By Still Waters (4)

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
 


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER XIII.


When angels weep, they weep not at the woe
Which shadows human hearts—not at the gloom,
The fading, and the sorrow, and the tomb:
They weep that man so little love doth know,
That he has still forgotten to be glad;
Sees not the land immortal; but is sad.—J. E. A. B
ROWN.


IT was only the next day, just after they had returned from their usual outing, and were seated at their afternoon meal, that they were startled by the unannounced entrance of Tibbie Russell, independently carrying her own portmanteau.

    'Here I am!' she said, taking a seat as coolly as if she had only come from next door, instead of from scores of miles away.  'I did without you after a fashion for more than twenty years, Sarah—did not miss you a bit—but I can't do without you for more than a week at a time now, and as you won't stay with must just follow you.'

    She was welcome enough.  Before many hours had passed, she was on quite friendly terms with Frederick Broome.  She was not a woman whom he would ever love and cling to, as he did to Sarah Russell; but there was an intellectual, and as it were a social sympathy between them.  Honoured and affluent as her whole outward life had been, she had somehow learned to look beneath the surface, from the very point whence he had watched, as an orphaned outcast.  Brighter seeming circumstances had not blinded her to the difference between friends and acquaintances, and she was as lonely in her old familiar place as ever he had been on the strange shores of the Mississippi.  Like him, she had sounded the depth of judging all creation by the poverty of her own existence, and as to him, so to her, Sarah Russell had brought a revelation of God.  But there the similarity ended.

    To his barren training and long uncultivated heart, that vision of sacrificing love had been the first direct message from on high.  God had shown it to him, as God shows it to the little infant on its mother's knee, who has nothing to do then but to gaze thereon and be at peace.  But Tibbie, as she had once said to Sarah, only beheld it afar off—there was something between it and her heart: something which her own life had placed there.  She would never now be able to see that glory, unless she could also enter into it.  To see that a thing is good, is the best light of God's universe, and yet to refuse its dwelling with ourselves, is no faith that will help a soul in this world or the next.  It does not matter what creed we merely say: God only hears the creed we live.  We only really believe what we would live and die for.  Alas that so many of us who would live and die for nothing at all, are yet ready to slay others, whose real faith will not permit them to repeat some shibboleth in the strictly orthodox fashion!  For there is as real a martyrdom in the world to-day as ever, though in the progress of things it takes a finer and deadlier form, and souls are roasted instead of bodies, and minds rather than limbs are cramped and distorted in gyves and screws.

    It is not the man who knows what he believes who persecutes those who differ.  His feet are treading safely on the rock below the waters, and he can bear that the waves flow to and fro; assured that they are in God's hands, that no truth will ever go down before error, and that at the right time he will be willing and able to part with anything that is not eternal truth.  For him, God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; the one white light of the universe, whether he be dimly seen in the twilight groves of the dawning world, or on the altar of symbolism, soaring beyond the logic of the theologian, or shining through the life of lowly and ministering love—manifested everywhere, yet for ever beyond every manifestation.  Such a man is not afraid to find a broken shadow of God among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, and he knows that God's praises will go on when his own favourite hymns are forgotten.  He knows that forms of belief for which nobler men than he have fought and died, have yet passed and perished within the recorded memory of man; in the widest sense, he accepts Paul's declaration that prophecies shall fail, and tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away, and knows that a cup of cold water shall be remembered when creeds and covenants are forgotten, and that he is only working for eternity when he is living in that charity that never faileth.

    Tibbie Russell had never caught sight of the God who holds all things in his hand.  She had had but the partial glimpse of one view of Him that comes to most of us.  But on every side of God there is a precept, which precept is the key which shall unlock the door to let our souls out to wider light, 'This do, and thou shalt live,' in the true sense of life, breath and sight and joy.  If we advanced through the precepts of Jesus to the doctrines of Paul and the metaphysics of John, we might have less time and turn for discussion, and yet arrive at a clearer understanding.  But poor Tibbie had not taken up the key that was put into her life.  It did not look the right key, and she would not try it.  She was sure there was a better way forward, and she tried that, and lost herself.  But Tibbie was more honest than most people; and when she lost herself, she owned that she did not find God—that her own way had proved but a maze, and that her light was darkness.

    'There is something changed about you,' said Tibbie to Sarah, as they started for a walk together one afternoon, a few days after Tibbie's arrival.  'I can't make out what it is, but there is a change.  I am quite sure that you are not sorry that you took in the stray.  You've found an angel hanging over him, somehow.'

    'God knows I have,' said Sarah solemnly.  And then they walked for a few minutes in silence.

    'Do you know, Sarah,' said Tibbie abruptly, 'that lad, Broome, has a curious likeness to my memory of your mysterious landlord?'

    'He has a good reason to believe that he is Mr. Halliwell's daughter's son,' Sarah answered calmly.

    'What!  Miriam Halliwell!' cried Tibbie.  'Did she get married then?  I knew there was some mystery about her; but I always thought she died.  What a strange, wild girl she was!  I used to think she might have been a very fine woman if she had been among other people; but she was the sort that cannot rest among mere morning calls and fashion-books, and there was nothing else lawfully suggested to the poor thing.  It always struck me that she had been forbidden so much because it was "improper," that she found was not wrong, that she had almost come to think that the "improper" must be right.  I never knew her well personally, but I heard a great deal of her.  You see I knew other members of the family.  The fact is, Miriam Halliwell was the kind of girl for whom it is salvation when they have to earn their own living, and to honestly battle through all sorts of adventure and temptation.  It is dreadful when such are shut up in a kind of hot-house to manufacture their own work and adventures in its stifling atmosphere.'

    'Did you ever hear of a Mr. Denison, Tibbie?' asked Sarah.

    'What! a gentleman who came from America!' said Tibbie.  'Oh yes.  I saw him once or twice.  Miriam Halliwell made no secret of her determination to make a conquest of him.  He used to seem as if he tried to break away, but could not.  There was merciless blood in those Halliwells,' said Tibbie bitterly, 'and now some of them know what it is to find no mercy!'

    'What! do you like to think of God as if He were a blood relation of theirs?' asked Sarah.

    'Now, that is turning on me in the way that I turn on Jane,' said Tibbie.

    'It is the way that we all need to be turned upon sometimes,' Sarah observed.  'Else the spots of our own diseased nature float before our vision, and we mistake them for elements in God's sunlight.'

    'And did Miriam marry John Denison at last?' said Tibbie presently.  'I can fancy her father's rage; for the Halliwells looked for money and birth, and God knows what, in matches.  So I suppose it was a clandestine affair, followed by all sorts of disgrace and misery.  I thought I remembered a vague report that Miriam was in a lunatic asylum?'

    'There seems to have been no marriage,' said Sarah; 'but don't, don't talk about it.  It is not healthful for our souls to go down among dead sins.  Let us only seek to undo their bitter fruits, as would those who planted them, could their hands still labour in this outward world.  Let us undo the evil of those who have gone before, as we hope that some will be raised to undo our evil, witting or unwitting.'

    'It always strikes me forcibly,' said Tibbie, 'that those who do least evil themselves, find most work in undoing other people's.'

    'Ah! but our very good turns to evil,' answered Sarah.  'It turns to evil, unless somebody else takes it in hand and keeps it alive.  Let us be pitiful, as we hope for pitifulness.'

    'Ah! if you only knew all my life,' said Tibbie.  'I got no pity; and not me only, but one whom I loved better than myself.  Since that day, Sarah, I have loved nobody—not God, nor man, nor myself—only you, just a little.  You brought back a dash of the old feeling, and it was so pleasant that I came running down here after you!'

    'Poor Tibbie!' said Sarah, 'and there's such a lot of love shut up in you, if you would only let it out.'

    'I said I would tell you my story some day,' Tibbie went on.  'You remember that picture?  Why should not I tell you now?'

    They were walking by the sea on the top of the West Cliff.  It was one of those quiet afternoons, which in very early spring often follow a bright morning.  The grey sea was washing quietly out, pale as the sky above it, except that where the sky met it, there was a line of yellow light.  Tibbie's eyes went out to this light—it was no unfitting type of the one vanishing joy of her existence.

    'The man whom I loved, and who loved me,' she said, 'was the son of your landlord's sister.  Of his sister, remember.  His father, whom I never knew, must have been of quite another breed.  For my Robert was no Halliwell.'

    How bitter her voice grew in the very utterance of the name!

    'That woman did not like me,' she said.  From the very first, she did not like me.  I knew why.  She would never have liked any woman whom her son had loved.  She wanted him to marry her niece, Miriam, who was, of course, of the best birth in the world, being a Halliwell, and who would be rich beside.  But she had a deeper secret reason.  She knew that Robert could never love Miriam, and that therefore she need never be jealous of her.  And she liked me less because she knew I could read her like a book.  She might deceive her own eyes about herself, but she could see herself in mine.'

    'But if you had seen the truth, and yet a better truth behind it, she would have seen that too,' said Sarah.

    'I'm not an angel,' returned.  Tibbie and oh! she used to torment me till I could scarcely endure myself.  She knew that my father had kept a shop, so she used to make the term "shopkeeper" her form for whatever was mean, and low, and grovelling.  I used to curb my passion over that insolence, but then it would break out at last, over something else, and she would talk at me about patience and submission, and a meek and loving spirit.  Oh, Sarah, I have often wondered how Jesus can bear to hear how His words are taken up and by whom.'

    'Is not that only what we were saying?' asked Sarah, that the very good that is left behind may be turned to evil, unless its spirit is kept alive by those who follow.'

    'Oh, Sarah!' cried Tibbie; 'I know that all I am saying sounds very little and trifling.  You can't put these things into words: words won't say them.  You have to live them.  But, oh! Sarah, will it make you understand if I say that I have never needed to be convinced that there is a place of spiritual misery, because I know it by dreadful experience, having lived in it even in the flesh?'

    'I do understand, darling,' said Sarah gently.  'I have had my time, too, though not such a dreadful one as yours.  But remember, that dark knowledge has its silver lining—its other side.  When hell is found to be a condition more than a place, the same truth holds good of heaven.'

    'Oh, Sarah!' Tibbie went on, scarcely heeding her cousin's words, but gazing with terrible dry eyes towards that bright line in sky and sea; 'but that woman showed Robert all the evil that was in me!  She put in the evil, and then she drew it out, and showed it to him.  She built up a kind of wall between us, which I could not pass, and I think he could not pass it either; but he used to look at me with a long, wondering glance that I could not answer.  And then he grew ill.  I knew what ailed him.  I have so often known those secrets, Sarah.  That is one reason why I have shunned sick rooms, for I have seen such terrible truths standing in them, which yet I dared not utter.  What is the use of prescribing superficial remedies for a seeming fever, or a consumption, when you know the bodily disorder is but the outward expression of a pain or cramp in the spirit, caused by somebody who is standing near, perhaps supposed to be the sufferer's ministering angel?  I could have cured many people if I might have said to them, "Get away from your relations, or your guardian, or your nurse."  I knew that Robert was dying of the woman to whom he had once owed life.'

    'Perhaps it was the effect she produced on you that hurt him,' pleaded Sarah.  When I have been in crowded places with people whom I knew suffered in bad atmospheres, I have felt the sense of suffocation, even at times when they did not.'

    'She worked me up into a dreadful pitch of excitement one day,' said Tibbie, and next day she wrote me a note, saying that she and Robert both felt that it was good neither for him nor for me to see each other while he was in such a weak state, and that she was quite sure I would respect his wishes.  I know his alleged share in it was a lie, though maybe she had extracted some words from him which she had twisted to her purpose.  And very likely she did make him hate me.  She would make him feel I did him harm—as I daresay I did—and then, of course, he would hate me.'

    'Oh no, no,' interrupted Sarah.

    'I don't suppose she thought he would die,' Tibbie went on drearily.  'I have no doubt she thought he would live, and that we would be quietly separated, and that she would keep an undivided power over him, and gain all her own ends.  I wrote to him.  God knows whether he got those letters.  Never a sign came from him.  He was confined to his room by that time, and she was with him night and day, and he was at her mercy.  I wonder if she did think he would die!  I almost think she could have borne to face even that, since it would keep him from me.  She only wanted to keep her sole power, and if she could not keep another from sharing it, except by losing it altogether, I don't doubt she would have candidly chosen the latter alternative.  I myself can almost understand preferring it.  For it was easier for me to bear my torture and loneliness once I knew that she was lonely too.'

    Sarah gave a cry, as of sharp pain.  Was she not looking on the saddest sight of the universe—a soul overcome of evil, instead of overcoming evil with good?

    'When he was dead,' Tibbie pursued, with a fall in her voice that was yet no softening I could almost have gone and humbled myself even to her, for just one more look upon his face.  One evening, the last before the funeral, I walked that street till midnight, torn to pieces between a desire to go in at any cost, and a horror of humiliating myself to that woman.  Why, she would have only gloated over my grief, for it was grief for what was hers.  He had died her son, and nothing—nothing at all to me.  And even afterwards, when I felt that there was a void round my life into which nothing else could enter, I could have almost gone to her and asked to be allowed to love her for the sake of the old bitter nearness.  It was so dreadful to have nothing; for I have nothing.  In the creed, I mutter that I believe in "the resurrection and the life;" but there is no resurrection of Robert for me.  I can never hear his voice in the present or future, I can never see his face with angelic glory on it.  It always comes to my memory as I saw it last, pale, with sad and hungering eyes, and meek voice asking me to be patient.  I can never feel what he would think and say about the work I am doing in the east-end.  I suppose he really lives somewhere, far, far away, where he has escaped all recollection of the girl who came into his life, and made no happiness for it or her own.  But to me, he is really dead and buried in the grave—gone vanished utterly—except for the longing he has left behind him.'

    'It is not he who is in the grave, Tibbie,' said Sarah.  'It is yourself.'

    'And at last she died too, a poor miserable old woman!'  Tibbie went on, with a power of triumphant hatred in the pitying term.  'I knew that her niece had come to some unfortunate end, and I know that she and her brother, your landlord, quarrelled and never met.  Their two unbridled prides and passions were left to rend each other at last.  Oh, she was a wicked woman,' Tibbie cried vehemently, 'she had the heart of a murderer under her hypocrisy and propriety.  I have ceased to believe in capital punishment because I know it doesn't reach the worst sinners.  I might have been a good, gentle, happy woman.  She has made me what I am!'

    'And you have let her make you what you are,' sighed Sarah.  'The evil in her was so much stronger than the good in you.  But it is not too late to forgive her even now.  Poor thing, she must have been so wretched.'

    'She never asked forgiveness,' said Tibbie sternly.  'The Bible does not say that we need give it unasked.  And if it did, I shouldn't care, for it would not be fair.  What! forgive her?  Let her wreck my life, and then escape her punishment?  Never, Sarah.  God is just.  That has been my one cry these long dreary twenty years.'

    'Oh, Tibbie, God is just,' cried Sarah, and our finite minds can never grasp that infinite truth, and He bids us only try to touch it through the other truth—that God is Love, and Oh, Tibbie, forgiveness sometimes makes us repent, makes us realize that we have repented, though we would not own it before.  And do you think punishment ends when repentance begins?  Why, Tibbie, the only real punishment, the punishment that helps us out of our sins, no matter how painful it is to tear them off, only begins then.  That is God's discipline, Tibbie.  All else is only cause and effect, the evil are unhappy, the hating are hateful.  Oh, Tibbie, which should you think was a man's greatest triumph, that his enemy, misunderstanding him, should be left tearing and defacing his image and character, or that by some gentle word or deed he should so change that enemy's feeling, that what he had abhorred should become his pattern, and he should never forgive himself for the evil he had wrought before he knew?'

    'Well, she did not ask forgiveness of either God or man,' said Tibbie stubbornly.  'She did not know she needed it.  Her eyes were holden that she could not see—and—and I'm glad it was so.'

    'Is it a gladness that you can share with God?' asked Sarah very sorrowfully.  'And are you quite sure that you know all God knows?'

    Tibbie did not seem to hear her cousin's words; but no sooner had passionate indignation risen to its highest, than the revulsion of her better nature set in.

    'Oh that it was with me as in times past!' she cried.  'O God, O God!  How can He let such things be?'

    'Tibbie,' said Sarah very gravely, '"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.  But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."  All that has happened has only shown you what was in your heart: it has put nothing there.  It has only drawn forth the hidden enemy, and given you a chance of victory.'

    They had just returned to the door of their home, and Tibbie paused on the threshold to say

    "Well, at any rate, now you know all about me.  Now you know why I don't feel it any use to join in Jesus' prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us."  He was different to us: He was the Son of God as well as the Son of Man, and He was without sin—we cannot be expected to follow his words and obey his precepts without some modification.'

    Sarah looked up at her cousin with an illumination on her quiet face.  'Does not Paul say, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are sons of God?"' she asked.

    'Ah, but that is figurative—that means in a sense,' said Tibbie.

    'The truth figured is never less than the figure, but always infinitely more,' Sarah answered.  And then they parted, each to her own chamber, and met again in the parlour at tea-time and spent the evening in their usual way, Sarah reading a little aloud, and Tibbie singing two or three songs, for though there was no piano in the hired apartment, Tibbie was one of those rare people who can sing without the support of an instrument.  Tibbie did not generally sing in society, she said she had never sung to anybody but herself for nearly twenty years, till her cousin Sarah came home.  And Sarah's eyes were almost ready to fill with tears, at the picture of Tibbie sitting alone in that unhomely home of hers, among the tokens of unloving beneficence, singing the weird strange songs of loss and desolation, in which she seemed to delight.

    The next day was to be the last of their stay at Bournemouth. Frederick was fairly established in strength, and they were all to return to London by the forenoon train. Tibbie was her ordinary self at breakfast-time—perhaps just a little quieter than usual. But when the two cousins were alone, finishing off the last of their packing, Tibbie turned to Sarah and said—

    'I had a horror of a night!  Yes,' she went on slowly, after a moment's pause.  'A dreamed that I had killed somebody.  I don't know who it was.  I don't know how I did it.  But the dreadfullest part was, that I was not shocked or sorry.  I said to myself that it was quite just, and what the dead person deserved, and that all I had to do more was to take care that I was not punished, for it would be quite unfair that I should suffer for ridding the world of such a wretch!  I was quite sure that I was right, Sarah, and I was quite certain that I should escape punishment.  And it was so awful: that seemed the very awfullest part of it!

    'I know what you are thinking, cousin,' she went on again, as Sarah did not speak, 'You are thinking that my dream was but the logical conclusion of my thought.  I suppose I can't deny it.  I suppose I have committed murder in my heart, though my hands have been holden.  I suppose that in that other world where thoughts will be deeds, I shall be among the murderers!  And there was something so dreadful in being quite sure I was right, and not one whit sorry!

    'Oh, Sarah, Sarah!  If she had but asked me to forgive her!  If she could but ask me to forgive her!  But it is too late now!'

    'It is never too late!' said Sarah, putting her arm round Tibbie, almost as she might had she been drawing her to some other person, standing apart.

    And then they drove through the long road between the pine woods, and took their last look at the silver sea.  Tibbie had hold of Sarah's hand.

    'We are leaving nature and God,' she said, 'and going back to the crowds who trample her under foot, and come between us and Him.'

    'Oh no,' said Sarah, 'there is more of God in the worst man than in all this beauty.  It is only through the man that God enters nature.  He alone is made in his image.  Don't you notice a strange blank in any landscape without a human figure? It is like the early world waiting for God to breathe in "the living soul."'


 
CHAPTER XIV.


Glad wisdom is not gotten, but is given;
Not dug out of the earth, but dropped from heaven.

OWEN MEREDITH.


MISS RUSSELL and Frederick Broome had taken counsel together as to the future.  He was to remain in the Hallowgate.

    'Your grandfather will want you some day,' she said.  'It cannot go on like this for ever.  The very end must come,' and she looked up at him with her soft, motherly eyes.  'And he will surely want you then.  You must be at hand.  Therefore, why not stay under his roof?  When he does want you, it will be a comfort to him to find that you have been under his roof longer than he knew!'

    Sarah Russell was no mere dreamer.  It is a curious fact how women who are most intuitional, most open on the more delicate and spiritual side of their natures, are often also most simply practical in the practical affairs of life.  Among theories, Sarah Russell took the highest—in practice the simplest way.  Just because she invited the young man to surrender himself to what many would consider a Quixotic and merely sentimental duty, she took care that it should not in the least interfere with those stern duties which call on a man to justify his very being in this every-day world.  Before a man can become a hero at a supreme moment, he must have been a just and honest man for many years.

    Therefore Miss Russell and Frederick Broome took counsel together in the most business-like manner.  Sarah had still a monetary stake among her father's old business connections.  To these she introduced him.  There would be no change—no hiatus in his life.  With the kind of work in which he had already engaged he would go on, simply on a more hopeful basis.  She did not turn him out of his path, she only opened a door therein.

    It did not seem strange to Sarah to have him in the house.  It seemed as if his absence would be strange, as if she had always expected his coming, as if the spare room had been prepared for him and no other.  Other hopes that mighty have been there were folded away as easily as the wrappings in which a gift is sent us.

    Only she brought down the Bible with the initials in it, and put it into Frederick's hand, saying—

    'That was meant for your father.  Now you take it.  I have written in it your name, and the date of New Year's Day.'

    Frederick asked no question.  He took it without a word.  He knew that there was more beneath than any answer would give.  He could almost guess that his name and the date of their meeting was written beneath initials, with a date of parting, and of what parting!

    And so Frederick Broome had at last a home in God's world.  It was well for him, too, that it was a home not without foundation, in that dreary past which had often seemed so unmitigatedly bitter to his hot young heart.  All this good had been going on parallel with all that evil.  Into the morass had been thrown the 'Eucalyptus' which had grown among its polluted soil even for its healing.  Just at the juncture when his parents and their sin had grown definite and undeniable, there had also come a revelation which made all easy to bear for their sakes, and easy to forgive them.  Could he have been quite sure long ago of all he knew now, it might have given despair in place of the dim air-castles of hope that he had indulged in.  But now it did not matter at all.  His worst fears had been realised, but in the heart of them he had found a joy and a comfort beyond his wildest hopes.

    To go out and to come in—cared for and welcomed—to fall into easy, friendly conversation that feared no interruption and required no strain, was such a delightful novelty to Frederick, that had he been left to his own inclinations he might have rested too thoroughly in it.  But one wiser than he in the ways of the world and of the human heart was watching his interests.  Very likely had Sarah gone on living alone in the Hallowgate, she would have lived in very deep retirement.  There are two kinds among recluses.  Those who hate much and those who love much; those who fail to satisfy themselves with any dainty of life's feast, and go on gnawing their own heart with insatiable hunger; and those who get so much nourishment from everything that they ask but little.  There are those who find so little in the heart of anything that they spurn all as hollow; there are those who find so much, that they have not time to probe many.  Mrs. Stone, and the servant, and a few poor people, and perhaps one or two little children, would have made up a quiet world for Sarah's quiet heart, with just cousin Tibbie flashing across it like a comet.  She had had her living past—that past which makes books and pictures into genuine society, and which leaves women never less lonely than when they sit stitching in utter solitude.  But Sarah was a Christian woman, in that deep and true sense of Christianity which means power of projection into other lives, and acute realisation of their highest possibilities and best surroundings.  She did not expect Frederick Broome to begin where she had left off; nay, she quite understood that if he could really do so, it would be no sign of sympathy between their natures, but of deadliest difference.  Two warriors may be alike without armour; but one may have doffed his after victory, the other may have never put his on to fight!

    There must be a road into society opened from the quiet house in the Hallowgate.  There must be that sowing of acquaintance, from a hundred seeds of which one true friend may be gained.  There must be strong personal interests established, with all the many forms of the world's progress.  Sarah herself took to reading the political leaders of the Times, and to diligently overtaking forms of scientific truth which had developed during the years that her eyes had been fixed on the far hills of eternity, looming bright over the thick mist that all those years had hung over the intervening flats of time.  It is a strange thing that when that far gaze does return to nearer things, it is but stronger, and quicker, and more fearless for its long inattention.  God's glory is the one glory that does not dazzle, but purifies.  Moses, when he came down from the mount, veiled his face because the people could not bear its light, but doubtless through that veil he saw them more clearly than he had ever seen them before.

    Sarah enjoyed the new life.  Whatever was good for anybody else was always better still for her.

    'It is such a blessing to be pricked up in the march of life,' she said 'one grows lazy and falls behind, and that is so ignoble!  One stands still oneself, and forgets the world is moving.'

    Tibbie, to whom she said this, shook her head gravely.  'I don't understand it at all,' she said; 'all these years I have been keeping up with everything—politics, science, and social science.  Often and often I have felt that I would not name certain of my own views and sympathies to you, for fear you would think them upsetting rather than progressive.  And, lo and behold, the day comes when your attention is directed to these points, and you instantly pass far beyond me—easily accept much that staggers me, and boldly step over where I hesitate.  You must have been walking on all the while, but in a green, covered alley, where no sun wearied you and no wind ruffled you, and where you never stood still to look before and after, and long to go back.  And when at last the alley ends, you are far ahead, and the whole prospect breaks upon you at once, and you know that it is infinitely better than all you left at the other end.'

    It was true.  Sarah had that key of love to God and man, which the Master said sufficed to unlock the gates of eternal life, and let light flow through upon every question of mind and matter.  She feared nothing in God's world, because all there was in his hand; and she knew that dark places were only mines of treasure, hid till the fit time of forth-bringing, and mysteries but the angels set to guard Edens from unworthy intrusion.  Not that she thought herself strong enough to descend all mines, and explain all mysteries,—only she could think of them as we think of the undiscovered coal-beds and uninvested machines of the next generation; with only a glad rejoicing that there will be no lack of new wealth for those who come after!  Sarah Russell was not afraid to go forward, because with her all going forward was in the name of God. She had no fear that a chain wrought by God can ever be broken—that the truth as it lived in the past can ever be detached from the truth of the future—


God's infinite Last.


What she could not understand, she could trust; what she could not see with her mind's eye, she could feel with her heart's emotion.  Much which seemed to others a desertion and loss of sacred things seemed to her but their final removal from the darkness of the quarry, and the chip of the labourer, to shine as polished corner-stones in the Father's house, taken from our touch because their beauty was complete and fit for its final purpose!

    But the Sabbath was a day which Sarah Russell kept sacredly for that quiet home-life which she felt was such a wondrous treat to her companion, just as it was her own most congenial atmosphere.  That was the day when they two, so strangely joined in the calm after such a tempest, drew very near together, and let their hearts talk, often without much audible voice.

    They would go to church together in the morning.  To a quiet, old city church, with windows painted in pictures from the parables, and with a churchyard laid out in flower-beds, and bright with a fountain, and cheery with birds.  The old, white-haired rector preached much from the Sermon on the Mount, and chose the hymns greatly with a view to the minds and voices of the crowd of little charity children who composed the largest section of his congregation.  There might be greater men preaching near, there might be more elaborate services, but somehow Miss Russell and Frederick always found their way to that old brown church, whence they ever came out rested and happy, and ready to help others, whether by ringing a door-bell for a tiny child, or by that 'effectual, fervent prayer' which stretches a Hand where our own hands cannot reach.

    Then they would go home to the early dinner, which (though always cold, that the servant might have had no needless work to hinder her from worship or reading) was ever the nicest dinner of all the week.  And then, after a little rest and a little talk over the sermon—the quiet old vicar's homely words often led them into strange tracks—they would sometimes start off to visit in the poor little east-end street to which the dead paralyzed man had first introduced Sarah.

    Sarah liked to go there on the Sabbath, because Frederick could go with her, and the men were at home.  They used to have happy times in those cramped, dark rooms.  There was no 'preaching.'  Sarah never dreamed of speaking to the poor, except as to her friends, as indeed they were.  She felt so keenly that modern Christianity has wandered entirely away from Jesus' opinion that it is the rich man who finds it hard to enter into the kingdom of heaven, that she was often inclined to think that it has also lost his idea of that kingdom itself, and simply lifted the Judaic idea of an earthly monarchy, with quite other beatitudes than those of love and service, to another level—setting a carnal dream in a spiritual place, mistaking the sword that cut off Malthus' ear for the sword of the Spirit, and betraying Jesus, as perhaps Judas did, in the hopes of enhancing a power He did not claim, but which it longs to share!

    But they would take flowers to some old person, or Sarah would read a hymn in a sick room, and give sanitary advice beyond what the oppressed hospital doctor could afford to his hundreds of patients.  Or Sarah would tell some of the children about Joseph, and Samuel, and David, and Ruth, and Esther, and then perhaps about Grace Darling going out with her lifeboat, or the Dutchman who spared the life of the Spanish soldier who was in pursuit of his own, or the little boy who saved his native town by putting his finger in the hole in the dyke.  Or Frederick would have a talk to some of the men and lads about America, and it would not seem so far off, and they would begin to think they would take courage and emigrate.  And then, as they grew friendly, they would tell him something about what the atheist lecturer said, and they and Frederick would enter into a talk, and his words would find wonderful entrance, because they found he did not think they had no right to think of such things, but had thought of them, too, and offered them only help, little or great, which he had proved for himself.

    Then they would return to the Hallowgate, and perhaps before they went to their tea they would take a leisurely walk round and round the solitary old square, with its lonely tree and its chirruping sparrows.  There was always something to say to each other.  Those two had always something to say, whether they spoke or were silent.  They never got to their end.  They never would.

    There was one who watched them unseen.  Mr. Halliwell had never been quite the same since he had spurned that letter on New Year's Day.  To reject is often the first step towards longing.  To have had a chance and lost it is often the first preparation towards finding another chance for oneself.

    Ever since that morning, the poor old man had caught himself listening for the postman's knock and the rings at the bell.  The incident, unhappy as it was, had brought that sense of life and action which is stirring to the most benumbed existence.  He did not bring himself to wish that he had acted differently, but only that something would happen again.

    He had scarcely gone near his windows for years, but now he took to sitting at them and watching the people who came into the square.  He soon found out which was the lady who was his tenant.  His solicitor had written to him that she, like himself, was alone; and the first two or three times he had happened to see her (during Frederick's illness) she had been by herself, and her loneliness had seemed to make his own more sociable.  But now she had always this youth with her!  Mr. Halliwell had not the least idea who he was.  He had certainly no clue to the truth, and such a history was quite beyond the possibilities of an imagination that had always been cramped in utter selfishness.  There was somebody whom she had not been obliged to spurn.  Nobody but himself was doomed to utter desolation.  How pleasant it must be for them both in those pretty rooms which he had secretly surveyed on Christmas Eve!  He felt himself a very poor, miserable, ill-used old man.

    He might at least have read the letter.  He might, perhaps, have answered it.  He wondered this.  He wondered that.

    He began to wonder how he should die.  And where he should be found lying, whenever his housekeeper noticed that his accustomed signs had ceased.

    He wondered whether there would be a paragraph about him in the newspapers.

    He began to have a horrible feeling that, die when he might and how he might, he would go on, living in just the same way in that lonely room, for a time that might best be described as an eternity.

    One night he almost wondered whether he were really still alive, and what the difference could be when he was dead.


 
CHAPTER XV.


Sorrow working slow.
At length this humble spirit gave.—C
RABBE.


AND so the year rolled round, through its seasons, as seasons show themselves even in a city square.  The hyacinths and crocuses that Sarah had planted about the great tomb in the little churchyard gave place to forget-me-nots and calcelarios, and then there were strawberries and cherries and plums on the dinner-table, and then the Virginian creeper about the dining-room window blushed and vanished until at last there was once more the cheery cry,


Holly, holly, holly, ho,
Holly, bays and mistletoe!


    On Christmas-Day, instead of the accustomed bouquet, the daintiest sprig of holly was sent up to Mr. Halliwell.

    And then it was New-Year's Day again.

    It was to be kept as Frederick Broome's birthday.  He knew no real birthday.

    'Therefore you can choose one,' said Sarah, 'and you cannot choose a better one than this.  Life comes new to everybody to-day; and every one is full of good wishes and new hopes.'

    'And it is the day I came here,' Frederick answered; 'and it is a date with which—my poor father—connected something.'

    The house was very full of cheerful bustle.  In the course of a few days there was to be an entertainment given to the poor people connected with Tibbie's Whitechapel soup-kitchen, and all through the morning packets which Sarah had ordered for this occasion kept coming in.  Mrs. Stone was flying about busily.  Mrs. Stone had caught some of her mistress' spirit, and was quite a different woman to the draggled, spent creature, come to the end of all her hopes, who in some dim reviving of old associations and ambitions had led the way to the Rood Hotel in the Hallowgate, not much more than fifteen months before.

    'Ah, even magic lanterns is different from what they used to be,' she said, as she stood at the hall table, sorting some slides that had just arrived from the opticians.  'They are wonderful improved from them we got in my schooldays.  Things do get better, and I'm thinking those that say they don't, had better take notice whether it ain't their own eyesight that's a-going.  This is the kind of life I always thought I'd like—plenty to do, and somebody that's pleased when you do it.  I really think we'd need take care what we wish for—we're so likely to get it; though I've wished enough for my old man, an' I don't think I'll ever have him here, but I shall have him some day, when we've both grown wise enough apart to know how to hit it off together.  For if I'd had my Miss Sarah once upon a time, I've no doubt I'd not have valued her; I'd ha' gone off over some fancy about that poor gentleman upstairs, or some tantrum or other.  It's better to have things taken away than to be let keep 'em and spoil 'em!'

    Little did that merry household imagine—as one after another ran to and fro, admitting now a hamper of apples, next a cake, then a basket of crockery—that a tall figure stood on the second floor landing, its high grey head craned forward to catch a glimpse of the arrivals, its unused, dulled ears strained to listen for—it scarcely knew what.

    At last there came a great box of biscuits.  Now Mr. Halliwell's housekeeper had volunteered to order these for Miss Russell, because she knew a place where they could be got at once cheap and good.  The people of the biscuit shop knew the woman as Mr. Halliwell's housekeeper, and so of course asked no address.  The porter brought the box with a thundering knock and a ring.

    'For Mr. Halliwell,' he shouted, as he shoved it in, too busy with his deliveries to pause for a single moment.

    At the instant some door in the house slammed sharply.  Sarah, who was standing in the hall, started.

    'What is that, Mrs. Stone?' she said, 'for there is nobody up-stairs.'

    Mr Halliwell's life was so utterly soundless that in this sense he was always openly counted 'nobody.'

    'It must have been the wind, ma'am,' Mrs. Stone answered.

    'It was a sound I have never noticed before,' said Sarah, quite satisfied, however, by the explanation.

    But she was right for all that; it was a sound she had never heard before.  It was the sharp shutting of Mr. Halliwell's dining-room door, as he hastily retreated at the sound of his own name.  So it had come: he did not know what, but the mysterious something which he had mysteriously expected.  As he stood there listening for his housekeeper to enter the other room with some letter or written message, he was no old man, in spite of his eighty years.  Hope and fear and passionate longing can quicken agèd pulses and fire old blood.  The eternal soul sometimes rises strong enough to lift with it even the dragging weight of the decaying body.

    But the housekeeper did not come up.  Then he thought perhaps she would bring him something when she brought his dinner.  But there came his cover and plate and wine-glass, and nothing beside.

    There was nothing to do but to wait.  He knew he had heard his name; he was sure there was something coming to him.  He must wait.

    Youth lays great stress upon its waiting-pains.  The young man thinks that he exhausts the agony of creation in the night when he awaits the answer to his offer of marriage.  He reflects slightly on his grand-parents: they are waiting for nothing except for Death, and that will probably come too soon!  The very school-boy, notching a stick to keep count of the days before the holidays, envies 'the governor, who can do what he likes, and doesn't have to wait!'  Ah me, and the only difference is that the old people wait for years instead of hours, for decades instead of days,—wait, and wait, and wait, and never expect to do much more than wait in this plane of existence.  When we have to wait a quarter of an hour, we walk about and ask questions and look at the clock, but when we have to wait hours, we take our work or a book, and nobody notices that we are waiting at all.  The young await a letter, a message, a date; they miss the friend who departed yesterday and will return to-morrow.  The old wait for a life's unravelling; and the friends they long after went away before the hot young hearts around began to beat.

    But to this old man of eighty-five winters, there had come something of youth's brief, passionate suspense.  He had had no practice in patience; he had never waited in all his long life, had simply dashed through whatever came in his way, until he had found himself shut up in himself, with nothing more to wait for.  He had none of the intricate interests of old age, none of that full tree of life, on which some bud is always blossoming so that no day is sterile.  This one new forlorn hope assumed to him the undue proportion which a birthday has to the little cherub who spends three hundred and sixty-four days in looking forward to the kisses and gifts of one!

    As he paced his chamber in his feverish feeble excitement, he suddenly remembered that it was this very night, more than forty years before, that he had so paced this very room, waiting while life and death fought out their battle on his hearth.  The very mood of eager expectation was the same.  It seemed as if the door might open, and the old nurse announce,—

    'It's a beautiful young lady, sir;' only to be followed by his own married sister telling him

    'The mother is dying; nothing can save her.  But bear up; she was always but a fragile creature.  You have your child, and thank God she seems a thorough Halliwell!'

    Poor little wife, who had only lived with her proud husband one short year, and then had vanished as if she had never been, her very Christian name denied to the child who had cost her life.  Mr. Halliwell had chosen her because she was so meek and gentle, and he thought himself faithful to her memory, because he had never found another woman meek and gentle enough to take her place.  But never, all those forty years, had he yearned towards her as he yearned to-night.  Oh, if she could only come!  She would not blame him; no, she would comfort him, and help him, and satisfy him without a single word of blame.  During their one year of married life, she had so smoothed out many and many a trouble, without one word of blame.  She had understood and accepted his 'fiery spirit:' it never struck him that it might have been the fiery chariot that bore her to calmer regions, where even the sun does not scorch!

    Yes, New-Year's Day was his little Miriam's birthday.  This was the date when the old house had once been always full of mirth and festivity, echoing with music and the patter of dancing feet!  What had Miriam wanted that he had not supplied?  Had he not, for her sake, often filled the house with guests when he would have preferred solitude?  Was she not a woman, and did he not give her a woman's paradise of dress, and leisure, and gaiety?  Did he ever deny her anything except what was bad for her?—to wit, her wish to attend classes after she was grown, her desire to mix herself up with all sorts of outrageous ways of work among poor people; her longing to have for her bosom friend a queer girl who had to get her own bread by writing, and who was crazy, as Mr. Halliwell always considered such people must be; and last, but not least, her love for a certain briefless barrister, whom Mr. Halliwell had summarily forbidden the house.  That love, at least the father consoled himself, could not have been very sincere, or she would not have gone wrong afterwards with that blackguard of a backwoodsman, John Syme Denison.

    Oh why will not a lark be happy when you give it a gilt cage, and a lump of sugar, and a lovely fancy nest?  And when you won't let it out in the summer sunshine among the flowers, why will it bolt away the first time the cage door is left open, though it be when snow is on the ground and in the sky?  And when you pick it up dead at your garden gate, is it any wonder that you say, 'What could the creature, have wanted?'

    But this evening, though the old angry puzzled questions would come again and again, still along with the yearning for the mother, there would come a vision of the daughter Miriam, as she would come gliding into this very room to be forgiven for such childish sins as digging in the old graveyard in her best frock.  (Poor thing, she had been kept in best frocks all day long!)  He remembered just how she used to shake back her black curls, and hold up her face, pleading, 'Father, forgive me! father, forgive me!'  There was a strange, deep pathos in his mingling of the images of the mother and the daughter, whom he had never seen nearer together than when one lay in her cradle, and the other in her coffin.

    He kept stepping out upon the staircase and listening.  There was a good deal of bustle and going to and fro in the early part of the evening, but at last he heard Miss Russell and the young man come upstairs together and go into the drawing-room, and then all sounds subsided into the quiet hum of somebody reading aloud.  It went on for an hour or two, and then he heard Mrs. Stone set the supper-tray in the dining-room, and the reading ceased, and two people went downstairs, and there was profound silence for a time; and then they came up again, and paused at the staircase window for a while, and spoke earnestly to each other; but though the old man could distinctly hear their voices, he could not catch what they said, till they turned to each other, and said 'good-night,' and then he heard that Sarah added

    'And once more, many happy returns of the day to you!'

    What! was this once more a birthday in this house?  In his eager turning towards the past, Mr. Halliwell absolutely forgot that at least it was New Year's Day, and that this benison might imply no more.

    He had heard the servants go to bed before.  The day was closing in, leaving his mystery unfathomed.  It could not, could not be.  No, there was one more hope.  Miss Russell did not go to her chamber at once, but returned to the drawing-room.  Something might come to him yet.

    Sarah Russell was only going to indulge in an hour's solitude before going to bed.  She did not fall into the too common mistake which, when human voices enter our lives, forgets to keep those silences in which God speaks.  We cannot know and love our brothers except as we know and love our one Father.  She better understood the meaning of the precept, 'Commune with your own hearts, and be still.'  She knew the secret of that great mystery, 'God with us'—that hidden chain of wondrous links which, known or unknown, binds the weakest, and the dullest, and the worst, to eternal strength, and wisdom, and purity.  To know this, Sarah realised, was to join the band of God's elect, those 'called forward,' that His light may shine on weaker ones behind through their living human veil; those called up, that they may tell of the Dawn to those still in the Valley; those fitted to help and serve with human hands, because they are themselves helped and served by the phalanx of angels which ascends to the secret place of the Most High.

    Poor Mr. Halliwell waited for a little while, till at last he could bear it no longer.  What right had they to keep back letters or messages that came to him?  He was almost sure that they had taken in whatever came, but he might have been mistaken.  They might have told the messenger that it was no use his leaving anything.  They might have sent away whatever it was.  It might be impossible to tell what had become of it; it might be utterly too late to recall it!  The very thought made him frantic.  He had lived for twenty years in utter silence, but now, at last, the idea that he had involuntarily missed something, made unendurable the prospect of the few years of life that could possibly remain to him.

    He would just go down and inquire about the matter of Miss Russell.  She had not been in the house so very long; probably she did not know how profound and lengthened had been his seclusion; his appearance would not be so wonderful to her as it would be to his solicitor or his housekeeper.  At the very moment that he felt ready to dare any amount of astonished comment, he was also glad to take the way which should expose him to least.  Sarah had not been wrong in her estimate of the imprisonment of habit.

    Sarah, sitting by her slowly dying fire, was suddenly aware that the feeble uncertain step she had heard once before was again making its way over the stair.  It did not startle her this time.  Her little kindnesses, and the one solitary recognition they had received, had made the unseen presence in the house more human, and less 'eerie.'  But her heart leaped with the thought, would he go into the spare bedroom, thinking it still unoccupied, and would he see and intuitively recognise his grandson?  And then the question arose again—Should she go out to meet him, and stretch a neighbourly hand to draw his solitary soul once more into social light?  But before the question was even formed, there came upon her door a rap—the rap of a thin, trembling hand, so sharp and sudden, that a rat in the wainscot started, and ran down among the bell-wires.

    Sarah paused a moment, and then did not rise, but simply called, 'Come in.'  It would be better to speak in the cheerful room among the pictures than on the chilly, blank staircase.

    The weak, hurried hand fumbled at the door, and then there stepped in a tall old man, with a grey beard and sharp eyes, and a haughty shut face, like a closed portcullis, behind which an eager starved crowd is waiting for bread.  He seemed no stranger to Sarah.  He was so exactly like her idea of him that evening when she sat listening to his wandering through the empty rooms.  And then she knew whence had come the familiarity which had puzzled her: she recognised from what that idea had been reflected on her brain.  She had made the picture of her unknown landlord of the lineaments of her fellow-traveller from America, just as she might had she then known that they were grandsire and grandson.

    She rose as the old man entered.

    'Mr. Halliwell, I presume,' she said.  'I am so glad to see you,' and drew a chair up to the front of the hearth.

    He put his tremulous hand upon its arm, but he did not sit down, his proud courtesy and the reserve, which was not the habit of twenty, but of eighty years, contending with his impatience.

    'Madam,' he said, 'I must apologise for my unexpected appearance at so unseemly an hour, but I have reason to believe that to-day something was brought or somebody came here for me.  I have waited till now expecting to hear more of it, but not having done so, I resolved to appeal to you.  I seem to know you better than anyone else in the world nowadays,' he added with half-conscious pathos; 'and I thought I would appeal to your charity to save me from being troublesome to anybody else.  Do you know anything of this, madam, or will you inquire to-morrow?'

    Sarah reflected.  What was his immediate meaning, she could not in the least understand, the porter's mention of his name having utterly escaped her observation.

    'Did you expect anything?' she asked brightly.

    'Yes—no,' he answered; 'at least—only—there was something came for me some time ago, that I thought I might hear more about.'

    'Oh, yes,' said Sarah quite cheerily.  'I remember that time, and there has been something waiting ever since.  Shall I fetch it, Mr. Halliwell?'

    She looked straight at him with her soft kind eyes.  If she had been a little more like him—a woman just a little less utterly forgiving and self-forgetful, he would have shrank from her.

    'Oh, if you will be so good!' he said.

    'Then you must sit down,' she answered; 'and I will put a little more coal on the fire, so that there shall be a bright blaze in a few minutes.'

    She went off and knocked at Frederick Broome's door.  He had not yet gone to bed, and he opened it promptly.

    'The hour is come, Frederick !' she said.  'Your grandfather is in the drawing-room; he is asking if nothing has come for him to-day, and I have told him that there has been something waiting for him for a long time.  You must come at once.  You must be very patient with him.  And he is so like you.'

    Frederick said never a word.  His mouth set just a little, and then quivered.  He stepped out upon the landing, and went towards the drawing-room door.  As he opened it, Sarah slipped her hand through his arm, and so they went in together.  The old man was sitting over the fire, close over it with his thin hands spread out so near the rising flame, that it almost glowed through them.  He turned his head sharply as they entered, and a hungry pained expression flitted over his face.  Everybody but him had somebody.  He never dreamed that this was his 'somebody,' held in trust for him.  Probably Sarah had taken the lad's arm, conscious only of a wish to make him feel her full sympathy and support, but it was really a stroke of the deepest policy.  It made the poor old man feel the value of what he had not got just the moment before it was offered to him.

    'This is your grandson, Mr. Halliwell,' said Sarah softly.  'John Syme Denison sent him to you, the only possible way in which he could try to make atonement.  Frederick will tell you all about it.  He has been waiting to see you since this day last year.  He came from America on purpose.'

    What did Mr. Halliwell say?  He stood up, and laid a hand on each of the lad's shoulders.

    'This is your mother's birthday,' he said.  'My pretty Miriam!' and then he dropped down upon his chair, one hand raised to his face, and one grasping Frederick's wrist.  And tears came, which he had kept back for twenty years!  Only one or two.  Kept-back tears so concentrate themselves!  Slow tears, drawn up through his whole nature, and hot with the wrath and pain in which they had so long been boiling.

    Sarah slipped from the room.  She was rejoicing, as the angels do, over one more note tuned in this vast instrument of life, and in that very rejoicing her own soul rose at once to a sphere of music and beauty.  Angels are not all outside this world.  This world would fall to pieces but for some who remain in it—the five righteous men who save Sodom—the little leaven that shall some day spread to the whole lump, the white hand, as it were, of humanity, stretched out to receive the gifts which other angels pass down from the Father.


 
CHAPTER XVI.
 


A millstone and the human heart are driven ever round:
If they have nothing else to grind, they must themselves be
ground.—T
RANSLATED FROM VON LOGAN.


NEXT morning Miss Russell found that Frederick had retired with his grandfather to those secret precincts at the top of the house.

    He sent down a note saying that his grandfather wished she would come up and see them, and she sent back an answer that she would do so, by-and-by, as soon as she got through some of her business below.  She had businesses, though she might have postponed them.  But Sarah had a curious belief in duality both in nature and metaphysics.  It was only an intuition; she could not have argued it out.  Only she felt that the God who had made 'male and female' hand done so in the carrying out of a far wider law of 'two and two.'  It was an intuition which did not limit love or sympathy.  She believed that everybody might be one of a great many 'twos,' just as God is God to every soul.  She only felt that three was an essentially temporary number, in which one only exists by reason of some really dual relation to one of the remaining two, into which it will presently be absorbed.

    'I could take the whole world into my confidence,' she was accustomed to say smiling, 'if I might take it one by one, without somebody else sitting aside and feeling "You are false now, because you are speaking somewhat differently from what you spoke yesterday," as if one had not a right to modulate one's spiritual voice according to the spiritual age, health, and auricular organs of one's auditor.'

    She felt that there were questions and answers that would pass more easily between the grandsire and grandson if they were left by themselves, though she knew also that when Frederick and she were next alone together he would tell her everything.

    Still she did not let the invitation pass unaccepted.  At tea-time she bade the house-keeper put another cup and saucer in Mr. Halloween's tea tray, and then she went up herself.

    The old gentleman received her with his queer fossilised politeness, that kind of courtesy which, as women say of rich dresses, 'stands alone,' and is scarcely a graceful drapery of mobile human life.  On this very solemn, near-drawing occasion his civilities would not allow the tea and toast to be the mere necessaries they were, but inquired over the flavouring of each cup, and passed the macaroons, with as much ceremony as if he had been at a kettledrum, and only knew his companions through formal letters of introduction.

    But Sarah saw that he looked much older than he had when he sought her presence only the night before.  The fresh air that had blown into his soul had scattered the ghastly preservation of its coffined years.  A few hours had suddenly done what should have been done gradually.

    Sarah owned to herself—what was the gentlest thought possible as it lay in her heart, but almost impossible to frame into words, without seeming hard—that the old man would not be long in his place, and that it was best for everyone that this was so.  For a new impulse will not at once alter the habits of eighty years.  There are many sincere and sacred reconciliations, after which it is nevertheless best that the reconciled should live apart, with kindly thoughts passing to and fro, uncaricatured by inadequate expression.  There are some friends whom we love better in their absence.  They are good, but they hinder our goodness.  They crowd up our souls.  We must have space even that we may stretch out our hands to each other.  That is why God withdraws grand-parents when the grand-children come on the scene.  He takes the fathers higher that their sons may grow up.

    Sarah invited him to make himself free of her house whenever he liked.

    ''Yes,' he answered, looking at her pathetically.  'Yes, I will.  I am much indebted to you for the offer.  But I shall not trouble you much.  I have got out of the habit of going up and down stairs.  It is quite time I stayed chiefly in my own room now.'

    Sarah thought that he himself felt the end was not far off.  He spent a great deal of time writing instructions to be delivered to his solicitor, who at first he curiously shrank from seeing, but eventually sent for, and the two had a long interview.

    And life went on quietly, just as if nothing had happened.  The little drops of daily existence compose an ocean of such serene force that the greatest event is but a pebble thrown in one wave thereof.

    Frederick regularly spent his evenings with his grandfather, and Sarah sometimes joined them, but generally after a few minutes returned to her own quarters.

    Mrs. Stone had her moral to draw from the incident.

    'If you wait long enough you'll get to the bottom of anything,' she said.  'And in a general way, when you do, there ain't so very much there.  It's always the way.  When I was out in Ameriky, it got about that I had a lot of valuables in my chest o' drawers, because I was so particular to keep 'em locked up that prying bodies shouldn't see I'd no under-linen to speak of, and that mostly in holes.  Shut up any place, an' the rats 'll run about, and by-and-by there'll be word of a ghost.  Keep yourself to yourself, an' folks 'll give you credit for adultery and murder.  I 'spose it was the mystery I'd made of my first love affair that made my poor man so black about it.  Why, haven't I myself just laid trembling to think of that poor old gentleman, that I could really have knocked down with a feather?  And no more mystery, after all, about him than about most of the people in my old court, only they made no mystery about it.  It's all people's different way of taking things.  I shouldn't wonder but my old man himself was no worse than many another woman's husband, that she praises up like a lord and an angel.  I'm afraid I've always marked up my goods under cost price, instead of sticking on a fair profit.  So now I'll make it up on Miss Sarah, for though she makes me think better o' the world than I ever did before, I'll stand out there ain't such another as her in it, hunt it over how you may.'

    Tibbie, too, came and sat by Sarah's fireside, and heard all the history.  She said nothing, but looked so unutterably sad, that Sarah could not bear it, and took her hand and asked her what was wrong, and what she was thinking about?

    'I'm trying to be thankful that other people get their "day of salvation," though I never can,' said Tibbie, with her great mournful eyes raised to her cousin's face.

    'Tibbie, darling,' said Sarah, it is there for your taking.  Be at one with yourself, and you will be at one with God and his universe.'

    'I'm broken in two,' said Tibbie, with a ghastly attempt at her old droll manner; 'and a broken thing cannot join itself.'

    'Wish to be joined, and then wait,' Sarah whispered.

    'I read stories between the lines of all you have told me,' Tibbie burst out with sudden change of subject and mood.  'You have only admitted that you "knew" John Denison.  I know that you loved him, and that a Halliwell wrecked your life in one way as a Halliwell wrecked mine in another.  I knew there was a story of that kind about you the moment I saw you.  I saw at once that you had the "God-satisfied" look on your face, and that's always the last line of a tragedy of some sort, except when it is on a very young face, and then it is the first line of a tragedy that is to come.  It must be divine tragedy though—a soul lifted up to draw others after it.  God does not comfort one when one fancies one falls in love, and fancies one is crossed therein, and fancies one is sick, and fancies one is neglected, like Jane.  You see when I preach sermons, Sarah, I can't help taking personal illustrations.'

    'Therefore those are the worst troubles of all,' said Sarah quietly, 'because they must remain so utterly uncomforted.  Poor Jane!  But she must have a real sorrow somewhere.  God is too good to leave any life without one.  Maybe she only uses all the others to hide it.  Jane doesn't know you have any real sorrow, Tibbie.  None of us can say these things to everybody, but we can all give each other credit for leaving much unsaid.  If we respect our friends' confidences, let us also reverence their reserves.'


 
CHAPTER XVII.


'God, let me love my fill and die,' I sighed.

G. MACDONALD.


THERE came a day, a sweet, spring day, when Mr. Halliwell lay down to die.

    Not as he had fancied—not alone, on his hard old sofa, with no ministering hand, no whispering voice.

    Frederick was there, and Sarah, and an old, old doctor, the same who had come to that Hallowgate house in the days when the little Miriam was playing about, or rising into her proud, passionate girlhood.

    It was just a quiet, quiet passing away, something like the end of one of those long days when the latest twilight mingles with the first dawn of another day.

    He had scarcely spoken for days before.  He had nothing to say.  His eighty years had been spent for nought.  He was no sage in the new wisdom that had come to him.  He knew only, as the wailing babe knows, who suddenly finds itself hushed by a love that it can neither comprehend nor appreciate.  He was entering the kingdom of heaven by the lowly gate where all must enter.  But then one should be farther in than the entrance by the time one has seen eighty years.

    He liked them to read to him.  He used to ask for the Sermon on the Mount, and the story of Jesus and the sinful woman.  Sarah knew why he liked that.  A life, beside whose purity his own honour was not to be named, would not have spurned his Miriam.

    'I don't suppose He'd have had anything to say to me,' he said once.  'I should have been among the Pharisees, and He couldn't see any good in them, and no wonder.'

    And only fancy how pitiful Jesus would have been to a Pharisee who smote on his breast and said, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'  Sarah told him that.

    He only shook his head.

    He died just so.  At the very last Sarah saw his lips move a little, and she bent down to catch the sound.  It was only,

    'Miriam—little Miriam.'  And the fingers which he had kept closed over Frederick's hand unclasped, and stretched out a little—and then all was over.

    'It is so little, it is so blank,' said Frederick drearily, as he and Sarah left the chamber.

    'He died full of love and forgiveness for another,' said Sarah.  'Not one of us can do more than that.'

    When the funeral was over, and the will was opened and read, it was found that Mr. Halliwell had left the Hallowgate House and all his fortune to his grandson Frederick Broome.

    In the young man's behalf, it presently devolved upon Sarah to open and go through the rooms on the top flat of the dwelling—those wide, low attics into which all the household goods of the Halliwells had been ruthlessly tumbled on that dreadful day when the daughter of the house had broken the pride of the family tree.

    Tibbie went with her, and, as a matter of form, the family solicitor accompanied them, but he soon left them to themselves.

    It was a sad, sad business.  The first thing on which their eyes fell was a little basket of mouldy dust, a single stiffened stem revealing that it had been full of blooming flowers on the day when it was pushed from sight.  Books lay around it, books which had been in common use when the cloud fell on the household.  A prayer-book, with a marker at the marriage service (Oh, poor, maddened Miriam!), a 'Language of Flowers,' Mrs. Rowe's 'Letters,' a copy of Byron, another of Moore's earlier poems—a little writing-case, containing blotting-paper, on which could be discerned the signature of 'Miriam Halliwell,' and the address of 'J. S. Denison, Esq., Poste restante'—a little bit of coarse, poorly executed embroidery, with the rusty needle still sticking in it.

    There were the family pictures—oil-paintings of stiff, decorous Halliwells, actually in the very lace and jewellery which Sarah and Tibbie presently found stowed away in oaken chests and little iron boxes; engravings, too, always of scenes where conventional morality and refinement rose to the surface of some stagnant pool of worldliness and vanity; pictures of the piety of kings, whose vices were rampant on their very physiognomies.

    They had to go through all this débris carefully, with a view to its ultimate destiny.  Frederick had laid it down as law that Sarah's rooms were not to be disturbed or invaded in any way, making but one exception, that if there was a portrait of his poor mother, it should be placed in his chamber, to which Sarah added another, that those of his grandparents should be hung in the dining-room.  Still, the rooms which Mr. Halliwell inhabited were capable of much improvement; the furniture which he had used for twenty years was now almost past use; and the idea was that the chief apartment of the second floor could be fitted up as a library, with the pictures, ornaments, and best goods of the old household, and that in the meantime the remaining apartments could be furnished as well as possible with the remainder.  They were not going to shrink from anything because it had painful associations, but to use it so that, whenever it left their hands in course of time, it should carry only pleasant ones.  In this way we are all of us either witches or exorcists, whether we realise it or not.

    Plate, linen, jewellery, and lace, about which Sarah could expect no definite instruction from Frederick, she intended to examine and cause to be cleaned or repaired, and then stored, since, though Frederick might regard such things with very manly indifference, he would probably some day have somebody belonging to him who would regard them with very feminine interest and affection.  Sarah looked forward to these things.  The vision she had once indulged in, of a pretty romantic maid companion, the dream she had put aside for the sake of poor Mrs. Stone, could come back now in a far sweeter and nearer form.  It was God's interest, paid when we put the least gift into his treasury, even as when we drop in our 'all.'

    It seemed a strange commonplace ending to the sad Halliwell history—those two alien women turning over the relics that life and death had made so solemn.  All tragedies end so.  A flowery grave in the sunshine, a new furnished house, these are all the signs of our departure very soon after we are gone.  And there is a beautiful truth in the stern necessity.  Even our very seeming end is a beginning—how much more so in reality!

    Her task was not so painful to Sarah as it would have been had she approached it with a less pitiful tenderness for those departed.  No labour of love is ugly.  The healer's touch does not recoil, because it goes deeper than the disease, and reaches the humanity.  To minds like Sarah's, nothing is common or unclean; the humblest duty is part of the ritual in the great temple of the Lord; the least service to any human creature is done to the God by whom alone he has being.

    As for Tibbie, she had rather shrunk from joining in this task.  She knew why.  Tibbie at least understood her own heart.  Her first feeling had been that, after all, it was a queer instance how


The mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small,


that she, the despised and hated of the Halliwell, should now be called in to help at the finale of the race, to efface the signs of its disaster, and hide away its weaknesses.

    'I should have thought I could have no greater punishment than that that woman should do as much for me!' said Tibbie; 'and there's no returning good for evil in that spirit,' she added.

    'Very well,' said Sarah, 'then come and help me, feeling that you need not glorify yourself as doing a good action.  Do it because it is right to be done without any question of your own merit and demerit.'

    So while Sarah was going through a box of lace, too trying to Tibbie's impatient fingers, Tibbie had taken the overlooking of a great box of rather heterogeneous contents—little pictures, shells, bits of china miniatures, old pamphlets, and the like.  She had made one remark as she opened it.

    'I seem to know these things; I think they must have come to Mr. Halliwell from his sister's house, after her death.'

    And then she kept silence.  And Sarah, busily occupied smoothing out the points of a rich lace flounce, kept silence too, and did not notice that her cousin's movements suddenly ceased, and that she sat before the big chest, quite still, with something in her hand.

    Suddenly she rose with a cry!  With one of those flashes which reveal that Thought has nothing to do with Time, Sarah, as she started up in sympathy, remembered the cry with which the blind to whom sight is restored often greet the first permitted ray of light.

    Tibbie stood erect with a passionate glory on her face—a glory like that of the sun, when after a stormy day he breaks out and gilds the wrecks the storm has made.

    In her right hand she held out a letter, yellow with age and crumpled.  'Read it, Sarah, read it!' she cried, and then she sat down on an old leather box, and covered her face with her hands.

    The letter was in a woman's hand—strong and plain as it was, there was 'woman' in every stroke.  It ran—


'MY DEAR DAUGHTER TIBBIE,—God knows what worlds I would give if I might call you so!  Oh, if you and I were together in the world, loving each other, living for each other, we could never have lost our Robert as I, at least, have lost him now.

    'I lost him before he died.' [The words seemed like an echo to Sarah: in truth, Tibbie herself had used them.]  'I lost him when I parted him from you.  I see it now.  We gain what we give others.  We lose what we take from them.  He never hated me, Tibbie—it could not have been harder if he had—but he went away from me—away, away—whole worlds away, while I was sitting by his bedside.  I did not think he would die! Till it was too late, I thought he would recover and, own that I was right.  Just at the very last when I could not help knowing, I humbled myself (as I thought it then, it is my own poor comfort now!) to ask if he had anything to say about you, and he said, "No, nothing to say; only you were in every thought."  And his last words to me were, "God forgive you, mother, you don't know what you've done.  God forgive you, mother."  And I think he will never call me mother again!—never, never, not through all eternity!  I might have had two children; I shall have none!

'Oh, how I have longed for you since!  I would have gone and fallen in the dust at your feet, only that I have wounded you so cruelly, that it seems wounding you anew even to hope for forgiveness.  Oh, Tibbie, Tibbie!  I am writing this letter because it is a relief to let my heart cry out in the silence; but I do not think I shall ever dare to send it.  Oh, if I could only hear you say you had forgiven me—nay, if a, hope could whisper in my heart that you had forgiven me, though I should never hear you say so, I should be so happy!

    'I have lived as a proud woman, and nobody will know that I die biting the dust.  Oh, Tibbie, Tibbie, when I am where Dives was, and you and Robert are where Lazarus was, will you two speak to me first? for I should not dare to speak first to you.  I don't suppose you will ever see this letter, so, to relieve my own heart, I will dare to sign myself

'Y
OUR CHILDLESS MOTHER.'


    'Oh, if I had only known!' cried Tibbie, as the sound of folding paper warned her that Sarah had finished its perusal.

    'If you had only been able to believe, darling,' said Sarah, 'then you would have gone to her, and your faith would have turned to knowledge.  But there is time for everything in eternity.  You see it is never too late.  Oh, darling Tibbie, I am so glad for your sake and for hers!'

    'For hers!' said Tibbie, looking up with a convulsed face.

    'Yes, for her's,' Sarah answered solemnly, with that far-away look in her soft eyes which seem to see where angels rejoice over repentant sinners, and poor Diveses watch for the undoing of their evil examples.  Yes, for hers.  What God has joined can never be put asunder.  And love is God's joining.'

    'But we never loved each other!' said Tibbie.

    'Wherever hatred was, love might have been, and will be,' answered.  Hers had already changed to love in that letter.  It may be only love in longing.  But there never was a longing yet which God will not satisfy.'

    'If I had only known!' sighed Tibbie again.

    'And, you see, God always does know,' Sarah went on in that quiet voice that was like the very soul of music.  'He is just in his mercy.  We can only be just by mercy.  He knows the secrets of all hearts; we can only be always as pitiful as if we knew them.'

    'Ay,' said Tibbie, 'all those years since she wrote that letter I have gone on cursing and condemning her; while even if she had never written it God would have known what was in her heart.'

    'Yes, and He would have known even if she herself had not quite understood,' Sarah rejoined.  'Tibbie, darling, is not the dawn that has broken on your own life spreading over many things?  We are in the loft behind the organ, where the bellows are creaking among dust and pulleys; but when we have listened for a moment at one chink don't we catch an idea of the harmony that is going on at the other side?  Need we ever forget it?  Let us wander in God's boundless gardens whenever we may, and from the flowers He gives us for ourselves let us concentrate this drop of sweetness to refresh ourselves whenever day grows dark awhile, that God knows, and therefore He loves, that God loves because He knows.  Tibbie, Tibbie, darling, don't you see the sunshine stealing into all the dark places?'

    Tibbie looked up.  Sarah forgot that there was no sunshine in the dreary room; there was something so like sunshine on Tibbie's face!  'I see it,' she cried; 'I see it.  I think I see it; I shall see it gradually.  I know it is there.  I see!  I see!'

    They did no more work that evening.

    Next day, Tibbie did not come till afternoon.  The sunshine had not passed, it had settled.

    'I should have been earlier,' she said, 'but somehow I thought I should like to go and see Jane.  Sarah, there is something I want to tell you—you only, of all, the world—for I know whatever you think off it, you will not spoil it for me.  Last night, I dreamed of Robert.  It was so curious.  I was in Jane's drawing-room, and he came and sat down beside me, and talked to me a great deal; but I don't remember what he said, except that he seemed to know and love you, and that he gave me some message from his mother.  I seemed to remember everything about his death, but not to be at all surprised to see him.  And, though he looked so glad, and young, and strong, I did not feel at all old or faded beside him.  It made me want to go and see Jane's room: it was so strange that he should seem to come to me there, where we had never been together, and where I had never cared to be.  And I am so very glad I went.  You can't think how nice poor Jane was!  Of course I did not tell her, because she knows nothing at all of the story, but she was so gentle and pleasant.  I can't help fancying she had been crying.  I'm afraid Jane didn't have the best chance in life after all; you see she was the delicate one of the family, and got coddled and shut up.  And because she couldn't join me, I'm afraid I wouldn't join her as much as I might.  You can't think how pleasant she was to-day; and how pleased to see me!'

    Sarah did not suppose Jane was very different.  The greater change was in Tibbie herself.  She, too, had come round to stand on 'the angels' hopeful side'—that higher step whence we see the best of those below us, and whence only we can help them higher.


 
CONCLUSION.


O God, my little twilight room,
    It grows Thy Kingdom Come:
And parting dies outside the door
    Of Universal Home!—A
NON.


'I HAVE asked Jane whether she would like me to go and live with her,' Tibbie announced to Sarah, not many days later, 'and she says she will be very glad.  Jane is really very feeble now, and I shall make the house livelier for her.'

    'But will you be able to bear it yourself?' Sarah asked.  It seemed impossible to imagine breezy, active Tibbie shut up in that perfumed, shaded house.

    'Oh yes,' Tibbie said.  'I can bear most things—when I choose.  God gave me the power to do so; but I wouldn't have the will.  And I shall go to and fro to my poor people in the East, and I shall come here a great deal; and whenever I am in Jane's drawing-room, I shall remember how I dreamed that Robert came to me there!'

    Sarah did not shrink from thinking that that dream had something to do with Tibbie's self-sacrificing plan.  She knew well enough that what are often called 'fancies' are much more real influences than what are mistaken for facts, and that much of the reality of life has its secret root in some mystic memory or dream or hope.  God created the world; spirit makes matter; feeling goes before action; faith organizes fact.  As angels stand with drawn swords to warn Balaams from paths of mercenary falsehood, so other angels stand to beckon Pauls and Philips into ways of self-sacrifice and service.  None of Sarah's beliefs were fossils buried in the past: they were all sweet flowers, that were growing to-day, and will be growing to-morrow.  For her the Bible had not closed, the Anointed of God had not withdrawn to a distant throne, the ladder between earth and heaven had not been removed.

    To her the whole world was, as it must have been to the old Hebrew seers, a mirror wherein the figures were but the reflections of something elsewhere and higher.  Nature was the same as she had ever been, only that she had surrendered a few more of her secrets, and Nature herself was, to Sarah, but the reflection of God, and the science that unravelled her mysteries but the contemporary of the Revelation that unsealed His.  While there was yet plenty of work for the microscope and telescope, she did not think that the seeing eye and the understanding heart had come to the end of the treasures stored for them.  And she felt that to-day, as of old, God spake with a still, small voice, heard only by the ear for which it is meant, though others may feel the wind and see the earthquake which sometimes accompany it.  To Sarah's thinking a soothing dream, a sweet thought, a sudden good impulse were as likely to be charged with a heavenly message as any book or sermon.

    Tibbie had her reward.  The ways of life that, taken by themselves, had been so unprofitable to Jane, mingled with others, were very wholesome for Tibbie.  She spoke more softly after dusting delicate china, she grew more sociable after she got into the habit of dressing for dinner; she planned more little pleasures for other people, after she was forced to notice little luxuries which she scarcely cared to share herself.  Do not say that these changes were brought about solely by the change that had come over her whole life.  The proper work of a new impulse is to propel us into a groove where we shall form new habits.  A child does not learn to read when it wishes to do so, but the wish sends it to school, and makes it attentive there.

    After she and Jane lived together, Jane's household and that in the Hallowgate mingled more than they would otherwise have done.  Jane took a fancy to Frederick Broome.  He was young and good-looking and wealthy, and all those three attributes made her interested in his spiritual welfare.  She was dreadfully afraid that Sarah had never exacted sufficient 'evidence' of his safety.  There was one text that seemed left out of Jane's Bible—as it is out of a great many people's—to wit, 'By their fruits ye shall know them.'  She could not accept that testimony of a pure, unselfish life, without that deadly digging down among its roots, that would be most dangerous if its growth were not far matured, and which can never be beneficial.  It was not enough for her that Frederick Broome faithfully walked in ways, where the Master himself would have trodden had He been a rich young man, living in the London of to-day; that he was with the poor and desolate not with the mere hand of a benefactor, but with the heart of a brother; that he did not shrink from those who had sinned like his mother and suffered like himself, but held their restoration and welfare as a sacred trust, for the fulfilment of which his own blessings had been given him; that his means, to their utmost extent, were always at the command of any who could offer a fresh form of spiritual or physical help or healing to a suffering humanity.  All this was not enough for Jane, who forgot Jesus' denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees who 'shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,' and that in the road to Eternal Life he set no creed, but two precepts.  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'

    She did not find it very easy to 'speaks her mind' to him.  Real life in the soul, like real life in the affections, has a dignity of its own, which wards off any impertinent touch.  It is as hard to ask some people if they love God, as it would be to inquire if they loved their mother or their wife.  The very difficulty that Jane felt did her good.  It made her realize the sacred delicacy of the soul as she had never realized it before.

    Still she found an opportunity at last.  She and Frederick were pacing up and down her little garden one fine summer evening.  He had been telling her of some plans he had been looking over, for the object of giving better dwellings to the poorer classes.  Not very long before, in the days when she and Tibbie were wont to spar, Jane would have said at once that these benevolent schemes were not 'the gospel,' but somehow she did not say this now, and her thin sharp voice was really almost tenderly modulated as she did say,

    'Nobody can doubt that you are earnest and good, Mr. Broome.  You would spend yourself for others but others must think of you.'  (Poor Jane! as if people could ever think of others, till infinitely higher thoughts had been bestowed on them, for the almsgiving or martyrdom which is not charity, is that which is done for our own sakes—perhaps even for our 'owns salvation !)  Are you quite sure that all is right with you?  Do you simply believe in Christ?'

    'All is right with me,' said Frederick very quietly, for I know that God is my Father.  And he added, unconsciously raising his hat from his brow, nobody can know and believe in such an one as Sarah Russell, without believing in what Paul called that mystery—"Christ in us, the hope of glory."'

    That was all he said.  And Jane found nothing to reply.  But it made her think.  Was it possible that there could be sermons without words?  And since only God knows when and how each is to be brought into the light, was it possible that our best, if not our sole way of joining in His work, was by keeping our lives so clean and bright that haply His light may shine through us?  Little did Frederick Broome guess that his reply tremblingly given, stirred Jane far more deeply than anything had ever done before.

    Was it possible that all the words she had gone on repeating all her life had beneath them another and a deeper meaning which she had never sounded? that they were not a mere incantation to be muttered over life, but a living principle to be poured therein?  She thought over these things in her poor confused way, as she lay on her couch, hour after hour, muddling over her crochet hooks and worsteds.  And while she did so, she thought she might as well knit up some socks and cuffs for Tibbie's orphans and sick old women.

    Jane's furthest advance in knowledge was a dim realisation that she did not know quite everything, that the scheme of the universe might possibly be something not to be wholly bound up in an inflexible catechism or condensed in a limited creed.  She grew more silent on what she would have termed religious topics.  Secretly, she felt herself a little 'unsettled;' but while disposed to bemoan the loss of her 'assurance' and 'sweet frames of mind' could not help feeling that the very loss was somehow a gain, and that though it would be better to have more than she had now, she would not wish to have back what she had before.  And when she dared no longer to spend hours in thinking over her own spiritual privileges and perfections, and the general desolation and depravity of the rest of the world, she found she would be glad of some other employment, and took to regularly working for Tibbie's mission-room, and resumed some correspondence for which she had had 'no time,' for years, and presently undertook the secretary's work in a little agency for the benefit of young servant girls.  It is wonderful how much more work would be done in the world if we could just begin to realise the full truth of Jesus' words, 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.'

    As for Sarah and Tibbie, they were always friends, as people are who have sacred secrets between them.  Each had the key of the other's life.  Their words meant more to each other than to other people.  They each understood the retrospective significance of each other's actions and ways of thought.  Tibbie knew where Sarah had learned her boundless patience and hope.  Sarah knew what gave Tibbie so much sympathy with angry, wronged people, who had suffered their good to be overcome by evil.  In each other's presence those two enjoyed the sweet restfulness which comes in the assurance of understanding love.

    As for poor Mrs. Stone, she carried her convictions that she had 'marked her life under cost price' so far, that as her husband receded into the past, the mist of intervening time magnified him almost into a hero, until at last the only saving clause in the panegyric was, 'though I'll not deny he had his faults,' not seldom without the qualification, 'and I had a temper in those days, as has been subdued since, I hope and trust.'

    'It's as good as a story, ma'am,' she said, one evening when Sarah and she had been talking over the past; 'd'ye remember that night when we drove into the Hallowgate, and the bells were a-ringing?'

    'It was you who brought me to the Hallowgate.  Don't forget that, Mrs. Stone,' Sarah would say.

    'An' who was it spoke to me, an' helped me with my parcels?' Mrs. Stone rejoined.  'Things do fall out queer, that they do.  How would it ha' been, if you'd not spoken to me?  Then you'd not have come here, and Mr. Broome would have been turned away, and most likely he'd be in his grave, and the poor old gentleman would have died in his bitterness.'

    This was all the story known to Mrs. Stone.  She did not know that years of prayer lay beneath it—that Sarah had received her answer from the other side on a chain of little neighbourly kindnesses done upon her own.  Oh, when we turn away from some duty, or some fellow-creature, saying that our hearts are too sick and sore with some great yearning of our own, we may often sever the line on which a divine message was coming to us. We shut out the man, and we shut out the angel who had sent him on to open the door.

    Mrs. Stone hit the truth very nearly, when she went on,—

    'I can't help thinking that there's a plan working in our lives, and if we keep our hearts quiet and our eyes open, it all works together, and if we don't, it all fights together, and goes on fighting till it comes right somehow, somewhere.  We mostly kick about and raise such a dust we can't see anything else.  I've been an' gone an' done that all my time, and now I can scarcely keep from going on a-doin' it, at the remembrance of it!  Do you mind the psalm you read that first night, because you said we were tired?  Said I to myself, "That lady's got the 'still waters' in her heart."  And there's the church bells beginning again—the very same as they did then.'

    And Sarah leaned back in her chair, and closed her eyes and listened.  The old, longing prayer had died from the chimes.  With her, henceforward, all prayer was all thanksgiving.

    'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'

――――♦――――

 


 

 [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