By Still Waters (1)

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


 

BY STILL WATERS.
―――♦―――


INTRODUCTION.

A thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise.――W
ARING.


IT was so strange to be here, and nobody to know it.  It made Sarah Russell feel as if she were out of the flesh altogether.  It gave her a little pain to find that almost everybody else on the Atlantic steamer had somebody waiting for them on the Liverpool wharf.  But the pain was only for a moment.  She, too, could have had somebody waiting for her had she chosen.  If she had written of her arrival to her solicitor, he might have sent one of his clerks to receive her.  Her father's old partner might even have come himself.  But it would have given them trouble, and Sarah Russell was far too wise to think that it could have made her arrival much richer.  When the realities of love are taken from hearts and lives, she felt that, instead of stuffing them with shams of unsatisfying husks, it is better to keep the empty chambers open till other real things come creeping in.  If she had had some barren acquaintance shaking hands with her, and fussing over her luggage, very likely she would not have noticed that after all she was not the only unwelcomed one there.  There was nobody to meet that dark, angry-looking youth who used to sit in the windiest corner on deck till twelve o'clock at night.  There was nobody to meet that thin, frightened little woman, whom Miss Russell had met at the shipping-office when she went to engage her berth, and who had enquired anxiously if there was no 'intermediate passage' before she could make up her mind to settle down into the steerage.  But when she noticed that they three had nobody to look after them, then it occurred to her that they might possibly be intended to look after each other.

    The lad had no incumbrance except an old battered leathern portmanteau, which he had kept in his own cabin, and now carried out himself.  The poor little woman was hampered with all sorts of brown-paper parcels and bursting bandboxes.  And Miss Russell herself, small and timid, did not feel it very easy to go and struggle in the crowd of passengers recognising and claiming their baggage as it was cleared out of the hold.

    The lad stood there, holding his possessions (which seemed light enough), and looked round with his haughty, turned-at-bay face, as if he wondered why he lingered where nobody wanted him.  The little woman frantically grasped her properties, and dropped one as fast as she picked up another.  Sarah Russell did not take more than a minute to make up her mind.  She was not a girl, but a middle-aged woman, who was in the habit of saying, with a sweet meaning smile, that people would be very glad to grow old if they realised the superior privileges of years, and that growing old is not growing down, but growing up.

    She spoke to the woman first.

    'If you will leave your things in my charge I will take care of them till you get them altogether,' she said; and then turned to the lad, and asked, 'May I hope as a great favour that you will enquire if Miss Sarah Russell's trunks are found for her, and request that they may be carried this way?'

    The youth only turned his grey eyes full upon her, lifted his hat, and went off on her errand without a word.  The little woman thanked her eagerly, adding, 'that she was so dazed she did not know what she was doing.'

    Nevertheless, she was not long in getting through her little business.  Glancing over the heap of poor baggage, Miss Russell saw one or two packets marked 'Mrs. Annie Stone,' but she had not needed this to feel sure that this was a married woman.  There is a certain expression of down-troddenness into which even the unhappiest single life can scarcely sink.  There is a certain misery which, whenever seen in man or woman, means, for the wise observer, that one of the other sex has been at the making of it.  In men, it is generally a hard and defiant recklessness—an empty heart, swept and garnished and set open, ready for any evil influence to enter.  In women, it is usually a feeble, peevish poverty of nature—a dry living in the cold, outside their own hearts, which they have shut up, that nobody shall see the utter desolation therein.

    'They ought to manage things better,' said Mrs. Stone, in that sort of fretful tone which reveals a chronic attitude of mind, rather than a temporary irritation.  They need not make such a noise.  My head's just in a whirl.  But poor people always are put upon.  It's little I once thought I'd travel in steerage.'

    It was hard to follow her connection of ideas, seeing that the first-class passengers were certainly freely mixed up in the hurly-burly of the arrival.  But perhaps she had ruined her logical powers in making excuses for the man who had surely been in her life, and had not made it happy.  So Miss Russell only said

    'Never mind.  We shall all get out presently.  There is no hurry.

    'Well, ma'am, so we shall,' she assented; and I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you for helping me, and I hope you'll get your own things all managed nicely.  Our own things is a good deal to us, ain't they, ma'am? be they much or be they little.'

    'Are you going to stay in Liverpool?' asked Miss Russell.

    'No,' she said, I'm going straight on to London.  I've got to do the best I can for myself, and I haven't much to live on till I can do it.  We've all got our own troubles, and I've had mine, till I'm sure I don't expect anything else.  'Tisn't no use expecting.  I'm sure it's been quite a blessing to be just spoke to kindly by a lady like you, ma'am.  I couldn't talk to any of those people in the steerage: I only wanted 'em to leave me alone.  I'm not used to their sort.'

    Poor little woman! it seemed likely that much of the hardship of her life had been of her own making, and that her troubles had not borne much fruit yet.  But Miss Russell only pitied her the more; for when troubles do bear fruit they cease to be troubles at all, and those who have them are far above pity.

    'Are you a widow?' she asked.

    'Well, ma'am,' she answered, 'I am, and I ain't.  He wasn't any good to me, and now I don't know whether he's dead or alive, and ain't ever likely to know.  Them that don't get married is wisest, I reckon.  I wish I never had.  I shall try to get into some kind of service.  I've got good letters to recommend me, and I can do fine sewing and dress hair.  You might know of somebody wanting such an one yourself, ma'am?'

    Now, the fact was, that Miss Russell, being a solitary woman, with an income of four hundred pounds a-year, needed such an attendant herself.  She intended to advertise for one as soon as she reached London.  But it struck her that there might be a purpose in this unpremeditated encounter with one who was seeking to supply just such a need as she had.  She looked again at Mrs. Annie Stone.  She would not have chosen her.  This was not the fulfilment of the idea that had floated in her mind.  She had had dreams of some bright fresh young girl, well enough nurtured and educated to be equal to at least an echoing interest in her own little arts and studies—a pretty girl, who would play out some sweet little drama before her eyes, and perhaps make her the good fairy of her future home, and keep up her name among her children.  This Mrs. Annie Stone was middle-aged, and jaded and sharpened.  Yet she hesitated.  She remembered that when she was a child, putting up puzzles, she had noticed that the right piece to fit in often looked the least likely until it was fairly placed, and the surrounding pieces arranged.  It could do no harm to hold this piece of life's puzzle in hand awhile—and wait.

    So Miss Russell said, 'I want an attendant myself; but as, of course, I cannot engage you without asking many questions, and as this is no place to ask them, I think the best way will be for me to engage you temporarily, and pay your fare to London, and then we can settle at our leisure; and any way you will be no loser.'

    'I'm sure I'm deeply obliged, ma'am,' Mrs.Stone answered in her wiry, obsequious way.  It's a long time since I've had anything turn out so lucky for me.  I've often thought, sitting in the steerage, "I wonder if there's any lady sitting at the other end could help me?" and somehow, when I've seen you walking up and down, ma'am, I've thought what wouldn't I give if she wanted me, and I've been almost ready to go up to you and put it, did you know of such a place?  But of course I'd never have dared.  I didn't speak to you till you spoke to me, did I, ma'am?  And even when you spoke I'd never have asked about the situation, if you hadn't led it on like.  But if trying 'll do, I'm sure I'll suit you.  There's more work in me than there looks.  'Tain't work that's wore me out—it's rather sitting with my hands before me, and my heart worrying round and round in my inside, like a wild beast in a cage.'

    Just then the youth came back with a porter and the boxes, and a coach was hired to drive Miss Russell and Mrs. Stone and their belongings to the station.  The lad stood beside them while the luggage was stacked up.

    'Is coming to England coming "home" to coming you?' Miss Russell asked cheerily.  She had never said so much to him before, though day after day they had dined in the same saloon and paced the same quarter-deck.

    'Yes—no,' he answered.

    This reply was too enigmatical for any direct rejoinder.  Miss Russell felt there was a little repulsion in the tone, but it did not repel her.  She enquired

    'Are you going to London too?'

    'Yes,' he said; 'I live there.  I mean I have lived there.  I was born there.'

    'And are you to settle there, or are you only on a visit?' she asked, having grown accustomed to the etiquette of long voyages, which not only excuses but encourages such questions.

    'Neither the one nor the other,' he replied.  'I am settled nowhere.  I have no home in the world.'

    'You are like me,' she said; 'I am at home all over the world nowadays.'

    'That is rather different,' said the lad, with a change of tone, like a softening suddenly checked.

    'Perhaps only a different way of putting it,' said she.

    And then the coach was ready.  The young man was lifting his hat and turning away, but she held out her hand to him.  They had travelled together for more than a week, though in silence.  And he was young enough to be her son.  Yes, the little quiet old maid said to herself that he might have been her son, her own son—who would never be—at least in this world.  For she had a tender clinging to that mysterious promise (wide enough to typify God's kingdom, but tender enough to soothe a wo- man's sigh) that somewhere else, where the old wastes shall be builded, the barren woman shall keep house and be a joyful mother of children!  And had she no right to that clinging?  God's truth, like sunlight, stretches far and wide and high beyond the words, narrow at best, through which it can but dimly enter these flesh-clad souls of ours.  Only the more reason that we should take courage to let in its glory wherever it can find an entrance; through wide-set gate of highest faith, or glowing casement of creed, or tiny chink whence some human hope escaped us.

    So they shook hands, and the cab gave a jerk which put him out of sight for a moment; but he stepped back to the window and said

    'I hope you will have a pleasant journey.'

    And then they really left him behind.

    'His name is Mr. Frederick Broome,' said Mrs. Stone; 'and I shouldn't wonder but he has come back where he isn't wanted.'

    Then they flew through the country in the train.  It struck Miss Russell that she had never noticed the orderliness of England when she had never been anywhere else.  All the land seemed to stand in the same relation to the great new country she had come from as does the prim enclosed parterre of an old mansion to its wider fields.  Also she had just come from the glories of Indian summer, from miles upon miles of forest, so bright as to be only comparable to great bunches of geranium and laburnum—from a clear, keen atmosphere where the bright tinned roofs and spires seemed to cut the vision like a knife; from broad silent rivers and blue mountains with names like poems.  And here everything was softened in mist, and green, and grey, except the red-roofed houses, whose rich growth of lichens were older than many of the cities she had left behind.

    All the while she had been away she had thought that she remembered England perfectly; but now she found the reality was different from the memory, and that as she received it again the very memory she had had seemed to slip from her grasp.  She had not come back to the England she had left behind twenty years before.  It had all those twenty years in it, and all that she had learned and grown into during their lapse.  It was as if one got a letter in the morning and learned it by heart, and thought about it all the day, and took it out in the gloaming, to find it interlined with a new meaning, written in secret ink that only shows by the firelight.  It is always so with nature, because nature is of God, and, like Him, is full of open secrets.

    As she sat and gazed at the swiftly changing fields and villages Miss Russell remembered how restful had been the first eighteen years of her life, twenty years ago.  But she remembered, too, that just towards the close of them she had began to weary and to wish that things would happen.  Often since she had looked back longingly on those old days, and had blamed her girlish discontent; but now she felt that if things had not 'happened' that restfulness would have grown into dreariest unrest.  God does not keep his children in their cradle when they are grown, and strong, and wanting to rise!  There will be no more rest possible for them, till they have been through the burden and heat of the day.

    There is a time for nestling helpless on our mother's knee, and there is a time for lying peaceful in the everlasting arms.  There is a time when we are below struggle, too weak for it—and there is a time when we rise above it, when nothing can be struggle any more, because we are strong with a strength above our own; and can hold even our weakness from our hearts, knowing that it is no more part of ourselves than a casual disease is part of our physical frame.  But between these two stages there must be something else.  There is a long road between the two homes of life: the safe cradle of the child and the spiritual mansion of the soul.  Some of us are carried over it, borne aloft on eagles' wings, in our sleep, as it were.  Others of us have to face the whole long way, and perhaps leave some of our own blood on some of the stones against which we stumble.  Never mind.  Nor need we ask which way is most blessed.

    For there is a life which will bear us company and keep us safe on either—that Life which is the Light from above and the Way from below, the revelation of the love and character of God, his Father and ours; the life of Him who was born in a manger and tempted in the wilderness, who wept and was indignant, who loved and was lonely, who was applauded and outlawed, who gave himself up to God's Will in Gethsemane, that He might be given away on Calvary!  'God forgive me, if I am daring,' thought Sarah Russell ; 'but I almost think that those who tread the longer way home may gain some secrets of sweet and sacred companionship which they would not give up for the swifter journey.  The two disciples did not know Jesus till the walk to Emmaus was over; but when He was revealed did they wish the way had been shorter?  And yet for those who miss the gems that lurk in the dark waters of deep experience, and who miss the glimpses gained from Pisgah heights of mental triumph, there remain the unreckoned mysteries of that especial beatitude: "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."  But after all, that blessing remains for every one of us, and for one as much as another, for, in the vastness of the truth and love of God, the little differences in our developments of faith and grasps of law dwindle as do the differing mountains of the earth as it hangs in boundless ether!  He who knows most and believes most is he who, climbing height after height in the spiritual life, is clear-eyed enough to see height after height rising above him, and pausing to look up on the unknown hills beyond, as well as to survey the conquered land that lies behind, is honest-hearted enough to own that he knows nothing, except that it is his duty to go forward in the name of God!'

    Their journey ended in London.  They took up their quarters in an old hotel in an old square in the heart of the City, in a quarter which Miss Russell had never entered during her early life in London.  It was Mrs. Stone who recommended the place; she had known the neighbourhood in her youth, and described it as 'an easy place to get about from.'

    The square was very quiet, but it was near great thoroughfares which would be very busy in the daytime, though they were almost empty when they drove through them in the dark.  There was a merry sound of bells from a great church standing among trees not very far from the hotel.  It was wonderful how this pleased Mrs. Stone.

    'They could'nt have done more if they had expected us,' she said.  'Well-a-day, things do work round queer.  Many a time when I was a gal have I looked up at the Rood Hotel, and said to myself that I'd like to be a stranger just to go and stay there.  And I'm sure nothing seemed less likely this morning.  And yet here I am.  But it wouldn't have been if it had not all happened just so.'

    Miss Russell did not like that they two lonely women should part for the night amid the povertics of their unwelcome arrival, without any recognition of that Divine Life in which poverty becomes wealth.  But she knew that Mrs. Stone was tired in a deeper sense than she was, and their lives had not yet that something in common which wins a special promise for a mutual prayer.  So she said

    'We are both tired to-night, and we don't know much of each other yet.  But there is a psalm which is meant for tired people who are beginning to rest, so we will read that, and then we will kneel down together, and silently open our hearts to God.'

    So they read that unfailing source of soothing, 'The Lord is my shepherd,' and then they knelt down without a spoken word; but just as they both made a movement to rise something prompted Sarah Russell to lift her voice in some of the sweet phrases of the Book of Common Prayer:

    "'O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee, and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.  Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.  Restore thou them that are penitent.  According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu, our Lord. Amen."

    'Amen,' said Mrs. Stone, so fervently that she must surely have been really praying, whatever her prayer might be.

    After she was gone Miss Russell drew up her chair to the dying fire, and read through the twenty-third psalm again.  Then she lay back with closed eyes, and thought to herself that she had come at last into the place of Still Waters.'

    But oh! she knew it was not without passing through storms and many storms.  And the storms were still going on somewhere.  She was not likely to forget that, for over the lake of her life, when most hushed, there would still come a ripple blown by a tempest raging afar off.  And in her day of sunniest experience she would always catch herself listening for a distant roar of thunder.

    She felt that she would give up all her peace if she might go into that storm and bid it be still.  But only One mightier than her could do that.  And it seemed His will to set her wholly aside from any share in that work of His.

    The wild Atlantic was rolling now between her and her life.  For life is only love.  But the roar of its waves did not interrupt love's speech, it only pained silence, and made love stir and sigh in its sleep.  For this love of hers had been a silent and sleeping love for many a long year.  But now it seemed as if it had been a last lingering tie to fancy that her feet trod the same sod with the loved one, albeit it might be at the far end of a great continent.  Yet at the same instant that the pain of a widening separation shot across her human heart a higher hope set it aside.

    'Distance is nothing to God, with whom a thousand years are but as one day, and one day as a thousand years.  And it is only in God that we can ever meet.'

    Others might be doing, or neglecting, loving duties towards which her heart and hands were yearning.  Never mind.  She braced up her soul not to feel it hard—and that not by vainly trying to stifle the longing love that seemed only an useless pain, but rather by being thankful for it, and setting it to work in the quiet new life whose daily experiences could be seldom richer—often poorer—than this first day, when she had spoken kindly to a stranger, and found work for a needy woman.

    'If it helps to make me watchful and tender and kind and hopeful,' she said to herself, then the love which was such a misery at first will be a real blessing to my life.  I shall like to get a blessing that way.  And if it helps me to help anybody, then it will be a blessing to them too!  And some day, somewhere, the blessing may return to its source.  If anybody had lost a treasure, what a beautiful happiness it would be to be able to go to him and say, "See, it is not lost.  I found it, and put it out to interest."  Fancy what it would be to have that to say to one who was bewailing a lost life!

    'Also, if I am doing, in ever such small ways, what seems to be others' work, it helps my faith that others will be raised up to do the work I cannot do!

    'Friend of mine, whom I may never name, except to God, you have wrought bitter wrongs, and you must have bitter sufferings, but you shall never have to feel that you have really wronged me.  You have given me my nobler self It will be one good work that you have wrought under the sun!'

    And just then the bells, which had ceased their pealing, began to chime gently forth


'If some poor wandering child of thine
 Have spurned to-day the voice divine,
 Now Lord, the gracious work begin,
 Let him no more lie down in sin.'


Of course the bells could only chime forth the air to which Keble's beautiful hymn is usually sung.  But Sarah Russell always heard those words in that air!


 
CHAPTER I.

New men, strange faces, other minds.—TENNYSON.


NEXT morning Sarah Russell was her usual quiet, unremarkable self.

    She was in no haste to come to any conclusion with Mrs. Stone.  A few days' actual experience would be worth all that good woman's letters of recommendation.  Not that Miss Russell undervalued these things.  She knew they are a most necessary and useful condition of the ordinary workings of this life of ours.  But while she knew that many valued acquaintances had come to her by letters of introduction, and that one excellent servant had brought her a twenty years' character, she knew also that she had found most of her dearest friends in less direct ways, and that the most faithful domestic she had ever known had been a stranger, whose husband—an emigrant tramper—had died in his wanderings, and who had been received into the farm in the first instance just to keep her from starving.  We are searching for the fittest friends and helps to sweeten and surround our existence, and these details may often give us a means of wider choice.  Their only possible danger is when we let them grow into fetters—becoming paralysed in our little go-carts, till we cannot read God's recommendation in face and voice and circumstances.

    So she found Mrs. Stone some sewing wherewith to employ her time, while she herself went out alone.

    Sarah Russell had at least two relations living in London.  These were her cousins, two sisters, of about her own age, Jane and Isabella Russell.  They had been very intimate as girls are, twenty years ago, but they had never kept up any correspondence, though they had constantly heard of each other, as people almost always do who have once been in close connection.  Anybody who wants to escape from all ties must find this world an inconveniently small and complicated place.

    Sarah Russell knew her cousin Jane's address, but she was not quite sure whether the sisters lived together.  Jane had been her favourite, and she wondered as she walked through the streets whether she would be her favourite still.  The other sister, Isabella, familiarly known as 'Tibbie,' had seemed to her a sharp, hard, 'queer' girl.  Yet since those days Sarah had known times and moods when she had felt she would like a little talk with her cousin Tibbie.

    Miss Russell found the journey between her hotel and her cousin's house rather too long, and she finished it in a cab.  Miss Jane's abode was in a south-western suburb, very near the river.  It was a small double house, behind a high clipped hedge, which shut out intruding eyes and shut in the inmates.  The pathway from the door to the garden-gate was not only covered but glazed at the sides, and adorned with rich aromatic plants.  The garden-gate was locked, and Miss Sarah heard two or three bolts drawn within the house before the servant came out to admit her.

    She was shown into the drawing-room on the right hand of the little hall.  It was a small room, with a very thick carpet, very rich wallpaper, a vast amount of gilding, and a great many china dragons and demons.  All the dim light in the chamber came coloured through delicately-hued transparent curtains.  There were a few pictures—a very fair copy of Rubens's Descent from the Cross; one by some Dutch artist, representing a burgher family at dinner; a good copy of Murillo's beggar boys; and a smirking family portrait, which Sarah remembered, by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

    Miss Russell sent up her name and a word or two of explanation written on her card, and then sat down and waited for about five moments before her relative came to welcome her.

    She came at last with a little rustling rush.  'I thought she was taller,' flashed into Sarah's mind as she came forward and put two soft flabby hands over her cousin's in a kind of feeble grasp that smothered any response.

    'O my dear,' she began, 'I kept you waiting a moment, not from want of feeling, but from excess of it!  It gave me quite a shock when I saw your card.  I dared not venture down till I had taken my drops.  My feeble frame will ill bear surprises—even pleasant ones, as this is.  You find me a poor creature, Cousin Sarah.  But we are none of us getting younger, are we, dear?  We are all failing and beginning to remember our latter end.'

    And then as she dropped her little hugging form of greeting, and withdrew to a low, pillory lounging-chair, Sarah got a chance of really looking at her.

    'Can she be really less than a year older than me?' she thought, silently, as she looked at the withered figure and complexion, something like an apple when it is brought from the storeroom towards the close of winter.  And yet Jane Russell had carefully evaded every sign of age in the standard arrangements of her attire.  Her light silk gown was coquettishly made; and though her hair might be rather thin above the brow, there was no scantiness about the heavy braids that seemed as if they must weigh down the small head and sinking neck.  The secret only came out in the accidental accessories—the swansdown ruff at her throat, the Shetland shawl about her shoulders, the silk mittens on her hands.  There was a want of harmony in the combination—she was too young and too old.

    'Does Isabella live with you?' Sarah asked.

    'No, oh no,' Jane replied, Tibbie cannot make herself happy with me.  She is very peculiar, poor thing.  It is a great trial to me.  It is an awful trial when one's relations are peculiar.  She does not come here very much.  I often tell her that I wonder she does not see it to be a duty to give more of her time and attention to her poor frail sister, who may not trouble her long.  But, in fact, Tibbie is so peculiar that I am often glad when she goes away.  She upsets me.'

    'I used to think Isabella rather fierce at times,' said Miss Sarah, 'but since then I have thought that perhaps I did not understand her.  I have felt the force of some of her sayings that used to puzzle me very much.'

    'Oh, but what she used to be is nothing to what she is now,' cried Jane.  'She has entirely eclipsed her old self.'

    'Of course, nobody stands still,' assented Sarah.'

    'Well, perhaps not,' said Jane; 'but I do think that those who have the root of the matter in them cannot change much.'

    'Oh, but a living root grows,' Sarah observed.

    'Very likely, you may think it a weakness in me—you see I am not a clever woman, only a humble-minded one,' said Jane, with a self-satisfied smile—'but I do like people who do not change much.  I like to be quite sure what people are, and to find them just the same the next time.  I suppose you will think it an ill compliment, Sarah, but I don't think you are much changed.  However, Isabella will be here this morning, so you will have an opportunity of seeing her, and I hope she will be in a nice mood; but you must have patience with her, and not be easily affronted.  And now tell me something about yourself.  How is it you never got married?'

    'I am afraid that would be a very long story for this short visit,' Sarah answered, with a smile: it might involve the history of every day and every mood since I saw you last.'

    'Ah, I daresay you have your own secrets and disappointments to keep, like everybody else,' said Jane.  'Only you have come from a country where there are so many more men than women, that the women must have more chances than here.  It is nothing wonderful for us to be old maids.  Though I must say, from my own experience, that a woman with money does not want for offers.  That's one of Tibbie's eccentricities—whenever I happen to mention this subject she always will blurt out, "Well, nobody wanted to marry me, in spite of myself, but quite the reverse."  Is it not curious that I know no more of the history of Tibbie's affections than if I was a perfect stranger?  She is so close.  I have sometimes tried to lead to the subject, thinking it might be relief to her, but she always says sharply, "Hold your tongue Jane; this is where the curse of Babel stands between us two.  This is where our language is confounded, so that we may not understand one another's speech."  For poor Tibbie has what I think a sadly irreverent way of dealing with the Bible.  And what kind of servants did you get over in America?  Did not you find that a great trouble?  I think it must be dreadful to be always afraid of offending people, and treading on their dignity.  It is so much better to have a state of feeling in which people know better than to be offended, and understand that they have no dignity.'

    Sarah Russell drew a long breath.  Should she begin a discussion, or should she keep to plain facts?  She took the wiser course.  'We had all kinds of servants, good and bad,' she said.  'They used not to be offended with us.  We often had to ask them to do things which were not included in their wages, and for which they would not have been hired, and they did them all the better because it was clearly understood that they were just one human being's duty to another.  I know there is a difference out there.  My last servant, who had only been with me a few months, cried when I came away, and gave me a kiss!'

    'Oh, what horrid presumption!' said Jane.

    'But then I always kissed my nurse when I was a child,' Sarah went on.

    'But would you have all our servants kissing us?—dirty, low creatures, who never wash their teeth!' sighed Jane.

    'They will not want to kiss us till it is proper that they should,' said Sarah.  'There is a law of God and nature underlying all these etiquettes.'

    'I believe you are as bad as Tibbie, after all,' was Jane's comment; 'and yet, to look at you, you seem just the kind of person to be quite right and proper.  And I'm quite persuaded that you are so.  It is only living in that radical, impudent country that has touched you a little; and now you are here again you will soon be like the rest of us.'

    Sarah smiled serenely.

    'But that was Tibbie's knock,' said Jane, 'and here she is.'

    The hostess did not rise to meet her sister, who came straight into the middle of the room, and there stopped short and looked at the stranger.  Tibbie was about the middle height, with an erect and vigorous though slight figure, and a face whose expression, for want of a better word, may be called direct.  She looked at her cousin, and Sarah Russell felt that her glance of a second went deeper than Jane's gaze of an hour.

    'You are our Cousin Sarah,' she said, with a smile breaking over her face like sunlight over a crag.  'You are as different as you can be, but I should have known you anywhere.'

    'I told her she was exactly the same,' said Jane.  'And so she is, only older.'

    'She is not older,' asserted Tibbie, 'she is younger.  You know you are, Cousin Sarah.'

    'I've often felt something like it,' Sarah admitted, smiling.

    'Of course you have.  Don't you know the reason?  When we are children, we are just old animals; and as the animal wears away, we become young angels, that is to say, we should do so.'

    'I would not express it just so,' said Sarah.

    'I'm sure you could be put into a madhouse for the kind of things you say, Tibbie,' observed Jane.

    'Perhaps I ought to be put into a madhouse for some things I don't say, Jane,' retorted the other.  'And now, Cousin Sarah, am I improved?  What do you think?'

    'She'll say you're improved, whether she thinks so or not, when you ask her like that,' interrupted Jane.

    'You are improved,' said Sarah; 'but not as much as you should be.'

    'You are a honest woman, and you have hit the mark.  If you had said I had not improved, I should not have cared, for I know I have; but――'  And she stopped short.

    'I hope you have remembered to change your clothes between coming here and going up and down your fever-courts and alleys,' said Jane.

    'My dear sister, I do these things without your asking me, and for a wider reason than your especial sake.  But, since you have such a clear conviction of the necessity and beauty of these sanitary precautions, I wonder you don't pay your mission-woman enough to enable her to keep up two complete changes of garments.'

    'She gets as much as she got when she turned a mangle,' said Jane; 'we don't want to hold out any worldly incentive to God's service.'

    'Of course not,' Tibbie answered.  'Of course God made quite an unworthy concession to the weakness of human nature, when He taught through Paul that godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.'

    'You take such a low, worldly view of things, Isabella,' said Jane.  'We wish our Christian workers to be partakers of Christ's great sacrifice for others.'

    'And your only way of doing so is by making yourself a partaker, as were the Roman carpenters who made the Cross!'  Tibbie replied.

    'I don't like your way of speaking,' said Jane; but I know you, and I just bear it.  But you needn't shock Cousin Sarah with your reckless words.'

    'Cousin Sarah is not shocked at my words,' Tibbie answered; but if it will be any comfort to you to know it, Jane, she is shocked at me!  Cousin Sarah, what have you been doing all this while?  Can you not give us a line or two from the history you have got somewhere—well worth knowing?'

    'Your impertinence is wonderful,' said Jane.  'The idea of asking anybody for the story of their life!  You know all that concerns you—that Sarah is a single lady, with an independency—that she had more sense than to throw away herself and her money on people who really only care for the latter.'

    'Well, Jane, I can't see your own objections to marrying a man who honestly wants the fingering of your fortune,' Tibbie replied.  All that you require in a husband is somebody to look after your investments, and take your railway-tickets, and see you home of evenings.  You have to pay your solicitor and your page to do these things in a spasmodic sort of way; why should you think it unfair to pay somebody a little better to do them well?  I think it would be a perfectly just contract.  By a certain beautiful arrangement of circumstances, which never leaves a demand without a supply, there are always plenty of men who are just fit for these duties and for no others; and if women like you spitefully check their careers in the only development possible to them, they fall a sad burden on their families or the world in general.  But probably what Cousin Sarah and I wanted in husbands was not to be bought by our three or four hundred a-year, or by any other fixed price, else how gladly would we have given it!'

    'There is your light-minded style of speech!' said Jane.

    'Is it a light-minded style of speech?  I am sure I am in sad and sober earnest,' responded Tibbie.  'But now, Cousin Sarah, where are you living at present, and what do you mean to do with yourself?'

    'I am staying just now at the Rood Hotel, Hallowgate, in the City,' Sarah answered; 'and I would not form any plan for the future till I had seen my friends, and taken their advice.'

    'I wonder if the people who advise you know their own advice by the time you have acted it out?' said Tibbie.  'I shan't expect to know mine, if I give you any.'

    'Fancy putting up at Hallowgate!' cried Jane.  'Think what an address to give!  How did you find it out?'

    'A woman whom I have hired as a temporary maid knew the house and recommended it,' Sarah answered.  'And her recommendation was right, for it is a most comfortable establishment.  And the Hallowgate itself is very quiet, though it is in the heart of noise.'

    'Yes, I know there are all kinds of dull corners in the City,' said Jane.  'But I should have thought that you would have found your way to the fashionable quarter, where you could have amused yourself with crowds of agreeable, civilised people enjoying themselves all day long, instead of going where you cannot come in or out without buffeting with crowds of rough, common people, fighting and pushing to gain their daily bread.'

    'Perhaps Cousin Sarah is like me,' interrupted Tibbie, 'and thinks that there's a deal more fun in work than in play, and that real play is only possible after real work and before it.'

    'I must say that I think fashionable crowds are very dreary,' Sarah observed; 'at any rate they are so when we are sad or disheartened, as we are all apt to be sometimes.'

    'Fancy driving round the Ring, and calling it air and exercise!' said Tibbie.  'One might as well take a constitutional on a treadmill.'

    'You are condemning far better people than yourself,' remarked Jane.

    'I'm not condemning anybody,' said Tibbie, stoutly.  'Cousin Sarah and I are only looking at things out of our own eyes, which is our sole way of sight.  For my own part, Rotten Row is more dangerous to my faith in God than all the books and doctrines that were ever promulgated, and I cannot go there without working myself up into prophetic rage, so that I have to come away quickly, lest I should put on my cursing-cap.'

    'But the angels see more sorrowful sights than you can see, and yet I'm sure they don't feel so,' said Sarah, gently.

    Tibbie looked at her.  'Ay, that's it,' she said, quickly.  'But we can only climb as far as we can, and till we can take the next step it is all the same to us as if it were not there.'

    'I think it ought not to be quite the same,' suggested Sarah.  'Is there no such thing as faith?'

    'Ah, faith in God,' said Tibbie, with a sudden gravity settling over her restless face.  'As I say, the step may be there, but till we can climb it it is the same to us as if it were not.'

    'But does not the greater include the less?' Sarah asked.  'And can we really have faith in God if our idea of Him is, that He will not enable us, in due time, to take any step that we should take?  Have not we ourselves pledges to help our faith?  For these questions seldom begin to trouble us till we have already advanced so far on our spiritual way as to know God, however dimly, as "the Lord which teacheth us to profit, which leadeth us by the way that we should go.'"

    Tibbie shook her head.  'I don't know that I have come any way at all yet,' she said.  'There seems to be always something before me that will set me back to the very beginning.'

    'Ah, now you are both talking metaphysical mysteries, quite beyond me,' said Jane.  'All I want to know is, if Tibbie's sensibilities are so shocked at the sight of respectable, well-bred people, how can she bear the sight of her dirty crowds in Whitechapel?  I'm sure they shock me.  I really can't bear to think I'm living in the same world with them.'

    'Well, it isn't easy to explain how it is that these pain me less,' said Tibbie, turning to her sister with greater sympathy than she had shown towards her yet.  'Only it seems to me as if to these people the opening of the least door of hope may let in so much light, while on those—I mean those who have given themselves up to "a life of fashion and pleasure"—it seems as if so many doors of hope have opened, and yet they are in such darkness!  Figuratively put, there seems as much difference between them as between a man only shut in a dark room and a blind man.  Or, truer metaphor still, the difference between a blind man, who may be cured by a simple surgical operation, and another who has shut his eyes in desperate madness and refuses to open them.  Somehow it does not seem so bitterly hard and bad when the soul starves in a starved body, as when the body is flourishing and well-nurtured and the soul starving within.  In the latter case, it seems as if there was no hole for help to put through her hand.'

    'And it is saddest of all when the imprisoned soul seems to realise its darkness, and comes and looks through the bars that it does not seem able to break,' said Sarah.  'Some of the saddest faces I have ever seen have been those of fashionable men and women who have got all that this world can give, only to find that it profited them nothing.  But then the very sadness and dissatisfaction are nothing but the first faint feelers stretching towards the light.'

    'Ah, I see you are standing on the angel's hopeful side,' said Tibbie.

    'I can never find anywhere else to stand at all,' Sarah answered, simply.  'But it is time now that I should go back to the Hallowgate.'

    'Won't you stay to my early dinner?' asked Jane.  'Though really there is nothing but a little roast pork and a mince-pie; but I wouldn't wish to make a stranger of you.'

    'Thank you,' said Sarah, 'but I ordered dinner at the hotel before I came away.'

    'And when you have your usual bad headache this afternoon, Jane,' put in Tibbie, don't imagine that God is especially afflicting you because you are one of his favoured saints, but simply understand that He is not inclined to work a miracle to avert the natural effects of pork and mince-pie!'

    'I don't take up with new-fangled ways in anything,' Jane retorted.  'Whey shouldn't we be able to eat what all our ancestors ate?'

    'But you see the world will take up with new ways, Jane,' said Tibbie.  'And if you choose to live one-half of your ancestors' lives, it won't let you live the other.  You have gas in your rooms, and you carry on correspondence and travel in railways.  I believe we digested acorns once, but then that was when we dressed in woad and lived in a tree.'

    'I do believe the spirit is best kept in changing conditions,' said Sarah.

    'Ah, well, these are all non-essentials now,' sighed Jane.  'We are no longer under the bondage of the Judaical law.  I wish you would try to enter into religion, Tibbie.'

    'Well, I wouldn't trust opinions on men or politics which were uttered during the absorption of roast-pork and mince-pie,' said Tibbie, 'so I daren't receive views of God and eternity given out under the same inspiration.  And now, if you'll take me, Cousin Sarah, I'll go back with you to the Hallowgate.'

    'And when am I to see you again?' asked Jane, as they shook hands at parting.  'I dare-say you will feel rather lonesome in London.  I shall be always glad to see you, but not on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, for those are my nights for prayer-meeting and weekly services.  And never come between three and five, for my weak state of health compels me to keep quiet in my own room during those hours.  I would ask you to spend next Sabbath with me, but I make a rule never to receive any visitor on that day, and it is dangerous to make exceptions to rules, isn't it?  But any other time that you like I shall be enchanted to see you.'

    'Well,' said Tibbie, as the maid carefully locked the garden-gate behind the two cousin, 'I thank God that His open air is neither coloured nor scented in any universal kind of way.  Or what would suit some would poison others.  But, according to Jane, it is universally coloured and scented, only I have neither eyes nor nose.  Then I thank God I haven't, that's all!'


 
CHAPTER II.

In dark dreams tossing to and fro.—KEBLE.


THEY did not speak much all the way to the Rood Hotel.  Tibbie Russell seemed another being apart from her sister Jane.  Still, as she recalled to Sarah's memory the places of historical interest through which they were passing, there was enough in her words to show that hers was one of those minds which are not too ready to accept all 'facts' as such, and which cannot let any thought pass through them without giving it their own characteristic touch.

    Mrs. Stone came to wait upon them the moment they entered.  She looked as if she had been crying, but she spoke much more cheerfully than Sarah had heard her do yet.  She had done the task which had been allotted to her, and added
 

'GOING OUT AND TAKING A LOOK ABOUT.'


    'I just took the liberty of going out and taking a look about.  I was born in the court, just round the corner, and I had all my good days in Hallowgate.  For I've had some good times, though I'm apt to forget 'em when I get darkened like.  It's a queer world, and that's what it is.  For the sight o' the corner window where my mother used to sit and work—the old cracked pane's in it yet—did me more good than any sermon I've heard these last ten years.

    'The good woman seems to think that a tremendous comparison,' said Tibbie, as Mrs. Stone left them seated at the dinner-table.  'But I can easily understand anything doing one more good than sermons.  Don't be frightened, Cousin Sarah: I go to church regularly every Sunday.  I can do the letter of my duty, and I do it.'

    'But you mean to say that you never get any good?' asked Sarah.

    'Never,' said Tibbie.  'Now, do you really mean to say that you do?'

    'Yes,' Sarah answered; and when I do not, I know it is my own fault.'

    'Then you must be accustomed to very different sermons from what we get,' said Tibbie, decisively.

    Sarah smiled.  'I don't go to church only for the sermon,' she answered; 'I go there to worship God, to take my mind quite empty—at least as empty as I can make it, and hold it up for whatever blessing God may see fit to pour therein.  My meaning of the phrase, "House of God," is a retreat whence we shut out the world, as far as the world can ever be shut out while we are in the flesh.  If we take the world in with us, it is no House of God.'

    'Isn't that separating life and religion?' said Tibbie.

    'No, no, quite the reverse,' Sarah answered, eagerly.  'It separates them only as the sleep that renews us for labour separates our days.  We go to bed, and sleep soundly, and in the morning we find ourselves strong to do tasks and solve difficulties which would have beaten us the night before.  If we had gone to bed, and lain awake hunting our own brains, we should have risen the worse rather than the better.  And I can tell you of an experience I have had more than once—but once in particular.  I was hard beset by certain circumstances.  I had done the very best that was in me, and was still defeated and at fault.  And then Sunday came, and I thought to myself it was like a white flag on a battle-field, and I must sit down and take my breath, and wash my spiritual garments, so that I might begin afresh when the truce was over.  And it was easier and safer to do this in the House of God, where I had often before enjoyed His presence, than in my own rooms, where I had to live out my struggle, and where every object at present was associated with it.  I did not go there that day specially to pray over my trouble.  I had prayed all through.  I went there to get quiet, that I might hear the answer.  I thought the answer would only be a "Hush," that should soothe me back into strength and patience.  And that did come first, Tibbie.  For the trouble rolled away, so that I felt within myself that I must have been little better than mad to be so troubled by it.  And as I was sitting there, pondering the great love of God, and thinking how this world and its affairs are nothing but a road to Him, there came to me an idea which was one of the last likely to enter my mind.  It said to me, "Write a certain letter to a certain person, and your difficulty will be surmounted and all will go well."  And the first thing I did next morning was to write that letter, and the difficulty was got over, and all did go well.  And that was the good I got by going to church that day—and I don't think it was so very separate from my life, Tibbie.'

    'Wouldn't the minister have been horrified at that kind of blessing?' asked Tibbie, with something very like a scoff.

    'I think not,' was the quiet answer. 'I believe he was a man who believed in the Bible, though he may have been one of those who are a little apt to look at it through the wrong end of the surveying-glass.'

    'I suppose you read the Bible a great deal, Cousin Sarah?' said Tibbie.  'I used to read a chapter daily too, but I've left off lately.  It didn't do me any good.  The men who made the catechisms seemed to get all they wanted out of it, and there doesn't seem anything left for me.  One has got it all at second-hand.  And the best one has does not seem to me to have come from it.  For people say that it teaches that nearly everybody is going to hell and can't help it, and yet I can't feel it right not to go and give those poor creatures at the East End some little bit of earthly comfort on their way there, and I can't help thinking that that is better than sitting still and leaving them alone.'

    Cousin Sarah looked grave.  'Of course it is,' she answered, 'only I know nothing more likely to awaken that feeling in you than the Bible itself.'

    'Well,' said Tibbie, 'but I know well enough that nothing one can do can make some of these people grow into holiness, or even into such purity as would make them tolerable anywhere but in their own filthy dens.  I never try to do it now.  I used to do so.  Once upon a time I used to visit in a workhouse, and there was an old woman there over whom I used to preach, and read, and pray.  She had been a foundling, brought up in the workhouse, and then sent to a low service, and then she had walked the streets, and then she had kept a wicked house, and now she was back in the workhouse to die.  She was never glad to see me; she used to lie cursing and swearing, and saying that she knew she was going to hell, and she guessed she'd be at peace there, with nobody coming bothering her.  But at last, when I knew she was going away, poor thing, from the last chance, I began to take her a little tea whenever I went.  She had no taste for teashe had drank too much gin and brandy—and she went on cursing and swearing the same as ever, but she took to calling me "my dear."  And she told the nurse that "it wasn't the differ between the tea and the gruel that she cared about; it was the differ between a thing that was given o' choice and a thing that was given o' grudge."  And then she died, and of course there was no doubt where she went—and the value of my work all returned to myself, and it was just a pair of red eyes for a day, and a sore heart for a month, and many a twitch ever since!'

    'But who told you where she had gone?' Sarah asked.  'Not the Bible, Tibbie.  The Bible leaves many mysteries mysterious, throwing out grand suggestions that the greatest minds can never limit into form, but on this point it is certainly plain—"Judge not, that ye be not judged.  Who art thou that judges another man's servant?  To his own master he standeth or falleth.  Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art, that judgest" ("whosoever," notice, Tibbie), "for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself, for thou that judgest doeth the same things."  "Unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required."  "And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are."  Why, Tibbie, who shall say that the rough recognition of a life and love before utterly strange to that poor darkened soul was not the poor sign possible to her of that rousing of new life within herself, which goes under the name of "conversion?"  I think we should sometimes understand this better if we used Christ's own phrase of "new birth."  Baby-life of any kind can only show such faint signs.  You do not expect it to talk and tell its feelings; it is enough to cry and turn towards Love.'

    'Well, I know I've had those kind of thoughts myself,' said Tibbie; 'but then I thought that was because I was quite wrong, and had set up my will against God's.  Jane always said so, and Jane reads the Bible a great deal and enjoys going to church—I don't know, though, that Jane reads the Bible so very much, but she is always reading pious books.  And whenever I try to interest her in my savings clubs, and temperance pledges, and lending libraries, she shakes her head and says it is all dead morality—the Law, and not the Gospel.'

    'But surely Jane forgets that the book of Leviticus is in the Bible, and that though it was a special code for a special race, country, and epoch, yet that it can no more be dead than any true word of God can die—that is, only as the seed dieth that it may live again in a wider form.  Is it not a sign that all physical life and all sanitary measures are part of his kingdom and of his law?  There are those who hold that God's grace can triumph over every outward condition, and so it can, but scarcely, I think, as they mean it.  If they think physical surroundings do not signify, let them carry their argument to its logical conclusion, and preach to the idiot, the raving madman, and the man in delirium tremens.  Would they not begin by striving to rouse the deadened mind, to soothe the disordered intellect, to sober the drunkard?  And must not smaller physical conditions also operate to help or hinder, though in smaller degree?  God gives food to all flesh after its kind.  He does not cast pearls before swine, for that would lose the pearls and not benefit the pigs.  Why, Tibbie, Jesus distinctly said that his revelation had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil.  The law-keeping which He blamed was that which preserved the letter at the expense of the spirit: something the same as if we kept up the Mosaic regulations for the cure and prevention regulation that leprosy which in its Eastern meaning is unknown in England, instead of framing new rules for checking the spread of cholera, or small-pox, or those diseases where sin works itself into chronic forms of physical degradation.  Why, Tibbie, God is God of both soul and body, and they must go hand in hand in His service.'

    'But if this is the true light in which to read the Bible (and it certainly does make it seem more interesting at the present moment), why does not everybody see it in this light—why can't I—why doesn't Jane?' said Tibbie.

    Sarah smiled almost sadly.  'I think it is generally something in ourselves—something in our lives which comes between.  Shall we look at the sun with a film over our eyes and wonder that he is darkened?  God has been very good to me in this way, Tibbie,'—and the soft voice shook a little and the sweet eyes moistened—'but His goodness is very terrible sometimes, Tibbie.  He may set us free by letting our bonds grow so fast that we must burst them or die!  He may make room within us for a spiritual gift by emptying us in heart and life, Tibbie.'

    Tibbie rose and put her arms round her neck and kissed her.  'There! you're the first person I've kissed for these last ten years!' she said, characteristically, you darling!  Don't you think I don't know what you must have come through before you could have come out where you are now.  I do.  Don't I understand now what used to puzzle me, to wit why Banyan put the Valley of the Shadow of Death in the middle of the Pilgrimage?  I do, because I'm in it.  And I'm caught in one of the snares, traps, gins, or nets there, so that I shall never get out, and cannot rise to follow your voice, and other voices like yours, though I hear them going on before me!'

    'O, dear Tibbie, and it is all of your own will that you stay there,' said Sarah.  'For neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature can really have power to separate us from the love of God which is made manifest in Christ Jesus.  You'll have to go forward, Tibbie, and you don't know what you are losing while you are holding yourself back.'

    But Tibbie's glow of earnest emotion had once more veiled itself in its wonted mask of quaint satire.

    'St. Paul was so different to good people nowadays,' she said; 'St. Paul was so sure about God and truth.  But nowadays the people who say they are sure are so frightened of everything that one can't help thinking they feel their stronghold shaking beneath them.  The modern version of St. Paul's grand assurance is "the first scientific enquiry, the first new idea, the first improved rendering of a Hebrew or Greek word, may separate us from the love of God; therefore away with inquiries, ideas, and verbal criticism;" and then they wonder and condemn when the outer world echoes back their own thought in this other form; "If God be not greater than these small things, let Him go!  We cannot worship one who is narrower than our own ell and shallower than our own plummet."  But who originates the libel, Sarah?  I will confess to you that I have often left Jane wondering in myself whether even God and immortality were anything more than shadows cast by this world on a blank mirror of eternity.  I don't really think so—I try not to think so—I try to hold the horrible doubt away from me, as a man who was growing colour-blind would try to realise the landscape apart from his own defective vision.  But, oh! Sarah, why am I left like this?  Why was not I left nearer the beginning, unquestioning and unquestioned, like the beasts that perish, and like half the human world (though somehow I can't wish that); but why am I not carried further on—if there be a further on?'"

    'Dear Tibbie,' said Sarah, 'when you will say these things to me, I must not forbear to ask, "Are you sure you are doing your part?  Is there no law of God which you are consciously breaking?"  Don't answer me.  Answer your own heart.'

    'I will answer you,' said Tibbie.  'There is.  But there are conditions to that law which exempt me.  If there were not, it would be all the same to me, for without those conditions it would be an unjust and cruel law.'

    'But all conditions are smaller than the law they regulate,' pleaded Sarah.  And they may be another person's share under it, and not yours.'

    'Well, let me believe that they exempt me,' said Tibbie, hardly, for if I found they did not I should disobey it all the same, and then I should know that I was in the outer darkness, among weeping and gnashing of teeth, and I should just curse God and stay there!'

    'O Tibbie, Tibbie,' sighed Sarah, 'what sorrow are you not laying up for yourself!  If you would only say to God, "Hold me still and patient till thou givest me strength to keep this law and to step out into thy sunlight," it would come so soon then!'

   At that moment Mrs. Stone knocked at the door to ask if it was not time for the evening reading.  She had thought that Miss Isabella Russell had gone; and finding her mistake, retreated with many apologies.  But Isabella rose to go.

    'Your maid has soon fallen into your habits, Sarah,' she said.

    'So it seems,' said Sarah.  'Won't you stay and join us, Tibbie?'

    'No,' Tibbie answered.  'You would think I was really joining, and your belief would make me wretched, for I can't really join in the Lord's Prayer, and till I can I won't.'

    'Good-night, Tibbie,' said Sarah.  'And may God be with you to the end, and bring you safely through.  I think He must be very near you now, or you wouldn't be so sorely troubled.'


 
CHAPTER III.


Often a man's own angry pride
Is cap and bells for a fool. T
ENNYSON.


SARAH RUSSELL did not so arrange her temporary residence at the Rood Hotel as to reduce herself and Mrs. Stone to solitary confinement.  Mrs. Stone took her meals with the hotel staff, and spent a good deal of time in Miss Russell's bedroom, looking over and repairing her wardrobe.  But Miss Russell had many little ways of her own that could only be carried out under her personal superintendence, and so Mrs. Stone was often required to sit in the little parlour at other times than the hour for the evening reading.

    It might be odd to trace in the ways of this lady, who had lived for years in what her cousin Jane called 'a radical, impudent country,' a wonderful resemblance to the ways of stately chatelaines of old regimes where the 'rights of man' were never dreamed of—at least under that name.

    She liked to join in her attendant's work—to plait the ruffles which Mrs. Stone was hemming, or to put on the trimming she had just finished.  She liked to tell her the leading news of the daily papers.  And still she had never seen Mrs. Stone's 'letters of recommendation.'  Mrs. Stone herself wondered at it, as people will constantly wonder at trustfulness which springs from a knowledge above their comprehension.

    She brought out the letters at last of her own will.

    'Please, mam,' she said, 'it makes me feel kind of queer for you to be so good and frank with me without any reason why.  Not that there is any reason why.  Only I'd like to give you as good reasons as I can.  I've got letters all up—one way or another.  There's one nigh thirty years old, from my old schoolmistress.  She wasn't a friend o' mine, never, but ye see she says I was a striving gal, only a bit pettish.  She hadn't no worse to say than that.'

    'I suppose you went to school in this neighbourhood?' said Miss Russell, balancing the dim old letter in her hand.

    Mrs. Stone wiped her eyes.  'Yes, indeed I did,' she said; 'and a good school it was, though the caps was frightful, and I always felt it, 'cause I had a cousin in St. Jude's School, where they were real pretty, with little bits o' ribbon-bows.  We had ribbon too, but ours was straight bits o' light brown, while t'others were blue.  But, lor', what a little thing to worry a body's self about!  I used to fret and worry mother about it too, and she used to keep on trying to soothe me.  If I'd been her I'd have given me a good slap, and made me keep my worries to myself, if I couldn't leave 'em off.'

    'But then her corner-window would not have preached such a sweet sermon to you as it does now,' said Miss Russell.

    'Ah, that's true, ma'am,' Mrs. Stone reflected.  'And then, you see, when I left school I went into service as nurse; and I might have been very comfortable, only the cook took a dislike to me, and we never used to speak to each other—no, not though we sat together for hours of an evening.  You see I stayed in that place nigh ten years, ma'am, and there's some letters I've had from the mistress that no lady would write to any servant that hadn't done her duty by her.  And while I was there I got to keeping company with a young man—highly respectable he was.  I never looked at no riff-raff.  And we were to be married, and I'd got a whole trunkful of clothes ready.  I don't know how it was, but he seemed to get dreadful contrary, and always running against my ways in little things; though I didn't notice at first, and used to give in; but old cook used to say in her kind of way to the laundress, "No wonder I ain't married: I see what women has to give up to catch a man."  And I thought I'd give up nothing to catch no man.  And I stood out, and he stood out.  And when he wouldn't come round no other how I thought he would if I said we'd better part, and he just said back that he thought so too, and never came nigh me again.  Oh dear me, ma'am!  I know I was a fool for my pains, but it was awful dreary sitting wondering whether he really never did mean to come.  And the cook used to keep talking to the housemaid about throwing away the dirty water before we got in the clean, and getting crooked sticks or none at all, and the like of that.  "Many folks'll be glad o' what other folks turned up the nose at," she'd say.  And there was all my clothes getting old-fashioned, and me got nothing better to do of holidays than turn them over and shake them, to keep out the moth.  And then there was somebody came about, that I knew I could have if I liked.  And I thought I'd find it awful hard if the other one got married, and that I'd better take a chance while I had one, and I could not help thinking maybe he'd rue when it was too late, and get a turn of the misery that I'd had enough of.  And so I took my offer.  And if t'othier one didn't go and get married just two days afore me, though he knowed nothing about my marriage that was coming off!  'Twas cook told me, and says she, "It's all right now; and nobody's heart's broken."'

    'And did you tell your husband all about it?' asked Miss Russell.

    'No ma'am, I didn't, for I thought he'd think I was a cast-off, for cook always used to say that it was easy for women to tell that they'd had the first word of parting.'

    'Don't you think it was very foolish and strange in you, Mrs. Stone, to allow this woman, whom you disliked, to have such a hand in the making of your life?  You seem to have lived in her opinion instead of your own.'

    'She were a woman that kind of put one down,' pleaded Mrs. Stone, 'and I thought it was all right to be marrying a decent man that I liked pretty well.  I thought we'd pull together right enough.  And I'm sure I did my best.  I'd a good bit of savings, and I spent them all on my home, so that it was as much mine as his, and real pride I took in it.  I was working and slaving from morning till night keeping the place like a palace, and many was the time that I wouldn't go out pleasuring with him just that I might give the time to some needlework or doing up some room.  But the more I stayed at home the more he went out.  And he got among a drinking set o' men, and oh, mercy me!  I'd only been a-making and a-sparing that he might spend the more.  There was a beautiful silk patchwork quilt that I'd made of a evenings when I might have been gallivanting the streets with him, didn't that go?  And you may know how good it was when they gave four pounds for it at a pawnshop.  And there were all my bits of china and pictures and napery that I'd bought with my own hard-earned money, didn't they all go?  And didn't he cast it up to me that he'd found out I'd wanted to marry another man, and had only taken him in a makeshift!  And after he'd said that I dared not say him "nay" in anything he asked for, he'd get so savage and furious.

    'And then he said he'd go to America, and he didn't want me to go with him at first, but I would, for why should a man and his wife be parted at all?—'taint right—and I didn't want to'ther one to know I was left behind; and left behind for good and all I knew I'd be if I let him go!  And, oh me!  I did have a life over there!  I worked, and I washed, and I nursed, and he just drank, and slept, and loafed.  And if there wasn't t'other one's own brother a-living in the very town where we settled down!  And he knew me, and spoke to me, and told me that t'other one and his wife were away to Queensland, and had got their own farm and a hoss an' shay.  And of course I knew he'd be writing to'em, and telling how I was slavin', and dragging home my drunk husband all hours of the day.  I'm sure I did all I could to make him mend.  I talked and I scolded, and I preached and prayed, and read the Bible, and kep' him without his dinner when he was sober enough to miss it.  And they sold the bed from under us, and there wasn't a thing left to get a shilling on but my wedding-ring, which I'd kept to the very last, being what makes a woman decent, and it was really all I'd got of my marriage; but it had to go, and I've never had but this brass one since.'

    Mrs. Stone was crying bitterly.  Her anguish came home to her in its smaller details.  She had never yet lifted her soul to the height of its loss.  There are people who stand before their burning home and vent their grief by crying, 'Oh, the poor vases on the mantel-shelf!'  'Oh, the nice new paper on the parlour-wall!'

    Sarah Russell sat silent.  Underneath the very common story she could read the secret of its sorrow and suffering—the fatal self-seeking and self-pleasing which defeats itself, 'which maketh itself rich' only to be poor indeed.  But this was not the time to say this.  Whatever opportunities had been lost, whatever blessings had been turned into banes, the poor life was at its lowest now.  If a man has been starving himself to death we do not chide him for his attempted suicide till we have fully restored his vitality.  She must let this worn-out woman have rest and peace with her, and then she must gently lead her to some possibility of 'seeking not her own,' and then by the light of that new form of happiness she might read the blunder of her past, and see that she had missed the Way of the Cross—that one way of self-sacrifice wherein humanity can go up to meet the love of God, and receive that Fatherly adoption and benediction which makes all creation into home and harmony.

    Mrs. Stone went on again, fumbling among her papers.

    'And here's a line from the Bishop of the place out there.  He gave it me when we moved.  He says "Mrs. Stone is a honest and industrious woman, who has been sorely tried.  My wife can recommend her for any kind of fine needlework or household attendance."  It do seem hard, it do, that with everybody willing to say these things, and them no more than true, I should still be as bad off as many a slut of a jade that won't put a hand to anything.  If I'd been a drinking woman, or a thief, or an idle gossip, or a dressed-up hussy, I could have understood it.  But things have just gone contrary to me without any fault of my own.  I've had nothing like other people!'

    'I think you must go and look at your mother's window again,' said Miss Russell, very gently.

    'Ah, well, I did have a good mother and a good home to begin with,' she admitted, in a softer voice.  Well-a-day, miss!  Stone went off down West to work at the railroads.  And I couldn't keep him, for he hired himself and was took, and I couldn't go too, for I hadn't a shilling.  So we was to be parted, you see.  And when the time came he didn't come back, and his mates said he'd gone up further among the Indians.  And I waited and waited; and I waited and waited; and then small-pox broke out there, and the Indians died off like rats, and the white men too.  And still I waited.  And he never come.  And the winters were dreadful bitter, and night after night I'd go to bed and dream about England and London, and this old Hallowgate.  I was doing well out there, and thought I ought to stay.  But I couldn't rest.  So I saved a bit of money, and sold off a few things I'd got together again, and home I came.  And here I am, ma'am.'

    Quieter tears were falling, and the rasp was once more dying out of the thin voice.

    'You've been so good to me, ma'am,' she said.  'Just as I'd got to expect nothing at all!'

    'Just as you had fallen through all your own plans and wishes straight upon the mercy of God!' whispered Miss Russell.

    'I wish I could keep from thinking about my miseries,' said the poor woman.  'I was in hopes I'd half-forgot 'em when I first walked down the old streets and remembered things that was before.  They seemed to roll away like.  But they come back over me like a great thick fog.  Oh, the bitter names that I've had to hear from my own husband!'

    'Mrs. Stone,' said Miss Russell, very gently indeed, 'just notice your own experience.  At a certain time and under certain feelings you say these words lost their sting.  Now, those words had been just as much spoken when you were thinking of your mother and your childhood's home as they are now.  And yet you did not suffer from them then.  That shows that the poison is not in them, but in yourself.  If you were always so you would never feel them thus bitterly.  Now, which do you think was the higher frame of mind—then or now?'

    'Oh, it felt as if I'd got my own mother back,' sobbed Mrs. Stone.  'It was almost like heaven.  But I can't feel it always.'

    'I know that quite well,' said Miss Russell.  'Very few of us can feel it always.  But then we can at least own the truth it shows us, namely, that our own nature, and nobody else, is the real cause of our misery, and that nobody can injure us except so far as we allow ourselves to be injured.  And our anger is comparatively harmless when it is turned against ourselves.  I should like to read you something out of an old, old book, which has lived for many hundreds of years, just because it speaks to wants and pains of the human heart, which are always going on.  This is what it says:—

    ' "Take it not grievously if some think ill of thee, and speak that which thou wouldest not willingly hear.

    ' "Thou oughtest to be the hardest judge of thyself, and to think no man weaker than thyself.

    ' "If thou dost walk spiritually, thou wilt not much weigh fleeting words.

    ' "It is no small wisdom to keep silence in an evil time, and in thy heart to turn thyself to God, and not to be troubled by the judgment of men.

    ' "Let not thy peace depend on the tongues of men; for whether they judge well of thee or ill, thou art not on that account other than thyself.  Where are true peace and true glory?  Are they not in God?

'"And he that Gareth not to please men, nor feareth to displease them, shall enjoy much peace.

    ' "From inordinate love and vain fear ariseth all disquietness of heart and distraction of mind." '

    'Ah me, ma'am,' sighed Mrs. Stone, 'but that's a kind of different view of things there.  I don't suppose I did walk spiritually, and I daresay I was aggravating sometimes, but oh! I was awfully aggravated.'

    Miss Russell did not think this was a mean appreciation of the beautiful passage she had read.  It was enough that in its calm, high light the poor hurried heart had paused and shrank back in the consciousness of its own deficiency.

    'And now I'll go down-stairs to the still-room,' said Mrs. Stone.  'I do wish they had more chairs there, for it generally falls to my lot to sit on a three-legged stool, and it makes me feel as if I was a sort of outsider, as I believe the house-servants do really consider me, for they generally stop talking whenever I go in, and begin fresh about the weather, or the newspaper, or something that's nothing to anybody, as one may say.'

    'Mrs. Stone,' said Miss Russell, half-playfully, 'remember how angry you are at yourself for the fuss you made over the ugly brown ribbon in the school-caps.  Don't you think that when you've got past another stage of life—say into the next world—this will seem quite as trifling a difference?'

    'La, ma'am, yes,' cried Mrs. Stone.  'Why, surely we shan't even remember such trumpery then!'

    'Yes, you will,' said Miss Russell, with a quietness which grew into solemnity.  'Yes, you will, for all our past lives will seem similar trifles by that time; but the tempers and moods in which we live through such trifles will make the furnishing or the emptiness of our spiritual home.  You know there are "many mansions."  The dying thief was to be in paradise on the day when he had died for his crimes; but do you suppose it would be quite the same with him there as it was with the martyr Stephen?'


 
CHAPTER IV.


We venture on the awful deep,
    And find our courage there.—A. L. W
ARING.


SARAH RUSSELL was not as she had once been, unable to rest unless with a sense of permanence.  Perhaps her mind had risen to a higher grasp of time, so that she could the better realise that a few days or a few years are drops of almost equal insignificance in the ocean of eternity.  Or perhaps she had grown into a higher ideal of home, so that she could understand that, while it might be associated with certain walls and temporal belongings, just as the angels that we shall be are linked with the bodies of our humanity, it was always something beyond these, and not to be lost or changed as they may pass away or alter.

    Still, though Sarah Russell was happy and restful in her temporary abode, she had no intention of letting her life slip away without a permanent place and permanent ties and duties.  Her very gratitude for the Higher Help that now kept her quiet and content, among disturbing conditions, prompted her to improve those conditions as much as possible.  The grateful man is he who, having been fed in time of famine, hastens to earn food as soon as he can, so that perhaps he too may share the god-like attribute of giving freely.

    Before she began to elaborate her own plans she had visited Jane three or four times, and had also seen Tibbie, in her 'den,' over a surgery in the heart of Whitechapel, where the hall-door swung ajar, and a cross untidy servant met her on the stairs to conduct her to the sitting-room, where Tibbie sat among files of dusty charitable prospectuses and rows of statistical books, with a business-like clock and letter-weigher on the mantel, and the walls enlivened by a map of the world, a map of London, a geological chart, two engravings from Goethe's 'Faust,' and one after Martin's 'Last Judgment.'  And Sarah Russell was forced to admit to herself that, if Jane's home would suit neither her nor Tibbie, neither would Tibbie's suit her.

    'I know you think it is terribly like an office,' Tibbie had once observed, in answer to Sarah's thought, for she certainly had not uttered it; 'and so it is.  All the real life which is left to me is pure business life.  I can just emigrate people because I know it is good for them (can't be worse, anyway), and get others to buy clothes instead of gin, and to frequent the penny bank instead of the pawn-shop.  That's all I can do.  I know it sounds dry enough; I fear it may be dry and withered and dead at its very core.  But in the meantime all I want are meals to keep me alive, a place to write letters in, and a bed to lie upon when I am quite worn out.'

    'I don't believe in giving up a home life,' Sarah observed gently.

    Tibbie looked straight at her.  'Any more do I,' she said; 'but it appears God does, or my life would not be what it is, or yours either, as it seems to me, Cousin Sarah.  What home life is possible for single women, with no near and dependent ties remaining?  To my mind there is nothing in this world so pathetic as the poor makeshifts with which they try to deceive themselves that they have it.  Look at the boarding-house advertisements of "harmonious social circles," and at the hydropathic establishments, where they try to amuse their poor empty hearts by spasmodic interests in people who go and come.  They just fill their empty world with the shadows of the real life going on in other people's worlds, and they end in either gush or gossip.'

    'I think it is because God means so much in home life, and so deeply means that everybody should have it, that some are left like you and me, Tibbie,' said Sarah.  'For while the world goes on as it is some of its threads will slip from their proper place in its pattern and get into tangles, and so some hands are kept out of its general work just to undo these tangles.  We cannot make a home for ourselves, but we can make ourselves a home for others, and then by-and-by we find that their love has built our loving service into a shelter for ourselves; or if their love fails, another love comes in and performs their part—that love which supplements all effort, and saves all failures, and looks after all lost things.'

    'That is all very well for those who have reached that degree of saintship that they have no more human self,' said Tibbie.

    'It is the only outlook for all life,' Sarah answered.  We must give up before we gain.  The love of God can only meet humanity in the way of the Cross, and every earthly love is, in its degree, a type of that love.  What makes the natural mother-love so tender but the anguish in which she brings forth her child, and the daily sacrifice of her own inclinations for its good?  If we would know anything of that love in a spiritual sense, we must be prepared for a similar spiritual agony, and similar service of spiritual love.  The mistake we all make is in thinking to buy the highest treasures of life at an easier rate than the lower ones—in imagining that the thing typified can be won with less travail than the type.  We surrender and serve, and bear and hope for our parents and brethren, and children and kinsfolk, "in the flesh," and there must be as much surrender and service, and patience and faith, if we would have ties as real "in the Lord."  It all lies with ourselves, Tibbie.  As Solomon says, "A man that hath friends must show himself friendly;" and the parable of the Good Samaritan was told to reveal that "he is the neighbour who shows mercy."'

    'But I wonder why it is made so hard for some people to be good and useful,' said Tibbie.  'The lower rungs of the ladder are knocked away from them, so that they must either stretch themselves to a great height or not mount at all.  I think I might have lived a life worth living if I had been set as most people are; if I had had a dozen brothers and sisters, of all sorts of dispositions, instead of only Jane; if I had married a good man, who would have had so much patience with my sharp corners that he would have polished them all away; if I had half-a-dozen children to think that there was nobody like mamma, so that I should have been stimulated never to disappoint their faith. Instead of this—oh, Sarah, if you only knew all I have ever had, and how it was taken from me!'

    'God takes some things from us lest we should spoil them,' said Sarah; 'and we have more of them in missing them than we should in keeping them.'

    'I should not have spoiled this,' said Tibbie, passionately ; 'but anyhow it is spoiled for me now.  And what can God ask from a life like mine?  What is there to give Him?  People talk about giving time and money, but they are no gift from me.  I keep these savings-bank accounts, because if I did not do something I should go mad—and I give away all the money that I do not need for absolute necessaries—and I am only glad not to be troubled spending it, though I know its gifts often do more harm than good.  I have no love twined round me for me to raise to God—no children to rear and consecrate to His service.  O Sarah, is it fair that life should be made poor here, only to be poor hereafter?  O Sarah, I always pitied that man with the one talent.  It seemed so hard!'

    'Tibbie, if he had only done right with that one talent he might have multiplied it into a wealth beyond his who had the five,' said Sarah.  'And, Tibbie, I think we may give God just what we have not got to give, what He has taken from us.  His cattle are on a thousand hills—does He require our burnt-offerings?  His are the untold mines of the universe—does He want our money?  All things do His bidding—does He require our service?  We can only give Him what is His already.  All we can do is to lift up our hearts and joyful wills along with the gift which He has given us that we may give it back.  So I think the man who cheerfully offers his poverty to God offers therein all the wealth which God has withheld.  And I think the man who meekly lays down his life in the path of duty offers God all the years that are cut off.  And the heart that misses its precious things and offers its emptiness is like that poor widow who cast in more than they all.  Does not David declare, "Thou desirest not sacrifice that I should give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."  Why, Tibbie, I think God empties hearts and hands on earth that they may be the fullest hearts and hands in heaven!—"choosing the poor in this world" it does not only mean poor in purse—"rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom."  And then comes that mysterious alchemy by which what we give returns to us a hundredfold, and the man who has offered his poverty finds himself provided for, not by a few thousands in the bank, but in the very treasuries of God, with no shadow to obscure from him the vision of the loving Father, feeding and clothing him even as He feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies.  And the man who gave up mortal years of service finds himself among the ministering spirits with higher powers of service.  And the emptied heart bursts with love at its Father's feet.'

    'I can see it,' said Tibbie, 'I can see it dimly; I can see it like a very short-sighted Moses standing on a very distant Pisgah, and just catching a sunset glory over a promised land where he shall never enter in.  Oh, Sarah, Sarah, and I do know I might be just the lonely woman that I am, and yet everything quite different!'

    She rose from her seat, and stood indeterminate for a moment, then went to a little inlaid box that stood on a side-table and took from it a little leathern case, whose clasp she unloosed as she placed it in Sarah's hands.

    It was the portrait of a very young man.  It was touching to see it in the hands of the middle-aged woman.  And yet, as Sarah glanced from it to Tibbie, she became aware of a strange youthfulness about her cousin—a raw pitiful youthfulness, like a plant that stays in its greenness into the blossoming-time.  Part of Tibbie's life had stopped long ago—the accompaniment had gone on, the song had ceased.  And then Sarah glanced back at the portrait.  It was a sweet, gentle face—a face that would have grown stronger beside that of Tibbie's, and would have softened hers—theirs were just the faces which God so often puts side by side.

    'He is dead,' said Tibbie, with a high thrill in her calm voice.  'It has been well with him for more than nineteen years.  But he was all I had.  And this is all I have.'

    'It is more than I have, Tibbie,' said Sarah, meeting her cousin's eyes with that strange loving longing which seems the nearest possibility to 'coveting' in such natures as hers.

    'But he is not mine,' Tibbie added.  'I lost him here.'

    'Perhaps you have him again now he is there,' said Sarah.

    Tibbie shook her head.  'I think I will tell you the story some day,' she said.  'Not now.  Nobody else knows.  Only the sweetness and the bitterness go together—the light and the darkness.  First the sunshine, then the total eclipse.'

    'It is nearly always so, but the eclipse does not put out the sun,' whispered Sarah.

    And after that they could not talk any more, but sat in silence for a little while, and then kissed each other and said good-bye, and Sarah went away—homewards towards the Hallowgate.

    She felt strangely sad and weary.  The shadow of another life was upon her, and in it the shadow of many lives.  The questions that she had answered were echoing in her own heart.  It is ever so.  Even the strongest physician must beware lest the disease he is striving to heal fastens upon himself.  When we empty our cup of refreshing into another's bowl we may faint on our way back to the fountain.  We may vanquish the prophets of Baal, only to lie down in despair under the juniper-tree in the wilderness.  Never mind: the God who knows our humanity will repay the strength we have spent for others.  The 'angels' will come—whether in a secret thought flashed upon the mind, or the wise word of a friend, or the unconscious lisp of an innocent child.

    'Why is Tibbie left like this?' Sarah pondered as she went along.  'My life's loss does not matter: my loss has been all gain.  But why is her life made hard, and yet left unhelped?  Why do so many lives miss just what they need?  And even while I was answering Tibbie, and perhaps comforting her a little, I could not help wondering how many more are secretly asking just such questions as hers, and are yet left to go without even such comfort as I can give.  How can God bear to let such agony be?'

    And then she held down the sympathetic pain in her own heart to remember that she had purposed to buy a book for a young invalid girl that she had seen lying on the sofa in the housekeeper's-room at the Rood Hotel.  It was the sight of a bookseller's shop which had reminded her of her plan.  So she went in and chose one chiefly for its beautiful illustrations.  She carried it home with her, and took it to her bedroom, still overcome by that strange sense of weariness.  Sarah Russell's physical ailments were generally reflections from her mind.  With many the failing flesh pulls down the spirit.  But that which is dominant has dominion, and when Sarah Russell's spirit failed the flesh failed with it.  Without even taking off her bonnet, she sat down in the easy-chair and began dreamily to read.

    And this was what she read:


WHY?


    There was once a little fish sporting in the great grey waves of the wide Atlantic.  It was but a very little fish, not much larger than a baby's little finger, but it had shining, silvery scales, and it glittered in the sunshine.  There were plenty of other little fishes exactly like it in the ocean, probably hundreds and thousands; but being quite a young fish, which had only come to life a few hours before, it had never yet seen any of these as distinctly as it could see itself.  Therefore it thought its own beauty quite unequalled.  It felt certain that it was the very loveliest of all God's creatures; and the poor little creature could scarcely know better, since it knew nothing beyond the little wave whereon it turned itself over in ecstasies of wondering admiration.

    Perhaps its delight in itself would have been quite harmless had it not began to ask itself, 'Why am I thus thrown away?  No equal eye has ever beheld me.  Those other wretched little fishes do not come near me, seeming quite absorbed in the contemplation of their own flabby skins, so different to my lustrous one.  The great ships go by—I can see them, but they cannot see me, because minuteness of size is a necessary part of my exquisite beauty.  The ships can see those great, vulgar, leaping porpoises—vulgarity is always big and obtrusive.  Of course those ships are alive, and they are certainly graceful enough to be able to appreciate my superior grace and beauty.  Oh, if they could only see me!  I could die happy then.  Why am I thus thrown away?  Why am I thus lost?  Why—oh, why?'

    But at that very moment a big wave came along, and carried away the little fish so fast and so far that he scarcely knew his head from his tail, till he found himself suddenly thrown upon something so hard that it bruised the life out of him.  And the big wave left him there—quite out of his element.  The little fish just had time to see that he was on the deck of a great ship—with, oh! such an evil smell of tar and paint—and then he gave up his tiny ghost, in one gasping sigh for the free ocean and the fresh sunny morning.  He did not even remember his beauty then! . . . .

    Next morning a sailor-boy found the little dead fish, and carried him aft to show him to the captain's little daughter, because 'he was such a queer bit of a thing.'  And the captain's little golden-haired daughter looked at it very gravely, and was going to touch it, but her mother, who had rather a sharp way of speaking, forbade her, saying that it might smell nastily.  Then the sailor-boy threw it down again.  But the little girl said to her mother—

    'Why did God let the wave carry that little fish here?  It is no good to anybody now, but once it had a happy little life of its own.  If God knows everything He must have known that it would die out of the water.  Why does God do cruel things, mamma?'

    'Do not ask stupid questions, my dear,' said the mother.  'What does it matter about a little fish?  It must die some day.  Go and fetch me another reel of crochet-cotton, and bring up your doll and play with it.'

    The little girl obeyed.  But on her way back from the cabin she could not bear to see the poor little fish lying on the deck.  She wondered to herself if it was quite, quite dead, or if it might 'come alive again,' if it were back in the bounding waves.  She would not disobey her mother's injunction about not touching it.  So she got a handful of straw from the poultry-coop on deck, and picked it up in that and dropped it overboard.  And then she felt happier, but the little heart still kept asking 'Why?' . . . .

    A philosopher sat in his study.  He was a man who had gone deeply into many sciences.  He had a skeleton in a glass-case, and rows of skulls on shelves, and cases full of stuffed animals, and books full of dried plants.  He knew many secrets of the heavens above and the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth.  But there he sat among all the things that had had to die, that he might find out all about them, and there was nothing alive in the room but himself.  And just now he was reading a child's book.  He had bought it for a Christmas-box for his nephew.  Now, in this child's book was written the story of the little fish, and when the philosopher had read it he smiled to himself.

    'The little fish did but get its wish,' he said; and if the captain's child had only been pleased with the sight of it instead of asking questions, her delight—the momentary pleasure of a higher order of being—would have been worth more than all its trumpery little existence.  The lower organisations are meant to serve the higher, and to be merged therein.  Yet I know there is another mystery—that somehow their pain also ascends, and the highest organisation has a curious sympathy with the lowest, which is not half so strong in the grades between.  'But then,' he added, 'whey need I probe these mysteries?  Creation only echoes them.  Science has no answer for them, but perhaps we shall find out something some day.'

    Let us hope he may; for at present he has only found out enough to be quite sure that there is no room for God in the universe and no room for a soul in his own body. . . . . 

    Two high spirits sat conversing in the glory close to the throne of God.  They had not met for a brief space of their existence—say, for perhaps one hour of one endless day of one eternal year—not since the morning when the Creator surveyed His new handiwork, our world, and said that it was 'very good.'  Since then Agõ had been the guardian angel of a nation, while Ergŏn had been away on a long errand among God's other worlds.

    Said Ergŏn, 'Yonder earth is a wonderful place.  It might be Heaven itself, if it only would.  And what sweet melody comes up from it sometimes!  Just now I saw the Master listening to a little child who was singing "Hallelujah."  And yet there is always something sad about earth's music.'

    Agõ sighed and said, 'When that race ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they only got the questions; and though God has given them the answers ever since, very few of them dream of putting the questions and answers together.  Whatever happens they seldom get beyond a puzzled "Why?"'

    'Why?' asked Ergŏn, astounded.  'Do they not believe that God is good, and that His actions must be like Himself?'

    'They say they believe it,' said Agõ, and so they ought, for they are able to prove it often enough; but whenever through their own ignorance they cannot grasp His explanations, they will not accept them without a doubtful "Why?"  They pray in notes of interrogation.  They forget that the best and wisest even among men only answer questions by more questions.  And they each think they have come to the end of knowledge.  I have seen whole generations live and die in doubt and defiance and conflict about matters which the next generation have found quite simple.  Yes, they do say that God is good; but I fear they are no more sincere then than when they speak civilly to each other when they are in deadly enmity and fear.  Honourable men among themselves would not endure from each other such treatment as they all show the King.  Why does He?'

    'Truly,' echoed Ergŏn.  'Why indeed?'

    And then Agõ looked at Ergŏn, and Ergŏn looked back again.

    'We, too, are asking "Why?"' they said.

    And they turned from gazing at the universe, and fell down and worshipped the God of Infinite Power, Infinite Wisdom, and Infinite Love.


    And Sarah Russell closed the book, and leaned back in her chair for just one full breath of thankfulness ere she returned renewed to the plain and simple paths of daily life.  She knew that she had got her word.  The eyes that can see need never look in vain for a writing on the wall; the ears that can hear need never listen vainly for an oracle.  Though writing or oracle may have only to give back the old, old truth, that very one which it would seem that humanity could never lose, yet which is always slipping away.

    'Shall mortal man be more just than God?  Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?  'For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, neither heath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him.'

    Her heart was once more at rest.  She could sleep through the storms on life's ocean.  For it was in the hollow of her Father's hand, and He cutteth out rivers among the rocks, and bindeth the floods from overflowing.

    In the heart of the tempest there was the still water.



[Next Page]

 


 

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

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