'If you swear by that that is not, you are not forsworn: no
more was this knight swearing by his honour, for he never had any.'
As You Like It.
AT this moment the
nurse came in and said to St. George that both the children were crying,
and saying that he had promised to come up and see them before they went
to bed. Accordingly he ran upstairs to them with an orange in one hand and
an apple in the other.
Their French nurse was gone, and they did not take kindly to her English
substitute, but according to Mrs. Henfrey led St. George such a life that
it was wonderful he could bear it. They had been very low in their little
minds since Valentine went away; they had had bad coughs, and would not
take a drop of medicine unless he gave it them. He had won their hearts,
and had paid for this by being obliged to carry them upstairs on his back
because they said they had chilblains; but now that he was gone, they had
returned to their allegiance to St. George. Sometimes nobody else might
hear them say their prayers, and sometimes he was called out from his
luncheon because they would not eat their pudding unless he ate a bit too.
'French children generally are spoiled,' said Mrs. Henfrey,
'and these are
no exceptions. I am sorry for it for Dorothea's sake.'
'O they will not be so troublesome with her,' said Liz; 'and
depend on it Giles would not suffer their little exactions either, if he
did not like them: he and Valentine both are quite absurd about children.'
We were still talking of these little creatures when Mr. Brandon came back
and went up-stairs with us to the drawing-room. I took the Bradshaw
with me to make up my mind by what train to expect Valentine to-morrow.
By the one which stopped at Wigfield at nine in the morning I
found that his sisters expected him to come, because in her note Mrs.
Wilson had said, 'On Tuesday as early as possible.'
Mr. Brandon said he thought he would be wiser if he did not
travel in the night, for there was another train at six, which would bring
him home to dinner.
I made up my mind to expect him early. I was certain
that he would come, or he would have written; so spent the evening in
tolerable comfort, and slept better than I had done since my arrival.
Tuesday morning I looked out. The snow was very deep,
but at six o'clock I had heard the whistle of the up train, and knew that
the line was not blocked; and rose and dressed, and came down with a
beating heart, but scarcely any apprehension.
Mr. Brandon's trap was sent for Valentine. Dear fellow!
I longed to see him. I was told by every one that the snow would
make the train at least half an our late, so I waited till half-past nine,
and again the trap returned without him.
I cannot describe the looks of wonder and alarm that passed
between Liz and Mrs. Henfrey; but St. George still said that he had felt
that to travel in the night would be imprudent; and I observed as
breakfast went on that he really was more at his ease, and this again
influenced me to hope for the best. I was determined to hope and
trust to the last and uttermost: once to doubt Valentine was to give him
up, and I clung to faith with all my power.
We went to the morning-room as usual. Something, about
eleven o'clock, induced Liz to say, 'I shall just run up and ask St.
George about that.' Whereupon Mrs Henfrey said she had better not,
for Giles was so worried that morning.
'Why I thought he seemed easy enough about Val this morning,'
answered Liz, 'and last night he said to me that he was sure
Dorothea must know the Oubit far better than we did, and he felt that if
he really had been worse than he had said we should have been told.'
Mrs. Henfrey went away; and Liz and I, left alone, talked the
matter over till we worked ourselves up to such a state of anxiety that
she declared she must go up to Giles and find out why he was worried.
'He always did think so badly of Valentine's health,' she said; and this
frightened me, and I told her that he had intended going to Derby and I
had prevented him. On this she blamed my folly; it was exactly what
she had longed to see him do. 'But I must go and question him for
myself,' she added; 'come with me,' and we both set forth to go to the top
of the house to St. George's peculiar domain,—a sort of study or library
that he had of his own.
We came to a door, and finding it locked, Liz tapped.
We could hear a man's foot pacing about within. St. George came to
the door, but he only opened it an inch or two. 'What do you
want, you plague?' he said, but not in the least ill-naturedly. This
is the third time you have been up this morning.'
'D. came up with me,' said Liz; 'we want to speak to you.'
On this he opened the door widely, and we stepped into a
narrow room nearly forty feet long and with a pointed roof. It was
flooded with sunshine, and had four dormer windows looking over the open
country, and showing a good way off the great north road and the railway.
'Is it the evergreens?' he said; 'because if it is, Old
Wilkins may cut down every bush in the garden if you like; you always want
a quantity of garnish.'
'How impatient you are, Giles,' said Liz, but with unusual
gentleness; 'no, it's not the evergreens.' And she detailed Mrs.
Henfrey's remark, and all our fears and fancies in consequence.
'You make Miss Graham quite nervous,' he answered, 'she is
not in the least so by nature.'
'Tell us once for all,' said Liz, 'whether you think the
Oubit is worse than they said.'
'I do not think so.'
'And you do not think it would have been better if I had let
you go to Derby,' I added; 'you do not regret having stayed at home.'
'No, I think you were right.'
'O very well,' said Liz, as if now really satisfied; 'it was
silly of us, wasn't it, Dorothea, to frighten ourselves so? Look, is
not this a curious room?'
'It should have been put to rights if I had expected such a
visitor,' said St. George, glancing at my beautiful array, for I had
dressed myself again in the Parisian robe, in the false hope of seeing
I looked about. There were many shelves of books, there
were globes and queer-looking machines in this room; there was a
turning-lathe in one corner, and there were charming easy chairs, and a
reading lamp, and on the walls some pictures; but my heart, in spite of
his assurances, was beating with apprehension, for the whole floor was
carpeted with a red Brussels carpet, which was quite fresh, except in one
long narrow path from end to end, where the occupant was evidently in the
habit of pacing up and down. He began to do this again with restless
and somewhat rapid steps, and with his fingers in his waistcoat pockets;
and as I noted his appearance, I could not feel content. His face,
generally devoid of ruddy tints, was now almost pale, and his eyes, rather
wide open, seemed to be troubled with lashes of an often recurring
Well, Dorothea, shall we come down again?' says Liz. I
hesitated, and looked appealingly at him; on which he said to her, 'Go
down if you like, my dear; but perhaps it would amuse Miss Graham to stay
and look at my pictures; she never saw my room before.'
Liz ran off, and still he paced up and down, and I dared not
question him; but as I moved to look at a portrait of a lady whose
likeness to him was very apparent, he came to my side. 'That's my
mother,' he said; 'you see her face is full of prophecies but none of them
have come true. She is always promising me peace and sometimes joy.
You were frightened when you came up?'
'My own affairs are alone what make me so wretched. I
told you about a certain misfortune that had befallen me.'
'Yes; I am so grieved about it.'
'So now you can be at rest. I assure you it was only
about myself that I was so horridly worried this morning. I am
afraid I am losing the mastery over myself altogether. As for my
temper—it's all that ill-starred love.'
'You talk of a man's love as if it was an awful and terrible
'So it is sometimes. The first woman that I loved
always made me feel that I was a fool. As for my last love, she has
sometimes said to me very cruel things. She has the power so
completely to make me take her view of what I am, that I often feel as if
I must be a sneak. No, not exactly that—'
'And yet you actually said to me that she was inexpressibly
'I don't think it could have been her doing; it must have
been my own self-consciousness,' he replied.
'I hate that woman,' I answered deliberately; and I felt at
the moment almost as if it lightened, such flashes of anger seemed to come
darting out of my eyes. 'Yes I do,' I repeated, when he looked at me
with amazement; 'I know it's very wrong, but I cannot help it, and I
cannot feel any special desire to try.'
Thereupon when I found that surprise at this unexpected
outbreak of mine had so far dissipated his tragic feelings as actually to
make him smile, I was obliged to indulge in the luxury of two or three
tears, and when I had said something apologetic, to which he made no
answer, I moved forward to look at another picture; on which he presently
'This is a curious room, is it not? Mr. Mortimer had it
done up for me when I was of age. Dear old man! it's extraordinary
how fond he was of me. He wanted to keep me with him.'
'I do not see that it was extraordinary; but let me look at
Valentine's mother again. What a dear face it is.' Then as I
went nearer, and a sunbeam stealing over the picture made it appear to
smile on me, there was suddenly a strange, almost an awful thump at the
door. For the moment it startled me, and when it was repeated St.
George said, 'It's only Smokey; he is very frequent in his visits just
now.' He went to the door, and the great beast came slinking in. 'He
knocks with his tail,' said the master, partly addressing his vassal, and
he sat down in a low chair and let the creature put his paws on the arm of
it and look at him.
'You'd much better keep your distance,' said Giles,
addressing him exactly as if he had been a man; 'it only makes you more
uneasy, you know. You shouldn't try to investigate matters that you
The dog, with his head laid along his master's shoulder,
snuffled and whined a little, and tried to get St. George to rise; and
when he would not, coiled himself at his feet and looked up at him.
'Surely,' I exclaimed, 'he does not know you are out
'He feels that I can't sleep at night, and that makes him
restless and uneasy. But if you bark again and howl as you did last
night you must be sent to the farm; do you hear that, my dog?'
Smokey gave his master two or three little submissive yaps.
'No, he does not know anything,' continued his master, 'but
he feels something. The greater life somehow affects his lesser
thought. I always respect his desire to investigate, but I am sure
he is sagacious enough not to be satisfied now. Surely you must know
C the common experience in families that their dogs howl distressfully
when there is death or even great danger of it in their houses.'
'Yes, I have frequently heard of that.'
'Then this dog (and some, indeed many others) goes a step
beyond the common cur: he howls also when I am miserable. Smokey!'
Smokey sprang up with a sudden bound.
'There's a cat on the stable roof! He thinks it his
duty to bark at all strange cats, but he does them no damage. There
now, I shall get rid of him for a while,' he went on as the dog rushed out
of the room, and dashed down-stairs.
Then when I went back to look at the mother's picture I
managed to say, 'I cannot help telling you that I think you are now far
more easy and confident than I am about Valentine. For after all it
certainly is strange that he does not either come or write.'
'The reason I feel easier is that I sent a telegram yesterday
night to Derby. And the night before,' he continued after a pause.
'O, what were the answers and what induced you not to tell me
'The first was, "Have we received a true account of
Valentine's illness?" the answer was, "Yes, he is up and much better." '
'Surely that is very reassuring! And the second?'
'The answer to the second was, "I am coming." '
'Yes, of course, dear fellow! he is coming; but what was the
'The question will show that I was as you say surprised; it
was, "Make me understand this;" but you had nothing to do with it—you
never distrusted him for a moment, and I did only for a time.'
'Then he will come this evening?'
'How kind you have been! You have taken care that in
his case "the course of true love" shall for once "run smooth." '
'You know you have.'
'But I like to hear you say so.'
'I do say so, and I say there is hardly anything I would not
do to set this trouble of yours right again.'
He paced up and down once more; then as he reached the place
where I stood he said, 'No one knows of this?'
'Of course not.'
'No one ever shall?'
'No, not even afterwards.'
'Well, it is a shame to keep you up here, when no doubt you
have so much to do. Shall I take you down-stairs?
I felt that I was dismissed, and said I could easily find my
way down, he need not come with me; whereupon he opened the door, and as I
walked away I heard him lock it behind me.
I did not tell the two sisters about these telegrams.
One had clearly not been confided to me, because I had not supposed
Valentine to be worse than Mrs. Wilson had said. The other disturbed
me; both question and answer, even though Valentine had so distinctly said
he was coming.
That was a restless day. I longed for six o'clock with
indescribable faintings of heart. Liz could settle to nothing.
Mrs. Henfrey, who was having the whole of the family plate duly cleaned
for the great occasion, sometimes brought in some precious old heirloom as
shortly to be mine. 'All the plate,' she observed, 'belongs either
to Giles or Valentine, and it will soon have to be divided; but excepting
a few spoons and forks; there will be no difficulty about it even when
there is no crest, for I knew all our plate long before the late Mr.
Brandon's was mixed with it by Giles's mother.' She went to the
window from time to time. 'It's lucky I ordered the calves' feet on
Saturday,' she observed, 'and had the turkey boned.'
'Don't tease Dorothea,' said Liz kindly, 'she has a
'I like to hear it,' was my reply, it seemed so completely to
take for granted that the wedding breakfast would be eaten on the
appointed day that it comforted me.
I was thankful when it was time to dress for dinner, and
passed through the dining-room on purpose to see whether a chair and cover
had been placed in token
that Valentine was expected.
I derived comfort from seeing these preparations and from
seeing the trap set forth again. Then I went up to my room to dress;
and well knowing that I should be told the instant that he came in, I sat
there in bridal white till after I had heard the whistle of the train and
the returning wheels of the trap.
No one came to me. I felt sick and trembled slightly,
but had no inclination to shed tears. At length thinking I heard
whispering outside, I opened my door and saw Mrs. Henfrey, Liz, and Mr.
Brandon standing near it. The latter advanced, and gravely offered
his arm, saying with quiet steadiness of manner, 'Now, my dear, shall we
go down to dinner?'
O those words 'my dear,' what a world of meaning there was in
them to my trembling heart! They seemed plainly to tell me that he
acknowledged my claim to be treated as one of the family, but I felt that
in uttering them he thought that the chance of my entering it was but
I went down with him in silence, and trembling to a degree
that made it difficult to me to walk. Mrs. Henfrey and Liz were
perfectly silent during dinner, and hardly ate anything. Mr. Brandon
and I, though we felt so much more keenly, contrived to eat and to speak a
little, for the sake of appearances before the servants.
We went into the drawing-room as usual, and there, relieved
from restraint, Liz cried quietly in a corner, and Mrs. Henfrey sighed
incessantly. I was trembling with dread and excitement, but could
not sit a moment unoccupied, and went on with some knitting, with feverish
restlessness, till I heard at a distance sounds like faint music coming
across the snow; it was very sweet, a voice I thought,—and presently the
opening of a door made it distinct enough for me to recognize it. Mr.
Brandon was singing to the children.
I laid down my work and wandered away towards the sound, as
to something that might occupy my mind a little, and distract it from
The nursery door was ajar. I entered, saw the elder
child just finishing her supper, and the little one sitting on St.
George's knee, with shoes and socks off, and the moment I entered she made
a crying face. She had been promised that Monsieur Valentine would
come and see her, and he did not come; he was very naughty Monsieur
Valentine, and she should tell him so.
Valentine's little dog lay on the rug, and now and then made
a yapping noise in his sleep. 'He's dreaming,' said Frances, and St.
George said it was time they were dreaming too. 'But I haven't got
anything to dream about,' said Nannette in a melancholy tone, 'and my
foots are so cold.' She had been pressing her pretty little fat feet
against the nursery guard, but perhaps he saw that I wanted him, for he
left the nursery with me and I asked him to come to the drawing-room and
sing, and let me play for him. I wanted something to do.
The intense anxiety that was now beginning to overwhelm me
was shared, I was certain, by him and by him only; neither of his sisters
had admitted a single thought other than that Valentine was ill.
I felt that he was very desirous that night to comfort and
quiet my mind, and as he went to the drawing-room again he reminded me of
the great depth of the snow which made traffic troublesome, and perhaps in
some places impossible; and then he made the welcome suggestion that we
might have a telegraphic message.
I sat down to the piano, but soon found that my hands were
trembling too much to make playing possible. Then I went to the
nursery again, and saw the children put to bed, and watched them in their
little beds till they fell asleep. After that I sat as patiently I
could in the drawmg-room till our usual bed-time, and then Mrs. Henfrey
and Liz, wearied both by their anxiety and my restlessness, rose to
retire, and so did I.
But I could not sleep of course, and did not mean to dress.
I knew that about midnight there was a parliamentary train, which stopped
at G—, a place about eight miles off, and I resolved to sit up and
wait till all hopes of Velentine's coming by it were over.
I think about an hour hour may have passed, when, finding
that my watch had stopped, I stole down again to the drawing-room to look
at the clock there, and to my surprise found the lamps alight, and St.
George with his feet on the fender reading.
At sight of me he betrayed not the least surprise, but spoke
cheerfully and even smiled.
'You wished to sit up for the last train no doubt; do you
know I feel a strong conviction that he will come by it, and I have sent
to G— to meet it?'
'O thank you.'
He again spoke of the deep fall of snow; then he gave me a
book which he said was interesting, and began to pace slowly up and down
the room; but observing that I was quite unable to read, he shortly came
up to me, took the book out of my hand, and leaning one elbow on the
mantelpiece, began to read aloud out of the bulgy Greek Testament that I
remembered his possessing on board the 'Curlew.' He read in a quiet
steady voice, which, though very low and soft, was free from any
expression of emotion. It quieted my overwrought nerves, with the
only, the eternal history and hope, that then I was in a state to listen
He closed it at last. 'You are very patient,' he said
gently; 'come to the window. His senses had been quicker than mine,
for when he drew aside the curtains I could hear the oncoming of the
distant train, which had already stopped at G— and was rapidly speeding
The moon was nearly at the full, the ground was very deep in
snow, and the black trees looked awful in the stillness. We saw the
two red glaring, eyes of the engine as it sped past, and the black
carriages behind. Oh, how earnestly I prayed then that I might soon
see the man I was waiting for; but I have lived to thank God that all
my prayers have not been answered.
Looking out, not speaking a word, good or bad, my heart
beating and my hands trembling, I remained a long time, till, conscious of
a very faint sound some way off, I turned, and saw Mr. Brandon, with his
head thrown back and his nostrils dilated, standing with one hand raised
gazing towards the open drawing-room door and listening.
There was a slight stir outside, and a faint howling from one
of the dogs; then a distant door was softly opened, and footsteps passed
along the darkened hall.
My heart beat wildly, I hated its audible noise because for
all my listening it confused the sounds below. There was a foot on
the stairs, a slow heavy foot, and something had seemed now and then to
strike against the banisters. At last one man only entered the
room,—the groom,—and he had a deal box in his hands.
Neither of us spoke.
'If you please, sir,' began the man in a tone of the humblest
apology, 'Mr. Mortimer—sir—he wasn't there, but I brought this box on that
they took up into the North by mistake; it came down by the first train
My wedding cake come back again!
'You can set it down,' said Mr. Brandon; and when the man had
slunk out of the room, I looked at him and he looked at me.
What deadly fright and dread he saw in my face I cannot tell,
nor what pity troubled him for the forlorn creature standing mute before
him, but his face changed and paled till even his lips were white, and his
large eyes became dilated, and his whole frame shivered as if some
frost-bitten blast was blowing upon him.
I moved a little nearer, and said in a whisper, for my voice
was gone, 'Do you think he is dead?' I looked at him eagerly,
hungrily, for an answer, and he turned away his face from me, and muttered
'The worst is not,
So long as we can say, This is the worst'
I REMEMBER putting my
hands to my eyes, and feeling a longing desire to shed tears; but I had no
tears to shed, and was very sick and cold.
I went back to the fire, which was burning dim, and sat
cowering over it as if it could supply the warmth that had died out of me.
Mr. Brandon did not speak or take any notice of me; he was writing a
letter in urgent haste, and when he had directed it, he dashed down the
pen, came quickly to a sofa near the fire, and drew from under it a
riding-whip, scarf, and overcoat.
All this was very quickly done, and his resolute face,
heightened colour, and flashing eyes helped me to the meaning of it.
He had prepared beforehand for a journey in case this train did not bring
back Valentine; now he was resolved to fetch him back whether he would or
'You will now go to bed, I hope,' he said to me.
I asked if he was going to Derby.
'Yes,' he answered resolutely; 'I must, there is not a moment
to be lost,'—he held out his hand and went on saying, 'and black as things
look I hope you will try not to judge Valentine till you hear something
I summoned what force I had to say, 'Your going will not be
for my good, unless you will first hear what I wish to say about it.'
He looked as if impatience almost mastered him, but he sat
down, and I could see that down to his very finger ends his nerves were
thrilling with the longing desire to be off.
'I know you are a just man—'
He looked amazed at this beginning.
'So I hope you will be just to me.'
'To you?' he repeated faintly.
'Yes, to me. I have no friends: my brother would take
no notice, poor fellow, if the wedding day should pass over, and my name
remain as it is; my father is so far away.'
'I don't know what this means; say something more.'
'I say, then, that I know you are a loving brother; but I
believe that above his chance of happiness, you desire that Valentine
should yield to duty and honour.'
'You do me no more than justice.'
'You are not going to Derby because you think he is dying,
for others would have informed us of that.'
'Nor ill, for then he would have written himself.'
Still no answer.
'But you are going because you believe that his heart fails
him at the last moment, and he dare not come home because he will not
marry me. I know what you suffer in this prospect, for I am your
invited guest, come here on purpose, for your sister's convenience, to be
married to your brother, you yourself giving me away. Do not think
that I make light of that. If I were a man I should feel it keenly.
But, Mr. Brandon, (I said I knew you were just) I appeal to you to be
kind, and I trust to your sense of duty and your honour not to sacrifice
me. Valentine has been cruel already to leave me so long in anxiety;
but that would be nothing to your cruelty if you went to him and
represented all that you have done for him and all that he owes to you,
and the disgrace that would accrue to him, and the pain to your pride and
your affection if he should act unworthily, and if between entreaties and
commands you got him to return with you and marry me against his will.'
'If he wants such persuasion,' muttered Giles between his
clenched teeth, 'he is a villain whom but for his father's sake I could
disown. He must come,—he will, he shall!'
'Not at your bidding.'
'Yes, at my bidding. He must be infatuated now, but
once married to you, even at my instance, he would bless me ever after.'
'I say again, do not be cruel to me, do not sacrifice me to
him. Forget for awhile how much you care for Valentine, and consider
my happiness as if I were as dear to you as he is.'
He seemed to feel this appeal in every fibre of his frame; he
set his lips, and the colour forsook his face, but it retained its
resolute expression, and he could not look me in the face, but fixed his
eyes on the wall above my head.
'Would it be sacrificing you,' he said, with a faltering in
his voice that in a woman would have been the prelude to tears,—'would it
be sacrificing you to marry you to the man whom you love?'
I could not answer. The man whom you love.
Why did I love and care for him? only as the result of his love for
me; but I could not look his brother in the face and tell him so. It
would have been too cruel. After all, his absence was unaccounted
for. While we were discussing his possible falsity, he might be
dying in some wayside inn, or buried deep in a snow-drift, his last
thoughts having been of me. Thinking of this,—and it was well I
did,—a sudden passion of tears came to my relief, and I covered my face
with my hands, and repented of what I had said, and bemoaned my own
unkindness from the bottom of my heart. I believe I reproached Giles
for having first suggested to me a doubt as to Valentine's honour. I
repudiated any such doubt for myself; said I had altered my mind, and
implored him if he found Valentine living not to tell him that I had ever
Becoming more calm,—and he left me to recover myself without
a word of comfort from him,—I looked on. He was standing still as a
statue, just as I had seen him before, not directing his eyes towards me,
but raising them above my head.
Often, in after years, when I sat between him and Valentine,
I saw again the expression that then met my eyes for the first time.
It was the reflection of some inward thought which he was
brooding over: it must have been a good thought, for it irradiated his
face. It made me feel a sudden trust in him; and as one looks at a
picture of a saint holding heavenly communion, or an angel with a brow of
more than mortal tenderness and calm, I looked at him till, conscious of
my silence, he brought down his eyes to meet mine, and instantly the
opening the clouds that had shown such a glimpse of brightness was closed,
and the face resumed its usual expression of keen intelligence and
The drawing room clock struck two, and he started forward and
snatched up his whip. It seemed as if he would leave the room
without speaking to me; but he did not. He gave himself time to tell
me shortly and quickly that now he must go; that whatever happened I
should hear by telegraph everything that he could tell me and then, as if
reluctantly, he told me not to be afraid, for he should remember my
So saying, and requesting that I would now go to bed and take
some rest, he left the room and went quickly down-stairs. I heard
him unlock and open the back door, and then I heard the swing of the
stable door on its hinges. I went to my room, and from thence could
see the carriage road. I looked out and saw him leading his horse by
a short cut through the deep snow in the field. That done, he
mounted him, and my heart beat a little more easily; for now whatever had
happened to Valentine, he would soon have help and I should soon have
tidings. I lay down, and was so weary that I slept, but only to lose
myself in miserable dreams. The horse was stumbling, he had got into
a hole and Giles could not drag him out, the snow was too deep; there was
no train, it had whisked by just before he reached the station. I
heard the whistle of it in my dreams, and awoke to hear it in reality.
It was eight o'clock, and the pretty little maid was standing by my bed
with a telegraphic letter in her hand. With what sensations I opened
it I need not attempt to describe. It was dated from a station a few
miles beyond Derby. 'One quarter past seven, A.M. Valentine
left this place two hours ago. You shall hear again.' That was
all,—not a word of comfort; there was none evidently to be given; nothing
about his health; and he could not have left on his way home, or why was I
to hear again?
Liz soon came to look at the letter, and took it away to Mrs.
Henfrey. Neither of them attempted to understand it, and I tried
very hard not to judge poor Valentine before the time.
That was a dreary day—the snow fell incessantly, and no one
came to the house. Mrs. Henfrey was very much annoyed about some
evergreens that she wanted for decorating the house; she was sure they
would never look well if they were cut with the snow upon them.
I was very restless, but I could retire sometimes to my room,
and kneel, and, as well as the tumult of my mind would permit, I could
pray. I could also weep now and then a little that day; but in the
evening there came another telegram, which gave me a shock that drove away
my tears for a long, long time, and greatly increased my
suffering:—'London, six o'clock, Euston Hotel. If you have received
any letter or message let me know. He is in London, but I do not
Wretched uncertainty! I could not sleep that night, but
I came down the next morning as usual. It still snowed. I
could not bear to sit still, but wandered from story to story, and from
room to room. There were no telegraphic messages now either to
frighten or to cheer me; but every now and then there were Mrs. Henfrey's
curious remarks to listen to. She was not afraid for Valentine, it
seemed, and she chose to consider that it must be the snow that kept him
away. The rails were blocked up certainly, but that did not account
for the absence of telegraphic letters; neither Liz nor I, however,
prevented her from taking any view she pleased, and she proceeded to have
the jellies cleared, the raised pies made, and the game roasted, with a
view to the wedding breakfast that nobody but herself expected to see on
Poor Liz cried a good deal that day: I never shed a tear.
I was very cold, and everything seemed to have a dimness spread over it;
but I remember sometimes deriving a slight degree of relief from going
into the nursery and hearing the artless prattle of the children.
And now Friday came, the eve of my wedding day Liz was unwell
from apprehension, and did not appear. I came down feeling faint and
so weak that I could not descend the stairs without holding by the
banisters. Colder and colder I had grown as time went on; there was
a weary, wearing pain at the top of my head as if the weight of the world
was pressing on it; but I could not be alone. I followed Mrs.
Henfrey about, and sat in each room that she went into.
Strange to say, her only comfort now that things began to
look so bad, was in pertinaciously continuing her preparations, as if they
could help to avert the coming blow. She had wheelbarrows-full of
evergreens cut and laid in heaps on the dining-room floor; she even had
some of the principal dishes carried in, that she might decide how they
were to stand. And at all this I sat and looked on.
I sat on the dining-room sofa, my mind so dimmed by long
tension that nothing affected me that passed around. I had a desperate
necessity upon me to be occupied; and as my arms failed me through
fatigue, I propped the one which held my needle on the cushion and drew it
out with an effort, and a determination to continue the effort, which I
can feel when I think of it, even to this day.
The cook and another servant, as they carried the dishes and
changed them at Mrs. Henfrey's orders, cast pitying glances at me. I
saw it, but I could only move a little way off that they might observe me
less, and I went and sat in an arm-chair which was opposite to the door
that led into the hall. Through the hall windows I could now see the
clear expanse of snow that lay over everything. My powers of working
had given way. I laid my work on my lap, and resting my arms on the
arms of the chair, looked out with listless apathy.
All my impressions were faint now, my ideas dim, my thoughts
confused. I was not roused when I heard a servant utter the word
'wheels,' and instead of looking out I looked at her.
An instant after, and there was a confused noise of
footsteps, and then some one shaking and violently knocking at the side
door of the room.
'Good lack,' cried the cook running to open it, 'I locked it
because of the jelly glasses being on the floor.'
Mrs. Henfrey turned half bewildered by the noise, and the
door being now opened Mr. Brandon burst in, stumbling in his vehement
haste among the glasses and then trampling and plunging through a mass of
Brought thus for a moment to a stand, I could see the
vehement flashing of his eyes and hear his hurried breathing, as Mrs.
Henfrey and Liz, who now rushed in, seized him by either arm, crying,
'How's Valentine, Giles? O Giles, where's Valentine?'
He muttered some answer that was inaudible to me, and still
trampling through the holly, his eyes fell on the table. He saw
instantly the meaning of these preparations, and while both his sisters
fell back, he stood a moment aghast and shocked, and then in a low
thrilling tone he said, 'O my God!'
It was more like a prayer than an exclamation. 'Take
that away!' he cried to the cook; 'take it out;' and with an awestruck
face she snatched off the epergne, and the old footman in tears followed
with my cake. Liz, with her usual terror at being present when
anything was the matter, filled her arms with holly and rushed out of the
room crying, 'O, he is dead! he is dead!' And then before any one
could get after her to prevent it, she fell down heavily on the floor; and
as I sat quiet in my place I heard Giles and Mrs. Henfrey lift her up.
I hoped she was not hurt, but in a minute or two I noticed that Giles had
come back and shut the door, that he was coming toward me, and then that
he was standing before me; but I sat as still as if the scene that had
passed before my eyes was no concern of mine. I could not feel, I
could not stir, I only perceived that he was holding a letter for me to
take, and that when I did not put out my hand for it he laid it on my
I saw the handwriting, that it was Valentine's, and I said
with quiet apathy, 'He is not dead.' Then I lifted up my eyes and
saw, but did not hear him answer, 'No.'
Still my senses were so dimmed by long suspense and alarm,
that I sat without moving from my apathetic attitude till he took up the
letter, and breaking open the envelope again offered it for my perusal.
But no: Valentine was not come, I had sense enough to
perceive that, and also that he was not ill, for he had written; and,
strange as it may seem, I had no desire to read that letter. Few
women can have received one in all respects its parallel, and to none
could it have been offered with a greater agony of shame and pity than he
showed who offered it to me.
'Do you know me? Do you know who I am?' I remember
hearing him say, I managed to answer 'Yes,' and he gently touched my
forehead with his hand, and sighed. 'I have brought you a letter,' he
repeated; 'don't you mean to read it?'
Though I was so dull, and so unable to feel keenly, I as
aware he was speaking to me as if he was anxious to rouse rather than
soothe me, and I wished to rouse myself, but my arms lay like lead upon
the arms of the and my thoughts wandered.
'You may read it to me,' I said.
He looked fixedly at me as if he did not hear, and I repeated
what I had said.
I did not know what a cruel task I was imposing till after
glancing at the now open letter he trembled, and dropt it from his hand,
with a gesture of almost loathing. I felt a feeble kind of surprise
then, and when he turned away I saw the first few words as it fluttered to
his feet, 'My dear generous D—'
But he did not leave me long waiting for the remainder.
He turned back with a resolute sort of courage, and forced himself to read
it to me from beginning to end. It was a strange weak confession,
half apology, half self-justification. The drift of it was that I
had been right from the first, for now he knew what love was, and he had
never loved me. He had not meant to be cruel and inconsiderate; he
had but lately discovered that his affections had been stolen from him by
one who was the loveliest of her sex. He should always be very fond
of me as the dearest of sisters, but, oh, he could not come back to me, it
would be too terrible. Would I be generous, would I, could I forgive
him, and be good to him and set him free?
Some strange changes passed over St. George's face as he
read, and added meaning to the flush of shame that dyed his features, and
to the dilated nostril and heaving chest. There was a resolute
effort to keep his voice steady while he read, and Valentine's weak words
were flung to me in broken but stormy tones of grief, and passion, and
pity that his feebler nature never would have reached, but fainter and
less firm they sounded with every fresh sentence, till the last unworthy
entreaties died away in a muttered sigh, and the task once performed there
was no more striving for self-mastery. Subdued for once and stung to
the quick, wounded both in his pride and his affection, he dropped the
letter again on my knee, and I saw him, with an astonishment that almost
roused me from my apathy, retreat to the sofa, lay his face among the
cushions, and yield himself to an agony of tears.
He wept with such passion, such a choking misery of sobs,
that the deadly calm which was freezing me to death gave way a little.
I perceived that some of this grief was for me, and there was some slight
comfort and healing in the thought. There was at least one human
being in the wide world who could be touched for my trouble. But I
could not weep yet: I could not cry for my lost lover—lost to the past now
as well as to the future. No, and I could not cry for my lost home
and changed prospects. I could only look on at this man who for the
moment had forgotten himself to do it for me, and feel a yearning desire
to change places with him, and lay down my head as he had done.
And yet, strange to say, I had a great dread at heart lest
some one who might be listening outside should hear this. I forgot
that it must all be made public the next day. With an effort I rose
from my chair, fetched a glass of water from the side-board, and brought
it to him, whispering, 'Hush, hush.' He had already sat up; but a
passion of tears is such an unusual experience to some men that they don't
know what to do with it, and when I spoke it overcame him again, and
clenching his hands in the cushions he sunk his face into them, and cried
out, bemoaning himself like a woman. 'What had he ever done that
such a message should be sent by him. He knew it would break my
heart; he could not and he would not bear it!'
'Hush,' I said to him again; 'you must be quiet, and we want
time to think what can be done.'
Thereupon he took the water with a sigh of utter exhaustion
and drank it, and gave me back the glass. As he did so he looked in
my face with a world of pity and ruth, but my dimmed eyes had lost the art
of weeping. Neither his compassion nor his example could bring it
He rose presently, and wheeled an easy chair near to the
fire, and clearing away the evergreens with his feet, put me in it,
propping me with cushions and commiserating me. I could not have
endured this from any one else; but he was a fellow-sufferer.
Moreover he had been right from the first; and I did think and I did feel,
even at that moment, that if I had only let him go to Derby when he
wished, Valentine would certainly have returned with him. Indeed I
said so to him; and I remember telling him not to be surprised at my
behaviour; for I knew it was strange that I could feel no natural emotion,
that I could neither tremble nor sigh.
There was something piteous, no doubt, and hopeless in that
hour—it was the first real turning aside from the important point to which
my life had been tending, it was the flinging away of allegiance to a
'Have you no question at all to ask me?' said Mr. Brandon,
with a bitter sigh.
I looked in his face, and the gloom of his brow almost
frightened me. It brought to my mind a sudden alarm as to what might
have passed between him and Valentine, and my locked lips opened to
question him:—'Where had he been?'
'All over London,—miserable from dread of what in his
desperation Valentine might have done. All the mischief was done at
Derby. Oh, you have much to forgive—not only to him!'
'And where did you find him at last?'
'They found out at Derby, and telegraphed to me. He was
at an hotel.'
'You were not angry with him, poor fellow.'
'O, child, do not look at me so! Yes, I was angry.'
'You did not strike him?'
'What did he say?'
'What did you say?'
'I don't know,—I don't exactly know; but he answered that if
I required it he would make the sacrifice.'
'He was always of a yielding nature.'
'Don't—don't speak so tamely—don't excuse him! It
pierces my heart to hear you.'
'I must excuse him; he would have done worse to come. I
do excuse him for not coming, and I thank you for not bringing him.'
'I could have brought him, but you had tied my hands. I
could have made him do his duty, and he would have blessed me for it
'You have done your duty by me instead, and did not sacrifice
He dropped his face into his hand and sighed, repeating what
he had said before,—'Would it, then, have been sacrificing you to marry
you to the man whom you love?'
'Yes, for the root and ground of my affection for him was the
belief, which was tardy in coming to me, that he loved me, and that by
devoting myself to him I could make him happy. He tried long to
persuade me of his affection; I thought his pertinacity was a proof of it;
and so because I thought he loved me, I learnt to devote myself to him.
I meant to spend my life in helping him, to reserve my best affection for
him, and all my allegiance. If he really did care for me, he
deserved it; for who else did—even of those on whom I had some claim?
I would not be perverse, then, and ungrateful. If he did love me, I
would love him in return.'
As I spoke slowly and with long pauses and weariness and
difficulty, he lifted his face from his hands and half turned towards me,
but seemed to be arrested by amazement, and raising his eyes above my
head, as he had done once before, he lost himself in such a fit of
thinking that be appeared to be almost forgetting to breathe. '
Perhaps he did not believe me; perhaps he felt the ground
giving way under his feet,—one chief cause for anger against Valentine
fading away, one chief cause for pitying me cleared from his mind; and
like a person keenly searching in the depths of his own memory for
something that he desires to bring up to the light, and that perplexes and
torments him with doubts when he has found it, be sat motionless as a
stone, knitting his brow, and I, weak and weary, looked calmly on, not
able to feel much, but deriving a sort of feeble contentment from
contemplating a person who could.
At last, with a mighty sigh, he brought down his eyes to meet
mine, and looked at me as if he would have penetrated to my very soul.
'Is it so hard to believe me?' I asked.
'I find it hard,' he answered gravely, 'to reconcile what you
say with—with some things that have taken place.'
'What did I warn you of in the wood? What significance
could there be in my words to bring such cruel pain to you if you did not
love Valentine then? You wished to extort a promise from me that I
would never allude to it again. You cannot think I have forgotten
that, and how you hung your head and drooped when I was hard enough to
tell you that your boy lover had a careless heart and a faint memory.
Love him! Why, he had confided to me that very morning that he
believed you loved him; you declined to engage yourself to him, but he was
sure you loved him. And when I turned upon him and said, "What
then?" what response did I get? Boy that he was, he faltered and
blushed, and owned that he liked you uncommonly—was so proud, so pleased
with you and your love. You have never been able to feel friendly
towards me since that dark day.'
'And now,' he went on, after another pause, 'when something
worse than I ever dreaded has come to pass, something worse than careless
and cold has been done, you can sit here white and wan, like the shadow
only of that passionate creature who resented with such heartsick tears
the first hint of this wrong. And unless I am mistaken,—which I
think I must be,—you are actually telling me,—you intend me to
understand,—that you did not cherish him then in your heart (handsome,
joyous, engaging young fellow that he was), but that your affection for
him rose afterwards, and was due to his long persuasions.'
Sometimes when a communication of grave import has been made,
the mind is so full that nothing fresh can startle it.
So it was with me then. I perceived my long-cherished
mistake, and St. George had warned me about Valentine after all.
What did it signify now? I thought it over. He was such a mere
boy at that time, I said to myself: how could St. George take such a thing
into his head? He was a mere boy! Then I recurred to my first
thought on the subject. What did it signify now?
Some slight movement that he made recalled me to myself, and
looking up I saw that he was expecting an answer from me, and looking at
me with keen attention.
'He was a mere boy,' I said at last. And I considered
again. 'And so he thought I loved him. Strange!'
'Strange,' repeated St. George; 'why, his father thought so,
his sister thought so. And as to his persuasions—'
'Yes,' I said wearily; 'he was very open. Surely you
knew of them.'
'Knew of them? he repeated bitterly: ' O yes, I knew of them;
but I believed that your long hesitation was owing to my having reminded
you of his extreme youth and volatile character. I thought
afterwards, poor fellow, that I had done him a great wrong, and you too.
I thought I had spoilt your best chance of happiness, and his best chance
of a happy and noble and virtuous youth.'
'Did you?' I answered, for I was sorry to hear him speak with
such anguish. 'Well, never mind now, it makes no difference.'
'I set myself to atone for it,' he went on. 'I never
rested till I had made an early marriage possible for him.—At least you
loved him afterwards?'
He turned upon me almost vehemently to ask this question, and
I answered, after thinking again: 'I cared for him very much, he was so
kind, and I wanted some one to whom I could devote myself. I loved
him almost better even than Tom at last.'
'Is that all?' he exclaimed, springing up; 'almost better
than Tom! O then, the mischief is not quite irreparable; the wrong
is not so intolerable as I thought.'
I cannot describe what I felt when he said this. His
shame for his brother, and his intense sympathy with me, had been more
necessary in this great trouble than I was aware. Now this
sustaining sympathy was withdrawing, and all the courage I had left went
Happily for me, the pang of that moment brought back to me
the power to weep, and I could lay down my head at last and cry for all I
had lost—for my home under the New Zealand hills, and my cabin in the
'I wad gie a' my gowd, my bairn,
Sae wad I a' my fee,
For ae blast o' the westlin wind
To blaw the reek frae thee.'
IT takes a great deal
to make some people ill. I suppose so at least, for the next morning
after lying awake nearly all night I saw the daylight come in, and I was
I had wished to be left alone, and had asked to have my
window curtains undrawn that I might look out as I lay in bed; for, as is
so often the case in illness or trouble, I did not like to look at things
near at hand.
I did not think very intently about my changed prospects; all
sorts of irrelevant matters pushed themselves into the foreground, and my
only intervals of calm were when I could watch the slow movements of the
clouds over the sky and the quiet southing of the stars. I heard
steps about the house all night, openings of outer doors, wheels, and
movements of furniture. The place only became quiet about dawn; but
this made no difference to me. I did not want to sleep, and yet I
felt the profound quiet during which light came in resting and sustaining
At last there were noises again; the usual sounds of
unclosing shutters and knocking at doors, then I began to notice how
unchanged everything else was in spite of the change in me. What a
commonplace experience, and yet we are all surprised by it in our turn,
and with it comes the first power to understand how (greatly as some of us
may be loved) we shall make no abiding change even in any one human face
by our going away.
The snow lay on the frozen trees, glittering and pure in the
morning sunshine, and my pulse was beating as usual, and there was the
little church tower. This was the wedding day, and the bridegroom's
letter was under the pillow.
'I am glad he is not dead,' I whispered to myself, and all my
sensations were dull, and the words in which my thoughts shaped themselves
were few and moderate. We can spend a great deal of vivid emotion on
unimportant matters when the senses are keen and fresh; but let them be
exhausted with watching, or waiting, or fear, and how patient and tame we
are about the most remarkable and heart-sickening things.
Mrs. Henfrey's little maid came and helped me to dress; she
trembled more than I did, and could not speak to me at all. Then
Mrs. Henfrey came herself, and brought me down to breakfast. I saw
that everything had been restored to its usual state. The evergreens
and the plants were gone,—the tables were set as they generally stood.
I was so quiet that no one could offer any sympathy. I
think they were thankful to find that I could behave almost as usual, and
I dare say they little supposed that my commonplace cogitations were as
much occupied with wonder as to what Mrs. Henfrey would do with the great
wedding breakfast for eighty guests, as with the letter that I had to send
to Valentine, and what I should say in it.
Some of the wedding guests were there in the house, though I
did not know it till I heard the sound of wheels, and was told in answer
to a question, that the Augustus Mortimers and the John Mortimers were
about to drive home; but the confusion of the previous evening I never
heard more about till long afterwards; nor of the rage of 'Uncle
Augustus,' the head of the family, and how John Mortimer and Mr. Brandon
sent in all directions to stop the wedding guests; how angry they got with
the wedding presents which kept coming in by the dozen, how Dick
à Court had to be sent to (the clergyman
who was to perform the ceremony), and the best man, who was no other than
Valentine's old rival, Prentice, had to be met at the station and desired
to keep his distance.
All these things I knew nothing about. They had done
everything they could to prevent mortifications to me,—more indeed than
was necessary; for as the great fact had to be borne, the little incidents
grouped about it got swallowed up in the more important shadow.
One strange thing, however, happened. In spite of all
their care, the old footman came to my side at breakfast time with a
waiter in his hand; but just as he said 'With Miss Braithwaite's love,
ma'am,' and before I had turned, Mr. Brandon snatched whatever lay on the
tray and flung it under the table. The man retired under a battery
of looks from the family, but the present still came to me, falling at my
feet. I felt that it was something delicate and soft, and touched it
several times with my foot as it lay there. At last I was impelled
to stoop and draw it out. It was a bride's bouquet made of white
camellias and tied with satin ribbon. Miss Braithwaite, in the deep
snow, could not know anything of my misfortune; indeed, no one did who had
not been told the previous night.
There was fish of some kind on the table I think, for
finger-glasses stood about. I began to untie the flowers, and put
them into my glass, and as I did it slowly and wearily I observed Mrs.
Henfrey's astonishment, and said to her, 'I do not see why these must fade
and die because I am not to be happy.' Whereupon both she and Liz
gave way to tears and sobs, and I looked at them and longed in vain to
follow their example.
I recollect little of that morning. About eleven
o'clock the old craving for work came upon me, and I sat between Liz and
Mrs. Henfrey, silent and quite unable to shed a tear. Mr. Brandon
then came in and asked if I thought there was anything that would do me
good; and I said yes: I wished to go out a walk in the shrubbery. He
went away to have a path swept and when it was ready he took me out.
There was a cold north walk behind the trees, which was bare of snow, and
there I began mechanically to walk up and down. The inability to
shed tears was telling on me. I felt a burning pain in my brow; but
I longed for exertion and bodily fatigue. When he found that, he let
me walk alone, standing near, and sometimes watching me. The driving
wind was bitterly cold, and the chill earth made my feet numb; but the
mechanical exertion of walking seemed to be a relief to me, and I paced up
and down in spite of his expostulations.
Close to this walk, but facing south, was a little cottage
consisting only of one room. Sometimes we had used it for our
photographs, but it was fitted up for a study, and Giles often wrote in
it. I now as I walked saw him drag wood into it, and then fetch some
cushions from the house. I thought it was that he might sit there
till I was ready to go in, but instead of that he lingered near, and I
continued to walk till I was chilled to my very bones. At last he
confronted me in the path, saying, 'You must not stop here any longer.'
I was too weak to contend, and he took me by the hand and led me till we
had emerged from the dull dark shrubbery, and were facing the little
cottage. He brought me in, and I saw a great fire of wood on the
andirons. A basket-work couch stood close to it, which was filled
with the cushions that he had brought from the house. The sun was
streaming through the stained glass windows, and all the place was
cheerful and light and warm. But I heard the wind moaning outside,
and longed to be out in it walking in the dark shrubbery; for, sitting
thus deprived of movement and yet not able to shed tears, I began to feel
as if all power of endurance was over. And yet this misery did not
rouse me to any energy; it was very feebly that I complained to him, while
my limbs trembled and my head swam,
'Oh, it is much worse for me indoors! Why did you bring
'I brought you that you might speak. You are breaking
your heart in this silence. Complain to me, and say what you please
that is bitter, either of Valentine or of me.'
'You are good to me now; I have no complaint against you.'
'Oh, yes, you have.'
'I did not know it; I don't care about it.'
'And against him?'
'If I must talk of him, I will justify him.'
'Oh, have pity on me! It is as I thought. You
could not excuse if you did not love him. Oh, the disgrace, the
misery of it!'
He spoke huskily, but struggled with himself, and presently
returned to the charge, saying, 'Don't turn away your face; give this
'I can't; you don't understand.'
'Don't I?' he answered and sighed. 'Tell me then, and
make me understand.'
His sympathy was so keen that for the moment it drew me out
of myself. I experienced a sharp pang of pity for him, for I saw how
he was suffering from the sense of disgrace that Valentine had brought on
him. So I tried to tell him that I had not been utterly unprepared
for this, and with that a burst of tears came to my relief, and I felt
that the comforting warmth and sunshine were thawing my numb limbs, and
that my heart, for all its aching, was less oppressed.
'There,' he said, putting some cushions about me that I might
rest on them, 'let us reckon over the things that are lost, and consider
whether any of them can possibly be supplied. If Valentine had been
your true and faithful lover, and had been taken from you by death
yesterday, would that have been a greater misfortune than it is to find
him weak and dishonourable?'
'It would have been a deeper sorrow; but then I should have
felt that he had once been mine. Now he has taken himself away even
from the past: he has robbed me not only of his affection, but of my own
faith, my own idea. Oh, he is gone! and it breaks my heart to think
of what he must have gone through before he could have behaved in this
way. You ought to have—'
'Brought him home! brought him here?' exclaimed St. George as
if in amazement.
'For then at least we should have known what he was about.
I am tormented by the thought of his suspense. What is he doing, do
'I don't know,' he answered bitterly; 'perhaps longing for
the letter that he expects from you, the letter which, it seems, since
"love covers a multitude of sins," will, without any reproaches or
resentment, give him all he wants—his release.'
I wrung my hands and wept while he spoke, and then covered my
face with them. The forlornness of my position seemed to press upon
me at that moment unbearably. My maid was sent away, my uncle was at
sea: where should I go? what should I do? I had no relations, no
friends, no home.
'Don't, oh don't! I cannot bear it,' I said, when he added
more about Valentine; 'he shall have the letter at once, and it shall be
what he wishes. It will make me ten times more unhappy to think that
he is miserable too. Don't talk to me any more.'
He went to the window when I said this, and I shivered in
spite of the glowing wood fire, and longed to get away from him and from
every one, and after this short rest to go out and pace again along the
I had risen, and drawing my cloak about me had reached the
door, when rousing himself from his reverie he laid his hand on the latch,
and said with a kind of reproachful pleading, 'Dorothea.'
'I want to go out and walk,' I entreated piteously.
'You are trembling, you are faint. I will take you back
to the house if you please, but you must not walk in that bitter wind
again. I dare not allow it.'
So restrained, I lost all self-command, and threw myself on
the couch sobbing. He would not let me go and walk, that was clear,
though I begged and entreated like a child.
He held my hand and reasoned with me almost with a woman's
patience. 'Oh,' I exclaimed when I had tried to rise and found I
could not, 'if you will not let me walk, pray for me!'
During the last sleep I had fallen into, I had dreamed of the
raft. We stood upon it in the night, he and I, and I knew of
Valentine's desertion, and begged him then to pray to God for me. My
dream went on to show that he asked what he should pray for, and I had
replied, 'That God would make me contented, and make Valentine happier
without me than we had hoped to be together.'
It was with this recollection in my mind that I repeated the
request of my dream, and it was certainly the last thing that could enter
my heart to suppose that he would refuse it.
'To pray for you?' he repeated; 'what, aloud? Oh, I
cannot do that! Hasn't there been enough of this?' Then when I
looked up at him with feeble wonder, he begged me to forgive him, and
repeated in a choking voice that this was a thing he could not do.
'I did not want you to pray that the marriage might come on
again,' I replied; and when he made no answer, I went on, 'and if I had, I
always thought you wished it to be, though none of the others did.'
'None of the others did,' he repeated as if shocked.
'No,' I said, 'none of them. I told Mrs. Henfrey so
last night,—nothing matters very much now,—and I have had time enough
since I came here to be sure that if they had wished it they would have
said so, and the absent ones would have sent kind messages. Emily
and Louisa have never so much as sent their love to me. Not one of
them has been kind. So perhaps on the whole this is just as well.'
'If you say that I have not been kind,'—he began and stopped
'No, I do not say so; besides you told me that I had
something to forgive you for.'
'I cannot listen to what it was; I do not care; but it
reminded me of what I have felt and believed and said about you. I
remembered it in the night. If you only knew it all, how displeased
you would be! and I suppose—'
'Yes, try to tell me about this.'
'I meant to do it, but everything is such a long way off.
I suppose we can never be friends unless I tell you about this. I
wish I could, it was so unjust.'
My thoughts were getting dim by this time, and I heard and
saw everything as if it was taking place in some other world. 'It
was a pity,' I remember saying when I saw him come up to me, 'and it seems
that it was all my own mistake.'
Should he forgive me, he inquired.
'Oh, yes,' I answered, 'and let us be friends.'
But if a man forgives on his knees, with a face of passionate
entreaty, it is likely to confuse the person forgiven, especially if there
is alarm in the face.
I looked down at him and said, 'I am not ill; why are you
afraid?' Agitation made his voice falter, and I did not hear his
answer, but I went on, 'You don't understand; it is you that are to
It seemed to me that far away some one said,—yes, he knew
that. Would I let him hiss my hand then?
I believe I said 'There is no need, and besides I have yet my
glove on.' I remember that I lifted up my hand then and considered
that I could not have taken off that glove however much I might have
tried. Then I observed that he had risen, that he was standing
before the fire, and that he told me I had not really forgiven him; but I
was too utterly weary to contradict him. Indeed I had begun to feel
that I did not much care whether we were friends or not.
Then after a time I noticed that he put some of the cushions
against the high end of the basket-work couch. I leant my cheek
against them, and he untied the ribbons of my cloak and hat.
Oh, I thought, how delightful it would be if I could sleep!
And then there came a moment of conscious delightful rest, and then I fell
into a doze, and next into a dream.
It was the only dream I ever had that realities often brought
to my mind in after years—not that any of its details were repeated
correctly, but things often occur which remind me of it, and I have
believed in prevision ever since.
I was walking in a wood by the margin of a stream hardly
three feet wide. A little child was holding me by the hand, and in
its other hand and under the arm was tucked a straggling posy of long
daisy asters and tall willow herbs, and it was singing all the while, for
its own delight, in the sweetest small voice ever heard.
I saw some one standing on a rise budding a tree. I
perceived directly who it was, and said with all the composure and
indifference of sleep, 'Dear me, that is Valentine, and no doubt I have
married him after all.' Then I looked about for ferns, for I
understood that this was a New Zealand wood; but I only noticed clumps of
primrose, and the skeletons of poplar leaves, and there was water-cress in
I observed a familiar look, and said, 'I did not think the
two ends of the world were so much alike,' and I suddenly became aware
that a little blue smoke which was sifting through the branches of a cedar
tree on the opposite side of the stream, came from the chimneys of Mr.
Mortimer's house, and without surprise I saw St. George coming down to
meet me. We approached a flat plank which served as a bridge; he set
his foot upon it to ascertain whether it was safe, held out his hand to my
little charge, and between us we guided her over.
Then I thought he snatched her up in his arms and kissed the
small singing mouth with a rapture of passionate love. 'Oh! ' I said
to him with a sudden unsatisfied longing in my heart, 'I love that little
creature too;' but as he held her face to meet mine I felt, as one
sometimes does in a dream, that I was too late, my arms would not take
her, my lips could not reach her, and in another instant I knew this was
only a sleep, and that all of it was melting away.
I got myself awake with a strange yearning at heart. I
remembered that I did not have that baby's kiss and sighed for it before I
remembered my own trouble; but there was whispering in the room. How
seldom one hears people whisper! It is the strangest, the most
exciting, and the most suggestive sound in the world.
I opened my eyes; saw Mr. Brandon sitting on the floor
mending the fire with fresh wood; and leaning over him, with her hand on
his shoulder, was a lady. I saw some furs lying on the floor, I
heard the crackling of the wood; but as he sat with his back to me,
looking up at her while she listened intently, not a word of the whisper
that floated from one of them to the other was audible to me, till, as he
still spoke, this lady bent on one knee, and putting her other arm about
him drew his head on her shoulder and held it there with her hand.
Then she answered, and I heard her words, 'As if I did not love you,
except for that little squalling treasure of mine, more than all the rest
of the world put together.' And she began to excuse herself lovingly
for not having been able to come to him before.
After this they whispered again, and I saw him take out
Valentine's letter. Then I gathered strength to rouse myself a
little more, and as I lifted up my head the basket-work couch creaked; on
which the stranger rose and very gently came forward as if she did not
wish me to be startled. No doubt I had heard of her, she said; she
was Emily, St. George's sister Emily, and she was come to see what she
could do to help.
She had St. George's dark cloudy hair, and a mouth like his,
which when she smiled only showed the tips of the white even teeth; and
when I held out my hand to her, she leant over me with much the same
movement she had used to her brother. 'Don't go' I entreated.
No, she would stay as long as I liked, and she took me into her arms and
into her possession in a way that, in spite of her youth, was quite
I soon managed to say something to her about the letter, and
proposed that St. George should go in and write one to Valentine, leaving
her with me. I could not bear the thought of her going, and when St.
George went away I occupied myself with listening to her voice and looking
at her hands, till falling asleep again I heard still the gentle plashing
of drops from the thatch, and the crackling breakage of small icicles from
the trees, for there was a thaw in that sheltered place, though on the
other side, where the north wind was raging and the snow had been drifted
away and swept away, the very snowdrops seemed to tremble and hang lower
for the cold.
Shortly Liz came, and St. George with her. They brought
a letter, and some wine and jelly, which they gave to me. I did not
like the letter at all; it was neither kind enough nor decided enough.
Whereupon Emily produced a pencil, and said she would add anything I
pleased at my dictation, if I was quite sure I knew my own mind.
'Yes,' I answered, 'I do. I wish entirely and for ever
to release him from his engagement to me, and I send my love to him and
forgive him, for he has behaved better under the circumstances than I
could have expected.'
As they all looked amazed at this, and asked whether it was
really to be sent, I had to explain that I knew he was weak; it would have
been more like him to have yielded to circumstances, and then when it was
too late, let me find out his deep attachment to another woman. I
should have been miserable then about him, and he would have spoilt both
our lives; now he could but have spoilt one.
'Wait a minute,' said Emily; 'if that message is sent, the
Oubit must do something in return.'
'What need he do?' I inquired, hurt at her calling him 'the
Oubit,' and speaking so indifferently.
'He must answer, that he also entirely and for ever releases
you from your engagement to him.'
'He will be glad enough to do that,' said Liz contemptuously.
'Unless there comes any hitch about this new affair,'
continued Emily, appearing to consider.
I felt at that moment that the 'Oubit' did not deserve either
the bitter contempt of Liz, or the disparaging suspicions of Emily, and I
could not help saying, 'But he has met with a woman whom he loves now—whom
he truly and deeply loves.'
'No matter,' said Emily; 'this thing he must and shall do.'
And she actually added the condition she had mentioned. After which
the little pony chaise was brought over the grass to our retreat, and
Emily drove me to the house in it; and shortly I felt so unwell that I
went to bed, and they sent for their medical man.
Mrs. Henfrey told him I had got the influenza, and he said my
nerves had sustained a shock. I did not much care for anything, so
long as I might lie still and have Emily. No tragical impressions
could keep their dark hues long in the light of Emily's presence; and
though she would call Valentine the 'Oubit,' and sometimes 'that boy,' I
felt that so long as I might hear her voice now and then in my chamber,
and feel her comforting arms, she might take whatever views she pleased of
life, of Valentine, and of me.
She came and sat by me in the night, and talked to me while
the rest of that weary household slept.
I said to her, 'You like me well enough, now that we have
met; and yet I, knowing you were coming home from India, almost hoped you
would not be in time for our wedding, for you had never taken any notice
'I did not care to be in time,' she answered; 'and I do not
I was not going to betray to her that I heard her tell her
step-brother how much she loved him; nor how, while she said it, I had
noticed the wedding-ring upon her hand; but she went on to talk of her
husband. Poor Fred was so unwell that she had been obliged to settle
him in the south of France at Cannes; but she got a telegram to tell her
that things were going all wrong, so she came home as quickly as possible.
Then of her own accord she told me that 'Fred' was fond of her.
'Every one must be,' I said; 'how can they help it?'
'You told sister last night,' said Emily, 'that no one in the
world cared very much for you.'
'Valentine has proved that he does not; and he was the only
person who professed to feel anything particular,' I replied.
'Yes,' she answered, as if deep in thought. 'And yet
how little we can know of the inner life of those about us! The
affection we rested in and that was proclaimed to the world may fade and
perish, while unsuspected by us our names may be precious to some common
acquaintance whom we seldom trouble ourselves to think about. Who
can tell? Have you ever considered this question? I often do.'
'No; such an illusion could not come to me. I wish to
look at things as they are. I had but one lover, and him I could not
retain. Oh, you cannot think how utterly alone I am!'
She let me cry in her arms, and then she laid her head by
mine on the pillow and soothed me to sleep.
It was high day when we two awoke, and perhaps there was no
real change in things about us; but yet the snow, I thought, did not now
look so cold, nor any of the bare hills so desolate. For three days
I could hardly lift my head from the pillow, and yet I was free from some
of the worst discomforts of illness. I had no fever; I could sleep,
and generally I could eat.
All this time Mrs. Henfrey was exceedingly kind. She
tended me with motherly care; but the one person I wanted was Emily.
Emily sat with her feet on the fender, and told me all sorts of things;
and when I was nervous about Valentine, Emily laughed at me—nobody was
better able to take care of himself! He did not feel the matter half
so much as I did, I might be sure. I began to love 'sister' more
warmly when I saw how generously good she was to Emily,—taking care that
she should have her share of all Mr. Mortimer's little personal
possessions. 'I saved this,' or 'I put by that for you, my dear, for
he was so fond of you.'
I had never seen any one so free from jealousy, and I
mentioned this to Liz and Emily one day. She and mamma were always
like the most loving sisters, they answered; but poor Mr. Mortimer had a
very unhappy youth, and perhaps that made a difference in his one
daughter's love for the woman who at last came to his home to make him
happy. For sister was about ten years old,—quite of an age to remark
things,—when her mother eloped with a low, coarse man, and lived nearly
twenty years not many miles from her old home in misery, disgrace, and
wretchedness. Nothing could be done for her, and Mr. Mortimer, for
all those years, was a broken-down, unhappy man. At last she died,
and the second Mrs. Mortimer, who seemed to have been very easily won, was
received by both husband and step-daughter as if she had been an angel;
and in their opinion she always behaved like one.
On the fifth day, when I woke, I heard to my dismay that
Emily was going to Bath. Old Walker had given out that the gout
would certainly fly to his heart, unless Emily came and gave him a true
and particular account of his dear Fred. So Emily, who did not think
much of the old man's ailments, was to set forth that very morning.
She sat by me before she went, and talked. She was full
of life and hope. To be sure she rather shocked me when she gave way
to irrepressible laughter over 'the Oubit's' letter to me, which came by
that morning's post. How angry I should have been if any one but
Emily had laughed at this effusion! How vexed I was when I found
that before it was given to me Giles had read it aloud to her; for it
seemed that poor Valentine had humbly sent it to his brother to ask if it
would do. I cried; but I laughed too when I read that letter.
There was something so painfully ridiculous in it; for Valentine was quite
devout and solemn. He conveyed the notion to me that pious gratitude
for my kindness almost overpowered him. He did not mean it; but a
man should be careful how he thanks God that he has been permitted to
accomplish an unworthy action.
'Did St. George laugh over this?' I inquired when I had very
nearly sobbed and laughed myself into hysterics.
Emily hesitated. 'He always laughs over his own
misfortunes,' she said. So by that I knew he must have done it over
'And that reminds me,' continued Emily,—'you may take for
granted that I know everything you know about him, and a great deal more.
So, my darling, when you get better, do encourage him to talk about that
love affair of his.'
'Do you think he would like to talk of it?' I asked.
'I am sure he would; and as you once said to him, you know,
"a woman can often do so much to help in such cases." '
'I will try; but, oh! I am so tired of love affairs.'
'Well, here is one at least that you will never be troubled
with again,' said Emily, taking up the letter. 'You see Valentine is
so fervently desirous to show you that he complies with your condition,
that he gives you up in all the long and strong words he can think of.
I never read anything more convincing than his serious assurances that
under no circumstances will he ever put forward his suit or his claims any
Then, with all the encouraging words she could think of, with
motherly caresses, and philosophical declarations that I should soon find
this sorrow of mine was no great matter after all, the delightful young
creature departed, and the tragical shadows she had kept away instantly
began to settle down over me again.
'It never rains but it pours.'—Old Proverb.
IT was not till Sunday
morning, a full week after the proposed wedding-day, that I suddenly felt
quietness intolerable, and contrived with the maid's help to get up and
lie on the sofa.
When this was accomplished I felt miserably weak, but it was
time, I thought, that something should be done; and Mrs. Henfrey seemed to
think so too, for expressing her pleasure at seeing me up, she added, 'And
I am so particularly glad it should happen to-day, for Giles has got
another letter from Valentine—a very humble one, I am sure, poor fellow,
begging his brother to forgive him and come to him. The dear boy is
very ill; but Giles says he shall not leave the house till he knows what
your wishes are.'
'Poor Valentine!' I said; 'how much I should like to see
him!' And I was a little struck by their having begun, as of old, to
call him a boy.
'Would you, my love?' she answered with eager surprise.
'Would you? You would not object, then, to his coming home while you
are here. Dear me, I wish Giles could hear you say so.'
'Object! dear Mrs Henfrey. Of course not. Object
to his coming home!'
She seemed to reflect. 'I don't think it is
unreasonable to wish for him, poor fellow,' she said; 'and now his dear
father is gone, I have but him to cling to.'
'Oh, do tell Mr. Brandon I hope he will not keep Valentine
away on my account'
'Well, my dear, if you would tell him so yourself. You
get moped from seeing only me; I should like you now to take possession of
my little sewing-room, and then we could come in and out, and you would
lose that nervous dread of seeing people. It is close to this room,
So I was moved into the little sitting-room, and saw the
people coming from church over the field—saw Liz and Mr. Brandon walking
home, and very soon the latter was brought into the room, and I exerted
myself to beg that he would bring Valentine home.
'The boy has not been used to this sort of treatment,' said
Mrs. Henfrey in her usual dispassionate tone. 'I am sure I don't
know why they should make such a fuss, they have nothing particular to
blame him for; and it's my belief, after this letter, that when he sees
the dear girl, and reflects on her kindness to him—'
'Dear Mrs. Henfrey!' I exclaimed, and this immediate opening
again of the whole question completely overcame me in my then weak state.
I began to cry most piteously, and felt so hurt, so humiliated, by that
expression, 'the boy,'—perhaps his impending marriage was all that had
hitherto made a man of him in their opinion, or perhaps they had spoken of
him with more respect out of politeness to me.
'There,' she went on, and sighed, 'I told you how it was,
Giles. Yes, my love, yes, he shall come.'
For the moment Mr. Brandon looked amazed, till roused by her
composure and his surprise I fired up into something very like a passion,
and asked them what right they had to suppose I would ever condescend to
think of Valentine again—even if he wished it; which he never would.
I felt myself degraded, I exclaimed, by the mere supposition.
At this most unexpected retort both to myself and to them,
Mrs. Henfrey coloured with surprise and vexation. She had meant to
be so kind, and now I had spoken of Valentine with a contempt which in all
calmer moments I had been so careful to avoid, lest her feelings should be
hurt. She arose quietly, and left the room, while I, sobbing with a
painful compunction, exclaimed that I had never known that I felt any
contempt for Valentine till she made me say this.
St. George, however, soon made it evident to me that he was
entirely on my side, and there was even something of the charm of Emily's
manner in his gentle, almost loving way of talking, trying to calm me, and
almost to take an apology to 'sister' from me, flattering and soothing by
turns, and saying how pleased he was to find me getting well.
'And you will not let any of them do this sort of thing any
more?' I entreated; 'you will see that it is not done?'
He assured me most earnestly that he would. 'Because,
you know, I am your guest.'
'Yes, you are my guest. Do you really wish me to fetch
'Yes, I do, for I think he may take great harm in his present
delicate health from want of the comforts of his home, and want of
nursing; but there is something else I should like to say, only I do not
wish you to think me heartless.'
'I shall not find it possible to think that.'
'Then, I hope you will make as light as you can to him of my
illness. I hardly know how I came to be so ill—'
Here I paused. My host, partly perhaps because he had
just been reminded of his position, was very unwilling to be seen to smile
at my words. He looked down, he looked everywhere but at my face,
and he could not manage to hide how much he was both amused and pleased.
'And so,' I went on, with some feeling both of pain and pride
about the matter, 'I should like you to make him (incidentally) quite sure
that I am not breaking my heart about him;' and having said this, I was
obliged to cry a little more. I felt too weak to explain to him that
Mrs. Henfrey and I had not discussed this subject before; I could only ask
him some question as to Valentine's letter.
He answered that the letter was not altogether a displeasing
one to him; and then he gradually unfolded to me what he had discovered
concerning Valentine's love affair. He had known the Nelson family
about four months, and the eldest daughter, Lucy, had delighted him from
the first. Mr. Brandon had seen the mother, who was exceedingly
indignant, though it appeared that Valentine had never paid any great
attentions to her daughter; he had only been unable to keep away from her,
and unable to conceal his exceeding admiration. Some rumour, it
seemed, had reached them as to a boyish engagement; but he seemed so
young, and was so unsophisticated, that they did not believe it. It
was because he heard that Lucy had been taken ill that he had felt
impelled to pay his last visit there; and then, in the despair of his
heart, he had told all. He had been attacked by severe influenza,
and the Nelson family could not dismiss him at once; but Mrs. Nelson had
done her best to impress him with a sense of his dishonourable conduct,
and had parted with him believing that he would go straight home.
But that it seems he could not possibly do; he could not face and accept
the destiny he had been once at so much pains to carve out for himself;
and he had lingered at a village inn, and at last had gone to London.
'In short,' said his usually indulgent brother, 'he had behaved almost as
badly as he could have done.'
'Did you see Miss Nelson?' I inquired.
'Yes, her mother brought her in, but of course nothing on
that subject was said.'
'And what did you think of her?'
He hesitated, and almost stammered. 'I thought—oh, I
thought there was a great deal of self-command and womanly dignity about
I could not have asked whether he thought she loved
Valentine, but his belief that she did had been betrayed by the caution
and embarrassment of his words.
'Then his fate is in your hands,' I observed, 'just as it
always has been—only you will have me to help you.'
'Shall I? That is a partnership which would greatly
please me.' His face expressed so much pleasure as fully to confirm
his words; but I think he was very much surprised when I went on to ask if
I might write to Lucy.
At last, when I felt calm again, I begged him to go forthwith
and fetch his brother; and he agreed to go that very night by the two
Valentine was very ill, had a serious cough, was feverish,
and could not be so well nursed as at home. I knew Giles had always
thought badly of his state of health, and could not bear to think of
standing in the way of his being comfortable and among his own people.
They were to travel down on Tuesday morning, but Valentine,
when Giles reached him, was worse than had been expected, and their return
was put off several times.
In the meantime I had leisure and quiet to think of what I
could do, and there was no one to advise or to interfere. The old
doctor who came to see me daily promised to name the earliest time at
which I might travel safely, and I felt an urgent desire to get away.
I wished to see Valentine, make it evident both to him and to his family
that I completely forgave him, and then go, and in a new scene try to
forget him and this miserable episode in my life.
I wrote to Mr. Mompesson again, and this time had a
favourable answer. He and his wife would be truly pleased to take me
home to them. They had given up their pupils, and were gone to live
in the Isle of Wight, near Ventnor. They would make me as happy as
It was several days before Valentine and Giles were reported
as likely to appear, and I was sitting one sunny morning with my feet up
on the sofa in Mrs. Henfrey's little sitting-room, when she entered and
said quietly, 'My dear, they are come.'
They followed close on this announcement—Giles with a face of
guarded gravity, and Valentine slinking. behind, blushing and
crest-fallen. Mrs. Henfrey and Giles kept up a short conversation
for the purpose of setting us more at our ease, and then left us alone.
But Mr. Brandon turned back from the door to put some fresh
wood on the fire and request us not to talk very long. It would tire
me, he said, and make Valentine cough.
He then retired, and Valentine, relieved from his presence,
laid his head down on the end of the sofa and sobbed out:—'She won't have
me,—D. dear! She says she never will; so now I've lost you both—and
serve me—serve me right too!'
I had begun to shed tears also from sympathy, and I replied
that he must not despair. Lucy would most likely accept him after a
time, if he would only persevere.
Was there ever such an undignified remark on such an
occasion, or such an undignified answer!
We sat side by side, and he condoled with me on account of
all I had gone through, as if it had been no fault of his; and I, utterly
without any feeling of indignation against him, condoled in my turn.
He was comforted to have his old friend to talk to; and such
was the confiding ease and simplicity of his nature, that when he had
humbly begged my forgiveness, and I had most heartily assured him of it,
he could find consolation in unbosoming himself as of old, and in ten
minutes, or perhaps even fewer, he was mourning and lamenting again over
the hard-heartedness of his beloved Lucy.
It appeared that he and Lucy had exchanged several letters
already—how odd, I thought, that this should have been allowed by the
'She won't have me,' he sighed; 'it's in vain that I tell her
you always declared that you did not particularly love me: she says I
trifled with her. I! Why, I'm quite sore with loving her.'
'O Valentine!' I said, a little reproachfully; 'what, quoting
already, and on such a subject?'
Valentine had a very bad cold, and looked wretchedly ill; but
this, and his love for Lucy, and the dread he had felt of seeing me, and
the humble apology he had just made, could not keep him grave and
low-spirited for long together.
'I'm just come home,' he pleaded, 'and you're such brick,
D.—you blessed little creature!—your behaviour, after the way I've been
treated lately, is such a change, such a treat, that I can't help
'Have they been so severe with you then?'
'Severe! Some have been beaten till they know what wood
a cudgel's of by the blow. Yes, D., if it's any pleasure to you to
know it, they have been very severe.'
'Giles! ah, when first he found me—-?'
'Oh, don't! I cannot think of it,—he has been so good to me
since,—minded it so much less than a fellow could have expected,
considering what he said at first.'
'Yes; but, D., I am disgraced in his eyes, notwithstanding,
for he will scarcely let me mention your name.'
'If it had not been for him, I do not really know, Valentine,
what I should have done.'
'O my dear D., I am so sorry. Yes, of course, he would
be kind and attentive to you—' Then came a terrible fit of coughing,
and he continued,—'but I am so utterly tired, so jaded, that I hardly care
'Excepting for Lucy.'
'Yes, for Lucy, but I shall never have her.' He rested
his chin on his hand, and mournfully gazed into the fire with his
beautiful brown eyes; then sighed, 'She'll be sorry perhaps when it's too
late; for I shall never recover. She'll get some one else to love
her, "and monks shall sing, and bells shall ring, for him that goes to
At this most unlikely point he shed two more tears, and I
felt a choking in my throat that forced me to weep too. 'I shall
never recover,' he had said. Alas! whether he truly believed that or
not, I did. I thought the extreme delicacy of his constitution had
met with a shock that it would not withstand, and I ceased to wonder that
his family wanted him home to be nursed, and that his brother should be so
anxious that all should be forgotten and forgiven.
Poor fellow! he said he had had no sleep that night, and had
eaten no breakfast, being so much afraid of seeing me. His cold was
so bad that he could not speak in his natural voice, and his whole manner
showed how ill he was and how much he had suffered. Yet there was a
strange want of seriousness about him, though I could see plainly that in
a fitful sort of way he was both ashamed and sorry, and that in the same
manner and degree that he had always liked me he liked me still.
Giles was the person of whom he seemed chiefly to think; he
was far more ashamed that his brother should know how badly he had acted
than that I should; and he acknowledged one or two things to me which
proved that even before our engagement, and while he was on his probation,
he had not always been very constant. But Giles had pulled him up
for it—had talked to him, as he said, about me, and between his pride and
his affection kept him tolerably true till a real passion came in his way.
This was what Mr. Brandon had meant then by saying that I had
somewhat against him. He had calculated, it seems, on Valentine's
making a loving husband, though he was but a half-hearted suitor and lover
of mine, as he was earnest in assuring me he never truly was.
'You ought to have confided in me,' I remarked, 'and then we
should neither have been made so ridiculous nor so unhappy.'
And how did he reply? First by a violent fit of
sneezing; then when he could speak, which he did in a broken cracked
voice, and shivering all the tune, he did it in these words:—
'When budding manhood stoops to folly
And finds too late that life betrays,
What charm can soothe his melancholy?
What art recall his jollier days?'
Another violent fit of sneezing, coughing, and sniffing, and he went on—
'The only art when taunts are bitter,
The only charm his soul to ease,
To harrow the conflicting critter
And wring her bosom, is to sneeze.'
'I invented that as I came along,' he said.
I could not say anything. The tragedy of life seemed to
shrink down into a corner, as if ashamed of itself; and I cried while I
felt that it did so, and yet I laughed too, rather bitterly. I began
to think, in good truth, that surely this was all for the best.
He was soon exhausted with talking, and glad to betake
himself to his own room.
The next day I was so well that I came down to breakfast, but
Valentine was not able to rise, and we all felt uneasy about him. I
found out soon after breakfast another thing that disturbed them.
Mr. Crayshaw, who had several times stayed at Wigfield, and been
repeatedly pressed to fix a day for coming again, had telegraphed from
Chester to say that, if quite convenient, he would come with his wife and
child and her two young brothers. He could only stay for a day or
'But Giles had to write and put them off,of course,' said
I had noticed that all the friends and neighbours kept at a
respectful distance,—not a creature came near the house; and this, no
doubt, was out of consideration for their mortifying and ridiculous
'I think if the Crayshaws are put off on my account,' I said,
'it is rather hard. I cannot bear that there should be so many
annoyances about me.'
'Never mind,' she answered; 'we really could not face our
friends just yet. Besides, your dear Emily is coming back this
morning, and she will console you and us.'
The dear Emily did come, and I begged her not to let that
letter be posted; the Crayshaws had not been a week in England, could know
nothing of our affairs. If they might come, I would keep in my room,
and they need not even know I was in the house.
At her request I went up with her to the room at the top of
the house, and was surprised and touched at the pleasure St. George
expressed at my kindness in letting the Crayshaws come.
I perceived that she supposed us to be quite intimate and
very friendly; and really, under the influence of this notion of hers, and
her own easy openness, we actually for the time became so. St.
George was made to write another letter to the Crayshaws, mainly at her
dictation, and my presence as a guest was openly mentioned in it.
'But I do not intend to be present,' I remarked.
'Oh, yes, my dear, you will. A little society will be
the very thing to do you good. Besides,' she continued, 'I wish to
dress you up myself in one of the Parisian gowns, and cut out the lovely
little American, if we can.'
St. George held the pen suspended over the page, and appealed
to me with his eyes. I felt my heart fail me at the notion of being
present among a party of strangers; but I saw very plainly how much he
wished it; and when she said, 'The sooner you appear among your friends
the less you will feel it,' and he said appealingly, 'Dorothea,' I
consented. Now that I was likely always to be Miss Graham, he had at
last given up addressing me by that name. He thanked me, and said,
while he sealed the letter, 'Crayshaw will be pleased to see this old
house again; he is perfectly infatuated about it.'
'I do not wonder; I think it the most charming old house I
ever was in. How you can think of leaving it, (perhaps selling it)
to go and live in that dreary New Zealand I cannot think.'
'I am not going to leave it,' he answered, with a sunny
smile. 'I told Val so this morning. I hope to live here all my life.
But I thought you liked the notion of going to New Zealand.'
'No, I always thought it a great disadvantage; but then you
know it sometimes is the disadvantage that reconciles one to a thing.
Is it one o'clock, Emily?'
'I had better go down then. Valentine sent word that he
should be down about one o'clock.'
'What business had he to send you any such message?' said
'He is dull,' I replied rather coldly; 'and I suppose as I
have formally declared that I forgave him, he naturally expects me to
behave to him as usual.'
'Well, I will go down and tell him you are coming soon,' said
Emily, and she looked a good deal vexed whereupon I, remaining behind in a
comfortable easy-chair, began to expostulate with St. George about the
change in their manner towards Valentine. I hoped they would behave
to him as before. 'Why should anyone resent for me what I do not
resent for myself?' I went on. 'I have forgiven him.'
'I never pretended to resent it,' said St. George. 'And
I forgave too,' he presently added, in a cogitative tone. 'I forgave
you! It was very kind of me.'
'Yes, I remember.'
'I do not at all know what it was for,' he added, with a
'And I have no intention that you should,' I answered,
feeling that Valentine was already passed into the background, and that I
could not help it.
'I wonder,' he went on, standing on the rug and looking down
on me, 'how you mean to show your sense of my kindness.'
'If I thought there was anything that you had particularly at
heart, perhaps I might offer you my valuable advice upon it.'
'Would you?' he exclaimed, with such a sudden surprise, and
such a lighting up of his whole face, that I saw at once he knew what I
intended, and I was vexed to feel that while I only meant to allude to
something remote, I had brought the whole subject over him and above him.
'And you smiled again. I like to see you smile,' he
presently went on, without looking at me. 'What a relief it would be
to me if I could talk of that—of this?'
'Your good genius said to me that she thought you were in
better spirits about it—more hopeful lately. I am glad.'
'My good genius?'
I saw that he was not only moved, but exceedingly pleased;
and as he stood turning his face towards the window, his eyes were full of
broodings over a passionate dream. My words, so unexpected, appeared
to have brought his love vividly before him, to stand in his presence; but
his smile had hope in it, and his eyes, more moist than usual, wandered
over the wide leafless woods and the sunny fields.
'And so you will help me?' he said at last.
'I have no thought that I can help; but I can give you at
least my sympathy. You cannot think,' I presently said, when he
continued silent, 'how much, since I have been unhappy myself, I have
wanted something to be glad about for some one else.'
'I am far from sure that there will ever be anything to be
glad about for me.'
No, I thought to myself, and I shall find it hard to allude
to this again, too great an effect follows, and this hope of his may be
all moonshine for anything I know about it.
I heard the lunch bell just then, and we rose and went down.
That luncheon among them all was a refreshing meal. They talked of
common matters—how Louisa and her husband were slowly returning through
France, with 'dear Fred' and little Fred. Emily was very eloquent
about little Fred—a charming child, indeed, by her account, only she
wished us all to know that he had white eyelashes.
I was not strong enough to go out and walk after luncheon, so
I sat in the morning room with Mrs. Henfrey and Valentine, who preserved
still a great degree of silence and reserve toward each other. The
room, in fact, became so quiet that I wearied of it, and went and walked
up and down in the dining-room, pleased to find myself gaining strength
and spirits; but I could not do this long, and was glad to go up-stairs
and rest, till, the short winter afternoon closing in, Emily came and
fetched me down to afternoon tea in the morning room, after which, in
spite of the murmur of voices about me, I fell fast asleep on the sofa,
and when I awoke the curtains were drawn and the room was dusk; but Emily
went and stirred and shifted the logs on the hearth till a lovely red glow
mounted up the walls, and lighted their faces and gleamed in their eyes,
for Giles was in the room as well as herself, though at first, as he
leaned back in his chair on the opposite side of the lire, he was so much
withdrawn into the shadow that I did not see him. As the rosy light
fell over me he remarked, speaking of me by name, how well I was looking.
This name of mine always seemed to be rather different in his mouth from
its familiar sound and meaning; he hesitated a little over the syllables,
so that they took an appreciable time to be said in.
'And so are you,' said Emily, laughing; 'I never saw you
looking so well in your life! I believe she must have put something
into your head this morning.' And I, turning my face towards him,
could not help saying rather anxiously, 'No, I hope not.'
'But I promised I would go and play to the Oubit,' she
continued, rising. 'You are so determined that he shall be treated
with all consideration that I dare not refuse him anything.'
'Why did you say, "I hope not?" ' he asked the moment she had
shut the door.
'Emily's way of talking about this kind of thing appears
always to make it of less importance,' I said by way of answer; 'mine, I
think, does not. Besides, I know so little about it that I am afraid
of saying the wrong thing.'
'But I want to tell you more about it if you will listen.'
I said I would, and then there came a long silence, which at
last had to my mind almost a ridiculous effect, and I broke it by saying,—
'It seems to me that we cannot talk about this unless we give
the lady a name. Suppose I say that her name is Margarita. May
I ask whether you correspond with Margarita?'
'No, I have not that honour.'
'I suppose she is not engaged?'
'No,' he answered, but he faltered and hesitated a little.
I was so much afraid of producing again the bad effect of our
morning talk, that I said to him only half in earnest, 'The reason why you
cannot get on with her is that you are so very deferential. Now,
Margarita is not at all the kind of girl to be treated with deference.
Evidently not, or this would not have been going on so long.'
'Are you so sure of that?'
'Yes: you and I and Smokey are friends; we know all about it.
We consider that you are a little bit fainthearted; and as you and I only
a few days ago came so near being brother and sister, and as you have
expressly asked for my advice, I am going to speak to you as freely as
under any circumstances I could have done.'
'But you are not going to treat the matter in what you and
Emily call a tragical spirit; that is evident.'
'No; and I am now going to give you some really excellent
advice, which, I assure you, I have considered deeply. I advise you,
without any farther delay, to go to Margarita, and tell her she must marry
you,—say you insist upon it, and make her do it.'
'Make her!' he exclaimed, starting up, 'make her,'—but he
could not help laughing,—'how can you give me such ridiculous advice, you
'I am in earnest, I assure you. I do not mean that you
are to say it in so many words, though even that might have a very good
effect. But you must get the mastery over her,—you easily can; and I
have no doubt, if the real truth was known, that you not only could get
almost any woman to marry you (who does not care for some one else), but
that you think so!'
The tragical element was overcome. To my delight he
laughed, and declared that he never could hold his own when he talked to
me. Then he added, 'Well, since I am at confession, I may as well
admit that I think with a fair field and no favour I could persuade almost
any woman to marry me, excepting this one—this only one that I love and
'There, I said so! I always used to think you had
rather a high opinion of yourself when first I knew you.'
'Had I? Well, it is all beaten out of me now.'
'That is a pity. It became you. It was not in the
least unreasonable. In fact, I think it was decidedly moderate,
considering your various advantages.'
'Advantages!' he exclaimed, with evident surprise.
'Of course. I know few men who have so many.'
I stopped short here, surprised again at the effect of my
words, and wondering at the amount of hope that seemed to arise in his
heart at another person's suggestion. I felt a pang of compunction
to think that I should have said, with so little thought, words that moved
and stirred him so much; for as the firelight flickered on his face I saw
its strange, sweet elation, and then that there was something which was
almost shame in it,—a change of hue, which, in a fair man, might almost
have been called a blush.
Wondering what meaning he could attach to my words, and
thinking to show my real aim, I presently said,—
'You have, for instance, the advantage of a fine voice—a very
delightful voice. If you feel that you cannot be eloquent otherwise,
you can sing—sing to her, tell her so,—anything you wish her to learn.'
But here he hastily interrupted me; said he had been foolish,
and with a certain caution and choosing of his words which attracted my
attention, declared that he had not meant the conversation to go to such
topics,—that he could not accept these flattering remarks of mine.
Vexed with himself, but not content to give up talking, he
began again in quite a different tone:—
'Valentine, I believe, made you many offers?'
'Oh, yes, dozens and dozens. I refused a great many of
them,'—here, quite unexpectedly to myself, I could not help shedding a few
tears; 'but you see I accepted him at last, as, I hope, Margarita will
Thereupon he informed me that he had not yet found fitting
occasion to make even one offer.
'Not one!' I exclaimed, in amazement; 'and not find fitting
occasion! Why, anything and everything will do for an occasion, as I
have had ample experience. Valentine once made one on occasion of
his having a new hat with a brim that I said was too broad. I have
known him make one when you gave him £1 18s., the change out of a bill.'
I was a little angry at this moment, partly because I had
been excited to shed those tears, partly because St. George, who had
hitherto seemed to be a brave and manly person, appeared now to show a
backwardness towards this Margarita, which was something more than
deference, and which annoyed almost as much as it puzzled me. I had
felt desirous to get the conversation away from its more serious phases,
and now I did not know how to manage it; and yet I saw that he wanted to
go on discussing this unlucky love of his. So I presently said,—for
I remembered that he was my host, and I ought to be moderately civil to
him,—'Margarita must indeed be formidable, since you find it so difficult
even to speak to her. Your caution, too, warns me to use all
respect. Is she very lovely?'
'Yes,' he answered, 'but she does not think so.'
'In that case her beauty is no bar; it does not signify.
Is she very rich?'
Here there was a pause. Then he answered, 'Yes, but she
does not know it.'
'Amazing Margarita! I never heard of such a mysterious
creature. I might answer, "Then that does not signify," only that
all you say is more and more remarkable.'
'Yes, it is. Will you consider what it probably means?'
'Dear St. George, I am afraid it means that you have a
'Yes, a rival. I had a rival. I am not sure
whether he is my rival still; but he was such a one as I found it
impossible to stand against.'
'His advantages were so great?'
'My disadvantages were so great.'
'One of them, I am afraid, was that you loved her much more than he
did, and that your love took away your self-possession, so that you had
not so much to say for yourself as you should have had.'
'You feel sure, then, of my love for—for Margarita.'
'Of course, who could doubt it? I am quite sure you
love her far more than I ever loved anything; but you should at least have
entered the lists with your rival.'
'I loved her first,' he answered, 'and I never counted on
such an evil chance as her being won before I spoke—'
'But you speak of many disadvantages. May I learn
something of one of them?'
'One of them was a family obligation, he answered in a low
voice. 'I could not enter the lists with my rival; duty and honour,
on account of this, were against it.'
As he spoke he turned towards me, and something in his voice,
in the low clear tone and the weighing of his words, arrested my
attention, and fixed it on him more and more.
I had wondered at him. It was hardly manly, I thought,
to have been afraid to speak, and now with a strange thrill of
astonishment and perplexity I looked and listened.
'A lady,' he repeated, 'a relative of mine, was under a great
'To your rival?'
'No, to his father.'
'Yes; but nothing I am going to say to you demands any
answer. I intend to convey nothing to you but information. My
self-respect will not suffer me to withhold that any longer, at whatever
disadvantage to my self it may be given. That lady whom I spoke of—'
'Yes,' I answered; 'wait a moment. I have not wished
talk of this because it seemed to bring your love so vividly before you.
It is not because I take no interest in it, or in you, that I have laughed
sometimes to-night. Pardon me. I have been unhappy. I
think this must have made me dull.'
Something, I knew not what, but certainly other than the
truth and the reality, seemed to draw near to me then. It was a
light,—it was a shadow,—it was a wonder,—and through all it was a keen
consciousness of the intense life, and passionate feeling, and cautious
words I was encountering and sometimes baffling.
I gave it up, and said to him quietly, perhaps even humbly,
for I was puzzled,—'I wish you would let me look at your face.'
Thereupon he moved in his chair, and turning it towards me
smiled; and there flashed a sudden thought into my heart, that if I had
been Margarita I should not have liked him to smile so on any one else in
the world but only on me.
'Go on now,' I ventured to say to him; 'you were talking of
'Yes,' he replied, 'and his father. That lady whom I
spoke of, she was under a great, almost a supreme obligation to him. (I
would fain have told you this more gently, and now, I am afraid, it is not
only too soon, but it will be an astonishment and a shock to you after
all.) She was a widow, that lady, she had no one to take care of
her. There was a lawsuit instituted which threatened to deprive her
and her son of every shilling they possessed. And this man, this old
man, when she was so more than poor, married her and brought up all her
young children as if they had been his own, and watched over her affairs,
and at last gained the lawsuit for her, risking much of his own property
to do it, and—'
'This old man,' I repeated to myself as he paused. I
had heard him say those words before, and always in such a loving tone.
My heart trembled in me, and for the first time since I had seen him again
Valentine seemed very dear to me; while with a choking voice and tears
falling I said, 'Who was that lady? I wish to know her name.'
'Who was that lady?' he answered, with a low clear thrill in
his voice that sounded in my ears long afterward,—'Who was that lady?
My mother was the lady, and my rival was my only brother. He was the
old man's son.'