Fated to be Free (9)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Off the Skelligs Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Studies for Stories Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER XXXI.

A WOMAN'S SYMPATHY.


"Midsummer night, not dark, not light.
     Dusk all the scented air,
 I'll e'en go forth to one I love,
     And learn how he doth fare.
 O the ring, the ring, my dear, for me,
     The ring was a world too fine,
 I wish it had sunk in a forty-fathom sea,
     Or ever thou mad'st it mine.

"Soft falls the dew, stars tremble through,
     Where lone he sits apart,
 Would I might steal his grief away
     To hide in mine own heart.
 Would, would 'twere shut in yon blossom fair,
     The sorrow that bows thy head,
 Then―I would gather it, to thee unaware,
     And break my heart in thy stead.

"That charmed flower, far from thy bower,
     I'd bear the long hours through,
 Thou should'st forget, and my sad breast
     The sorrows twain should rue.
 O sad flower, O sad, sad ring to me.
     The ring was a world too fine;
 And would it had sunk in a forty-fathom sea,
     Ere the morn that made it mine."


TEN o'clock on the succeeding night.  It seemed an age to John Mortimer since Valentine had met him in the hall, a night and a day that were almost a lifetime had come between; but his thoughts were not confused now.  Something awful but fresh, breaking across his distracted mind, had diverted the torrent of his despairing fear lest his child should die through his mistake, and though he had bowed down his head and wept since the unexpected loss of another, those were healing tears, for with them came for a time escape from the rending strain that was breaking him down.

    A sudden noise, when all was so quiet, and some one running down the garden, had startled him.

    He tried to recall it.  Valentine was with him, having just come back from the town, and one of the doctors was coming up; he took him by the hand.  Other people were about him before he had time to think.  Some of them were in tears.  No, it was not Anastasia; he recollected how they kept telling him that it was not Anastasia, and then that they wished him to leave the house, though she was still in such imminent danger―leave the house and go to the inn.  He could not receive a new thought suddenly.  Why should he go to the inn?  He was not anxious about his little Janie; he had not seen her for two or three days, but he could not leave the house now.

    And yet he saw that he must do it.  He was walking among the others to a carriage in the yard.  He believed nothing; it was only as they drove along that he could understand the doctor's words―a change.  They had feared that there might be an internal injury; he was to remember that they had mentioned to him some symptoms which should have made him aware of their solicitude.  All very slowly, very cautiously said, but till he saw his child he did not believe a word of it.

    The little face looked restless and troubled.  Dorothea was sitting at her side fanning her.  "Dear papa's come," she said, and then the child looked gravely satisfied, and for a long time she seemed to derive a quiet satisfaction from gazing at him.  Then, by slow degrees, she fell into a deep sleep.  He was so thankful to see it, and yet no one comforted him with any hopeful words.  And it must have been a long time, for all the west was orange when some one woke him from an exhausted doze, his first dream since his great misfortune.

    All his children were well again.  They were all present but Janie.  Anastasia was sitting on his knees, rosy and smiling.  "Did she know," he seemed to ask her, "what her poor father had done to her?" and while he felt this peace and joy of recovering her, some one touched his arm, and the dream was gone.  He started and woke.  Janie, yes, little Janie was there.  "Do you want me, my darling?" were his first words, before he had quite dismissed the delusive comfort of that dream.

    A remarkable, a perfectly indescribable change had come over the little face, it looked so wise.  "You'd better kiss me now," she said, with a wistful, quaint composure.

    "Yes, my treasure."

    "I can't say my prayers to-night, papa," she presently added, "I suppose you'll have to say them for me."  And before he could believe that he must part with her she was gone.

    Little Janie, his little Janie.  As he sat in the dusk that night he repeated her name many, many times, and sometimes added that she was his favourite child, the only one who in character and mind resembled her mother.

    She was a quaint, methodical little creature.  She had kept an account-book, and he had found it, with all its pretty, and now most pathetic little entries.  He had put it in his breast-pocket, and his hand sought it every few minutes as he sat in the long dusk of the midsummer night.  This was the first gap in his healthy, beautiful family.  He felt it keenly, but a man who has six children left does not break his heart when he has to give one of them back to God.

    No; but he was aware that his heart was breaking, and that now and then there came intervals in his sleepless nights and days when he did not feel at all or think at all.  Sometimes for a few minutes he could not see.  After these intervals of dull, amazed quiescence, when he was stupid and cold even to the heart, there were terrible times when he seemed to rouse himself to almost preternatural consciousness of the things about him, when the despair of the situation roused up like a tiger, and took hold of him and shook him body and mind.

    It was true, quite true, his carelessness (but then he had been so worn out with watching), his fatal mistake, his heartless mistake (and yet he would almost have given his own life for his children) had brought him down to this slough of despond.  There was no hope, the doctors never told him of any, and he knew he could not bear this much longer.

    There are times when some of us, left alone to pull out again our past, and look at it in the light of a present, made remorseless and cruel with the energy that comes of pain, are determined to blame ourselves not only for the present misfortune, but to go back and back, and see in everything that has gone wrong with us how, but for our own fault, perversity, cowardice, stupidity, we might have escaped almost all the ills under which we now groan.

    How far are we right at such times?  Most of us have passed through them, and how much harder misfortune is to bear when complicated with the bitterness of self-reproach and self-scorn!

    It was not dark.  John Mortimer remembered that this was Midsummer night.  A few stars were out; the moon, like a little golden keel, had gone down.  Quantities of white roses were out all over the place.  He saw them as faint, milky globes of whiteness in the dusk.

    There were lights in the opened rooms up-stairs.  It was very hot; sometimes he saw the nurses passing about.  Presently he saw Emily.  She was to be one of the watchers that night with Anastasia.

    The little creature a day or two after her accident, finding fault with every one about her, and scarcely conscious that her own pain was to blame because they could not please her, had peevishly complained that she wanted Mrs. Nemily.  Mrs. Nemily was a kind lady, and could tell her much prettier stories, and not give her such nasty things to drink.

    Emily was instantly made aware of this, but when she arrived her little charge was past noticing any one.  And yet Emily was full of hope.  Impassioned and confiding prayer sustained her courage.  She had always loved the little one keenly, and desired now with indescribable longing that her father might be spared the anguish of parting with her thus.

    Yes, there was Emily; John Mortimer saw her move toward the window, and derived some faint comfort from the knowledge that she would be with Anastasia for the night.

    Lovely, pale, and calm, he saw and blessed her, but she could not see him; and as she retired she too was added to the measure of his self-reproaches.  He had lost her, and that also he had but himself to thank for; he himself, and no other, was to blame for it all.

    He loved her.  Oh yes, he had soon found out that he loved her!  Fool! to have believed that in the early prime of his life the deepest passions of humanity were never to wake up again and assert themselves, because for the moment they had fallen into a noonday sleep.  Fool, doubly fool, to have prided himself on the thought that this was so; and more than all a fool, to have let his scorn of love appear and justify itself to such a woman as Emily.  Lovely and loving, what had he asked of her? which was to be done without the reward of his love.  To bring up for him another woman's children, to manage a troublesome household, to let him have leisure and leave to go away from her from time to time, that he might pursue his literary tastes and his political destiny, to be responsible, to be contented, and to be lost, name and ambition, in him and his.

    All this had flashed across his mind, and amazed him with his own folly, before he reached the town on the morning that he left her.  But that was nothing to the knowledge that so soon followed, the discovery that he loved her.  For the first time in his life it seemed to be his part in creation to look up, and not to look down.  He wrestled with himself, and fought with all his power against this hopeless passion; wondered whether he had done his cause irretrievable mischief by speaking too soon, as well as by speaking amiss; seldom hoped at all, for he had been refused even with indignation; and never was less able to withdraw his thoughts from Emily, even for a moment, than when he felt most strongly that there was no chance for him at all.

    Still they went on and on now, his thoughts of her; they gave poignancy to all his other pain.  The place, the arbour where he sat, had become familiar to him of late.  He had become used to wander and pace the garden at night some time before this accident.  Hour after hour, night after night, he had gone over the matter; he had hardly decided to go back to her, and implore her to give him a chance of retrieving his deplored mistake, when she sent him back his ring, and early the next morning was gone.

    That was all his own fault, and but for it he now thought he should not have been so unobservant of things about him.  Could he, but for such weary nights of sleepless wandering and watching, have let his darling boy drive those young horses, filling the carriage so full of his brothers and sisters that there was no room for any beside him whose hands were strong enough to hold them in?  He was not sure.  His clearer thought would not consent to admit that he could have foreseen the danger, and yet he had been so accustomed to hold things in hand, and keep them safe and secure, that he could hardly suppose they would not, but for his own state of mind, have been managed better.

    It was midnight now; he had no intention of coming indoors, or taking any rest, and his thoughts went on and on.  When the misfortune came, it was still his own perturbation of mind, which had worn and fretted him so that he could not meet it as he might have done.  This woman, whom he loved as it seemed to him man had never loved before, had taken herself out of his reach, and another man would win her.  How could he live out the rest of his days?  What should he do?

    It was because that trouble, heaped upon the other, had made it hard to give his mind to the situation, that he had not forced himself to take rest, and what sleep he could, instead of wasting his powers in restless watching, till his overwrought faculties and jaded eyes had led him to the fearful moment when he had all but killed his own child.

    Emily had scarcely spoken to him since her arrival.  All her thoughts were for her little favourite.  Perhaps even, she saw little in this fatal carelessness at all out of keeping with his character, as she had lately thought of it.  No, his best chances in this life were all brought to an end; the whole thing was irretrievable.

    "Is that Valentine?" he asked as some one approached.

    "Yes, it is past one o'clock.  I am going to bed; I suppose you will too."

    "No," he answered in the dull inward voice now become habitual with him.  "Why should I come in?  Val, you know where my will is?"

    "Yes," said Valentine, distressed to hear him say it.

    "If you and Giles have to act, you will find everything in order."

    "What is to be done for him?" thought Valentine.  "Oh for a woman to talk to him now!―I cannot."  He took to one of the commonplaces of admonition instead: "Dear John, you must try and submit yourself to the will of God."

    "You have no need to tell me of that," he answered with the same dimness of speech.  "I do not rebel, but I cannot bear it.  I mean," he continued, with the calmest tone of conviction, "that this is killing me."

    "If only the child might be taken," thought Valentine, "he would get over it.  It is the long suspense that distracts him."

    "They want you to come in and eat something," he urged, "there is supper spread in the dining-room."

    "No, I cannot."

    He meant, "I cannot rise from my seat."  Valentine supposed him only to say as usual that he could not eat.

    "My mind wanders," he presently added, in the same low dull tone; and then repeated what he had said to his old gardener, "But sometimes I find relief in prayer."

    Valentine went in rather hastily; he was alarmed not so much at the words as at his own sudden conviction that there was a good deal in them.  They might be true.  He must find some one to console, to talk to him, some one that could exercise influence over him.  He knew of no one but Emily who would be likely to know what to say to him, and he hung about on the stairs, watching for her, hoping she would come out of little Anastasia's room; but all was so quiet, that he hoped the little sufferer might be asleep, and he dared not run the least risk of waking her.

   It was now two o'clock.

    John Mortimer saw some one holding aside a dark dress, and moving down the rose-covered alley towards him.  It was not dark, and yet everything looked dim and confused.  The morning star was up, it seemed to tremble more than usual; he knew he should not see it set, it would go out in its place, because the dawn came so early.

    He knew it was Emily.  "Only one thing could have brought her," he said in his dull tone, and aloud.  "The end is come."

    But no, she was at his side.  Oh what a sweet tone!  So clear and thrilling, and not sad.

    "The darling is just as usual, and I have brought you some coffee; drink it, dear John, and then come in and take some rest."

    "No," he answered in a low tone, husky and despairing.

    She made out that he was sitting on the wooden bench his boys had carved for him.  It had only been placed there a few days, and was finished with an elbow, on which he was leaning his arm.  It was too low to give him much support.  She came to his side, the few trembling stars in the sky gave scarcely any light.  Standing thus, and looking at the same view that was before him, she saw the lighted windows of the children, Johnnie's, little Bertram's, and Anastasia's.  Three or four stars trembling near the horizon were southing fast.  One especially bright and flickering was about, it was evident, in a few minutes to set; as far as she could see, John was gazing at it.  She hoped he was not linking with it any thought of the little tender life so likely also to set.  She spoke to him again in tones of gentle entreaty, "Take this cup, dear John."

    "I cannot," he answered.

    "Cannot!" she said, and she stooped nearer, but the dimness hid his face.

    "No; and something within me seems to be failing."

    There was that in the trembling frame and altered voice that impressed her strangely.  What was failing?  Had the springs of life been so strained by suffering that there was danger lest they should break?

    Emily did not know; but everything seemed to change for her at that moment.  It was little to her that he should discover her love for him now; but he would not, or, if he did, he was past caring, and he had been almost forgotten by those about him, though his danger was as great as that of any.  He had been left to endure alone.  She lifted the cup to his lips, and thought of nothing, and felt nothing, but the one supreme desire to console and strengthen.

    "She will die, Emily," he found voice enough to say when the cup was empty; "and I cannot survive her."

    "Yes, you can; but I hope she will not die, dear John.  Why should she live so long, to die after all?"

    She leaned toward him, and, putting her arms about him, supported his head on her shoulder, and held it there with her hand.  At least that once her love demanded of her that she should draw near.  She should not die; perhaps there was a long life before her; perhaps this might be the only moment she might have to look back to, when she had consoled and satisfied her unheeded heart.

    "Have you so soon forgotten hope?" she said as she withdrew her arms.

    "I thought I had."

    "They always say she is not worse; not to be worse is to be better."

    "They never say that, and I shall not forgive myself."

    "No?" she exclaimed, and sighed.  There was, indeed, so little hope, and if the child died, what might not be feared for the father?  "That is because, though you seem a reverent and sincere Christian, you do not believe with enough reality that the coming life is so much sweeter, happier, better, than this.  Few of us can.  If you did, this tragedy could not fold itself down so darkly over your head.  You could not bring yourself almost to the point of dying of pity and self-blame, because your child is perhaps to taste immortal happiness the sooner for your deplored mistake.  Oh! men and women are different."

    "You do not think you could have outlived a misfortune so irreparable?"

    "I do think so.  And yet this is sad; sometimes I cannot bear to think of it.  Often I can find in my heart to wish that I might have handed that glass in your stead.  Even if it had broken my heart, I stand alone; no other lives depend on me for well-being, and perhaps for well-doing.  Cannot you think of this, dear John, and try to bear it and overlive it for their sakes?  Look, day begins to dawn, and the morning star flickers.  Come in; cannot you rise?"

    "I suppose not; I have tried. You will not go?"

    "Yes; I may be wanted."

    "You have no resentments, Emily?"

    "Oh no," she answered, understanding him.

    "Then give me one kiss."

    "Yes."  She stooped again toward him and gave it.  "You are going to live, John, and serve and love God, and even thank Him in the end, whatever happens."

    "You are helping me to live," he answered.

    It seemed impossible to him to say a single word more, and she went back towards the house again, moving more quickly as she drew near, because the sound of wheels was audible.  As for him, he watched in the solemn dawn her retiring figure with unutterable regret.  His other despair, who had talked to him of hope and consoled him with a simple directness of tender humanity, given him a kiss because he asked it.  He had often wanted a woman's caressing affection before, and gone without it.  It promised nothing, he thought; he perceived that it was the extremity she saw in the situation that had prompted it.  When she next met him she would not, he knew, be ashamed of her kiss.  If she thought about it, she would be aware that he understood her, and would not presume on it.

    The spots of milky whiteness resolved themselves again into blush roses; hundreds and hundreds of them scented the air.  Overhead hung long wreaths of honeysuckle; colours began to show themselves; purple iris and tree peony started out in detached patches from the shade; birds began to be restless; here and there one fluttered forth with a few sudden, imperfect notes; and the cold curd-like creases in the sky took on faint lines of gold.  And there was Emily―Emily coming down the garden again, and Giles Brandon with her.  Something in both their faces gave him courage to speak.

    "St. George, you are not come merely to help me in.  I heard wheels."

    Emily had moved a step forward; it was light enough now to show her face distinctly.  The doctors had both paid a visit; they came together, she told him.

    "It was very good of them; they are more than considerate," he answered, sure that the news could not be bad.

    "They both saw Anastasia, and they agreed that there was a decided improvement."

    "I thank God."

    With the aid of hope and a strong arm he managed to get up and stagger towards the house; but having once reached his room, it was several days before he could leave it or rise, though every message told of slow improvement.

    A strange week followed the return of hope.  The weeds in the garden began to take courage after long persecution, while Mr. Swan might frequently be seen reading aloud by Johnnie's bedside, sometimes the Bible, sometimes the newspaper, Master A. J. Mortimer deriving in his intervals of ease a grave satisfaction from the old man's peculiar style and his quaint remarks.

    "I'm allers a comfort to them boys," Swan was heard to remark in the middle of the night, when Valentine, who was refreshing himself with a short walk in the dark, chanced to be near him as he came on with his wife.

    "And how do you get on, Maria?"

    "Why, things seem going wrong, somehow.  There's that new nurse feels herself unwell, and the jelly's melted, and Miss Christie was cross."

    "That's awkward; but they're trifles.  When the mud's up to your neck, you needn't trouble yourself because you've lost your pattens.  You want a night's rest, my dear."

    "Ay, I do; and don't you worrit, Swan, over Matthew being so ugly with you."

    "Certainly not," said Swan.  "He's turned more civil too.  Said he to me this morning, 'Misfortunes in this life is what we all hev to expect.  They ought not to surprise us,' said he; 'they never surprise me, nor nothing does.'  It's true too.  And he's allers for making a sensible observation, as he thinks (that shows what a fool he is).  No, if he was to meet a man with three heads, he wouldn't own as he was surprised; he'd merely say, 'You must find this here dispensation very expensive in hats.'"


 
CHAPTER XXXII.

MR. BRANDON IS MADE THE SUBJECT OF AN
HONOURABLE COMPARISON.


JOHN MORTIMER, thanks to a strong frame and an excellent constitution, was soon able to rise.  He stood by his little Janie when she was laid in the grave, and felt, when he could think about it, how completely he and his had been spared the natural sorrow they would have suffered by the overshadowing gloom of greater misfortunes.

    There was no mother to make lamentation.  It was above all things needful to keep up Johnnie's spirits, and not discourage him.  He had gone through a harder struggle for his life than his father knew of; but the sight of his pinched features and bright, anxious eyes began only now to produce their natural effect.  John always came into his room with a serene countenance, and if he could not command his voice so as to speak steadily and cheerfully, he sat near him, and was silent.

    There was little sign of mourning about the place.  Never did a beautiful little promising life slip away so unobserved.  Anastasia did not even know that her companion was gone.  She was still not out of danger, and she wanted a world of watching and comforting and amusing.

    They all wanted that.  John, as he passed from room to room, strangely grateful for the care and kindness that had come into his house almost unbidden, was sometimes relieved himself in listening to the talk that went on.

    Only two of his children were quite unhurt; these were Barbara (and she found quite enough occupation in waiting on her twin sister) and little Hugh, who sometimes wandered about after his father almost as disconsolate as himself, and sometimes helped to amuse Bertram, showing him pictures, while Miss Christie told him tales.  Master Bertram Mortimer, having reached the ripe age of nine years, had come to the conclusion that it was muffish―like a cad, like a girl―to cry.  So when his broken arm and other grievances got beyond his power of endurance, he used to call out instead, while his tender-hearted little brother did the crying for him, stuffing his bright head into the pillows and sobbing as if his heart would break.

    On one of these occasions John drew the child away and took him downstairs.  "I'm crying about Janie too," he said, creeping into his father's arms to be consoled, and not knowing the comfort this touch of natural sorrow had imparted to an over-strained heart.

    The weather was unusually hot for the time of year, the doors and windows stood open, so that John could pass about as he pleased; he judged by the tone of voice in which each one spoke whether things were going well or not.  After he had sent little Hugh to bed that evening he went upstairs and sat in a staircase window, in full view of Johnnie's room.  Swan was talking by the boy's bedside, while Johnnie seemed well content to listen.  Little notice was taken when he appeared, and the discourse went on with quiet gravity, and that air of conviction which Swan always imparted to his words.

    "Ay, sir, Mr. Fergus will have it that the cottagers are obstinate because they wont try for the easy things as he wants them to.  The common garden stuff they show has allers been disgraceful, and yet, sometimes they interfere with him and take a prize for flowers.  'That shows they know their own business,' says I; 'it don't follow that because my parrot can talk, my dog's obstinate because he won't learn his letters.'  'Mr. Swan,' says he, 'you're so smothered in illustrations, there's no argufying with you.'  Master Johnnie, you was to drink your beef tea by this time."

    "Not just yet.  I hate it.  Tell me the rest about Fergus."

    "'Well,' he said, 'I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Swan.'  'No?' says I.  'No,' said he, 'but you and I air that high among the competitors that if we didn't try against one another we could allers hev it our own way.  Now, if you'll not show your piccatees this time, I'll promise you not to bring forrard so much as one pelagonium.'"

    "The cheat!" exclaimed Johnnie.  "Why we have none worth mentioning, and the piccatees are splendid, Swanny."

    "That's it, sir.  He'd like me to keep out of his way, and then, however hard it might be on the other gardeners, he'd have all the county prizes thrown open to the cottagers, that's to say, those he doesn't want himself.  He's allers for being generous with what's not his.  He said as much to me as that he wished this could be managed.  He thought it would be handy for us, and good for the poor likewise.  'That,' I says, 'would be much the same as if a one-legged man should steal a pair of boots, and think to make it a righteous action by giving away the one he didn't want in charity.'  As he was so fond of illustrations, I thought I'd give him enough of them.  'Mr. Swan,' says he, rather hot, 'this here is very plain speaking.'  'I paid for my pipe myself,' says I, 'and I shall smoke it which side my mouth I please.'  So now you know why we quarrelled, sir.  It's the talk of all the country round, and well it may be, for there's nobody fit to hold a candle to us two, and all the other gardeners know it."

    "I'll drink the stuff now," said Johnnie.  "Father, is that you?"

    "Yes, my dearest boy."

    "You can't think how well I feel tonight, father.  Swanny, go down and have some supper, and mind you come again."

    "Ay, to be sure, Mr. Johnnie."

    "You're not going to sit up tonight, my good old friend," said John, passing into the room.

    "Well, no, sir, Mr. Johnnie hev cheated the doctor to that extent that he's not to hev anybody by him this night, the nurse is to come in and give him a look pretty frequent, and that's all."

    John came and sat by his boy, took his thin hand, and kissed him.

    "It's a lark, having old Swanny," said the young invalid, "he's been reading me a review of Mr. Brandon's book.  He told Val that Smiles at the post office had read it, and didn't think much of it, but that it showed Mr. Brandon had a kind heart.  'And so he has,' said Swan, 'and he couldn't hide that if he wished to.  Why, he's as good as a knife that has pared onions, sir,―everything it touches relishes of 'em.'"

    "You had better not repeat that to Mr. Brandon," said John, "he is rather touchy about his book.  It has been very unfavourably reviewed."

    "But Swan intended a compliment," answered Johnnie, "and he loves onions.  I often see him at his tea, eating slices of them with the bread and butter.  You are better now, dear father, are you not?"

    "Yes, my boy.  What made you think there was anything specially the matter with me?"

    "Oh, I knew you must be dreadfully miserable, for you could hardly take any notice even of me."

    A small shrill voice, thin and silvery, was heard across the passage.

    "Nancy often talks now," said Johnnie; "she spoke several times this morning."

    John rose softly and moved towards it.  "And what did the robin say then," it asked.  Emily's clear voice answered, "The robin said, 'No, my wings are too short, I cannot fly over the sea, but I can stop here and be very happy all the winter, for I've got a warm little scarlet waistcoat.'  Then the nightingale said, 'What does winter mean?  I never heard of such a thing.  Is it nice to eat?"

    "That was very silly of the nightingale," answered the little voice.  The father thought it the sweetest and most consoling sound he had ever heard in his life.  "But tell the story," it went on peremptorily in spite of its weakness, "and then did the robin tell him about the snow?"

    "Oh yes; he said, 'Sometimes such a number of little cold white feathers fall down from the place where the sun and moon live, that they cover up all the nice seeds and berries, so that we can find hardly anything to eat.  But,' the robin went on, 'we don't care very much about that.  Do you see that large nest, a very great nest indeed, with a red top to it?'  'Yes,' the nightingale said he did.  'A nice little girl lives there,' said the robin.  'Her name is Nancy.  Whenever the cold feathers come, she gives us such a number of crumbs.'"

    "Father, look at me," said the little creature, catching sight of her father.  "Come and look at me, I'm so grand."  She turned her small white face on the pillow as he entered, and was all unconscious both how long it was since she had set her eyes on him, and the cause.  Emily had been dressing a number of tiny dolls for her, with gauzy wings, and gay robes; they were pinned about the white curtains of her bed.  "My little fairies," she said faintly; "tell it, Mrs. Nemily."

    "The fairies are come to see if Nancy wants anything," said Emily.  "Nancy is the little Queen.  She is very much better this evening, dear John." John knelt by the child to bring her small face close to his, and blessed her; he had borne the strain of many miserable hours without a tear, but the sound of this tender little voice completely overpowered him.

    Emily was the only person about him who was naturally and ardently hopeful, but she scarcely ever left the child.  He was devoured by anxiety himself, but he learned during the next two days to bless the elastic spirits of youth, and could move about among his other children pleased to see them smile and sometimes to hear them laugh.  They were all getting better; Valentine took care they should not want for amusement, and Crayshaw, who, to do him justice, had not yet heard of little Janie's death or of Nancy's extremely precarious state, did not fail to write often, and bestow upon them all the nonsense he could think of.  After his short sojourn in Germany, he had been sent back to Harrow, and there finding letters from the Mortimers awaiting him, had answered one of them as follows:―


LINES COMPOSED ON RECEIVING A PORTRAIT OF
GLADYS WITH BLOB IN HER ARMS.


I gazed, and O with what a burst
    Of pride, this heart was striving!
His tongue was out! that touched me first.
    My pup! and art thou thriving?

I sniffed one sniff, I wept one weep
    (But checked myself, however),
And then I spake, my words went deep,
    Those words were, "Well, I never."

Tyrants avaunt! henceforth to me
    Whose Harrow'd heart beats faster,
The coach shall as the coachman be,
    And Butler count as master.

That maiden's nose, that puppy's eyes,
    Which I this happy day saw,
They've touched the manliest chords that rise
    I' the breast of Gifford Crayshaw.


    John Mortimer was pleased when he saw his girls laughing over this effusion, but anxiety still weighed heavily on his soul―he did not live on any hope of his own, rather on Emily's hope and on a kiss.

    He perceived how completely but for his father's companionship he had all his life been alone.  It would have been out of all nature that such a man falling in love thus unaware should have loved moderately.  All the fresh fancies of impassioned tenderness and doubt and fear, all the devotion and fealty that youth wastes often and almost forgets, woke up in his heart to full life at once, unworn and unsoiled.  The strongest natures go down deepest among the hidden roots of feeling, and into the silent wells of thought.

    It had not seemed unnatural heretofore to stand alone, but now he longed for something to lean upon, for a look from Emily's eyes, a touch from her hand.

    But she vouchsafed him nothing.  She was not so unconscious of the kiss she had bestowed as he had believed she would be; perhaps this was because he had mistaken its meaning and motive.  It stood in his eyes as the expression of forgiveness and pity,―he never knew that it was full of regretful renunciation, and the hopelessness of a heart misunderstood.

    But now the duties of life began to press upon him, old grey-headed clerks came about the place with messages, young ones brought letters to be signed.  It was a relief to be able to turn, if only for a moment, to these matters, for the strain was great: little Nancy sometimes better, sometimes worse, was still spoken of as in a precarious state.

    Every one in the house was delighted, when one morning he found it absolutely necessary to go into the town.  Valentine drove him in, and all his children rejoiced, it seemed like an acknowledgment that they were really better.

    Johnnie ate a large breakfast and called to Swan soon after to bring him up the first ripe bunch of grapes―he had himself propped up to eat them and to look out of the window at the garden.

    "What a jolly bunch!" he exclaimed when Swan appeared with it.

    "Ay, sir, I only wish Fergus could see it!  The Marchioness sent yesterday to inquire,―sent the little young ladies.  I haven't seen such a turn-out in our lane since last election time.  Mr. Smithers said they were a sight to be seen, dressed up so handsome.  'Now then,' says he, 'you see the great need and use of our noble aristocracy.  Markis is a credit to it, laying out as he does in the town he is connected with.  Yes, they were a sight,' Mr. Smithers was the 'pink' Wigfield draper.  'Ay, ay,' says I, 'who should go fine if not the peahen's daughters?'"

    "Everybody seems to have sent to inquire," said Johnnie ungraciously.  "I hate to hear their wheels.  I always think it is the doctor's carriage."

    "Old Lady Fairbairn came too," proceeded Swan, "and Miss Justina.  The old lady has only that one daughter left single, as I hear; she has got all the others married."

    Johnnie made a grimace, and pleased himself with remembering how Valentine, in telling him of that call, had irreverently said, "Old Mother Fairbairn ought to be called the Judicious Hooker."

    Johnnie was sincerely sorry these acquaintances had returned; so was Emily.  Had she not given John a positive denial to his suit?  Who could be surprised now if he turned to her rival?

    It was afternoon when John Mortimer came in.  The house was very quiet, and a little flag hung out of Nancy's window, showing that the child was asleep.  He therefore approached quietly, entered the library, and feeling very tired and disquieted, sat down among his books.  He took one down, and did not know how long he might have been trying to occupy himself with it, when he heard the rustle of a silk dress, and Dorothea stood in the open window.  She looked just a little hurried and shy.  "Oh, Mr. Mortimer," she began, "Emily sent her love to you, and――"

    "Emily sent her love to me?" he exclaimed almost involuntarily, "sent her love? are you sure?"

    Dorothea, thus checked in her message, drew back and blushed―had she made herself very ridiculous? would Emily be displeased?  His eyes seemed to entreat her for an answer.  She faltered, not without exceeding surprise, at the state of things thus betrayed, and at his indifference to her observation.  "I suppose she did.  I thought all this family sent love to one another."  Thus while she hesitated, and he seemed still to wait for her further recollection, she noticed the strange elation of hope and joy that illumined his face.

    "I don't think I could have invented it," she said.

    "Ah, well," he answered, "I see you cannot be sure; but let me hear it again, since it possibly might have been said.  'Emily sent her love,' you began――"

    "And she is sitting with Nancy, but she wanted you to know as soon as you came in that the doctors have paid another visit together, and they both agreed that Nancy might now be considered quite out of danger."

    "Oh, I thank God!" he exclaimed.

    Emily had sent her love to him to tell him this.  He felt that she might have done, it was not impossible, it reminded him of her kiss.  He had been weighed down so heavily, with a burden that he was never unconscious of for a moment, a load of agonized pity for his little darling's pain, and of endless self-reproach; that the first thing he was aware of when it was suddenly lifted off and flung away was, that his thoughts were all abroad.  It was much too soon yet to be glad.  He was like a ship floated off the rock it had struck on, a rock like to have been its ruin, but yet which had kept it steady.  It was drifting now, and not answering to the helm.

    He could not speak or stir, he hardly seemed to breathe.

    A slight sound, the rustling of Dorothea's gown as she quietly withdrew, recalled him a little to himself, he locked himself in and went back to his place.

    He was not in the least able to think, yet tears were raining down on his hands before he knew that they were his tears, and that, as they fell, his heart long daunted and crushed with pain, beat more freely, and tasted once more the rapture of peace and thankfulness.  Presently he was on his knees.  Saved this once, the almost despairing soul which had faintly spoken to God, "I do not rebel," was passionate now in the fervour of thankful devotion.  The rapture of this respite, this return to common blessings, was almost too ecstatic to be borne.

    It was nearly dusk before he could show himself to his children; when he stole upstairs to look at his little Nancy she was again asleep.  "Mrs. Walker had gone back to her own house for the night," the nurse said, "but she had promised to come back after breakfast."

    That night Emily slept exquisitely.  The luxury of a long peaceful interval, free from anxiety and responsibility, was delightful to her.  She came down very late, and after her breakfast sauntered into the drawing-room, looking fresh as a white blush rose, lovely and content; next to the joy of possession stands, to such as she was, the good of doing good, and being necessary to the objects of their love.

    A little tired still, she was sitting idly on a sofa, more wistfully sweet and gravely glad than usual, when suddenly John Mortimer appeared, walking quickly through her garden.

    "He was sure to come and thank me," she said simply, and half aloud.  "I knew he would sooner or later," and she said and thought no more.

    But as he advanced, and she saw his face, she remembered her kiss, hoped that he did not, and blushing beautifully, rose and came a step or two forward to meet him.  "None but good news, I hope," she said.

    "No, they are all better, thank God; and my little Nancy also.  Emily, how can I ever thank you?  My obligation is too deep for words."

    "Who could help wishing to be of use under such circumstances?  Am I not enough thanked by seeing you all better?"

    "I hardly know how I could have presumed to intrude here and disturb you and―and trouble you with such things as I can say―when you are come home for an interval of rest and quiet.  Emily, if I had lost her, poor little girl, I never could have lifted up my head again.  It was hard on that blameless little life, to be placed in such peril; but I suffered more than she did.  Did you sometimes think so?  Did you sometimes feel for me when you were watching her day and night, night and day?"

    "Yes, John, I did."

    "I hoped so."

    "But now that the greatest part of the sorrow is over, fold it up and put it away, lay it at the feet of the Saviour; it is his, for He has felt it too."  When she saw his hands, that they had become white and thin, and that he was hollow-eyed, she felt a sharp pang of pity.  "It is time now for you to think of yourself," she said.

    "No," he answered, with a gesture of distaste.  "The less of that the better.  I am utterly and for ever out of my own good graces.  I will not forgive myself, and I cannot forget―have I only one mistake to deplore?  I have covered myself with disgrace," he continued, with infinite self-scorn; "even you with your half divine pity cannot excuse me there."

    "Cannot I?" she answered with a sweet wistfulness, that was almost tender.

    He set his teeth as if in a passion against himself, a flash came from the blue eyes, and his Saxon complexion showed the blood through almost to the roots of the hair.  "I have covered myself with disgrace―I am the most unmanly fool that ever breathed―I hate myself!"  He started up and paced the room, as if he felt choked, whilst she looked on amazed for the moment, and not yet aware what this meant.

    "John!" she exclaimed.

    "I suppose you thought I had forgotten to despise myself," he went on in a tone rather less defiant.  "When that night I asked you for a kiss―I had not, nothing of the kind―I thought my mind would go, or my breath would leave me before the morning.  Surely that would have been so but for you.  But if I have lived through this for good ends, one at least has been that I have learned my place in creation―and yours.  I have seen more than once since that you have felt vexed with yourself for the form your compassion took then.  I deserve that you should think I misunderstood, but I did not.  I came to tell you so.  It should have been above all things my care not to offend the good angel so necessary in my house during those hours of my misfortune.  But I am destined never to be right―never.  I let you divine all too easily the secret I should have kept―my love, my passion.  It was my own fault, to betray it was to dismiss you.  Well, I have done that also."

    Emily drew a long breath, put her hand to her delicate throat, and turning away hastily moved into the window, and gazed out with wide-opened eyes.  Her face suffused with a pale tint of carnation was too full of unbelieving joy to be shown to him yet.  He had made a mistake, though not precisely the mistake he supposed.  He was destined, so long as he lived, never to have it explained.  It was a mistake which made all things right again, made the past recede, and appear a dream, and supplied a sweet reason for all the wifely duty, all the long fealty and impassioned love she was to bestow on him ever after.

    It was strange, even to her, who was so well accustomed to the unreasoning, exaggerated rhapsody of a lover, to hear him; his rage against himself, his entire hopelessness; and as for her, she knew not how to stop him, or how to help him; she could but listen and wonder.

    Nature helped him, however; for a waft of summer wind coming in at that moment, swung the rose-branches that clustered round the window, and flung some of their white petals on her head.  Something else stirred, she felt a slight movement behind her, and a little startled, turned involuntarily to look, and to see her cap―the widow's delicate cap―wafted along the carpet by the air, and settling at John Mortimer's feet.

    He lifted it up, and she stood mute while she saw him fold it together with a man's awkwardness, but with something of reverence too; then, as if he did not know what else to do with it, he laid it on the table before an opened miniature of Fred Walker.

    After a moment's consideration she saw him close this miniature, folding its little doors together.

    "That, because I want to ask a favour of you," he said.

    "What is it?" she asked, and blushed beautifully.

    "You gave me a kiss, let me also bestow one―one parting kiss―and I will go."

    He was about to go then, he meant to consider himself dismissed.  She could not speak, and he came up to her, she gave him her hand, and he stooped and kissed her.

    Something in her eyes, or perhaps the blush on her face, encouraged him to take her for a moment into his arms.  He was extremely pale, but when she lifted her face from his breast a strange gleam of hope and wonder flashed out of his eyes.

    She had never looked so lovely in her life, her face suffused with a soft carnation, her lucid grey-blue eyes full of sweet entreaty.  Nevertheless, she spoke in a tone of the quietest indifference―a sort of pensive wistfulness habitual with her.

    "You can go if you please," she said, "but you had much better not."

    "No!" he exclaimed.

    "No," she repeated.  "Because, John―because I love you."


 
CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE TRUE GHOST STORY.


Horatio.―"Look, my lord, it comes!"

 HAMLET THE DANE.


VALENTINE was at Melcombe again.  He had begun several improvements about the place which called for time, and would cost money.  It was not without misgiving that he had consented to enter on the first of them.

    There was still in his mind, as he believed, a reservation.  He would give up the property if he ever saw fit cause.

    Now, if he began to tie himself by engaging in expensive enterprises, or by undertaking responsibilities, it might be impossible to do this.

    Therefore he held off for some little time.

    He fell into his first enterprise almost unawares, he got out of his reluctant shrinking from it afterwards by a curious sophistry.  "While this estate is virtually mine," he thought, "it is undoubtedly my duty to be a good steward of it.  If, in the course of providence, I am shown that I am to give it up, no doubt I shall also be shown how to proceed about these minor matters."

    He had learnt from his uncle the doctrine of a particular providence, but had not received with it his uncle's habit of earnest waiting on providence, and straightforward desire to follow wherever he believed it to lead.

    Valentine came almost at once under the influence of the vicar, Mr. Craik, the man who had always seen something so more than commonly mysterious about the ways of God to men.  Mr. Craik wanted Valentine to restore the old church, by which he meant to pull it almost to pieces, to raise the roof, to clear away the quaint old oaken galleries, to push out a long chancel, and to put in some painted windows, literally such, pictures of glass, things done at Munich.

    When Valentine, always facile, had begun to consider this matter, a drawing of the building, as it was to look when restored, was made, in order to stir up his zeal, and make him long for a parish church that would do him and the vicar credit.  He beheld it, and forthwith vowed, with uncivil directness, that he would rather build the vicar a crack church to his mind, in the middle of the village, than help in having that dear old place mauled and tampered with.

    Mr. Craik no sooner heard this than he began to talk about a site.

    He was a good man, had learned to be meek, so that when he was after anything desirable he might be able to take a rebuff, and not mind it.

    In the pleasant summer evenings he often came to see Valentine, and while the latter sauntered about with a cigar, he would carve faces on a stick with his knife, walking beside him.  He had given up smoking, because he wanted the poor also to give it up, as an expensive luxury, and one that led to drinking.  Valentine respected him, was sure the scent of a cigar was still very pleasant to his nostrils, and knew he could well have afforded to smoke himself.  That was one reason why he let himself be persuaded in the matter of the site (people never are persuaded by any reason worth, mentioning).  Another reason was, that Mr. Craik had become a teetotaller, "for you know, old fellow, that gives me such a pull in persuading the drunkards;" a third reason was, that there was a bit of land in the middle of the village, just the thing for a site, and worth nothing, covered with stones and thistles.  Mr. Craik said he should have such a much better congregation, he felt sure, if the church was not in such an extremely inconvenient out-of-the-way place; that agd saint, who was gone, had often regretted the inconvenience for the people.

    Valentine at last gave him the site.  Mr. Craik remarked on what a comfort it would have been to the agd saint if she could have known what a good churchman her heir would prove himself.

    But Valentine was not at all what Mr. Craik meant by a good churchman.  Such religious opinions and feelings as had influence over him, had come from the evangelical school.  His old father and uncle had been very religious men, and of that type, almost as a matter of course.  In their early day evangelical religion had been as the river of God―the one channel in which higher thought and fervent feeling ran.

    Valentine had respected their religion, had seen that it was real, that it made them contented, happy, able to face death with something more than hope, able to acquiesce in the wonderful reservations of God with men, the more able on account of them to look on this life as the childhood of the next, and to wait for knowledge patiently.  But yet, of all the forms taken by religious feeling, Valentine considered it the most inconvenient; of all the views of Christianity, the most difficult to satisfy.

    He told the vicar he did not see why his grandmother was to be called a saint because she had gone through great misfortunes, and because it had pleased her to be trundled to church, on all Sundays and saints' days, besides attending to the other ordinances of the church and the sacraments.

    When he was mildly admonished that a site seemed to presuppose a church, he assented, and with one great plunge, during which he distinctly felt, both that his position as landlord was not to be defended, and that this good use of the money might make things more secure, he gave a promise to build one―felt a twinge of compunction, and a glow of generosity, but blushed hotly when Mr. Craik observed that the old church, being put in decent repair, and chiefly used for marriages and for the burial service, it might, perhaps be a pleasing testimony, a filial act, to dedicate the new one to St. Elizabeth, "Simply in reverend recollection, you know, Melcombe, of that having been―been your grandmother's name."

    "No, I shouldn't like it," said Valentine abruptly.  Mr. Craik was not sure whether his evident shrinking was due to some low-church scruple as to any dedication at all, or whether the name of the sainted Elizabeth had startled him by reminding him of self-renunciation and a self-denial even to the death, of all that in this world we love and long for.  This Elizabeth, his grandmother, might have been a saintly old woman in her conversation, her patience, her piety, for anything Valentine knew to the contrary, but he had hold now of all her accounts; he knew from them, and from investigations made among the tenants, that she had held a hard grip of her possessions, had sometimes driven shrewd bargains, and even up to her extreme old age had often shown herself rather more than a match for some of those about her.  Things to be done by others she had seen to with vigilance, things to be done by herself she had shown a masterly power of leaving undone.  Her property had considerably increased during her term of possession, though in ordinary charity a good deal had been given away.  All was in order, and her heir whom she had never seen was reaping the fruits of her judgment and her savings; but whether she ought to be called a saint he rather doubted.

    He had returned to Melcombe, not without shrewd suspicions that his cousin was soon to be his brother-in-law.  A letter following closely on his steps had confirmed them.  Some time in September he expected a summons to be present at the wedding; he wished after that to travel for several months, so he allowed Mr. Craik to persuade him that his good intentions ought not to be put off, and he made arrangements for the commencement of the new church at once.

    It was to cost about three thousand pounds, a large sum; but the payment was to be spread over three or four years, and Valentine, at present, had few other claims.  He had, for instance, no poor relations, at least he thought not; but he had scarcely given his word for the building of the church when he received a letter from Mrs. Peter Melcombe―"an ugly name," thought Valentine.  "Mrs. Valentine Melcombe will sound much better.  Oh, I suppose the young woman will be Mrs. Melcombe, though."  Mrs. Peter Melcombe let Valentine know that she and Laura had returned to England, and would now gladly accept his invitation, given in the spring, to come and stay a few weeks with him whenever this should be the case.

    "I have always considered Laura a sacred trust," continued the good lady.  "My poor dear Peter, having left her to me―my means are by no means large―and I am just now feeling it my duty to consider a certain very kind and very flattering offer.  I am not at all sure that a marriage with one whom I could esteem might not help me to bear better the sorrow of my loss in my dear child; but I have decided nothing.  Laura has actually only five hundred pounds of her own, and that, I need not say, leaves her as dependent on me as if she was a daughter."

    "Now look here," exclaimed Valentine, laying the letter down flat on the table, and holding it there with his hand―"now look here, this is serious.  You are going to bring that simpleton Laura to me, and you would like to leave her here, would you?  Preposterous!  She cannot live with me!  Besides, I am such a fool myself, that if I was shut up with her long, I should certainly marry her.  Take a little time, Val, and consider.


"'Wilt them brave?
 Or wilt thou bribe?
 Or wilt thou cheat the kelpie?'


    "Let me see.  Laura is my own cousin, and the only Melcombe.  Now, if Craik had any sense of gratitude―but he hasn't―it seems so natural, 'I built you a church, you marry my cousin.  Do I hear you say you won't?  You'd better think twice about that.  I'd let you take a large slice of the turnip-field into your back garden.  Turnips, I need hardly add, you'd have ad lib. (very wholesome vegetables), and you'd have all that capital substantial furniture now lying useless in these attics, and an excellent family mangle out of the messuage or tenement called the laundry―the wedding breakfast for nothing.  I think you give in, Craik?'  Yes; we shake hands―he has tears in his eyes.  'Now, Laura, what have you got to say?'  'He has sandy hair.'  'Of course he has, the true Saxon colour.  Go down on your knees, miss, and thank heaven fasting for a good man's love (Shakespeare).'  'And he has great red hands.'  'Surely they had better be red than green―celestial rosy red, love's proper hue.'  Good gracious! here he is."

    "Ah, Craik! is that you?  How goes it?"

    One of Mr. Craik's gifts was that he could sigh better than almost anybody; whenever he was going to speak of anything as darkly mysterious, his sigh was enough to convince any but the most hardened.  He fetched a sigh then (that is the right expression)―he fetched it up from the very bottom of his heart, and then he began to unfold his grievances to Valentine, how some of his best school-girls had tittered at church, how some of his favourite boys had got drunk, how some of the farmers had not attended morning service for a month, and how two women, regular attendants, had, notwithstanding, quarrelled to that degree that they had come to blows, and one of them had given the other a black eye, and old Becky Maddison is ill, he concluded.  "I've been reading to her to-day.  I don't know what to think about administering the Holy Communion to her while she persists in that lie."

    "Do you mean the ghost story?" asked Valentine.

    "Yes."

    "It may have been a lie when she first told it; but in her extreme old age she may have utterly forgotten its first invention.  It may possibly not be now a conscious lie, or, on the other hand, it may be true that she did see something."

    "Your grandmother always considered that it was a lie, and a very cruel lie."

    "How so?  She accused no one of anything."

    "No, but she made people talk.  She set about a rumour that the place was haunted, and for some years the family could hardly get a servant to live with them."

    "Poor old soul!" thought Valentine.  "I suppose it would be wrong to try and bribe her to deny it.  I wish she would though."

    "I think," said Mr. Craik, an air of relief coming over his face―"I think I shall tell her that I regard it in the light you indicated."

    Soon after that he went away.  It was evening, the distant hills, when Valentine sauntered forth, were of an intense solid blue, gloomy and pure, behind them lay wedges of cloud edged with gold, all appeared still, unchanging, and there was a warm balmy scent of clover and country crops brooding over the place.

    Valentine sauntered on through the peaceful old churchyard, and over the brow of the little hill.  What a delightful evening view!  A long hollow, with two clear pools (called in those parts meres) in it, narrow, and running side by side, the evening star and crescent moon, little more than a gold line, reflected in one of them.  The reed warbler was beginning to sing, and little landrails were creeping out of the green sedges, the lilies were closing and letting themselves down.  There was something so delightful, so calm, that Valentine felt his heart elevated by it.  The peace of nature seems a type of the rest of God.  It reminds man of that deep awful leisure in which his Maker dwells, taking thought for, and having, as we express it, time, to bless and think upon his creatures.

    Valentine watched the gold in the sky, and the primrose-tinted depths beyond.  He was thankful for his delightful home; he felt a good impulse in him, urging that he must do his duty in this his day and generation; he seemed to respond to it, hoped the new church would be of use in the neighbourhood, and felt that, even if it cost him some sacrifice, Laura must be provided for; either he must settle on her something that she could live on, or he must promise her a marriage portion.

    As for himself, he was a good young fellow, better than many, and when he went on to think of himself, he saw, in his vision of his own future, nothing worse than an almost impossibly pretty girl as his bride, one with whom he was to take a specially long and agreeable wedding tour; and some time after that he supposed himself to see two or three jolly little boys rolling about on the grass, the Melcombes of the future, and with them and their mother he saw himself respected and happy.  Sauntering on still, he came past Becky Maddison's cottage, a pleasant abode, thatched, whitewashed, and covered with jasmine, but too close to the mere.  "I will talk to that poor old soul again, and see if I can make anything of her.  I am sure Craik is mistaken about her."

    "She fails fast," said the daughter, when accosted by Valentine; and she took him up-stairs to see her mother.  He first made himself welcome by giving her a handsome alms, and then inquired about her health.

    The daughter had gone down of her own accord.  "I'n bin very bad with my sparms" meaning spasms, she answered in a plaintive voice.  Valentine saw a very great change in her, the last sunset's afterglow fell upon her face, it was sunk and hollow, yet she spoke in clear tones, full of complaint, but not feeble.  "And I'n almost done wi' this world."

    "Mr. Craik comes to see you, I know; he told me to-day that you were ill."

    "Parson were always hard on I."

    "Because he doesn't believe the ghost story."

    "Ay, told me so this blessed marnin'; and who be he? wanted I to own 'twas a lie, and take the blessed sacrament, and make a good end.  'Sir,' says I, 'Mr. Martimer believed it, that's Mr. Melcombe now―and so 'e did, sir.'"

    "No, I didn't," said Valentine.

    "No?" she exclaimed, in a high piping tone.

    "No, I say.  I thought you had either invented it―made it up, I mean―or else dreamed it.  I do not wish to be hard on you, but I want to remind you how you said you had almost done with this world."

    "Why did 'e goo away, and never tell I what 'e thought?" she interrupted.

    Valentine took no notice, but went on. "And the parson feels uneasy about you, and so do I.  I wish you would try to forget what is written down in the book, and try to remember what you really saw; you must have been quite a young girl then.  Well, tell me how you got up very early in the morning, almost before it was light, and tell what you saw, however much it was, or however little; and if you are not quite sure on the whole that you saw anything at all, tell that, and you will have a right to hope that you shall be forgiven."

    "I'n can't put it in fine words."

    "No, and there is no need."

    "Would 'e believe it, if I told it as true as I could?"

    "Yes, I would."

    "I will, then, as I hope to be saved."

    "I mean to stand your friend, whatever you say, and I know how hard it is to own a lie.'

    "Ay, that it be, and God knows I'n told a many."

    "Well, I ask you, then, as in the sight of God, is this one of them?"

    "No, sir.  It ain't."

    "What! you did see a ghost?"

    "Ay, I did."

    Valentine concealed his disappointment as well as he could, and went on.

    "You told me the orchard of pear-trees and cherry-trees was all in blossom, as white as snow.  Now don't you think, as it was so very early, almost at dawn, that what you saw really might have been a young cherry-tree standing all in white, but that you, being frightened, took it for a ghost?"

    "The sperit didn't walk in white," she answered; "I never said it was in white."

    "Why, my good woman, you said it was in a shroud!"

    "Ay, I told the gentleman when he took it down, the ghost were wrapped up in a cloak, a long cloak, and he said that were a shroud."

    "But don't you know what a shroud is?" exclaimed Valentine, a good deal surprised.  "What is the dress called hereabout, that a man is buried in?"

    "His buryin' gown.  'Tis only a sperit, a ghost, that walks in a shroud.  I'n told that oft enough, I should know."  She spoke in a querulous tone, as one having reasonable cause for complaint.

    "Well," said Valentine, after a pause, "if the shroud was not white, what colour was it?"

    "Mid have been black for aught I know, 'twere afore sunrise; but it mid have been a dark blue, and I think 'twas.  There were a grete wash up at the house that marnin', and I were coming to help.  A sight of cherry-trees grow all about the door, and as I came round the corner there it stood with its hand on the latch, and its eyes very serious."

    "What did it look like?"

    "It looked like Mr. Cuthbert Martimer, and it stared at I, and then I saw it were Mr. Melcombe."

    "Were you near it?"

    "Ay, sir."

    "Well, what next?"

    "I dropped a curtsey."

    "Good heavens!" exclaimed Valentine, turning cold.  "What, curtsey to a ghost, a spirit?"

    "Ay, I did, and passed on, and that very instant I turned, and it were gone."

    Valentine's voice faltered as he asked the next question.  "You were not frightened?"

    "No, sir, because I hadn't got in my head yet that 'twere a sperit.  When I got in, I said, 'I'n seen him,' 'You fool,' says Mary Carfoil, that was cook then, 'your head,' says she, 'is for ever running on the men folks.  He's a thousand mile off,' says she, 'in the Indies, and the family heerd on him a week agoo.'  'I did see him,' says I.  'Goo along about your business,' says she, 'and light the copper.  It were Mr. Cuthbert 'e saw, got up by-times to shoot rooks.  Lucky enough,' says she, 'that Mr. Melcombe be away.'"

    "Why was it lucky?"

    "Because they'd both set their eyes on the same face―they had.  It's hard to cry shame on the dead, but they had.  And she's dead too.  Neither on 'em meant any good to her.  They had words about her.  She'd have nought to say to Mr. Cuthbert then."

    Valentine groaned.

    "No, nor she wouldn't after I'n seen the ghost, nor till every soul said he was dead and drowned, and the letter come from London town."

    "There must have been others beside you," said Valentine, sharply, "other people passing in and out of the laundry door.  Why did no one see him but you―see it but you?"

    "It were not the laundry door, sir, 'twere the door in the garden wall, close by the grete pear-tree, as it went in at; Madam shut up that door for ever so many years―'e can't mistake it."

    "Ah!"

    "That's the place, sir."

    "And who was fool enough first to call it a ghost?" cried Valentine almost fiercely.  "No, no, I mean," he continued faltering―"I don't know what I mean," and he dropped his face into his hands, and groaned.  "I always thought it was the yard door."

    "No, Sir."

    "And so when he disappeared, and was no more seen, you thought you had seen his ghost?"

    "Ay, sir, we all knowed it then, sure enough; Madam seemed to know't from the first.  When they told her I'n seen Mr. Melcombe, she fell in a grete faint, and wrung her hands, and went in another faint, and cried out he were dead; but the sperit never walked any more, folks said it came for a token to I, 'her did ought to look for death by-times,' said they."

    "That's all, is it?"

    "Ay, sir, that be all."

    "I believe you this time."

    "'E may, sir, and God bless 'e."



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Off the Skelligs] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Studies for Stories] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

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