already removed from the firm,—when a Reverend Francis Beaman came to the offices asking for him."

    Lewis was all attention now.

    "Our head clerk saw him.  This Mr Beaman also wanted to know about a Mr Lewis Crawford Bethune.  He too was told he was dead.  Upon which he seemed much taken aback, and said he had married the gentleman to a young foreign woman some years before, when a ship in which he was travelling had touched at a remote port in the South Sea Islands.  He gave the name of the ship, in whose log he said there was a formal entry of the event, as well as in his own diary, and further that he had written a sort of certificate to the same effect on the fly-leaf of Mr Bethune's prayer-book, witnessed by the ship's captain and another of her officers.  The bridegroom had given him as a permanent British address the name of our lately deceased principal.  Therefore, as Mr Beaman was in our neighbourhood, he thought he would call and make enquiries."

    "And did you tell him about my mother's visit?" asked Lewis, eagerly.

    "It was not I, remember," pleaded Mr Hedges; "it was our head clerk.  And 'remember it was no part of his professional duty to open our own client's skeleton cupboard to every stranger.  This reverend gentleman might have proved but a colleague in an imposture.  No; our head clerk told him nothing, but got out of him all that he could.  He related all afterwards to our new principal, and it was agreed there was nothing to be done.  We were agents for the Bethune Towers people, and it was not our place to enquire after a claimant to oust them.  It seemed only too likely, under all circumstances, that by that time your poor mother had perished.

    "Only too likely!" echoed Lewis, bitterly.

    "And we had not heard one word of your birth," said the lawyer.  "Your mother, not being questioned on that point, had told nothing."

    Lewis's face was absolutely cynical.  "No possibly rising sun being visible, nobody could be tempted to follow it!" he said.

    Mr Hedges shook his head gently.  "It was none of our business," he persisted mildly.  "A lawyer cannot take up both sides of any suit.  Our professional duty was to consult our client and consider his interests.  I believe Mr Beaman's call and enquiry were duly reported to our client.  He took no notice, so far as I recollect.  He regarded it, we supposed, as but a fresh cropping up of the old affair.  But there was one junior clerk in our office who was not altogether inclined to let the matter drop so easily."

    "Heaven bless him for that!" exclaimed Lewis.

    Mr Hedges looked at him mildly.  Should he leave this impetuous youth in this illusion of philanthropy, or should he disabuse him of it?  Truth is truth.  "I am not sure that he was interested from the highest motives," he said.  "I daresay there was an amount of self interest—which underlies much.  Be said there was often a great deal of money in these cases, and it might be the making of a man to get hold of one!  But the difficulty was, how to find out the poor lady again, for he had only his memory to go upon, and could not recall her name or the place she came from; and by the time things had got thus far, one might as well have put a question to the grave as to our head clerk.  My young friend tried a few vague advertisements in certain newspapers, but they brought no answer.  He succeeded in getting on the track of the Rev. Francis Beaman, only to find that he had once more started off across the world.  So he comforted himself by deciding that if there was a great deal of money in the case, it would probably take a great deal of money to get it out, which he had not got;—and that speculative legal business has a bad odour about it,―especially if it happens to fail.  Lawyers seldom meddle with penniless wrongs."

    Lewis raised his serious eyes to his principal's face.  "You are doing it," he said.  "From all I have done since I came to the office, I think you engaged me for that very purpose.  And I had many a fruitless quest—and might have had many more—before we got this genuine Chancery suit started.  I see some people are better than their professions, sir.  And I think those are the people who keep the world going."

    Never before had Mr Hedges felt it so hard to keep Clementina Kerr's secret.  "I am false to her if I speak, and false to myself if I remain silent," was the thought which flitted across the solicitor's brain.  "To be credited with generous actions one does not deserve, makes one feel like a cur; and to have to keep silence under the credit makes one feel like a mangy cur."  But the silence had to be kept.

    "I daresay you wonder, Crawford," he resumed, "that I did not remember your name at once.  But such hundreds of names have passed through my mind since those days!  It struck me as somehow familiar, but I dismissed the idea as a fancy, till your mother's peculiar name brought it all back.  Whereupon I instantly sought out our old chief clerk.  The original firm has not really ceased to exist, though as partner after partner died, it gradually changed its name entirely, as also its offices.  They still have the Bethune business.  But the old head clerk is no longer with them.  They dismissed him very shabbily, by making his place so uncomfortable that he was obliged to resign, whereby they avoided having to pension him, and filled his place by a cheaper man.  I found him quite ready to give me all information—in a professional way.  I learned all he knew about the Reverend Francis Beaman,—the name of the ship, the port, &c.  Whether that man is still living or dead, we have yet to ascertain.  Of course, you will take this up, Crawford?"

    Lewis had risen from his seat.  He looked pale, proud, and cold.

    "It is due to the family at Bethune Towers to let them know that their relative was not wholly a scoundrel," he said, "and also to give them an opportunity of acknowledging that they did my mother an injustice.  But the whole matter, and how to proceed in it, will require my deliberate consideration."

    "Crawford," said the lawyer, "you don't seem to see what all this signifies!  Why, man, you have only to prove your mother's marriage—as I feel almost sure you can—and then you are the master of Bethune Towers; not of a very great fortune, but certainly of place and power, which mean something."

    "I see it.  I know it," Lewis answered.  "But many thoughts have arisen in my mind lately.  And at present I can only remember my poor mother.  Coming now, this comes almost like a blow.  If you can spare me, Mr Hedges, I should like to go home at once."

    "Certainly, my dear fellow," said the lawyer.  "And if for a few days you would like to give your whole attention to this matter, I will arrange for you to do so."

    He actually conducted Lewis through the offices and let him out with his regulation bow.  He did not notice it of himself; nor did Lewis observe it.  The valuable clerk was already transformed into the important client.

    When Lewis reached his solitary home, he found that kind hands had been busy there.  There were no startling changes; there was absolutely nothing new.  Only the two rooms which had been the whole home for two were now parlour and bed-chamber for one.  Everything of his mother's remained,—only her couch, tucked under her own bright counterpane, with a lace slip over the pillow, had become a sofa, and the same change (in every instance promoting each article to daintier use) had passed over all.

    Lewis threw himself on his bed.  The old doctor came upstairs and knocked, but got no answer.  Clementina Kerr and Mary Olrig sat together in Clementina's room, and talked over the last days, and wondered whether Lewis would walk over to seek comfort with them.  But he came not.  Yet the neighbours in the little court, looking up, said that poor Mrs Crawford's son could not be at home, for there was no light in the windows where a light had not failed for years.

    Lewis Crawford slept at last.  When he awoke the dawn was beautiful, even in that dim city room.  His soul felt calm and free.  And a voice seemed sounding in his ears—"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you."


 
CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE MADNESS OF LEWIS CRAWFORD.


LEWIS went back to Mr Hedges' office next day; but he availed himself of that gentleman's permission to devote his immediate time and attention to his own affairs.

    Lewis already possessed his own birth certificate.  Though he had been born at sea, his mother's humble friends, the engineer and the stewardess, had taken care to get this, with all due formality, immediately on the arrival of the ship in the port of London.  His mother had told him so, and Lewis had looked up his certificate and had armed himself with it before his despairing journey to Tweedside.

    The next object was to trace out the Rev. Mr Beaman; and, considering that the latest information concerning him was at least twenty years old, and had left him travelling to remote countries, this might easily be a long and complicated quest!  Mr Hedges himself accompanied Lewis to wait on the old ex-head clerk of Crewdson & Field.  That gentleman was now seventy years of age, but his memory on business matters remained wonderfully fresh and accurate.  Since Mr Hedges' first interview with him on this matter, he had been refreshing it by reference to ancient memoranda and diaries, his own property, which he had brought away from the office when it had discarded him.

    From these it appeared that the Rev. Mr Beaman was of the Church of England, somewhat of an a clergyman invalid, and obliged, therefore, to travel a great deal.  The ship on which he had been voyaging when he had performed this marriage ceremony had started from the port of London, and was owned by a great shipping firm still in business there.  The old head-clerk gave some further particulars which the Rev. Francis Beaman had furnished in the course of his conversation.  The clergyman had said that at the date in question the island of Tahiti was in an exceedingly disturbed state, for it was the period when France had assumed its forcible occupation.  It was circumstances connected with this change which had entailed Mr Crawford Bethune's hasty departure for Australia.  The British Consul, in whose presence the marriage ceremony would otherwise have been performed, was in prison, and Mr Crawford Bethune seemed mistrustful lest in such a state of confusion and apprehension the existing missions might prove unable to secure records of marriages performed in them.  Under these circumstances he had thought of the British ship with her officers and the clergyman aboard, and the Rev. Mr Beaman had seen that it was right to comply with his request.  The bridegroom had been terribly anxious to get everything done as correctly as possible, saying that there should have been no difficulty or haste over his wedding, but for the misery of the island and his enforced departure.  Mr Beaman had added that Mr Crawford Bethune spoke the native language like a native, but that the bride, who was quite a girl, and seemed to worship him, did not know much English; so that the bridegroom was very careful to interpret to her the mutual marriage vows.

    "My mother has often told me that," was Lewis's solitary comment, as he prepared to take his legal friend's advice, and resort to the shipping firm to whom the vessel had belonged, and try through them to trace her log-book, her officers, and her clerical passenger.

    That gentleman was found quite easily through the shipping agents, of whom he had never lost sight, since they constantly did him little favours in the matter of his health voyages.

    Lewis had actually no more difficulties!  The one obstacle to the full clearing up of the whole matter had been the blank denials of Crawford Bethune's brother, the professional secrecy of his lawyers, and the easy-going supineness of Mr Beaman himself.

    The Rev. Mr Beaman was living in a snug villa, a very flourishing valetudinarian, who did not seem at all self-convicted of heartless carelessness, even when he confronted Lewis's dark accusing eyes, and heard the full story of his mother's wrongs.

    "You see, I did everything that I was asked," he said, quite sunnily.  "All was en régle, and the poor gentleman had the copy certificate in his prayer-book.  I was very sorry to hear of his death when I called at the lawyer's office.  I have often wondered what would become of the poor girl.  Such a marriage was rather risky.  Forgive me for saying so.  I suppose the bride, or at any rate her grandmother, must have been a cannibal,—all the more likely that I believe she belonged to a chief's family.  Very proud, probably, but scarcely likely to have our ideas about some matters.  I don't see that I could have done more than I did.  When the lawyers said the poor gentleman was dead, and that they knew nothing of any wife, what could I think but that the marriage had ended sadly, as seemed so likely?  How could I make enquiries?  It is a thankless task to open the skeleton doors of well-reputed families,—one is likely only to get one's own fingers pinched therein.  You'll find that out yourself, young gentleman.  And, besides, my medical men have always told me to avoid excitement.  I have a weak heart, and am apt to turn faint if I am involved in any unpleasantness.  I do hope you don't want to draw me into any legal business.  It you want to produce a witness, can't you find the captain?—a strong, rough man, sure to be living,—could go through anything,—set my nerves on edge with his loud voice.  I think you can do without me quite well.  The evidence is all right."

    But Mr Hedges found one detail on which this indolent and irresponsible gentleman was still valuable.  This was that he could prove that Mr Lewis Crawford Bethune had done business and been known in Tahiti only as Mr Crawford.  He had explained his dropped patronymic by saying that he had been the scapegrace son, and had not wished still to infuriate his people by imposing on their family pride the disgrace which they held all trade to be.  It was easy to understand how the shy, frightened, foreign-speaking bride had failed to grasp that an additional name was brought forward when precise accuracy was legally desirable.  Mr Hedges inexorably drew up an affidavit for Mr Beaman, and he and Lewis left the reverend gentleman bitterly lamenting that there seems no effectual way to keep the wrongs of others from disturbing ourselves.

    "It is almost a pity I did not look more deeply into the matter at the time I heard of the wretched man's death," be bewailed.  "For I must have been stronger then—twenty years ago.  Things neglected always turn up at the wrong time."

    As for the ship's log-book, it was found in the office of the shipping firm—an unconscious custodian of a secret whose value it needed human voices to interpret.  The old captain was dead―had gone down with his ship in a great storm.  But the partners of the firm which he had served could prove his witnessing signature.  The other witness, they said, had been the second mate, and he was still living, though he had lost an arm and a leg, and was maintained by his wife keeping a coffee-house near Victoria Basin.

    To him the gentlemen resorted.  His memory was sound and clear.  He shook Lewis heartily by the hand, told him "he favoured his father," of whose honourable conduct he had often thought when at other foreign ports he had noticed cruel traces of "what villains Englishmen can be."  He professed himself in hearty readiness to "hirple away" on his crutches to give evidence whenever and wherever it might be required.

    There was one question which was ever present in Lewis's mind during this investigation, and which also occurred to Mr Hedges.  How far did the Bethunes of the Towers know that they were repudiating a lawful right when they had spurned Lewis's plea for mercy?  Was it likely that Lewis Crawford Bethune, so sedulous in planning to assure his marriage, had failed to apprise his people of it?  What had become of his effects, which must have included that prayer-book with the copy marriage certificate?

    Without saying one word to Lewis, Mr Hedges took it upon himself to investigate in this direction.  From his friend the ancient head-clerk, he easily discovered the vessel in which Lewis Crawford Bethune had sailed on that fatal voyage, in whose course his restless life had ended.  The lawyer's next step was to find out somebody who had been a fellow-traveller on that vessel.  The old head-clerk knew that a hamper and one or two boxes belonging to the dead man had passed from the ship through the offices of Crewdson & Field to Bethune Towers.  But nobody in these offices had touched the contents of these packages, or had any reason to know what they contained.

    Search in the ships' books presently unearthed an old man who had been steward upon the vessel.  Mr Hedges and Lewis went together to visit this person.

    The old man was living with his old wife in a room in Ratcliffe Highway.  She did washing and charring, and he minded barrows and stalls and picked up any jobs he could find,—a clean, cheery old couple, though their tiny room was close and dismal.

    "Ay, I remember the gentleman who died," said the old man.  "Didn't know there was anything the matter with him at first.  But he got rapid wuss.  An' there wan't nobody to nuss him—not a woman aboard.  Didn't he fret after his wife, poor chap!  Not so much to have her with him as because he'd left her behind, thinking soon to go back.  He didn't bring her, because he'd had to start in a jiffey, hearin' his father was dying and leavin' some business for him to look arter; and she was goin' to have a babby, and the doctor said it might kill her, or it, to have it on the sea."  [Ah, thought Lewis, my poor mother went through but greater hardships because my father had sought to spare her!]  "And when he felt he couldn't reach land,—though he wouldn't give up hope to the last,—he wrote a letter.  I held him up to do it, an' it wan't many lines, but ten times he had to lay down while he did it, he was that weak.  Eh, he was weak!"

    And the broken old man spoke with the caressing pity which he had probably felt when the weight of the dying sufferer lay on his stalwart shoulder.

    "I saw what he wrote—he asked me to read it to see if it was right; for though his hand moved, his own eyes could scarce see.  It were just that he was married to a poor foreign girl, and he had left her in Australia; but she had his London lawyer's address.  And then he said something about a book which would show everything was all right.  And he made me get out a prayer-book, and pack it up an address it to the same place as the letter; but I don't remember the address.  I couldn't help thinking he was wandering then; for what good could a prayer-book do in a land where there's such a lot of them?  He would have me make up a package and post the letter at the first port we put into—he was so feared they might be forgotten if they weren't started while he was livin'.  But I reckon news of his death got in long before they did; for we put in at another port a few days after he was gone, and our captain, he telegraphed from there.  Of course, the poor gentleman was buried at sea."

    Again Mr Hedges drew up an affidavit, and secured the old man's promise to be in readiness to give further testimony.  Lewis came away from this interview very stern and silent.

    It was on that evening when he first told his new tidings to Miss Clementina Kerr and Mary Olrig.

    He related his story in his own quiet, reserved way.  Miss Clementina said suddenly—

    "Do you think your mother herself ever for one moment doubted your father's feeling of love and truth towards her?  Have you the least reason to fancy that others' doubts thereof ever shook her faith even for a secret moment?"

    "No," answered Lewis, almost with vehemence.  "No: never!  Not even my doubts, which—God forgive me—I could not help having after I had learned the evil of the world; but I had never known father!"

    His voice lingered on the last word.  Miss Clementina noticed that he used it for the first time without prefixed possessive pronoun.  It is a curious thing that what we truly possess we are least apt to claim by any formulary of words.  Henceforth for Lewis there was no longer "my father " or "your father," but the blessed rest beneath true fatherhood—the human shadow of the living God.

    "Then all this explanation would not have mattered a whit to your mother," said Miss Clementina.  "I think it might even have hurt her.  It might have seemed hard that the word of a few strangers and the sight of a bit of paper could give you and the rest of us more satisfaction than all her assurances."

    Miss Clementina paused suddenly.  A thought came into her mind,—one of those which we may rarely speak aloud since those who have ears to hear will have the thought themselves, and to others it is not yet given.  She thought: "What of the new stage of life on which Moetia Crawford has entered? and what of the bond which her boundless love and faith must have wrought between herself and their object?  Something almost like a vision flashed on Clementina's mind.  It seemed as if she saw Moetia herself—no longer sweet, silent, patient, fading, but sweet and strong, and full of a strange youthfulness, which yet had not thrown aside, but rather absorbed, all the pain and the fading, and had reared a wondrous bloom out of them.  Miss Clementina must have surely made the other figure of her vision out of the face and form of Lewis Crawford.  And yet it was not he.  And she seemed to see the rapt meeting of the two, and to feel that they were joined in union over which neither absence nor change, neither life nor death, had power!  "Not marrying nor giving in marriage,"—not dowries, nor furnishings, nor settlements, nor family convenience, nor personal frenzy, nor outward ceremonies, nor bonds of any kind,—but wholly the affinity of love and faith, "as the angels of God in Heaven."  Vision or no vision, a strange thrill swept over Miss Clementina; and for half a moment she seemed to catch a glimpse of the ways of God, and to understand that it was well worth all Moetia's loneliness and pain to earn this treasure of perfected love wherewith to enrich her beloved.  Oh, if one could only hold this fast—this faith—then does not the whole world become one's easy prey, and all its conflicts, and trials, and losses, only the banners and badges of one's victory

    Mary Olrig and Lewis were left together for a few minutes.

    "I see this will mean great changes for you," said the girl, in a subdued tone.  Her imaginative faculty helped her at once to realise all the changes involved,—all the dividing lines between this homely life of daily bread-winning, this fraternal intercourse, unregulated by etiquette and unchecked by convention, and the ways of existence in the Towers, with its late dinners and county ceremonials, its ever present servants, and conventional manners.  She had a curious feeling as of one who stands on the quay beside a ship in which a friend has just embarked, and who knows that though hands can still clasp yet the anchor is already lifting!  People with less imagination do not see so quickly all that is involved in change.  To them it only means that "to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant."  They are like those who do not unclasp their hands though the boat is unmoored. But it moves out, notwithstanding.  And the hands must part.

    Yet here the imaginative faculty fails sometimes.  For if imagination be wholesome and true, its tendency is towards the probable and the normal; and it is inclined reverently to leave the "possible," the "too-good-to-be-expected," to the higher spiritual regions.  Yet if earthly hopes often fail, so fears are sometimes disappointed.  Truth is even richer than imagination, or imagination would have nothing to live and thrive upon.  There are developments of humanity and of circumstance which, like His other holy mysteries, God keeps


"Just on the outside of man's dream!"


    Lewis turned to Mary Olrig.  "Great changes!" he echoed.  "Why?  There may be great changes coming to me.  I think there must be.  I hope so.  But not through this.  No; my decision is made.  All the best of life has come to me in my poverty, and through my poverty.  Shall I instantly desert so good a friend?  I have no fear of not being able to earn my own bread.  Have I not seen that even my poor mother could do that?  God's will set aside my father's efforts and my mother's prayers to secure me my rights.  Shall my will snatch them now?"

    There was a wild feeling of pride and joy in Mary Olrig's poet soul.  But she was too honest to let the other side pass unrepresented.

    "May it not be God's will that has put them into your power at last?" she asked, trembling.

    He looked at her, with the light of enthusiastic determination shining strong in his resolute face.  "May it not rather be that God puts them into my power that I may have power to put them aside?" he said.  "He gives me my choice.  One was asked to sell all that he had, and take up his cross and follow the Master, and by his decision he made what Dante calls 'them great refusal.'  I think God gives me my easier choice to-day."

    "But that rich man was bidden to give up all to distribute to the poor," observed Mary.  There was an active command."

    "And I am within a command, too," said Lewis.  "'Resist not evil,'—perhaps because man's evil toward us is often but the shell enclosing God's goodness to us."

    "And if old Mr Bethune got your father's letter (and it was bad enough if he only failed to investigate your mother's story, but far worse if he ignored your father's letter), is he to be left in triumph with his ill-gotten gains?" Mary enquired.  The sense of justice was always strong within her.

    Lewis pondered.  "No," be said; "it would be unfair not to show him his sin or mistake, whichever it was.  Some people see the truth first through other eyes.  I must make him, as he is living, give some acknowledgment to my parents' memory, for his own sake.  If he were dead, I should not trouble my cousins in the matter at all, for they may be quite innocent of all the wrong."

    "Lesley Baird and her uncle used to think very highly of Rab," mused Mary.  "He had an open, pleasant face.  Somehow, lately, I fancy they have been a little disappointed in him.  I think so only because they have never even mentioned him.  Lesley has not written one word about this marriage of his.  I should not think he can be very nice if he likes people of the stamp of the Ben Matthieus.  At least he is not likely to remain nice very long.  But oh, Mr Crawford, if you do what you say, and let everything pass you by, people will think you are mad!"

    Lewis smiled down on her.  She did not quite interpret that smile.  She saw only kind amusement in it.  There was also ineffable tenderness.

    "Nobody but you and one or two lawyers will ever know that I have strict legal rights to what I resign," he said.  "I told you because one must think aloud with somebody before one can be sure of one's own thoughts!"

    "Yet how much good you might do with this money!" sighed Mary, wistfully.

    "How much more good, and how much less harm, I may do without it!" said he.


 
CHAPTER XXIX.

SLOW TORTURES.


AT Edenhaugh the days had "gone by."  The Misses Gibson had duly departed for their Assembly dissipations, bringing to Lesley a sense of relief tempered only by the thought of their speedy re-visit.

    "For we should like to see the home-coming of the bride and bridegroom, Lesley," said Miss Helen, "and we have no other good friends in the near neighbourhood whom we could ask to take us in except you and your uncle, whose hospitalities never fail."

    "'Bread's house skailed never,' as the auld proverb says," laughed Miss Bell. Both the sisters knew how to plead in formâ pauperise, when that appeal was likely to be the effective one.  At other times they took favours as if they granted them, which saved them the trouble of being grateful!

    Lesley recoiled from the prospect.  At such a time the Gibsons' presence and talk would be well-nigh unbearable!  But she felt the two pairs of keen eyes watching her, and there was enough of human pride in the girl to make her shrink from repelling their encroachments for the first time on this occasion.  Whatever came afterwards, the Gibsons must be allowed this one more visit.

    Lesley had not been left long in ignorance of the change that was to be made in Gowan Brae, and the check which it was to put to her intercourse with the boy Jamie.  Logan brought home his bride with all speed.  News of her coming had scarcely passed down the dale before she was on the scene herself.  Perhaps the master of Gowan Brae was anxious that his bridal should receive its due share of local attention before it could be eclipsed by the grander nuptials at The Towers.

    The new Mrs Logan made her first appearance at church so gorgeous and so bedecked with unaccountable and novel fineries, that it is to be feared the minister might as well have omitted his sermon that day, so far as the greater part of his female hearers were concerned.

    Gowan Brae was an open house for the following week.  Poor Lesley, with her secret concerning its master, was obliged to accompany her uncle to pay their neighbourly civilities.  Mr Baird, never dreaming that Logan had ever come out of his place, would not have omitted this courtesy in such a case.  This was exactly what was due where nothing more could be paid.  But sweet Lesley would have sacrificed a great deal to avoid meeting the woman who had accepted what she had declined, and whose probable ignorance of that fact made Lesley feel as if she had suffered a covert injury at Lesley's hands.  When she was introduced to the new wife—squat, voluble, and overdressed—she felt ready to sink through the floor with a humiliation which she could scarcely have explained.  It was not that Mrs Logan was inferior to her husband: she was not so, not one whit.  But she was a final revelation of him.  Without her, one might have imagined that, despite his own coarse reality, he yet cherished ideals.  "What must there be, then, in me," cried Lesley's sore heart, "which could tempt an offer from the man who could pass on to woo this!  Little need I wonder that Rah Bethune forgot me!"

    It would be hard to say exactly what Logan himself or somebody else had told the new wife concerning Lesley Baird.  The bride at once singled her out for attentions and speeches which were fawning and fulsome, as all spurious politeness tends to be.  Lesley seemed to feel a cloven foot beneath the flowers, though she hated herself for the suspicion.  Mrs Logan thanked her effusively for all her kindness to "poor little Jamie."  Yet, somehow, these thanks only made Lesley quite aware that this was the stepmother, with legal rights conferred on her by the boy's father, while she herself was but "a stranger," with no rights at all in the matter.

    Yet when Mrs Logan returned the call only a day or two afterwards, coming to Edenhaugh alone, as she said, expressly that she might take counsel with Lesley about Jamie, Lesley felt that she had been unjust in her suspicions, and sought to make amends by answering all Mrs Logan's questions with the utmost frankness.  Mrs Logan reiterated her thanks for Lesley's past kindness in terms of disproportionate flattery.  But Lesley tried to think this was only her way, and might be quite honest.  Mrs Logan wound up her thanks by remarking that it was her bounden duty to put a stop to Jamie's daily visit to Edenhaugh, since she could not allow him to be troublesome to other people; overruling Lesley's eager contradiction of this plea by adding that Jamie must be made to understand that now he had a mother of his own to make a home for him, and need depend for nothing upon anybody else; begging Lesley not to take much notice of Jamie for a while, "to give his stepmother a chance with him."  Still, Lesley tried to think that the feeling was natural, and might even be laudable.  So, to prove her docile submission to the new position, Lesley packed up Jamie's drawing materials and sent them home in the chaise with his stepmother, who, on her part, presented them to him, with the remark, —"There, child: Miss Baird does not want anything more to do with you now.  You must get on as well as you can for the future without her."  Observations which, with all their subtle emphasis, were overheard by the servant lass and the stableman, who drew their own shrewd inferences therefrom.

    Within a fortnight of her arrival, Mrs Logan knew everybody in the dale, and had discovered congenial souls with whom she could hope to carry on that freemasonry of gossip which works chiefly by nods, winks, tones, sudden pauses, and harmless questions, and which, while injurious enough to other people, can thus scarcely recoil on the heads of its originators.  How can you prove malice in a sigh, or convict a lie in a mere pause?

     Thus it came to pass that it was swiftly whispered round the dale that poor Mrs Logan "would have a hard bit with her step-son, thanks to the interference and influence of certain people.  Ah, it was a terrible trial and an overwhelming responsibility to be a stepmother!"  (One might have imagined from the manner of talk that a poor woman could be thrust against her will into such a post, and that the spiteful election was with the stepchildren!)  "It was such a pity Mr Logan had ever looked in any direction except towards his present wife, who was exactly suited to him.  Not but what a great deal of attraction had been held out to him in 'certain' quarters.  Ah, there were some people who wanted to be too clever.  Those who tried to sit on two stools were generally left standing at last!"

    Meantime, Jamie, withdrawn from his wonted routine, and neglected in the general gala and excitement maintained at Gowan Brae, lapsed into the society of the ploughman, the horse-man, and the maid: the two former pitied him in their rough way; the latter speedily hated her mistress.  Their only idea of kindness was indulgence—indulgence in idleness, in mischief, and in food.  Consequently, Jamie's demoralisation was rapid.  Of course, he had his father's nature in him.  This is not saying that his father's habits of drinking and outbursts of un-reason were hereditary.  The farmer had acquired those for himself by yielding to the weakness of his thoughtless and sensuous nature.  It was this nature which was his son's heritage,—capable, therefore, either of developing his father's vices or of being disciplined into yielding the nobler fruits of ready adaptation to circumstances and perennial capacity for enjoyment.  Lesley had seemed to herself to see the sprouting of these merits.  She had had high hopes and aims for little Jamie.  He had been the first on whom she had bestowed love for loving's sake, simply because it was needed.  Thus his childish hand had opened that spring of maternal love which is latent in all women, sometimes flowing forth most copiously and freely where it cannot settle into any stagnation about "one's own."  Alas for Lesley's hopes for Jamie!—wheat grows only with time and labour: but weeds spring of themselves in a single night.  It took but a few days of running wild to obliterate all trace of Lesley's efforts from Jamie's conduct, though they might linger in his memory.  And when she, in loyal fulfilment of her promise, mortified her own inclinations, and strove to abbreviate and regulate her greetings when she met him, he only thought she somehow "knew that he was naughty," and so slunk hastily away, and shirked seeing her whenever he could.

    It was all so sad; and only the more sad because Lesley herself could not see all as it really was, but simply felt her life stripped of almost its last delight.  How had she forfeited everything?  Her uncle remained.  Life would never separate him from her.  But if his hair seemed a little whiter one day, or if his face wore a tired expression, Lesley trembled.  As the middle-aged sigh at the passing of the youth of the young, knowing that when their boys and girls go forth they can come back no more, but are replaced by strange men and women,—so the young, under the first strokes of loss and sorrow, quake at the advancing years of their elders, and make pathetic reckoning of how long they may be spared to them.

    Meanwhile there was the house to keep, the stores to replenish, the poultry and small live-stock to consider, and the flowers to tend.  There were the old pleasures of a new book, of the monthly magazines: all the same, but with the sap gone out—a dead body, instead of a living soul.  At such seasons, restless and undutiful spirits drop the reins of duty, and let the team of daily life run wildly.  It was not so with Lesley.  She redoubled every care, hoping, if possible, to supply the place of the old glad eagerness by strenuous earnestness.

    How much did Mr Baird know of the battle which was being silently fought at his side?  Lesley never knew.  We never do know how much our best and kindest guess concerning these agonies.

    What Lesley did know was, that though she and her uncle often now sat silent in the gloaming when once they would have mingled in merry chat and brisk debate, yet, sitting so, a strange peace would come over her, so that she could look back on the past and forward to the future with calmness and trust, could even feel assured that somewhere beyond the dark valley through which her soul was passing, she would regain sunshine, possibly even softer and sweeter than that of earlier days.

    It was at this time that Lesley first considered how little she really knew of her uncle.  What were the facts of his life?  Born at Edenhaugh, and living there ever since, except for a few years at Edinburgh High School.  But this could not be all.  No man's true history is in its bare dates and names.  In what fires had his soul been softened into its wide and tender sympathy?  In what great anguish had he gained a standpoint from which most things presented to him an aspect different from that turned to the common world?  Lesley realised that she did not know, and that it did not matter in the least; only, however costly the process had been, it was justified in the result.  And Lesley began to understand those blessed silent ministries of Divine Providence which gradually clothe with forgetfulness all cruel forms of wrong and sin and suffering, leaving behind only the chastened wisdom of saintly character which has grown up amid their rough buffetings.

    There were hours in those days when Lesley felt as if she could have cried out for somebody to help her to pour forth her woes upon a kind human heart.  Yet in after years she made thanksgiving for the silence which her uncle had never allowed her to break.

    When neighbours came in, Lesley grew apt to slip from the parlour to the retirement of her own chamber.  So much of the local talk of the period, even when it had no covert significance of tone or emphasis, dealt mainly with the preparations going forward at The Towers—the new carpets, the consignments of exotics, and so forth.  Lesley could never hear of these matters without wondering how Rab really felt about them, and what could be the meaning of his mysterious silence and alienation,—as mysterious, had he been but her uncle's friend and favourite, as if he had really been what she had mistaken him for, her own lover.

    These were questions over which Lesley strove not to ponder.

    She never now sat dreaming in the twilight or the moonlight.  She was always actively employed.  So, on one occasion—the evening but one before Rab Bethune and Miss Ben Matthieu were to be married—when she had retreated from a visitor in such haste that she forgot to take her knitting with her, she at once looked about her room to see something wherewith to occupy herself

    There was one of her drawers not quite orderly: a drawer assigned to those little feminine properties which will get into disorder from time to time.  Laces, ties, gloves not in present wear, one or two books, a few of those letters which are not private treasures, yet which one does not burn immediately they come in.  Lesley bethought herself that she would set these things straight, and destroy whatever was found useless.

    A pair of gloves was condemned.  Two or three handkerchiefs and collars were examined, and put aside as of possible use to the little daughters of a shepherd's widow.  A note from Miss Bell Gibson was burned.

    Then Lesley lighted on something which made her heart give a great bound and brought the colour to her face.  It was but an empty envelope with her own name and address written on it in a business hand.  But then it brought back the mood, the dreams, the expectancy, the conjectures, the very atmosphere of the sweet summer Sabbath when it was first put into her hand.

    For it was the empty envelope of unknown caligraphy which the post had brought her the morning after Rab Bethune had gone away.

    She sat for a moment, holding it, a flood of helpless regret and misery surging over her.  But this would not do.  This envelope must be now destroyed.

    She took her lighted candle and holding it over the fender, thrust the paltry paper into its flame, until it was consumed into a few black ashes.  It was utterly gone!

    At that moment she heard her uncle's voice in the hall, and then the outer door closed.  The casual guest had departed.  Lesley went downstairs straightway.

    If we knew everything, we should know of many strange coincidences which now escape human ken.

    For on that very night, Rab Bethune's valet (he had a valet now) made a careful examination of the garments which his master had made over to him, in view of the stylish and extensive outfit with which he had provided himself as a bridegroom.  The valet meant to sell most of the things, yet he turned them over carefully; for there was no reason why the second-hand clothes dealer should acquire unexpected sixpences or pencil-cases.  But there was one coat which attracted his attention—a heavy travelling coat, still handsome and little worn.  He put that aside, thinking he would keep it for himself.


 
CHAPTER XXX.

MARRIAGE A LA MODE.


OF course, after Rab Bethune's engagement with Mr Ben Matthieu's daughters was acknowledged by the two families, the young man lived in a whirl which carried him on without impulse or effort of his own.

    Life does this perpetually.  We are launched on its stream, and our aspirations or inclinations draw us this way or that, upward or downward, until a current seizes us, and carries us in either direction farther and faster than we had reckoned on.

    For the first time, Rab found himself free to spend money, not only without any prick of compunction, but even with a sense of duty.  Hitherto he had always been conscious of limits—naturally none the less conscious because he had always overleaped them.  Yet nevertheless, he had ever had to set aside something, to forego that height of perfection and delicacy of finish which aristocratic shopkeepers had coolly recommended to him as the truly right thing.  All this was over now.  The Bethune purse-strings were widely loosened.  Nothing must be grudged to the heir who had won a bride so dowered as Leah Ben Matthieu.

    His duties as the Earl's secretary were almost suspended during this time, as that nobleman was himself on a round of visits among his own kinsfolk, preparatory to his long absence in foreign countries.  Rab spent his mornings in shopping, his afternoons in rides and drives and concerts, and his evenings in dinner parties and balls.

    The Ben Matthieus were a great feature in London Society that season.  The head of the family had a huge enterprise in hand, which absorbed the attention of the financial world and provoked attention and excited interest even in those political circles which are, presumably, on a higher plane.  Abram Ben Matthieu, the only son, not only possessed magnificent horses and was prepared to accept monetary risks which made dukes wince, but also had a marked share of the musical faculty of his ancient race, and when he could be wiled from billiard table or smoking-room, could hold drawing-rooms entranced by weird performances on violin or zither.  Adah, the younger daughter, possessed the marvellous beauty which often distinguishes the daughters of Israel in early youth.  Leah, with her strong features and stronger temper, kept people in a state of shock or amusement, by always saying and doing exactly what seemed right in her own eyes.  If Mr Ben Matthieu spoke bad English, like any other uneducated Londoner, that was let pass under his foreign name.  The whole family were outrageous according to all the rules of the society which nevertheless welcomed them and fêted them and followed them.   They were discussed and accepted in much the same category as those foreign potentates who tie up their horses' tails with strings of diamonds and cut off their near relations' heads when they return to their own country.

    To own the truth, Mr Ben Matthieu himself had other reasons for accepting impecunious Rab Bethune as a son-in-law than the mere desire to escape Leah's wrath if her beautiful but inane sister should wed before her plain and bitter self.  He had a secret hankering after the stately dignity which all his wealth had failed to bring.  He had grave doubts concerning the titled spendthrifts who came fluttering round his girls, though he could not help being dazzled by their rank and prestige.  Adah, with her beauty and docility, might choose among these and secure the best or rather the least bad, and then make the most of him.  Adah would always remain amenable to her father's advice.  But poor Leah, with her acid temper, was likely only to win one who would take anything sufficiently gilded, and then she would not make the best of him, but rather the very worst!  Mr Ben Matthieu had a wholesome horror of domestic scandals.  Both his Hebrew instincts and his humble burgher training made him revolt from the household exposures from which many of those who laughed at his grammar did not shrink.  He had chosen his daughters' chaperones himself, and had made the crucial point of his selection lie in the propriety with which the ladies offering themselves had filled such domestic functions as had fallen into their own lives.  Mr Ben Matthieu's prejudices were not delicate nor discriminative.  The chaperone finally chosen was a perfect dragon of conventional propriety, whose life became a torture to her through the unconventional freedoms of her charges.  But Ben Matthieu was satisfied.  In his own words, "he had put up a good high paling with a 'chevoo de freese,' and the gals might frisk as they liked inside, and yet come to no harm."

    His sense of the superior alacrity and unimpugnable personal history of the lady appointed to "duenna the gals" had succeeded in finally reconciling the millionare to that seclusion on the part of his wife which Miss Lucy Bethune had euphemistically attributed to the lady's "very delicate health."

    The plain truth was, that Ben Matthieu had fallen deeply in love with a beautiful face when he had been but a lad in a banking house, going home at night to a cavernous old house in a reduced street near Spital Square.  He had not been deterred from honourable marriage even by the fact that the beloved was of neither his race nor his faith, and of a weakness and impulsiveness of character which might easily have succumbed to less worthy proposals than his, could she have mustered energy to break the spidery boarding-school proprieties which were her sole protection.  But such disadvantages on her side had sufficed to make him keep his marriage secret, until he was in a position where he lost little by outraging the prejudices of his own people.

    By this temporary suppression poor Mrs Ben Matthieu had suffered somewhat in reputation, and still more in character.  There had been nobody to represent to her husband that the heavy end of the arrangement rested on her.  The poor lady—known in her girlhood as Sophia Augusta Leroy (one may as well choose a fine name when one is about it)—had been the nameless offspring of a distinguished Indian officer and one of those luckless Hindoo girls whom a pseudo-Christian government has been wont to provide, together with forage and horses, along the march of its regiments.  The father—the distinguished officer—less reckless than most of his fellows, did not leave his child to follow her mother's fate.  He brought her to this country, and placed her, with a liberal payment, in a shabby-smart boarding-school.  Then he went back to India, and was presently killed in conflict with the men of his child's mother's race.

    The girl had been brought up to say her Catechism and Creed, and to go to church.  That was all.  It was dull at the boarding-school, and before she met the ardent young Jew they had made her into a pupil-governess--and she did so hate teaching!  Were not these quite sufficient reasons for marrying anybody?  And she had never regretted her marriage.  She would certainly have liked to see people in the early days; but Mr Ben Matthieu had always taken her to the theatres, and by the time society would have been permitted, it had grown distasteful and burdensome to her.  She could have easily made the entry.  The embargo was taken off Mrs Ben Matthieu at the time when city stockbrokers and attorneys could refuse her husband nothing.  These would have graded off imperceptibly into the bankers and directors of great companies, from whose ranks of immaculate respectability the far more indulgent aristocrats would have received her without question.  But this all came too late.  The beauty of face and the air of distinction which had really graced her youth had been long since buried under a load of adipose tissue.  So her indulgent husband did not press the point.  Ben Matthieu had never even spoken to her unkindly, though he had often stamped and sworn in her presence when other people provoked him—an exhibition of violence which had made her quake, and kept her tremulously anxious to do nothing to excite it against herself

    It can be seen from the foregoing narrative that Miss Lucy Bethune's bold assertion that "the children of the Ben Matthieu family had been brought up in their mother's religion" might be regarded as either true or false, since the mother had no religion at all!  There was no day of rest, either Christian or Jewish, in the Ben Matthieus' house.  Church and Synagogue, New Testament or Old, were equally neglected.  No Levitical code regulated the luxuries beneath which the Ben Matthieu tables groaned; nor was any "Mesusah" fastened on the doors of their palatial residences.  Almost the only lingering sign of race lay in those names of the children—Abram, Leah, and Adah—bestowed by the father, with Jewish reverence for age and custom.  It was a slight propitiation to ancient relatives on his side of the house, still surviving somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Hebrew burial-place at Mile End, trying to reconcile their pride in Ben Matthieu as a financier and a diplomat with their shame over his "mixed" marriage and their grief over his atheism.  Ben Matthieu himself always looked grave when be thought of those old folks.  He visited them once or twice every year—gratifying them by displaying his gorgeous equipage to their neighbours, and evading all danger of inflammatory or painful discussion by never going alone, but always accompanied by one or two satellites.  The old people occupied a great part of the remainder of the year in waiting for these flying visits.

    At Viscountess Taxo's party it had been Ben Matthieu himself whose quick eye had singled out Rab Bethune's fresh countenance among the jaded visages of older stagers in London society.  He had bidden the Viscount introduce the young man to him.  He himself had introduced him to his daughter.  He had caught Rab's stultified conscience and rebounding heart in the strong meshes of his own strong will—such game being never hard to sweep off in the direction of wealth and luxury and the kind of power which these can confer.

    It can readily be imagined that the unceasing round of novel excitements, and the entirely new atmosphere of his whole life, had the effect of almost destroying Rab's identity to his own consciousness.  Mr Ben Matthieu, instead of Mr Baird!  Leah, in place of Lesley!  What was not involved in that change?  The old brown parlour at Edenhaugh, with the sweet portrait of its ancient mistress on the wall, and every detail of furniture or decoration organically connected with the humanity that had lived within it—was it in the same world with the Ben Matthieu saloons, with the white and gold drawing-room, or the tapestry chamber, or the Watteau boudoir, all furnished and ornamented according to the last dictate of upholstering fashion!  And was Rab himself, sitting with Ben Matthieu, smoking the choicest cigars and listening to the millionaire's forecasts, or deferentially following him through the story of the intricate mazes in which the Jew had followed Fortune,—was he the same Rab who had wandered among the old green hedges of the Edenhaugh garden with Mr Baird, in homeliest chat, which, nevertheless, had a curious way of involving high philosophy?  Rab could hardly think so.  He did not seem to recognise himself, but rather to remember himself.  The memory came with a pang, only allayed by a weak consideration that the past was past, —and that no surrender of the present could bring it back.  He had made up his mind that it was through no accident that no letter came from Lesley Baird.  It even seemed to soothe him to say to himself that if he never became what he might have been—if, indeed, he became something quite different, the blame lay at Lesley's door.  It never occurred to him to remember the hesitancy with which he had written that letter which remained unanswered, nor how often he had wished he had not sent it, long before he found that it was to win no reply!

    Anyhow, Lesley had drifted away before Leah came on the scene; and if Leah vanished, that would not restore Lesley.  At which thought Rab used to hum―


Take the goods the gods provide thee


or―


"If she be not fair for me,
     What care I how fair she be!"


or other rhymes of cynical philosophy.

    It was strange how little the bride herself bulked on the bridegroom's thoughts.  She was to bring him wealth in one hand and power in the other, by reason of her father's boundless influence, which, if exerted in his behalf, might easily make his own fortune equal to hers.  But he failed to realise that behind these endowing hands there was a woman with a will and ways of her own,—and a temper to back them!  To him, Leah seemed but a casual accessory.  Her father absorbed much more of his interest and attention.  The young man felt quite at his ease in the presence of one who candidly avowed that a man was a fool if he did not grasp all he could, and hold fast all he could grasp.  Rab laughed lightly, and said that the lords of the soil had certainly set that very example to their successors, the lords of finance.  But the laugh died on his lips, as laughter will suddenly die, when we utter a home truth which has a sharp edge for ourselves.

    The exact date of the Ben Matthew marriage was not made public very long beforehand, and it did not reach the knowledge of Lewis Crawford.  Nevertheless, he knew it was imminent.  And it seemed to him that it would be not only just, but kind, that Rab Bethune should hear of his cousin's rights, and of his determined abnegation of them, before Rab made the great step of his life.  Little did Lewis dream that it was actually the knowledge of his wrongs and the fear of his vengeance which had spurred Rab on to this step!  Rather Lewis judged Rab by himself, and so considered that he would like to have a clear knowledge of all the truths of his life before he began to share it with another.  Lewis was quite ready to absolve Rab from any guilty participation in the injustice which had been perpetrated in his infancy.  Therefore, when it was found that the old laird of Bethune had joined his son in London, it was at once decided that Lewis Crawford himself, with his legal advisers and all their documentary evidence of his claim, and his formal renunciation thereof, should straightway wait upon him.

    Mr Hedges and the other lawyers interested in the transaction were bewildered, and indeed indignant, at the course Lewis had chosen.  Possibly they felt that it upset the whole reason for the being of their profession.  Mr Hedges plied him with every argument to reconsider his decision.  He appealed to Miss Kerr to add her influence.  But Miss Kerr was obstinately silent.  She would throw her weight into neither scale.

    Lewis bore himself very mercifully towards the Bethunes.  He sought first to see the old laird, his uncle, alone, so that he might, if possible, ascertain the extent of his conscious wrong-doing without humiliating him in the eyes of his son, and then leave him to make his own explanations.  But the old laird peremptorily refused this interview.  Rab's wealthy marriage, and the refreshment of the gaping Bethune coffers, had restored to the old man some of the hard and arbitrary spirit of his youth.  His tactics of professed ignorance and blank denial had seemed to serve him well hitherto, and with selfish fatuity he refused to see that they did not keep this troublesome claim from repeating itself—each time in a higher key than before.

    The old laird also refused to see the lawyers alone on Lewis Crawford's behalf.

    This necessitated that another appointment should be requested, to include Rab himself and any legal advisers whom he and his father chose to name,—or the lawyers on both sides might meet each other alone, if the Bethunes so preferred.  Along with the formal business-like letter, Lewis wrote a brief note to his cousin.  He addressed him in the third person, explained that the desired interview was in their common interests, and that, so far from any unpleasantness being anticipated, general satisfaction might be secured.

    This letter made Rab feel terribly nervous.  It reached him only a day or two before his wedding; and to be addressed in friendly and dignified terms by one whom he had regarded as an enemy and an interloper, to be beaten off at any cost, made the young man feel as if some unexpected mine were about to explode beneath his feet.  Again Rab and his father had one of those closeted and stormy discussions which had so dismayed Miss Lucy before her brother's first journey to London.  Again the laird aged years in a single day—the change in his appearance being so marked that Ben Matthieu confided to his son Abram that he thought "the old boy was going to have a stroke."

    In this discussion with his father Rab turned at bay, and declared that he would grant this interview on exactly the terms which were asked.  He knew that nothing could rob him of the prestige of his ancient birth and territorial possessions, and that these were all Ben Matthieu cared for.  Such fortune as he had was less than a bagatelle in the eyes of a millionaire who had already spoken of the Towers as "that old ruin," and had suggested leaving it to fall into picturesque decay, and building a mansion of the Italian style on a neighbouring site, more approved by modern notions.  But there were certain uncomfortable regrets and doubts which Rab would be only too glad if he could leave behind for ever, along with the straitnesses of fortune, and the moral weaknesses which had bred them.  If he could live the last few months over again, he said to himself, he would do differently.  He could repent of the errors for which he saw no longer any temptation!

    In the end, the appointment was made between the lawyers on both sides and Rab Bethune.  The old laird took to his bed on the occasion, and Lewis, not forewarned of this, stayed away, to spare his uncle the pain of personally confronting him.

    The Bethune lawyers were nervous, and pretended to be indifferent—almost insolent.  They had been made aware of the full weight of evidence against their clients, though, by Lewis's instructions, as little emphasis as could be consistent with truth had been laid on the course old Mr Bethune had pursued after his brother's death.

    Rab sat silent and gloomy while the certificates and affidavits were read to him.  He did not ask one question, or volunteer one remark, even when the last piece of the documentary evidence was folded up.

    Mr Hedges was nettled.  The whole business was going forward in a way irritating to his professional instincts.  There seemed to him something quite disorderly, quite revolutionary, in getting over a great wrong, a grand transposition of things, without the orthodox legal ritual of injunctions, judges sitting in chambers, and so forth.

    "Doubtless it would be more satisfactory to you if a formal suit were commenced, and you were put in a position to fight for yourself in an open field?" he said, turning to Rab, with a slight bow.

    "Our clients must consider the matter fully," said the Bethunes' solicitor, who felt their position was untenable, and that the only hope was to secure dignified retreat rather than mere rout.

    "My father will only desire justice," observed Rab, coldly.

    Mr Hedges grew more irritated in heart, and therefore still more insinuatingly calm in demeanour.  "We are quite sure of that," he said, suavely, "when the case is clearly put before him.  We are quite sure he will make no difficulty over producing the late Mr Crawford-Bethune's letter to him, and the prayer-book which accompanied it."

    "Which were sent to him," interposed the Bethune solicitor, with a marked emphasis.  "Being sent to him is another matter from being received by him."

    Rab Bethune felt Mr Hedges' keen eyes fixed on his face.  It glowed beneath them.  He could bear it no more.

    "My father did receive them.  He has mentioned them to me," Rab blurted out roughly.  "I don't think they could be found now; I fear they have been destroyed."

    He knew they had been destroyed.  Pity him! pity him!  For this was the wretched confession the old laird had made to his son on the day when Lewis Crawford's despairing face had darkened the June sunshine for Bethune Towers.  Rab swore to himself that he had kept silence for his father's sake only, and that it had not seemed so very cruel to withhold Lewis's legal rights while Lewis did not dream he had them, but pleaded only for mercy and moral consideration.  And these had been withheld because to have given them might have paved the way to a knowledge of the real rights!  But all this had been his father's affair!  Rab declared to his own accusing conscience, that aught he had done was for his father's sake.  He spoke out now, still for his father's sake, he was sure.  To do otherwise might be worse than futile.  For this lawyer with the keen eyes, what more might he not know—what further evidence might he not bring forward?  A puzzled thought of the possible registration of letters or insurance of packets—a wonder how long receipts or records of such transactions are preserved—actually flitted over Rab's fevered mind as he sat.  He might still have told a lie to save what he called "the family honour," to secure that smooth sailing in outward prosperity without which life seemed to him to be impossible.  He might have chosen to regard such an action as demanded by filial duty.  There are many people whose "honour" does not lie safe within the broad circle of truth, but in quite another direction.

    It touched even the implacable Mr Hedges to note the detected look on Rab's handsome face—the curious relaxation and degradation of its aristocratic lines.  He went on in the same suave tones.

    "My client himself does not desire a lawsuit―" and paused.

    "He can hardly expect that we would yield in such a matter without a struggle," said the Bethune lawyer.  "My clients desire only justice, but in its interests there must be delay, doubt, enquiry."

    "If your clients compel a lawsuit, so it must be," returned Mr Hedges, pushing back his chair.  "I advise it myself—I think it is the right thing.  But my client has other views.  A clever young man—a decidedly superior and remarkable young man," bowing to Rab, as complimenting him on the merits of a kinsman—"but who, having had very special experiences, has developed unusual ways of looking at things.  My client desires to make known that if his claim is acknowledged, and his lawful position recognised, he is willing to make formal renunciation, and to allow Mr Robert Bethune to succeed his father as in due course."

    The Bethune lawyers exchanged glances.  Did not this show that the claimant was aware of some weak point in his case, though they themselves certainly could not detect any?

    "This is very magnanimous of him," said Rab, scarcely able to repress a sneer as he thought of the forlorn fugitive who had been spurned from Bethune Towers.

    "It may be wise and well-considered," said the Bethune lawyer.  "Law is proverbially uncertain; and to this gentleman, who has hitherto had no expectations whatever, a bird in the hand will be possibly more―"

    Mr Hedges interrupted.  "You will observe that by a lawsuit my client may gain everything—according to the opinions of the best counsel, must do so.  By his own desire he resigns all.  He burdens his action with no consideration, and hampers it with only one condition, and that a very small one."

    "What is it?" asked Rab, looking straight at Mr Hedges, shame overcome by an eager expectancy.

    "That he shall be allowed to erect a tablet in the Bethune burial-place to the memory of his father,—Lewis Crawford Bethune, who died at sea, and of his father's wife, Moetia, recently deceased in London.  This done, my client will execute a deed of gift, as the most irrevocable and indubitable document in law, making over to you, Mr Rab Bethune, all his own rights, charged only with a fit provision for your father and sister."

    The lawyers were silent.  They could not disabuse themselves of the notion that this must be a concession to some secret weak point in the claim.  But even if so, had they not said that law was proverbially uncertain, and that a bird in the hand was worth more than two in the bush?—adages which applied to their own client as much as to this unknown fanatic, who would take so little rather than show fight for so much.

    "I think my father would be disposed to grant these terms, even though you may have some flaw in your evidence, which, in case of a suit, might end in judgment wholly in our favour," said Rab, with a not unsuccessful attempt at a noble indifference.  "My father could only desire justice.  Law, we know, is not always justice," he added, with a pale smile.  "But, flaw or no flaw, all you set before us puts an entirely different complexion on my late uncle's connection with this poor woman."

    "It confirms the witness of your uncle's letter and his prayer-book," observed Mr Hedges, in a quietly significant tone, which brought the flush back to Rab's brow.

    "Of course, my father must be consulted," said Rab.

    "That must be, certainly.  And my client would desire it," returned Mr Hedges, with continued significance.

    "If this can be done, then the less delay the better," said Rab.

    "Certainly," assented the lawyer.

    "Everything that has passed at this interview must be without prejudice till the deed of gift is executed," observed the Bethune lawyer.

    "When can that be done?" Rab asked.

    Mr Hedges named an imminent date.  It was the date fixed for Rab's wedding, but he did not say so, only asked if the business could be got through before ten o'clock in the morning.  The Bethune lawyers agreed to this appointment, and went off about their business, asking Mr Hedges but one question—if he was quite sure of his client's sanity—otherwise there might be future difficulties on that line!

    As soon as the lawyers departed, Rab went to his sideboard, took out the brandy, and drank off two glasses, raw.  It was the first time that he had ever sought support from a stimulant.

    He had a brief interview with his father—a terrible interview in a dark bedroom, smelling of all sorts of medicaments.  The old laird gave up all—everything.  He would sign anything Rab brought.  His only wail was, "Need Lucy know?  Don't let Lucy hear!  Keep it from Lucy!"

    Was this a piteous remnant of fatherly love?  No.  Rab knew better.  The old man did not want to have his sin ever before him, in the consciousness of the daughter on whose dry, and yet devoted ministrations all the comfort of his last miserable years must depend.  Leave her in her bewilderment, in her misty sense that something had gone wrong!  That was all that Lucy Bethune's hard life had won for her.  She had sown but the poor seeds of family pride, and the best she could reap was but delusion!

    That night, when Ben Matthieu was smoking with his future son-in-law, Rab told him something of the morning's strange piece of business.  He did not see any reason for concealment of all he chose to tell, to wit, that a stranger had appeared with indubitable claims to the Bethune property, which, nevertheless, he had agreed to give up forever.  There was no need to tell of the old laird's share in the long suppression of the truth, though, after all, Rab knew that it was not more "shady" than many of the transactions of which Ben Matthieu boasted, only that these had been made in more remunerative materials than "an old ruin" and a few sterile acres, and had been conducted to more prosperous issue!

    Ben Matthieu smoked in silence for a few minutes after the recital.  He took a new point of view.  It did not seem to him that the unknown had made such a wonderful sacrifice.  That morning, by a fall in stocks, he had lost more than the whole value of the Bethune estate, yet he had not "turned a hair."  But he wanted to find the motive.

    "This fellow must be coming into some good thing, which he could not get if he had this," he decided.  "Perhaps there's some old lady would cut him out of her will if she did not think he was a penniless orphan."

    (Oh! if Ben Matthieu had only known about Clementina Kerr, he would have felt quite sure he had hit the right nail on the head!)

    "Did not you offer him anything?" he asked, presently.

    "No, I did not," said Rab.  "His lawyer took a very high tone.  And when a man declares he can claim all and will claim nothing, it might be taken as an insult to offer him something.  If I could but have offered him the whole of the mere money value of the Bethune estate!" Rab added, faltering.  "Of course he can't feel about the old place itself as I do, and as our children will!"

    He had a wild hope that Ben Matthieu might take the matter up.  The required sum would be but a trifle to him.  At that moment Rab thought he would rather stand further in the debt of his father-in-law, from whom he was already receiving so much, than be beholden to this stranger, whom his own father had so cruelly wronged.  (Perhaps in after years he thought otherwise!)

    But Ben Matthieu felt no such inclination.  Ben Matthieu had made his own money, and as it is not by generous impulsiveness that people make fortunes, therefore it is not wise to expect them to be generously impulsive with them when it is made!  He did do lavish things sometimes, but always for an object.  A secret purchase of a future son-in-law's poverty-stricken estate is but a poor speculation.  He smoked on serenely.

    "But if the fellow didn't want anything," he persisted, "why the dickens did he make a row at all?"

    "He wants a memorial stone to the memory of his father and his father's wife, his mother, put up in the Bethune burial-place," said Rab.  "That, you see, acknowledges her as a married woman, and attests his own legitimacy."

    Still Ben Matthieu smoked, reflective.  Somehow this appealed to the best of his Hebrew instincts.

    "He must be a fine young fellow," he decided.  "And though I would not say he may not know he is doing the best for himself somehow, still I'm not one to think that sentiment does not go far.  It goes farther than people think.  You've often got to reckon with it, even in money matters.  And with superstition, too.  You don't know what it is, nor where it comes from, nor why you have it.  Some of the 'cutest' people are superstitious.  Now, I'd not say this to everybody, but as you've just made such a good thing out of a fellow's sentiment, I don't mind telling you that I'd not like my old auntie to move out of her old place in the Bow Road.  That's where my father was born and his father before him—and we've crept up.  But I feel as if the luck of the Ben Matthieus roots there.  And while there's an old maiden body in one's family, it doesn't matter where she lives—she might as well stay there and keep up the luck.  So auntie does.  I think I'll go to see her to-morrow.  She'll not be so bitter about us having the Church service for the wedding if I tell her all about the gowns.  And I'll look in at our burial-place too.  It's the right thing—that young chap must be a fine fellow—and I daresay he knows he won't suffer for it."

    The deed of gift was duly executed on the morning of the marriage, an item of the day's programme which did not appear in the fashionable reports thereof.  They duly recorded, however, that "a serious indisposition prevented the bridegroom's father from being present at the ceremony, which he would not permit to be deferred."

    The old laird never returned to the North.  Was Tweedside too bracing?  Or did he fear that the situation of The Towers was damp?  It might have been either, or neither.  Only, somehow, he and Miss Lucy went to Bath, and stayed there.


 
CHAPTER XXXI.

THE ENVELOPE WHICH WAS NOT EMPTY.


THE marriage festivities were over.  The first days of the honeymoon had been spent at the Ben Matthieus' "pavilion by the sea" at Scarborough, and then Bethune Towers was put en fête, with a gaiety of flags, and bunting, and brass bands, which the grim old place had not known for many a long day.

    The marriage presents were brought down to The Towers, and set out in the great hall for the delectation of the tenants, who little guessed that two among the new men-servants from London were detectives mounting guard over the treasures!  Diamonds, and pearls, and precious stones sparkled in stray sunbeams, almost as brightly and sweetly as the dew which hasty steps brushed from the grass outside.

    There was a garden party; there was a tenants' dinner; a treat to the school children; a grand display of fireworks; speeches, deputations, compliments on all sides.  The bride became the patroness of everything—of the cattle show, of the flower show, of the archery club, of the coal and clothing society, and of all the church schemes,—"including the missions to the Jews," giggled Miss Bell Gibson, who did not know the detail as a fact, but judged it so picturesque that it ought to be true!

    According to the speeches, everybody was worthy, respected, intelligent or gracious, beautiful, and well-reported.  Then the tenants went away, commenting on the lavish splendour, and grumbling that this was the fashion in which their hard-earned rents went—forgetful that though this might be true enough, yet it certainly was not in their direct payments to the Bethunes, but rather as their means might be filtered away through the thousand and one suckers which draw wealth to such as Mr Ben Matthieu.  For all the splendour they saw was certainly paid for by his gold.  The tenants' wives and daughters said that the bride was not much to look at, and must be a great deal older than Mr Rab, from whom she evidently expected a great deal of attention.

    The bride herself retired to her private chambers, mimicked the local dialect, scoffed at the local finery, gave vent to witticisms on the old-fashioned family furniture, and entertained Rab by explaining the improving changes she should make.

    As for Lesley Baird, to her the very sunshine of those days seemed garish.  Her uncle went up to The Towers on one or two semi-public occasions—the cattle show and the flower show.  She went herself to the school children's treat, as one of the teachers.  She saw Rab in the distance, smiling and talking, and she knew that there was a great gulf fixed between them—wider, far wider, than all the world.  She saw the bride, and, in a file of local young ladies, was even introduced to her.  If there was one person in all the world who felt a touch of tender pity for the little, pert, black-avised Jewess, that person was actually Lesley Baird!  For Lesley knew that Leah had not married her Rab: the bright brave boy who had won Lesley's love was gone, not as the dead go, taking our living hearts with them; but as fairies vanish, leaving little circles of dust behind them.

    The Gowan Brae people were very much to the fore in these galas, but only the farmer and his new wife.  Jamie was always in disgrace at home, and it was said that at the next term he was to be sent away to a boarding-school near London, where he would spend his holidays between the house of his father's relative, the rich stockbroker, and sundry distant connections of his stepmother's.

    Yet it was in the very dreariest of these days that Lesley received her first sign from Heaven that while life goes on love goes on, and with it duties and interests and hopes.  For a poor young widow in the dale died suddenly, leaving two tiny children absolutely friendless.  They were brought to Edenhaugh, as an immediate and present refuge; and when Lesley began to make her little attempts to secure them some permanent shelter in school or orphanage, her uncle said to her very quietly:

    "Let them stay, lassie.  God has got to board them somewhere, and it might as well be here as anywhere else.  The little feet pattering about will be cheery in the winter time."

    She had some other visitors too, actually Miss Clementina Kerr and Mary Olrig.  Lewis Crawford himself was coming a few days later.  He would bring with him from London his parents' memorial tablet; but this was not to be fixed to the wall of the Bethune burial-ground till he should have gone away again, taking Miss Clementine and Mary with him.  Nobody in the glen save the Bairds and old Mrs Haldane were to have the least inkling of the true state of the case, or of who Lewis really was.

    Mary had come to the glen to say good-bye to her grandmother.  For Mary was going with Miss Clementina Kerr for a long, long journey—even to the other side of the world.

    The conversation between Lewis and Mary concerning his resignation of his birthright, had led them into many conferences as to the life best worth living.  Lewis was resolved that he would not earn his bread in meddling to redress wrongs and evils by measures which ever bred fresh wrongs and evils.  Mary, in her turn, began to realise that it takes a great deal of living before one can hope to know anything worth writing, and that the poem must be poor indeed if the poet is not better than his song.

    "I should like to earn my place in the world by doing the work that keeps the world really going on," cried the girl, in her womanly enthusiasm.  "Keeping a house bright and clean, preparing wholesome food, making honest clothing, 'to cover from the cold.'  If there is any song in me, let me sing it as I go about my work.  People may say—'then go into domestic service.'  But I say No!  I want to try to do these things for those who need them; for those I love; for those who are strenuously working at other real tasks; for those who are tired out with work they have finished.  I do not want to be hired to work for women who ought to be doing the work themselves, instead of spending their lives in mischief-making, and who would order me to make meringues for them while the people in the next street had no bread to eat—or to sew flounces for themselves and frills for their babies while hard-working folk can scarcely earn a new shirt, and fatherless children lack shoes."

    "The only way to do this is to go to some land where nobody has yet thought it grand to be busy-idle, and where the devil has not yet introduced méringués and flounces," observed Miss Kerr.

    "And I," said Lewis, "would like to dig and delve in Mother Earth.  I find everything so complicated.  In our present state of civilisation you cannot do anything—you cannot even try to do what seems a good deed—without setting in motion social machinery so elaborate that you cannot guess where its action will cease.  You may see something very terrible going forward somewhere, and you may be very shocked; yet all the while you yourself may be working its very spring!  Think of the sweating and grinding of the poor, which wrings out the dividends on which the philanthropic ladies live!  The fiends may laugh when they see a tithe of the money made in their service finally handed over to God.  I want first to be quiet, and to feel tolerably sure that I am doing no harm.  I think there is no beginning to do well till we have first made a study of ceasing to do evil.  And I think nobody can be injured by one's cultivating potatoes or wheat.  I think I must go out to the West, and hire myself to a farmer till I have learned enough of agriculture to take up a Government grant of land for myself."

    "Do you really mean it?" Miss Kerr had asked.  And there had been a general consultation of maps and encyclopædias.  They were soon quite sure where they would like to go.  But, alas! they easily ascertained that there was no free land in that neighbourhood—though plenty for comparatively easy purchase from the Colonial Government.

    Then Miss Clementine made another mysterious visit to Mr Hedges, and sent him almost wild with glee by announcing that she was at last going to do something with her sixty thousand pounds.  But when he heard her scheme, he was speedily reduced to his normal state of depression on that subject.  Her proposal was, that she should buy from the State as much of this new land as could be got for the sum—(and sixty thousand pounds went far in that virgin soil!)—and then grant free leases of it to suit settlers, exactly as the State did in less favoured localities.  Her name was not to appear in the matter at all, except that she would reserve one location for herself to keep for Lewis till such time as he should be fitly trained to occupy it.  And the trustees in whose hands the partition of the estate would lie were to accept her rules for the choice of settlers as if these rules were issued by themselves.  No men were to be accepted save those who knew something of agriculture, and also of some useful trade; and the adult women accompanying them must each be able honestly to describe herself as cook, dairy-woman, sempstress, house-servant, or poultry-keeper.  All were to be total abstainers.  That was best for the commonweal, said Miss Kerr; and if decent folk could not waive an occasional festive glass to secure substantial advantage, she feared such were sunk too low in self-indulgence to be very valuable in a new country.

    This was all very fine, retorted Mr Hedges.  He must say that it showed much more practical wisdom than had been shown in peopling the fairest regions with convicts, or in spoiling agricultural labourers by driving them up to great towns and then shipping away their enfeebled offspring to suffer and perish under stern physical conditions which their more stalwart parents could have accepted quite easily.  But why should Miss Kerr give up her money?  She might let people have the land on easy conditions of repayment, and with very light interest meanwhile.  That would be disinterested enough, surely?

    Miss Clementine made reply that this money must not be idle any longer while people were starving, and yet that it must not be so employed as to save ten from starving to-day that a hundred may starve to-morrow.  She wanted to restore it to humanity, and she could see no more harmless use to which it could be put than to set land free for the wholesome labour of honest people.  "Besides," she added, with a touch of her own quaint humour, "the wishes of the dead should be respected.  My kinsman left me this, expecting that I should keep carriages and horses, and give dinner parties, and run long milliners' bills to do honour to his memory.  I cannot follow these wishes.  So the next best thing I can do is to hand it back to him—to bury it as it were in the earth, which is his grave!"

    "Why, between you and our friend Lewis, I feel as if everything is coming to an end," said the lawyer.  "Here, in a very short space of time, two people have done two actions which I believe nobody else would do in all the wide world."

    "Well, suppose so," assented Miss Kerr.  "Aren't you always saying that the world is a bad world, and a mad world, and all the rest of it?  And yet if anybody goes contrary to the world, you are astonished!  Yet the contrary to bad is good, Mr Hedges; and the opposite of mad is sane!"

    And so she had her way.

    Thus she and Mary came to be guests at Edenhaugh.  Mrs Haldane was quite reconciled to her granddaughter's plans.  The old lady was a philosopher, in her curt, stern, way.

    "Mary's got to live, God willing, forty or fifty years after I'm in my grave," she said; "an' the best places for her to get a living in are not the best places for me to die in; and when people have come to my time, they've lost so much o' their own, that so long as there's some young thing about that's kind to them, it doesn't mak' much differ wha it is.  An' Mr Baird says I'm to bide here, and it's real cheery noo he's taken the little lassies too.  For I'm teaching them to knit.  That's all.  I can do that.  For a' the rest, I tell them to mind Miss Lesley."

    "I doubt you've owre mony visitors noo, Lesley," said Miss Bell Gibson, rather wistfully, a day or two after the appearance of the new arrivals.  "Helen's thinking it's time we should be o' the wing—though the country's bonnie, and Edinburgh will be baith hot an' toom."

    Out of all her trials Lesley had come stronger of will and braver of aspect.  The sweetness had not passed, but perhaps a little sternness had grown under it.  She would not let these hints pass as she would once have done.  She would be resolutely true; and she judged it would be for everybody's happiness if the Gibsons were gone before Lewis arrived.  So she said, calmly―

    "You see, Miss Bell, these are Mary's last days with her grandmother, and they give our only chance of making friends with Miss Kerr, to whom Mary, in a way, belongs henceforth; and the less hurry and bustle there is at these opportunities the more they are enjoyed."

    "Weel, weel," sighed Miss Bell, "Helen tauld me to just sound ye, to see how ye felt aboot it.  It's strange, Lesley, but I think Helen's some frighted o' ye.  I never knew her wince at speaking oot hersel' to onybody before.  Sae I'll just tell her that we had better be going?"

    There was still some interrogation in the lady's tone.  But Lesley would not notice it, and smiled a quiet assent.

    "That's it," said Miss Helen, as the sisters sat in their bedroom, with spread stores and open portmanteau, "We've held ourselves honourable and respectable; we've laid ourselves out to be sociable to our friends; we've stayed here in the dulness of the winter time; we've tried our best to make Lesley see her own interests—and this is all the thanks we get—set tramping back to our close flat in the midst of this beautiful summer weather, because, forsooth, the house is full with an old poacher's widow and her granddaughter, two pauper brats, and a stranger that nobody knows anything about!  And I gather there's somebody else coming, and I should not wonder but it's that young man whom old Jean let hang about her house till the laird knocked it down.  Baird will find he can go too far even for the Bethunes' patience!  They won't be so dependent on their very best tenant now they've got the Ben Matthieus' money.  Mr and Mrs Rab have never been near Edenhaugh, though I'm told they've called twice at Gowan Brae.  Mrs Rab may not be a beauty, but she has got sense and will keep people in their proper places!"

    (What would Miss Helen have said had she known that the bride described her and her sister as "two of Macbeth's witches, washed and combed"?)

    "Eh, it's a wearie warld!" sighed Miss Bell.   "I'm sure I've taken your advice, Helen, and tried to keep from mixing myself up with the world's cares and troubles; but its aggravations seem to come all the same."

    That very night there was a scene of packing and confusion at The Towers.  There had been a tiff between the newly married pair; for Rab had been accustomed to Lucy's making all arrangements of every kind for everybody, and he resented the irritability which Leah displayed when, accustomed to the crisp generalship of her father, she found every movement left in a state of indefiniteness and chaos.  He had met her first reproach with the grand air of superior indifference with which he had always confronted blame; and this had provoked Leah to one of her most cutting remarks, which was also too true to bear any explanation.  Accordingly, Rab had retired to his dressing-room in high dudgeon, and began to issue personal orders with great precision and severity.  Perhaps his valet was not sorry to find something likely to divert his master's mood even for a minute.  In sorting out the general wraps of the party, the man had also brought forward that old coat of Rab's which he had taken for his own use, and proceeded to roll it up with sundry other little comforts with which he was wont to solace lengthened journeys.  As he did so, his hand came in contact with something of firmer texture than the coat itself.  He felt again.  Yes, there was something stiffish, but readily bendable—it seemed like paper.  He investigated.  Nothing in any of the pockets.  No; but a slight, straight slit inside one of these, down which it was clear something had unwarily slipped.  The man manipulated it until it re-appeared at the opening.  It was a letter fastened up as if ready for the post.  It had kept fresh and clean in its hiding place.  It bore the superscription in Mr Bethune's hand-writing―


Miss LESLEY BAIRD,
Edenhaugh.


With his manner of conciliatory deference, the servant approached his fuming master.

    "Sir," he said, "I have just found something which I fear you must have lost."

    Rab took the paper with an impatient gesture.  He expected it to be some trifle.  The observant valet noticed the portentous change in his countenance.  Rab put out his hand in a blinded, groping fashion, and grasped the back of a chair.

    "Where did you find this?" he gasped.

    "In the lining of your discarded travelling cloak, sir," said the man, with his civil propriety of speech.

    "Very well," said Rab, summoning all his self-control; "thank you for bringing it promptly.  But it does not matter now.  Its occasion is past.  It is of no consequence."

    He tore open the envelope while the man stood there.  There was his unanswered letter, revealing his family secret to Lesley, and throwing himself on her sympathy and counsel, as "the one whom in all the world he held dearest and best."  He rent it across and across, and threw it into the fire, which the chilly Oriental Leah had caused to be lit to cheer the cool of the evening.

    He understood it all.  He remembered his own hesitancy—his expedient of getting an envelope addressed by the railway clerk, his subsequent dislike of the disguise, and his restoration of his epistle to its original cover.  He had simply ended in posting the wrong envelope: that was all!

    Once more Lesley rose upon his memory, true and tender-hearted, free from the cloud of mistrust and suspicion with which his own vacillation and guilty consciousness had surrounded her.  And how unnecessary it had all been!

    He heard Leah's sharp voice in the next room.  It seemed to cut through his very heart.  What had the future to keep for him?

    That night they were talking of him in the London clubs, and they called him "a lucky beggar!"


 
CHAPTER XXXII.

VICTORY.


BEFORE the leaves had fallen from the trees that autumn, Lesley Baird had taken up her life with determined cheerfulness.  She had not yet got into the sunshine.  She was still cleaving to old Alison's remembered advice: "Ask if you're sure you are in the Lord's way, and then shut your e'en, and gang."  She was acquiring that practical philosophy which withdraws its gaze from the wide horizon of future years and fixes it on the little duties and delights of every day.

    If she could have had partial vision of her future life, what would it have shown her?  It would have shown her what she could scarcely have dared to think of living through.  She would have seen Rab Bethune, a demoralised idler, skirting the edge of the worst dissipations, living with his wife in legal unity, but taking no trouble to conciliate the wilful, bitter woman, or to conceal his own chafing under the bondage in which she held him.  Lesley would have seen Jamie Logan, growing up without home influences—a wild, careless boy, over whom duty had no sway, unamenable to reason, falling into disgrace, and finally vanishing from sight.  She would have seen herself, not bound by any sentimental vow, yet simply never able to feel again that type of love which had perished in such bitter doubt and pain.

    But could she have seen the future with perfect vision, she would also have seen herself strong, and helpful, and tender, a woman on whom many hearts leaned, the solace of old age, the refuge of defenceless youth.  She would have seen a crowd of little children gathering round the hearth of Edenhaugh, some orphaned, some worse than orphans, who owed all they would ever know of mother love to the childless woman, and never found that they lacked aught.  She would have heard her uncle's last blessing.  She would have felt her own heart rise to that high faith which can be at rest even about Rab Bethune and James Logan, because assured that God's love for them was greater than hers, and that His everlasting arms can hold what her mortal hands must let fall.


    *                                  *                                  *                                  *                                  *

    Sunset on the wide Atlantic.

    Lewis and Mary are walking to and fro on the deck of their steamer.  They are not far from the new land which is to be their future home.  There, for a while at least, their duties must divide them.  They can scarcely bear to think of it.  Each feels that the other has grown a part of deepest self.  They had walked in silence for awhile.  But Lewis has made up his mind that this is the time to speak.

    "It will be hard to go apart, Mary," he says.

    He has never called her by her name before.  She notices it.  She looks straight before her, a beautiful flush deepening on her finely chiselled cheek.  She replies:

    "Yes, it will."

    "Do you really care for me?" he asks, lowering his voice.

    "Of course I do," says Mary, frankly

    "Do you think you care for me enough to marry me in the end?"

    "Yes, I know I do."

    They came to a sudden pause.  He took her hand in his.  They both turned towards Clementina Kerr, who was watching the sunset; but they could scarcely discern even her form, for the dazzling radiance towards which her face was turned.


――――♦――――

 


 

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