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CHAPTER XXII.


THE husband and wife gazed at one another for a moment without speaking; both seemed to be subdued into stillness by wonder, and one added terror to this feeling.

    As Uzziah did not speak, his poor wife felt the slender ghost of a hope that her husband might not be certain of her identity, and she turned as quietly as she could, and had risen and moved towards the station door, when he cried out after her sharply and loudly, ”Hannah!”

    She still advanced, taking no notice of him.  She did not dare to make haste, but with a certain calmness of manner she passed out and walked slowly upon the grass, and went behind a bank among the heather.  She was thinking whether she could throw herself down with any hope of hiding, when the fatal sound of the lame foot was behind her, and with a feeling of desolation indescribable, she walked on and on, just keeping out of Uzziah’s reach, but only just.  She knew not what to do, and all her senses were sharpened.  It seemed that they had come to her aid but she questioned them, and it was only to find that nothing could be done — nothing.  A great white moon had just heaved itself up.  She was keeping the lurid orange sunset well behind her, lest its light should show her face, but now the light was purer in front, and she turned down a little decline and still walked slowly on.

    Oh the bitterness of that hour!  She still walked on, and the lame man toiled after her, and said not a word.  She had come into a desolate cart tract which was grassy, between the heath-covered banks that rose high on either side.  What good to go on any more?  All was lost.  He had power over her to prevent her escape.  She had felt that it was no use to run wildly away, for she knew that in such a case he had but to call and cry out after her, and she must, she should, return.  She gave up hope, and sat down on the bank, dropped her hands on her knees, and awaited him without looking up.

    The low moon was full on her face; the west had faded, and all was cool and dim.  When Uzziah saw her sit down, he stood still for a moment, as if not wishing to startle her; then he slowly advanced, wiping his forehead, for the exertion of the walk had been great to him, though she had been little more than two miles.

    The place was perfectly desolate and still — a good way from that portion of the great common which had been set apart as a racecourse, and far from any road or field or farm.

    If Hannah Dill had meant to deny her identity to her husband (but it did not appear that she had), her act in retreating thus must have made denial useless.  Uzziah Dill did not appear to intend entering on that question.  He came near and sat down on the grassy bank, about two feet from her.  Her silence, her evident despair, awed him, and he let her alone, as if he meant to wait till she should speak.  And yet his whole soul was shaken by surprise.  That if they met she would claim him, hang about him, and sorely interfere with what he called his evangelistic work, had been his fear ever since he had found himself at liberty.  She had loved him deeply and faithfully; it had not entered into his calculations that such a state of things could cease.

    He took out his handkerchief and again wiped his brow; then the urgent thought found utterance.  ”I’m afraid, my poor wife, you’ve acted very bad by me, else you wouldn’t be so fearful of seeing my face.’’

    She had taken the money, and concealed his children; she felt for the moment that this was ”acting bad” by him.  She did not repent, of course, but she had nothing to say for herself.

    ”If you’ve not been true to me —” he exclaimed almost passionately, and then seemed to give himself a sudden check.

    ”True to you!” she answered, turning slowly towards him and quietly looking at him from head to foot.  ”I never gave it a thought once, all these years, that I had to be true to you, but I thank my God he has always helped me to be true to myself.”

    The astonishment with which Uzziah Dill heard these words came not merely to contradict every recollection he had of his wife, but to produce some few reflections on his own past conduct; yet he presently put these back, and in a characteristic fashion still pressed his point.

    ”We’re all on us poor vile sinners, and have nothing to boast of.”

    ”Yes,” she answered, ”I see what you are at.  Through the blessing of God it is that I’m able to hold up my head with the best of good wives, that are happy as I have never been.  I have no goodness of my own before God, but I look to be respected by men, because it’s my due; and I don’t answer like this because you were my husband, but because, let him be high or low, I should answer so to any man.”

    And then she broke down and burst into heart-sick tears — remembered how she had seen her darlings drive away, and wrung her hands and sobbed.  It was not from any sense of consolation in his words, but rather from revulsion of feeling, that she checked herself when he said, ”Hannah, this is a very quiet hour, and I feel solemn and nearer to our heavenly Father for it.  If I was to relate my experience to you and how God has dealt with me, it might be blessed to you, my poor wife, as it has been to some others; for though I may say with the Apostle Paul, ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man’s judgment ‘”

    ”Mercy on us!” exclaimed the poor wife, interrupting him vehemently, and shuddering with repulsion.  ”You’re never going to compare yourself, Uzziah, to the Apostle Paul?”

    ”Why not?” he answered humbly, but without hesitation.  ”I bless the Lord that I am a sinner saved by grace, and what else was St. Paul?”

    She was so shocked at this speech that she broke forth into tears again, with ”Oh, I’m a miserable creature!  I can’t bear it!  This is worse — worse than the loss of my dears!”

    ”Hannah,” he answered kindly, and with something like authority in his manner, ”I know you’ve had misfortunes, and that I’ve been the cause of some.  I know I’ve many times drank myself mad, and then abused you shameful, and I know (and for all you may think I did not care to hear it, I did care) I was truly sorry when Mr. Gordon told me you had lost your babes.  I wish to speak like a Christian man, that I could not call up such love for them as a father ought to feel, but I was sorry for you.  I know right well that, when you buried them, it was a very bitter parting to you.  Now, don’t rend yourself so with sobbing; let the past be, and, with the blessing of God, let us live together in a better union for the future; and,” he added, like a man who had never known any keen affection all his life, ”it’s a sad thing you should lament over them still.  Forget them — they’re well off; and they were but little ones.”  He took off his hat when he said, ”they’re well off,” and looked up reverently.

    Though his speech had been so cold, it was an advance on the past.  Hannah Dill acknowledged its moderation, saw some contrition in it, and felt its truth; but the real parting had been so recent, and so different from what he supposed, that its bitterness overcame her again, and the tears ran down her cheeks.  ”Oh, my children, my dears, my only ones!” she sobbed out, ”what is there for your mother to remember but you?”

    And he thought they were dead.  This was eventually to prove a great help to her, but at the moment it gave her a strange dread for them, an almost superstitious fear; as if, indeed, they were dead.

    Her husband at this moment drew himself a little nearer to her as he sat on the bank, and she started away with instinctive repulsion, whereupon, with a slightly offended air, he retreated to his former position, while she slowly, and without making any effort one way or the other, exhausted her emotion; and the moon, now dimmed by slightly veiling clouds, showed her black figure to her husband as she sat at the top of the bank, looking out over the wide expanse of blossoming heather, and sometimes clasping her hands as if she was in prayer.  He also sat perfectly still, and in absolute silence.  The balmy air that had been so sultry, was now cool and refreshing, a few stars were out, owls were skimming the tops of the heather, and some rabbits dancing and darting about on a dry green knoll.  It was long before he spoke, and then it was with suddenness and decision.

    ”Well, Hannah, it's past eleven o'clock.  We had better go to the inn, my dear.”

    An unwonted termination this, ”my dear.”

    ”Do as you please,” she answered.  But, Uzziah, we are not going together.”

    ”Not together?” he exclaimed.  ”You've lost that money over the shoe business, and you've hid yourself from me, and never wrote to me once for years; and I've met you and not said one word; and if you'd come back and done your duty by me, I never would have done, the Lord helping me, — I never would have reproached you at all, but taken you back and made the best of you, as I believe is right; and now, Hannah —”

    ”Yes, and now,” she repeated, ”I tell you that I forgive the past.  And this is true, and so I'll say it, that if I chose this moment to set off and get clean away from you, I could, as you know well; and if you won't give me time to think out my miserable duty, and consider whether I may not truly have the blessed lot of leaving you, or whether I must stay because God wills it, why, I'll take the thing into my own hands.  I'll get away from you this night, and risk the repenting of it afterwards.”

    He sat silent for several minutes; then he answered, almost with gentleness, ”Your words cut me very sharp, Hannah; but I don't see what I have to answer before either God or you, but that I forgive them.”

    Hannah Dill here felt an instinctive consciousness of a change.  When she moved a very little further off, it was not from any fear lest he should strike her.  And she did not strive to hide her feeling of repulsion towards him when she replied, ”I fare to think you cannot know, Uzziah, that I had the reading of that letter you sent through Jacob from your prison to Rosa Stock.”

    ”Rosa Stock?” he repeated, faintly.  ”That was a long time ago.”

    ”Not so long but what I have got a copy of the letter.”

    ”I loved that woman,” he exclaimed, passionately.  ”I had been her ruin, but she never seemed to think of that; and she had been my ruin, but that did not seem to make it right I should leave her without any comfort from me.”  Then his voice sank, and he went on, ”Oh, I have been a miserable sinner!”

    ”Ay,” answered his wife, with pitiless coldness; ”but there's many a miserable sinner that's no hypocrite.  It's because you're such a hypocrite that I fare to shiver so while you're near me.  I got your letter to me after I had the money, and you'd heard of it, and I've got every word of it cut deep into my heart.  You never asked whether my child was born, nor how I had fared after you turned me out of doors; but you wrote to say (God forgive you !) that you was a reformed character, and you wanted me to keep myself right for your sake.”

    ”Ay, I was a hypocrite,” he answered ”I was.”  He flung up his hands as he spoke, and she shrank hastily from him; but he clasped them upon his forehead and groaned.  ”Did you think I would strike you, Hannah?” he exclaimed, as if such a thought on his part was a most unnatural and cruel one.

    She was silent.

    ”You have no cause to be afraid of me,” he continued; ”and now I see how it is that I cannot make the sweet offers of the gospel to you as I can to others.  It's because I have been so bad to you.  My poor wife, I humbly ask your pardon!”

    ”No, it's because you make such high talk of religion,” she replied, ”that I feel as I could not bear with you.  It fared to shock me so, to see you standing up — you that used to get so drunk — and preach to better folks that they were not to drink at all.  It fares to turn my blood cold to hear you talk now of doing folks good with your religious experience, and how the blessed God deals with you, when the last I knew of you showed that, if you dealt with aught out of this world, it must have have been with the evil one.”

    ”Hannah, do you ever read the Bible?”

    ”Yes, I read it every day, and pray to God that I may understand it, and live by it.”

    ”There’s a thief you read of there that mocked at our Lord while he hung a-dying.  He got forgiveness, didn’t he?”

    ”Ay, but he died, Uzziah.”

    ”But, if he had lived, do you think he would have gone back to his wickedness?”

    ”No, I don’t.”

    ”But you think there’s no forgiveness for a wretched thief now; you think God cannot forgive a miserable drunkard now?”

    ”No, I don’t think that, my poor husband; God forbid!”

    ”You think it possible that the blessed God might forgive — even me?”

    ”Yes, I do.”

    ”But what if he did, Hannah?  How should I order myself, if my sins were forgiven?”

    ”I expect you’d be very humble and very broken-hearted, and quiet about it.”

    ”And not tell other poor wretches that were in the same misery and bondage that there was forgiveness for them too; that Jesus Christ could save them too, and would save them, if they would have him?”

    It was past midnight now, and this last appeal, which had been meant to be so comforting and so convincing, was too much for poor Hannah Dill.  ”O God, forgive me, if I want to do amiss!” she cried, and gave way to an agony of tears.  ”It does seem as if I couldn’t stop with you — I couldn’t — I couldn’t.”

    ”Well, then,” he answered, and rose and took off his hat, ”let us pray.”

    She looked at him, and trembled; but she sat still, and the lame man knelt down.  His wife could but just make out his figure, for a small dark cloud had come over the moon.  She saw that he lifted up his hand, and then she, trembling yet, listened, and he began to pray, beginning with the beautiful and pathetic collect, —

    ”O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers, and us carry through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

    And then after a pause, he went on — the sometime drunken cobbler, the hypocritical convict, and bigamist, went on, with all reverence and solemnity.  ”It is a strange thing, good Lord, that we have to say to thee.  We are a miserable wife and husband that did not wish to meet — neither of us — and that was, maybe, wrong in thy sight.  I did try to find her at first, good Lord, and when I could not, I thought thou hadst answered me, and I might serve thee as a man free from her.  I could live on so little, and her money I willingly gave up.  And how could she follow me, often in hardship and hunger, when I go to speak well of thee and thy loving kindness?

    ”And she, good Lord, she has lost that love she had for me, and that I did not care for, and she would fain go her ways.  Shall I let her go, Lord — may I let her go in peace? — for thou seest it is left to thee.  We met by thy will, and we durstn’t part without thy blessing.  Oh, give us that, and give it now!

    ”So many times thou hast answered me, but since the day when my sins were forgiven, I have never been in such a strait as I am now, and I want to talk with thee of her side of this matter.  Look on her.  How hard it seems to come back!  Ay, it would be a vast sight harder still, if she could know all.  Thou knowest all; I poured it out to thee.  It was a base thing to put into words.  Maybe it went nigh to break thy heart when thou wert here, that men should have such deeds to confess.  Maybe thou knowest what it is to rue, even in thy Father’s bosom, the ways and the wants of us that are to thee so near of kin.  O Lord Christ Jesus, that we thy brothers may be no more a disgrace to thee, pray to thy Father to make us pure, for thy sake.

    ”I beseech thee, be content to have the guiding of us, for we cannot guide ourselves.  We have great searchings of heart, but come thou and sit between us in this desolate place.  Thou knowest what we want, thy blessing on our parting in peace.  But if we may not part thus, thy blessing that we may live together in peace.  Give it, O most pitiful master, and give it by the dawning of the day!”

    When he had got thus far, the lame man arose and went a little further, and again knelt down, holding up his hands, and still praying aloud, but far enough off to plead with God inaudibly, as far as his one human listener was concerned; and Hannah Dill felt then a little comfort in her misery: he was not praying for effect, and that she might hear him — at least, he was not a hypocrite here.

    The moon came out — she was near her southing — and as she went down, Hannah Dill saw her husband’s face, and knew that it was changed.  A soft waft of summer air came about her now and again, dropping as if from the stars; her husband’s voice came upon it, and died as it fell, and that was changed; no such tones in it had reached her ears of old.  It went on and on, and still it went on.  At first it had been almost a cry, a low, pleading cry; but afterwards, as she recalled the beginning, she wondered at its gradual change.  No words to reach her, but yet now it was calm, and almost satisfied.  This long prayer was more awful to her, in the solemn night, than any of his speeches had been.

    It frightened and subdued her, but she would not speak, for while he was so occupied, she was left to herself.  She leaned her elbows on her knees and propped her face on her hands — her poor face, stained with tears, and pale with long distress — but just as her lulled emotion and fatigue between them had brought her such quietness as might have been succeeded by a doze, the distant voice stopped, and she, missing its monotonous murmur, started and was distressfully awake again.  It might be about three o’clock, she thought; the moon was gone, and though two or three stars were quivering in the sky, the restfulness of night was almost over.  The hills, she thought, had taken rather a clearer outline towards the east, and there was more air stirring over the heads of the heather.

    She saw her husband rise, and a thrill of joy ran through her veins when she observed that he did not mean to approach her.  She made out, in the dimness that comes just before dawn, that he went slowly to a little rise where the heather was thickest, and that he laid himself down in it.  She knew he was a heavy sleeper, and that in a few minutes he would sleep.  Was she not alone?  Could she not now steal away from him?  No.  Before the thought was fully formed, she knew she could not.  The sleeping man’s prayer had power over her; it seemed to wake yet while he slept.  And now that she could feel herself retired from all human eyes, she also arose and kneeled down, and spread out her hands as if she would lay her case before the Lord.

    Not a word to say, not one word; but a thought in her mind like this: ”It is not because I cannot make my statement clear, that God does not see and pity my case; let my God look upon me and decide, for whatever it is to be, I consent.”  A long time silent thus, even till the grass turned green about her, and the birds began to wake — even till the first streak of gold was lying along the brink of the hill, and till the utter peacefulness of the new dawn seemed to make her aware that in her own mind was also dawning a resignation that was almost like peace.  If all joy was gone, and all comfort given up, at least they had been stolen away gently, and, as it were, almost with her own consent.  ”Thou knowest that I cannot bear it,” she said quietly.  ”Oh, bear it for me; take my burden on thyself!”

    And almost as she spoke, she felt aware that she had been helped — that all should be right, and was right.  Then she too rose from her knees, and heard the lame man approaching; she sat down on the bank, and he sat beside her.

    All the east was taking on its waxing flush.  She and her husband looked at it together as they sat side by side.  She sighed twice; its solemn splendour was so great, and her heart had sunk so low, she could hardly bear to look at it; but at last he spoke.

    ”Well, Hannah,” he said, ”there’s words to be spoke now; and, my poor wife, it’s right you should begin.”

    ”Ay,” she answered, faltering, and faint from long emotion and want of rest, ”I’ve a right to say that you must tell me what has become of Rosa, and her babe.”

    ”Rosa Stock?” he replied, solemnly.  ”She’s dead, Hannah — dead this seven years; and her babe’s dead too.”

    Naturally this information made a difference.  The poor wife sighed again.  ”But I cannot live with him,” she thought, ”if I’m to be always living in a lie. — You said to God in the night,” she went on, ”that I didn’t know all.”

    ”It’s true, Hannah,” he replied.

    ”And no more can you know all,” she replied.  ”What’s done, was done for the best.  As for me, I want to know no more.  I’ll ask no questions about anything, nor never reproach you; and these words are my vow and bond that I won’t.  But, in return, you’re never to ask me — never —how I came to lose the money, and — ”

    She paused so long, that he at last said, ”If it’s clean gone, and nothing I could do could by possibility get it back, promise I do.”

    ”And my children,” she began, melting again into heart-sick tears.  ”If I go along with you, you must promise me, on your solemn word before God this hour, that you’ll never, never mention them to me; never, never let their names pass your lips to me more.”

    He turned to her with a look of surprise.  She was quietly wiping away her tears.  He would have liked to comfort her; he even began to reason with her.  ”I should have thought it might be a comfort to you, to talk about their pretty ways, and their deaths likewise.”

    ”It is not,” she answered.  ”I fare to believe that it’s my duty to stay with you, if you’ll consider over this one thing that I demand so solemnly, and promise it with all your heart; but if you won’t do that, then let me go my ways.”

    After a short pause, he answered, ”Hannah, I promise.”  And then she gave him her hand, and he helped her to rise.  And they walked together in the early sunshine, to get the refreshment they sorely needed, at the little inn.  Not a word or a look passed between them; one went with silent exultation, and the other with silent tears.


 
CHAPTER XXIII.


UZZIAH DILL and his wife were both sorely fatigued when, in the rosy flush of a summer morning, they reached the little inn.  Its windows were not yet opened, and they sat on a bench outside, under a thickly-branched maple-tree.  Uzziah Dill was able to observe and reflect.  He noticed the neatness and cleanliness of his wife’s array.  She was one of those women who are far more attractive in early middle life than in youth.  The lanky, gaunt figure had a fuller and more gracious outline now; the sometimes thin features and great, hungering eyes were softer.  It was a long time since any man had struck her, or insulted her, or scowled at her, and even after that night of misery, her expression of countenance bore witness to this fact.  She was languid, very weary, and very full of sorrow, but her fear of him, as he had sense to see, was no fear of a blow.

    He thought she would soon ”come round.”  She had loved him when he had ill-treated her; surely her very jealousy was a proof that, whatever she might say, she had not entirely ceased to love him even now.  And he meant to be so good to her, so — yes, even so loving to her.  He had not wished to meet with her — very far from it —but here she was, and he found himself exulting.

    There was a pump close at hand, and some sparkling, clear water lying under it, in a wooden trough.  Hannah Dill went to it, and taking off her bonnet, bathed her aching eyes and brow.  He watched her; approved in his very heart the semi-methodistic plainness of her dress; saw her twist up her long hair with interest, put on her bonnet and shawl again, and come slowly back.

    He thought he would say something encouraging and affectionate to her.  He would let her know that she had happiness before her, and not misery; but when she came and sat down near him again, her gentle patience, her hopeless eyes, that did not look at him, seemed to steal his words out of his mouth.

    ”Hannah,” was all he managed to say, ”they are astir in the inn now; I’d better go in and tell them to get us some breakfast.”

    He seemed to wait her reply, and she said listlessly, ”As you will.”

    It had pleased God already to discipline his base nature; he had endured great fear, had found himself to be vile.  It had seemed to himself, as he lay once in the prison in solitary confinement, on account of his bad language and coarse insubordination, it had seemed all on a sudden as if some evil spirit drew near him in the dark and took his sins by armfuls and heaped them over him, and he saw them as if they had bodily substance, and there were so many that they crushed him down.  His first sensation was more astonishment than even fear.  All these hateful things, excepting one or two that always haunted him, had seemed to be dead and gone, and now they were alive; not put away, but his, swarming about him, part of himself.  He struggled, he trembled, he cried out.  Then he thought he would act a more manful part; he tried to fling them off, he would not be so cowed.  What could he do by way of occupation?  He would recall all the songs he had been used to sing, and sing them now.  So he wiped his forehead and began.  But lo, it was a quavering, craven voice that sang; it moaned over the wicked words, it sank and choked over the impure ones.  There was no comfort here.  But something he must and would do, or this stifling weight on his soul would kill him.  It was not that he repented, it was hardly remorse that he felt; it was the mere presence always over and about him of this load of wickedness, that he knew to be his own wickedness, that daunted him and made him so wretched,  Well, he would say over so many of his school lessons as he could remember, he would set himself sums in his own mind, he would go over the multiplication table.

    The chaplain found him one day at this weary work, trying to find some occupation and some thought to stand between him and his crimes.  His sleep had departed, his mind was clouded, he was willing for once to speak, and seemed to think that no man had ever suffered so before.  ”I can't get them away!'' he exclaimed, tearing at this breast.  ”How should I? — they are myself.  I shall die if they press me down so.”

    The chaplains had always felt a sort of horror of him, he had been such a hypocrite, he had done so much to corrupt some of the other prisoners.  He looked at him attentively, supporting that this was only some new piece of by hypocrisy.

    ”The Almighty has been hard upon me,” he continued; ”I am cast into hell before my death.”

    ”No,” answered the chaplain.  ”The Almighty has been merciful to you, and given you still your life to repent in.”

    ”I have tried to repent, and I cannot.  How should I get to repent?” he answered.

    ”God, and God only, can give true repentance.  You must humbly ask him to give it to you.”  And then he looked doubtfully at the prisoner, who seemed so restless and so defiant, and so enraged.  ”Like a wild bull in a net,” he though within himself.

    ”I've tried as hard as ever I can to do that you call repent,” continued the prisoner.  ”But even if I could be sorry all my days, here they are, these sins; I could not get away from them.”

    ”No,” answered the chaplain; ”but you have leave to take them and lay them at the foot of the cross, the cross of Christ.”

    The prisoner answered, but not irreverently, only with the dullness of despair, ”He would have nothing to do with such as I am.  And why should He?”

    ”Why, indeed!” answered the chaplain; ”that is more than we know.  But if you can believe that God gave him, and that he was willing to be given, to take away the sins of the World, you know enough.”

    ”Well, I've heard say so all my life,” said the prisoner, ”but that don't seem to bring me any help.  I'm down, that's what I am — sunk in the pit — and I don't see any hope, nor ease, nor daylight, nor way of getting out.”

    ”And I cannot say so much as God help you,” answered the chaplain; ”for God offers your help only in that one way, and if you will not have it, there is no help for you in heaven or earth.”

    ”I've 'done a good many black deeds,” reasoned the prisoner, ”as the good Lord knows better than you do.  If I could only get them down and trample them under my feet, I would kneel then and cry for mercy.”

    ”I tell you that trying to trample down your crimes is of no use.  Your character is a part of yourself; you cannot get away from nor do away with them; but the Saviour of mankind, if you will go to Him, will not only forgive, but will release you and relieve you of them, and take them on himself,”

    ”Then let him,” cried the prisoner, flinging himself on the ground — ”let him he cried with vehemence, and almost with rage.  ”Let the good Lord have mercy on my miserable soul!  I'm spent spent with misery, I can do nothing in the world; but if He did die to save such black sinners, and if He can bear with those that cannot even bear with themselves, and can get them free of their sins, and make men of them again, He never had a better chance than he has now.  I say it humbly to him, let the good Lord try his hand on me.”

    In the choking accents both of rage and despair, Uzziah Dill cried out thus as he lay grovelling on the ground, and the young chaplain, starting up, looked at him with something like fear.  The coarse nature and the ungoverned passions of the man had been taken hold of by a power too strong for him to cope with, but his own words rang in his ears now, and he lay up an the floor silently, as if a great awe was upon him.

    The chaplain had nothing to say.  A great many convicts had professed repentance, and most of them on release had fallen away.  He was about to kneel and offer prayer, when the convict sat up, and said in a scared voice, as if for the first time conscious of that great presence in which we always dwell, ”Those I shouted up were impudent words.  I had no call to shout at all,” he continued, looking round.  ”But I say again, the Lord, for Christ's sake, have mercy on my sinful soul!”  Then — strange comment indeed on his own prayer — ”Now,” be continued, still with that look of awe, ”now I've played my last card.”

    The chaplain, feeling shocked both at the wicked fellow's prayer and the violent way in which he had acted, was soon out of his cell.  Uzziah Dill was asleep the next time he came to visit him, and the second time was so peaceful and quiet, as to appear more than ever a hypocrite to those about him; but he used no bad language, and was never insubordinate any more.

    So, it had pleased God already to discipline his coarse nature.  He had been cast into prison for his crimes, and there they had been shown to him as if pointed at by a finger from above; and then they had fallen from him, had been sunk, as it were, in the depths of the sea.  And after that had come the discipline of contempt and long suspicion.  These lasted almost till the time of his release — during all those years when he had been earnestly trying to improve himself, his intellect and all his powers becoming stronger through long protection from the constant tempting to drink, which had been too much for his feeble nature and weak constitution.

    And now another discipline was preparing for him, woven out of circumstances, and from one of the commonest contradictions that prevail in this contrary world.

    He was not so obtuse that he did not perceive his wife’s misery, her almost loathing of him.  The love she had borne him and which he had never cared for, and long forgotten, flashed back on his remembrance now.  He seemed to have a right to it NOW, and every half-hour assured him that to be a good and loving husband to her would be an easy task NOW.  And he could not have it.

    If God had forgiven him, why could not she?  He longed to assure her how different he now was, but his tongue was tied; she would not believe him.  He remembered with a pang the many good women that had kindly and even proudly entertained him after his temperance lectures, ”for his works’ sake;” but the deep humility of dawning love made him all too certain that they did not know him as his wife did, they did not know his past.

    They ate and they drank together almost in silence; then, to the astonishment of Hannah Dill, her husband talked humbly and most piously to the landlady while she cleared away.  It was very early; and if she and her family were not in the usual habit of having family prayers, he would be very glad to conduct it for them, for, with apologetic gentleness, ”it was indeed so bright and early, that no interruption of business was likely.”

    The landlady took the proposal well.  The poor wife felt that she could hardly bear to hear him ”show off” before her; but when Uzziah Dill was told that the inn kitchen was ready for him, and that, beside the household, two carriers, ”very quiet men,” would be glad to join, he said, so as not to be overheard, ”Hannah, I seem to feel as you would rather stay here, and I’ve nothing to say against it.”

    ”No, Uzziah,” she answered, instantly changing her mind, ”I fare to think I had better go in; ”and she sighed and followed him.

    The poor ex-convict had a ready tongue, and he already knew his one book well.  He read a psalm, and made a few devout comments on it.  His wife, in spite of herself, thought his remarks almost as scholarly and fine as Mr. de Berenger’s; and when he began to pray, and faltered a good deal for all his earnestness, she knew as well as if she had been told, that it was her presence which took away his self-possession.  He desired her approval; he wondered what she would think.

    So, when they were alone in the little parlour — for the parliamentary train was not to pass till noon —she said to him, ”Uzziah, it is but right I should tell you I’ll never breathe to any soul your having been in prison.  I’ll not interfere with your speeches in that way.”

    ”Thank you heartily,” he answered; ”but, Hannah, where I think it will do good to tell it, I often have told it myself.”

    ”Do good?” she exclaimed.  ”How should it do good?  Who is to listen if you tell such a thing as that?”

    ”Many a drunkard will listen,” he answered, ”if he finds that, through the drink, I have been in a worse case than he has.  It’s all the drink, Hannah, that does for us.  I never wished to do a thing against the law till I was under the temptation of it.  When I had once done wrong, I sneaked and was wishful to do better and keep right till I was half drunk again; then the old wicked daring came, and made a wild beast of me.  It gave me courage and cunning too.  I saw how to do the bad thing, when my pulse was all alive with stimulus.  But it was my natural way, before I was a converted man, to be a hypocrite.  So I must watch most against that sin, and not make out that I’ve always had a good character.”

    ”Then how do you get a living?  Who employs you?” she inquired.

    ”Well, first place, I’m never called an impostor, for I acknowledge that I’m low down.  In general, after I’ve spoke, there’s a little collection made for me; and I have my tools, so, if a brother or sister has any shoes to mend, I mend them.  Though I say it, they’re well done, and through that I often get more custom.  Or, so long as I seem to be doing any good in a town, I take a little journeyman’s work, and so, what with one thing and another, I bless the Lord I have not wanted yet.”

    If there was anything ludicrous in this speech, that was not the quality in it which most struck his wife.

    ”You live from hand to mouth, then?” she observed.

    ”I did ought to do,” he answered; ”but I went to Mr. Gordon to look after you, and he told me there was fifteen pound in hand, and that I was to have thirty pound a year so soon as I could claim it.”

    ”Yes,” she replied; ”it were but right.”

    ”Well, I took the fifteen, and it seemed as if I was distrusting the Lord, and I could not spend it, Hannah; let alone your uncle never meant his earnings to come into my grip.  I have given three pound of it away to some of the Lord’s poor, and to a man that I got to take the pledge, and here is the rest in my pocket.  We shall go about so cheap, Hannah — sometimes in a smack, and sometimes in an excursion train or a carrier’s cart.  That thirty pound a year will keep you, with what little extra I can earn.”

    We?  Then he expected to have her always with him!

    ”But why should you feel any call to go moving about?” she repeated.

    ”Because I’m a temperance lecturer.  But I have not the impudence to offer myself to be paid by any society — none of them would employ a man that had not a good character.  I do not preach.  I seem to think you’ll be glad to hear that.”

    ”You’re not a dissenter, Uzziah?”

    ”No; so I don’t interfere with the work of the ministry.  But I make the offer of the gospel wherever I can privately, and I go and see poor folks in prisons and workhouses, when I can get leave.”  He paused, then added, with a sigh, ”It cuts me very deep, Hannah, to see you look so miserable, and hardly seem to care about anything.  If you knew more about this temperance question, and how drink is the one cause of the ruin of nineteen out of twenty that go to the bad

    She interrupted.  ”I know all about temperance — all,” she said, listlessly.

    He looked surprised, then, as if her weary indifference goaded him into making a complaint, he continued, ”And if you knew how pleased I am to find you again, and how it cuts me to see that — well, I mean, you used to be fond of me, Hannah.”

    ”Yes.”

    ”And if I’d been so blest as to have found salvation then, and taken to sober ways, you’d have been a happy woman.”

    ”Yes.”

    She sighed bitterly, as she uttered that one syllable of reply; she evidently could not rouse herself to care what he thought of her.  He went to the window and looked out, trying to find something to say that would please her.  The time was getting on, and he had certainly made no way at present.  When he looked round, she had slipped out of the room.  She had resolved to ask for the bill and pay it herself, that, if any allusion was made to her having been there the evening before with young ladies, she might be the only person to hear it.

    ”I have no luggage, Uzziah,” she said, when she returned; ”and if you ask me why, I cannot tell you, nor which of the four towns I came from, that met here yesterday.  But I have paid the reckoning, and I’ve money in my hand that will buy me clothes for a good while to come.”  She had, in fact, been paid her quarter’s wages a few days previously.

    Uzziah Dill seemed to understand that he was to ask no questions, or perhaps he perceived that it would only be a waste of words if he did; so he proceeded to show, as he thought, a great proof of confidence.  He laid about two pounds on the table, in silver and copper, and took out a small parcel done up in brown paper.  ”That’s the twelve pound, Hannah,” he said, ”and there’s what money I have.  You had better take charge of it, and I can ask you for what I want; I never spend a penny now that I need be ashamed you should know of.  I’ve kept out enough to pay our two tickets.”

    She shrank from this mark of his trust in her.  ”I’m not used to carry so much about with me,” she said faintly.  ”You’d better by half put it back again.”  So he did, looking almost as spiritless as herself; and they walked slowly to the station.

    And now began a new and very strange life for Hannah Dill.  The third-class carriage was full of people, and her husband, with a kind of uncouth attempt at politeness, began to offer them temperance tracts.  Some took them, others argued with him, and made game of him.  He showed what, to his wife, seemed an unnatural and distressing humility.  It seemed not in the least to signify what they said of him or to him, if they would only take his tracts and promise to read them.  It was a very slow train, and Hannah Dill, in spite of herself, dozed; but her sleep was far from refreshing, and she started with a slow cry of terror when her husband touched her and said they were to get out.

    It was about four miles to the next station, and to that they were to walk and wait till late in the afternoon, when another train would come up and take them on.  Uzziah Dill bought some food, and they went on together, he carrying it, and she holding her umbrella o’er her head, for the day was sultry.  There was plenty of time before them, and the walk might have been delightful to a happier woman.  They went through newly cut hay-fields and among bean-fields; they came to a little river, full of floating water-lilies — it was spanned by a wooden bridge.  Close to it was a small empty cart-shed, and in its shade they sat down to make their noonday meal.  After that the ex-convict, not able to repress his joy at his wife’s presence, and his thankfulness for God’s goodness, proposed to sing a hymn, and forthwith broke out into a well-known strain, full of exultation, joy, and praise.

    Thunder had been muttering for some time.  And with more than common suddenness, a cloud, coming over, burst in torrents of rain; while, just as the last verse was in course of conclusion, two young men dashed across the wooden bridge from the opposite field, and took shelter also in the shed.

    ”By Jove!” exclaimed one of them, taking off his hat and sprinkling the dust with drops from its brim.  ”They are going it.”

    He meant the elements.  And just then a great green flash seemed to run all over them and among them, and such a rattling, crashing peal of thunder with it, that the water in the little river shook with its vibrations.

    ”By Jove!” repeated the same young man, in an admiring and more respectful tone, as if he could not think of withholding his tribute to these elements, when they were so much in earnest about their business.

    Then the usual thing followed.  Uzziah Dill, with humble civility, almost ludicrous, rose, and making his bow to the young men on the other side of the cart, received two nods in reply, while he said, ”The gods of the heathen, gentlemen, are no good to swear by in a danger like this.  I’ll take leave to address a prayer to the true God, for we seem to be in the very midst of the muddle; and I have my dear wife with me, whose safety it’s natural I should think of.”  Thereupon, pulling off his hat again, he held it before his face, and, turning away, murmured into it an inaudible prayer.

    The two young men looked at each other, and Mrs. Dill could not forbear to glance at them.  She was ashamed of her husband and for him, and yet ashamed of herself for being ashamed.

    One of the young men was very tall and dark; he leaned on one of the cart-wheels and smiled, while he looked at the man praying.  The other young man was small and fair; he sat on the shaft, and remained perfectly grave; he had a little mouth, which he slightly screwed up with an air of observant intelligence, that made him look especially foolish.

    When a baby looks thus at a candle, we think the little face has an air of wisdom; but if a young man looks thus at an ordinary hay-cart, we are sure he must be an ass.

    Uzziah Dill now turned round, and, after another tremendous clap of thunder, produced a bundle of leaflets, and was just about to make a civil offer of some to the gentlemen, when the tall young man — Lord Robert, in fact — burst into a good-natured laugh.  ”Why, Peep,” he exclaimed, ”this is out of the frying-pan into the fire!  Put them up, my good man — put them up.  This gentleman’s pockets,” indicating his companion, ”are full of them already.  They are temperance leaflets, I see.”

    Uzziah Dill, finding his incipient temperance lecture taken out of his mouth, looked foolish for a moment; but when little Peep said kindly, ”Ye-es, I am much interested in the temperance cause,” his countenance glowed with joy.

    ”Indeed, sir,” he said respectfully.  ”Then, sir, I make bold to wish you God-speed with it.  I’m only a poor cobbler,” he continued, after giving little Peep an unreasonable time to reply in, if he had been so minded, ”but I count it a great honour to be able to help such a blessed cause, if it’s ever so little.”

    ”Ye-es,” said little Peep, and slowly added, taking time to cogitate between every two or three words,” I wish — there was no — strong drink.”

    Thereupon Lord Bob, taking no notice at all of the cobbler, gave little Peep a dig in the ribs.  ”No strong drink?  You are a pretty fellow,” he exclaimed.  ”Call yourself a Briton, and talk of getting into Parliament, and yet cry out, ‘No strong drink!’  How’s the Government to go on without the revenue from it?  Where will you get the money to pay your soldiers and sailors with?”

    ”I don’t—know,” said little Peep, look as much perplexed as if he felt seriously concerned to produce the wherewithal then and there.


 
CHAPTER XXIV.


HOW could there be a better opening for a palaver?  It was pouring now with steady rain.  Little Peep, seated on the shaft, looked much perplexed; Uzziah Dill sat on the shabby carpet-bag that held his tools; and Lord Bob, facing them both, leaned on the wheel of the cart, and, being very tall, looked right over it into little Peep’s eyes.  “There’s patriotism!“ he exclaimed.  “Do you want the country to go to wrack?  Don’t you know, and don’t you too, cobbler — I beg your pardon —“

    “No offence, sir; that’s my trade,” Uzziah broke in.  “Pray go on, sir.”

    “Well, don’t you know, then, that our soldiers and sailors are almost entirely paid out of the revenue that comes from the excise duties?”

    “Well, sir,” Uzziah presently said, after giving little Peep time to reply, if he chose, “if I am to answer, I’ll say that drink costs the country very nigh as much as it pays it.  Look at all our criminal courts, what they cost — our judges, our prisons, with all their officers and servants, and the chaplains, and the feeding of the prisoners, and their clothes.  Then look at our police force — their wages, and clothes, and all the rest of it, sir.  And then consider that, nineteen-twentieths of all the crime being caused by drink, that proportion of the expense would be saved if we were sober.”

    Even little Peep was startled here.  “Ye-es,” he said, with what for him was wonderful promptitude; “but nineteen twentieths is such — a — such a jolly lot to write off.”

    “Off the crimes, sir, did you mean, or the money?”

    “Why, it’s the money we want, and are trying — to scrape together.”

    ”Well, sir,” cried the cobbler, “I’m sure I’m willing to meet you half-way.  We’ll say nine-tenths of the expense is saved; we have nineteen-twentieths less crime, and the country saves nine-tenths of the expense, which you have towards the army and navy.”

    “That’s fair,” said little Peep.

    “And my nineteen-twentieths, sir, includes not only the convictions for crimes done when a man is in drink, but those committed by habitual drunkards, even though they be then sober; men, in short, that have got their wills made weak by drink, and their consciences clouded.”

    “You have got up the subject, cobbler, I see,” observed Lord Robert.

    “Well, but granting all you say (for the sake of argument, merely), the sum saved would not half pay.”

    “I was afraid it wouldn’t,” said little Peep, screwing up his mouth and shaking his head.

    “No, sir; but then, if we had no drunkards, we should have hardly any paupers.  Only think what they cost the country.  We should save a sight of money there.”

    “You take a good deal for granted.”

    “But not too much, sir.  I take for granted that, thank God, people have their feelings.  There are thousands of poor old folks in the workhouses that have children who’d scorn to leave them there, but that they’re almost beggars themselves, along with their families, because they are such slaves to the drink.  There are thousands upon thousands of children there as well, because they’ve lost father, and often mother too, through the drink.”

    Little Peep here began to look a trifle happier.  He glanced at Lord Robert, as if the matter was in his hands, and on his fiat depended the payment of her Majesty’s forces.  He was in the habit of taking things very much to heart; besides, he had a nasty cough.  He must not leave the cow-shed, therefore, while it rained, and while he stayed he would, of course, talk to the cobbler.  For these reasons, therefore, and not because he cared about the matter in hand, Lord Bob gave himself an air of conviction, and looked cheerful.

    “Come,” he said, “I think we’re getting on.  Besides, you may remember that, with all our sobriety, we shall still derive some revenue — suppose we say one-twentieth — from the excise on strong drink.  You can add that.”

    “And what about the duties on tobacco?  Many people sa-ay you’re not to smoke,” said little Peep.

    “It can only be the most hardened villains who say that.  Drinking and smoking have nothing really to do with one another.  In fact, some of the most sober nations smoke most,” replied Lord Robert, laughing.

    “My doctor always tells me to smoke in moderation,” said little Peep.

    “And if you drink toast and water with your pipe, or drink nothing at all, sir, where is the harm of it?” said Uzziah.  “Anyhow,” he continued, in a burst of generosity, “I should wish the government to keep that branch of the revenue.  We have no call to interfere with it; for ours is the temperance cause, and nothing else.”

    “Then, if I’m to have all that,” said little Peep, cogitating, “won’t it be almost enough? or shall we all have to be taxed much more than — than we are now, you know?”

    “Even if we are, sir, think how much richer we shall be.  We shall hardly feel it.  We shall be richer by nineteen-twentieths of all those millions that we are now paying for drink, and by what we earn in regular wages, and by most of the paupers being at home with their parents and with their children.  Some taxes will be taken off, and others will be put on.”

    “And so you think we shall do?”

    “I pray God for a chance of trying, sir.

    “So do I,” answered little Peep.

    “I take my leave of you, gentlemen,” then said the cobbler.  “And if you’ll put up your umbrella, my dear, it’s about time we stepped over to the station.”

    Mrs. Dill rose, and to her great shame, saw each of the gentlemen drop money into Uzziah’s hand, and saw him receive it, and put it in his pocket.  They knew him better than she did, it appeared.

    “Thank you, gentlemen,” he said.  “To give this to me is about the same thing as to give it to the cause; for I live for the cause, in my humble way.”

    He had not gone many yards, following closely on his wife’s heels, when Lord Bob came striding after him.  “I say, cobbler,” he cried, “you’re no fool — I can see that.”

    “You’re very good, sir,” answered Uzziah.  “Such headpiece as I have is not fuddled with drink, anyhow.  I am a sober man now, through the goodness of the Lord.”

    “Well, look here, there was a little flaw in those fine calculations of yours, which I did not wish my poor friend to see.  You make out that, if all the people became sober, they would save — how many millions a year is it?  Well, I forget; but suppose it saved, whose pockets is it in?”

    “Why, in the people’s pockets, sir.”

    “Exactly so, and not in the pocket of the Government.  How do you propose to conjure it there?”

    Now, Lord Bob, being very tall, and the rain pouring down, dropped a good deal from the brim of his hat and splashed on Uzziah’s nose as be looked up to answer.

    “It seems to me, sir,” he said, both men walking on at a smart pace, “that there may be a flaw in your calculations.  When God puts it into the minds of a good many people that a certain thing they’ve been in the habit of doing — as I may say with a clear conscience — is a wrong thing to do, that is a kind of prophecy that the thing, sooner or later, is going to be done away with by them; just as the slave-trade was, you know, sir, and then slavery.  We that think about it have got, so to speak, such a prophecy, and that you should not leave out of your calculation.  This great drink traffic is certain sure going to be done away with; we don’t know when, and we don’t know how.”

    “Going to be given up!” exclaimed Lord Robert, laughing.

    “Yes, sir.  There has been a great deal of talk this forty years about what a sad thing it was to drink, but not half enough about what a sad thing it was to distil the drink, and sell out the drink.  A vast many folks have found out this lately.  I heard a gentleman lecture on it only yesterday.  His name was Mr. Amias de Berenger.”

    Lord Robert heard this name with great amusement; but it did not suit him to let the cobbler know that he was intimate with Mr. Amias de Berenger.  He smiled.  “And so this Mr. de Berenger and you temperance folks generally have got a kind of supernatural instinct in you (which you call a prophecy), and it tells you that every man concerned in the liquor traffic is going to be ruined?”  Then, after a short pause, his native gentlemanhood coming to his aid, he added, “And all the drunkards reclaimed, while at the same time we may leave Providence to look after the revenue?”

    “I don’t exactly know about that, sir,” answered Uzziah, who felt himself rather at fault there.

    “It seems to me that Parliament will have enough to do,” continued Lord Robert, half bantering him.  “It has first to stop the liquor traffic; secondly, to compensate the whole body of publicans; and, thirdly, to find money for the payment of the forces.”

    “Well, sir, Parliament had enough to do — and did it — when it had to make folks believe that slavery was not to be borne with, and then to compensate the slave-owners.  But the world has got on since that, and it may be through that.  And how do you know that the heads of the liquor traffic will not be the first to show how this thing is to be done?“

    “I am no prophet, cobbler; but I think I know better than that.”

    “Well, sir, and I am no prophet; but if you are sure Parliament will pass no bills to stop the traffic, and no other way can be thought of, why, we have no call to consider how the forces are to be paid.  But I have noticed,” continued the cobbler, “a strange way there is with people, as if they thought human creatures, when they were added together, were not as good as every one of the same lot is when he stands by himself.  Now, why are you and five hundred other gentlemen not to be willing to do what you yourself are willing to do, sir, for your fellow-creatures?“

    Then, as Lord Robert strode beside the limping cobbler, he fell into a short cogitation, keeping an amused expression of surprise on his pleasant face, and not in the least attending to Uzziah Dill, who was carefully attempting to explain that, in using the word “good,” he did not impute to men any works that had merit in themselves.

    Lord Robert heard not a single word of this theological dissertation, but the cobbler was gratified by his silence, and surprised when he suddenly exclaimed, “How do you know that I myself am willing to do anything at all for the benefit of my fellow-creatures?  Better ascertain that before you talk of the other five hundred.”

    “I leave it entirely to you, sir,” said Uzziah, with a smile.  “You know best but I am not afraid.”

    “And you stick to it, that this thing is going to be done?”

    “Oh yes, sir.  I believe every man will soon have a good chance of being sober; that everything will soon be in favour of his keeping sober, instead of in favour of his getting drunk.”

    “In spite of the immense interests that stand in the way, and in spite of the determination of the people to have drink?”

    “Yes, sir; but how it’s to be done I know nothing about.  It seems most likely that God will put it into the hearts of the people more and more to band together, to encourage one another, and help one another themselves to give drink up.”

    “Well, cobbler, I must go, and I will say this —“

    “Sir?”

    “You are the most downright, thorough-going, unreasonable, incorrigible fanatic I ever met with!”

    So saying, and with a good-natured laugh, and another half-crown, Lord Robert strode back to the cow-shed as fast as his long legs would carry him.  “Well,” he said, arguing with himself as he went on, and smiling furtively, “of course there must be a grain of sense in the schemes and dreams of every fanatic, or how could his fanaticism spread?  Does this, or does it not, seem more utopian than the putting away of slavery did in its day?  Should I, or should I not, have thought the man such a fool if I had met with him before I was engaged to (well, she’s a sweet creature, and I am a lucky dog) — engaged to Fanny?  I shall have her fortune down; therefore, cobbler, you are right.  I have a great willingness in my mind to do something for my fellow-creatures, if I can without inconvenience.  No!  Come!  I am hard upon myself.  I cancel those last words.  The brewer’s sweet little daughter deserves something more of me, considering the pains she takes to make a better fellow of me.  Yes, he promised me her fortune down.  What a philanthropic old boy he is! — his hand always in his pocket to help the poor.  How would it look if, the next time he gave Fanny a good round sum for charity, I got her to spend it in erecting a temperance hall right in front of his distillery gates?  Well, not filial, I’m afraid.  What fun we had, De Berenger and I, a few years ago, with those ridiculous temperance lectures!  We never did the slightest good that I know of, but we taught ourselves to speak by means of them.  They were all on the other tack.  What a fool, and what a madman, and what a sinner the drunkard was! and no hint that anybody else was at all to blame.  And so drunkenness is going to be done away with, is it, cobbler?  Time will show, but not my time, I think.  Well, Peep, old fellow, how are you getting on?”

    Little Peep replied that he had coughed a good deal, but that it had refreshed him to think of his talk with the cobbler.

    “Ah, yes! you temperance fellows all talk of ‘the cause,’ as if it was the only cause worth living for.  What a fool that cobbler is!”

    Little Peep here repeated a text to the effect that God made use of the foolish wherewith to confound the wise.

    “Yes, when you take to quoting Scripture, I’m always stumped,” said Lord Robert.  “It’s my belief that every temperance man you meet with you write his name in your note-book, and say a prayer for him at night when you go to bed.”

    Lord Robert did not intend to be profane, but he felt that he had described something ridiculous — suitable for little Peep, but not for a manly character.  “Ye-es,” said little Peep, with that pathetic air of wisdom which looked so foolish, “I always pray for them.  I think we all pray for one another, and that’s why—”

    “Why, what?”

    “Why we are getting on — so fast.”

    “Oh!”

    “But I say, Bob?”

    “Well?  However, I know what you mean, so you need not say it.”

    “What do I mean?”

    “Why, that, considering what a promising young fellow I was, a temperance lecturer, and all that sort of thing, it is odd that I should be turning out no better than my neighbours, and almost wicked enough to make fun of ‘the cause.’  But what is at the bottom of nineteen-twentieths of all the crime in the country, Peep — mine as well as other men’s?  You ought to know.”  Here he imitated the countryfied twang of the cobbler.  “It’s all the drink, sir — the drink as has done it.”

    “The drink, Bob?  You’re joking.”

    “Not at all.  The drink is going to pay my debts, and give me a large fortune, with a pretty wife.  Therefore, as Hamlet said, ‘I can’t make you a sound answer; my wit’s diseased ‘— so I say, I can’t cant any more against the drink; my tongue’s tied.”

    “It wasn’t cant, Bob.”

    “No; but look here, Peep.  I don’t want you to think me any worse than I am.  De Berenger took up the subject in good earnest.  I helped him for fun.  It never was one that I should have chosen of my own accord.  Long before I met with Fanny I gave up lecturing.”

    “Ye-es,” said little Peep; “and you and De Berenger gave me a lot of the lectures.  I got “— here he considered a moment — “I got four hundred pledges — in all.”

    “Then you’ve done all that more for the world than I have done.  I never got any.”

    “I liked lecturing.”

    “Yes, you good little fool,” thought Lord Robert.  “With what joy and pride you stood forth with another man’s lecture before you!  How you got them up beforehand, with that Scotch minister to coach you!”

    “I often think — I shall never lecture —any more, Bob.”  He looked inquiringly at Lord Robert as he spoke.

    “Nonsense, nonsense!“ exclaimed Lord Robert, in reply.  “What do you mean, man?  You’ll be all right when that cough of yours gets well;” then, knowing that it was unfeeling to make light of what was so serious, he added, “We shall be in town in a week or so, and then you can have more advice about it.”

    “And it’s such a little cough,” said the poor young fellow.  “But sometimes I feel so weak, Bob, I don’t know what to do.  I feel — almost as if I was going — to cry.”

    “Why, there’s my brother, in his dog-cart,” exclaimed Lord Robert, suddenly turning his back and speaking hurriedly.  “Look! he’s coining through the lodge gates; I’ll meet him.  He’ll take you up; he can easily drive over the clover, and it has done raining.”

    “Poor Peep!” was his comment on the conversation as he strode on.  “I like that fellow, and felt almost, when he said that, as if I could have cried too.”


    Some hours after that time there was great surprise and much regret, as well as discomfort, in Hannah Dill’s late home, for the three Mr. de Berengers, with their aunt Sarah, and also Amabel and Delia, drove up, luggage and all, in two flys, and the door was opened to them by Jolliffe, who informed them that Mrs. Snaith had not returned home at the appointed time, but that a telegram had been received from her.  “And what it means, sir, and what Mrs. Snaith can be thinking of to act so by you, and when there’s so much extra work too, I, that know her so well, can no more tell,” said Mrs. Jolliffe, “than I can fly.  The telegram is on your study table, sir.”

    Thither the party proceeded.

    The telegram was dated from some little junction that none of the party had ever heard of.  Mrs. Dill had found opportunity to send it off while Uzziah bought the food which had been eaten under the cow-shed.  After the due direction, to “Mrs. Jolliffe, at the Rev. Felix de Berenger’s,” etc., it ran as follows —


“DEAR FRIEND,I am that hurried that you must excuse mistakes.  I could not come home last night.  I never do expect to see you again, nor get back to my place.  Give my dear love to the precious young ladies.”


    “She must have paid two shillings for this,” exclaimed Sarah.

    Tears were rolling down Amabel’s cheeks.  “Mamsey gone — Mamsey,” she almost whispered.  “Shall I never see Mamsey any more?”

    “I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Delia, indignantly.  “She never would be so unkind.”  Then Delia began to sob and cry, and came to kiss Felix and lean on his shoulder, and beg him to say he was sure that Mamsey would soon come back again.

    “My dears, my dear girls!“ cried Sarah.  “Mrs. Snaith was certainly a most kind and attentive nurse to you; but really, to cry about her suddenly leaving you, is too much.  Perhaps

    “Well, what, ‘perhaps,’ Cousin Sarah?” sobbed Delia.  “Do you mean, perhaps she’ll come back again?”

    Dick all this time was devoured with jealousy, and Amias wished devoutly that Amabel would come and lean so on his shoulder.

    “And I was cross to her the day before yesterday,” sobbed the repentant Delia.  “I said she hadn’t ironed my flounce nicely.  Oh, Coz, do say you’re sure she’s coming back again!“

    Here Amabel melted into tears anew, and both the girls, as by one impulse, darted out of the study and rushed upstairs to their own bedroom to cry together.

    Poor, bereaved mother!  Those were the only tears her children ever shed for her, and she never knew even of those.

    Amabel and Delia came down to supper looking so sad, that the subject of Mrs. Snaith’s sudden withdrawal was avoided as by one consent; but whether Sarah could have refrained from it if she had not already exhausted her vocabulary of blame on the poor absentee, may well be doubted.

    “Yes!” she exclaimed, as the two poor children, clinging together, went away the moment they had finished their meal.  “Yes, this ought to show you, Amias, how wrong it is to excite the feeling of the lower classes about temperance, or any other of your modern inventions.”  Amias looked amazed, and Sarah, finding herself in possession of the house, continued, —Yes, the girls told me when they came home that the speech Amias made agitated Mrs. Snaith to that degree, that she actually fainted — fainted dead away — and before they could get her to revive, she moaned most distressingly.  And there was a horrid little lame man, all the time she was insensible, who told the most terrible anecdotes about drunken men killing their wives.  Delia says he quite frightened her, and she was thankful when Mrs. Snaith was able to rise and come away.  So now Felix has lost a most excellent domestic; and very likely she has gone off, under a mistaken impression that it’s her duty to turn temperance lecturer herself, as those American women did.”

    “It’s not in her,” said Felix; “she is not that kind of woman.”

    But Sarah was not to be repressed.  “There is nothing so unlike themselves,” she continued, “that people will not do it under a fanatical impulse.  I myself felt strongly inclined to lay my pearl necklace in the plate once, when that bishop (you know his name, Felix; I forget it) — that bishop preached about money for the Indian famine.”

    “But you didn’t do it, aunt, did you?” asked Dick.

    “No.  Now, Dick, I have several times pointed out to you that you should never have jokes and laugh at them apart, in the presence of others.  Yes; you looked at Amias in such a way just now, that, if it had not chanced that I was talking on a serious subject, I should certainly have thought you had some joke about me.”


 
CHAPTER XXV.


AMIAS rose early the next morning and went into the dewy garden.  It was looking its best.  Red lilies and white ones stood side by side scenting the air a thick bush of climbing clematis leaned towards him from a tall cherry-tree.  Towering hollyhocks in a long row went straight across the garden, and directed the eye to the old yew-tree hedge, which looked almost black in its shady station.

“I must leave it, and leave her,” thought the lover, and turned to look at the white-curtained windows, behind which he supposed Amabel to be sleeping.  Felix was seen advancing, and forthwith Amias began with diligence to examine the beehives, before which he had been standing.

    A certain something, of which he had hitherto been scarcely aware, now made itself manifest to him.  It was this; that he had begun to think Felix was a man to be much considered, that it was natural to respect him.

    Felix had been pleasant and brotherly, of course, but his manner now and then had been changed a little, just for the moment.  Amias had been sensitive to this change; had shown a certain deference toward Felix, which it now occurred to him that the latter had taken advantage of.  Had he accepted it as his right?  Amias could not help thinking that he had, and he chose to pretend to himself, as Felix approached, that there could be no reason for this, and that it had better be done away with.

    Well, then, he would do away with it, and address Felix exactly as he should have done in the old days, without thinking of what he was going to say.  Ridiculous!  The idea of considering how he should address his own brother, on occasion of their first meeting in the morning!  But here he stood, staring at the beehives, and knowing that he was desirous to please Felix, and undecided what to say, knowing now that Felix, standing beside him, felt no answering embarrassment.

    “I feel exactly as I might if he was her father,” thought the poor victim; and now the whole thing was confessed to himself.  And still he watched the bees coming out, and still Felix did not speak.

    “What a strong smell of clary there is!” he said at last.

    “Yes,” said Felix, indifferently; “so many bees settling on it and fluttering about it, cause it to give forth that strong odour.”

    Amias, while he said this, had time to remember that the last thing the girls had done before they went to the seaside, had been to pull the clary blossoms and spread them on sheets of paper in a spare attic, to be dried for making wine, and that the scent of clary was so strong on their gowns and capes when they came in, that they had been obliged to change these habiliments.  Mrs. Snaith had hung them in the air on a clothes-line.  How interesting they had looked — especially one of them.

    “Fool that I am; he is thinking of the same thing” thought Amias.  “What could possess me to mention the clary, for —“

    “That reminds me —“ said Felix calmly, and paused.

    “I knew it would,” thought Amias, and he interrupted.  “I always think the emanations from that plant must have substance.  Surely, with a magnifying glass, one could detect the particles floating over the flowers?”

    “I think not,” said Felix, who, not being himself embarrassed, could easily get on without returning to his first opening.  “I think not. B ut, Amias, I’m glad you rose so early, for I particularly wanted to speak to you.”

    “To speak to me, old fellow?  Oh — well, let us sit down, then.”  He moved on, with a pretence of calmness, possessed himself of a stick as he went, and acknowledged to himself that he was quite sure what the talk was going to be about.  “How beautiful and how dewy everything looks!” he said, as they sat down on a rustic bench.

    “Yes,” said Felix again.

    Amias took out his knife and began to whittle the stick, because he had an unwonted consciousness of his hands; they seemed to be in his way.

    “I wanted,” said Felix, “to speak to you about Amabel.”

    Amias could not say a word.

    “Have you considered that she is not yet out of the schoolroom?”

    Amias said nothing, and Felix quietly went on.

    “I should like to know whether you are aware how extremely young she is?”

    Then he felt obliged to answer.  “Yes, Felix, I am; I know she was sixteen on the twelfth of last month.”

    “I think you have been taking some pains to please her.”

    “I don’t know that I have any cause to suppose that you would dislike the notion of my having succeeded.”

    “Have you succeeded?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “You must not make any more efforts in that line — at any rate, for the present.”

    Here the worm felt as if he was going to turn.  But he did not; he remained silent.

    “I think I have a right to say that you are not to pay her any more of these half-playful attentions,” continued Felix, or we shall get nothing more done in the school-room; and also that I cannot allow her, at her tender age, to receive any letters.”

    “Playful attentions — playful!“ repeated Amias, with a burning sense of wrong.  “Do you mean to say that you think I am not in earnest?”

    “No, my dear fellow,” said Felix, with perfect gentleness; “I had no idea of saying anything to annoy you.  But perhaps I may say now, that she certainly is not old enough to know her own mind, and therefore, for your own sake as well as for hers —”

    “My own sake!” exclaimed Amias, with scorn.  “Pray leave me to take care of my own feelings; speak only for her sake, and of hers.”

    “I take for granted that she is old Sam’s granddaughter,” continued Felix, “and that he has ascertained the fact, because, though he has never been at the pains to let me know it, he continues to treat the girls with constantly growing affection.  If, therefore, you think he has a better right over her future, or think that the general facts of the situation throw her more naturally upon his care than on mine, you may go and speak to him if you wish it.”

    “I think nothing of the kind, Felix.  I beg your pardon for my heat.  If she had been a brother’s child instead of a cousin’s, you could not possibly have ‘done more — only —“

    “Only what?“

    “It hurts me deeply that you should disapprove in this general way.  If you have any particular fault to find with me —“

    “I have certainly a particular fault to find with you, and no other.  It is that you have made love to a good little girl, who was very happy, obedient, and childlike.  I notice a difference in her; you have robbed her of a full year of childhood.”

    “Have I?” said Amias, in a choking voice.

    But he hardly knew whether the accusation was most bitter or most sweet.  He thought he would rather have died than have made this sweet creature restless and unhappy.  But then her unrest, if she felt it, was on his account!”

    “If she was a year or two older, then; if I was willing to wait,” he began; but oh, what a long time even one year seemed!  He paused to consider it.

    “Yes,” observed Felix, “if she was two years older — that is, if you like to wait two years and then come — you may say what you please to her with my approval, provided nothing whatever is said now, and nothing written.“

    “I meant to say something decisive before I went,” said Amias, under a deep conviction that some other fellow would seize upon his jewel, if she was left free for such a long time.  He expressed this alarm to his brother at great length.

    Felix was not in the least impressed.  “Amabel is not the only young girl in the world, that every man must needs fall in love with her,” he remarked.

    Amias thereupon, at equal length, argued that she was, as it were, almost the only young girl in the world — so much more charming, desirable, sweet, etc., etc.  He rather hinted this than said it.  Felix would not have found any raptures bearable, and, besides, his raptures were far too deep to be spread forth to the light.

    For all reply to this Felix said, “But she never sees anybody.”

    “Never?” cried Amias.

    “Excepting a curate now and then.”

    Amias admitted to himself that he was not afraid of the curates.

    “But in the shooting season, and at Easter, Uncle Sam has a houseful of fellows.”

    “And she will see them at church,” answered Felix.  “Yes, she will.  Well, you must run that risk.”  He spoke of the risk with a contempt which Amias thought not warranted.

    “And they will see her,” he continued.

    “And ask Sir Samuel who she is,” observed Felix.  “I should much like to know what answer he will make to that question when it shall be so asked that he must answer.”

    “And you see her,” Amias was about to add; but he paused, and yet the flash that came into his eyes, and his sudden checking of himself were so manifest that Felix noticed them.

    “Well?” he inquired.

    “It was nothing — at least, nothing that I care to utter.”

    “Then it must have been what I suspected.”  He laughed, and his dark cheek mustered colour.  “Why, you ridiculous young fellow!” he exclaimed, laying his hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Are you preposterous enough to be jealous of — me?”

    “No, I am not; but any other man might be!”

    Felix looked at him.

    “How can you possibly suppose I could fall in love with one of these dear little girls?” he said, in a tone of strong remonstrance.  “I stand almost in the relation of a father to them.”

    “I should say, on the contrary, that your position toward them makes it quite inevitable that you should fall in love with one of them, unless you already love some one else.”

    “Besides,” said Felix, not directly answering this last thrust, “I should not care to be more nearly allied to John — poor fellow! — if John’s they are.  And if they are not, I certainly should not care to be allied to nobody knows whom.”

    Amias winced a little on hearing this, but Felix had not done with him.

    “However, it is not impossible that you may be right,” he continued, not without a touch of bitterness.  “It may make you feel more at ease to learn that I have been these many years attached to some one else.”

    No more jealousy was possible now, but also no more rebellion.  Felix was master of the situation.

    “And so,” he said, as he rose, “if you wish this time two years to see Amabel, you will come here again; and in the mean time I consider you are bound in honour to leave her absolutely alone, and not make her an offer till she is eighteen.”

    He looked at Amias, who had to answer, “I consent.”

    And just as he said it, Amabel and Delia came down the garden, as if on purpose to show him how hard his newly vowed contest was to be.  He did not say a word, but his eyes dwelt on Amabel’s face.  There was a tender sadness on it — a certain almost forlorn expression.  We understand people so well when we love them.  Amias felt that this fair young creature had been so waited on, so attended to, so watched and loved by her nurse, that, this tendance and this fencing in from loneness withdrawn, she was looking about her, as if she felt herself pushed out into some colder world, and knew not how to order herself in it.  He remembered the flattery of observance with which “Mamsey’s” eyes had dwelt on her young lady.  Sometimes he had thought that his eyes, waiting on her, had not been unmarked either.  But she was not thinking of him now.

    “Is there any letter, coz, from Mrs. Snaith?” she asked.

    “No, my dear — none.“

    “What do you think she means, coz?  It cannot be that she is ill?“

    “No, my dear; I feel confident that she is not ill.”

    “But have you any idea what it all means?”

    A certain something passed over the face of Felix then, which Amias noticed as well as Amabel.

    “You have, coz?” she said.

    “I have no definite idea,” answered Felix.  “Even if I had, I could not tell it to you.”

    Amias noticed that he pitied the two girls in this withdrawal of their faithful maid and old nurse, far more than he did himself in the loss of an excellent domestic.

    All this time the girls had been standing before the two brothers, who were seated; but now Delia made herself room beside Felix, and Amias, starting up, moved to Amabel to take his place; so now Felix was sitting between the two girls, and Amias was looking at the group.  That Felix remembered just then what had so lately passed between him and his brother was evident, for as the two girls seemed to lean towards him for comfort and support, his dark face again took on a hint of colour, his eyes flashed as if with involuntary amusement, and he even looked a little embarrassed.

    Foolish Amias!  How could he have put such a thought into his brothers head?

    But here was Aunt Sarah coming also, her carrot-coloured curls flying, and her pink morning wrapper jauntily fastened up with a silver clasp.

    It was rather a narrow gravel walk that led to the house, and the girls went in to breakfast down it, pressing their skirts to them, lest the dewy, bending flowers should wet them.  Sarah followed next, then Felix, and lastly Amias, which arrangement he naturally felt to be very disagreeable.

    “Should he read to them that morning?” he inquired of the girls after breakfast, in the presence of Felix.

    “No, they had no time, thanks; they were going to be extremely busy.”

    Amias sighed, and after breakfast disconsolately wandered about indoors, or read the various newspapers that he always had sent to him wherever he was.  At last, about eleven o’clock, he saw the two girls sitting together under the walnut trees, shelling peas for the early dinner.  He joined them.  Jolliffe was very busy, they said, and they had asked her what they could do to help, now dear Mamsey was gone.  So she had asked them to gather some fruit and the peas, and then to shell them.

    “You might have let me help!” exclaimed Amias.

    “Coz never helps at that kind of thing” said Delia, as if this was an exhaustive answer.

    “Fancy Coz shelling peas!” said Amabel.

    Dick was gone; he had departed the previous evening, to stay two days with a boy friend.

    “Dick will be back to-morrow,” observed Delia, “and then we can make him help.”  There was no emphasis on the word “make;” it only expressed a familiar truth in simple language.

    “Dick is a lucky dog,” said Amias, forgetting himself; “he will have another three weeks here before he goes back to school.”  He spoke with such bitter regret in his voice, that the girls both looked at him.

    “Don’t you like going away?” asked Delia, composedly.

    Here he remembered his promise.  “Not particularly,” he said.

    “Then, why don’t you stay?” she inquired.  “I’m sure Coz would be very glad — and so should we,” she added, and stooped to seize another handful of pods with her dimpled fingers.  Amabel had a more slender hand; she held it out just then, half full of peas, and as they ran out into the dish, he noticed a handsome pearl ring.  He had observed it before, with certain misgivings.  How could he possibly go away with any doubt as to the meaning or history of that ring?  There had been neither assent nor dissent in her face when Delia had said “so should we;” she had not looked up at him.

    His thought was urgent for utterance, but it would have been contrary to his promise to ask such a question as he would have liked to do.  He said, “That ring runs a risk of being stained with the peas.”

    “Does it?” exclaimed Amabel, hastily; and she drew it off, colouring with anxiety, as he thought, while she looked at it.

    “And pearls, you know, will not bear soap and water,” he continued.

    “It’s all right,” said Delia; “I saw you,” she continued, in a rallying tone, to her sister.  “I saw you take off your glove in the ribbon-shop the other day, and let your hand hang out over the ribbon-box — pretending to choose; I saw you stick your finger out, fastening your cuff, the other day on the pier, that those two lieutenants might see it.  Dear creature!  And she promised to give me one too,” continued Delia, with a sigh.

    “She promised!“ exclaimed Amias, with involuntary delight.  “Oh, it was a lady who gave it, then?”

    “It was dear Mamsey,” said Amabel, taking up the ring and putting it gently to her cheek, and then to her lips.  “She saved out of her wages for three years and bought me this.  It has some of her hair in it.  And I asked her to let her name be engraved on the inside, and she had it done, but only her Christian name, you see.’’

    She let Amias receive the ring in his hand.  He wished he might have kissed it too, but he only looked at it and saw the name,” Hannah.”

    Amabel was beautifully shy now.  She blushed, because she felt that Amias would know she had been glad to explain to him about this gift of a ring; but just as he, finding no pretext for holding it longer, was stretching out his hand to return it, Aunt Sarah came out again, meddling old woman!  He thought she looked inquisitive, and perhaps Amabel thought so too, for she shelled the peas with great diligence for a few minutes more, and then the task was finished.  One of the girls carried in the peas, the other the basket of pods, and Sarah and Amias were left alone together.

    Amias did not see Amabel again till the early dinner, and very soon after that Sir Samuel appeared.  He had brought two ponies, and proposed to take both the girls out for a ride.

    Circumstances were helping Amias to keep his promise.  The girls considered it a great treat to go out riding with Sir Samuel.

    While they were gone up-stairs to put on their habits, Mrs. Snaith’s departure was mentioned by Sarah.  She wished very much to know what she might have confided to the old man; whether it was through her, or through John himself before his death, that these girls were known by him to be his granddaughters.  That he did know it she had no doubt, else why was he so fond of them?

    “Not gone for long, I suppose?” he said coolly.

    “Yes, gone for good,” she replied.

    “Where is she gone, then?” he inquired sharply.

    “That we cannot tell, uncle.  You can see the telegram.”

    Sir Samuel turned the telegram about, read it with earnestness, and almost, as it seemed to Sarah, with consternation.

    “It does not signify, of course?” said Sarah, in a questioning tone.

    “What does not signify?” he replied.  Having scrutinized the telegram thoroughly, he was now folding it up and presently he put it in his purse, and stood for some minutes so lost in thought, that when the girls came in ready for their ride he did not notice them.

    “Well, good-bye, my dear,” he said at last, to his niece Sarah.  “I cannot have you to luncheon to-morrow, though I said I would.  I am going out.”


 
CHAPTER XXVI.


AMIAS was exceedingly vexed, when, about two hours after this, Sir Samuel rode up to the rectory door alone.

    He had been pacing about on the lawn, and cogitating over his chance of lifting Amabel down from her pony.

    Sir Samuel laughed when he saw him.  It was a good-natured laugh, but not altogether devoid of a little harmless malice.  Amias had come up to him to ask what he had done with the girls, but this laugh awoke in him an uneasy suspicion that the “grandfather” might have observed his devotion, might have other views for Amabel — might not approve.

    “Ah, Mr. Lecturer,” said Sir Samuel, and laughed again.  “You were not aware, I suppose, that I was among your auditors the other day when you were holding forth on the common?”

    Amias felt rather foolish; wondered whether he had been extravagant in any of his assertions.  He was relieved to find what the laugh meant, but he longed for some opening for asking about Amabel.

    “I did not mind it,” continued the old man, naturally feeling that Amias would rather he had not heard that particular speech.  ”You are a born orator, my lad.  Tom — Tom always used to stutter so when he tried to speak.  I shall never make anything of Tom.  I should like very well to see you in the House, where you would have matters worth mention to spend your eloquence on.  Should you like it?  Eh?”

    “Very much, uncle; but there is no chance of such a thing for a long time to come.”

    “You had no notion that your old uncle was present, had you?”

    “Of course not,” exclaimed Amias, quite shocked.

    “And if I am not mistaken, there was no personal feeling in your invectives — none of them were directed specially against me?”

    He touched the young man's shoulder with his riding-whip so gently, that it was almost like a caress; he spoke as kindly as a father might have done.

    “How should I have any personal feeling against you, uncle?” exclaimed Amias.  “I always think of you as the kindest person I know.  What do you take me for?”

    “You young fanatic,” said Sir Samuel, laughing, “do you really think it your duty to keep out of my way?”

    “No!” exclaimed Amias, with genuine astonishment.

    “Then, why do you never come near me when I am in London?”

    Amias here felt extremely ashamed of himself, for the whole conversation was such a confession of liking on the part of the old man, and he felt that on his part nothing had signified but that he should know why Amabel did not appear.  It was hard on the old uncle.  It was a shame!

    That last question really made him able to think of the matter under discussion, and at the same moment came a flash of recollection that this was her grandfather who was so kindly disposed towards him.

    “You quite astonish me, uncle,” he said.  “If you invited me to come to your house in London, I should be truly pleased, but —”  Here he paused.

    “'But you never do,' was what you were going to add, wasn't it?” said Sir Samuel.  “That is true.  Well, I thought, if I did, you might be afraid I should tempt you to join me again.”

    “I never could have had such an idea,” exclaimed Amias, very much surprised.  “Well, then, come and see me whenever you have nothing better to do.”

    “I will, uncle,” said Amias, with cordial earnestness.

    “For,” continued the old man, “I feel sometimes a great wish to have some of my own people about me.”  (“He never shows any care to have Felix about him,” thought Amias.)  ”Tom has been away so long.”

    “He'll be home soon for his long leave,” observed Amias, consolingly.

    “But he'll go to his wife's people,” said the old man.  “I shall see very little of him.  His wife's people are everything to him.  And since I lost John — You don't remember John very well, do you?”

    “I was almost a child when he went abroad,” said Amias, faltering a little over those last words.  He remembered no good of John, of course.  “I can recall his face sometimes,” he added.

    “Ah! he was a fine fellow — a dear fellow.  He would have come home long before this and been my companion,” said the father.  “Tom's a good fellow too, only he's taken up with other things.  He has been very long away, and you know the proverb says, 'Better is a neighbour that is near, than a brother far off.'  That son john of mine — he is very far off, though always in my thoughts.”

    “Why, what a strange quotation, and what a confused speech!” thought Amias; “but he never can bear to speak of John.”  Then, intending to console, he said, “But I am more than a mere neighbour, uncle, you know.  I am a blood relation, and of course I cannot help feeling an affection for you — and for Amabel's grandfather,” was the addition in his mind.  It gave a natural and pleasant earnestness to his tone, which was as cordial as his feeling.

    Sir Samuel smiled, and was manifestly pleased.  “The young,” he said, “never return the affection of the old, but they give them what they can, my boy.  God bless them! they give them what they can.”

    Amias could not be so base as to pretend for a moment that he had any such degree of regard toward Sir Samuel, as the old man had made evident toward himself; he felt at that moment that he had always been aware there was, according to the proverb, a “good deal of love lost” between them, and that now he must cultivate some return.  Amabel would make this easy, and now he ventured to say, “Where is Amabel, uncle, and where's Delia?”

    “I left them at the hall. — Oh! here you are, nephew parson.  I came to find you and your aunt Sarah.  I left the girls at the hall; they are going to dine with me, and I'll send them home at night in the carriage, unless you can spare them for a few days.  In fact, I have been thinking that you might be glad, as Mrs. Snaith is gone, if I took them in.”  Amias was desperately disappointed, but not a word could be said by him, and Sarah arranged the matter, and sent off her maid in charge of the various things that they would want.

    “Come and dine with me to-morrow, Amias,” said Sir Samuel as he rode off; and this, at least, was a consolation.

    “I wonder whether it would make any difference to his liking for me,” thought Amias, “if he knew that I loved his favourite granddaughter?”  He revolved this in his mind till the evening, when Dick came home, and was extremely sulky when he found that the girls were out; very angry with them, too, for accepting the invitation, and much inclined to be uncivil to his Aunt Sarah, when she enlarged on the convenience of the plan.

    “It's a disgusting sell!” quoth Dick.  What is a fellow to do loafing about the place by himself?”

    “In my opinion,” said Aunt Sarah — “yes! in my opinion — a 'fellow' could not do better than get some cow-parsley to feed the rabbits.”

    “I shall feed Delia's rabbits,” replied the schoolboy; “but as to Amabel's, she should not have left them.  She is old enough to know better.”

    “Well, you may leave Amabel's to me, then,” said Amias, with what was meant to be a gracious air, but which had far too much eagerness, and too much the manner of one seeking for a privilege.

    And what a privilege it was!  What interesting rabbits those were!  All the information that Dick volunteered about them was so delightful.  “Delia 'swapped' that old doe with Amabel for two bullfinches; the bullfinches fought and killed one another, and then Delia said she ought to have the doe back again, but Amabel wouldn't give it to her.”

    “And very right, too,” exclaimed Amias.

    “But Amabel generally gets the worst of it in all her bargains with Delia,” observed Dick.  “Delia's such a shrewd little puss; she can take anybody in.”

    “Gets the better of Amabel, does she?”

    “Yes; Amabel's rather soft.  However, they both cried like anything when a third of the bullfinches picked his brother's eyes out.  That's the only thing I don't like about girls; they're so tender-hearted.  Felix took the blind bullfinch away, and did for him, out of their sight.”

    Amias inspected all the pets and helped to feed them, waiting on chance for a word about Amabel; then he went and found his brother Felix.

    Felix was up in the church tower.  The parish clock was unconscionably slow.  Felix was having it put right, and agreeing with the man who had regulated it, to let a good many of the cottagers know of the change.  He never had any alterations made during working hours, or either the farmers or the labourers would have felt themselves aggrieved.

    Amias looked out upon the chimneys of the rectory house, and at the long white road in the park that led up to the hall.  Then the two brothers got on to a convenient little platform on the roof and enjoyed the cool air, for it was a hot evening.

    “I have been thinking, old fellow,” said Amias, “about some of the things you said this morning of Uncle Sam.”

    Felix had actually forgotten for the moment the sentence that he was alluding to.

    “The fact is,” continued Amias, “I always knew that he liked me.”

    “Of course,” said Felix; “he never sees me without asking after you.  I believe he likes you almost as well as he does Tom.”

    “Well, and I like him well enough.”

    “So I suppose.  If I had to drive bargains with him, I should not like him; as it is, we get on excellently well.  I should think he will take the girls away when they are grown up.”

    “I have been thinking, Felix, if it really would not annoy you at all, I should like to do as you said this morning.  I was either to abide by your wishes, you know”— he said this half reproachfully, for Felix did not seem quite to understand him — “or you said I might consult him about Amabel.  I think I chose amiss.  I wish you would consider that the matter has yet to be decided.”

    “Well?” said Felix.

    “Of course I shall always feel that you have been everything to the girls.  If I ever win Amabel, I shall feel deeply grateful to you; in fact, I do now.”

    “And you want to lay the matter before old Sam instead?”

    “Yes.”

    “You are bold.”

    “Am I, Felix?  Well, I shall ask for nothing but his consent.  He hates laying money down.  In my case he will know, for I shall tell him, that I expect none, and in fact —”

    “In what should have been the sequel to those last words lies the gist of the matter; and if he is to give his beautiful grandchild nothing, she ought not to marry a man of very moderate means.”

    “Very true, Felix; but I tell you I love her, and the more doubt there is as to his consent, the more I feel urged to speak.  Besides, he has asked me to come and see him in London, and expressed great regard for me.  I must not go and see him and make myself as agreeable as I can, and all the time feel that I am doing it not for his sake but for hers.”

    “You are aware that I know nothing about her parentage.”

    “Know nothing?“ repeated Amias.

    “I conjecture a good deal, but I know nothing.  As I said this morning, I take for granted that these are John’s children, and that is all.”

    “Yes, Felix, I am aware of the fact.  It makes no difference to me.”

    “If old Sam knows anything more, it sometimes occurs to me that it cannot be agreeable, or why should he keep it to himself?”

    “I am not such a fool as to dislike the notion of the dissenting minister’s daughter.”

    “Of course not.  Who is?”

    “I have always known that there was some sort of doubt as to their parentage.”

    “Some sort of doubt?  That exactly expresses the matter; and occasionally it occurs to me that this doubt is less a disadvantage to them than the truth would be.  Therefore I never probe it; I ask Uncle Sam no questions.”

    “I am astonished that the girls never ask any.”

    “They are good and pure-minded little girls, and know little of disgrace and nothing of sorrow.  No one, by talking of either parent, has excited any imaginary love or fancied regrets.  They do not forbear to question, but simply no questions occur to them.”

    “Old Sam always treats Amabel as his granddaughter.”

    “And such I am persuaded she is.  But that does not prove that she has a right to his name.”

    “She shall have a right to it, though,” cried Amias, “if she will only take it.  But you used always to feel sure that John had married Fanny.  What has made you doubtful?”

    “Nothing but time.  In course of time I feel that this almost must have come out.  What motive could her family have for concealing it?”

    “She might have run away with him.”

    “Yes, poor little fool, she might,” said Felix with a sigh, “and have concealed herself from them; but her marriage certificate in such a case could assuredly have been found, if old Sam had set to work to do it.”

    “Why, you seem to have almost taken for granted now that everything was as I most wish it might not have been.”

    “No; it would have cost a good deal of money to investigate the matter.  I believe he also had his doubts — chose to take the children as they were, and also to save his money, hoping for the best.”

    “Or John might have married somebody else?”

    “Even so.”

    “Mrs. Snaith gave over their little fortunes to you, did she not?”

    “Yes, and told me nothing.”

    “I am very sorry she is gone.”

    While Felix and Amias, as evening drew on, sat looking over the harvest fields, and across to the somewhat over-wooded park, and the long, quiet mere or pool where Amias had chased the white owl and her chicken, Sir Samuel watched the two girls as he sat over his claret and they flitted about in the flower-garden, and his regret was the very echo of his nephews’.  He thought bitterly of Mrs. Snaith.  “I am sorry she is gone,” he also repeated: revolved in his mind how to find her, and regretted the whole course of his own conduct for the last twelve years.

    Felix had done him no wrong.  It was mainly because he grudged the expense, that he had made no investigations.  The love of money almost always increases with age, and it has no relation whatever to the uses its possessor may be supposed to intend it for.

    Money accumulated with Sir Samuel every year.  His eldest son was dead.  His son John was dead also.  His son Tom was as saving as himself.  Of course he looked to inherit a splendid fortune in the end, and he had a theory that when he came in for everything he should spend it freely, and live like a prince.  Sir Samuel would willingly have increased his allowance.  Tom accepted a certain addition, and saved it.  His father was not displeased, but he told him how needless this was.  He had more sense for his only remaining son than for himself.  He sent a very handsome sum to his daughter-in-law, and proposed that Tom should buy her some jewels, as they were in the part of the world where these are finest; also a costly Indian shawl or so.  Tom persuaded her, who was nothing loth, to save this also.  Sir Samuel began to feel disturbed; he himself always kept a handsome table, a proper stable, a due staff of servants, etc.  He loved money, but he was not a miser, and he began to fear that Tom was.

    “And I am saving all this for him, and neglecting the claims of my dear John’s children.  Ah, he was no miser,” thought the old man.  “But, then, as long as that woman stayed, what was the good of setting expensive investigations on foot, which would have ended in my having to make the darlings a handsome allowance?”

    Sir Samuel never admitted the least doubt on that head.  “I could not have let Felix keep them for so small a sum, when once I had proved that they were my dear John’s daughters.  But I am sorry.  How could I guess that woman would run off in such fashion?  I shall now have to bribe her to appear, and buy the information she possesses at whatever sum she chooses to ask for it.  I am sorry.  I would do differently if my time came over ago I suppose she thought she had waited long enough for me to speak.  Well, so she had.  She might well be vexed that I never asked her any more questions, or offered her anything to unseal her lips.  How she would pull her dark brows down when I appeared!  She must have it her own way.  She has got the whip-hand of me now.  What have I saved by this?  Why, not much, after all.  And what for?  There’s the pity of it.  The love of money should always be kept within due bounds.  I am almost afraid I have loved mine too well.  The Lord have mercy on me, if it is so, and recover me into a better frame of mind!



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