Infomotions, Inc.Weighed and Wanting / MacDonald, George, 1824-1905



Author: MacDonald, George, 1824-1905
Title: Weighed and Wanting
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): hester; vavasor; cornelius; lord gartley; miss dasomma; miss vavasor; major; miss raymount
Contributor(s): Marsh, Edward Howard, Sir, 1872-1953 [Editor]
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Identifier: etext9096
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Title: Weighed and Wanting

Author: George MacDonald

Release Date: October, 2005 [EBook #9096]
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[Illustration: Hester at her piano.]



WEIGHED AND WANTING

BY GEORGE MACDONALD



CONTENTS.

      I. Bad Weather

     II. Father, Mother and Son

    III. The Magic Lantern

     IV. Hester alone

      V. Truly the Light is sweet

     VI. The Aquarium

    VII. Amy Amber

   VIII. Cornelius and Vavasor

     IX. Songs and Singers

      X. Hester and Amy

     XI. At Home

    XII. A Beginning

   XIII. A private Exhibition

    XIV. Vavasor and Hester

     XV. A small Failure

    XVI. The Concert Room

   XVII. An uninvited Guest

  XVIII. Catastrophe

    XIX. Light and Shade

     XX. The Journey

    XXI. Mother and Daughter

   XXII. Gladness

  XXIII. Down the Hill

   XXIV. Out of the Frying pan

    XXV. Was it into the Fire?

   XXVI. Waiting a Purpose

  XXVII. Major H. G. Marvel

 XXVIII. The Major and Vavasor

   XXIX. A brave Act

    XXX. In another Light

   XXXI. The Major and Cousin Helen's Boys

  XXXII. A distinguished Guest

 XXXIII. Courtship in earnest

  XXXIV. Calamity

   XXXV. In London

  XXXVI. A Talk with the Major

 XXXVII. Rencontres

XXXVIII. In the House

  XXXIX. The Major and the Small-pox

     XL. Down and down

    XLI. Difference

   XLII. Deep calleth unto Deep

  XLIII. Deliverance

   XLIV. On the Way up

    XLV. More yet

   XLVI. Amy and Corney

  XLVII. Miss Vavasor

 XLVIII. Mr. Christopher

   XLIX. An Arrangement

      L. Things at Home

     LI. The Return

    LII. A heavenly Vision

   LIII. A sad Beginning

    LIV. Mother and Son

     LV. Miss Dasomma and Amy

    LVI. The sick Room

   LVII. Vengeance is Mine

  LVIII. Father and Daughter-in-law

    LIX. The Message

     LX. A birthday Gift




CHAPTER I.

BAD WEATHER.


It was a gray, windy noon in the beginning of autumn. The sky and the
sea were almost of the same color, and that not a beautiful one. The
edge of the horizon where they met was an edge no more, but a bar thick
and blurred, across which from the unseen came troops of waves that
broke into white crests, the flying manes of speed, as they rushed at,
rather than ran towards the shore: in their eagerness came out once more
the old enmity between moist and dry. The trees and the smoke were
greatly troubled, the former because they would fain stand still, the
latter because it would fain ascend, while the wind kept tossing the
former and beating down the latter. Not one of the hundreds of fishing
boats belonging to the coast was to be seen; not a sail even was
visible; not the smoke of a solitary steamer ploughing its own miserable
path through the rain-fog to London or Aberdeen. It was sad weather and
depressing to not a few of the thousands come to Burcliff to enjoy a
holiday which, whether of days or of weeks, had looked short to the
labor weary when first they came, and was growing shorter and shorter,
while the days that composed it grew longer and longer by the frightful
vitality of dreariness. Especially to those of them who hated work, a
day like this, wrapping them in a blanket of fog, whence the water was
every now and then squeezed down upon them in the wettest of all rains,
seemed a huge bite snatched by that vague enemy against whom the
grumbling of the world is continually directed out of the cake that by
every right and reason belonged to them. For were they not born to be
happy, and how was human being to fulfill his destiny in such
circumstances?

There are men and women who can be happy in any--even in such
circumstances and worse, but they are rare, and not a little better
worth knowing than the common class of mortals--alas that they
_will_ be common! _content_ to be common they are not and cannot
be. Among these exceptional mortals I do not count such as, having
secured the corner of a couch within the radius of a good fire,
forget the world around them by help of the magic lantern of a novel
that interests them: such may not be in the least worth knowing for
their disposition or moral attainment--not even although the noise of
the waves on the sands, or the storm in the chimney, or the rain on the
windows but serves to deepen the calm of their spirits. Take the novel
away, give the fire a black heart; let the smells born in a
lodging-house kitchen invade the sitting-room, and the person, man or
woman, who can then, on such a day, be patient with a patience pleasant
to other people, is, I repeat, one worth knowing--and such there are,
though not many. Mrs. Raymount, half the head and more than half the
heart of a certain family in a certain lodging house in the forefront of
Burcliff, was one of such.

It was not a large family, yet contained perhaps as many varieties of
character and temper as some larger ones, with as many several ways of
fronting such a misfortune--for that is what poor creatures, the slaves
of the elements, count it--as rainy weather in a season concerning which
all men agree that it ought to be fine, and that something is out of
order, giving ground of complaint, if it be not fine. The father met it
with tolerably good humor; but he was so busy writing a paper for one of
the monthly reviews, that he would have kept the house had the day been
as fine as both the church going visitors, and the mammon-worshipping
residents with income depending on the reputation of their weather,
would have made it if they could, nor once said _by your leave_;
therefore he had no credit, and his temper must pass as not proven. But
if you had taken from the mother her piece of work--she was busy
embroidering a lady's pinafore in a design for which she had taken
colors and arrangement from a peacock's feather, but was disposing them
in the form of a sun which with its rays covered the stomacher, the
deeper tints making the shadow between the golden arrows--had you taken
from her this piece of work, I say, and given her nothing to do instead,
she would yet have looked and been as peaceful as she now looked, for
she was not like Doctor Doddridge's dog that did not know who made him.

A longish lad stood in the bow window, leaning his head on the shutter,
in a mood of smouldering rebellion against the order of things. He was
such a mere creature of moods, that individual judgments of his
character might well have proved irreconcilable. He had not yet begun by
the use of his will--constantly indeed mistaking impulse for will--to
blend the conflicting elements of his nature into one. He was therefore
a man much as the mass of flour and raisins, etc., when first put into
the bag, is a plum-pudding; and had to pass through something analogous
to boiling to give him a chance of becoming worthy of the name he would
have arrogated. But in his own estimate of himself he claimed always the
virtues of whose presence he was conscious in his good moods letting the
bad ones slide, nor taking any account of what was in them. He
substituted forgetfulness for repudiation, a return of good humor for
repentance, and at best a joke for apology.

Mark, a pale, handsome boy of ten, and Josephine, a rosy girl of seven,
sat on the opposite side of the fire, amusing themselves with a puzzle.
The gusts of wind, and the great splashes of rain on the glass, only
made them feel the cosier and more satisfied.

"Beastly weather!" remarked Cornelius, as with an effort half wriggle,
half spring, he raised himself perpendicular, and turned towards the
room rather than the persons in it.

"I'm sorry you don't like it, Cornie," said his elder sister, who sat
beside her mother trimming what promised to be a pretty bonnet. A
concentrated effort to draw her needle through an accumulation of silken
folds seemed to take something off the bloom of the smile with which she
spoke.

"Oh, it's all very well for girls!" returned Cornelius. "You don't do
anything worth doing; and besides you've got so many things you like
doing, and so much time to do them in, that it's all one to you whether
you go out or stay at home. But when a fellow has but a miserable three
weeks and then back to a rot of work he cares no more for than a felon
for the treadmill, then it is rather hard to have such a hole made in
it! Day after day, as sure as the sun rises--if he does rise--of weather
as abominable as rain and wind can make it!"

"My dear boy!" said his mother without looking up.

"Oh, yes, mother! I know! You're so good you would have had Job himself
take it coolly. But I'm not like you. Only you needn't think me so
very--what you call it! It's only a breach in the laws of nature I'm
grumbling at. I don't mean anything to offend you."

"Perhaps you mean more than you think," answered his mother with a
deep-drawn breath, which, if not a sigh, was very nearly one. "I should
be far more miserable than any weather could make me, not to be able to
join in the song of the three holy children."

"I've heard you say that before, mother," said the youth, in a tone that
roused his sister's anger; for much that the mother let pass was by the
daughter for her sake resented. "But you see," he went on, "the three
holy children, as you call them, hadn't much weather of any sort where
they sung their song. Precious tired one gets of it before the choir's
through with it!"

"They would have been glad enough of some of the weather you call
beastly," said Hester, again pulling through a stiff needle, this time
without any smile, for sometimes that brother was more than she could
bear.

"Oh, I dare say! But then, you see, they knew, when they got out, they
wouldn't have to go back to a beastly bank, where notes and gold all day
went flying about like bats--nothing but the sight and the figures of it
coming their way!"

The mother's face grew very sad as it bent over her work. The youth saw
her trouble.

"Mother, don't be vexed with a fellow," he said more gently. "I wasn't
made good like you."

"I think you were right about the holy children," she said quietly.

"What!" exclaimed Cornelius. "Mother, I never once before heard you say
I was right about any mortal thing! Come, this is pleasant! I begin to
think strong ale of myself! I don't understand it, though."

"Shall I tell you? Would you care to know what I mean?"

"Oh, yes, mother! if you want to tell me."

"I think you were right when you implied it was the furnace that made
them sing about the world outside of it: one can fancy the idea of the
frost and the snow and the ice being particularly pleasant to them. And
I am afraid, Cornelius, my dear son, you need the furnace to teach you
that the will of God, even in weather, is a thing for rejoicing in, not
for abusing. But I dread the fire for your sake, my boy!"

"I should have thought this weather and the bank behind it furnace
enough, mother!" he answered, trying to laugh off her words.

"It does not seem to be," she said, with some displeasure. "But then,"
she added with a sigh, "you have not the same companion that the three
holy children had."

"Who was that?" rejoined Cornelius, for he had partly forgotten the
story he knew well enough in childhood.

"We will not talk about him now," answered his mother. "He has been
knocking at your chamber-door for some time: when he comes to the
furnace-door, perhaps you will open that to him."

Cornelius returned no answer; he felt his mother's seriousness awkward,
and said to himself she was unkind; why couldn't she make some allowance
for a fellow? He meant no harm!

He was still less patient with his mother's not very frequent
admonitions, since going into the bank, for, much as he disliked it, he
considered himself quite a man of the world in consequence. But he was
almost as little capable of slipping like a pebble among other pebbles,
the peculiar faculty of the man of the world, as he was of perceiving
the kind of thing his mother cared about--and that not from moral lack
alone, but from dullness and want of imagination as well. He was like
the child so sure he can run alone that he snatches his hand from his
mother's and sets off through dirt and puddles, so to act the part of
the great personage he would consider himself.

With all her peace of soul, the heart of the mother was very anxious
about her son, but she said no more to him now: she knew that the shower
bath is not the readiest mode of making a child friendly with cold
water.

Just then broke out the sun. The wind had at last blown a hole in the
clouds, and through that at once, as is his wont, and the wont of a
greater light than the sun, he shone.

"Come! there's something almost like sunshine!" said Cornelius, having
for a few moments watched the light on the sands. "Before it goes in
again, as it's sure to do in five minutes at the farthest, get on your
bonnet, Hester, and let's have an attempt at a walk."

Before Hester could answer came a sudden spatter of rain on the window.

"There! I told you so! That's always the way! Just my luck! For me to
set my heart on a thing is all one with being disappointed of it."

"But if the thing was not worth setting your heart on?" said Hester,
speaking with forced gentleness.

"What does that signify? The thing is that your heart is set on it. What
you think nothing other people may yet be bold enough to take for
something."

"Well, at least, if I had to be disappointed, I should like it to be in
something that would be worth having."

"Would you now?" returned Cornelius spitefully. "I hope you may have
what you want. For my part I don't desire to be better than my neighbor.
I think it downright selfish."

"Do you want to be as good as your neighbor, Cornie?" said his mother,
looking up through a film of tears. "But there is a more important
question than that," she went on, having waited a moment in vain for an
answer, "and that is, whether you are content with being as good as
yourself, or want to be better."

"To tell you the truth, mother, I don't trouble my head about such
things. Philosophers are agreed that self consciousness is the bane of
the present age: I mean to avoid it. If you had let me go into the army,
I might have had some leisure for what you call thought, but that
horrible bank takes everything out of a fellow. The only thing it leaves
is a burning desire to forget it at any cost till the time comes when
you must endure it again. If I hadn't some amusement in between, I
should cut my throat, or take to opium or brandy. I wonder how the
governor would like to be in my place!"

Hester rose and left the room, indignant with him for speaking so of his
father.

"If your father were in your place, Cornelius," said his mother with
dignity, "he would perform the duties of it without grumbling, however
irksome they might be."

"How do you know that, mother? He was never tried."

"I know it because I know him," she answered.

Cornelius gave a grunt.

"If you think it hard," his mother resumed, "that you have to follow a
way of life not of your own choosing, you must remember that you never
could be got to express a preference for one way over another, and that
your father had to strain every nerve to send you to college--to the
disadvantage, for a time at least, of others of the family. I am sorry
to have to remind you also that you did not make it any easier for him
by your mode of living while there."

"I didn't run up a single bill!" cried Cornelius with indignation; "and
my father knows it!"

"He does; but he knows also that your cousin Robert did not spend above
two-thirds of what you did, and made more of his time too."

"He was in _rather_ a different set," sneered the youth.

"And you know," his mother went on, "that his main design in placing you
in your uncle's bank was that you might gain such a knowledge of
business as will be necessary to the proper management of the money he
will leave behind him. When you have gained that knowledge, there will
be time to look farther, for you are young yet."

Now his father's money was the continuous occasion of annoyance to
Cornelius, for it was no secret from his family how he meant to dispose
of it. He intended, namely, to leave it under trustees, of whom he
wished his son to be one until he married, when it was to be divided
equally among his children.

This arrangement was not agreeable to Cornelius, who could not see, he
said, what advantage in that case he had from being the eldest of the
family.

He broke out in a tone of expostulation, ready to swell into indignant
complaint.

"Now, mother," he said "do you think it fair that I should have to look
after the whole family as if they were my own?"

This was by no means his real cause of complaint, but he chose to use it
as his grievance for the present.

"You will have the other trustees to advise with," said his mother. "It
need not weigh on you very heavily."

"Well, of course, I could do better with it than anybody out of the
family."

"If you have your father's love of fair play, Cornelius, you will. What
you can do to that end now is to make yourself thoroughly acquainted
with business."

"A bank's not the place to get the knowledge of business necessary for
that sort of thing."

"Your father has reasons for preferring a general to any special
knowledge. The fitness resulting will depend upon yourself. And when you
marry you will, as you know, be rid of the responsibility. So far your
father and you are of one mind; he does not think it fair that a married
man should be burdened with any family but his own."

"What if I should marry before my father's death?"

"I hope, indeed, you will, Cornelius. The arrangements your father has
made is one of provision against the unlikely. When you are married, I
don't doubt he will make another, to meet the new circumstances."

"Now," said Cornelius to himself, "I do believe if I was to marry
money--as why shouldn't I?--my father would divide my share amongst the
rest, and not give me a farthing!"

Full of the injury of the idea, he rose and left the room. His mother,
poor woman, wept as he vanished. She dared not allow herself to ask why
she wept--dared not allow to herself that her first-born was not a
lovely thought to her--dared not ask where he could have got such a mean
nature--so mean that he did not know he was mean.

Although the ill-humor in which he had been ever since he came was by
himself attributed to the weather, and had been expended on the cooking,
on the couches, on the beds, and twenty different things that displeased
him, he had nevertheless brought it with him; and her experience gave
her the sad doubt that the cause of it might lie in his own conduct--for
the consciousness may be rendered uneasy without much rousing of the
conscience proper.

He had always been fitful and wayward, but had never before behaved so
unpleasantly. Certainly his world had not improved him for his home. Yet
amongst his companions he bore the character of the best-natured fellow
in the world. To them he never showed any of the peevishness arising
from mental discomfort, but kept it for those who loved him a thousand
times better, and would have cheerfully parted with their own happiness
for his. He was but one of a large herd of youths, possessing no will of
their own, yet enjoying the reputation of a strong one; for moved by
liking or any foolish notion, his pettiness made a principle of, he
would be obstinate; and the common philosophy always takes obstinacy for
strength of will, even when it springs from utter inability to will
against liking.

Mr. Raymount knew little of the real nature of his son. The youth was
afraid of his father--none the less that he spoke of him with so little
respect. Before him he dared not show his true nature. He knew and
dreaded the scorn which the least disclosure of his feeling about the
intended division of his father's money would rouse in him. He knew also
that his mother would not betray him--he would have counted it
betrayal--to his father; nor would any one who had ever heard Mr.
Raymount give vent to his judgment of any conduct he despised, have
wondered at the reticence of either of them.

Whether in his youth he would have done as well in a position like his
son's as his worshipping wife believed, may be doubtful; but that he
would have done better than his son must seem more than probable.




CHAPTER II.

FATHER, MOTHER, AND SON.


Gerald Raymount was a man of an unusual combination of qualities. There
were such contradictions in his character as to give ground for the
suspicion, in which he certainly himself indulged, that there must be in
him at least one strain not far removed from the savage, while on the
other hand there were mental conditions apparently presupposing ages of
culture. At the university he had indulged in large reading outside the
hedge of his required studies, and gained thus an acquaintance with and
developed a faculty in literature destined to stand him in good stead.

Inheriting earthly life and a history--nothing more--from a long line of
ancestors, and a few thousand pounds--less than twenty--from his father,
who was a country attorney, a gentle, quarrelsome man, who yet never,
except upon absolute necessity, carried a case into court, he had found,
as his family increased, that his income was not sufficient for their
maintenance in accustomed ease. With not one expensive personal taste
between them, they had neither of them the faculty for saving
money--often but another phrase for doing mean things. Neither husband
nor wife was capable of _screwing_. Had the latter been, certainly
the free-handedness of the former would have driven her to it; but while
Mrs. Raymount would go without a new bonnet till an outcry arose in the
family that its respectability was in danger, she could not offer two
shillings a day to a sempstress who thought herself worth half-a-crown;
she could not allow a dish to be set on her table which was not as
likely to encourage hunger as allay it; neither because some richer
neighbors gave so little, would she take to herself the spiritual fare
provided in church without making a liberal acknowledgment in carnal
things. The result of this way of life was the deplorable one that Mr.
Raymount was compelled to rouse himself, and, from the chair of a
somewhat self-indulgent reader of many books, betake himself to his
study-table, to prove whether it were not possible for him to become the
writer of such as might add to an income showing scantier every quarter.
Here we may see the natural punishment of liberal habits; for this man
indulging in them, and, instead of checking them in his wife, loving her
the more that she indulged in them also, was for this reason condemned
to labor--the worst evil of life in the judgment of both the man about
Mayfair and the tramp of the casual ward. But there are others who dare
not count that labor an evil which helps to bring out the best elements
of human nature, not even when the necessity for it outlasts any impulse
towards it, and who remember the words of the Lord: "My Father worketh
hitherto, and I work."

For Gerald Raymount, it made a man of him--which he is not who is of no
service to his generation. Doubtless he was driven thereto by necessity;
but the question is not whether a man works upon more or less
compulsion, but whether the work he is thus taught to do he makes good
honest work for which the world is so much the better. In this matter of
work there are many first that shall be last. The work of a baker for
instance must stand higher in the judgment of the universe than that of
a brewer, let his ale be ever so good. Because the one trade brings more
money than the other the judgment of this world counts it more
honorable, but there is the other judgment at hand.

In the exercise of his calling Raymount was compelled to think more
carefully than before, and thus not only his mind took a fresh start,
but his moral and spiritual nature as well. He slid more and more into
writing out the necessities and experiences of his own heart and
history, and so by degrees gained power of the only true kind--that,
namely, of rousing the will, not merely the passions, or even the
aspirations of men. The poetry in which he had disported himself at
college now came to the service of his prose, and the deeper poetic
nature, which is the prophetic in every man, awoke in him. Till after
they had lived together a good many years the wife did not know the
worth of the man she had married, nor indeed was he half the worth when
she married him that he had now grown to be. The longer they lived the
prouder she grew of him and of his work; nor was she the less the
practical wisdom of the house that she looked upon her husband as a
great man. He was not a great man--only a growing man; yet was she
nothing the worse for thinking so highly of him; the object of it was
not such that her admiration caused her to deteriorate.

The daughter of a London barrister, of what is called a good family, she
had opportunity of knowing something of what is called life before she
married, and from mere dissatisfaction had early begun to withdraw from
the show and self-assertion of social life, and seek within herself the
door of that quiet chamber whose existence is unknown to most. For a
time she found thus a measure of quiet--not worthy of the name of rest;
she had not heeded a certain low knocking as of one who would enter and
share it with her; but now for a long time he who thus knocked had been
her companion in the chamber whose walls are the infinite. Why is it
that men and women will welcome any tale of love, devotion, and
sacrifice from one to another of themselves, but turn from the least
hint at the existence of a perfect love at the root of it all? With such
a message to them, a man is a maundering prophet. Is it not that their
natures are yet so far from the ideal, the natural, the true, that the
words of the prophet rouse in them no vision, no poorest perception of
spiritual fact?

Helen Raymount was now a little woman of fifty, clothed in a sweet
dignity, from which the contrast she disliked between her plentiful gray
hair, and her great, clear, dark eyes, took nothing; it was an
opposition without discord. She had but the two daughters and two sons
already introduced, of whom Hester was the eldest.

Wise as was the mother, and far-seeing as was the father, they had made
the mistake common to all but the wisest parents, of putting off to a
period more or less too late the moment of beginning to teach their
children obedience. If this be not commenced at the first possible
moment, there is no better reason why it should be begun at any other,
except that it will be the harder every hour it is postponed. The
spiritual loss and injury caused to the child by their waiting till they
fancy him fit to reason with, is immense; yet there is nothing in which
parents are more stupid and cowardly, if not stiff-necked, than this. I
do not speak of those mere animal parents, whose lasting influence over
their progeny is not a thing to be greatly desired, but of those who,
having a conscience, yet avoid this part of their duty in a manner of
which a good motherly cat would be ashamed. To one who has learned of
all things to desire deliverance from himself, a nursery in which the
children are humored and scolded and punished instead of being taught
obedience, looks like a moral slaughter-house.

The dawn of reason will doubtless help to develop obedience; but
obedience is yet more necessary to the development of reason. To require
of a child only what he can understand the reason of, is simply to help
him to make himself his own God--that is a devil. That some seem so
little injured by their bad training is no argument in presence of the
many in whom one can read as in a book the consequences of their
parents' foolishness.

Cornelius was a youth of good abilities, and with a few good qualities.
Naturally kind-hearted, yet full of self and its poor importance, he had
an admiration of certain easy and showy virtues. He was himself not
incapable of an unthinking generosity; felt pity for picturesque
suffering; was tempted to kindness by the prospect of a responsive
devotion. Unable to bear the sight of suffering, he was yet careless of
causing it where he would not see it; incapable of thwarting himself, he
was full of weak indignation at being thwarted; supremely conceited, he
had yet a regard for the habits and judgments of men of a certain stamp
which towards a great man would have been veneration, and would have
elevated his being. But the sole essentials of life as yet discovered by
Cornelius were a good carriage, good manners, self-confidence, and
seeming carelessness in spending. That the spender was greedy after the
money he yet scorned to work for, made no important difference in
Cornelius's estimate of him. In a word, he fashioned a fine
gentleman-god in his foolish brain, and then fell down and worshipped
him with what worship was possible between them. To all home-excellence
he was so far blind that he looked down upon it; the opinion of father
or mother, though they had reared such a son as himself, was not to be
compared in authority with that of Reginald Vavasor, who, though so poor
as to be one of his fellow-clerks, was heir apparent to an earldom.




CHAPTER III.

THE MAGIC LANTERN.


Cornelius, leaving his mother, took refuge with his anger in his own
room. Although he had occupied it but a fortnight the top of its chest
of drawers was covered with yellow novels--the sole kind of literature
for which Cornelius cared. Of this he read largely, if indeed his mode
of swallowing could be called reading; his father would have got more
pleasure out of the poorest of them than Cornelius could from a dozen.
And now in this day's dreariness, he had not one left unread, and was
too lazy or effeminate or prudent to encounter the wind and rain that
beset the path betwixt him and the nearest bookshop. None of his
father's books had any attraction for him. Neither science, philosophy,
history, nor poetry held for him any interest. A drearier soul in a
drearier setting could hardly be imagined than the soul of this youth in
that day's weather at Burcliff.

Does a reader remark, "Well, wherein was the poor fellow to blame? No
man can make himself like this or like that! The thing that is a passion
to one is a bore to another! Some with both ear and voice have no love
for music. Most exquisite of sonatas would not to them make up for a
game of billiards! They cannot help it: they are made so"?--I answer, It
is true no one can by an effort of the will care for this or that; but
where a man cares for nothing that is worth caring for, the fault must
lie, not in the nature God made, but in the character the man himself
has made and is making. There is a moral reason why he does not and
cannot care. If Cornelius had begun at any time, without other
compulsion than the urging within him, to do something he knew he ought
to do, he would not now have been the poor slave of circumstances he
was--at the call and beck of the weather--such, in fact, as the weather
willed. When men face a duty, not merely will that duty become at once
less unpleasant to them, but life itself will _immediately_ begin
to gather interest; for in duty, and in duty only, does the individual
begin to come into real contact with life; therein only can he see what
life is, and grow fit for it.

He threw himself on his bed--for he dared not smoke where his father
was--and dozed away the hours till lunch, then returned and dozed again,
with more success, till tea time. This was his only resource against the
unpleasantness of the day. The others were nowise particularly weighed
down by it, and the less that Cornelius was so little in the room,
haunting the window with his hands in his pockets.

When tea was over, he rose and sauntered once more to the window, the
only outlook he ever frequented.

"Hullo!" he cried, turning from it quickly. "I say, Hester! here's a
lark! the sun's shining as if his grandmother had but just taught him
how! The rain's over, I declare--at least for a quarter of an hour!
Come, let's have a walk. We'll go and hear the band in the
castle-gardens. I don't think there's any thing going on at the theatre,
else I would take you there."

The sight of the sun revives both men and midges.

"I would rather walk," said Hester. "It is seldom one sees good acting
in the provinces. At best there is but one star. I prefer a jewel to a
gem, and a decent play to a fine part."

"Hester," said Cornelius with reproof, "I believe you think it a fine
thing to be hard to please! I know a fellow that calls it a kind of
suicide. To allow a spot to spoil your pleasure in a beauty is to be too
fond of perfection."

"No, Corney," answered his sister, "that is hardly my position. What I
would say is rather, that one point of excellence is not enough to make
a whole beautiful--a face, or a play--or a character."

Hester had a rather severe mode of speaking, especially to this brother,
which, if it had an end, failed of it. She was the only person in the
house who could ever have done any thing with him, and she lost her
advantage--let me use a figure--by shouting to him from a distance,
instead of coming close up to him and speaking in a whisper. But for
that she did not love him enough, neither was she yet calm enough in
herself to be able for it. I doubt much, however, if he would have been
in any degree permanently the better for the best she could have done
for him. He was too self-satisfied for any redemption. He was afraid of
his father, resented the interference of his mother, was as cross as he
pleased with his sister, and cared little whether she was vexed with him
or not. And he regarded the opinion of any girl, just because she was a
girl, too little to imagine any reflection on himself in the remark she
had just made.

While they talked he had been watching the clouds.

"Do go, Hester," he said. "I give you my word it will be a fine
evening."

She went to put on her hat and cloak, and presently they were in the
street.

It was one of those misty clearings in which sometimes the day seems to
gather up his careless skirts, that have been sweeping the patient,
half-drowned world, as he draws nigh the threshold of the waiting night.
There was a great lump of orange color half melted up in the watery
clouds of the west, but all was dreary and scarce consolable, up to the
clear spaces above, stung with the steely stars that began to peep out
of the blue hope of heaven. Thither Hester kept casting up her eyes as
they walked, or rather somehow her eyes kept travelling thitherward of
themselves, as if indeed they had to do with things up there. And the
child that cries for the moon is wiser than the man who looks upon the
heavens as a mere accident of the earth, with which none but
_unpractical_ men concern themselves.

But as she walked gazing at "an azure disc, shield of tranquility," over
her head, she set her foot down unevenly, and gave her ankle a wrench.
She could not help uttering a little cry.

"There now, Hester!" said Cornelius, pulling her up like a horse that
stumbled, "that's what you get by your star-gazing! You are always
coming to grief by looking higher than your head!"

"Oh, please, stop a minute, Corney," returned Hester, for the fellow
would have walked on as if nothing had happened. "My ankle hurts so!"

"I didn't know it was so bad as that!" he answered stopping. "There!
take my arm."

"Now I can go on again," she said, after a few moments of silent
endurance. "How stupid of me!--on a plain asphalt pavement!"

He might have excused her with the remark that just on such was an
accidental inequality the more dangerous.

"What bright, particular star were you worshipping now?" he asked
scoffingly.

"What do you mean by that?" she rejoined in a tone affected by her
suffering, which thence, from his lack of sympathy, he took for one of
crossness.

"You know quite well," he answered roughly, "that you are always
worshipping some paragon or other--for a while, till you get tired of
her, and then throw her away for another!"

Hester was hurt and made no answer.

There was some apparent ground for the accusation. She was ready to
think extravagantly of any new acquaintances that pleased her. Frank and
true and generous, it was but natural she should read others by herself;
just as those in whom is meanness or guile cannot help attributing the
same to the simplest. Nor was the result unnatural either, namely, that,
when a brief intercourse had sufficed to reveal a nature on the common
level, it sufficed also to chill the feeling that had rushed to the
surface to welcome a friend, and send the new-found floating far away on
the swift ebb of disappointment. Any whom she treats thus, called her,
of course, fitful and changeable, whereas it was in truth the
unchangeableness of her ideal and her faithfulness to it that exposed
her to blame. She was so true, so much in earnest, and, although gentle,
had so little softness to drape the sterner outlines of her character
that she was looked upon with dislike by not a few of her acquaintance.

"That again comes of looking too high, and judging with precipitation,"
resumed Cornelius, urged from within to be unpleasant--and the rather
that she did not reply.

He was always ready to criticise, and it was so much the easier for him
that he had not the least bent towards self-criticism. For the latter
supposes some degree of truth in the inward parts, and that is
obstructive to the indulgence of the former tendency. As to himself, he
would be hand and glove at a moment's notice with any man who looked a
gentleman, and made himself agreeable; nor whatever he might find him to
be, was he, so long as the man was not looked down upon by others, the
least inclined to avoid his company because of moral shadiness. "A man
can take care of himself!" he would say.

Hester stopped again.

"Corney," she said, "my ankle feels so weak! I am walking in terror of
twisting it again. You must let me stand a bit. I shall be all right in
a minute."

"I'm very sorry," rejoined her brother disagreeably. "We must take the
first fly we meet, and go home again. It's just my luck! I thought we
were going to have some fun!"

They stood silent, she looking nowhere, and he staring now in this
direction, now in that. "Hullo! what's this?" he cried, his gaze fixing
on a large building opposite. "The Pilgrim's Progress! The Rake's
Progress! Ha! ha! As edifying as amusing, no doubt! I suppose the
Pilgrim and the Rake are contrasted with each other. But how, I wonder!
Is it a lecture or a magic lantern? Both, I dare say! Let's go in and
see! I can't read any more of the bill. We may at least sit there till
your ankle is better. 'Admission--front seats sixpence.' Come along. We
may get a good laugh, who knows?--a thing cheap at any price--for our
sixpence!"

"I don't mind," said Hester, and they crossed the road.

It was a large, dingy, dirty, water-stained and somewhat dilapidated
hall to which the stone stair, ascending immediately from the door, led
them; and it would have looked considerably worse but for the obscurity
belonging to the nature of the entertainment, through which it took some
pains to discover the twenty-five or thirty people that formed the
company present. It was indeed a dim, but not therefore, a very
religious light that pervaded rather than overcame the gloom, issuing
chiefly from the crude and discordant colors of a luminous picture on a
great screen at the farther end of the hall. There an ill-proportioned
figure, presenting, although his burden was of course gone some time, a
still very humpy Christian, was shown extended on the ground, with his
sword a yard beyond his reach, and Apollyon straddling across the whole
breadth of the way, and taking him in the stride. But that huge stride
was the fiend's sole expression of vigor; for, although he held a
flaming dart ready to strike the poor man dead, his own dragon
countenance was so feebly demoniacal that it seemed unlikely he would
have the heart to drive it home. The lantern from which proceeded the
picture, was managed by a hidden operator, evidently from his voice,
occasionally overheard, a mere boy; and an old man, like a broken-down
clergyman, whose dirty white neckcloth seemed adjusted on a secret
understanding of moral obliquity, its knot suggesting a gradual approach
to the last position a knot on the neck can assume, kept walking up and
down the parti-colored gloom, flaunting a pretense of lecture on the
scenes presented. Whether he was a little drunk or greatly in his
dotage, it was impossible to determine without a nearer acquaintance. If
I venture to give a specimen of his mode of lecturing, it will be seen
that a few lingering rags of scholastic acquirement, yet fluttered about
the poor fellow.

"Here you behold the terrible battle between Christian--or was it
Faithful?--I used to know, but trouble has played old Hookey with my
memory. It's all here, you know"--and he tapped the bald table-land of
his head--"but somehow it ain't handy as it used! In the morning it
flourisheth and groweth up: in the evening it is cut down and withereth.
Man that is in honor and abideth not, is like the beast that
perisheth--but there's Christian and Apollyon, right afore you, and
better him than me. When I was a young one, and that wasn't yesterday, I
used to think, but that was before I could read, that Apollyon was one
and the same with Bonaparty--Nappoleon, you know. And I wasn't just so
far wrong neither, as I shall readily prove to those of my distinguished
audience who have been to college like myself, and learned to read Greek
like their mother tongue. For what is the very name Apollyon, but an
occult prophecy concerning the great conqueror of Europe! nothing can be
plainer! Of course the first letter, N, stands for nothing--a mere veil
to cover the prophecy till the time of revealing. In all languages it is
the sign of negation--_no_, and _none_, and _never_, and _nothing_;
therefore cast it away as the nothing it is. Then what have you left but
_apoleon_! Throw away another letter, and what have you but _poleon_!
Throw away letter after letter, and what do you get but words--_Napoleon,
apoleon, poleon, oleon, leon, eon_, or, if you like, _on_! Now these
are all Greek words--and what, pray, do they mean? I will give you a
literal translation, and I challenge any Greek scholar who may be here
present to set me right, that is, to show me wrong: Napoleon the destroyer
of cities, being a destroying lion! Now I should like to know a more
sure word of prophecy than that! Would any one in the company oblige
me? I take that now for an incontrovertible"--he stammered over this
word--"proof of the truth of the Bible. But I am wandering from my
subject, which error, I pray you, ladies and gentlemen, to excuse, for
I am no longer what I was in the prime of youth's rosy morn--come, I
must get on! Change the slide, boy; I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it all.
I want to get home and go to bed."

He maundered on in this way, uttering even worse nonsense than I have
set down, and mingling with it soiled and dusty commonplaces of
religion, every now and then dwelling for a moment or two upon his own
mental and physical declension from the admirable being he once was. He
reached the height of his absurdity in describing the resistance of the
two pilgrims to the manifold temptations of Vanity Fair, which he so set
forth as to take from Christian and Faithful the smallest possible
appearance of merit in turning their backs upon them.

Cornelius was in fits of laughter, which he scarcely tried to choke.
When the dreary old soul drew near where he sat, smelling abominably of
strong drink, the only thing that kept his merriment within bounds was
the dread that the man might address him personally, and so draw upon
him the attention of the audience.

Very different was the mood of Hester. To the astonishment of Cornelius,
when at last they rose to go, there were tears in her eyes. The misery
of the whole thing was too dreadful to her! The lantern itself must, she
thought, have been made when the invention was in its infancy, and its
pictured slides seemed the remnants of various outworn series. Those of
the Rake's Progress were something too hideous and lamentable to be
dwelt upon. And the ruinous, wretched old man did not merely seem to
have taken to this as a last effort, but to have in his dotage turned
back upon his life course, and resumed a half-forgotten trade--or
perhaps only an accomplishment of which he had made use for the benefit
of his people when he was a clergyman--to find that the faculty for it
he once had, and on which he had reckoned to carry him through, had
abandoned him. Worst of all to the heart of Hester was the fact that so
few people were present, many of them children at half-price, some of
whom seemed far from satisfied with the amusement offered them. When the
hall and the gas--but that would not be much--and the advertising were
paid for, what would the poor old scrag-end of humanity, with his
yellow-white neckcloth knotted hard under his left ear, have over for
his supper? Was there any woman to look after him? and would she give
him anything fit to eat? Hester was all but crying to think she could do
nothing for him--that he was so far from her and beyond her help, when
she remembered the fat woman with curls hanging down her cheeks, who had
taken their money at the door. Apparently she was his wife--and seemed
to thrive upon it! But alas for the misery of the whole thing!

When they came out and breathed again the blue, clean, rain-washed air
instead of the musty smells of the hall, involuntarily Hester's eyes
rose to the vault whose only keystone is the will of the Father, whose
endless space alone is large enough to picture the heart of God: how was
that old man to get up into the high regions and grow clean and wise?
For all the look, he must belong there as well as she! And were there
not thousands equally and more miserable in the world--people wrapped in
no tenderness, to whom none ministered, left if not driven--so it seemed
at the moment to Hester--to fold themselves in their own selfishness?
And was there nothing she, a favored one of the family, could do to
help, to comfort, to lift up one such of her own flesh and blood?--to
rescue a heart from the misery of hopelessness?--to make this one or
that feel there was a heart of love and refuge at the centre of things?
Hester had a large, though not hitherto entirely active aspiration in
her; and now, the moment she began to flutter her weak wings, she found
the whole human family hanging upon her, and that she could not rise
except in raising them along with her. For the necessities of our
deepest nature are such as not to admit of a mere private individual
satisfaction. I well remember feeling as a child that I did not care for
God to love me if he did not love everybody: the kind of love I needed
was love essential to my nature--the love of me, a man, not of me a
person--the love therefore that all men needed, the love that belonged
to their nature as the children of the Father, a love he could not give
me except he gave it to all men.

But this was not the beginning of Hester's enthusiasm for her kind--only
a crystallizing shock it received.

Nor was it likely to be the less powerful in the end that now at the age
of three and twenty she had but little to show for it. She was one of
the strong ones that grow slowly; and she had now for some years been
cherishing an idea, and working for its realization, which every sight
and sound of misery tended to quicken and strengthen.

"There you are again," said Cornelius--"star-gazing as usual! You'll be
spraining your other ankle presently!"

"I had forgotten all about my ankle, Corney dear," returned Hester,
softened by her sorrowful sympathy; "but I will be careful."

"You had better. Well, I think between us we had the worth of our
shilling! Did you ever see such a ridiculous old bloke!"

"I wish you would not use that word, Corney," said Hester, letting her
displeasure fall on the word, where she knew the feeling was entrenched
beyond assault.

"What's the matter with the word? It is the most respectable old
Anglo-Saxon."

Hester said no more, but heaved an inward sigh. Of what consequence were
the words her brother used, so long as he recognized no dignity in life,
never set himself _to be!_ Why should any one be taught to behave
like a gentleman, so long as he is no gentleman?

Cornelius burst out laughing.

"To think of those muffs going through the river--sliding along the
bottom, and spreading out their feelers above the water, like two
rearing lobsters! And the angels waiting for them on the bank like
laundresses with their clean shirts! Ha! ha! ha!"

"They seemed to me," answered Hester, "very much like the men, and
angels too, in that old edition of the Pilgrim papa thinks so much of. I
couldn't for my part, absurd as they were, help feeling a certain pathos
in the figures and faces."

"That came of the fine interpretation the old--hm!--codger gave of their
actions and movements!"

"It may have come of the pitiful feeling the whole affair gave me--I
cannot tell," said Hester. "That old man made me very sad."

"Now you do strand me, Hester!" replied her brother. "How you could see
anything pathetic, or pitiful as you call it, in that disreputable old
humbug, I can't even imagine. A more ludicrous specimen of tumble-down
humanity it would be impossible to find! A drunken old thief--I'll lay
you any thing! Catch me leaving a sov where he could spy the shine of
it!"

"And don't you count that pitiful, Cornelius? Can you see one of your
own kind, with heart and head and hands like your own, so
self-abandoned, so low, so hopeless, and feel no pity for him? Didn't
you hear him say to himself as he passed you, 'Come, let's get on! I'm
sick of it. I don't know what I'm talking about.' He seemed actually to
despise himself!"

"What better or more just could he do? But never you mind: _he's_
all right! Don't you trouble your head about _him_. You should see
him when he gets home! He'll have his hot supper and his hot tumbler,
don't you fear! Swear he will too, and fluently, if it's not waiting
him!"

"Now that seems to me the most pitiful of all," returned Hester, and was
on the point of adding, "That is just the kind of pity I feel for you,
Corney," but checked herself. "Is it not most pitiful to see a human
being, made in the image of God, sunk so low?" she said.

"It's his own doing," returned Cornelius.

"And is not that yet the lowest and worst of it all? If he could not
help it, and therefore was not to blame, it would be sad enough; but to
be such, and be to blame for being such, seems to me misery upon misery
unbearable."

"There I don't agree with you--not at all! So long as a fellow has fair
play, and nothing happens to him but what he brings upon himself, I
don't see what he has to complain of."

"But that is not the question," interrupted Hester. "It is not whether
he has anything to complain of, but whether he has anything to be pitied
for. I don't know what I wouldn't do to make that old man clean and
comfortable!"

Cornelius again burst into a great laugh. No man was anything to him
merely because he was a man.

"A highly interesting protege you would have!" he said; "and no doubt
your friends would congratulate you when you presented him! But for my
part I don't see the least occasion to trouble your head about such
riffraff. Every manufacture has its waste, and he's human waste. There's
misery enough in the world without looking out for it, and taking other
people's upon our shoulders. You remember what one of the fellows in the
magic lantern said: 'Every tub must stand on its own bottom'!"

Hester held her peace. That her own brother's one mode of relieving the
suffering in the world should be to avoid as much as possible adding to
his own, was to her sisterly heart humiliating.




CHAPTER IV.

HESTER ALONE.


When the family separated for the night and Hester reached her room, she
sat down and fell a thinking, not more earnestly but more continuously.

She was one of those women--not few in number, I have good reason to
think, though doubtless few comparatively, who from the first dawn of
consciousness have all their lives endeavored, with varying success,
with frequent failure of strength, and occasional brief collapse of
effort, to do the right thing. Therein she had but followed in the
footsteps of her mother, who, though not so cultivated as she, walked no
less steady in the true path of humanity. But the very earnestness of
Hester's endeavor along with the small reason she found for considering
it successful; the frequent irritation with herself because of failure;
and the impossibility of satisfying the hard master Self, who, while he
flatters some, requires of others more than they can give--all tended to
make her less evenly sympathetic with those about her than her heart's
theory demanded. Willing to lay down her life for them, a matchless
nurse in sickness, and in trouble revealing a tenderness perfectly
lovely, she was yet not the one to whom first either of the children was
ready to flee with hurt or sorrow: she was not yet all human, because
she was not yet at home with the divine.

Thousands that are capable of great sacrifices are yet not capable of
the little ones which are all that are required of them. God seems to
take pleasure in working by degrees; the progress of the truth is as the
permeation of leaven, or the growth of a seed: a multitude of successive
small sacrifices may work more good in the world than many a large one.
What would even our Lord's death on the cross have been, except as the
crown of a life in which he died daily, giving himself, soul, body and
spirit, to his men and women? It is the _Being_ that is the
precious thing. Being is the mother to all little Doings as well as the
grown-up Deeds and the mighty heroic Sacrifice; and these little Doings,
like the good children of the house, make the bliss of it. Hester had
not had time, neither had she prayed enough to _be_ quite yet,
though she was growing well towards it. She was a good way up the hill,
and the Lord was coming down to meet her, but they had not quite met
yet, so as to go up the rest of the way together.

In religious politics, Hester was what is called a good churchwoman,
which in truth means a good deal of a sectarian. She not merely recoiled
from such as venerated the more primitive modes of church-government
rather than those of later expediency, and preferred far inferior
extempore prayers to the best possible prayers in print, going therefore
to some chapel instead of the church, but she looked down upon them as
from a superior social standing--that is, with the judgment of this
world, and not that of Christ the carpenter's son. In short, she had a
repugnance to the whole race of dissenters, and would not have soiled
her dress with the dust of one of their school-rooms even. She regarded
her own conscience as her Lord, but had not therefore any respect for
that of another man where it differed from her in the direction of what
she counted vulgarity. So she was scarcely in the kingdom of heaven yet,
any more than thousands who regard themselves as choice Christians. I do
not say these feelings were very active in her, for little occurred to
call them out; but she did not love her dissenting neighbor, and felt
good and condescending when, brought into contact with one, she behaved
kindly to him.

I well know that some of my readers will heartily approve of her in this
very thing, and that not a few _good dissenters_ on the other hand,
who are equally and in precisely the same way sectarians, that is bad
Christians, will scorn her for it; but for my part I would rather cut
off my right hand than be so cased and stayed in a narrow garment of
pride and satisfaction, condemned to keep company with myself instead of
the Master as he goes everywhere--into the poorest companies of them
that love each other, and so invite his presence.

The Lord of truth and beauty has died for us: shall we who, by haunting
what we call his courts, have had our sense of beauty, our joy in grace
tenfold exalted, gather around us, in the presence of those we count
less refined than ourselves, skirts trimmed with the phylacteries of the
world's law, turning up the Pharisaical nose, and forgetting both what
painful facts self-criticism has revealed to ourselves, and the eyes
upon us of the yet more delicate refinement and the yet gentle breeding
of the high countries? May these not see in us some malgrace which it
needs the gentleness of Christ to get over and forget, some savagery of
which we are not aware, some _gaucherie_ that repels though it
cannot estrange them? Casting from us our own faults first, let us cast
from us and from him our neighbor's also. O gentle man, the common man
is yet thy brother, and thy gentleness should make him great, infecting
him with thy humility, not rousing in him the echo of a vile unheavenly
scorn. Wilt thou, with thy lofty condescension, more intrinsically
vulgar than even his ugly self-assertion, give him cause too good to
hate thy refinement? It is not thy refinement makes thee despise him; it
is thy own vulgarity; and if we dare not search ourselves close enough
to discover the low breeding, the bad blood in us, it will one day come
out plain as the smitten brand of the _forcat_.

That Hester had a tendency to high church had little or nothing to do
with the matter. Such exclusiveness is simply a form of that pride,
justify or explain it as you will, which found its fullest embodiment in
the Jewish Pharisee--the evil thing that Christ came to burn up with his
lovely fire, and which yet so many of us who call ourselves by his name
keep hugging to our bosoms--I mean the pride that says, "I am better
than thou." If these or those be in any true sense below us, it is of
Satan to despise--of Christ to stoop and lay hold of and lift the sister
soul up nearer to the heart of the divine tenderness.

But this tenderness, which has its roots in every human heart, had
larger roots in the heart of Hester than in most. Whatever her failings,
whatever ugly weeds grew in the neglected corners of her nature, the
moment she came in contact with any of her kind in whatever condition of
sadness or need, the pent-up love of God--I mean the love that came of
God and was divine in her--would burst its barriers and rush forth,
sometimes almost overwhelming herself in its torrent. She would then be
ready to die, nothing less, to help the poor and miserable. She was not
yet far enough advanced to pity vulgarity in itself--perhaps none but
Christ is able to do that--but she could and did pity greatly its
associated want and misery, nor was repelled from them by their
accompanying degradation.

The tide of action, in these later years flowing more swiftly in the
hearts of women--whence has resulted so much that is noble, so much that
is paltry, according to the nature of the heart in which it swells--had
been rising in that of Hester also. She must not waste her life! She
must _do_ something! What should it be? Her deep sense of the
misery around her had of course suggested that it must be something in
the way of help. But what form was the help to take? "I have no money!"
she said to herself--for this the last and feeblest of means for the
doing of good is always the first to suggest itself to one who has not
perceived the mind of God in the matter. To me it seems that the first
thing in regard to money is to prevent it from doing harm. The man who
sets out to do good with his fortune is like one who would drive a team
of tigers through the streets of a city, or hunt the fox with cheetahs.
I would think of money as Christ thought of it, not otherwise; for no
other way is true, however it may recommend itself to good men; and
neither Christ nor his apostles did anything by means of money; nay, he
who would join them in their labors had to abandon his _fortune_.

This evening, then, the thought of the vulgar, miserable, ruinous old
man, with his wretched magic lantern, kept haunting Hester, and made her
very pitiful; and naturally, starting from him, her thoughts went
wandering abroad over the universe of misery. For was not the world full
of men and women who groaned, not merely under poverty and cruelty,
weakness and sickness, but under dullness and stupidity, hugged in the
paralyzing arms of that devil-fish, The Commonplace, or held fast to the
rocks by the crab Custom, while the tide of moral indifference was fast
rising to choke them? Was there no prophet, no redemption, no mediator
for such as these? Were there not thousands of women, born with a
trembling impulse towards the true and lovely, in whom it was withering
for lack of nurture, and they themselves continuously massing into
common clay, a summer-fall of human flowers off the branches of hope and
aspiration? How many young wives, especially linked to the husbands of
their choice, and by this very means disenchanted, as they themselves
would call it, were doomed to look no more upon life as the antechamber
of the infinite, but as the counting-house of the king of the
nursery-ballad, where you may, if you can, eat bread and honey, but
where you _must_ count your money! At the windows of the husband-house
no more looks out the lover but the man of business, who takes his life
to consist in the abundance of the things he possesses! He must make money
for his children!--and would make money if he had nor chick nor child.
Could she do nothing for such wives at least? The man who by honest means
made people laugh, sent a fire-headed arrow into the ranks of the
beleaguering enemy of his race; he who beguiled from another a genuine
tear, made heavenly wind visit his heart with a cool odor of paradise!
What was there for her to do?

But possibly Hester might neither have begun nor gone on thinking thus,
had it not been for a sense of power within her springing from, or at
least associated with, a certain special gift which she had all her
life, under the faithful care of her mother, been cultivating. Endowed
with a passion for music--what is a true passion but a heavenly
hunger?--which she indulged; relieved, strengthened, nor ever sated, by
a continuous study of both theoretical and practical music, she
approached both piano and organ with eager yet withholding foot, each as
a great and effectual door ready to open into regions of delight. But
she was gifted also with a fine contralto voice, of exceptional scope
and flexibility, whose capacity of being educated into an organ of
expression was not thrown away upon one who had a world inside her to
express--doubtless as yet not a little chaotic, but in process of
assuming form that might demand utterance; and this angelic instrument
had for some years been under careful training. And now this night came
to Hester, if not for the first time, yet more clearly than ever before,
the thought whether she might not in some way make use of this her one
gift for the service she desired--for the comfort, that was, and the
uplifting of humanity, especially such humanity as had sunk below even
its individual level. Thus instinctively she sought relief from
sympathetic pain in the alleviation and removal of its cause.

But pity and instinctive recoil from pain were by no means all the
elements of the impulse moving Hester in this direction. An honest and
active mind such as hers could not have carried her so often to church
and for so long a time, whatever might be the nature of the direct
teaching she there received, without gaining some glimpses of the
mightiest truth of our being, that we belong to God in actual fact of
spiritual property and profoundest relationship. She had much to learn
in this direction yet--as who has not who is ages in advance of
life?--but this night came back to her, as it had often already
returned, the memory of a sermon she had heard some twelve months before
on the text, "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are
God's." It was a dull enough sermon, yet not so dull but it enabled her
to supply in some degree its own lack; and when she went out of the dark
church into the sunshine,--and heard the birds singing as if they knew
without any St. Francis to tell them that their bodies and their spirits
were God's, a sense awoke in her such as she had not had before, that
the grand voice lying like an unborn angel in the chest and throat of
her, belonged not to herself but to God, and must be used in some way
for the working of his will in the world which as well as the voice he
had made. She had no real notion yet of what is meant by the glory of
God. She had not quite learned that simplest of high truths that the
glory of God is the beauty of Christ's face. She had a lingering idea--a
hideously frightful one, though its vagueness kept it in great measure
from injuring her--that the One only good, the One only unselfish
thought a great deal of himself, and looked strictly after his rights in
the way of homage. Hence she thought first of devoting the splendor and
richness of her voice to swell the song of some church-choir. With her
notion of God and of her relation to him, how could she yet have escaped
the poor pagan fancy--good for a pagan, but beggarly for a Christian,
that church and its goings-on are a serving of God? She had not begun to
ask how these were to do God any good--or if my reader objects to the
phrase, I will use a common one saying the same thing--how these were to
do anything for God. She had not begun to see that God is the one great
servant of all, and that the only way to serve him is to be a
fellow-servant with him--to be, say, a nurse in his nursery, and tend
this or that lonely, this or that rickety child of his. She had not yet
come to see that it is as absurd to call song and prayer a serving of
God, as it would be to say the thief on the cross did something for
Christ in consenting to go with him to paradise. But now some dim
perception of this truth began to wake in her. Vaguely she began to feel
that perhaps God had given her this voice and this marriage of delight
and power in music and song for some reason like that for which he had
made the birds the poets of the animal world: what if her part also
should be to drive dull care away? what if she too were intended to be a
door-keeper in the house of God, and open or keep open windows in heaven
that the air of the high places might reach the low swampy ground? If
while she sang, her soul mounted on the wings of her song till it
fluttered against the latticed doors of heaven as a bird flutters
against the wires of its cage; if also God has made of one blood all
nations of men--why, then, surely her song was capable of more than
carrying merely herself up into the regions of delight! Nay more, might
there not from her throat go forth a trumpet-cry of truth among such as
could hear and respond to the cry? Then, when the humblest servant
should receive the reward of his well-doing, she would not be left
outside, but enter into the joy of her Lord. How specially such work
might be done by her she did not yet see, but the truth had drawn nigh
her that, to serve God in any true sense, we must serve him where he
needs service--among his children lying in the heart of lack, in sin and
pain and sorrow; and she saw that, if she was to serve at all, it must
be with her best, with her special equipment.

I need not follow the gradations, unmarked of herself, by which she at
length came to a sort of conclusion: the immediate practical result was,
that she gave herself more than ever to the cultivation of her gift,
seeing in the distance the possibility of her becoming, in one mode or
another, or in all modes perhaps together, a songstress to her
generation.




CHAPTER V.

TRULY THE LIGHT IS SWEET.


The cry of the human heart in all ages and in every moment is, "Where is
God and how shall I find him?"--No, friend, I will not accept your
testimony to the contrary--not though you may be as well fitted as ever
one of eight hundred millions to come forward with it. You take it for
granted that you know your own heart because you call it yours, but I
say that your heart is a far deeper thing than you know or are capable
of knowing. Its very nature is hid from you. I use but a poor figure
when I say that the roots of your heart go down beyond your
knowledge--whole eternities beyond it--into the heart of God. If you
have never yet made one discovery in your heart, your testimony
concerning it is not worth a tuft of flue; and if you have made
discoveries in it, does not the fact reveal that it is but little known
to you, and that there must be discoveries innumerable yet to be made in
it? To him who has been making discoveries in it for fifty years, the
depths of his heart are yet a mystery--a mystery, however, peopled with
loveliest hopes. I repeat whether the man knows it or not, his heart in
its depths is ever crying out for God.

Where the man does not know it, it is because the unfaithful Self, a
would-be monarch, has usurped the consciousness; the demon-man is
uppermost, not Christ-man; he is down in the crying heart, and the
demon-man--that is the self that worships itself--is trampling on the
heart and smothering it up in the rubbish of ambitions, lusts, and
cares. If ever its cry reaches that Self, it calls it childish folly,
and tramples the harder. It does not know that a child crying on God is
mightier than a warrior dwelling in steel.

If we had none but fine weather, the demon-Self would be too much for
the divine-Self, and would always keep it down; but bad weather,
misfortune, ill-luck, adversity, or whatever name but punishment or the
love of God men may call it, sides with the Christ-self down below, and
helps to make its voice heard. On the other hand if we had nothing but
bad weather, the hope of those in whom the divine Self is slowly rising
would grow too faint; while those in whom the bad weather had not yet
begun to work good would settle down into weak, hopeless rebellion.
Without hope can any man repent?

To the people at Burcliff came at length a lovely morning, with sky and
air like the face of a repentant child--a child who has repented so
thoroughly that the sin has passed from him, and he is no longer even
ashamed. The water seemed dancing in the joy of a new birth, and the
wind, coming and going in gentle conscious organ-like swells, was at it
with them, while the sun kept looking merrily down on the glad commotion
his presence caused.

"Ah," thought the mother, as she looked from her windows ere she began
to dress for this new live day, "how would it be if the Light at the
heart of the sun were shining thus on the worlds made in his image!"

She was thinking of her boy, whom perhaps, in all the world, she only
was able to love heartily--there was so little in the personal being of
the lad, that is, in the thing he was to himself, and was making of
himself, to help anyone to love him! But in the absolute mere existence
is reason for love, and upon that God does love--so love, that he will
suffer and cause suffering for the development of that existence into a
thing in its own full nature lovable, namely, an existence in its own
will one with the perfect love whence it issued; and the mother's heart
more than any other God has made is like him in power of loving. Alas
that she is so seldom like him in wisdom--so often thwarting the work of
God, and rendering more severe his measures with her child by her
attempts to shield him from His law, and save him from saving sorrow.
How often from his very infancy--if she does not, like the very nurse
she employs, actively teach him to be selfish--does she get between him
and the right consequences of his conduct, as if with her one feeble
loving hand, she would stay the fly-wheel of the holy universe. It is
the law that the man who does evil shall suffer; it is the only hope for
him, and a hope for the neighbor he wrongs. When he forsakes his evil,
one by one the dogs of suffering will halt and drop away from his track;
and he will find at last they have but hounded him into the land of his
nativity, into the home of his Father in heaven.

As soon as breakfast was over, the whole family set out for a walk. Mr.
Raymount seldom left the house till after lunch, but even he, who cared
comparatively little for the open air, had grown eager after it.
Streets, hills and sands were swarming with human beings, all drawn out
by the sun.

"I sometimes wonder," he said, "that so many people require so little to
make them happy. Let but the sun break through the clouds, and he sets
them all going like ants in an ant-hill!"

"Yes," returned his wife, "but then see how little on the other hand is
required to make them miserable! Let the sun hide his head for a day,
and they grumble!"

Making the remark, the good woman never thought of her son Cornelius,
the one of her family whose conduct illustrated it. At the moment she
saw him cheerful, and her love looked upon him as good. She was one of
the best of women herself: whatever hour she was called, her lamp was
sure to have oil in it; and yet all the time since first he lay in her
arms, I doubt if she had ever done anything to help the youth to conquer
himself. Now it was too late, even had she known what could be done. But
the others had so far turned out well: why should not this one also? The
moment his bad humors were over, she looked on him as reformed; and when
he uttered worldliness, she persuaded herself he was but jesting. But
alas! she had no adequate notion--not a shadow of one--of the
selfishness of the man-child she had given to the world. This matter of
the black sheep in the white flock is one of the most mysterious of the
facts of spiritual generation.

Sometimes, indeed, the sheep is by no means so black as to the whiter
ones he seems; perhaps neither are they so much whiter as their friends
and they themselves think; for to be altogether respectable is not to be
clean; and the black sheep may be all the better than some of the rest
that he looks what he is, and does not dye his wool. But on the other
hand he may be a great deal worse than some of his own family think him.

"Then," said Hester, after a longish pause, "those that need more to
make them happy, are less easily made unhappy?"

To this question rather than remark, she received no reply. Her father
and mother both felt it not altogether an easy one to answer: it
suggested points requiring consideration. To Cornelius, it was a mere
girl's speech, not worth heeding where the girl was his sister. He
turned up at it a mental nose, the merest of snubs; and well he might,
for he had not the least notion of what it meant or involved.

As little notion had his father that his son Cornelius was a black
sheep. He was not what the world would have called a black sheep, but
his father, could he have seen into him, would have counted him a very
black sheep indeed--and none the whiter that he recognized in the
blackness certain shades that were of paternal origin. It was, however,
only to the rest of the family that Cornelius showed his blackness: of
his father he was afraid; and that father, being proud of his children,
would have found it hard to believe anything bad of them: like his
faults they were his own! His faith in his children was in no small
measure conceit of that which was his, and blinded him to their faults
as it blinded him to some of his own. The discovery of any serious fault
in one of them would be a sore wound to his vanity, a destruction of his
self-content.

The co-existence of good and evil in the same person is perhaps the most
puzzling of all facts. What a shock it gives one to hear a woman who
loves God, and spends both time and money on the betterment of her kind,
call a pauper child a _brat_, and see her turn with disgust from
the idea of treating any strange child, more especially one of low
birth, as her own. "O Christ!" cries the heart, "is this one of the
women that follows thee?" And she _is_ one of the women that follow
him--only she needs such a lesson as he gave his disciples through the
Syrophenician woman.

Mr. Raymount had such an opinion of himself, that while he never
obtruded his opinions upon others, he never imagined them disregarded in
his own family. It never entered his mind that any member of it might in
this or that think differently from himself. But both his wife and
Hester were able to think, and did think for themselves, as they were
bound in the truth of things to do; and there were considerable
divergements of the paths in which they walked from that he had trodden.
He had indeed always taken too much for granted, and ought to have used
more pains to have his notions understood by them, if he laid so much on
their intellectual sympathy. He supposed all the three read what he
wrote; and his wife and daughter did read the most of it; but what would
he think when he came to know that his son not only read next to nothing
of it, but read that little with a contempt not altogether
unconscious--for no other reason than that it was his father who wrote
it? Nor was the youth quite without justification--for was he not
himself a production of his father? But then he looked upon the latter
as one of altogether superior quality! It is indeed strange how vulgar
minds despise the things they have looked upon and their hands have
handled, just because they have looked upon them and their hands have
handled them; is there not in the fact a humiliating lesson, which yet
they are unable to read, of the degrading power of their own presence
upon themselves and their judgments? Whether a man is a hero to his
valet or the opposite, depends as much on the valet as on the man: The
bond, then, between the father and the son, was by no means so strong as
the father thought it. Indeed the selfishness of Cornelius made him
almost look upon his father as his enemy, because of his intentions with
regard to the division of his property. And selfishness rarely fails of
good arguments. Nor can anything destroy it but such a turning of things
upside down as only he that made them can work.




CHAPTER VI.

THE AQUARIUM.


"Let's go and see the people at the aquarium," said Cornelius.

"Do you mean the fishes?" asked his father.

"No, I don't care about them; I said the people," answered Cornelius
stupidly.

"The people of an aquarium must surely be fishes, eh, Saffy?" said the
father to the bright child, walking hand in hand with him. It was
Josephine. Her eyes were so blue that but for the association he would
have called her Sapphira. Between the two he contented himself with the
pet name of _Saffy_.

"Ah but, papa," said Hester, "Corney didn't say the people _of_ the
aquarium, but the people _at_ the aquarium!"

"Two of you are too many for me!" returned the father playfully. "Well,
then, Saffy, let us go and see the people _of_ and the people
_at_ the aquarium.--Which do you want to see, Hester?"

"Oh, the fishes of course, papa!"

"Why of course?"

"Because they're so much more interesting than the people," said Hester
rebuked in herself as she said it--before she knew why.

"Fishes more interesting than people!" exclaimed her father.

"They're so like people, papa!"

"Oh, then surely the people must be the more interesting after all, if
it is the likeness of the fishes to people that makes them interesting!
Which of all the people you love do you see likest a fish now?"

"Oh, papa!"

"What! is it only people you hate that you see like fishes?"

"I don't hate anybody, papa."

"There's a way of not caring about people, though--looking down on them
and seeing them like fishes, that's precious like hating them," said
Cornelius, who enjoyed a crowd, and putting his sister in the wrong
still better: to that end he could easily say a sensible thing.

"If you mean me, Corney, I think you do me injustice," said Hester. "The
worst I do is to look at them the wrong way of the telescope."

"But why do you never see anyone you love like a fish?" persisted her
father.

"Perhaps because I could not love anybody that was like a fish."

"Certainly there is something not beautiful about them!" said Mr.
Raymount.

"They're beastly ugly," said Cornelius.

"Let us look into it a little," continued his father. "What is it about
them that is ugly? Their colors are sometimes very beautiful--and their
shapes, too."

"Their heads and faces," said Hester, "are the only parts of them in
which they can be like human beings, and those are very ugly."

"I'm not sure that you are right, Hester," said the mother, who had not
spoken till now. "There must surely be something human in their bodies
as well, for now and then I see their ways and motions so like those of
men and women, that I felt for a moment almost as if I understood how
they were feeling, and were just going to know what they were thinking."

"I suspect," said Mr. Raymount, "your mother's too much of a poet to be
trusted alone in an aquarium. It would have driven Shelley crazy--to
judge from his Sensitive Plant."

They had now reached the middle of the descent to the mysteries of the
place, when Cornelius, who, with an interest Hester could not understand
in him, and which was partly owing to a mere love of transition, had
been staring at the ascending faces, uttered a cry of recognition, and
darted down to the next landing. With a degree of respect he seldom
manifested they saw him there accost a gentleman leaning over the
balustrade, and shake hands with him. He was several years older than
Cornelius, not a few inches taller, and much better-looking--one indeed
who could hardly fail to attract notice even in a crowd. Corney's
weakest point, next to his heart, was his legs, which perhaps accounted
for his worship of Mr. Vavasor's calves, in themselves nothing
remarkable. He was already glancing stolen looks at these objects of his
jealous admiration when the rest reached the landing, and Mr. Raymount,
willing to know his son's friend, desired Corney to introduce him.

Cornelius had been now eighteen months in the bank, and had never even
mentioned the name of a fellow clerk. He was one of those youths who
take the only possible way for emptiness to make itself of
consequence--that of concealment and affected mystery. Not even now but
for his father's request, would he have presented his bank friend to him
or any of the family.

The manners and approach of Mr. Vavasor were such as at once to
recommend him to the friendly reception of all, from Mr. Raymount to
little Saffy, who had the rare charm of being shy without being rude. If
not genial, his manners were yet friendly, and his carriage if not
graceful was easy; both were apt to be abrupt where he was familiar. It
was a kind of company bearing he had, but dashed with indifference,
except where he desired to commend himself. He shook hands with little
Saffy as respectfully as with her mother, but with neither altogether
respectfully; and immediately the pale-faced, cold, loving boy, Mark,
unwillingly, therefore almost unconsciously, disliked him. He was beyond
question handsome, with a Grecian nose nearly perfect, which had its
large part in the aristocratic look he bore. This was favored also by
the simplicity of his dress. He turned with them, and re-descended the
stairs.

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming, Mr. Vavasor? I could have met
you," said Cornelius, with just a little stretch of the degree of
familiarity in use between them.

"I didn't know myself till the last minute," answered Vavasor. "It was a
sudden resolve of my aunt's. Neither had I the remotest idea you were
here."

"Have you been seeing the fishes?" asked Hester, at whose side their new
acquaintance was walking now they had reached the subterranean level.

"I have just passed along their cages," he answered. "They are not well
kept; the glass is dirty, and the water, too. I fancied they looked
unhappy, and came away. I can't bear to see creatures pining. It would
be a good deed to poison them all."

"Wouldn't it be better to give them some fresh water?" said little
Saffy, "that would make them glad."

To this wisdom there was no response.

When they came to the door of the concert-room, Cornelius turned into
it, leaving his "friend" with his "people" to go and look at the fishes.
Mr. Vavasor kept his place by the side of Hester.

"We were just talking, when we had the pleasure of meeting you, about
people and fishes--comparing them in a way," said Hester. "I can't make
it clear to myself why I like seeing the fishes better than the people."

"I fancy it must be because you call them fishes and not fish," replied
Vavasor. "If the fishes were a shoal of herrings or mackerel, I doubt if
you would--at least for many times. If, on the other hand, the men and
women in the concert-room were as oddly distinguished one from another
as these different fishes, you would prefer going with your brother."

"I'm sure I shouldn't" said Saffy to Mark.

"Phizzes is best on fishes," answered Mark sententiously. "I like faces
best; only you don't _always_ want to look at what you like
best!--I wonder why."

"And yet I suspect," said Mrs. Raymount to Vavasor, "many of the people
are as much distinguished from each other in character as the fishes are
in form."

"Possibly," interjected her husband, "they are as different in their
faces also, only we are too much of their kind to be able to read the
differences so clearly."

"Surely you do not mean," said Vavasor respectfully, "that any two
persons in the concert-room can be as much unlike each other as that
flounder shuddering along the sandy bottom, and that yard of eel sliding
through the water like an embodied wickedness?"

Hester was greatly struck with the poetic tone of the remark.

"I think you may find people as different," replied her father, "if you
take into the account the more delicate as well as the more striking
differences--the deeper as well as the surface diversities. Now you make
me think of it, I begin to doubt whether all these live grotesques may
not have been made to the pattern of different developments of
humanity."

"Look at that dog-fish," said Vavasor, pointing to the largest in the
tank. "What a brute! Don't you hate him, Miss Raymount?"

"I am not willing to hate any live thing," answered Hester with a smile,
"--from selfish motives, perhaps; I feel as if it would be to my own
loss, causing me some kind of irreparable hurt."

"But you would kill such a creature as that--would you not?" he
rejoined.

"In possible circumstances," she answered; "but killing and hating have
nothing necessarily to do with each other. He that hates his brother is
always a murderer, not always he that kills him."

"This is another sort of girl from any I've met yet!" said Vavasor to
himself. "I wonder what she's really like!"

He did not know that what she was really like was just what he, with all
his fancied knowledge of women both in life and literature, was
incapable of seeing--so different was she in kind from poor-gentleman
Vavasor.

"But just look at the head, eyes and mouth of the fiend!" he persisted.

Hester, forcing herself a little, did regard the animal for two or three
minutes. Then a slight shudder passed through her, and she turned away
her eyes.

"I see you've caught the look of him!" said Vavasor. "Is he not a
horror?"

"He is. But that was not what made me turn away: I found if I looked a
moment longer I should hate him in spite of myself."

"And why shouldn't you hate him? You would be doing the wretch no wrong.
Even if he knew it, it would be only what he deserved."

"That you cannot tell except you knew all about his nature, and every
point of his history from the beginning of the creation till now. I dare
not judge even a dog-fish. And whatever his deserts, I don't choose to
hate him, because I don't choose to hate."

She turned away, and Vavasor saw she wanted no more of the dog-fish.

"Oh!" cried Saffy, with a face of terror, "look, look, mamma! It's
staring at me!"

The child hid her face in her mother's gown, yet turned immediately to
look again.

Mr. Raymount looked also, following her gaze, and was fascinated by the
sight that met his eyes. Through the glass, high above his head, and not
far from the surface, he saw a huge thornback, bending toward them and
seeming to look down on them, as it flew slowly through the water--the
action of the two sides of its body fringed with fins, and its
consequent motion, were much more like the act of flying than that of
swimming. Behind him floated his long tail, making him yet more resemble
the hideously imagined kite which he at once suggested. But the terrible
thing about him was the death's-head look of the upper part of him. His
white belly was of course toward them, and his eyes were on the other
side, but there were nostrils that looked exactly like the empty sockets
of eyes, and below them was a hideous mouth. These made the face that
seemed to Saffy to be hovering over and watching them.

"Like an infernal angel of death!" thought Mr. Raymount, but would not
rouse yet more the imagination of the little one by saying it. Hester
gazed with steadfast mien at the floating spectre.

"You seem in no danger from that one," said Vavasor.

"I don't think I understand you," said Hester. "What danger can there be
from any of them?"

"I mean of hating him."

"You are right; I do not feel the smallest inclination to hate him."

"Yet the ray is even uglier than the dog-fish."

"That may be--I think not--but who hates for ugliness? I never should.
Ugliness only moves my pity."

"Then what do you hate for?" asked Vavasor. "--But I beg your pardon:
you never hate! Let me ask then, what is it that makes you feel as if
you might hate?"

"If you will look again at the dog-fish, and tell me the expression of
its mouth, I may be able to answer you," she returned.

"I will," said Vavasor; and, betaking himself to a farther portion of
the tank, he stood there watching a little shoal of those sharks of the
northern seas. While he was gone Cornelius rejoined them.

"I wish I knew why God made such ugly creatures," said Saffy to Mark.

The boy gave a curious half-sad smile, without turning his eyes from the
thornback, and said nothing.

"Do you know why God made any creatures, pet?" said Hester.

"No, I don't. Why did he, Hessy?"

"I am almost afraid to guess. But if you don't know why he made any, why
should you wonder that he made those?"

"Because they are so ugly.--Do tell me why he made them?" she added
coaxingly.

"You had better ask mamma."

"But, Hessy, I don't like to ask mamma."

"Why don't you like to ask mamma, you little goose?"

"Because," said Saffy, who was all the time holding her mother's hand,
and knew she was hearing her, "mamma mightn't know what to say."

Hester thought with herself, "I am sometimes afraid to pray lest I
should have no answer!"

The mother's face turned down toward her little one.

"And what if I shouldn't know what to say, darling?" she asked.

"I feel so awkward when Miss Merton asks me a question I can't answer,"
said the child.

"And you are afraid of making mamma feel awkward? You pet!" said Hester.

Cornelius burst into a great laugh, and Saffy into silent tears, for she
thought she had made a fool of herself. She was not a priggish child,
and did not deserve the mockery with which her barbarian brother invaded
her little temple. She was such a true child that her mother was her
neighbor, and present to all her being--not her eyes only or her brain,
but her heart and spirit as well.

The mother led her aside to a seat, saying,

"Come, darling; we must look into this, and try to understand it. Let me
see--what is it we have got to understand? I think it is this--why you
should be ashamed when you cannot answer the questions of one who knows
so much more than you, and I should not be ashamed when I cannot answer
the questions of my own little girl who knows so much less that I do. Is
that it?"

"I don't know," sobbed Saffy.

"You shouldn't laugh at her, Corney: it hurts her!" said Hester.

"The little fool! How could that hurt her? It's nothing but temper!"
said Cornelius with vexation. He was not vexed that he had made her cry,
but vexed that she cried.

"You should have a little more sympathy with childhood, Cornelius," said
his father. "You used to be angry enough when you were laughed at."

"I was a fool then myself!" answered Cornelius sulkily.

He said no more, and his father put the best interpretation upon his
speech.

"Do you remember, Hester," he said, "how you were always ready to cry
when I told you I did not know something you had asked me?"

"Quite well, papa," replied Hester; "and I think I could explain it now.
I did not know then why I cried. I think now it was because it seemed to
bring you down nearer to my level. My heaven of wisdom sank and grew
less."

"I hope that is not what Saffy is feeling now; your mother must be
telling her she doesn't know why God made the animals. But no! She is
looking up in her face with hers radiant!"

And yet her mother had told her she did not know why God made the
animals! She had at the same time, however, made her own confessed
ignorance a step on which to set the child nearer to the knowledge of
God; for she told her it did not matter that she did not know, so long
as God knew. The child could see that her mother's ignorance did not
trouble her; and also that she who confessed ignorance was yet in close
communication with him who knew all about everything, and delighted in
making his children understand.

And now came Vavasor from his study of the dog-fish. His nature was a
poetic one, though much choked with the weeds of the conventional and
commonplace, and he had seen and felt something of what Hester intended.
But he was not alive enough to understand hate. He was able to hate and
laugh. He could not feel the danger of hate as Hester, for hate is
death, and it needs life to know death.

"He is cruel, and the very incarnation of selfishness," he said. "I
should like to set my heel on him."

"If I were to allow myself to hate him," returned Hester, "I should hate
him too much to kill him. I should let him live on in his ugliness, and
hold back my hate lest it should wither him in the cool water. To let
him live would be my revenge, the worst I should know. I must not look
at him, for it makes me feel as wicked as he looks."

She glanced at Vavasor. His eyes were fixed on her. She turned away
uncomfortable: could it be that he was like the dog-fish?

"I declare." said Cornelius, coming between them, "there's no knowing
you girls! Would you believe it, Mr. Vavasor--that young woman was
crying her eyes out last night over the meanest humbug of a Chadband I
ever set mine on! There ain't one of those fishes comes within sight of
him for ugliness. And she would have it he was to be pitied--sorrowed
over--loved, I suppose!"

The last words of his speech he whined out in a lackadaisical tone.

Hester flushed, but said nothing. She was not going to defend herself
before a stranger. She would rather remain misrepresented--even be
misunderstood. But Vavasor had no such opinion of the brother as to take
any notion of the sister from his mirror. When she turned from Cornelius
next, in which movement lay all the expression she chose to give to her
indignation, he passed behind him to the other side of Hester, and there
stood apparently absorbed in the contemplation of a huge crustacean. Had
Cornelius been sensitive, he must have felt he was omitted.

"Why, can it be?" she said--to herself, but audibly--after a moment of
silence, during which she also had been apparently absorbed in the
contemplation of some inhabitant of the watery cage. But she had in
truth been thinking of nothing immediately before her eyes, though they
had rested first upon a huge crayfish, balancing himself on stilts
innumerable, then turned to one descending a rocky incline--just as a
Swiss horse descends a stair in a mountain-path.

"Yes, the fellow bristles with _whys_," said Vavasor, whose gaze
was still fixed on one of them. "Every leg seems to ask 'Why am I a
leg?'"

"I should have thought it was asking rather, 'What am I? Am I a leg or a
failure?'" rejoined Hester. "But I was not thinking of the crayfish. He
is odd, but there is no harm in him. He looks, indeed, highly
respectable. See with what a dignity he fans himself!"

"And for the same reason," remarked her father, who had come up and
stood behind them, "as the finest lady at the ball: he wants more air. I
wonder whether the poor fellow knows he is in a cage?"

"I think he does," said Saffy, "else he would run away from us."

"Are you thinking of the dog-fish still?" asked Vavasor.

The strangeness, as it seemed to him, of the handsome girl's absorption,
for such it veritably appeared, in questions of no interest in
themselves--so he judged them--attracted him even more than her beauty,
for he did not like to feel himself unpossessed of the entree to such a
house. Also he was a writer of society verses--not so good as they might
have been, but in their way not altogether despicable--and had already
begun to turn it over in his mind whether something might not be made
of--what shall I call it?--the situation?

"I _was_ thinking of him," Hester answered, but only as a type of
the great difficulty--why there should be evil or ugliness in the world.
There must be an answer to it! Is it possible it should be one we would
not like?"

"I don't believe there is any answer," said Vavasor. "The ugly things
are ugly just because they are ugly. It is a child's answer, but not
therefore unphilosophical. We must take things as we find them. We are
ourselves just what we are, and cannot help it. We do this or that
because it is in us. We are made so."

"You do not believe in free will, then, Mr. Vavasor?" said Hester
coldly.

"I see no ground for believing in it. We are but forces--bottled up
forces--charged Leyden jars. Every one does just what is in him--acts as
he is capable."

He was not given to metaphysics, and, indeed, had few or no opinions in
that department of inquiry; but the odd girl interested him, and he was
ready to meet her on any ground. He had uttered his own practical
unbelief, however, with considerable accuracy. Hester's eyes flashed
angrily.

"I say _no_. Every one is capable of acting better than he does,"
she replied; and her face flushed.

"Why does he not then?" asked Vavasor.

"Ah, why?" she responded.

"How can he be made for it if he does not do it?" insisted Vavasor.

"How indeed? That is the puzzle," she answered. "If he were not capable
there would be none."

"I should do better, I am sure, if I could," said Vavasor. Had he known
himself, he ought to have added, "without trouble."

"Then you think we are all just like the dog-fish--except that destiny
has made none of us quite so ugly," rejoined Hester.

"Or so selfish," implemented Vavasor.

"That I can't see," returned Hester. "If we are merely borne helpless
hither and thither on the tide of impulse, we can be neither more nor
less selfish than the dog-fish. We are, in fact, neither selfish nor
unselfish. We are pure nothings, concerning which speculation is not
worth the trouble. But the very word _selfish_ implies a contrary
judgment on the part of humanity itself."

"Then you believe we can make ourselves different from what we are
made?"

"Yes; we are made with the power to change. We are meant to take a share
in our own making. We are made so and so, it is true, but not made so
and so only; we are made with a power in ourselves beside--a power that
can lay hold on the original power that made us. We are not made to
remain as we are. We are bound to grow."

She spoke rapidly, with glowing eyes, the fire of her utterance
consuming every shadow of the didactic.

"You are too much of a philosopher for me, Miss Raymount," said Vavasor
with a smile. "But just answer me one question. What if a man is too
weak to change?"

"He must change," said Hester.

Then first Vavasor began to feel the conversation getting quite too
serious.

"Ah, well!" he said. "But don't you think this is
rather--ah--rather--don't you know?--for an aquarium?"

Hester did not reply. Nothing was too serious for her in any place. She
was indeed a peculiar girl--the more the pity for the many that made her
so!

"Let us go and see the octopus," said Vavasor.

They went, and Mr. Raymount slowly followed them. He had not heard the
last turn of their conversation.

"You two have set me thinking," he said, when he joined them; "and
brought to my mind an observation I had made--how seldom you find art
succeed in representing the hatefully ugly! The painter can accumulate
ugliness, but I do not remember a demon worth the name. The picture I
can best recall with demons in it is one of Raphael's--a St. Michael
slaying the dragon--from the Purgatorio, I think, but I am not sure; not
one of the demons in that picture is half so ugly as your
dog-fish.--What if it be necessary that we should have lessons in
ugliness?"

"But why?" said Hester. "Is not the ugly better let alone? You have
always taught that ugliness is the natural embodiment of evil!"

"Because we have chosen what is bad, and do not know how ugly it
is--that is why," answered her father.

"Isn't that rather hard on the fish, though?" said Vavasor. "How can
innocent creatures be an embodiment of evil?"

"But what do you mean by _innocent_?" returned Mr. Raymount. "The
nature of an animal may be low and even hateful, and its looks
correspondent, while no conscience accuses it of evil. I have known half
a dozen cows, in a shed large enough for a score, and abundantly
provisioned, unite to keep the rest of the herd out of it. Many a man is
a far lower and worse creature in his nature that his conscience tells
him. It is the conscience educated by strife and failure and success
that is severe upon the man, demanding of him the all but unattainable."

Talk worse and worse for an aquarium! But happily they had now reached
the tank of the octopods.

Alas, there had been some mismanagement of the pipes, and the poor
devil-fishes had been boiled, or at least heated to death! One small,
wretched, skinny thing, hardly distinguishable from a discolored clout,
was all that was left of a dozen. Cornelius laughed heartily when
informed of the mischance.

"It's a pity it wasn't the devil himself instead of his fish!" he said.
"Wouldn't it be a jolly lark, Mr. Vavasor, if some of the rascals down
below were to heat that furnace too hot, and rid us of the whole potful
at one fell swoop!"

"What is that you are saying, Corney?" said his mother, who had but just
rejoined them.

"I was only uttering the pious wish that the devil was dead," answered
Cornelius; "--boiled like an octopus! ha! ha! ha!"

"What good would that do?" said his father. "The human devils would be
no better, and the place would soon be re-occupied. The population of
the pit must be kept up by immigration. There may be babies born in
heaven, for any thing I know, but certain I am there can be none in the
other place. This world of ours is the nursery of devils as well as of
saints."

"And what becomes of those that are neither?" asked Vavasor.

"It were hard to say," replied Mr. Raymount with some seriousness.

"A confoundedly peculiar family!" said Vavasor to himself. "There's a
bee in every bonnet of them! An odd, irreverent way the old fellow has
with him--for an old fellow pretending to believe what he says!"

Vavasor was not one of the _advanced_ of the age; he did not deny
there was a God: he thought that the worse form that it was common in
the bank; the fellows he associated with never took the trouble to deny
him; they took their own way, and asked no questions. When a man has not
the slightest intention that the answer shall influence his conduct, why
should he inquire whether there be a God or not? Vavasor cared more
about the top of his cane than the God whose being he did not take the
trouble to deny. He believed a little less than the maiden aunt with
whom he lived; she believed less than her mother, and her mother had
believed less than hers; so that for generations the faith, so called,
of the family had been dying down, simply because all that time it had
sent out no fresh root of obedience. It had in truth been no faith at
all, only assent. Miss Vavasor went to church because it was the right
thing to do: God was one of the heads of society, and his drawing-rooms
had to be attended. Certain objections not altogether unreasonable might
be urged against doing so: several fictions were more or less
countenanced in them--such as equality, love of your neighbor, and
forgiveness of your enemy, but then nobody really heeded them: religion
had worked its way up to a respectable position, and no longer required
the support of the unwashed--that is, those outside the circle whose
center is May-fair. As to her personal religion, why, God had heard her
prayers, and might again: he did show favor occasionally. That she
should come out of it all as well as other people when this life of
family and incomes and match-making was over, she saw no reason to
doubt. Ranters and canters might talk as they pleased, but God knew
better than make the existence of thoroughly respectable people quite
unendurable! She was kind-hearted, and treated her maid like an equal up
to the moment of offense--then like a dog of the east up to that of
atonement. She had the power of keeping her temper even in family
differences, and hence was regarded as a very model of wisdom, prudence
and _tact_, the last far the first in the consideration of her
judges. The young of her acquaintance fled to her for help in need, and
she gave them no hard words, but generally more counsel than
comfort--always, however, the best she had, which was of Polonius' kind,
an essence of wise selfishness, so far as selfishness can be wise, with
a strong dash of self-respect, nowise the more sparing that it was
independent of desert. The good man would find it rather difficult to
respect himself were he to try; his gaze is upward to the one good; but
had it been possible for such a distinction to enter Miss Vavasor's
house, it would have been only to be straightway dismissed. She was
devoted to her nephew, as she counted devotion, but would see that he
made a correspondent return.

When Vavasor reached their encampment in the Imperial Hotel, he went to
his own room, got out his Russia-leather despatch-box, half-filled with
songs and occasional verses, which he never travelled without, and set
himself to see what he could do with the dog-fish--in what kind of
poetic jelly, that is, he could enclose his shark-like mouth and evil
look. But prejudiced as he always was in favor of whatever issued from
his own brain--as yet nothing had come from his heart--he was anything
but satisfied with the result of his endeavor. It was, in fact, an utter
failure so far as the dog-fish was concerned, for he was there unnamed,
a mere indistinguishable presence among many monsters. But
notwithstanding the gravity of this defect, and the distance between his
idea and its outcome, he yet concluded the homage to Hester which it
embodied of a value to justify the presentation of the verses. And poor
as they were they were nearly as good as anything he had done hitherto.
Here they are:

  To H.R.

  Lo, Beauty climbs the watery steep,
  Sets foot on many a slimy stair;
  Treads on the monsters of the deep,
  And rising seeks the earth and air.

  On every form she sets her foot,
  She lifts it straight and passes on;
  With flowers and trees she takes no root,
  This, that caresses, and is gone.

  Imperfect, poorly lovely things
  On all sides round she sighing sees;
  She flies, nor for her flying wings
  Finds any refuge, rest, or ease!

  At last, at last, on Burcliff's shore,
  She spies a thoughtful wanderer;
  She speeds--she lights for evermore,
  Incorporated, one with her!




CHAPTER VII.

AMY AMBER.


Some gentle crisis must have arrived in the history of Hester, for in
these days her heart was more sensitive and more sympathetic than ever
before. The circumvolant troubles of humanity caught upon it as it it
had been a thorn-bush, and hung there. It was not greatly troubled,
neither was its air murky, but its very repose was like a mother's sleep
which is no obstacle between the cries of her children and her
sheltering soul: it was ready to wake at every moan of the human sea
around her. Unlike most women, she had not needed marriage and
motherhood to open the great gate of her heart to her kind: I do not
mean there are not many like her in this. Why the tide of human
affection should have begun to rise so rapidly in her just at this time,
there is no need for conjecturing: much of every history must for the
long present remain inexplicable. No man creates his history any more
than he creates himself; he only modifies it--sometimes awfully; gathers
to him swift help, or makes intervention necessary. But the tide of
which I speak flowed yet more swiftly from the night of the magic
lantern. That experience had been as a mirror in which she saw the
misery of the low of her kind, including, alas! her brother Cornelius.
He had never before so plainly revealed to her his heartlessness, and
the painful consequence of the revelation was, that now, with all her
swelling love for human beings, she felt her heart shrink from him as if
he were of another nature. She could never indeed have loved him as she
did but that, being several years his elder, she had had a good deal to
do with him as baby and child: the infant motherhood of her heart had
gathered about him, and not an eternity of difference could after that
destroy the relation between them. But as he grew up, the boy had
undermined and weakened her affection, though hardly her devotion; and
now the youth had given it a rude shock. So far was she, however, from
yielding to this decay of feeling that it did not merely cause her much
pain but gave rise in her to much useless endeavor; while every day she
grew more anxious and careful to carry herself toward him as a sister
ought.

The Raymounts could not afford one of the best lodgings in Burcliff, and
were well contented with a floor in an old house in an unfashionable
part of the town, looking across the red roofs of the port, and out over
the flocks of Neptune's white sheep on the blue-gray German ocean. It
was kept by two old maids whose hearts had got flattened under the
pressure of poverty--no, I am wrong, it was not poverty, but
_care_; pure poverty never flattened any heart; it is the care
which poverty is supposed to justify that does the mischief; it gets
inside it and burrows, as well as lies on the top of it; of mere outside
poverty a heart can bear a mountainous weight without the smallest
injury, yea with inestimable result of the only riches. Our Lord never
mentions poverty as one of the obstructions to his kingdom, neither has
it ever proved such; riches, cares and desires he does mention. The
sisters Witherspin had never yet suffered from the lack of a single
necessary; not the less they frayed their mornings, wore out their
afternoons, scorched their evenings, and consumed their nights, in
scraping together provision for an old age they were destined never to
see. They were a small meager pair, with hardly a smile between them.
One waited and the other cooked. The one that waited had generally her
chin tied up with a silk handkerchief, as if she had come to life again,
but not quite, and could not do without the handkerchief. The other was
rarely seen, but her existence was all day testified by the odors that
ascended from the Tartarus of her ever-recurrent labors. It was a marvel
how from a region of such fumes could ascend the good dinners she
provided. The poor things of course had their weight on the mind of
Hester, for, had they tried, they could not have hidden the fact that
they lived to save: every movement almost, and certainly every tone
betrayed it. And yet, unlike so many lodging-house keepers, resembling
more the lion-ant than any other of the symbolic world of insects, they
were strictly honest. Had they not been, I doubt if Hester would have
been able, though they would then have needed more, to give them so much
pity as she did, for she had a great scorn of dishonesty. Her heart,
which was full of compassion for the yielding, the weak, the erring, was
not yet able to spend much on the actively vicious--the dishonest and
lying and traitorous. The honor she paid the honesty of these women
helped her much to pity the sunlessness of their existence, and the poor
end for which they lived. It looked as if God had forgotten
them--toiling for so little all day long, while the fact was they forgot
God, and were thus miserable and oppressed because they would not have
him interfere as he would so gladly have done. Instead of seeking the
kingdom of heaven, and trusting him for old age while they did their
work with their might, they exhausted their spiritual resources in
sending out armies of ravens with hardly a dove among them, to find and
secure a future still submerged in the waves of a friendly deluge. Nor
was Hester's own faith in God so vital yet as to propagate itself by
division in the minds she came in contact with. She could only be sorry
for them and kind to them.

The morning after the visit to the aquarium, woeful Miss Witherspin, as
Mark had epitheted her, entered to remove the ruins of breakfast with a
more sad and injured expression of countenance than usual. It was a
glorious day, and she was like a live shadow in the sunshine. Most of
the Raymounts were already in the open air, and Hester was the only one
in the room. The small, round-shouldered, cadaverous creature went
moving about the table with a motion that suggested bed as fitter than
labor, though she was strong enough to get through her work without more
than occasional suffering: if she could only have left pitying herself
and let God love her she would have got on well enough. Hester, who had
her own share of the same kind of fault, was rather moodily trimming her
mother's bonnet with a new ribbon, glancing up from which she at once
perceived that something in particular must have exceeded in wrongness
the general wrongness of things in the poor little gnome's world. Her
appearance was usually that of one with a headache; her expression this
morning suggested a mild indeed but all-pervading toothache.

"Is anything the matter, Miss Witherspin?" asked Hester.

"Indeed, miss, there never come nothing to sister and me but it's
matter, and now it's a sore matter. But it's the Lord's will and we
can't help it; and what are we here for but to have patience? That's
what I keep saying to my sister, but it don't seem to do her much good."

She ended with a great sigh; and Hester thought if the unseen sister
required the comfort of the one before her, whose evangel just uttered
was as gloomy as herself, how very unhappy she must be.

"No doubt we are here to learn patience," said Hester; "but I can hardly
think patience is what we are made for. Is there any fresh trouble--if
you will excuse me?"

"Well, I don't know, miss, as trouble can anyhow be called
fresh--leastways to us it's stale enough; we're that sick of it! I
declare to you, miss, I'm clean worn out with havin' patience! An' now
there's my sister gone after her husband an' left her girl, brought up
in her own way an' every other luxury, an' there she's come on our
hands, an' us to take the charge of her! It's a responsibility will be
the death of me."

"Is there no provision for her?"

"Oh, yes, there's provision! Her mother kep a shop for fancy goods at
Keswick--after John's death, that is--an' scraped together a good bit o'
money, they do say; but that's under trustees--not a penny to be touched
till the girl come of age!"

"But the trustees must make you a proper allowance for bringing her up!
And anyhow you can refuse the charge."

"No, miss, that we can't. It was always John's wish when he lay a dyin',
that if anything was to happen to Sarah, the child should come to us.
It's the trouble of the young thing, the responsibility--havin' to keep
your eyes upon her every blessed moment for fear she do the thing she
ought not to--that's what weighs upon me. Oh, yes, they'll pay so much a
quarter for her! it's not that. But to be always at the heels of a
young, sly puss after mischief--it's more'n I'm equal to, I do assure
you, Miss Raymount."

"When did you see her last?" inquired Hester.

"Not once have I set eyes on her since she was three years old!"
answered Miss Witherspin, and her tone seemed to imply in the fact yet
additional wrong.

"Then perhaps she may be wiser by this time," Hester suggested. "How old
is she now?"

"Sixteen out. It's awful to think of!"

"But how do you know she will be so troublesome? She mayn't want the
looking after you dread. You haven't seen her for thirteen years!"

"I'm sure of it. I know the breed, miss! She's took after her mother,
you may take your mortal oath! The sly way she got round our John!--an'
all to take him right away from his own family as bore and bred him! You
wouldn't believe it, miss!"

"Girls are not always like their mothers," said Hester. "I'm not half as
good as my mother."

"Bless you, miss! if she ain't half as bad as hers--the Lord have mercy
upon us! How I'm to attend to my lodgers and look after her, it's more
than I know how to think of it with patience."

"When is she coming?"

"She'll be here this blessed day as I'm speakin' to you, miss!"

"Perhaps, your house being full, you may find her a help instead of a
trouble. It won't be as if she had nothing to employ her!"

"There's no good to mortal creature i' the bones or blood of her!"
sighed Miss Witherspin, as she put the tablecloth on the top of the
breakfast-things.

That blessed day the girl did arrive--sprang into the house like a
rather loud sunbeam--loud for a sunbeam, not for a young woman of
sixteen. She was small, and bright, and gay, with large black eyes which
sparkled like little ones as well as gleamed like great ones, and a
miniature Greek face, containing a neat nose and a mouth the most
changeable ever seen--now a mere negation in red, and now long enough
for sorrow to couch on at her ease--only there was no sorrow near it,
nor in its motions and changes much of any other expression than mere
life. Her hair was a dead brown, mistakable for black, with a burnt
quality in it, and so curly, in parts so obstinately crinkly, as to
suggest wool--and negro blood from some far fount of tropic ardor. Her
figure was, if not essentially graceful yet thoroughly symmetrical, and
her head, hands and feet were small and well-shaped. Almost brought up
in her mother's shop, one much haunted by holiday-makers in the town,
she had as little shyness as forwardness, being at once fearless and
modest, gentle and merry, noiseless and swift--a pleasure to eyes,
nerves and mind. The sudden apparition of her in a rose-bud print, to
wait upon the Raymounts the next morning at breakfast, startled them all
with a sweet surprise. Every time she left the room the talk about her
broke out afresh, and Hester's information concerning her was a welcome
sop to the Cerberus of their astonishment. A more striking contrast than
that between her and her two aunts could hardly have been found in the
whole island. She was like a star between two gray clouds of twilight.
But she had not so much share in her own cheerfulness as her poor aunts
had in their misery. She so lived because she was so made. She was a joy
to others as well as to herself, but as yet she had no merit in her own
peace or its rippling gladness. So strong was the life in her that,
although she cried every night over the loss of her mother, she was
fresh as a daisy in the morning, opening like that to the sun of life,
and ready not merely to give smile for smile, but to give smile for
frown. In a word she was one of those lovely natures that need but to
recognize the eternal to fly to it straight; but on the other hand such
natures are in general very hard to wake to a recognition of the unseen.
They assent to every thing good, but for a long time seem unaware of the
need of a perfect Father. To have their minds opened to the truth, they
must suffer like other mortals less amiable. Suffering alone can develop
in such any spiritual insight, or cause them to care that there should
be a live God caring about them.

She was soon a favorite with every one of the family. Mrs. Raymount
often talked to her. And on her side Amy Amber, which name, being
neither crisp nor sparkling, but soft and mellow, did not seem quite to
suit her, was so much drawn to Hester that she never lost an opportunity
of waiting on her, and never once missed going to her room, to see if
she wanted anything, last of all before she went to bed. The only one of
the family that professed not to "think much of her," was the
contemptuous Cornelius. Even Vavasor, who soon became a frequent caller,
if he chanced to utter some admiring word concerning the pretty deft
creature that had just flitted from the room like a dark butterfly,
would not in reply draw from him more than a grunt and a half sneer. Yet
now and then he might have been caught glowering at her, and would
sometimes, seemingly in spite of himself, smile on her sudden
appearance.




CHAPTER VIII.

CORNELIUS AND VAVASOR.


From what I have written of him it may well seem as if such a cub were
hardly worth writing about; but if my reader had chanced to meet him
first in other company than that of his own family, on every one of whom
he looked down with a contempt which although slight was not altogether
mild, he would have taken him for at least an agreeable young man. He
would then have perceived little or nothing of the look of doggedness
and opposition he wore at home; that would have been, all unconsciously,
masked in a just unblown smile of general complaisance, ready to burst
into full blossom for anyone who should address him; while the rubbish
he would then talk to ladies had a certain grace about it--such as
absolutely astonished Hester once she happened to overhear some of it,
and set her wondering how the phenomenon was to be accounted for of the
home-cactus blossoming into such a sweet company-flower--wondering also
which was the real Cornelius, he of the seamy side turned always to his
own people, or he of the silken flowers and arabesques presented to
strangers. Analysis of anything he said would have certified little or
nothing in it; but that little or nothing was pleasantly uttered, and
served perhaps as well as something cleverer to pass a faint electric
flash between common mind and mind. The slouch, the hands-in-pocket
mood, the toe-and-heel oscillation upon the hearth-rug--those flying
signals that self was at home to nobody but himself, had for the time
vanished; desire to please had tied up the black dog in his kennel, and
let the white one out. By keeping close in the protective shadow of the
fashion, he always managed to be well-dressed. Ever since he went to the
same tailor as Vavasor his coats had been irreproachable; and why should
not any youth pay just twice as much for his coats as his father does
for his? His shirt-studs were simplicity itself--single pearls; and he
was very particular about both the quantity and the quality of the linen
showing beyond his coat-cuffs. Altogether he was nicely got up and
pleasant to look upon. Stupid as the conventional European dress is, its
trimness and clear contrast of white and black tends to level up all to
the appearance of gentlemen, and I suspect this may be the real cause of
its popularity.

But I beg my reader to reflect before he sets Cornelius down as an
exceptionally disagreeable young man because of the difference between
his behavior at home and abroad. I admit that his was a bad case, but in
how many a family, the members of which are far from despising each
other, does it not seem judged unnecessary to cultivate courtesy! Surely
this could not be if a tender conscience of the persons and spiritual
rights of others were not wanting. If there be any real significance in
politeness, if it be not a mere empty and therefore altogether
hypocritical congeries of customs, it ought to have its birth,
cultivation and chief exercise at home. Of course there are the manners
suitable to strangers and those suitable to intimates, but politeness is
the one essential of both. I would not let the smallest child stroke his
father's beard roughly. Watch a child and when he begins to grow rough
you will see an evil spirit looking out of his eyes. It is a mean and
bad thing to be ungentle with our own. Politeness is either a true face
or a mask. If worn at one place and not at another, which of them is it?
And there were no mask if there ought not to be a face. Neither is
politeness at all inconsistent with thorough familiarity. I will go
farther and say, that no true, or certainly no profound familiarity is
attainable without it. The soul will not come forth to be roughly used.
And where truth reigns familiarity only makes the manners strike deeper
root in the being, and take a larger share in its regeneration.

Amongst the other small gifts over which Cornelius was too tender to
exhibit them at home, was a certain very small one of song. How he had
developed it would have been to the home-circle a mystery, but they did
not even know that he possessed it, and the thought that they did not
was a pleasant one to him. For all his life he had loved vulgar
mystery--mystery, that is, without any mystery in it except what
appearance of it may come of barren concealment. He never came out with
anything at home as to where he had been or what he was going to do or
had done. And he gloried specially in the thought that he could and did
this or that of which neither the governor, the mater, nor Hester knew
his capability. He felt large and powerful and wise in consequence! and
if he was only the more of a fool, what did it matter so long as he did
not know it? Rather let me ask what better was he, either for the
accomplishment or the concealment of it, so long as it did nothing to
uncover to him the one important fact, that its possessor was neither
more nor less than a fool?

He had been now some eighteen months in the bank, and from the first Mr.
Vavasor, himself not the profoundest of men, had been taken with the
easy manners of the youth combined with his evident worship of himself,
and having no small proclivity towards patronage, had allowed the
aspirant to his favor to enter by degrees its charmed circle. Gathering
a certain liking for him, he began to make him an occasional companion
for the evening, and at length would sometimes take him home with him.
There Cornelius at once laid himself out to please Miss Vavasor, and
flattery went a long way with that lady, because she had begun to
suspect herself no longer young or beautiful. Her house was a dingy
little hut in Mayfair, full of worthless pictures and fine old-fashioned
furniture. Any piece of this she would for a long time gladly have
exchanged for a new one in the fashion, but as soon as she found such
things themselves the fashion, her appreciation of them rose to such
fervor that she professed an unchangeable preference for them over
things of any modern style whatever. Cornelius soon learned what he must
admire and what despise if he would be in tune with Miss Vavasor, to the
false importance of being one of whose courtiers he was so much alive
that he counted it one of the most precious of his secrets; none of his
family had heard of Mr. Vavasor even, before the encounter at the
aquarium.

From Miss Vavasor's Cornelius had been invited to several other houses,
and the consequence was that he looked from an ever growing height upon
his own people, judging not one of them fit for the grand company to
which his merits, unappreciated at home, had introduced him. He began to
take private lessons in dancing and singing, and as he possessed a
certain natural grace, invisible when he was out of humor, but always
appearing when he wanted to please, and a certain facility of imitation
as well, he was soon able to dance excellently, and sing with more or
less dullness a few songs of the sort fashionable at the time. But he
took so little delight in music or singing for its own sake that in any
allusion to his sister's practicing he would call it _an infernal
row_.

He was not a little astonished, was perhaps a little annoyed at the
impression made by his family in general, and Hester in particular, upon
one in whose judgment he had placed unquestioning confidence. Nor did he
conceal from Vavasor his dissent from his opinion of them, for he felt
that his friend's admiration gave him an advantage--not as member of
such a family, but as the pooh-pooher of what his friend admired. For
did not his superiority to the admiration to which his friend yielded,
stamp him in that one thing at least the superior of him who was his
superior in so many other things? To be able to look down where he
looked up--what was it but superiority?

"My mother's the best of the lot," he said: "--she's the best woman in
the world, I do believe; but she's nobody except at home--don't you
know? Look at her and your aunt together! Pooh! Because she's my mother,
that's no reason why I should think royalty of her!"

"What a cub it is!" said Vavasor to himself, almost using a worse
epithet of the same number of letters, and straightway read him a
lecture, well meant and shallow, on what was good form in a woman.
According to him, not the cub's mother only, but Hester also possessed
the qualities that went to the composition of this strange virtue in
eminent degrees. Cornelius continued his opposition, but modified it,
for he could not help feeling flattered, and began to think a little
more of his mother and of Hester too.

"She's a very good girl--of her sort--is Hester," he said; "I don't
require to be taught that, Mr. Vavasor. But she's too awfully serious.
She's in such earnest about everything--you haven't an idea! One
half-hour of her in one of her moods is enough to destroy a poor
beggar's peace of mind for ever. And there's no saying when the fit may
take her."

Vavasor laughed. But he said to himself "there was stuff in her: what
a woman might be made of her!" To him she seemed fit--with a little
developing aid--to grace the best society in the world. It was not
polish she needed but experience and insight, thought Vavasor, who would
have her learn to look on the world and its affairs as they saw them who
by long practice had disqualified themselves for seeing them in any
other than the artificial light of fashion. Thus early did Vavasor
conceive the ambition of having a hand in the worldly education of this
young woman, such a hand that by his means she should come to shine as
she deserved in the only circle in which he thought shining worth any
one's while; his reward should be to see her so shine. Through his aunt
he could gain her entrance where he pleased. In relation to her and her
people he seemed to himself a man of power and influence.

I wonder how Jesus Christ would carry himself in Mayfair. Perhaps he
would not enter it. Perhaps he would only call to his own to come out of
it, and turn away to go down among the money-lenders and sinners of the
east end. I am only wondering.

Hester took to Vavasor from the first, in an external, meet-and-part
sort of fashion. His bearing was so dignified yet his manner so
pleasing, that she, whose instinct was a little repellent, showed him
nothing of that phase of her nature. He roused none of that inclination
to oppose which poor foolish Corney always roused in her. He could talk
well about music and pictures and novels and plays, and she not only let
him talk freely, but was inclined to put a favorable interpretation upon
things he said which she did not altogether like, trying to see only
humor where another might have found heartlessness or cynicism. For
Vavasor, being in his own eyes the model of an honorable and
well-behaved gentleman, had of course only the world's way of regarding
and judging things. Had he been a man of fortune he would have given to
charities with some freedom; but, his salary being very moderate, and
his aunt just a little stingy as he thought, he would not have denied
himself the smallest luxury his means could compass, for the highest
betterment of a human soul. He would give a half-worn pair of gloves to
a poor woman in the street, but not the price of the new pair he was on
his way to buy to get her a pair of shoes.

It would have enlightened Hester a little about him to watch him for
half an hour where he stood behind the counter of the bank: there he was
the least courteous of proverbially discourteous bank-clerks, whose
manners are about of the same breed with those of hotel-clerks in
America. It ought to be mentioned, however, that he treated those of his
own social position in precisely the same way as less distinguished
callers. But he never forgot to take up his manners with his umbrella as
he left the bank, and his airy, cheerful way of talking, which was more
natural to him than his rudeness, coming from the same source that
afforded the rimes he delighted in, sparkling pleasantly against the
more somber texture of Hester's consciousness. She suspected he was no
profound, but that was no reason why she should not be pleasant to him,
and allow him to be pleasant to her. So by the time Vavasor had spent
three evenings with the Raymounts, Hester and he were on a standing of
external intimacy, if there be such a relation.




CHAPTER IX.

SONGS AND SINGERS.


The evening before the return of Cornelius to London and the durance
vile of the bank, Vavasor presented himself at the hour of family-tea.
Mr. Raymount's work admitting of no late dinner, the evening of the rest
of the family was the freer. They occupied a tolerably large
drawing-room, and as they had hired for the time a tolerably good piano,
to it, when tea was over, Hester generally betook herself. But this time
Cornelius, walking up to it with his hands in his pockets, dropped on
the piano-stool as if he had taken a fancy to it for a seat, and began
to let his hands run over the keys as if to give the idea he could play
if he would. Amy Amber was taking away the tea-things and the rest were
here and there about the room, Mr. Raymount and Vavasor talking on the
hearth-rug--for a moment ere the former withdrew to his study.

"What a rose-diamond you have to wait on you, Mr. Raymount!" said
Vavasor. "If I were a painter I would have her sit to me."

"And ruin the poor thing for any life-sitting!" remarked Mr. Raymount
rather gruffly, for he found that the easier way of speaking the truth.
He had thus gained a character for uncompromising severity, whereas it
was but that a certain sort of cowardice made him creep into spiky
armor. He was a good man, who saw some truths clearly, and used them
blunderingly.

"I don't see why that should follow," said Vavasor, in a softly drawling
tone, the very reverse of his host's. Its calmness gave the impression
of a wisdom behind it that had no existence. "If the girl is handsome,
why shouldn't she derive some advantage from it--and the rest of the
world as well?"

"Because, I say, she at least would derive only ruin. She would
immediately assume to herself the credit of what was offered only to her
beauty. It takes a lifetime, Mr. Vavasor, to learn where to pay our
taxes. If the penny with the image and superscription of Caesar has to
be paid to Caesar, where has a face and figure like that of Amy Amber to
be paid?"

Vavasor did not reply: Mr. Raymount's utterance may perhaps seem obscure
to a better thinker. He concluded merely that his host was talking for
talk's sake, so talking rubbish. The girl came in again, and the
conversation dropped. Mr. Raymount went to his writing, Vavasor toward
the piano. Willing to please Cornelius, whom he almost regarded with a
little respect now that he had turned out brother to such a sister.

"Sing the song you gave us the other night at our house," he said
carelessly.

Hester could hardly credit her hearing. Still more astonished was she
when Cornelius actually struck a few chords and began to sing. The song
was one of those common drawing-room ones more like the remnants of a
trifle the day after a party than any other dish for human use. But
there was one mercy in it: the words and the music went together in a
perfect concord of weak worthlessness; and Hester had not to listen,
with the miserable feeling that rude hands were pulling at the modest
garments of her soul, to a true poem set to the music of a scrannel pipe
of wretched straw, whose every tone and phrase choked the divine bird
caged in the verse.

Cornelius sang like a would-be singer, a song written by a would-be
poet, and set by a would-be musician. Verve was there none in the whole
ephemeral embodiment. When it died a natural death, if that be possible
where never had been any life, Vavasor said, "Thank you, Raymount." But
Hester, who had been standing with her teeth clenched under the fiery
rain of discords, wrong notes, and dislocated rhythm, rushed to the piano
with glowing cheeks and tear-filled eyes, and pushed Cornelius off the
stool. The poor weak fellow thought she was acting the sentimental over
the sudden outburst of his unsuspected talent, and recovering himself
stood smiling at her with affected protest.

"Corney!" she cried--and the faces of the two were a contrast worth
seeing--"you disgrace yourself! any one who can sing at all should be
ashamed to sing no better than that!"

Then feeling that she ought not to be thus carried away, or quench with
such a fierce lack of sympathy the smoking flax of any endowment, she
threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. He received her embrace
like the bear he was; the sole recognition he showed was a comically
appealing look to Vavasor intended to say, "You see how the women use
me! They trouble me, but I submit!"

"You naughty boy!" Hester went on, much excited, and speaking with great
rapidity, "you never let me suspect you could sing any more than a
frog--toad, I mean, for a frog does sing after his own rather monotonous
fashion, and you don't sing much better! Listen to me, and I will show
you how the song ought to have been sung. It's not worth a straw, and
it's a shame to sing it, but if it be sung at all, it might as well be
sung as well as it might!"

So saying she seated herself at the piano.

This convulsion was in Hester's being a phenomenon altogether new, for
never before had she been beside herself in the presence of another.

She gazed for a moment at the song on the rest before her, then summoned
as with a command the chords which Corney had seemed to pick up from
among his feet, and began. The affect of her singing upon the song was
as if the few poor shivering plants in the garden of March had every one
blossomed at once. The words and music both were in truth as worthless
as she had said; but they were words, and it was music, and words have
always some meaning, and tones have always some sweetness; all the
meaning and all the sweetness in the song Hester laid hold of, drew out,
made the best of; while all the feeble element of the dramatic in it she
forced, giving it an expression far beyond what could have been in the
mind of the writer capable of such inadequate utterance--with the result
that it was a different song altogether from that which Cornelius had
sung. She gave the song such a second birth, indeed, that a tolerable
judge might have taken it, so hearing it for the first time, for what it
was not--a song with some existence of its own, some distinction from a
thousand other wax flowers dipped in sugar-water for the humming-birds
of society. The moment she ended, she rose ashamed, and going to the
window looked out over the darkening sea.

Vavasor had not heard her sing before. He did not even know she cared
for music; for Hester, who did not regard her faculty as an
accomplishment but as a gift, treated it as a treasure to be hidden for
the day of the Lord rather than a flag to be flaunted in a civic
procession--was jealously shy over it, as a thing it would be
profanation to show to any but loving eyes. To utter herself in song to
any but the right persons, except indeed it was for some further and
higher end justifying the sacrifice, appeared to her a kind of
immodesty, a taking of her heart from its case, and holding it out at
arm's length. He was astonished and yet more delighted. He was in the
presence of a power! But all he knew of power was in society-relations.
It was not a spirit of might he recognized, for the opening of minds and
the strengthening of hearts, but an influence of pleasing for
self-aggrandizement. Feeling it upon himself, he thought of it in its
operation upon others, and was filled with a respect rising almost to
the height of what reverence he was capable of. He followed her swiftly
to the window, and through the gathering shadows of the evening she saw
his eyes shine as he addressed her.

"I hardly know what I am about, Miss Raymount," he said, "except that I
hear my own voice daring to address the finest non-professional singer I
have ever yet heard."

Hester, to her own disgust and annoyance, felt her head give itself a
toss she had never intended; but it was a true toss nevertheless, for
she neither liked having attracted his admiration by such a song, nor
the stress he laid on the word _non-professional_: did it not imply
that she was not songstress enough for the profession of song?

"Excuse me, Mr. Vavasor, but how do you know I am not a professional
singer?" she said with some haughtiness.

"Had you been," answered Vavasor with concealed caution, "I should have
learned the fact from your brother."

"Have you learned from him that I could sing at all?"

"To confess the strange truth, he never told me you were musical."

"Very well?"

"I beg your pardon."

"I mean, how then do you know I am not a professional singer?"

"All London would have known it."

This second reply, better conceived, soothed Hester's vanity--of which
she had more than was good for her, seeing the least speck of it in the
noblest is a fly in the cream.

"What would you say," she rejoined, "if Corney were to tell to you that
the reason of his silence was that, while I was in training, we judged
it more prudent, with possible failure ahead, to be silent?"

"I should say you cherished a grand ambition, and one in which you could
not fail of success," replied Vavasor, who began to think she was
leading him gently to the truth.

But Hester was in a wayward mood, and inclined to _prospect_.

"Suppose such was not really Corney's reason," she resumed, "but that he
thought it degraded him to be the brother of an intended
professional--what would you say to that?"

"I should tell him he was a fool. He cannot know his Burke," he added
laughingly, "to be ignorant of the not inconsiderable proportion of
professional blood mixed with the blue in our country."

It was not in Vavasor's usual taste: he had forgotten his best manners.
But in truth he never had any best manners: comparatively few have
anything but second-best, as the court of the universe will one day
reveal. Hester did not like the remark, and he fancied from her look she
had misunderstood him.

"Many a singer and actress too has married a duke or a marquis," he
supplemented in explanation.

"What sort of a duke or marquis?" asked Hester, in a studiedly wooden
way. "It was the more shame to them," she added.

"Pardon me. I cannot allow that it would be any shame to the best of our
nobility--"

"I beg your pardon--I meant to the professionals," interrupted Hester.

Vavasor was posed. To her other eccentricities it seemed Miss Raymount
added radicalism--and that not of the palest pink! But happily for him,
Cornelius, who had been all the time making noises on the piano, at this
point appeared at the window.

"Come, Hetty," he said, "sing that again. I shall sing it ever so much
better after! Come, I will play the accompaniment."

"It's not worth singing. It would choke me--poor, vapid, vulgar thing!"

"Hullo, sis!" cried Cornelius; "it's hardly civil to use such words
about any song a fellow cares to sing!"

Hester's sole answer was a smile, in which, and I am afraid it was
really there, Vavasor read contempt, and liked her none the worse for
it. Cornelius turned in offense, went back to the piano, and sang the
song again--not one hair better--in just the same nerveless, indifferent
fashion as before; for how shall one who has no soul, put soul into a
song?

Mrs. Raymount was sitting at the fireside with her embroidery. She had
not spoken since tea, but now she called Hester, and said to her
quietly--

"Don't provoke him, Hester. I am more than delighted to find he has
begun to take an interest in music. It is a taste that will grow upon
him. Coax him to let you teach him--and bear with him if he should sing
out of tune.--It is nothing wicked!" she added with a mother-smile.

Hester was silent. Her conscience rebuked her more than her heart. She
went up to him and said--

"Corney, dear, let me find you a song worth singing."

"A girl can't choose for a man. You're sure to fix on some sentimental
stuff or other not fit to sing!"

"My goodness, Corney!" cried Hester, "what do you call the song you've
just been singing?"

  In the days when my heart was aching
  Like the shell of an overtuned lyre.


"Ha! ha! ha!"

She laughed prettily, not scornfully, then striking an attitude of the
mock heroic, added, on the spur of the moment--

  "And the oven was burning, not baking,
  The tarts of my soul's desire!"


--for at the moment one of those fumes the kitchen was constantly firing
at the drawing-room, came storming up as if a door had been suddenly
opened in yet lower regions. Cornelius was too much offended and
self-occupied to be amused, but both Mrs. Raymount and Vavasor laughed,
the latter recognizing in Hester's extemporization a vein similar to his
own. But Hester was already searching, and presently found a song to her
mind--one, that was, fit for Cornelius.

"Come now, Corney," she said; "here is a song I should like you to be
able to sing!"

With that she turned to the keys, and sang a spirited ballad, of which
the following was the first stanza:

  This blow is for my brother:
    You lied away his life;
  This for his weeping mother,
    This for your own sweet wife;
  For you told that lie of another
    To pierce her heart with its knife.


And now indeed the singer was manifest; genius was plainly the soul of
her art, and her art the obedient body to the informing genius. Vavasor
was utterly enchanted, but too world-eaten to recognize the soul she
almost waked in him for any other than the old one. Her mother thought
she had never heard her sing so splendidly before.

The ballad was of a battle between two knights, a good and a
bad--something like Browning's _Count Gismond_: the last two lines
of it were--

  So the lie went up in the face of heaven
  And melted in the sun.


When Hester had sung these, she rose at once, her face white, her mouth
set and her eyes gleaming. Vavasor felt _almost_ as if he were no
longer master of himself, _almost_ as if he would have fallen down
to kiss the hem of her garment, had he but dared to go near her. But she
walked from the room vexed with the emotion she was unable to control,
and did not again appear.

The best thing in Vavasor was his love of music. He had cultivated not a
little what gift he had, but it was only a small power, not of
production, but of mere reproduction like that of Cornelius, though both
finer and stronger in quality. He did not really believe in music--he
did not really believe in anything except himself. He professed to adore
it, and imagined he did, because his greatest pleasure lay in hearing his
own verses well sung by a pretty girl who would now and then steal, or
try to steal, a glance at the poet from under her eyelids as she sang.
On his way home he brooded over the delight of having his best songs sung
by such a singer as Hester; and from that night fancied he had received
a new revelation of what music was and could do, confessing to himself
that a similar experience within the next fortnight would send him over
head and ears in love with Hester--which must not be! Cornelius went half
way with him, and to his questions arising from what Miss Raymount had
said about the professional, assured him, 'pon honor, that that was all
Hester's nonsense!

"_She_ in training for a public singer!--But there's nothing she
likes better than taking a rise out of a fellow," said Cornelius. "She
would as soon think of singing in public as of taking a bar-maid's place
in a public-house!"

"But why did you never tell me your sister was such an awful swell of a
singer?" asked Vavasor.

"Do you think so? She ought to feel very much flattered! Why I didn't
tell you?--Oh, I don't know! I never heard her sing like that before.
Upon my word I never did. I suppose it was because you were there. A
brother's nobody, don't you know?"

This flattered Vavasor, as how should it not? and without the least idea
of whither the spirit in the feet of his spirit was leading him, he went
as often to the Raymounts' lodging as for very shame of intrusion he
dared--that is, all but every night. But having, as he thought,
discovered and learned thoroughly to understand her special vein, as he
called it, he was careful not to bring any of his own slight windy
things of leaf-blowing songs under Hester's notice--not, alas! that he
thought them such, but that he judged it prudent to postpone the
pleasure: she would require no small amount of training before she could
quite enter into the spirit and special merit of them!

In the meantime as he knew a good song sometimes when he saw it, always
when he heard her sing it, never actually displeased her with any he did
bring under her notice, had himself a very tolerable voice, and was
capable of managing it with taste and judgment, also of climbing upon
the note itself to its summit, and of setting right with facility any
fault explained to him, it came about by a scale of very natural
degrees, that he found himself by and by, not a little to his
satisfaction, in the relation to her of a pupil to a teacher. Hester in
truth gave herself a good deal of trouble with him, in the endeavor, by
no means an unsuccessful one, to improve the quality of his singing--his
style, his expression, and even his way of modeling his tones. The
relation between them became therefore one which, had it then lasted,
might have soon led to something like genuine intimacy--at least to some
truer notion on the part of each of the kind of being the other was. But
the day of separation arrived first; and it was only on his way back to
London that Vavasor began to discover what a hold the sister of his
fellow-clerk had taken of his thoughts and indeed of his heart--of the
existence of which organ he had never before had any very convincing
proof.

All the time he had not once brought his aunt and the Raymounts
together.




CHAPTER X.

HESTER AND AMY.


Hester did not miss Vavasor quite so much as he hoped she might, or as
perhaps he believed she did. She had been interested in him mainly
because she found him both receptive and capable of development in the
matter of music--ready to understand, that is, and willing to be taught.
To have such a man listen with respect to every word she said, never
denying, defending or justifying what she might point out as a fault,
but setting himself at once to the correction of the same, and in
general with some measure of immediate success, could not fail to be not
merely pleasant but flattering to her. Brothers, I suspect, have a good
deal to answer for in the estimation of men by their sisters; their
behavior at home leads them to prize the civilities of other men more
highly than they deserve; brothers, I imagine, have therefore more to do
than they will like to learn, with the making of those inferior men
acceptable to their sisters, whose very presence is to themselves an
annoyance. Women so seldom see a noble style of behavior at home!--so
few are capable of distinguishing between ceremony and courtesy between
familiarity and rudeness--of dismissing ceremony and retaining courtesy,
of using familiarity and banishing rudeness! The nearer persons come to
each other, the greater is the room and the more are the occasions for
courtesy; but just in proportion to their approach the gentleness of
most men diminishes. Some will make the poor defense that it is unmanly
to show one's feelings: it is unmanly, because conceited and cowardly to
hide them, if, indeed, such persons have anything precious to hide.
Other some will say, "Must I weigh my words with my familiar friend as
if I had been but that moment presented to him?" I answer, It were small
labor well spent to see that your coarse-grained evil self, doomed to
perdition, shall not come between your friend and your true, noble,
humble self, fore-ordained to eternal life. The Father cannot bear
rudeness in his children any more than wrong:--my comparison is unfit,
for rudeness is a great and profound wrong, and that to the noblest part
of the human being, while a mere show of indifference is sometimes
almost as bad as the rudest words. And these are of those faults of
which the more guilty a man is, the less is he conscious of the same.

Vavasor did not move the deepest in Hester. How should he? With that
deepest he had no developed relation. There were worlds of thought and
feeling already in motion in Hester's universe, while the vaporous mass
in him had hardly yet begun to stir. To use another simile, he was
living on the surface of his being, the more exposed to earthquake and
volcanic eruption that he had never yet suspected the existence of the
depths profound whence they rise, while she was already a discoverer in
the abysses of the nature gradually yet swiftly unfolding in her--every
discovery attended with fresh light for the will, and a new sense of
power in the consciousness. When Vavasor was gone she turned with
greater diligence to her musical studies.

Amy Amber continued devoted to her, and when she was practicing would
hover about her as often and as long as she could. Her singing
especially seemed to enchant and fascinate the girl. But a change had
already begun to show itself in her. The shadow of an unseen cloud was
occasionally visible on her forehead, and unmistakable pools were left
in her eyes by the ebb-tide of tears. In her service, notwithstanding,
she was nowise less willing, scarcely less cheerful. The signs of her
discomfort grew deeper, and showed themselves oftener as the days went
on. She moved about her work with less elasticity, and her smile did not
come so quickly. Both Hester and her mother saw the change, and marked
even an occasional frown. In the morning, when she was always the first
up, she was generally cheerful, but as the day passed the clouds came.
Happily, however, her diligence did not relax. Sound in health, and by
nature as active as cheerful, she took a positive delight in work. Doing
was to her as natural as singing to the birds. In a household with truth
at the heart of it she would have been invaluable, and happy as the day
was long. As it was, she was growing daily less and less happy.

One night she appeared in Hester's room as usual before going to bed.
The small, neat face had lost for the time a great part of its beauty,
and was dark as a little thunder-cloud. Its black, shadowy brows were
drawn together over its luminous black eyes; its red lips were large and
pouting, and their likeness to a rosebud gone.

Its cheeks were swollen, and its whole aspect revealed the spirit of
wrath roused at last, and the fire alight in the furnace of the bosom.
She tried to smile, but what came was the smile of a wound rather than a
mouth.

"My poor Amy! what is the matter?" cried Hester, sorry, but hardly
surprised; for plainly things had been going from bad to worse.

The girl burst into a passionate fit of weeping. She threw herself in
wild abandonment on the floor, and sobbed; then, as if to keep herself
from screaming aloud, stuffed her handkerchief into her mouth, kicked
with her little feet, and beat her little hands on the floor. She was
like a child in a paroxysm of rage--only that with her its extravagance
came of the effort to overcome it.

"Amy, dear, you mustn't be naughty!" said Hester, kneeling down beside
her and taking hold of her arm.

"I'm not naughty, miss--at least I am doing all I can to get over it,"
she sobbed.

Thereupon she ceased suddenly, and sitting up on the floor, her legs
doubled under her in eastern fashion, looked straight at Hester, and
said thoughtfully, as if the question had just come, with force to make
her forget the suffering she was in--

"I _should_ like to know how you would do in my place--that I
should, miss!"

The words spoken, her eyes fell, and she sat still as a statue, seeming
steadfastly to regard her own lap.

"I am afraid, if I were in your place, I should do nothing so well as
you, Amy," said Hester. "But come, tell me what is the matter. What puts
you in such a misery?"

"Oh, it's not one thing nor two things nor twenty things!" answered Amy,
looking sullen with the feeling of heaped-up wrong. "What _would_
my mother say to see me served so! _She_ used to trust me
everywhere and always! I don't understand how those two prying
suspicious old maids _can_ be _my_ mother's sisters!"

She spoke slowly and sadly, without raising her eyes.

"Don't they behave well to you, my poor child?" said Hester.

"It's not," returned Amy, "that they watch every bit I put in my
mouth--I don't complain of that, for they're poor--at least they're
always saying so, and of course they want to make the most of me; but
not to be trusted one moment out of their sight except they know exactly
where I am--to be always suspected, and followed and watched, and me
working my hardest--that's what drives me wild, Miss Raymount. I'm
afraid they'll make me hate them out and out--and them my own flesh and
blood, too, which can't but be wicked! I bore it very well for a while,
for at first it only amused me. I said to myself, 'They'll soon know me
better!' But when I found they only got worse, I got tired of it
altogether; and when I got tired of it I got cross, and grew more and
more cross, till now I can't _bear_ it. I'm not used to be cross,
and my own crossness is much harder to bear than theirs. If I could have
kept the good temper people used to praise me for to my mother, I
shouldn't mind; but it _is_ hard to lose it this way! I don't know
how to get on without it! If there don't come a change somehow soon, I
shall run away--I shall indeed, Miss Raymount. There are many would be
glad enough to have me for the work I can get through."

She jumped to her feet, gave a little laugh, merry-sad, and before
Hester could answer her, said--

"You're going away so soon, miss! Let me do your hair to-night. I want
to brush it every night till you go."

"But you are tired, my poor child!" said Hester compassionately.

"Not too tired for that: it will rest me, and bring back my good temper,
It will come to me again through your hair, miss."

"No, no, Amy," said Hester, a little conscience-stricken, "you can't
have any of mine. I have none to spare. You will rather brush some into
me, Amy. But do what you like with my hair."

As Amy lovingly combed and brushed the long, wavy overflow of Hester's
beauty, Hester tried to make her understand that she must not think of
good-temper and crossness merely as things that could be put into her
and taken out of her. She tried to make her see that nothing really our
own can ever be taken from us by any will or behavior of another; that
Amy had had a large supply of good-temper laid ready to her hand, but
that it was not hers until she had made it her own by choosing and
willing to be good-tempered when she was disinclined--holding it fast
with the hand of determination when the hand of wrong would snatch it
from her.

"Because I have a book on my shelves," she said, "it is not therefore
mine; when I have read and understood it, then it is a little mine; when
I love it and do what it tells me, then it is altogether mine: it is
like that with a good temper: if you have it sometimes, and other times
not, then it is not yours; it lies in you like that book on my table--a
thing priceless were it your own, but as it is, a thing you can't keep
even against your poor weak old aunts."

As she said all this, Hester felt like a hypocrite, remembering her own
sins. Amy Amber listened quietly, brushing steadily all the time, but
scarcely a shadow of Hester's meaning crossed her mind. If she was in a
good temper, she was in a good temper; if she was in a bad temper, why
there she was, she and her temper! She had not a notion of the
possibility of having a hand in the making of her own temper--not a
notion that she was in any manner or measure accountable in regard to
the temper she might find herself in. Could she have been persuaded to
attempt to overcome it, the moment she failed, as of course every one
will many times, Amy would have concluded the thing required an
impossibility. Yet the effort she made, and with success, to restrain
the show of her anger, was far from slight. But for this, there would,
long ere now, have been rain and wind, thunder and lightning between her
and her aunts. She was alive without the law, not knowing what mental
conflict was; the moment she recognized that she was bound to conquer
herself, she would die in conscious helplessness, until strength and
hope were given her from the well of the one pure will.

Hester kissed her, and though she had not understood, she went to bed a
little comforted. When the Raymounts departed, two or three days after,
they left her at the top of the cliff-stair, weeping bitterly.




CHAPTER XI.

AT HOME.


When the Raymounts reached London, hardly taking time to unpack her box,
Hester went to see her music-mistress, and make arrangement for
re-commencing study with her.

Miss Dasomma was one of God's angels; for if he makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flaming fire, much more are those live fountains
which carry his gifts to their thirsting fellows his angels. Meeting not
very rarely with vulgar behavior in such as regarded her from the
heights of rank or money, she was the more devoted to a pupil who looked
up to her as she deserved, recognizing in her a power of creation. Of
Italian descent, of English birth, and of German training, she had lived
in intimacy with some of the greatest composers of her day, but the
enthusiasm for her art which possessed her was mainly the outcome of her
own genius. Hence it was natural that she should exercise a forming
influence on every pupil at all worthy of her, and without her Hester
could never have become what she was. For not merely had she opened her
eyes to a vision of Music in something of her essential glory, but,
herself capable of the hardest and truest work, had taught her the
absolute necessity of labor to one who would genuinely enjoy, not to say
cause others to enjoy, what the masters in the art had brought out of
the infinite. Hester had doubtless heard and accepted the commonplaces
so common concerning the dignity and duty of labor--as if labor mere
were anything irrespective of its character, its object and end! but
without Miss Dasomma she would not have learned that Labor is grand
officer in the palace of Art; that at the root of all ease lies slow,
and, for long, profitless-seeming labor, as at the root of all grace
lies strength; that ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil, sunk
into the spirit, and making it strong and ready; that never worthy
improvisation flowed from brain of poet or musician unused to perfect
his work with honest labor; that the very disappearance of toil is by
the immolating hand of toil itself. He only who bears his own burden can
bear the burden of another; he only who has labored shall dwell at ease,
or help others from the mire to the rock.

Miss Dasomma was ready to begin at once, and Hester gradually increased
her hours of practice, till her mother interfered lest she should injure
her health. But there was in truth little danger, for Hester was forcing
nothing--only indulging to the full her inclination, eager to perfect
her own delight, and the more eager that she was preparing delight for
others.

They had not been home more than a week, when one Sunday morning, that
is at four o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Vavasor called--which was not
quite agreeable to Mrs. Raymount, who liked their Sundays kept quiet. He
was shown to Mr. Raymount's study.

"I am sorry," he said, "to call on a Sunday, but I am not so enviably
situated as you, Mr. Raymount; I have not my time at my command. When
other people make their calls. I am a prisoner."

He spoke as if his were an exceptional case, and the whole happy world
beside reveled in morning calls.

Mr. Raymount was pleased with him afresh, for he spoke modestly, with
implicit acknowledgment of the superior position of the elder man. They
fell to talking of the prominent question of the day, and Mr. Raymount
was yet more pleased when he found the young aristocrat ready to receive
enlightenment upon it. But the fact was that Vavasor cared very little
about the matter, and had a facility for following where he was led;
and, always preferring to make himself agreeable where there was no
restraining reason, why should he not gratify the writer of articles by
falling in with what he advanced? He had a light, easy way of touching
on things, as if all his concessions, conclusions, and concurrences were
merest matter of course; and thus making himself appear master of the
situation over which he merely skimmed on insect-wing. Mr. Raymount took
him not merely for a man of thought but one of some originality
even--capable at least of forming an opinion of his own, as is, he was
in the habit of averring, not one in ten thousand.

In relation to the wider circle of the country, Mr. Vavasor was so
entirely a nobody, that the acquaintance of a writer even so partially
known as Mr. Raymount was something to him. There is a tinselly halo
about the writer of books that affects many minds the most
_practical_, so called; they take it to indicate power, which, with
most, means ability in the direction of one's own way, or his party's,
and so his own in the end. Since his return he had instituted inquiries
concerning Mr. Raymount, and finding both him and his family in good
repute, complained of indeed as exclusive, he had told his aunt as much
concerning them as he judged prudent, hinting it would give him pleasure
if she should see fit to call upon Mrs. Raymount. Miss Vavasor being,
however, naturally jealous of the judgment of young men, pledged herself
to nothing, and made inquiries for herself. Learning thereby at length,
after much resultless questioning--for her world but just touched in its
course the orbit of that of the Raymounts--that there was rather a
distinguished-looking girl in the family, and having her own ideas for
the nephew whose interests she had, for the sake of the impending title
made her own, she delayed and put off and talked the thing over, and at
last let it rest; while he went the oftener to see the people she thus
declined calling upon.

On this his first visit he stayed the evening, and was afresh installed
as a friend of the family. Although it was Sunday, and her ideas also a
little strict as to religious proprieties, Hester received him cordially
where her mother received him but kindly; and falling into the old ways,
he took his part in the hymns, anthems, and what other forms of sacred
music followed the family-tea: and so the evening passed without
irksomeness--nor the less enjoyably that Cornelius was spending it with
a friend.

The tone, expression, and power of Hester's voice astonished Vavasor
afresh. He was convinced, and told her so, that even in the short time
since he heard it last, it had improved in all directions. And when,
after they had had enough of singing, she sat down and extemporized in a
sacred strain, turning the piano almost into an organ with the sympathy
of her touch, and weaving holy airs without end into the unrolling web
of her own thought, Vavasor was so moved as to feel more kindly disposed
toward religion--by which he meant "going to church, and all that sort
of thing, don't you know? "--than ever in his life before. He did not
call the next Sunday, but came on the Saturday; and the only one present
who was not pleased with him was Miss Dasomma, who happened also to
spend the evening there.

I have already represented Hester's indebtedness to her teacher as such
that therein she would be making discoveries all her life. Devout as
well as enthusiastic, human as well as artistic, she was not an angel of
music only, but had for many years been a power in the family for
good--as indeed in every family in which she counted herself doing
anything worth doing. Much too generous and helpful to have saved money,
she was now, in middle age, working as hard as she had ever worked in
her youth. Not a little experienced in the ways of the world, and
possessing a high ideal in the memories of a precious friendship,
against which to compare the ways of smaller mortals, she did not find
her atmosphere gladdened by the presence of Mr. Vavasor's. With tact
enough to take his cue from the family, he treated her with studious
politeness; but Miss Dasomma did not like Mr. Vavasor. She had to think
before she could tell why, for there is a spiritual instinct also, which
often takes the lead of the understanding, and has to search and analyze
itself for its own explanation. But the question once roused, she
prosecuted it, and in the shadow of a curtain, while Hester was playing,
watched his countenance, trying to read it--to read, that is, what the
owner of that face never meant to write, but could no more help writing
there than he could help having a face. What a man is lies as certainly
upon his countenance as in his heart, though none of his acquaintance
may be able to read it. Their very intercourse with him may have
rendered it more difficult.

Miss Dasomma's conclusion was, that Vavasor was a man of good
instincts--as perhaps who is not?--but without moral development,
pleased with himself, and not undesirous of pleasing others consistently
with his idea of dignity--at present more than moderately desirous of
pleasing Hester Raymount, therefore showing to the best possible
advantage. "But," thought Miss Dasomma, "if this be his best, what may
not his worst be?" That he had no small capacity for music was plain,
but if, as she judged, the faculty was unassociated in him with truth of
nature, that was so much to the other side of his account, inasmuch as
it rendered him the more dangerous. For, at Hester's feet in the rare
atmosphere and faint twilight of music, how could he fail to impress her
with an opinion of himself more favorable than just? To interfere,
however, where was no solid ground, would be to waste the power that
might be of use; but she was confident that if for a moment Hester saw
him as she did, she could no more look on him with favor. At the same
time she did not think he could be meaning more than the mere passing of
his time agreeably; she knew well the character of his aunt, and the
relation in which he stood to her. In any case she could for the present
only keep a gentle watch over the mind of her pupil. But that pupil had
a better protection in the sacred ambition stirring in her. Concerning
that she had not as yet held communication even with the one best able
to understand it. For Hester had already had sufficient experience to
know that it is a killing thing to talk about what you mean to do. It is
to let the wind in upon a delicate plant, requiring a long childhood
under glass, open to sun and air, closed to wind and frost.




CHAPTER XII.

A BEGINNING.


The Raymounts lived in no fashionable or pseudo-fashionable part of
London, but in a somewhat peculiar house, though by no means such
outwardly, in an old square in the dingy, smoky, convenient, healthy
district of Bloomsbury. One of the advantages of this position to a
family with soul in it, that strange essence which _will_ go out
after its kind, was, that on two sides at least it was closely pressed
by poor neighbors. Artisans, small tradespeople, out-door servants, poor
actors and actresses lived in the narrow streets thickly branching away
in certain directions. Hence, most happily for her, Hester had grown up
with none of that uncomfortable feeling so many have when brought even
into such mere contact with the poor as comes of passing through their
streets on foot--a feeling often in part composed of fear, often in part
of a false sense of natural superiority, engendered of being better
dressed, better housed, and better educated. It was in a measure owing
to her having been from childhood used to the sight of such, that her
sympathies were so soon and so thoroughly waked on the side of suffering
humanity. With parents like hers she had never been in danger of having
her feelings or her insight blunted by the assumption of such a relation
to the poor as that of spiritual police-agent, one who arrogates the
right of walking into their houses without introduction, and with at
best but faint apology: to show respect if you have it, is the quickest
way to teach reverence; if you do not show respect, do not at least
complain should the recoil of your own behavior be more powerful than
pleasant: if you will shout on the mountain side in spring, look out for
avalanches.

Those who would do good to the poor must attempt it in the way in which
best they could do good to people of their own standing. They must make
their acquaintance first. They must know something of the kind of the
person they would help, to learn if help be possible from their hands.
Only man can help man; money without man can do little or nothing, most
likely less than nothing. As our Lord redeemed the world by being a man,
the true Son of the true Father, so the only way for a man to help men
is to be a true man to this neighbor and that. But to seek acquaintance
with design is a perilous thing, nor unlikely to result in
disappointment, and the widening of the gulf both between the
individuals, and the classes to which they belong. It seems to me that,
in humble acceptance of common ways, we must follow the leadings of
providence, and make acquaintance in the so-called lower classes by the
natural working of the social laws that bring men together. What is the
divine intent in the many needs of humanity, and the consequent
dependence of the rich on the poor, even greater than that of the poor
on the rich, but to bring men together, that in far-off ways at first
they may be compelled to know each other? The man who treats his fellow
as a mere mean for the supply of his wants, and not as a human being
with whom he has to do, is an obstructing clot in the human circulation.

Does any one ask for rules of procedure? I answer, there are none to be
had; such must be discovered by each for himself. The only way to learn
the rules of any thing practical is to begin to do the thing. We have
enough of knowledge in us--call it insight, call it instinct, call it
inspiration, call it natural law, to begin any thing required of us. The
sole way to deal with the profoundest mystery that is yet not too
profound to draw us, is to begin to do some duty revealed by the light
from the golden fringe of its cloudy vast. If it reveal nothing to be
done, there is nothing there for us. No man can turn his attention in
the mere direction of a thing, without already knowing enough of that
thing to carry him further in the knowledge of it by the performance of
what it involves of natural action. Let every simplest relation towards
human being, if it be embodied but in the act of buying a reel of cotton
or a knife, be recognized as a relation with, a meeting of that human
soul. In its poor degree let its outcome be in truth and friendliness.
Allow nature her course, and next time let the relation go farther. To
follow such a path is the way to find both the persons to help and the
real modes of helping them. In fact, to be true to a man in any way is
to help him. He who goes out of common paths to look for opportunity,
leaves his own door and misses that of his neighbor. It is by following
the path we are in that we shall first reach somewhere. He who does as I
say will find his acquaintance widen and widen with growing rapidity;
his heart will fill with the care of humanity, and his hands with its
help. Such care will be death to one's own cares, such help balm to
one's own wounds. In a word, he must cultivate, after a simple human
manner, the acquaintance of his neighbors, who would be a neighbor where
a neighbor may be wanted. So shall he fulfil the part left behind of the
work of the Master, which He desires to finish through him.

Of course I do not imagine that Hester understood this. She had no
theory of carriage towards the poor, neither confined her hope of
helping to them. There are as many in every other class needing help as
among the poor, and the need, although it wear different dresses, is
essentially the same in all. To make the light go up in the heart of a
rich man, if a more difficult task, is just as good a deed as to make it
go up in the heart of a poor man. But with her strong desire to carry
help where it was needed, with her genuine feeling of the blood
relationship of all human beings, with her instinctive sense that one
could never begin too soon to do that which had to be done, she was in
the right position to begin; and from such a one opportunity will not be
withheld.

She went one morning into a small shop in Steevens's Road, to buy a few
sheets of music-paper. The woman who kept it had been an acquaintance
almost from the first day of their abode in the neighborhood. In the
course of their talk Mrs. Baldwin mentioned that she was in some anxiety
about a woman in the house who was far from well, and in whom she
thought Mrs. Raymount would be interested,

"Mamma is always ready," said Hester, "to help where she can. Tell me
about her."

"Well, you see, miss," replied Mrs. Baldwin, "we're not in the way of
having to do with such people, for my husband's rather particular about
who he lets the top rooms to; only let them we must to one or another,
for times is hard an' children is many, an' it's all as we can do to pay
our way an' nothing over; only thank God we've done it up to this
present; an' the man looked so decent, as well as the woman, an' that
pitiful-like--more than she did--that I couldn't have the heart to send
them away such a night as it was, bein' a sort o' drizzly an' as cold as
charity, an' the poor woman plainly not in a state to go wanderin' about
seekin' a place to lay her head; though to be sure there's plenty o'
places for such like, only as the poor man said himself, they did want
to get into a decent place, which it wasn't easy to get e'er a one as
would take them in. They had three children with them, the smallest o'
them pickaback on the biggest; an' it's strange, miss--I never could
compass it, though I atten' chapel reg'lar--how it goes to yer heart I
mean, to see one human bein' lookin' arter another! But my husban', as
was natural, he bein' a householder, an' so many of his own, was shy o'
children; for children, you know, miss, 'cep' they be yer own, ain't
nice things about a house; an' them poor things wouldn't be a credit
nowheres, for they're ragged enough--an' a good deal more than enough
--only they were pretty clean, as poor children go, an' there was
nothing, as I said to him, in the top-rooms, as they could do much harm
to. The man said theirs weren't like other children, for they had been
brought up to do the thing as they were told, an' to remember that
things that belonged to other people was to be handled as sich; an',
said he, they were always too busy earnin' their bread to be up to
tricks, an' in fact were always too tired to have much spare powder to
let off; so the long an' short on it was, we took 'em in, an' they've
turned out as quiet an' well-behaved a family as you could desire; an'
if they ain't got jest the most respectable way o' earnin' their
livelihood, that may be as much their misfortin as their fault, as my
husband he said. An' I'm sure it's not lettin' lodgin's to sich I ever
thought I should come to--though, for the matter o' that, I never could
rightly understand what made one thing respectable an' another not."

"What is their employment then?" asked Hester.

"Something or other in the circus-way, as far as I can make out from
what they tell me. Anyway they didn't seem to have no engagement when
they come to the door, but they paid the first week down afore they
entered. You see, miss, the poor woman she give me a kind of a look up
into the face that reminded me of my Susie, as I lost, you know, miss, a
year ago--it was that as made me feel to hate the thought of sending her
away. Oh, miss, ain't it a mercy everybody ain't so like your own! We'd
have to ruin ourselves for them--we couldn't help it!"

"It will come to that one day, though," said Hester to herself, "and
then we sha'n't he ruined either."

"So then!" Mrs. Baldwin went on, "the very next day as was, the doctor
had to be sent for, an' there was a babby! The doctor he come from the
'ospital, as nice a gentleman as you'd wish to see, miss, an' waited on
her as if she'd been the first duchess in the land. 'I'm sure,' said my
good husban' to me, 'it's a lesson to all of us to see how he do look
after her as'll never pay him a penny for the care as he's takin' of
her!' But my husban' he's that soft hearted, miss, where anything i' the
baby-line's a goin' on! an' now the poor thing's not at all strong, an'
ain't a-gettin' back of her stren'th though we do what we can with her,
an' send her up what we can spare. You see they pay for their
house-room, an' then ain't got much over!" added the good woman in
excuse of her goodness. "But I fancy it's more from anxiety as to what's
to come to them, than that anything's gone wrong with her. They're not
out o' money yet quite, I'm glad to say, though he don't seem to ha' got
nothing to do yet, so far as I can make out; they're rather close like.
That sort o' trade, ye see, miss, the demand's not steady in it. It's
not like skilled labor, as my husban' says; though to see what them
young ones has to go through, it's labor enough an' to spare; an' if it
ain't just what they call skilled, it's what no one out o' the trade can
make a mark at. Would you mind goin' up an' havin' a look at her, miss?"

Hester begged Mrs. Baldwin to lead the way, and followed her up the
stairs.

The top-rooms were two poor enough garret ones, nowise too good, it
seemed to Hester, for the poorest of human kind. In the largest, the
ceiling sloped to the floor till there was but just height enough left
for the small chest of drawers of painted deal to stand back to the
wall. A similar washstand and a low bed completed the furniture. The
last was immediately behind the door, and there lay the woman, with a
bolster heightened by a thin petticoat and threadbare cloak under her
head. Hester saw a pale, patient, worn face, with eyes large,
thoughtful, and troubled.

"Here's a kind lady come to see you, Mrs.!" said her landlady.

This speech annoyed Hester. She hated to be called kind, and perhaps
spoke the more kindly to the poor woman that she was displeased with
Mrs. Baldwin's patronizing of her.

"It's dreary for you to lie here alone, I'm afraid," she said, and
stroked the thin hand on the coverlid. "May I sit a few minutes beside
you? I was once in bed for a whole month, and found it very wearisome. I
was at school then. I don't mind being ill when I have my mother."

The woman gazed up at her with eyes that looked like the dry wells of
tears.

"It's very kind of you, miss!" she said. "It's a long stair to come
up."

She lay and gazed, and said nothing more. Her life was of a negative
sort just at present. Her child lay asleep on her arm, a poor little
washed-out rag of humanity, but evidently dear from the way she now and
then tried to look at it, which was not easy to her.

Hester sat down and tried to talk, but partly from the fear of tiring
one too weak to answer more than a word now and then, she found it hard
to get on. Religion she could not talk off-hand. Once in her life she
had, from a notion of duty, made the attempt, with the consequence of
feeling like a hypocrite. For she found herself speaking so of the
things she fed on in her heart as to make them look to herself the
merest commonplaces in the world! Could she believe in them, and speak
of them, with such dull dogmatic stupidity? She came to the conclusion
that she had spoken without a message, and since then she had taken care
not to commit the offence again.

A dead silence came.

"What can be the good of a common creature like me going to visit
people?" she said to herself. "I have nothing to say--feel nothing in
me--but a dull love that would bless if it could! And what would words
be if I had them?"

For a few moments she sat thus silent, growing more and more
uncomfortable. But just ere the silent became unendurable, a thought
appeared in the void.

"What a fool I am!" she said again to herself. "I am like little Mark
when he cried because he had only a shilling and saw a boy spend a penny
on a lovely spotted horse! Here have I been all my life wanting to give
my fellow-creatures a large share of my big cake, and the first time I
have an opportunity, I forget all about it! Here it lies locked in my
chest, like a dead bird in its cage!"

A few more moments she sat silent but no longer embarrassed thinking how
to begin. The baby woke and began to whimper. The mother, who rarely let
him off her arm, because then she was not able to take him till help
came, drew him to her, and began to nurse him; and the heart of the
young, strong woman was pierced to the quick at sight of how ill fitted
was the mother for what she had to do. "Can God be love?" she said to
herself. "If I could help her! It will go on like this for weeks and
months, I suppose!"

She had yet to learn that the love of God is so deep he can be satisfied
with nothing less than getting as near as it is possible for the Father
to draw nigh to his children--and that is into absolute contact of heart
with heart, love with love, being with being. And as that must be
wrought out from the deepest inside, divine law working itself up
through our nature into our consciousness and will, and claiming us as
divine, who can tell by what slow certainties of approach God is drawing
nigh to the most suffering of his creatures? Only, if we so comfort
ourselves with such thoughts as to do nothing, we, when God and they
meet, shall find ourselves out in the cold--cold infinitely worse than
any trouble this world has to show. The baby made no complaint against
the slow fountain of his life, but made the best he could of it, while
his mother every now and then peered down on him as lovingly as ever
happy mother on her first-born. The same God is at the heart of all
mothers, and all sins against children are against the one Father of
children, against the Life itself.

A few moments only, and Hester began to sing--low and soft. Having no
song sought out for the occasion, she took a common hymn, sung in all
churches and chapels, with little thought or feeling in it, the only one
she could think of. I need not say she put into it as much of sweetness
and smoothing strength as she could make the sounds hold, and so perhaps
made up a little for its lack. It is a curious question why sacred song
should so often be dull and commonplace. With a trembling voice she
sang, and with more anxiety and shyness than she remembered having ever
felt. It was neither a well-instructed nor critically disposed audience
she had, but the reason was that never before had she been so anxious
for some measure of success. Not daring to look up, she sat like one
rebuked, with the music flowing over her lips like the slow water from
the urn of some naiad of stone fountain. She had her reward; for when
the hymn was done, and she at length ventured to raise her eyes, she saw
both mother and babe fast asleep. Her heart ascended on a wave of thanks
to the giver of song. She rose softly, crept from the house, and
hastened home to tell her mother what she had heard and seen. The same
afternoon a basket of nice things arrived at the shop for the poor
lodger in the top-room.

The care of the Raymounts did not relax till she was fairly on her feet
again; neither till then did a day pass on which Hester did not see her,
and scarcely one on which she did not sing to her and her baby. Several
times she dressed the child, singing to him all the time. It was
generally in the morning she went, because then she was almost sure to
find them alone. Of the father she had seen next to nothing. On the few
occasions when he happened to be at home, the moment she entered he
crept out, with a shy, humble salutation, as if ashamed of himself. All
she had ever had time to see was that he was a man of middle height,
with a strong face and frame, dressed like a workman. The moment he rose
to go, his three boys rose also, and following him from the room seemed
to imitate his salutation as they passed her--all but the youngest, who
made her a profound bow accompanied by a wonderful smile. The eldest was
about the age of twelve, the youngest about seven. They were rather
sickly looking, but had intelligent faces and inoffensive expressions.

Mrs. Baldwin continued to bear the family good witness. She confessed
they never seemed to have much to eat, but said they paid their lodgings
regularly, and she had nothing to complain of. The place had indeed been
untidy, not to say dirty, at first, but as soon as the mother was about
again, it began to amend, and now, really, for people in their position,
it was wonderfully well.




CHAPTER XIII.

A PRIVATE EXHIBITION.


Hester had not been near them for two or three days. It was getting
dusk, but she would just run across the square and down the street, and
look in upon them for a moment. She had not been brought up to fear
putting her foot out of doors unaccompanied. It was but a few steps, and
she knew almost every house she had to pass. To-morrow was Sunday, and
she felt as if she could not go to church without having once more seen
the little flock committed in a measure to her humble charge. Not that
she imagined anything sole in her relation towards them; for she had
already begun to see that we have to take care of _parts_ of each
other, those parts, namely, which we can best help. From the ambition
both of men and women to lord it over individuals have arisen worse
evils perhaps than from a wider love of empery. When a man desires
personal influence or power over any one, he is of the thieves and
robbers who enter not in by the door. But the right and privilege of
ministering belongs to every one who has the grace to claim it and be a
fellow-worker with God.

Hester found Mrs. Baldwin busy in the shop, and with a nod passed her,
and went up the stair. But when she opened the door, she stood for a
moment hesitating whether to enter, or close it again with an apology
and return, for it seemed as if preparations for a party had been made.
The bed was pushed to the back of the room, and the floor was empty,
except for a cushion or two, like those of an easy chair, lying in the
middle of it. The father and the three boys were standing together near
the fire, like gentlemen on the hearth-rug expecting visitors. She
glanced round in search of the mother. Some one was bending over the bed
in the farther corner; the place was lighted with but a single candle,
and she thought it was she, stooping over her baby; but a moment's gaze
made it plain that the back was that of a man: could it be the doctor
again? Was the poor woman worse? She entered and approached the father,
who then first seeing who it was that had knocked and looked in, pulled
off the cap he invariably wore, and came forward with a bashful yet
eager courtesy.

"I hope your wife is not worse," said Hester.

"No', miss, I hope not. She's took a bit bad. We can't always avoid it
in our profession, miss."

"I don't understand you," she answered, feeling a little uneasy.--Were
there horrors to be revealed of which she had surmised nothing?

"If you will do us the honor to take a seat, miss, we shall be only too
happy to show you as much as you may please to look upon with favor."

Hester shuddered involuntarily, but mastered herself. The man saw her
hesitate, and resumed.

"You see, miss, this is how it was. Dr. Christopher--that's the
gentleman there, a lookin' after mother--he's been that kind to her an'
me an' all on us in our trouble, an' never a crown-piece to offer
him--which I'm sure no lady in the land could ha' been better attended
to than she've been--twixt him an' you, miss--so we thought as how we'd
do our best for him, an' try an' see whether amongst us we couldn't give
him a pleasant evenin' as it were, just to show as we was grateful. So
we axed him to tea, an' he come, like the gen'leman he be, an' so we
shoved the bed aside an' was showin' him a bit on our craft, just a
trick or two, miss--me an' the boys here--stan' forward, Robert an' the
rest of you an' make your bows to the distinguished company as honors
you with their presence to cast an eye on you an' see what you can show
yourselves capable of."

Here Mr. Christopher--Hester had not now heard his name for the first
time, though she had never seen him before--turned, and approached them.

"She'll be all right in a minute or two, Franks," he said.

"You told her, doctor, the boy ain't got the smallest hurt? It 'ud break
my heart nigh as soon as hers to see the Sarpint come to grief."

"She knows that well enough; only, you see, we can't always help letting
the looks of things get a hold of us in spite of the facts. That's how
so many people come to go out of their wits. But I think for the present
it will be better to drop it."

Franks turned to Hester to explain.

"One of the boys, miss--that's him--not much of him--the young Sarpint
of the Prairie, we call him in the trade--he don't seem to ha' much
amiss with him, do he now, miss?--he had a bit of a fall--only on them
pads--a few minutes ago, the more shame to the Sarpint, the rascal!"
Here he pretended to hit the Sarpint, who never moved a coil in
consequence, only smiled. "But he ain't the worse, never a hair--or a
scale I should rather say, to be kensistent. Bless you, we all knows how
to fall equally as well's how to get up again! Only it's the most
remarkable thing, an' you would hardly believe it of any woman, miss,
though she's been married fourteen years come next Candlemas, an' use
they say's a second natur', it's never proved no second nor no third
natur' with her, for she's got no more used to seein' the children, if
it's nothin' but standin' on their heads, than if it was the first time
she'd ever heard o' sich a thing. An' for standin' on my head--I don't
mean me standin' on my own head, that she don't mind no more'n if it was
a pin standin' on its head, which it's less the natur' of a pin to do,
as that's the way she first made acquaintance with me, seein' me for the
first time in her life upside down, which I think sometimes it would be
the better way for women to choose their husbands in general, miss, for
it's a bad lot we are! But as to seein' of her own flesh an' blood,
that's them boys, all on 'em, miss, a standin' on my head, or it might
be one on my head an' the other two on my shoulders, that she never come
to look at fair. She can't abide it, miss. By some strange okylar
delusion she takes me somehow for somewheres about the height of St.
Paul's, which if you was to fall off the ball, or even the dome of the
same, you _might_ break your neck an' a few bones besides, miss.
But bless you, there ain't no danger, an' she knows too, there ain't,
only, as the doctor says, she can't abide the look o' the thing. You
see, miss, we're all too much taken wi' the appearance o' things--the
doctor's right there!--an' if it warn't for that, there's never a
juggler could get on with his tricks, for it's when you're so taken up
with what he wants you to see, that he does the thing he wants you not
to see. But as the doctor thinks it better to drop it, it's drop it we
will, an' wait till a more convenient time--that is, when mother'll be a
bit stronger. For I hope neither you, miss, nor the doctor, won't give
us up quite, seem' as how we have a kind of a claim upon you--an' no
offense, miss, to you, or Mr. Christopher, sir!"

Hester, from whose presence the man had hitherto always hastened to
disappear, was astonished at this outpouring; but Franks was emboldened
by the presence of the doctor. The moment, however, that his wife heard
him give up thus their little private exhibition in honor of the doctor,
she raised herself on her elbow.

"Now, you'll do no such a thing, John Franks!" she said with effort."
It's ill it would become me, for my whims, as I can't help, no more nor
the child there, to prewent you from showin' sich a small attention to
the gentleman as helped me through my trouble--God bless him, for it
can't be no pleasure! So I'm not agoin' to put on no airs as if I was
a fine lady. I've got to get used to't--that's the short an' the long
of it!--Only I'm slow at it!" she added with a sigh, "Up you go, Moxy!"

Franks looked at the doctor. The doctor nodded his head as much as to
say, "You had better do as she wishes;" but Hester saw that the eyes of
the young man were all the time more watchful of the woman than of the
performance.

Immediately Franks, with a stage-bow, offered Hester a chair. She
hesitated a moment, for she felt shy of Mr. Christopher: but as she had
more fear of not behaving as she ought to the people she was visiting,
she sat down, and became for the first time in her life a spectator of
the feats of a family of acrobats.

There might have seemed little remarkable in the display to one in the
occasional habit of seeing such things, and no doubt to Mr. Christopher
it had not much that was new; but to Hester what each and all of them
were capable of was astonishing--more astonishing than pleasant, for she
was haunted for some time after with a vague idea of prevailing
distortion and dislocation. It was satisfactory nevertheless to know
that much labor of a very thorough and persevering sort must have been
expended upon their training before they could have come within sight of
the proficiency they had gained. She believed this proficiency bore
strong witness to some kind of moral excellence in them, and that theirs
might well be a nobler way of life than many in which money is made more
rapidly, and which are regarded as more respectable. There were but two
things in the performance she found really painful: one, that the
youngest seemed hardly equal to the physical effort required in those
tricks, especially which he had as yet mastered but imperfectly: and it
was very plain this was the chief source of trial to the nerves of the
mother. He was a sweet-looking boy, with a pale interesting face, bent
on learning his part, but finding it difficult. The other thing that
pained Hester, was, that the moment they began to perform, the manner of
the father toward his children changed; his appearance also, and the
very quality of his voice changed, so that he seemed hardly the same
man. Just as some men alter their tone and speak roughly when they
address a horse, so the moment Franks assumed the teacher, he assumed
the tyrant, and spoke in a voice between the bark of a dog and the growl
of a brown bear. But the roughness had in it nothing cruel, coming in
part of his having had to teach other boys than his own, whom he found
this mode of utterance assist him in compelling to give heed to his
commands; in part from his idea of the natural embodiment of authority.
He ordered his boys about with sternness, sometimes even fiercely, swore
at them indeed occasionally, and made Hester feel very uncomfortable.

"Come, come, Franks!" said Mr. Christopher, on one of these outbreaks.

The man stood silent for a moment "like one forbid," then turning to
Miss Raymount first, and next to his wife, said, taking of his cap,

"I humbly beg your pardon, ladies. I forgot what company I was in. But
bless you, I mean nothing by it! It's only my way. Ain't it now,
mates--you as knows the old man?"

"Yes, father; 'tain't nothin' more'n a way you've got," responded the
boys all, the little one loudest.

"You don't mind it, do you--knowin' as it's only to make you mind what
you're about?"

"No, father, _we_ don't mind it. Go ahead, father," said the
eldest.

"But," said Franks, and here interjected an imprecation, vulgarly called
an oath, "if ever I hear one o' you a usin' of sich improper words, I'll
break every bone in his carcase."

"Yes, father," answered the boys with one accord,

"It's all very well for fathers," he went on; "an' when you're fathers
yourselves, an' able to thrash me--not as I think you'd want to, kids--I
sha'nt ha' no call to meddle with you. So here goes!"

Casting a timid glance at Hester, in the assurance that he had set
himself thoroughly right with her, showing himself as regardful of his
boys' manners as could justly be expected of any parent, he proceeded
with his lesson from the point where he had left off.

As to breaking the boys' bones, there hardly seemed any bones in them to
break; gelatine at best seemed to be what was inside their muscles, so
wonderful were their feats, and their pranks so strange. But their
evident anxiety to please, their glances full of question as to their
success in making their offering acceptable, their unconscious efforts
to supply the lacking excitement of the public gaze, and, more than all,
the occasional appearance amidst the marvels of their performance, in
which their bodies seemed mere india-rubber in response to their wills,
of a strangely mingled touch of pathos, prevailed chiefly to interest
Hester in their endeavor. This last would appear in the occasional
suffering it caused Moxy, the youngest, to do as his father required,
but oftener in the incongruity between the lovely expression of the
boy's face, and the oddity of it when it became the field of certain
comicalities required of him--especially when, stuck through between
his feet, it had to grin like a demon carved on the folding seat of a
choir-stall. Its sweet innocence, and the veil of suffering cast over
its best grin, suggesting one of Raphael's cherubs attempting to play
the imp, Hester found almost discordantly pathetic. She could have
caught the child to her bosom, but alas! she had no right. She was
already beginning to become aware of the difficulty of the question as
to when or how much you may interfere with the outward conditions of
men, or help them save through the channels of the circumstance in which
you find them. The gentle suffering face seemed far from its own sphere,
that of a stray boy-angel come to give her a lesson in the heavenly
patience. His mother, whose yellow hair and clear gray eyes were just
like his, covered her eyes with her hand, though she could not well see
him from where she lay, every time he had to do anything by himself.

All at once the master of the ceremonies drew 'himself up, and wiping
his forehead, gave a deep sigh, as much as to say, "I have done my best,
and if I have not pleased you, the more is my loss, for I have tried
hard," and the performance was over.

The doctor rose, and in a manly voice, whose tones were more pleasing to
Hester than the look of the man, which she did not find attractive,
proceeded to point out to Franks one or two precautions which his
knowledge of anatomy enabled him to suggest, with regard to the training
especially of the little Moxy. At the same time he expressed himself
greatly pleased with what his host had been so kind as to show him,
remarking that the power to do such things implied labor more continuous
and severe than would have sufficed to the learning of two or three
trades. In reply, Franks, mistaking the drift of the remark, and
supposing it a gentle remonstrance with what the doctor counted a waste
of labor, said, in a tone that sounded sad in the ears of Hester,

"What's a fellow to do, sir, when he 'ain't got no dinner? He must take
to the work as takes to him. There was no other trade handy for me. My
father he was a poor laborer, an' died early, o' hard work an' many
mouths. My mother lived but a year after him an' I had to do for the
kids whatever came first to hand. There was two on 'em dead 'atwixt me
an' the next alive, so I was a long way ahead o' the rest, an' I
couldn't ha' seen them goin' to the dogs for want o' bread while I was
learnin' a trade, even if I had had one in my mind more than another,
which I never had. I always was a lively lad, an' for want of anything
better to do, for my father wouldn't have us go to work till we was
strong enough, he said--an' for that matter it turned out well when the
hard time came--I used to amuse myself an' the rest by standin' on my
head an' twistin' of my body into all sorts o' shapes--more'n it could
well ha' been meant for to take. An' when the circus come round, I would
make friends wi' the men, helpin' of 'em to look after their horses, an'
they would sometimes, jest to amuse theirselves, teach me tricks I was
glad enough to learn; an' they did say for a clod-hopper I got on very
well. But that, you see, sir, set my monkey up, an' I took a hoath to
myself I would do what none o' them could do afore I died--an' some
thinks, sir," he added modestly, "as how I've done it--but that's
neither here nor there. The p'int is, that, when my mother followed my
father, an' the rest come upon my hands, I was able at once, goin' about
an' showin' off, to gather a few coppers for 'em. But I soon found it
was precious little I could get, no matter what I could do so long as my
clothes warn't the right thing. So long as I didn't look my trade, they
regarded my best as nothing but a clumsy imitation of my betters, an'
laughed at what circus Joe said he couldn't do no better hisself. So I
plucks up heart an' goes to Longstreet, as was the next market-town, an'
into a draper's shop, an' tells 'em what I wanted, an' what it was for,
promisin' to pay part out o' the first money I got, an' the rest as soon
after as I could. The chaps in the shop, all but one on em', larfed at
me; there's always one, or two p'raps, leastways sech as has been my
expearence, sir an' miss, as is better'n most o' the rest, though it's a
good thing everybody's not so soft-hearted as my wife there, or the
world would soon be turned topsy turvey, an' the rogues have all the
money out o' the good folk's pockets, an' them turned beggars in their
turn, an' then the rogues wouldn't give them nothink, an' so the good
ones would die out, an' the world be full o' nothing but damned
rascals--I beg your pard'n, miss. But as I was sayin', though I fared no
better at the next shop nor the next, there was one good woman I come to
in a little shop in a back street, an' she was a resemblin' of yourself,
miss, an' she took an' set me up in my trade, a givin' of me a few
remnants o' colored calico, God bless her! I set to with my needle, an'
I dressed myself as like a proper clown as I could, an' painted my face
beautiful, an' from that time till they was able to do some'at for
theirselves, I managed to keep the kids in life. It wasn't much more,
you see, but life's life though it bean't tip-top style. An' if they're
none o' them doin' jest so well as they might, there's none o' them been
in pris'n yet, an' that's a comfort as long as it lasts. An' when folk
tells me I'm a doin' o' nothink o' no good, an' my trade's o' no use to
nobody, I says to them, says I, 'Beggin' your pardon, sir, or ma'am, but
do you call it nothink to fill--leastways to _nigh_ fill four
hungry little bellies at home afore I wur fifteen?' An' after that, they
ain't in general said nothink; an' one gen'leman he give me
'alf-a-crown."

"The best possible answer you could have given, Franks," rejoined Mr.
Christopher. "But I think perhaps you hardly understood what such
objectors meant to say. They might have gone on to explain, only they
hadn't the heart after what you told them, that most trades did
something on both sides--not only fed the little ones at home, but did
good to the persons for whom the work was done; that the man, for
instance, who cobbled shoes, gave a pair of dry feet to some old man at
the same time that he filled his own child's hungry little stomach."

Franks was silent for a moment, thinking.

"I understand you, sir," he said. "But I think I knows trades as makes a
deal o' money, an' them they makes it out on's the worse an' not the
better. It's better to stand on a fellow's own head than to sell gin;
an' I 'most think it's as good as the fire-work trade."

"You are quite right: there's not a doubt of it," answered Mr.
Christopher. "But mind you," he went on, "I don't for a moment agree
with those who tell you your trade is of no use. I was only explaining
to you what they meant; for it's always best to know what people mean,
even where they are wrong."

"Surely, sir, and I thank you kindly. Everybody's not so fair."

Here he broke into a quiet laugh, so pleased was he to have the doctor
take his part.

"I think," Mr. Christopher went on, "to amuse people innocently is often
the only good you can do them. When done lovingly and honestly, it is a
Christian service."

This rather shocked Hester:--acrobatics a Christian service. With her
grand dawning idea mingled yet some foolish notional remnants. She still
felt as if going to church and there fixing your thoughts on the prayers
and the lessons and the hymns and the sermon was the _serving_ of
God. She turned rather sharply towards the doctor, with a feeling that
honesty called on her to speak; but not a word came to her lips, for the
best of reasons--that not a thought had arisen in answer to his bold
assertion. She was one of the few who know when they have nothing to
say. But Christopher had observed the movement of dissent.

"Suppose," he went on, but without addressing her more than before,
still turning himself almost exclusively to Franks--"Suppose somebody
walking along Oxford Street, brooding over an injury, and thinking how
to serve the man out that had done it to him. All the numberless persons
and things pass him on both sides and he sees none of them--takes no
notice of anything. But he spies a man in Berners Street, in the middle
of a small crowd, showing them some tricks--we won't say so good as
yours, Mr. Franks, but he stops, and stares, and forgets for a moment or
two that there is one brother-man he hates and would kill if he could."

Here Hester found words, and said, though all but inaudibly,

"He would only go away as soon as he had had enough of it, and hate him
all the same!"

"I know very well," answered Christopher, turning now to her, "it would
not make a good man of him: but, except the ways of the world, its best
ways and all, are to go for nothing in God's plans, it must be something
to have the bad mood in a man stopped for a moment, just as it is
something to a life to check a fever. It gives the godlike in the man,
feeble, perhaps nearly exhausted, a fresh opportunity of revival. For
the moment at least, the man is open to influences from another source
than his hate. If the devil may catch a man at unawares when he is in an
evil or unthinking mood, why should not the good Power take his
opportunity when the evil spirit is asleep through the harping of a
David or the feats of a Franks? I sometimes find, as I come from a
theatre where I have been occupied with the interests of a stirring
play, that, with a sudden rush of intelligence, I understand the things
best worth understanding better than before."

The illustration would have pleased Hester much had he said "coming out
of a concert-room," for she was not able to think of God being in a
theatre: perhaps that had some relation to her inability to tell Saffy
why God made the animals: she could have found her a reason why he made
the dogs, but not why he made the monkeys. We are surrounded with things
difficult to understand, and the way most people take is not to look at
them lest they should find out they have to understand them. Hester
suspected scepticism under the remarks of the doctor: most doctors, she
believed, had more than a leaning in that direction. But she had herself
begun to have a true notion of serving _man_ at least; therefore
there was no fear of her not coming to see by and by what serving God
meant. She did serve him, therefore she could not fail of finding out
the word that belonged to the act: no one who does not serve him ever
can find out what serving him means. Some people are constantly rubbing
at their skylights, but if they do not keep their other windows clean
also, there will not be much light in the house: God, like his body, the
light, is all about us, and prefers to shine in upon us sideways: we
could not endure the power of his vertical glory; no mortal man can see
God and live; and he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, shall
not love his God whom he hath not seen. He will come to us in the
morning through the eyes of a child, when we have been gazing all night
at the stars in vain.

Hester rose. She was a little frightened at the very peculiar man and
his talk. She had made several attempts in the dull light, but without
much success, to see him as he watched the contortions of the acrobats,
which apparently he enjoyed more than to her seemed reasonable. But, as
with herself, it was the boy Moxy that chiefly attracted him, though the
show of physical prowess was far from uninteresting to him; and although
what she saw through the smoky illumination of the dip was not
attractive to her, the question remains whether it was really the man
himself she saw, or only an appearance made up of candle gleam and
gloom, complemented by her imagination. I will write what she saw, or
thought she saw.

A rather thick-set man about thirty, in a rough shooting-coat of a
brownish gray with many pockets, a striped shirt, and a black
necktie--if tie it could be called that had so little tie in it; a big
head, with rather thick and long straggling hair; a large forehead, and
large gray eyes; the remaining features well-formed--but rather fat,
like the rest of his not elegant person; and a complexion rather pale.
She thought he had quite a careless, if not a slightly rakish look; but
I believe a man, even in that light, would have seen in him something
manly and far from unattractive. He had a rather gruff but not unmusical
voice, with what some might have thought a thread of pathos in it. He
always reminded certain of his friends of the portrait of Jean Paul in
the Paris edition of his works. He was hardly above the middle height,
and, I am sorry to say, wore his hat on the back of his head, which
would have given Solon or Socrates himself a foolish look. Hester,
however, as she declined his offer to see her home, did not then become
aware of this peculiarity, which, to say the least, would have made her
like him no better.

The next time she went to see the Frankses, which was not for four or
five days, she found they were gone. They had told Mrs. Baldwin that
they were sorry to leave, but they must look for a cheaper lodging--a
better they could not hope to find; and as the Baldwins had just had an
application for the rooms, they felt they must let them go.

Hester was disappointed not to have seen them once more, and made them a
little present as she had intended; and in after times the memory of
them was naturally the more interesting that on Mrs. Franks she had
first made experiment in the hope of her calling, and in virtue of her
special gift had not once nor twice given sleep and rest to her and her
babe. And if it is a fine thing to thrill with delight the audience of a
concert-room--well-dined, well-dressed people, surely it was not a
little thing to hand God's gift of sleep to a poor woman weary with the
lot of women, and having so little, as Hester thought, to make life a
pleasure to her!

Mrs. Franks would doubtless have differed from Hester in this judgment
of her worldly condition, on the ground that she had a good husband, and
good children. Some are always thinking others better off than
themselves: others feel as if the lot of many about them must be
absolutely unbearable, because they themselves could never bear it, they
think. But things are unbearable just until we have them to bear; their
possibility comes with them. For we are not the roots of our own being.




CHAPTER XIV.

VAVASOR AND HESTER.


The visits of Vavasor, in reality to Hester, continued. For a time they
were more frequent, and he stayed longer. Hester's more immediate
friends, namely her mother and Miss Dasomma, noted also, and with some
increase of anxiety, that he began to appear at the church they
attended, a dull enough place, without any possible attraction of its
own for a man like Vavasor: they could but believe he went thither for
the sake of seeing Hester. Two or three Sundays and he began to join
them as they came out, and walk part of the way home with them. Next he
went all the way, was asked to go in, and invited to stay to lunch.

It may well seem strange that Mrs. Raymount, anxious as to the result,
should allow things to go on thus; but, in the first place, she had such
thorough confidence in Hester as not to think it possible she should
fall in love with such a man as Vavasor; and, in the second place, it is
wonderful what weakness may co-exist with what strength, what
worldliness stand side by side with what spirituality--for a time, that
is, till the one, for one must, overcome the other; Mrs. Raymount was
pleased with the idea of a possible marriage of such distinction for her
daughter, which would give her just the position she counted her fit
for. These mutually destructive considerations were, with whatever
logical inconsistency, both certainly operative in her. Then again, they
knew nothing against the young man! He made himself agreeable to every
one in the house. In Addison Square he showed scarce the faintest shadow
of the manner which made him at the bank almost hated. In the square not
only was he on his good behavior as in a private house, but his heart,
and his self-respect, as he would have called his self-admiration, were
equally concerned in his looking his best--which always means looking
better than one's best. Then in Hester's company his best was always
uppermost, and humility being no part of this best, he not merely felt
comfortable and kindly disposed--which he was--but good in himself and
considerate of others--which he was not. There was that in Hester and
his feeling towards her which had upon him what elevating influence he
was yet capable of receiving, and this fact said more for him than
anything else. She seemed gaining a power over him that could not be for
other than good with any man who submitted to it. It had begun to bring
out and cherish what was best in a disposition far from unamiable,
although nearly ruined by evil influences on all sides. Both glad and
proud to see her daughter thus potent, how, thought Mrs. Raymount, could
she interfere? It was plain he was improving. Not once now did they ever
hear him jest on anything belonging to church!--As to anything belonging
to religion, he scarcely knew enough in that province to have any
material for jesting.--If Vavasor was falling in love with Hester, the
danger was for him--lest she, who to her mother appeared colder than any
lady she knew, should not respond with like affection.

Miss Dasomma was more awake. She knew better than Mrs. Raymount the kind
of soil in which this human plant had been reared, and saw more danger
ahead. She feared the young man was but amusing himself, or at best
enjoying Hester's company as some wary winged thing enjoys the flame,
courting a few singes, not quite avoiding even a slight plumous
conflagration, but careful not to turn a delightful imagination into a
consuming reality, beyond retreat and self-recovery. She could not
believe him as careless of himself as of her, but judged he was what he
would to himself call flirting with her--which had the more danger for
Hester that there was not in her mind the idea corresponding to the
phrase. I believe he declined asking himself whither the enjoyment of
the hour was leading; and I fancy he found it more easy to set aside the
question because of the difference between his social position and that
of the lady. Possibly he regarded himself as honoring the low
neighborhood of Addison Square by the frequency of his shining presence;
but I think he was at the same time feeling the good influences of which
I have spoken more than he knew, or would have liked to acknowledge to
himself; for he had never turned his mind in the direction of good; and
it was far more from circumstance than refusal that he was not yet the
more hurtful member of society which his no-principles were surely
working to make him.

Hester was of course greatly interested in him. She had been but little
in society, had not in the least studied men, and could not help being
pleased with the power she plainly had over him, and which as plainly
went on increasing. Even Corney, not very observant or penetrating,
remarked on the gentleness of his behavior in their house. He followed
every word of Hester's about his singing, and showed himself even
anxious to win her approbation by the pains he took and the amount of
practice he went through to approach her idea of song. He had not only
ceased to bring forward his heathenish notions as to human helplessness
and fate, but allowed what at first she let fall as mere hints
concerning the individual mission of every human being to blossom in
little outbursts concerning duty without show of opposition, listening
with a manner almost humble, and seeming on the way to allow there might
be some reality in such things. Whether any desire of betterment was now
awake in him through the power of her spiritual presence, I cannot tell;
but had Mrs. Raymount seen as much of him as Hester, she would have been
yet better justified in her hope of him. For Hester, she thought first,
and for some time, only of doing him good, nor until she imagined some
success, did the danger to her begin.

After that, with every fresh encouragement the danger grew--for just so
much grew the danger of selfcoming in and getting the upper-hand.

I do not suppose that Vavasor once consciously laid himself out to
deceive her, or make her think him better than he thought himself. With
a woman of Hester's instincts, there might have been less danger if he
had; she also would then perhaps have been aware of the present untruth,
and have recoiled. But if he had any he had but the most rudimentary
notion of truth in the inward parts, and could deceive the better that
he did not know he was deceiving. As little notion had he of the nature
of the person he was dealing with, or the reality to her of the things
of which she spoke;--belief was to him at most the mere difference
between decided and undecided opinion. Nay, she spoke the language of a
world whose existence he was incapable at present of recognizing, for he
had never obeyed one of its demands, which language therefore meant to
him nothing like what it meant to her. His natural inborn proclivities
to the light had, through his so seldom doing the deeds of the light,
become so weak, that he hardly knew such a thing as reform was required
of, possible to, or desirable in him. Nothing seemed to him to matter
except "good form." To see and hear him for a few minutes after leaving
her and entering his club, would have been safety to Hester. I do not
mean that he was of the baser sort there, but whatever came up there, he
would meet on its own grounds, and respond to in its own kind.

He was certainly falling more and more into what most people call
_love_. How little regard there may be in that for the other apart
from the self I will not now inquire, but what I may call the passionate
side of the spiritual was more affected in him than ever previously. As
to what he meant he did not himself know. When intoxicated with the idea
of her, that is when thinking what a sensation she would make in his
grand little circle, he felt it impossible to live without her: some way
must be found! it could not be his fate to see another triumph in
her!--He called his world a circle rightly enough: it was no globe,
nothing but surface.--Whether or not she Would accept him he never asked
himself; almost awed in her presence, he never when alone doubted she
would. Had he had anything worthy the name of property coming with the
title, he would have proposed to her at once, he said to himself. But
who with only the most beautiful wife in the world, would encounter a
naked earldom! The thing would be raging madness--as unjust to Hester as
to himself! How just, how love-careful he was not to ask
her--considerate for her more than himself! But perhaps _she_ might
have expectations! That could hardly be: no one with anything would
slave as her governor did, morning, noon and night! True his own
governor was her uncle--there was money in the family; but people never
left their money to their poor relations! To marry her would be to live
on his salary, in a small house in St. John's wood, or Park
Village--perhaps even in Camden Town, ride home in the omnibus every
night like one of a tin of sardines, wear half-crown gloves, cotton
socks, and ten-and-six-penny hats: the prospect was too hideous to be
ludicrous even! Would the sweetness of the hand that darned the socks
make his over-filled shoe comfortable? And when the awful family began
to come on, she would begin to go off! A woman like her, living in ease
and able to dress well--by Jove, she might keep her best points till she
was fifty! If there was such a providence as Hester so dutifully
referred to, it certainly did not make the best things the easiest to
get! How could it care for a fellow's happiness, or even for his leading
a correct life! Would he not be a much better man if allowed to have
Hester!--whereas in all probability she would fall to the lot of some
quill-driver like her father--a man that made a livelihood by drumming
his notions into the ears of people that did not care a brass farthing
about them!--Thus would Vavasor's love-fits work themselves
off--declining from cold noon to a drizzly mephitic twilight.

It was not soon that he risked an attempt to please her with a song of
his own. There was just enough unconscious truth in him to make him a
little afraid of Hester. Commonplace as were in the most thorough sense
the channels in which his thoughts ran, he would not for less than a
fortune have risked encountering her scorn. For he believed, and therein
he was right, that she was capable of scorn, and that of no ordinarily
withering quality: Hester had not yet gathered the sweet gentleness that
comes of long breathing the air of the high countries. It is generally
many years before a strong character learns to think of itself as it
ought to think. While there is left in us the possibility of scorn we
know not quite the spirit we are of--still less if we imagine we may
keep this or that little shadow of a fault. But Hester was far less
ready to scorn on her own account than on the part of another. And if
she had fairly seen into the mind interesting her so much, seen how
poverty-stricken it was, and with how little motion towards the better,
she would indeed have felt a great rush of scorn, but chiefly against
herself for being taken in after such a fool's-fashion.

But he had come to understand Hester's taste so far as to know certain
qualities she would not like in a song; he could even be sure she would
like this one or that; and although of many he could not be certain,
having never reached the grounds of her judgment, he had not yet
offended her with any he brought her--and so by degrees he had generated
the resolve to venture something himself in the hope of pleasing her: he
flattered himself he knew her _style_! He was very fond of the
word, and had an idea that all writers, to be of any account, must
fashion their style after that of this or the other master. How the
master got it, or whether it might not be well to go back to the seed
and propagate no more by cutting, it never occurred to him to ask. In
the prospect of one day reaching the bloom of humanity in the
conservatory of the upper house, he already at odd moments cultivated
his style by reading aloud the speeches of parliamentary orators; but
the thought never came to him that there was no such thing _per se_
as _speaking well_, that there was no cause of its existence except
_thinking well_, were the grandfather, and _something to say_
the father of if--something so well worth saying that it gave natural
utterance to its own shape. If you had told him this, and he had, as he
thought, perceived the truth of it, he would immediately have desired
some fine thing to say, in order that he might say it well! He could not
have been persuaded that, if one has nothing worth saying, the best
possible style for him is just the most halting utterance that ever
issued from empty skull. To make a good speech was the grand thing! what
side it was on, the right or the wrong, was a point unthinkable with
him. Even whether the speaker believed what he said was of no
consequence--except that, if he did not, his speech would be the more
admirable, as the greater _tour de force_, and himself the more
admirable as the cleverer fellow.

Knowing that Hester was fond of a good ballad, he thought at first to
try his hand on one: it could not be difficult, he thought! But he found
that, like everything else, a ballad was easy enough if you could do it,
and more than difficult enough if you could not: after several attempts
he wisely yielded the ambition; his gift did not lie in that direction!
He had, however, been so long in the habit of writing drawing-room
verses that he had better ground for hoping he might produce something
in that kind which the too severe taste of Hester could yet admire! It
would be a great stroke towards placing him in a right position towards
her--one, namely, in which his intellectual faculty would be more
manifest! It should be a love song, and he would present it as one he
had written long ago: as such it would say the more for him while it
would not commit him.

So one evening as he stood by her piano, he said all at once:

"By the bye, Miss Raymount, last night, as I was turning over some songs
I wrote many years ago, I came upon one I thought I should like you just
to look at--not the music--that is worth nothing, though I was proud
enough of it then and thought it an achievement; but the words I still
think are not so bad--considering. They are so far from me now that I am
able to speak of them as if they were not mine at all!"

"Do let me see them!" said Hester, hiding none of the interest she felt,
though fearing a little she might not have to praise them so much as she
would like.

He took the song from his pocket, and smoothed it out before her on the
piano.

"Read it to me, please," said Hester.

"No; excuse me," he answered with a little shyness, the rarest of
phenomena in his spiritual atmosphere; "I _could_ not read it
aloud. But do not let it bore you if--"

He did not finish his sentence, and Hester was already busy with his
manuscript.

Here is the song:

  If thou lov'st I dare not ask thee,
    Lest thou say, "Not thee;"
  Prythee, then, in coldness mask thee,
    That it _may_ be me.

  If thou lov'st me do not tell me,
    Joy would make me rave,
  And the bells of gladness knell me
    To the silent grave.

  If thou lovest not thy lover,
    Neither veil thine eyes,
  Nor to his poor heart discover
    What behind them lies.

  Be not cruel, be not tender;
    Grant me twilight hope;
  Neither would I die of splendor,
    Nor in darkness mope.

  I entreat thee for no favor,
    Smallest nothingness;
  I will hoard thy dropt glove's savor,
    Wafture of thy dress.

  So my love shall daring linger!
    Moth-like round thy flame;
  Move not, pray, forbidden finger--
    Death to me thy blame.


Vavasor had gone half-way towards Mrs. Raymount, then turned, and now
stood watching Hester. So long was her head bent over his paper that he
grew uncomfortably anxious. At length, without lifting her eyes, she
placed it on the stand before her, and began to try its music. Then
Vavasor went to her hurriedly, for he felt convinced that if she was not
quite pleased with the verses, it would fare worse with the music, and
begged she would not trouble herself with anything so childish. Even now
he knew less about music than poetry, he said.

"I wanted you to see the verses, and the manuscript being almost
illegible I had to copy it; so, in a mechanical mood, I copied the music
also. Please let me have them again. I feared they were not worth your
notice! I know it now."

Hester, however, would not yield the paper, but began again to read it:
Vavasor's writing, out of the bank, was one of those irritating hands
that wrong not only with the absence of legibility but with the show of
its presence, and she had not yet got so clear a notion of his verses as
a mere glance of them in print would have given her. Why she did not
quite like them she did not yet know, and was anxious not to be unfair.
That they were clever she did not doubt; they had for one thing his own
air of unassumed ease, and she could not but feel they had some claim to
literary art. This added a little to her hesitation, not in pronouncing
on them--she was far from that yet--but in recognizing what she felt
about them. Had she had a suspicion of the lie he had told her, and that
they were the work of yesterday, it would at once have put leagues
between them, and made the verses hateful to her. As it was, the more
she read and thought, the farther she seemed from a conclusion, and the
time Vavasor stood there waiting, appeared to both of them three times
as long as it really was. At last he felt he was pounded and must try
back.

"You have discovered," he said, "that the song is an imitation of Sir
John Suckling!"

He had never thought of the man while writing it.

"I don't know anything of him," answered Hester, looking up.

Vavasor knew nothing was more unlikely than that she should know
anything of him.

"When did he write?" she asked.

"In the reign of Charles I., I believe," he answered.

"But tell me," said Hester, "where is the good of imitating anyone--even
the best of writers. Our own original, however poor, must be the thing
for us! To imitate is to repudiate our own being."

"That I admit," answered Vavasor, who never did anything original except
when he followed his instincts; "but for a mere trial of skill an
imitation is admissible--don't you think?"

"Oh, surely," replied Hester; "only it seems to me a waste of
time--especially with such a gift as you have of your own!"

"At all events," said Vavasor, hiding his gratification with false
humility, "there was no great presumption in a shy at Suckling!"

"There may have been the more waste," returned Hester. "I would sooner
imitate Bach or even Handel than Verdi."

Vavasor could stand a good deal of censure if mingled with some
praise--which he called appreciation. Of this Hester had given him
enough to restore his spirits, and had also suggested a subject on which
he found he could talk.

"But," he said, "how can it be worse for me to imitate this or that
writer, than for you to play over and over music you could easily
excel."

"I never practice music," answered Hester, "not infinitely better than I
could write myself. But playing is a different thing altogether from
writing. I play as I eat my dinner--because I am hungry. My hunger I
could never satisfy with any amount of composition or extemporization of
my own. My land would not grow corn enough, or good enough for my
necessity. My playing merely corresponds to your reading of your
favorite poets--especially if you have the habit of reading aloud like
my father."

"They do not seem to me quite parallel," rejoined Vavasor, who had
learned that he lost nothing with Hester by opposing her--so long as no
moral difference was involved. In questions of right and wrong he always
agreed with her so far as he dared expression where he understood so
little, and for that very reason, in dread of seeming to have no opinion
of his own, made a point of differing from her where he had a safe
chance. "One may read both poetry and music at sight, but you would
never count such reading of music a reproduction of it. That requires
study and labor, as well as genius and an art _like_ those which
produce it."

"I am equally sure you can never read anything worth reading," returned
Hester, "as it ought to be read, until you understand it at least as
well as the poet himself. To do a poem justice, the reader must so have
pondered phrase and word as to reproduce meaning and music in all the
inextricable play of their lights and shades. I never came near doing
the kind of thing I mean with any music till I had first learned it
thoroughly by heart. And that too is the only way in which I can get to
understand some poetry!"

"But is it not one of the excellences of poetry to be easy?"

"Yes, surely, when what the poet has to say is easy. But what if the
thoughts themselves be of a kind hard to put into shape? There's
Browning!"

Of Browning Vavasor knew only that in his circle he was laughed at--for
in it a man who had made a feeble attempt or two to understand him, and
had failed as he deserved, was the sole representative of his readers.
That he was hard to understand Hester knew, for she understood enough of
him to believe that where she did not understand him he was perhaps only
the better worth understanding. She knew how, lover of music as she was,
she did not at first care for Bach; and how in the process of learning
to play what he wrote she came to understand him.

To her reference to Browning then, Vavasor did not venture a reply. None
of the poetry indeed by him cultivated was of any sort requiring study.
The difficulty Hester found in his song came of her trying to see more
than was there; her eyes made holes in it, and saw the less. Vavasor's
mental condition was much like that of one living in a vacuum or sphere
of nothing, in which the sole objects must be such as he was creator
enough to project from himself. He had no feeling that he was in the
heart of a crowded universe, between all whose great verities moved
countless small and smaller truths. Little notion had he that to learn
these after the measure of their importance, was his business, with
eternity to do it in! He made of himself but a cock, set for a while on
the world's heap to scratch and pick.

When he was gone, leaving his manuscript behind him, Hester set to it
again, and trying the music over, was by it so far enlightened that she
despaired of finding anything in it, and felt a good deal disappointed.

For she was continuing to gather interest in Vavasor, though slowly, as
was natural with a girl of her character. But she had no suspicion
_how_ empty he was, for it was scarcely possible for her to imagine
a person indifferent to the truth of things, or without interest in his
own character and its growth. Being all of a piece herself, she had no
conception of a nature all in pieces--with no unity but that of
selfishness. Her nature did now and then receive from his a jar and
shock, but she generally succeeded in accounting for such as arising
from his lack of development--a development which her influence over him
would favor. If she felt some special pleasure in the possession of that
influence, who will blame her for the weakness?

Women are being constantly misled by the fancy and hope of being the
saviours of men! It is natural to goodness and innocence, but not the
less is the error a disastrous one. There ought surely at least to be of
success some probability as well founded as rare, to justify the
sacrifices involved. Is it well that a life of supreme suffering should
be gone through for nothing but an increase of guilt? It will be said
that patience reaps its reward; but I fear too many patiences fail, and
the number of resultant saints is small. The thing once done, the step
no longer retrievable, fresh duty is born, and divine good will result
from what suffering may arise in the fulfillment of the same. The
conceit or ambition itself which led to the fault, may have to be cured
by its consequences. But it may well be that a woman does more to redeem
a man by declining than by encouraging his attentions. I dare not say
how much a woman is not to do for the redemption of a man; but I think
one who obeys God will scarcely imagine herself free to lay her person
in the arms, and her happiness in the bosom of a man whose being is a
denial of him. Good Christians not Christians enough to understand this,
may have to be taught by the change of what they took for love into what
they know to be disgust. It is very hard for the woman to know whether
her influence has any real _power_ over the man. It is very hard
for the man himself to know; for the passion having in itself a
betterment, may deceive him as well as her. It might be well that a
woman asked herself whether moral laxity or genuine self-devotion was
the more persuasive in her to the sacrifice. If her best hope be to
restrain the man within certain bounds, she is not one to imagine
capable of any noble anxiety. God cares nothing about keeping a man
respectable; he will give his very self to make of him a true man. But
that needs God; a woman is not enough for it. This cannot be God's way
of saving bad men.




CHAPTER XV.

A SMALL FAILURE.


Vavasor at length found he must not continue to visit Hester so often,
while not ready to go further; and that, much as he was in
love--proportionately, that is, to his faculty for loving--he dare not
do. But for the unconventionality of the Raymounts he would have reached
the point long before. He began, therefore, to lessen the number, and
shorten the length of his appearances in Addison Square.

But so doing he became the more aware of the influence she had been
exercising upon him--found that he had come to feel differently about
certain things--that her opinion was a power on his consciousness. He
had nowise begun to change his way; he had but been inoculated, and was
therefore a little infected, with her goodness. In his ignorance he took
the alteration for one of great moral significance, and was wonderfully
pleased with himself. His natural kindness, for instance, towards the
poor and suffering--such at least as were not offensive--was quickened.
He took no additional jot of trouble about them, only gave a more
frequent penny to such as begged of him, and had more than a pennorth of
relief in return. It was a good thing, and rooted in a better, that his
heart should require such relief, but it did not indicate any advanced
stage of goodness, or one inconsistent with profoundest unselfishness.
He prided himself on one occasion that he had walked home to give his
last shilling to a poor woman, whereas in truth he walked home because
he found he had given her his last. Yet there was a little more movement
of the sap of his nature, as even his behavior in the bank would have
testified, had there been any one interested in observing him.

Hester was annoyed to find herself disappointed when he did not appear,
and betook herself to a yet more diligent exercise of her growing
vocation. The question suggested itself whether it might not further her
plans to be associated with a sisterhood, but her family relations made
it undesirable, and she felt that the angle of her calling could ill
consent to be under foreign rule. She began, however, to widen her
sphere a little by going about with a friend belonging to a
sisterhood--not in her own quarter, for she did not wish her special
work to be crossed by any prejudices. There she always went alone, and
seldom entered a house without singing in several of its rooms before
she came away--often having to sing some old song before her audience
would listen to anything new, and finding the old song generally counted
the best thing in her visit--except by the children, to whom she would
frequently tell a fairy tale, singing the little rhymes she made come
into it. She had of course to encounter rudeness, but she set herself to
get used to it, and learn not to resent it but let it pass. One coming
upon her surrounded by a child audience, might have concluded her
insensible of what was owing to herself; but the feeling of what was
owing to her fellows, who had to go such a long unknown way to get back
to the image of God, made her strive to forget herself. It is well that
so many who lightly try this kind of work meet with so little
encouragement; if it had the result they desire, they would be ruined
themselves by it, whatever became of their poor.

Hester's chief difficulty was in getting the kind of song fit for her
purpose; and from it she gained the advantage of reading, or at least
looking into, with more or less of reading as many of the religious
poets recognized in our history as she could lay her hands upon; where
she failed in finding the thing she wanted, she yet often found what was
welcome. She would stop at nearly every book-stall she passed, and
book-stalls were plentiful in her neighborhood, searching for old
hymn-books and collections of poetry, every one of which is sure to have
something the searcher never saw before.

About this time, in connection with a fresh and noble endeavor after
bettering the homes of the poor originated, I had almost said _of
course_, by a woman, the experiment was in several places made of
gathering small assemblies of the poor in the neighborhood of their own
dwellings, that the ladies in charge of the houses in which they lived
might, with the help of friends, give them an unambitious but honestly
attempted concert. At one of these concerts Hester was invited to
assist, and went gladly, prepared to do her best. It had, however, been
arranged that any of the audience who would like to sing, should be
allowed to make their contributions also to the enjoyment of the
evening; and it soon became evident that the company cared for no
singing but that of their own acquaintance; and they, for their part,
were so bent on singing, and so supported and called for each other,
that it seemed at length the better way to abandon the platform to them.
There was nothing very objectionable in the character of any of the
songs sung--their substance in the main was flaunting sentiment--but the
singing was for the most part atrociously bad, and the resulting
influence hardly what the projectors of the entertainment had had in
view. It might be well that they should enjoy themselves so; it might be
well that they should have provided for them something better than they
could produce; but, to judge from the experiment, it seemed useless to
attempt the combination of the two. Hester, having listened through a
half-hour of their singing, was not a little relieved to learn that she
would not be called upon to fulfil her engagement, and the company of
benefactors went home foiled but not too much disappointed for a good
laugh over their fiasco before they parted. The affair set Hester
thinking; and before morning she was ready with a scheme to which she
begged her mother to gain her father's consent.




CHAPTER XVI.

THE CONCERT ROOM.


The house in which they lived, and which was their own, was a somewhat
remarkable one--I do not mean because it retained almost all the
old-fashionedness of a hundred and fifty years, but for other reasons.
Beside the ordinary accommodation of a good-sized London house with
three drawing-rooms on the first floor it had a quite unusual provision
for the receiving of guests. At the top of the first landing, rather
more than half-way up the stair, that is, there was a door through the
original wall of the house to a long gallery, which led to a large and
lofty room, apparently, from the little orchestra half-way up one of the
walls, intended for dancing. Since they had owned the house it had been
used only as a playroom for the children; Mr. Raymount always intended
to furnish it, but had not yet done so. The house itself was indeed a
larger one than they required, but he had a great love of room. It had
been in the market for some time when, hearing it was to be had at a low
price, he stretched more than a point to secure it. Beneath the
concert-room was another of the same area, but so low, being but the
height of the first landing of the stairs, that it was difficult to
discover any use that could be made of it, and it continued even more
neglected than the other. Below this again were cellars of alarming
extent and obscurity, reached by a long vaulted passage. What they could
have been intended for beyond ministering to the dryness of the rooms
above, I cannot imagine; they would have held coal and wood and wine,
everything natural to a cellar, enough for one generation at least. The
history of the house was unknown. There was a nailed-up door in the
second of the rooms I have mentioned which was said to lead into the
next house; but as the widow who lived there took every opportunity of
making herself disagreeable, they had not ventured to propose an
investigation. There was no garden, for the whole of the space
corresponding to the gardens on each side was occupied with this
addition to the original house. The great room was now haunting Hester's
brain and heart; if only her father would allow her to give in it a
concert to her lowly friends and acquaintance!

Questions concerning the condition of the poor in our large towns had,
from the distance of speculation and the press, been of late occupying a
good deal of Mr. Raymount's attention, and he believed that he was
enlightening the world on those most important perhaps of all the social
questions of our day, their wrongs and their rights. He little suspected
that his daughter was doing more for the poor, almost without knowing
it, than he with all his conscious wisdom. She could not, however, have
made her request at a more auspicious moment, for he was just then
feeling specially benignant towards them, an article in which he had, as
he believed, uttered himself with power on their behalf, having come
forth to the light of eyes that very day. Besides, though far from
unprejudiced, he had a horror of prejudice, and the moment he suspected
a prejudice, hunted it almost as uncompromisingly in himself as in
another: most people surmising a fault in themselves rouse every
individual bristle of their nature to defend and retain the thing that
degrades them! He therefore speedily overcame his first reluctance, and
agreed to his daughter's strange proposal. He was willing to make as
much of an attempt towards the establishment of relations with the class
he befriended. It was an approach which, if not quite clear of
condescension, was not therefore less than kindly meant; and had his
guests behaved as well as he, they would from that day have found him a
friend as progressive as steady. Hester was greatly delighted with his
ready compliance with her request.

From that day for nearly a fortnight there were busy doings in the
house. At once a couple of charwomen were turned loose in the great room
for a thorough cleaning, but they had made little progress with what
might have been done, ere Mr. Raymount perceived that no amount of their
cleaning could take away its dirty look, and countermanding and
postponing their proceedings, committed the dingy place to painters and
paperhangers, under whose hands it was wonderful to see how gradually it
put on a gracious look fit to welcome the human race withal. Although no
white was left about it except in the ceiling for the sake of the light,
scarce in that atmosphere, it looked as if twice the number of windows
had been opened in its walls. The place also looked larger, for in its
new harmonies of color, one part led to another, introducing it, and by
division the eye was enabled to measure and appreciate the space. To
Saffy and Mark their playroom seemed transformed into a temple; they
were almost afraid to enter it. Every noise in it sounded twice as loud
as before, and every muddy shoe made a print.

The day for the concert was at length fixed a week off, and Hester began
to invite her poorer friends and neighbors to spend its evening at her
father's house, when her mother would give them tea, and she would sing
to them. The married women were to bring their husbands if they would
come, and each young woman might bring a friend. Most of the men, as a
matter of course, turned up their noses at the invitation, but were
nevertheless from curiosity inclined to go. Some declared it impossible
any house in that square should hold the number invited. Some spoke
doubtfully; they _might_ be able to go! they were not sure! and
seemed to regard consent as a favor, if not a condescension. Of these,
however, two or three were hampered by the uncertainty as to the
redemption of their best clothes from the pawnbroker.

In requesting the presence of some of the small tradespeople, Hester
asked it as a favor: she begged their assistance to entertain their
poorer neighbors; and so put, the invitation was heartily accepted. In
one case at least, however, she forgot this precaution; and the
consequence was that the wife of a certain small furniture-broker began
to fume on recognition of some in her presence. While she was drinking
her second cup of tea her eyes kept roving. As she set it down, she
caught sight of Long Tim, but a fortnight out of prison, rose at once,
made her way out fanning herself vigorously, and hurried home boiling
over with wrath--severely scalding her poor husband who had staid from
his burial-club that she might leave the shop. The woman was not at all
of a bad sort, only her dignity was hurt.

The hall and gallery were brilliantly lighted, and the room itself
looked charming--at least in the eyes of those who had been so long
watching the process of its resurrection. Tea was ready before the
company began to arrive--in great cans with taps, and was handed round
by ladies and gentlemen. The meal went off well, with a good buzz of
conversation. The only unpleasant thing was, that several of the guests,
mindful like other dams of their cubs at home, slipped large pieces of
cake into their pockets for their behoof; but this must not be judged
without a just regard to their ways of thinking, and was not a tenth
part so bad as many of the ways in which well-bred persons appropriate
slices of other people's cakes without once suspecting the category in
which they are doomed to find themselves.

When the huge urns and the remnants of food were at length removed, and
the windows had been opened for a minute to change the air, a curtain
rose suddenly at the end of the room, and revealed a small stage
decorated with green branches and artificial flowers, in the center of
it a piano, on the piano music, and at the piano Hester, now first seen,
having reserved her strength for her special duty.

When the assembly caught sight of her turning over the leaves of her
music, a great silence fell. The moment she began to play, all began to
talk. With the first tone of her voice, every other ceased. She had
chosen a ballad with a sudden and powerfully dramatic opening, and, a
little anxious, a little irritated also with their talking while she
played, began in a style that would have compelled attention from a herd
of cattle. But the ballad was a little too long for them, and by the
time it was half sung they had begun to talk again, and exchange
opinions concerning it. All agreed that Miss Raymount had a splendid
voice, but several of those who were there by second-hand invitation
could find a woman to beat her easily! Their criticisms were,
nevertheless, not unfriendly--in general condescending and patronizing.
I believe most of this class regarded their presence as a favor granted
her. Had they not come that she might show off to them, and receive
their approbation! Amongst the poor the most refined and the
coarsest-grained natures are to be met side by side--egg-china and
drain-tubing in the same shop--just as in _respectable_ circles.
The rudeness of the cream of society is more like that of the unwashed
than that of any intermediate class; while often the manners of the
well-behaved poor are equalled by those only of the best bred in the
country.





CHAPTER XVII.

AN UNINVITED GUEST.


Vavasor had not heard of the gathering. In part from doubt of his
sympathy, in part from dislike of talking about doing, Hester had not
mentioned it. When she lifted her eyes at the close of her ballad, not a
little depressed at having failed to secure the interest of her
audience, it was with a great gush of pleasure that she saw near the
door the face of her friend. She concluded that he had heard of her
purpose and had come to help her. Even at that distance she could see
that he was looking very uncomfortable, annoyed, she did not doubt, by
the behavior of her guests. A rush of new strength and courage went from
heart to brain. She rose and advancing to the front of the little stage,
called out, in a clear voice that rang across the buzz and stilled it.

"Mr. Vavasor, will you come and help me?"

Now Vavasor was in reality not a little disgusted at what he beheld. He
had called without a notion of what was going on, and seeing the row of
lights along the gallery as he was making for the drawing-room, had
changed his direction and followed it, knowing nothing of the room to
which it led. Blinded by the glare, and a little bewildered by the
unexpectedness of the sight, he did not at first discern the kind of
company he had entered; but the state of the atmosphere was
unaccountable, and for a moment it seemed as if, thinking to enter
Paradise, he had mistaken and opened the left-hand door. Presently his
eyes coming to themselves, confirmed the fact that he was in the midst
of a notable number of the unwashed. He had often talked with Hester
about the poor, and could not help knowing that she had great sympathy
with them. He was ready indeed as they were now a not unfashionable
subject in some of the minor circles of the world's elect, to talk about
them with any one he might meet. But in the poor themselves he could
hardly be said to have the most rudimentary interest; and that a lady
should degrade herself by sending her voice into such ears, and coming
into actual contact with such persons and their attendant
disgusts--except indeed it were for electioneering purposes--exposing
both voice and person to their abominable remarks, was to him a thing
simply incomprehensible. The admission of such people to a respectable
house, and the entertainment of them as at a music hall, could have its
origin only in some wild semi-political scheme of the old fellow, who
had more crotchets in his head than brain could well hold! It was a
proceeding as disgraceful as extraordinary! Puh! Could the tenth part of
the air present be oxygen? To think of the woman he worshipped being in
such a hell!

The woman he could honor little by any worship he gave her, was far more
secure from evil eyes and evil thoughts in that company than she would
have been in any drawing-room of his world. Her angel would rather see
her where she was.

But the glorious tones ceased, the ballad was at an end, and the next
moment, to his dismay, the voice which in its poetry he had delighted to
imagine thrilling the listeners in a great Belgravian drawing-room came
to him in prose across the fumes of that Bloomsbury music hall, clear
and brave and quiet, asking him, the future earl of Gartley, to come and
help the singer! Was she in trouble? Had her father forced her into the
false position in which she found herself? And did she seek refuge with
him the moment he made his appearance? Certainly such was not the tone
of her appeal! But these reflections flashing through his brain, caused
not a moment's delay in Vavasor's response. With the perfect command of
that portion of his being turned towards the public on which every man
like him prides himself, and with no shadow of expression on his
countenance beyond that of a perfect equanimity, he was instantly on his
way to her, shouldering a path in the gentlest manner through the
malodorous air.

"This comes," he said to himself as he went, "of her foolish parents'
receiving so little company that for the free exercise of her great
talent she is driven to such as this! For song must have audience,
however unfit! There was Orpheus with his! Genius was always eccentric!
If he could but be her protection against that political father, that
Puritan mother, and that idiotic brother of hers, and put an end to this
sort of thing before it came to be talked about!"

He grew bitter as with smiling face but shrinking soul he made his way
through that crowd of his fellow-creatures whose contact was defilement.
He would have lost them all rather than a song of Hester's--and yet that
he would on occasion have lost for a good rubber of whist with certain
players!

He sprang on the stage, and made her a rather low bow.

"Come and sing a duet with me," she said, and indicated one on the piano
before her which they had several times sung together.

He smiled what he meant to look his sweetest smile, and almost
immediately their duet began. They sang well, and the assembly, from
whatever reason--I fancy simply because there were two singing instead
of one, was a little more of an audience than hitherto. But it was plain
that, had there been another rondo of the duet, most would have been
talking again.

Hester next requested Vavasor to sing a certain ballad which she knew
was a great favorite with him. Inwardly protesting and that with
vehemence against the profanation, he obeyed, rendering it so as could
not have failed to please any one with a true notion of song. His
singing was, I confess, a little wooden, as was everything Vavasor did:
being such himself, how could he help his work being wooden? but it was
true, his mode good, his expression in the right direction. They were
nevertheless all talking before he had ended.

After a brief pause, Hester invited a gentleman prepared for the
occasion to sing them something patriotic. He responded with Campbell's
magnificent song, "Ye Mariners of England!" which was received with
hearty cheers.

He was followed by another who, well acquainted with the predilections
of his audience, gave them a specially sentimental song about a chair,
which was not only heard in silence but followed by tremendous cheering.
Possibly it was a luxury to some who had no longer any grandfather to
kick, to cry over his chair; but, like the most part of their brethren,
the poor greatly enjoy having their feelings gently troubled.

Thus the muse of the occasion was gradually sinking to the intellectual
level of the company--with a consequence unforeseen, therefore not
provided against.




CHAPTER XVIII.

CATASTROPHE.


For the tail of the music-kite--the car of the music-balloon rather,
having thus descended near enough to the earth to be a temptation to
some of the walkers afoot, they must catch at it! The moment the
last-mentioned song was ended, almost before its death-note had left the
lips of the singer, one of the friends' friends was on his feet. Without
a word of apology, without the shadow of a request for permission, he
called out in a loud voice, knocking with his chair on the floor,

"Ladies an' gen'lemen, Mr. William Blaney will now favor the company
with a song."

Thereupon immediately a pale pock-marked man, of diminutive height, with
high retreating forehead, and long thin hair, rose, and at once
proceeded to make his way through the crowd: he would sing from the
stage, of course! Hester and Vavasor looked at each other, and one
whisper passed between them, after which they waited the result in
silence. The countenance approaching, kindled by conscious power and
anticipated triumph, showed a white glow through its unblushing
paleness. After the singing one sometimes hears in drawing-rooms, there
is little space for surprise that some of less education should think
themselves more capable of fine things than they are.

Scrambling with knee and hand upon the stage, for the poor fellow was
feeble, the moment he got himself erect with his face to the audience,
he plunged into his song, if song it could be called, executed in a
cracked and strained falsetto. The result, enhanced by the nature of the
song, which was extremely pathetic and dubiously moral, must have been
excruciation to every good ear and every sensitive nature. Long before
the relief of its close arrived Hester had made up her mind that it was
her part to protect her guests from such. It was compensation no doubt
to some present to watch the grotesque contortions of the singer
squeezing out of him the precious pathos of his song--in which he
screwed his eyes together like the man in Browning's "Christmas Eve,"
and opened his mouth in a long ellipse in the middle of one cheek; but
neither was that the kind of entertainment she had purposed. She sat
ready, against the moment when he should end, to let loose the most
thunderous music in her mental _repertoire_, annoyed that she had
but her small piano on the stage. Vanity, however, is as suspicious of
vanity as hate is of hate, and Mr. Blaney, stopping abruptly in the
middle of the long last note, and in doing so changing the word, with
ludicrous result, from a song to a spoken one, screeched aloud, ere she
could strike the first chord,

"I will now favor the company with a song of my own composure."

But ere he had got his mouth into its singing place in his left cheek,
Hester had risen and begun to speak: when she knew what had to be done,
she never hesitated. Mr. Blaney started, and his mouth, after a moment
of elliptic suspense, slowly closed, and returned, as he listened, to a
more symmetrical position in his face.

"I am sorry to have to interfere," said Hester, "but my friends are in
my house, and I am accountable for their entertainment. Mr. Blaney must
excuse me if I insist on keeping the management of the evening in my own
hands."

The vanity of the would-be singer was sorely hurt. As he was too selfish
for the briefest comparison of himself with others, it had outgrown all
ordinary human proportion, and was the more unendurable that no social
consideration had ever suggested its concealment. Equal arrogance is
rarely met save in a mad-house: there conceit reigns universal and
rampant.

"The friends as knows me, and what I can do," returned Mr. Blaney with
calmness, the moment Hester had ended, "will back me up. I have no right
to be treated as if I didn't know what I was about. I can warrant the
song home-made, and of the best quality. So here goes!"

Vavasor made a stride towards him, but scarcely was the ugly mouth half
screwed into singing-place, when Mr. Raymount spoke from somewhere near
the door.

"Come out of that," he shouted, and made his way through the company as
fast as he could.

Vavasor drew back, and stood like a sentinel on guard. Hester resumed
her seat at the piano. Blaney, fancying he had gained his point, and
that, if he began before Mr. Raymount reached him, he would be allowed
to end in peace, again got his mouth into position, and began to howl.
But his host jumping on the stage from behind, reached him at his third
note, took him by the back of the neck, shoved him down, and walked him
through the crowd and out of the room before him like a naughty boy.
Propelling him thus to the door of the house, he pushed him out, closed
it behind him, and re-entering the concert-room, was greeted by a great
clapping of hands, as if he had performed a deed of valor. But,
notwithstanding the miserable vanity and impudence of the man, it had
gone to Hester's heart to see him, with his low visage and puny form, in
the mighty clutch of her father. That which would have made most despise
the poor creature the more, his physical inferiority, made her pity him,
even to pain!

The moment silence was restored, up rose a burly, honest-looking
bricklayer, and said,

"I beg your pardon, miss, but will you allow me to make one remark!"

"Certainly, Mr. Jones," answered Hester.

"It seems to me, miss," said Jones, "as it's only fair play on my part
as brought Blaney here, as I'm sorry to find behave himself so improper,
to say for him that I know he never would ha' done it, if he hadn't have
had a drop as we come along to this 'ere tea-party. That was the cause,
miss, an' I hope as it'll be taken into account, an' considered a
lucidation of his conduct. It takes but very little, I'm sorry to say,
miss, to upset his behavior--not more'n a pint at the outside.--But it
don't last! bless you, it don't last!" he added, in a tone of extreme
deprecation; "there's not a morsel of harm in him, poor fellow--though I
says it as shouldn't! Not as the guv'nor do anything more'n his duty in
puttin' of him out--nowise! I know him well, bein' my wife's
brother--leastways half-brother--for I don't want to take more o' the
blame nor by rights belong to me. When he've got a drop in his nob, it's
always for singin' he is--an' that's the worst of _him_. Thank you
kindly, miss."

"Thank _you_, Mr. Jones," returned Hester. "We'll think no more of
it."

Loud applause followed, and Jones sat down, well satisfied: he had done
what he ought in acknowledging the culprit for his wife's sake, and the
act had been appreciated.

The order of the evening was resumed, but the harmony of the assembly
once disturbed, all hope of quiet was gone. They had now something to
talk about! Everyone that knew Blaney felt himself of importance: had he
not a superior right of opinion upon his behavior? Nor was he without a
few sympathizers. Was he not the same flesh and blood? they said. After
the swells had had it all their own way so long, why shouldn't poor
Blaney have his turn? But those who knew Hester, especially the women of
them, were indignant with him.

Hester sang again and again, but no song would go quite to her mind.
Vavasor also sung several times--as often, that is, as Hester asked him;
but inwardly he was disgusted with the whole affair--as was natural, for
could any fish have found itself more out of the water than he?
Everything annoyed him--most of all that the lady of his thoughts should
have addressed herself to such an assembly. Why did she not leave it to
him or her father! If it was not degrading enough to appear before such
a canaille, surely to sing to them was! How could a woman of refinement,
justifiable as was her desire for appreciation, seek it from such a
repulsive assemblage! But Vavasor would have been better able to
understand Hester, and would have met the distastes of the evening with
far less discomposure, if he had never been in worse company. One main
test of our dealings in the world is whether the men and women we
associate with are the better or the worse for it: Vavasor had often
been where at least he was the worse, and no one the better for his
presence. For days a cloud hung over the fair image of Hester in his
mind.

He called on the first possible opportunity to inquire how she was after
her exertions, but avoided farther allusion to the events of the
evening. She thanked him for the help he had given her, but was so far
from satisfied with her experiment, that she too let the subject rest.

Mr. Raymount was so disgusted, that he said nothing of the kind should
ever again take place in his house: he had not bought it to make a
music-hall of it!

If any change was about to appear in Vavasor a change in the fortunes of
the Raymounts prevented it.

What the common judgment calls _luck_ seems to have odd
predilections and prejudices with regard to families as well as
individuals. Some seem invariably successful, whatever they take in
hand; others go on, generation after generation, struggling without a
ray of success; while on the surface appears no reason for the
inequality. But there is one thing in which pre-eminently I do not
believe--that same luck, namely, or chance, or fortune. The Father of
families looks after his families--and his children too.





CHAPTER XIX.

LIGHT AND SHADE.


Light and shade, sunshine and shadow pursue each other over the moral as
over the material world. Every soul has a landscape that changes with
the wind that sweeps its sky, with the clouds that return after its
rain.

It was now the month of March. The middle day of it had been dreary all
over England, dreariest of all, perhaps, in London. Great blasts had
gone careering under a sky whose miles-thick vault of clouds they never
touched, but instead hunted and drove and dashed earth-clouds of dust
into all unwelcoming places, throats and eyes included. Now and then a
few drops would fall on the stones as if the day's fierce misery were
about to yield to sadness; but it did not so yield; up rose again a
great blundering gust, and repentance was lost in rage. The sun went
down on its wrath, and its night was tempestuous.

But the next morning rose bright and glad, looking as if it would make
up for its father's wildness by a gentler treatment of the world. The
wind was still high, but the hate seemed to have gone out of it, and
given place to a laborious jollity. It swept huge clouds over the sky,
granting never a pause, never a respite of motion; but the sky was blue
and the clouds were white, and the dungeon-vault of the world was broken
up and being carted away.

Everything in the room where the Raymounts were one by one assembling to
break their fast, was discolored and dark, whether with age or smoke it
would have needed more than a glance to say. The reds had grown brown,
and the blues a dirty slate-color, while an impression of drab was
prevalent. But the fire was burning as if it had been at it all night
and was glorying in having at length routed the darkness; and in the
middle of the table on the white cloth, stood a shallow piece of red
pottery full of crocuses, the earnest of the spring. People think these
creatures come out of the earth, but there are a few in every place, and
in this house Mark was one of such, who are aware that they come out of
the world of thought, the spirit-land, in order to manifest themselves
to those that are of that land.

Mr. Raymount was very silent, seemed almost a little gloomy, and the
face of his wife was a shade less peaceful in consequence. There was
nothing the matter, only he had not yet learned to radiate. It is hard
for some natures to let their light shine. Mr. Raymount had some light;
he let it shine mostly in reviews, not much in the house. He did not
lift up the light of his countenance on any.

The children were rosy, fresh from their baths, and ready to eat like
breakfast-loving English. Cornelius was half his breakfast ahead of the
rest, for he had daily to endure the hardship of being at the bank by
nine o'clock, and made the best of it by claiming in consequence an
utter immunity from the _petite norale_ of the breakfast-table.
Never did he lose a moment in helping anybody. Even the little Saffy he
allowed with perfect frigidity to stretch out a very long arm after the
butter--except indeed it happened to cross his plate, when he would
sharply rebuke her breach of manners. It would have been all the same if
he had not been going till noon, but now he had hurry and business to
rampart his laziness and selfishness withal. Mark would sooner have gone
without salt to his egg than ask Corney to pass it.

This morning the pale boy sat staring at the crocuses--things like them
peeping out of the spring-mould of his spirit to greet them.

"Why don't you eat your breakfast, Mark, dear?" said his mother.

"I'm not hungry, mamma," he answered.

The mother looked at him a little anxiously. He was not a very vigorous
boy in corporeal matters; but, unlike his father's, his light was almost
always shining, and making the faces about him shine.

After a few minutes, he said, as if unconsciously, his eyes fixed on the
crocuses,

"I can't think how they come!"

"They grow!" said Saffy.

Said her father, willing to set them thinking,

"Didn't you see Hester make the paper flowers for her party?"

"Yes," replied Saffy, "but it would take such a time to make all the
flowers in the world that way!"

"So it would; but if a great many angels took it in hand, I suppose they
could do it."

"That can't be how!" said Saffy, laughing; "for you know they come up
out of the earth, and there ain't room to cut them out there!"

"I think they must be cut out and put together before they are made!"
said Mark, very slowly and thoughtfully.

The supposition was greeted with a great burst of laughter from
Cornelius. In the midst of a refined family he was the one vulgar, and
behaved as the blind and stupid generally behave to those who see what
they cannot see. Mockery is the share they choose in the motions of the
life eternal!

"Stop, stop, Cornelius!" said his father. "I suspect we have a young
philosopher where you see only a silly little brother. He has, I fancy,
got a glimpse of something he does not yet know how to say."

"In that case, don't you think, sir," said Cornelius, "he had better
hold his tongue till he does know how to say it?"

It was not often he dared speak so to his father, but he was growing
less afraid of him, though not through increase of love.

His father looked at him a moment ere he replied, and his mother looked
anxiously at her husband.

"It _would_ be better," he answered quietly, "were he not among
_friends_."

The emphasis with which he spoke was lost on Cornelius.

"They take everything for clever the little idiot says!" he remarked to
himself. "Nobody made anything of _me_ when _I_ was his age!"

The letters were brought in. Amongst them was one for Mr. Raymount with
a broad black border. He looked at the postmark.

"This must be the announcement of cousin Strafford's death!" he said.
"Some one told me she was not expected to live. I wonder how she has
left the property!"

"You did not tell me she was ill!" said his wife.

"It went out of my head. It is so many years since I had the least
communication with her, or heard anything of her! She was a strange old
soul!"

"You used to be intimate with her--did you not, papa?" said Hester.

"Yes, at one time. But we differed so entirely it was impossible it
should last. She would take up the oddest notions as to what I thought,
and meant, and wanted to do, and then fall out upon me as advocating
things I hated quite as much as she did. But that is much the way
generally. People seldom know what they mean themselves, and can hardly
be expected to know what other people mean. Only the amount of mental
and moral force wasted on hating and talking down the non-existent is a
pity."

"I can't understand why people should quarrel so about their opinions,"
said Mrs. Raymount.

"A great part of it comes of indignation at not being understood and
another great part from despair of being understood--and that while all
the time the person thus indignant and despairing takes not the smallest
pains to understand the neighbor whose misunderstanding of himself makes
him so sick and sore."

"What is to be done then?" asked Hester.

"Nothing," answered her father with something of a cynical smile, born
of this same frustrated anxiety to impress his opinions on others.

He took up his letter, slowly broke the large black seal which adorned
it, and began to read it. His wife sat looking at him, and waiting, in
expectation sufficiently mild, to hear its contents.

He had scarcely read half the first page when she saw his countenance
change a little, then flush a little, then grow a little fixed, and
quite inscrutable. He folded the letter, laid it down by the side of his
plate, and began to eat again.

"Well, dear?" said his wife.

"It is not quite what I thought," he answered, with a curious smile, and
said nothing more, but ate his toast in a brooding silence. Never in the
habit of _making_ secrets, like his puny son, he had a strong
dislike to showing his feelings, and from his wife even was inclined to
veil them. He was besides too proud to manifest his interest in the
special contents of this letter.

The poor, but, because of its hopelessness, hardly indulged ambition of
Mr. Raymount's life, was to possess a portion, however small, of the
earth's surface--if only an acre or two. He came of families both
possessing such property, but none of it had come near him except that
belonging to the cousin mentioned. He was her nearest relation, but had
never had much hope of inheriting from her, and after a final quarrel
put an end to their quarelling, had had none. Even for Mammon's sake Mr.
Raymount was not the man to hide or mask his opinions.

He worshipped his opinions indeed as most men do Mammon. For many years
in consequence there had not been the slightest communication between
the cousins. But in the course of those years all the other relatives of
the old lady had died, and, as the letter he now held informed him, he
was after all heir to her property, a small estate in a lovely spot
among the roots of the Cumberland hills. It was attended by not a few
thousands in government securities.

But while Mr. Raymount was not a money-lover in any notable sense--the
men are rare indeed of whom it might be said absolutely they do not love
money--his delight in having land of his own was almost beyond
utterance. This delight had nothing to do with the money value of the
property; he scarcely thought of that: it came in large part of a new
sense of room and freedom; the estate was an extension of his body and
limbs--and such an extension as any lover of the picturesque would have
delighted in. It made him so glad he could hardly get his toast down.

Mrs. Raymount was by this time tolerably familiar with her husband's
moods, but she had never before seen him look just so, and was puzzled.
The fact was he had never before had such a pleasant surprise, and sat
absorbed in a foretaste of bliss, of which the ray of March sun that
lighted up the delicate transparencies of the veined crocuses purple and
golden, might seem the announcing angel.

Presently he rose and left the room. His wife followed him. The moment
she entered his study behind him he turned and took her in his arms.

"Here's news, wifie!" he said. "You'll be just as glad of it as I am.
Yrndale is ours after all!--at least so my old friend Heron says, and he
ought to know! Cousin Strafford left no will. He is certain there is
none. She persistently put off making one, with the full intention, he
believes, that the property shall come to me, her heir at law and next
of kin. He thinks she had not the heart to leave it away from her old
friend. Thank God! It is a lovely place. Nothing could have happened to
give me more pleassure."

"I am indeed glad, Raymount," said his wife--who called him by his
family name on important occasions. "You always had a fancy for playing
the squire, you know."

"A great fancy for a little room, rather," replied her husband--"not
much, I fear, for the duties of a squire. I know little of them; and
happily we shall not be dependent on the result of my management. There
is money as well, I am glad to say--enough to keep the place up anyhow."

"It would be a poor property," replied his wife with a smile, that could
not keep itself up. I have no doubt you will develop into a model farmer
and landlord."

"You must take the business part--at least till Corney is fit to look
after it," he returned.

But his wife's main thought was what influence would the change have on
the prospects of Hester. In her heart she abjured the notion of property
having anything to do with marriage--yet this was almost her first
thought! Inside us are played more fantastic tricks than any we play in
the face of the world.

"Are the children to be told?" she asked.

"I suppose so. It would be a shame not to let them share in our
gladness. And yet one hates to think of their talking about it as
children will."

"I am not afraid of the children," returned his wife. "I have but to
tell them not. I am sure of Mark as if he were fifty. Saffy might
forget, but Mark will keep her in mind."

When she returned to the dining-room Cornelius was gone, but the rest
were still at the table. She told them that God had given them a
beautiful house in the country, with hills and woods and a swift-flowing
river. Saffy clapped her hands, cried, "Oh, mam_mah_!" and could
hardly sit on her chair till she had done speaking. Mark was perfectly
still, his eyes looking like ears. The moment her mother ceased, Saffy
jumped down and made a rush for the door.

"Saffy, Saffy, where are you going?" cried her mother.

"To tell Sarah," answered Saffy.

"Come back, my child."

"Oh, do let me run and tell Sarah! I will come back _instantly_."

"Come here," insisted the mother. "Your papa and I wish you to say
nothing whatever about it to _any_ one."

"O-oh!" returned Saffy; and both her look and her tone said, "Where is
the good of it then?" as she stood by her mother's side in momentary
check.

Not a word did Mark utter, but his face shone as if it had been heaven
he was going to. No color, only light came to the surface of it, and
broke in the loveliest smile. When Mark smiled, his whole body and being
smiled. He turned and kissed Saffy, but still said nothing.

Hester's face flushed a "celestial rosy red." Her first thought was of
the lovely things of the country and the joy of them. Like Moses on
mount Pisgah, she looked back on the desert of a London winter, and
forth from the heart of a blustering spring into a land of promise. Her
next thought was of her poor: "Now I shall be able to do something for
them!" Alas! too swiftly followed the conviction that now she would be
able to do less than ever for them. Yrndale was far from London! They
could not come to her, and she could not go to them, except for an
occasional visit, perhaps too short even to see them all. If only her
father and mother would let her stay behind! but that she dared hardly
hope--ought not perhaps to wish! It might be God's will to remove her
because she was doing more harm than good! She had never been allowed to
succeed in anything! And now her endeavor would be at an end! So her
pleasure was speedily damped. The celestial red yielded to earthly pale,
and the tears came in her eyes.

"You don't like the thought of leaving London, Hester!" said her mother
with concern: she thought it was because of Vavasor.

"I am very glad for you and papa, mother dear," answered Hester. "I was
thinking of my poor people, and what they would do without me."

"Wait my child," returned her mother, "I have sometimes found the very
things I dreaded most serve me best. I don't mean because I got used to
them, or because they did me good. I mean they furthered what I thought
they would ruin."

"Thank you, dear mother, you can always comfort me," rejoined Hester.
"For myself I could not imagine anything more pleasant. If only it were
near London!--or," she added, smiling through her tears, "if one hadn't
a troublesome heart and conscience playing into each other's hands!"

She was still thinking of her poor, but her mother was in doubt.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I suppose, father," said Cornelius, "there will be no occasion for me
to go to the bank any more?"

"There will be more occasion than ever," answered his father: "will
there not be the more to look after when I am gone? What do you imagine
you could employ yourself with down there? You have never taken to
study, else, as you know, I would have sent you to Oxford. When you
leave the bank it will be to learn farming and the management of an
estate--after which you will be welcome to Yrndale."

Cornelius made no reply. His father's words deeply offended him. He was
hardly good at anything except taking offense, and he looked on the
estate as his nearly as much as his father's. True the father had not
spoken so kindly as he might, but had he known his son, he would often
have spoken severely. From the habit of seeking clear and forcible
expression in writing, he had got into a way of using stronger vocal
utterances than was necessary, and what would have been but a blow from
another, was a stab from him. But the feelings of Cornelius in no case
_deserved_ consideration--they were so selfish. And now he
considered that mighty self of his insulted as well as wronged. What
right had his father to keep from him--from him alone, who had the first
right--a share in the good fortunes of the family? He left the study
almost hating his father because of what he counted his injustice; and,
notwithstanding his request that he would say nothing of the matter
until things were riper, made not even an effort to obey him, but, too
sore for silence, and filled with what seemed to him righteous
indignation, took the first opportunity of pouring out everything to
Vavasor, in a torrent of complaint against the fresh wrong. His friend
responded to the communication very sensibly, trying, without exactly
saying it, and without a shadow of success, to make him see what a fool
he was, and congratulating him all the more warmly on his good fortune
that a vague hope went up in him of a share in the same. For Cornelius
had not failed to use large words in making mention of the estate and
the fortune accompanying it; and in the higher position, as Vavasor
considered it, which Mr. Raymount would henceforth occupy as one of the
proprietors of England, therefore as a man of influence in his country
and its politics, he saw something like an approximative movement in the
edges of the gulf that divided him from Hester: she would not unlikely
come in for a personal share in this large fortune; and if he could but
see a possibility of existence without his aunt's money, he would, he
_almost_ said to himself, marry Hester, and take the risk of his
aunt's displeasure. At the same time she would doubtless now look with
more favor on his preference--he must not yet say _choice!_ There
could be nothing insuperably offensive to her pride at least in his
proposing to marry the daughter of a country squire. If she were the
heiress of a rich brewer, that is, of a brewer rich enough, his aunt
would, like the rest of them, get over it fast enough! In the meantime
he would, as Cornelius, after the first burst of his rage was over, had
begged him, be careful to make no illusion to the matter.

Mr. Raymount went to look at his property, and returned more delighted
with house, land, and landscape, than he had expected. He seldom spoke
of his good fortune, however, except to his wife, or betrayed his
pleasure except by a glistening of the eyes. As soon as the warm weather
came they would migrate, and immediately began their preparations--the
young ones by packing and unpacking several times a day a most
heterogeneous assemblage of things. The house was to be left in charge
of old Sarah, who would also wait on Cornelius.




CHAPTER XX.

THE JOURNEY.


It was a lovely morning when they left London. The trains did not then
travel so fast as now, and it was late in the afternoon when they
reached the station at which they must leave the railway for the road.
Before that the weather had changed, or they had changed their weather,
for the sky was one mass of cloud, and rain was falling persistently.
They had been for some time in the abode of the hills, but those they
were passing through, though not without wonder and strange interest,
were but an inferior clan, neither lofty nor lovely. Through the rain
and the mist they looked lost and drear. They were mostly bare, save of
a little grass, and broken with huge brown and yellow gulleys, worn by
such little torrents as were now rushing along them straight from the
clouded heavens. It was a vague sorrowful region of tears, whence the
streams in the valleys below were forever fed.

This part of the journey Saffy had been sound asleep, but Mark had been
standing at the window of the railway-carriage, gazing out on an awful
world. What would he do, he thought, if he were lost there? Would he be
able to sit still all night without being frightened, waiting for God to
come and take him? As they rushed along, it was not through the brain
alone of the child the panorama flitted, but through his mind and heart
as well, and there, like a glacier it scored its passage. Or rather, it
left its ghosts behind it, ever shifting forms and shadows, each
atmosphered in its own ethereal mood. Hardly thoughts were they, but
strange other consciousnesses of life and being. Hills and woods and
valleys and plains and rivers and seas, entering by the gates of sight
into the live mirror of the human, are transformed to another nature, to
a living wonder, a joy, a pain, a breathless marvel as they pass.
Nothing can receive another thing, not even a glass can take into its
depth a face, without altering it. In the mirror of man, things become
thoughts, feelings, life, and send their streams down the cheeks, or
their sunshine over the countenance.

Before Mark reached the end of that journey, there was gathered in the
bottom of his heart a great mass of fuel, there stored for the future
consumption of thinking, and for reproduction in forms of power. He knew
nothing of it. He took nothing consciously. The things kept sinking into
him. The sole sign of his reception was an occasional sigh--of which he
could not have told either the cause or the meaning.

They got into their own carriage at the station. The drive was a long
and a tedious one, for the roads were rough and muddy and often steep,
and Mr. Raymount repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction, that they had
not put four horses to. For some time they drove along the side of a
hill, and could see next to nothing except in one direction; and when at
length the road ran into a valley, and along the course of the swollen
river, it was getting so dark, and the rain was coming down so fast,
that they could see next to nothing at all. Long before they reached
their new home, Saffy and Mark were sound asleep, Hester was sunk in her
own thoughts, and the father and mother sat in unbroken silence, hand in
hand. It was pitch-dark ere they arrived; and save what she learned from
the thousand musics of the swollen river along which they had been
driving for the last hour, Hester knew nothing of the country for which
she had left the man-swarming city. Ah, that city! so full of
fellow-creatures! so many of them her friends! and struggling in the
toils of so many foes! Many sorrows had entered in at Hester's ears;
tongues that had never known how to give trouble shape, had grown
eloquent in pouring the tale--of oppression oftener than want, into the
bosom of her sympathy. I do not say many tongues--only many sorrows; she
knew from the spray that reached her on its borders, how that human sea
tossed and raged afar. Reading and interpreting the looks of faces and
the meanings of actions around her by what she had heard, she could not
doubt she had received but a too true sample of experiences innumerable.
One result was, that, young as was Hester, she no longer shrank from the
thought of that invisible, intangible solvent in which the generations
of man vanish from the eyes of their fellows. She said to herself what a
blessed thing was death for countless human myriads--yea doubtless for
the whole race! It looked sad enough for an end; but then it was not the
end; while but for the thought of the change to some other mode of life,
the idea of this world would have been unendurable to her. "Surely they
are now receiving their evil things!" she said. Alas, but even now she
felt as if the gulf of death separated her from those to whom it had
been her painful delight to minister! The weeping wind and the moaning
rush of the river, through which they were slowly moving toward their
earthly paradise, were an orchestral part as of hautboys in the wailing
harmony of her mood.

They turned and went through a gate, then passed through trees and trees
that made yet darker pieces of the night. By and by appeared the faint
lights of the house, with blotchy pallors thinning the mist and
darkness. Presently the carriage stopped.

Both the children continued dead asleep, and were carried off to bed.
The father and mother knew the house of old time, and revived for each
other old memories. But to Hester all was strange, and what with the
long journey, the weariness, the sadness, and the strangeness, it was as
if walking in a dream that she entered the old hall. It had a quiet,
dull, dignified look, as if it expected nobody; as if it was here itself
because it could not help it, and would rather not be here; as if it had
seen so many generations come and go that it had ceased to care much
about new faces. Every thing in the house looked somber and solemn, as
if it had not forgotten its old mistress, who had been so many years in
it, and was such a little while gone out of it. They had supper in a
long, low room, with furniture almost black, against whose windows heavy
roses every now and then softly patted, caught in the fringes of the
rain gusts. The dusky room, the perfect stillness within, the low
mingled sounds of swaying trees and pattering rain without, the sense of
the great darkness folding in its bosom the beauty so near and the
moaning city miles upon miles away--all grew together into one
possessing mood, which rose and sank, like the water in a sea-cave, in
the mind of Hester. But who by words can fix the mood that comes and
goes unbidden, like a ghost whose acquaintance is lost with his
vanishing, whom we know not when we do not see? A single happy phrase,
the sound of a wind, the odor of the mere earth may avail to send us
into some lonely, dusky realm of being; but how shall we take our
brother with us, or send him thither when we would? I doubt if even the
poet ever works just what he means on the mind of his fellow. Sisters,
brothers, we cannot meet save in God.

But the nearest mediator of feeling, the most potent, the most delicate,
the most general, the least articulate, the farthest from thought, yet
perhaps the likest to the breath moving upon the soft face of the waters
of chaos, is music. It rose like a soft irrepressible tide in the heart
of Hester; it mingled and became one with her mood; together swelling
they beat at the gates of silence; for life's sake they must rush,
embodied and born in sound, into the outer world where utterance meets
utterance! She looked around her for such an instrument as hitherto had
been always within her reach--rose and walked around the shadowy room
searching. But there was no creature amongst the aged furniture--nothing
with a brain to it which her soul might briefly inhabit. She returned
and sat again at the table, and the mood vanished in weariness.

But they did not linger there long. Fatigue made the ladies glad to be
shown to the rooms prepared for them. The housekeeper, the ancient
authority of the place, in every motion and tone expressing herself
wronged by their intrusion, conducted them. Every spot they passed was
plainly far more hers than theirs; only law was a tyrant, and she dared
not assert her rights! But she had allotted their rooms well, and they
approved her judgment.

Weary as she was, Hester was charmed with hers, and the more charmed the
more she surveyed it. I will not spend time or space in describing it,
but remember how wearisome and useless descriptions often are. I will
but say it was old-fashioned to her heart's content; that it seemed full
of shadowy histories, as if each succeeding occupant had left behind an
ethereal phantasmic record, a memorial imprint of presence on walls and
furniture--to which she now was to add hers. But the old sleep must have
the precedence of all the new things. In weary haste she undressed, and
ascending with some difficulty the high four-post bed which stood
waiting for her like an altar of sleep for its sacrifice, was presently
as still and straight and white as alabaster lady lying upon ancient
tomb.




CHAPTER XXI.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.


When she woke it was to a blaze of sunlight, but caught in the net of
her closed curtains. The night had passed and carried the tears of the
day with it. Ah, how much is done in the night when we sleep and know
nothing! Things never stop. The sun was shining as if he too had wept
and repented. All the earth beneath him was like the face of a child who
has ceased to weep and begun to smile, but has not yet wiped away his
tears.

Raindrops everywhere! millions upon millions of them! every one of them
with a sun in it? For Hester had sprung from her bed, and opened the
eyes of her room. How different was the sight from what she saw when she
looked out in Addison square! If heaven be as different from this earth,
and as much better than it, we shall be happy children--except indeed we
be but fit to stand in a corner, with our backs to the blessedness. On
each side she saw green, undulating lawn, with trees and meadows beyond;
but just in front the ground sloped rapidly, still in grass, grew steep,
and fell into the swift river--which, swollen almost to unwieldiness,
went rolling and sliding brown and heavy towards the far off sea; when
its swelling and tumult were over it would sing; now it tumbled along
with a roaring muffled in sullenness. Beyond the river the bank rose
into a wooded hill. She could see walks winding through the wood, here
appearing, there vanishing, and, a little way up the valley, the rails
of a rustic bridge that led to them. It was a paradise! For the roar of
London along Oxford street, there was the sound of the river; for the
cries of rough human voices, the soprano of birds, and the soft mellow
bass of the cattle in the meadows. The only harsh sound in this new
world was the cry of the peacock, but that had somehow got the color of
his tail in it, and was not unpleasant. The sky was a shining blue. Not
a cloud was to be seen upon it. Quietly it looked down, as if saying to
the world over which it stood vaulted, "Yes, you are welcome to it all!"

She thanked God for the country, but soon was praying to him for the
town. The neighborly offer of the country to console her for the loss of
the town she received with alarm, hastening to bethink herself that God
cared more for one miserable, selfish, wife-and-donkey-beating
costermonger of unsavory Shoreditch, than for all the hills and dales of
Cumberland, yea and all the starry things of his heavens.

She would care only as God cared, and from all this beauty gather
strength to give to sorrow.

She dressed quickly, and went to her mother's room. Her father was
already out of doors, but her mother was having breakfast in bed. They
greeted each other with such smiles as made words almost unnecessary.

"What a _lovely_ place it is, mamma! You did not say half enough
about it," exclaimed Hester.

"Wasn't it better to let you discover for yourself, my child?" answered
her mother. "You were so sorry to leave London, that I would not praise
Yrndale for fear of prejudicing you against it."

"Mother," said Hester, with something in her throat, "I did not want to
change; I was content, and had my work to do! I never was one to turn
easily to new things. And perhaps I need hardly tell you that the
conviction has been growing upon me for years and years that my calling
is among my fellow-creatures in London!"

She had never yet, even to her mother, spoken out plainly concerning the
things most occupying her heart and mind. Every one of the family,
except Saffy, found it difficult to communicate--and perhaps to Saffy it
might become so as she grew. Hester trembled as if confessing a fault.
What if to her mother the mere idea of having a calling should seem a
presumption!

"Two things must go, I think, to make up a call," said her mother,
greatly to Hester's relief. "You must not imagine, my child, that
because you have never opened your mind to me, I have not known what you
were thinking, or have left you to think alone about it. Mother and
daughter are too near not to hear each other without words. There is
between you and me a constant undercurrent of communion, and
occasionally a passing of almost definite thought, I believe. We may not
be aware of it at the time, but none the less it has its result."

"O mother!" cried Hester, overjoyed to find she thought them thus near
to each other, "I am _so_ glad! Please tell me the two things you
mean."

"To make up a _call_, I think both impulse and possibility are
wanted," replied Mrs. Raymount. "The first you know well; but have you
sufficiently considered the second? One whose impulse or desire was
continually thwarted could scarcely go on believing herself called. The
half that lies in an open door is wanting. If a call come to a man in
prison it will be by an angel who can let him out. Neither does
inclination always determine fitness. When your father was an editor, he
was astonished at the bad verse he received from some who had a genuine
delight in good verse."

"I can't believe, mamma," returned Hester, "that God gives any special
gift, particularly when accompanied by a special desire to use it, and
that for a special purpose, without intending it should be used. That
would be to mock his creature in the very act of making her."

"You must allow there are some who never find a use for their special
gifts."

"Yes; but may not that be that they have not sufficiently cultivated
their gifts, or that they have not done their best to bring them into
use? Or may they not have wanted to use them for ends of their own and
not of God's? I feel as if I must stand up against every difficulty lest
God should be disappointed in me. Surely any frustration of the ends to
which their very being points must be the person's own fault? May it not
be because they have not yielded to the calling voice that they are all
their life a prey to unsatisfied longings? They may have gone picking
and choosing, instead of obeying."

"There must be truth in what you say, Hester, but I am pretty sure it
does not reach every case. At what point would you pronounce a calling
frustrated? You think yours is to help your poor friends: you are not
with them now: is your calling frustrated? Surely there may be delay
without frustration! Or, is it for you to say when you are _ready_?
Willingness is not everything. Might not one fancy her hour come when it
was not come? May not part of the preparation for work be the mental
discipline of imagined postponements? And then, Hester--now I think I
have found my answer--you do not surely imagine such a breach in the
continuity of our existence, that our gifts and training here have
nothing to do with our life beyond the grave. All good old people will
tell you they feel this life but a beginning. Cultivating your gift, and
waiting the indubitable call, you may be in active preparation for the
work in the coming life for which God intended you when he made you."

Hester gave a great sigh. Postponement indefinite is terrible to the
young and eager.

"That is a dreary thought, mother," she said.

"Is it, my child?" returned her mother. "Painful the will of God may
be--that I well know, as who that cares anything about it does not! but
_dreary_, no! Have patience, my love. Your heart's deepest desire
must be the will of God, for he cannot have made you so that your heart
should run counter to his will; let him but have his own way with you,
and your desire he will give you. To that goes his path. He delights in
his children; so soon as they can be indulged without ruin, he will heap
upon them their desires; they are his too."

I confess I have, chiefly by compression, put the utterance both of
mother and of daughter into rather better logical form than they gave
it; but the substance of it is thus only the more correctly rendered.
Hester was astonished at the grasp and power of her mother. The child
may for many years have but little idea of the thought and life within
the form and face he knows and loves better than any; but at last the
predestined moment arrives, the two minds meet, and the child
understands the parent. Hester threw herself on her knees, and buried
her face in her mother's lap. The same moment she began to discover that
she had been proud, imagining herself more awake to duty than the rest
around her. She began, too, to understand that if God has called, he
will also open the door. She kissed her mother as she had never kissed
her before, and went to her own room.




CHAPTER XXII.

GLADNESS.


Scarcely had she reached it, however, when the voices of the children
came shouting along some corridor, on their way to find their breakfast:
she must go and minister, postponing meditation on the large and distant
for action in the small and present. But the sight of the exuberance,
the foaming overflow of life and gladness in Saffy, and of the quieter,
deeper joy of Mark, were an immediate reward. They could hardly be
prevented from bolting their breakfast like puppies, in their eagerness
to rush into the new creation, the garden of Eden around them. But
Hester thought of the river flowing turbid and swift at the foot of the
lawn: she must not let them go loose! She told them they must not go
without her. Their faces fell, and even Mark began a gentle
expostulation.

A conscientious elder sister has to bear a good many hard thoughts from
the younger ones on whom, without a parent's authority and reverence,
she has to exercise a parent's restraint. Well for her if she come out
of the trial without having gathered some needless severity, some
seeming hardness, some tendency to peevishness! These weak evils are so
apt to gather around a sense at once of the need and of the lack of
power!

"No, Mark," she said, "I cannot let you go alone. You are like two
kittens, and might be in mischief or danger before you knew. But I won't
keep you waiting; I will get my parasol at once."

I will attempt no description of the beauties that met them at every
turn. But the joy of those three may well have a word or two. I doubt if
some of the children in heaven are always happier than Saffy and Mark
were that day. Hester had thoughts which kept her from being so happy as
they, but she was more blessed. Glorious as is the child's delight, the
child-heart in the grown woman is capable of tenfold the bliss. Saffy
pounced on a flower like a wild beast on its prey; she never stood and
gazed at one, like Mark. Hester would gaze till the tears came in her
eyes;

There are consciousnesses of lack which carry more bliss than any
possession.

Mark was in many things an exception--a curious mixture of child and
youth. He had never been strong, and had always been thoughtful. When
very small he used to have a sacred rite of his own--I would not have
called it a rite but that he made a temple for it. Many children like to
play at church, but I doubt if that be good: Mark's rite was neither
play nor church. He would set two chairs in the recess of a window--"one
for Mark and one for God"--then draw the window-curtains around and sit
in silence for a space.

When a little child sets a chair for God, does God take the chair or
does he not? God is the God of little children, and is at home with
them.

For Saffy, she was a thing of smiles and of tears just as they chose to
come. She had not a suspicion yet that the exercise of any operative
power on herself was possible to her--not to say required of her. Many
men and women are in the same condition who have grown cold and hard in
it; she was soft and warm, on the way to awake and distinguish and act.
Even now when a good thought came she would give it a stranger's
welcome; but the first appeal to her senses would drive it out of doors
again.

Before their ramble was over, what with the sweet twilight gladness of
Mark, the merry noonday brightness of Saffy, and the loveliness all
around, the heart of Hester was quiet and hopeful as a still mere that
waits in the blue night the rising of the moon. She had some things to
trouble her, but none of them had touched the quick of her being.
Thoughtful, therefore in a measure troubled, by nature, she did not know
what heart-sickness was. Nor would she ever know it as many must, for
her heart went up to the heart of her heart, and there unconsciously
laid up store against the evil hours that might be on their way to her.
And this day her thoughts kept rising to Him whose thought was the
meaning of all she saw, the center and citadel of its loveliness.

For if once the suspicion wake that God never meant the things that go
to and fro in us as we gaze on the world, that moment is the universe
worthless as a doll to a childless mother. If God be not, then
steam-engine and flower are in the same category. No; the steam-engine
is the better thing, for it has the soul of a man in it, and the flower
has no soul at all. It cannot mean if it is not meant. It is God that
means everything as we read it, however poor or mingled with mistake our
reading may be. And the soothing of his presence in what we call nature,
was beginning to work on Hester, helping her toward that quietness of
spirit without which the will of God can scarce be perceived.




CHAPTER XXIII.

DOWN THE HILL.


When Franks, the acrobat, and his family left Mrs. Baldwin's garret to
go to another yet poorer lodging, it was with heavy hearts: they crept
silent away, to go down yet a step of the world's stair. I have read
somewhere in Jean Paul of a curiously contrived stair, on which while
you thought you were going down you were really ascending: I think it
was so with the Frankses and the stair they were upon. But to many the
world is but a treadmill, on which while they seem to be going up and
up, they are only serving to keep things going round and round.

I think God has more to do with the fortunes of the poor a thousand fold
than with those of the rich. In the fortunes of the poor there are many
more changes, and they are of greater import as coming closer to the
heart of their condition. To careless and purblind eyes these fortunes
appear on an almost dead level of toil and privation; but they have more
variations of weather, more chequers of sunshine and shade, more storms
and calms, than lives passed on airier slopes. Who could think of God as
a God like Christ--and other than such he were not Godand imagine he
would not care as much for the family of John Franks as for the family
of Gerald Raymount? It is impossible to believe that he loves such as
Cornelius or Vavasor as he loves a Christopher. There must be a
difference! The God of truth cannot love the unlovely in the same way as
he loves the lovely. The one he loves for what he is and what he has
begun to be; the other he loves because he sorely needs love--as sorely
as the other, and must begin to grow lovely one day. Nor dare we forget
that the celestial human thing is in itself lovely as made by God, and
pitiably lovely as spoiled by man. That is the Christ-thing which is the
root of every man, created in his image--that which, when he enters the
men, he possesses. The true earthly father must always love those
children more who are obedient and loving--but he will not neglect one
bad one for twenty good ones. "The Father himself loveth you because ye
have loved me;" but "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that
repenteth than over ninety and nine that need no repentance." The great
joy is the first rush of love in the new-opened channel for its issue
and entrance.

The Frankses were on the down-going side of the hill Difficulty, and
down they must go, unable to help themselves. They had found a cheaper
lodging, but entered it with misgiving; their gains had been very
moderate since their arrival in London, and their expenses greater than
in the country. Also Franks was beginning to feel or to fancy his
strength and elasticity not quite what they had been. The first
suspicion of the approach of old age and the beginning of that weakness
whose end is sure, may well be a startling one. The man has begun to be
a nobody in the world's race--is henceforth himself but the course of
the race between age and death--a race in which the victor is known ere
the start. Life with its self-discipline withdraws itself thenceforth
more to the inside, and goes on with greater vigor. The man has now to
trust and yield constantly. He is coming to know the fact that he was
never his own strength, had never the smallest power in himself at his
strongest. But he is learning also that he is as safe as ever in the
time when he gloried in his might--yea, as safe as then he imagined
himself on his false foundation. He lays hold of the true strength,
makes it his by laying hold of it. He trusts in the unchangeable thing
at the root of all his strength, which gave it all the truth it had--a
truth far deeper than he knew, a reality unfathomable, though not of the
nature he then fancied. Strength has ever to be made perfect in
weakness, and old age is one of the weaknesses in which it is perfected.

Poor Franks had not got so far yet as to see this, and the feeling of
the approach of old age helped to relax the springs of his hopefulness.
Also his wife had not yet got over her last confinement. The baby, too,
was sickly. And there was not much popular receptivity for acrobatics in
the streets; coppers came in slowly; the outlay was heavy; and the
outlook altogether was of the gray without the gold. But his wife's
words were always cheerful, though the tone of them had not a little of
the mournful. Their tone came of temperament, the words themselves of
love and its courage. The daughter of a gamekeeper, the neighbors
regarded her as throwing herself away when she married Franks; but she
had got an honest and brave husband, and never when life was hardest
repented giving herself to him.

For a few weeks they did pretty well in their new lodging. They managed
to pay their way, and had food enough--though not quite so good as
husband and wife wished each for the other, and both for their children.
The boys had a good enough time of it. They had not yet in London
exhausted their own wonder. The constant changes around made of their
lives a continuous novel--nay, a romance, and being happy they could eat
anything and thrive on it.

The lives of the father and mother over-vault the lives of the children,
shutting out all care if not all sorrow, and every change is welcomed as
a new delight. Their parents, where positive cruelty has not installed
fear and cast out love, are the divinities of even the most neglected.
They feel towards them much the same, I fancy, as the children of
ordinary parents in the middle class--love them more than children given
over to nurses and governesses love theirs. Nor do I feel certain that
the position of the children of the poor, in all its oppression, is not
more favorable to the development of the higher qualities of the human
mind, such as make the least show, than many of those more pleasant
places for which some religious moralists would have us give the thanks
of the specially favored. I suspect, for instance, that imagination,
fancy, perception, insight into character, the faculty of fitting means
to ends, the sense of adventure, and many other powers and feelings are
more likely to be active in the children of the poor, to the greater joy
of their existence, than in others. These Frankses, too, had a strict
rule over them, and that increases much the capacity for enjoyment. The
father, according to his lights, was, as we have seen, a careful and
conscientious parent, and his boys were strongly attached to him, never
thought of shirking their work, and endured a good deal of hardness and
fatigue without grumbling: their mother had opened their eyes to the
fact that their father took his full share in all he required of them,
and did his best for them. They were greatly proud of their father one
and all believing him not only the first man in his profession, but the
best man that ever was in the world; and to believe so of one's parent
is a stronger aid to righteousness than all things else whatever, until
the day-star of the knowledge of the great Father goes up in the heart,
to know whom, in like but better fashion, as the best more than man and
the perfect Father of men, is the only thing to redeem us from misery
and wrong, and lift us into the glorious liberty of the sons and
daughters of God.

They were now reduced to one room, and the boys slept on the floor. This
was no hardship, now that summer was nigh, only the parents found it
interfered a little with their freedom of speech. Nor did it mend the
matter to send them early to bed, for the earlier they went the longer
were they in going to sleep. At the same time they had few things to
talk of which they minded their hearing, and to the mother at least it
was a pleasure to have all her chickens in the nest with her.

One evening after the boys were in bed, the father and mother sat
talking. They had a pint of beer on the table between them, of which the
woman tasted now and then that the man might imagine himself sharing it
with her. Silence had lasted for some time. The mother was busy
rough-patching a garment of Moxy's. The man's work for the day was over,
but not the woman's!

"Well, I dunnow!" he said at last, and there ceased.

"What don ye know, John?" asked his wife, in a tone she would have tried
to make cheerful had she but suspected it half as mournful as it was.

"There's that Mr. Christopher as was such a friend!" he said: "--you
don't disremember what he used to say about the Almighty and that? You
remember as how he used to say a man could no more get out o' the sight
o' them eyes o' hisn than a child could get out o' sight o' the eyes on
his mother as was a watchin' of him!"

"Yes, John, I do remember all that very well, and a great comfort it was
to me at the time to hear him say so, an' has been many's the time
since, when I had no other--leastways none but you an' the children. I
often think over what he said to you an' me then when I was down, an'
not able to hold my head up, nor feelin' as if I should ever lift it no
more!"

"Well, I dunnow!" said Franks, and paused again.

But this time he resumed, "What troubles me is this:--if that there
mother as was a lookin' arter her child, was to see him doin' no better
'n you an' me, an' day by day gettin' furder on the wrong way, I should
say she wan't much of a mother to let us go on in that 'ere way as I
speak on."

"She might ha' got her reasons for it, John," returned his wife, in some
fear lest the hope she cherished was going to give way in her husband.
"P'r'aps she might see, you know, that the child might go a little
farther and fare none the worse. When the children want their dinner
very bad, I ha' heerd you say to them sometimes, 'Now kids, ha'
patience. Patience is a fine thing. What if ye do be hungry, you ain't a
dyin' o' hunger. You'll wear a bit longer yet!' Ain't I heerd you say
that John--more'n once, or twice, or thrice?"

"There ain't no need to put me to my oath like that, old woman! I ain't
a goin' for to deny it! You needn't go to put it to me as if I was the
pris'ner at the bar, or a witness as wanted to speak up for him!--But
you must allow this is a drivin' of it jest a _leetle_ too far!
Here we be come up to Lon'on a thinkin' to better ourselves--not wantin'
no great things--sich we don't look for to get--but jest thinkin' as how
it wur time'--as th' parson is allus a tellin' his prishioners, to lay
by a shillin' or two to keep us out o' th' workus, when 't come on to
rain, an' let us die i' the open like, where a poor body can
breathe!--that's all as we was after! an' here, sin' ever we come, fust
one shillin' goes, an' then another shillin' goes as we brought with us,
till we 'ain't got one, as I may almost say, left! An' there ain't no
luck! I'stead o' gitting more we git less, an' that wi' harder work, as
is a wearin' out me an' the b'ys; an'--"

Here he was interrupted by a cry from the bed. It was the voice of
little Moxy, the Sarpint o' the Prairies.

"I ain't wore out, father! I'm good for another go."

"I ain't neither, gov'nor. I got a lot more work in me!"

"No, nor me," cried the third. "I likes London. I can stand on my head
twice as long as Tommy Blake, an he's a year older 'n I am."

"Hold your tongues, you rascals, an' go to sleep," growled the father,
pretending to be angry with them. "What right have you to be awake at
this time o' the night--an' i' Lon'on too? It's not like the country, as
you very well know. I' the country you can do much as you like, but not
in the town! There's police, an' them's there for boys to mind what
they're about. You've no call to be awake when your father an' mother
want to be by theirselves--a listenin' to what they've got to say to one
another! Us two was man an' wife afore you was born!"

"We wasn't a listenin', father. We was only hearin' 'cause we wasn't
asleep. An' you didn't speak down as if it was secrets!"

"Well, you know, b'ys, there's things as fathers and mothers can
understand an' talk about, as no b'y's fit to see to the end on, an' so
they better go to sleep, an' wait till their turn comes to be fathers
an' mothers theirselves.--Go to sleep direc'ly, or I'll break every bone
in your bodies!"

"Yes, father, yes!" they answered together, nowise terrified by the
awful threat--which was not a little weakened by the fact that they had
heard it every day of their lives, and not yet known it carried into
execution.

But having been thus advised that his children were awake, the father,
without the least hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious, changed his tone:
in the presence of his children he preferred looking at the other side
of the argument. After a few moments' silence he began again thus:--

"Yes, as you was sayin', wife, an' I knows as you're always in the
right, if the right be anyhows to be got at--as you was sayin', I say,
there's no sayin' when that same as we was a speakin' of--the Almighty
is the man I mean--no sayin', I say, when he may come to see as we have,
as I may say, had enough on it, an' turn an' let us have a taste o' luck
again! Luck's sweet; an' some likes, an' it may be as he likes to give
his childer a taste o' sweets now an' again, just as you and me, that is
when we can afford it, an' that's not often, likes to give ourn a
bull's-eye or a suck of toffy. I don't doubt _he_ likes to see us
enj'yin' of ourselves just as well as we like to see our little uns
enj'yin' o' _theirselves!_--It stands to reason, wife--don't it?"

"So it do seem to me, John!" answered the mother.

"Well," said Franks, apparently, now that he had taken up the defence of
the ways of the Supreme with men, warming to his subject, "I dessay he
do the best he can, an' give us as much luck as is good for us.
Leastways that's how the rest of us do, wife! We can't allus do as well
as we would like for to do for our little uns, but we _always_, in
general, does the best we can. It may take time--it may take time even
with all the infl'ence _he_ has, to get the better o' things as
stands in _his_ way! We'll suppose yet a while, anyhow, as how he's
a lookin' arter us. It can't be for nothink as he counts the hairs on
our heads--as the sayin' is!--though for my part I never could see what
good there was in it. But if it ain't for somethink, why it's no more
good than the census, which is a countin' o' the heads theirselves."

There are, or there used to be when I was a boy, who, in their reverence
for the name of the Most High, would have shown horror at the idea that
he could not do anything or everything in a moment as it pleased him,
but would not have been shocked at all at the idea that he might not
please to give this or that man any help. In their eyes power was a
grander thing than love, though it is nowhere said in the Book that God
is omnipotence. Such, because they are told that he is omnipotent, call
him Omnipotence; when told that he is Love, do not care to argue that he
must then be loving? But as to doing what he wills with a word--see what
it cost him to redeem the world! He did not find that easy, or to be
done in a moment without pain or toil. Yea, awfully omnipotent is God.
For he wills, effects and perfects the thing which, because of the bad
in us, he has to carry out in suffering and sorrow, his own and his
Son's Evil is a hard thing for God himself to overcome. Yet thoroughly
and altogether and triumphantly will he overcome it; and that not by
crushing it underfoot--any god of man's idea could do that!--but by
conquest of heart over heart, of life in life, of life over death.
Nothing shall be too hard for the God that fears not pain, but will
deliver and make true and blessed at his own severest cost.

For a time, then, the Frankses went on, with food to eat and money to
pay their way, but going slowly down the hill, and finding it harder and
harder to keep their footing. By and by the baby grew worse, pining
visibly. They sought help at the hospital, but saw no Mr. Christopher,
and the baby did not improve. Still they kept on, and every day the
husband brought home a little money. Several times they seemed on the
point of an engagement, but as often something came between, until at
length Franks almost ceased to hope, and grew more and more silent,
until at last he might well have appeared morose. The wonder to me is
that any such as do not hope in a Power loving to perfection, should
escape moroseness. Under the poisonous influences of anxiety, a loving
man may become unkind, even cruel to the very persons for whose sake he
is anxious. In good sooth what we too often count righteous care, but
our Lord calls the care of the world, consumes the life of the heart as
surely as the love of money. At the root they are the same. Yet evil
thing as anxiety is, it were a more evil thing to be delivered from it
by anything but the faith of the Son of God--that is faith in his Father
and our Father; it would be but another and worse, because more
comfortable form of the same slavery.

Poor Franks, however, with but a little philosophy, had much affection,
which is indeed the present God in a man--and so did not go far in the
evil direction. The worse sign of his degenerating temper was the more
frequently muttered oath of impatience with his boys--never with his
wife; and not one of them was a moment uneasy in consequence--only when
the _gov'nor_ wasn't jolly, neither were they.

The mind of Franks, so it appears to me, was mainly a slow sullen stream
of subthought, a something neither thought nor feeling but partaking of
the character of both, a something more than either, namely, the
substance of which both are formed--the undeveloped elemental life,
risen a little way, and but a little way, towards consciousness. The
swifter flow of this stream is passion, the gleams of it where it
ripples into the light, are thoughts. This sort of nature can endure
much without being unhappy. What would crush a swift-thinking man is
upborne by the denser tide. Its conditions are gloomier, and it consorts
more easily with gloom. But light and motion and a grand future are
waiting for such as he. All their sluggish half-slumberous being will be
roused and wrought into conscious life--nor the unconscious whence it
arises be therein exhausted, for that will be ever supplied and upheld
by the indwelling Deity. In his own way Franks was in conflict with the
problems of life; neither was he very able to encounter them; but on the
other hand he was one to whom wonders might safely be shown, for he
would use them not speculatively but practically. "Nothing almost sees
miracles but misery," perhaps because to misery alone, save it be to the
great unselfish joy, is it safe to show miracles. Those who must see ere
they will believe, may have to be brought to the verge of the infinite
grave that a condition fit for seeing may be effected in them. "Blessed
are they who have not seen and yet have believed."




CHAPTER XXIV.

OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN.


There is another person in my narrative whom the tide of her destiny
seemed now to have caught and to be bearing more swiftly somewhither.
Unable, as she concluded, any longer to endure a life bounded by the
espionage, distrust, and ill-tempered rebuke of the two wretched dragons
whose misery was their best friend--saving them from foreboded want by
killing them while yet they had something to live upon--Amy Amber did at
last as she had threatened, and one morning when, in amazement that she
was so late, they called her, they received no answer, neither could
find her in or out of the house. She had applied to a friend in London,
and following her advice, had taken the cheap train overnight, and gone
to her. She met her, took her home; and helped her in seeking a
situation--with the result that, before many days were over, her
appearance and manners being altogether in her favor, she obtained her
desire--a place behind a counter in one of the largest shops. There she
was kept hard at work, and the hours of business were long; but the
labor was by no means too much for the fine health and spirits which now
blossomed in her threefold.

Her aunts raised an outcry of horror and dismay first, then of
reprobation, accusing her of many things, and among the rest of those
faults of which they were in reality themselves guilty toward her; for
as to the gratitude and affection we are so ready to claim and so slow
to pay, the debt was great on their part, and very small indeed on hers.
They wrote to her guardians of course to acquaint them with the shocking
fact of her flight, but dwelt far more upon the badness of her behavior
to them from the first, the rapidity with which she had deteriorated,
and the ghastliness of their convictions as to the depth of the
degradation she had preferred to the shelter of their--very
moth-eaten--wings.

The younger of the two guardians was a man of business, and at once took
proper measures for discovering her. It was not, however, before the
lapse of several months that he succeeded. By that time her employers
were so well satisfied with her, that after an interview with them,
followed by one with the girl herself, he was convinced that she was
much better where she was than with her aunts, whose dispositions were
not unknown to him. So he left her in peace.

Knowing nothing of London, interested in all she saw, and much occupied
with her new way of life, Amy did not at once go to find her friend Miss
Raymount. She often recalled her kindness, often dreamed of the
beautiful lady who had let her brush her hair, and always intended to
seek her as soon as she could feel at leisure. But the time wore away,
and still she had not gone.

She continued a well behaved girl, went regularly to church on Sundays,
had many friends but few intimates, and lived with the girl who had been
her friend before her mother's death. Her new way of life was, no doubt,
from its lack of home-ties, and of the restraining if not always
elevating influences of older people, dangerous: no kite can soar
without the pull of the string; but danger is less often ruin than some
people think; and the propt house is not the safest in the row. He who
can walk without falling, will learn to walk the better that his road is
not always of the smoothest; and, as Sir Philip Sidney says, "The
journey of high honor lies not in plain ways."

Such were the respective conditions of Amy Amber and the Frankses, when
the Raymounts left London. The shades were gathering around the family;
the girl had passed from the shadow into the shine. Hester knew nothing
of the state of either, nor had they ever belonged to her flock. It was
not at all for them she was troubled in the midst of the peace and rest
of her new life when she felt like a shepherd compelled to leave his
sheep in the wilderness. Amid the sweet delights of sunshine, room, air,
grass, trees, flowers, music, and the precious stores of an old library,
every now and then she would all at once imagine herself a herald that
had turned aside into the garden of the enchantress. Were not her poor
friends the more sorely tried that she was dwelling at ease? Could it be
right? Yet for the present she could see no way of reaching them. All
she could do for them was to cultivate her gifts, in the hope of one day
returning to them the more valuable for the separation.

One good thing that came of the change was that she and her father were
drawn in the quiet of this country life closer together. When Mr.
Raymount's hours of writing were over, he missed the more busy life into
which he had been able to turn at will, and needed a companion. His wife
not being able to go with him, he naturally turned to his daughter, and
they took their walks abroad together. In these Hester learned much. Her
father was not chiefly occupied with the best things, but he was both of
a learning and a teaching nature. There are few that in any true sense
can be said to be alive: of Mr. Raymount it might be said that he was
coming alive; and it was no small consolation to Hester to get thus
nearer to him. Like the rest of his children she had been a little
afraid of him, and fear, though it may dig deeper the foundations of
love, chokes its passages; she was astonished to find before a month was
over, how much of companions as well as friends they had become to each
other.

Most fathers know little of their sons and less of their daughters.
Because familiar with every feature of their faces, every movement of
their bodies, and the character of their every habitual pose, they take
it for granted they know them! Doubtless knowledge of the person does
through the body pass into the beholder, but there are few parents who
might not make discoveries in their children which would surprise them.
Some such discoveries Mr. Raymount began to make in Hester.

She kept up a steady correspondence with Miss Dasomma, and that also was
a great help to her. She had a note now and then from Mr. Vavasor, and
that was no help. A little present of music was generally its pretext.
He dared not trust himself to write to her about anything else--not from
the fear of saying more than was prudent, but because, not even yet
feeling to know what she would think about this or that, he was afraid
of encountering her disapprobation. In music he thought he did
understand her, but was in truth far from understanding her. For to
understand a person in any one thing, we must at least be capable of
understanding him in everything. Even the bits of news he ventured to
send her, all concerned the musical world--except when he referred now
and then to Cornelius he never omitted to mention his having been to his
aunt's. Hester was always glad when she saw his writing, and always
disappointed with the letter--she could hardly have said why, for she
never expected it to go beyond the surfaces of things: he was not yet
sufficiently at home with her, she thought, to lay open the stores of
his heart and mind--as he would doubtless have been able to do more
readily had he had a sister to draw him out!

Vavasor found himself in her absence haunted with her face, her form,
her voice, her song, her music,--sometimes with the peace and power of
her presence, and the uplifting influence she exercised upon him, It is
possible for a man to fall in love with a woman he is centuries from
being able to understand. But how the form of such a woman must be
dwarfed in the camera of such a man's mind! It is the falsehood of the
silliest poetry to say he defies the image of his beloved. He is but a
telescope turned wrong end upon her. If such a man could see such a
woman after her true proportions, and not as the puppet he imagines her,
thinking his own small great-things of her, he would not be able to love
her at all. To see how he sees her--to get a glimpse of the shrunken
creature he has to make of her ere, through his proud door, he can get
her into the straightened cellar of his poor, pinched heart, would be
enough to secure any such woman from the possibility of falling in love
with such a man. Hester knew that in some directions he was much
undeveloped; but she thought she could help him; and had he thoroughly
believed in and loved her, which he was not capable of doing, she could
have helped him. But a vision of the kind of creature he was capable of
loving--therefore the kind of creature he imagined her in loving her,
would have been--to use a low but expressive phrase--_a sickener to
her_.

At length, in one of his brief communications, he mentioned that his
yearly resurrection was at hand--his butterfly-month he called it--when
he ceased for the time to be a caterpillar, and became a creature of the
upper world, reveling in the light and air of summer. He must go
northward, he said; he wanted not a little bracing for the heats of the
autumnal city. The memories of Burcliff drew him potently thither, but
would be too sadly met by its realities. He had an invitation to the
opposite coast which he thought he would accept. He did not know exactly
where Paradise lay, but if he found it within accessible distance, he
hoped her parents would allow him to call some morning and be happy for
an hour or two.

Hester answered that her father and mother would be glad to see him, and
if he were inclined to spend a day or two, there was a beautiful country
to show him. If his holiday happened again to coincide with Corney's,
perhaps they would come down together. If he cared for sketching, there
was no end of picturesque spots as well as fine landscapes.

Of music or singing she said not a word.

By return of post came a grateful acceptance. About a week after, they
heard from Cornelius that his holiday was not to make its appearance
before vile November. He did not inform them that he sought an exchange
with a clerk whose holiday fell in the said undesirable month.




CHAPTER XXV.

WAS IT INTO THE FIRE?


One lovely evening in the beginning of June, when her turn had come to
get away a little earlier, Amy Amber thought with herself she would at
last make an effort to find Miss Raymount. In the hurry of escaping from
Burcliff she left her address behind, but had long since learned it from
a directory, and was now sufficiently acquainted with London to know how
to reach Addison square. Having dressed herself therefore in becoming
style, for dress was one of the instincts of the girl--an unacquirable
gift, not necessarily associated with anything noble--in the daintiest,
brightest little bonnet, a well-made, rather gay print, boots just a
little too _auffallend_, and gloves that clung closer to the small
short hand than they had to cling to the bodies of the rodents from
which they came, she set out for her visit.

In every motion and feeling, Amy Amber was a little lady. She had not
much experience. She could not fail to show ignorance of some of the
small ways and customs of the next higher of the social strata. But such
knowledge is not essential to ladyhood, though half-ladies think
themselves whole ladies because they have it. To become ladies indeed
they have to learn what those things and the knowledge of them are
really worth. And there was another thing in which Amy was unlike many
who would on the ground of mere social position have counted themselves
immeasurably her superiors: she was incapable of being disagreeable, and
from the thing in itself ill-bred recoiled instinctively. Without
knowing it, she held the main secret of all good manners: she was
simple. Many a one imitates simplicity, but Amy was simple--_one-fold_.
She never put anything on, never wished to appear anything, never tried
to look pleasant. When cross, which she was sometimes, though very rarely,
she tried to _be_ pleasant. If I could convey the idea of her, with
her peaceful temperament and her sunshiny summer-atmosphere, most of my
readers would allow she must have been an engaging and lovable little lady.

She got into an omnibus, and all the way distinguished herself by
readiness to make room. Can it be that the rarity of this virtue in
England has to do with our living in a straitened island? It
_ought_ to work in the contrary direction! The British lady, the
British gentleman too, seems to cultivate a natural repellence. Amy's
hospitable nature welcomed a fellow-creature even into an omnibus.

She found Addison square, and the house she sought. It looked dingy and
dull, for many of its shutters were closed, and there was an
indescribable air of departure about it. She knocked nevertheless, and
the door was opened. She asked if Miss Raymount was at home.

Now Sarah, with most of the good qualities of an old trustworthy
family-servant, had all the faults as well, and one or two besides. She
had not been to Burcliff, consequently did not know Amy, else certainly
she would not have behaved to her as she ought. Many householders have
not an idea how abominably the servants they count patterns of
excellence comport themselves to those even to whom special attention is
owing.

"They are all out of town, miss," replied Sarah, "--except Mr.
Cornelius, of course."

At that moment Mr. Cornelius, on his way to go out, stepped on the
landing of the stair, and stood for an instant looking down into the
hall, wondering who it might be at the door. From his position he could
not see Amy's face, and had he seen it, I doubt if he would have
recognized her, but the moment he heard her voice he knew it, and
hurried down his face in a glow of pleasure. But as he drew near, the
change in her seemed to him so great that he could hardly believe with
his eyes what his ears had told him.

From the first, Corney, like every one else of the family, was taken
with Amy, and Amy was not less than a little taken with him. The former
fact is not wonderful, the latter not altogether inexplicable. No man
needs flatter his _vanity_ much on the ground of being liked by
women, for there never yet was man but some woman was pleased with him.
Corney was good-looking, and, except with his own people, ready enough
to make himself agreeable. Troubled with no modesty and very little
false shame, and having a perfect persuasion of the power of his
intellect and the felicity of his utterance, he never lost the chance of
saying a good thing from the fear of saying a foolish one; neither
having said a foolish one, did he ever perceive that such it was. With a
few of his own kind he had the repute of one who said very good things.
Amy, on her side, was ready to be pleased with whatever could be
regarded as pleasant--most of all with things intended to please, and
was prejudiced in Corney's favor through knowing less of him and more of
his family. Her face beamed with pleasure at sight of him, and almost
involuntarily she stepped within the door to meet him.

"Amy! Who would have thought of seeing you here? When did you come to
town?" he said, and shook hands with her.

"I have been in London a long time," she answered. Corney thought she
looked as if she had.

"How deuced pretty she is!" he said to himself. Quite lady-like, by
Jove."

"Come up-stairs," he said, "and tell me all about it."

He turned and led the way. Without a second thought, Amy followed him.
Sarah stood for a moment with a stare, wondering who the lady could be:
Mr. Cornelius was so much at home with her! and she had never been to
the house before! "A cousin from Australia," she concluded: they had
cousins there.

Cornelius went into the drawing-room, Amy after him, and opened the
shutters of a window, congratulating himself on his good luck. Not often
did anything so pleasant enter the stupid old place! He made her sit on
the sofa in the half-dark, sat down beside her, and in a few minutes had
all her story. Moved by her sweet bright face and pretty manners,
pleased with the deference, amounting to respect, which she showed him,
he began to think her the nicest girl he had ever known. For her
behavior made him feel a large person with power over her, in which
power she seemed pleased to find herself. After a conversation of about
half an hour, she rose.

"What!" said Corney, "you're not going already, Amy?"

"Yes, sir," replied Amy, "I think I had better go. I am so sorry not to
see Miss Raymount! She was very kind to me!"

"You mustn't go yet," said Corney. "Sit down and rest a little.
Come--you used to like music: I will sing to you, and you shall tell me
whether I have improved since you heard me last."

He went to the piano, and Amy sat down again. He sang with his usual
inferiority--which was not so inferior that he failed of pleasing simple
Amy. She expressed herself delighted. He sang half a dozen songs, then
showed her a book of photographs, chiefly portraits of the more famous
actresses of the day, and told her about them. With one thing and
another he kept her--until Sarah grew fidgety, and was on the point of
stalking up from the kitchen to the drawing-room, when she heard them
coming down. Cornelius took his hat and stick, and said he would walk
with her. Amy made no objection; she was pleased to have his company; he
went with her all the way to the lodging she shared with her friend in a
quiet little street in Kensington. Before they parted, her manner and
behavior, her sweetness, and the prettiness which would have been beauty
had it been on a larger scale, had begun to fill what little there was
of Corney's imagination; and he left her with a feeling that he knew
where a treasure lay. He walked with an enlargement of strut as he went
home through the park, and swung his cane with the air of a man who had
made a conquest of which he had reason to be proud.




CHAPTER XXVI.

WAITING A PURPOSE.


The hot dreamy days rose and sank in Yrndale. Hester would wake in the
morning oppressed with the feeling that there was something she ought to
have begun long ago, and must positively set about this new day. Then as
her inner day cleared, she would afresh recognize her duty as that of
those who stand and wait. She had no great work to do--only the common
family duties of the day, and her own education for what might be the
will of Him who, having made her for something, would see that the
possibility of that something should not be wanting. In the heat of the
day she would seek a shady spot with a book for her companion--generally
some favorite book, for she was not one of those who say of one book as
of another--"Oh, I've read that!" It was some time before she came to
like any particular spot: so many drew her, and the spirit of
exploration in that which was her own was strong in her. Under the
shadow of some rock, the tent-roof of some umbrageous beech, or the
solemn gloom of some pine-grove, the brooding spirit of the summer would
day after day find her when the sun was on the height of his great
bridge, and fill her with the sense of that repose in which alone she
herself can work. Then would such a quiescence pervade Hester's spirit,
such a sweet spiritual sleep creep over her, that nothing seemed
required of her but to live; mere existence was conscious well-being.
But the feeling never lasted long. All at once would start awake in her
the dread that she was forsaking the way, inasmuch as she was more
willing to be idle, and rest in inaction. Then would faith rouse herself
and say: "But God will take care of you in this thing too. You have not
to watch lest He should forget, but to be ready when He gives you the
lightest call. You have to keep listening." And the ever returning
corrective to such mood came with the evening; for, regularly as she
went to bed at night and left it in the morning, she went from the
tea-table in the afternoon to her piano, and there, through all the
sweet evening movements and atmospheric changes of the brain--for the
brain has its morning and evening, its summer and winter as well as the
day and the year--would meditate aloud, or brood aloud over the musical
meditations of some master in harmony. And oftener than she knew,
especially in the twilight, when the days had grown shorter, and his
mother feared for him the falling dew, would Mark be somewhere in the
dusk listening to her, a lurking cherub, feeding on her music--sometimes
ascending on its upward torrent to a solitude where only God could find
him.

At such time the thought of Vavasor would come, and for a while remain;
but it was chiefly as one who would be a welcome helper in her work.
When for the time she had had enough of music, softly as she would have
covered a child, she would close her piano, then glide like a bat into
the night, and wander hither and thither through the gloom without
conscious choice. Then most would she think what it would be to have a
man for a friend, one who would strengthen her heart and make her bold
to do what was needful and right; and if then the thoughts of the maiden
would fall to the natural architecture of maidens, and build one or two
of the airy castles into which no man has looked or can look, and if
through them went flitting the form of Vavasor, who will wonder! It is
not the building of castles in the steepest heights of air that is to be
blamed, but the building of such as inspector conscience is not invited
to enter. To cherish the ideal of a man with whom to walk on her way
through the world, is as right for a woman as it was for God to make
them male and female; and to the wise virgin it will ever be a solemn
thought, lovelily dwelt upon, and never mockingly, when most playfully
handled. For there is a play even with most serious things that has in
it no offense. Humor has its share even in religion--but oh, how few
seem to understand its laws! I confess to a kind of foreboding shudder
when even a clergyman begins to jest upon the borders of sacred things.
It is not humor that is irreverent, but the mind that gives it the wrong
turn. As we may be angry and not sin, so may we jest and not sin. But
there is a poor ambition to be married, which is, I fear, the thought
most present with too many young women. They feel as if their worth
remained unacknowledged, as if there were for them no place they could
call their own in society, until they find a man to take them under his
wing. She degrades womanhood who thinks thus of herself. It says ill for
the relation of father and mother if the young women of a family recoil
from the thought of being married, but it says ill for the relation of
parents and children if they are longing to be married.

One evening towards the end of July, when the summer is at its heat, and
makes the world feel as if there never had been, and never ought to be
anything but summer; and when the wind of its nights comes to us from
the land where the sun is not, to tell human souls that, dear as is the
sunlight to their eyes, there are sweeter things far with which the sun
has little to do--Hester was sitting under a fir-tree on the gathered
leaves of numberless years, pine-odors filling the air around her, as if
they, too, stole out with the things of the night when the sun was gone.
It happened that a man came late in the day to tune her piano, and she
had left him at his work, and wandered up the hill in the last of the
sunlight. All at once the wind awoke, and began to sing the strange,
thin, monotonous Elysian ghost-song of the pine-wood--for she sat in a
little grove of pines, and they were all around her. The sweet
melancholy of the hour moved her spirit. So close was her heart to that
of nature that, when alone with it, she seldom or never longed for her
piano; she _had_ the music, and did not need to hear it. When we
are very near to God, we do not desire the Bible. When we feel far from
him, we may well make haste to it. Most people, I fear, wait till they
are inclined to seek him. They do not stir themselves up to lay hold on
God; they breathe the dark airs of the tomb till the morning break,
instead of rising at once and setting out on their journey to meet it.

As she sat in music-haunted reverie, she heard a slight rustle on the
dry carpet around her feet, and the next moment saw dark in the gloom
the form of a man. She was startled, but he spoke instantly; it was
Vavasor. She was still, and could not answer for a moment.

"I am so sorry I frightened you!" he said.

"It is nothing," she returned. "Why can't one help being silly? I don't
see why ladies should ever be frightened more than gentlemen."

"Men are quite as easily startled as ladies," he answered, "though
perhaps they come to themselves a little quicker. Nothing is more
startling than to find some one near when you thought you were alone."

"Except," said Hester, "finding yourself alone when you thought some one
was near. But how did you find me?"

"They told me at the house you were somewhere in this direction. Mark
had followed you apparently some distance. So I ventured to come and
look for you, and--something led me right. But all the time I seem going
to lose myself instead of finding you."

"It might be both," returned Hester; "for I don't at all know my way
with certainty, especially in the dusk. We are on the shady side of the
hill, you see."

"I cannot have lost myself if I have found you," rejoined Vavasor, but
did not venture to carry the speech farther.

"It is time we were moving," said Hester, "seeing we are both so
uncertain of the way. Who knows when we may reach the house!"

"Do let us risk it a few minutes longer," said Vavasor. "This is
delicious. Just think a moment: this my first burst from the
dungeon-land of London for a whole year! This is paradise! I could fancy
I was dreaming of fairyland! But it is such an age since you left
London, that I fear you must be getting used to it, and will scarcely
understand my delight!"

"It is only the false fairyland of mechanical inventors," replied
Hester, "that children ever get tired of. And yet I don't know," she
added, correcting herself; "it is true the things that delight Saffy are
a contempt to Mark; but I am sorry to say the things Mark delights in,
Saffy says are so dull; there is hardly a giant in them!"

As they talked Vavasor had seated himself on the fir-spoil beside her.
She asked him about his journey and about Cornelius; then told him how
she came to be there instead of at her piano,

"The tuner must have finished by this time!" she said; "let us go and
try his work!"

So saying she rose, and was on her feet before Vavasor. The way seemed
to reveal itself to her as they went, and they were soon at home.

The next fortnight Vavasor spent at Yrndale. In those days Nature had
the best chance with him she had yet had since first he came into her
dominions. For a man is a man, however he may have been "dragged up,"
and however much injured he may be by the dragging. Society may have
sought to substitute herself for both God and Nature, and may have had a
horrible amount of success: the rout of Comus see no beast-faces among
them. Yet, I repeat, man is potentially a man, however far he may be
from actual manhood. What one man has, every man has, however hidden and
unrecognizable. Who knows what may not sometimes be awakened in him! The
most heartless scoffer may be suddenly surprised by emotion in a way to
him unaccountable; of all its approaches and all the preparation for it
he has been profoundly unaware. During that fortnight, Vavasor developed
not merely elements of which he had had no previous consciousness, but
elements in whose existence he could not be said to have really
believed. He believed in them the less in fact that he had affected
their existence in himself, and thought he possessed what there was of
them to be possessed. The most remarkable event at once of his inner and
outer history, and the only one that must have seemed almost incredible
to those who knew him best, was, that one morning he got up in time to
see, and for the purpose of seeing, the sun rise. I hardly expect to be
believed when I tell the fact! I am not so much surprised that he formed
the resolution the night before. Something Hester said is enough to
account for that. But that a man like him should already have got on so
far as, in the sleepiness of the morning, to keep the resolve he had
come to in the wakefulness of the preceding night, fills me with
astonishment. It was a great stride forward. Nor was this all: he really
enjoyed it! I do not merely mean that, as a victorious man, he enjoyed
the conquest of himself when the struggle was over, attributing to it
more heroism than it could rightly claim; nor yet that, as any young
human animal may, he enjoyed the clear invigorating clean air that
filled his lungs like a new gift of life and strength. He had poetry
enough to feel something of the indwelling greatness that belonged to
the vision itself--for a vision and a prophecy it is, as much as when
first it rose on the wondering gaze of human spirit, to every soul that
through its eyes can see what those eyes cannot see. He felt a power of
some kind present to his soul in the sight--though he but set it down to
poetic feeling, which he never imagined to have anything to do with
fact. It was in the so-called Christian the mere rudiment of that
worship of the truth which in the old Guebers was developed into
adoration of it in its symbol. It was the drawing of the eternal Nature
in him towards the naturing Eternal, whom he was made to understand, but
of whom he knew so little.

When the evening came, after almost a surfeit of music, if one dare,
un-self-accused, employ such a word concerning a holy thing, they went
out to wander a little about the house in the twilight.

"In such a still soft negative of life," he said, "as such an evening
gives us, really one could almost doubt whether there was indeed such a
constantly recurring phenomenon in nature as I saw this morning!"

"What did you see this morning?" asked Hester, wondering.

"I saw the sun rise," he answered.

"Did you really? I'm so glad! That is a sight rarely seen in London--at
least if I may judge by my own experience."

"One goes to bed so late and so tired!" he replied simply.

"True! and even if one be up in time, where could you see it from?"

"I _have_ seen it rise coming home from a dance; but then somehow
you don't seem to have anything to do with it. I have, however, often
smelt the hay in the streets in the morning."

Hester was checked by this mention of the hay--as if the sun was
something that belonged to the country, like the grass he withered; but
ere she had time to explain to herself what she felt, the next thing he
said got her over it.

"I assure you I felt as if I had never seen the sun before. His way of
getting up was a new thing to me altogether. He seemed to mean
shining--and somehow I felt that he did. In London he always looks
indifferent--just as if he had got it to do, and couldn't help it, like
everybody else in the horrible place. Who is it that says--'God made the
country, and man made the town'?"

"I think it was Cowper, but I'm not sure," answered Hester. "It can't be
quite true though. I suspect man has more to do with the unmaking than
the making of either. We have reason to be glad he has not come near
enough to us yet to destroy either our river or our atmosphere."

"He is creeping on, though. The quarries are not very far from you even
now."

"The quarries do little or no harm. There are a great many things man
may do that only make nature show her beauty the more. I have been
thinking a good deal about it lately: it is the rubbish that makes all
the difficulty--the refuse of the mills and the pits and the iron-works
and the potteries that does all the mischief."

"So it is! and worst of all the human rubbish--especially that which
gathers in our great cities, and gives so much labor in vain to
clergyman and philanthropist!"

Hester smiled--not that she was pleased with the way Vavasor spoke, for
she could not but believe he would in his _rubbish_ include many of
her dear people, but that she was amused at his sympathetic tone towards
the clergy as generally concerned in the matter. For she had had a
little experience, and had listened to much testimony from such as knew,
and firmly believed that the clergy were very near the root of the evil;
and that not with the hoe and weeder, but with the watering pot and
artificial manure, helping largely to convert the poor--into beggars,
and the lawless into hypocrites, heaping cairn upon cairn on the grave
of their poor prostrate buried souls. But thank God, it is by the few,
but fast increasing exceptions, that she knew what the rest were doing!

But perhaps he meant only the wicked when he used the word.

"What do you mean by the human rubbish, Mr. Vavasor?" she asked.

He saw he must be careful, and would fence a little.

"Don't you think," he said slowly, and measuring his words, "that in the
body politic there is something analogous to the waste in matter?"

"Certainly," she answered, "only we might differ as to the persons who
were to be classed in it. I think we should be careful of our judgment
as to when that state has been reached. I fancy that is just the one
thing the human faculty is least able to cope with. None but God can
read in a man what he really is. It can't be a safe thing to call human
beings, our own kith and kin, born into the same world with us, and
under the same laws of existence, _rubbish_."

"I see what you mean," said Vavasor to Hester. But to himself said,
"Good heavens!"

"You see," Hester went on--they were walking in the dark dusk, she
before him in a narrow path among the trees, whence she was able both to
think and speak more freely than if they had been looking in each
other's face in the broad daylight--"you see, rubbish with life in it is
an awkward thing to deal with. Rubbish proper is that out of which the
life, so far at least as we can see, is gone; and this loss of life has
rendered it useless, so that it cannot even help the growth of life in
other things. But suppose, on the one hand, this rubbish, say that which
lies about the mouth of a coal-pit, could be by some process made to
produce the most lovely flowers, or that, on the other hand, if
neglected, it would bring out the most horrible weeds of poison;
infecting the air, or say horrible creeping things, then the word
_rubbish_ would mean either too much or too little; for it means
what can be put to no use, and what is noxious by its mere presence, its
ugliness and immediate defilement. You see, Mr. Vavasor, I have been
thinking a great deal about all this kind of thing. It is my business in
a way."

"But would you not allow that the time comes when nothing can be done
with them?"

"I will not allow it of any I have to do with, at least before I can say
with confidence I have done all I can. After that another may be able to
do more. And who shall say when God can do no more--God who takes no
care of himself, and is laboriously working to get his children home."

"I confess," said Vavasor, "the condition of our poor in our large towns
is the great question of the day."

"--which every one is waking up to _talk_ about," said Hester, and
said no more.

For, as one who tried to do something, she did not like to go on and say
that if all who found the question interesting, would instead of talking
about it do what they could, not to its solution but to its removal,
they would at least make their mark on the _rubbish_-heap, of which
not all the wind of words would in ten thousand years blow away a
spadeful. And yet is talk a less evil than the mischief of mere
experimenters. It is well there is the talk to keep many from doing
positive harm. It is not those who, regarding the horrors around them as
a nuisance, are bent upon their destruction, who will work any salvation
in the earth, but those who see the wrongs of the poor, and strive to
give them their own. Not those who desire a good report among men, nor
those who seek an antidote against the tedium of a selfish existence,
but those who, loving their own flesh and blood, and willing not merely
to spend but to be spent for them, draw nigh them, being to being, will
cause the light to rise upon such as now sit in darkness and the shadow
of death. Love, and love alone, as from the first it is the source of
all life, love alone, wise at once and foolish as a child, can work
redemption. It is life drawing nigh to life, person to person, the human
to human, that conquers death. This--therefore urges people to combine,
seeking the strength of men, not the strength of God. The result is as
he would have it--inevitable quarreling. The unfit brought in for
strength are weakness and destruction. They want their own poor way, and
destroy the work of their hands by the sound of their tongues.
Combinations should be for passing necessities, and only between those
who can each do good work alone, and will do it with or without
combination. Whoever depends on combinations is a weakness to any
association, society or church to which he may imagine himself to
belong. The more easily any such can be dissolved the better. It is
always by single individual communication that the truth has passed in
power from soul to soul. Love alone, and the obligation thereto between
the members of Christ's body, is the one eternal unbreakable bond. It is
only where love is not that law must go. Law is indeed necessary, but
woe to the community where love does not cast out--where at least love
is not casting out law. Not all the laws in the universe can save a man
from poverty, not to say from sin, not to say from conscious misery.
Work on, ye who cannot see this. Do your best. You will be rewarded
according to your honesty. You will be saved by the fire that will
destroy your work, and will one day come to see that Christ's way, and
no other whatever, can either redeem your own life, or render the
condition of the poorest or the richest wretch such as would justify his
creation. If by the passing of this or that more or less wise law, you
could, in the person of his descendant of the third or fourth
generation, make a _well-to-do_ man of him, he would probably be a
good deal farther from the kingdom of heaven than the beggar or the
thief over whom you now lament. The criminal classes, to use your
phrase, are not made up of quite the same persons in the eyes of the
Supreme as in yours.

Vavasor began to think that if ever the day came when he might approach
Hester "as a suitor for her hand," he must be very careful over what he
called her philanthropic craze. But if ever he should in earnest set
about winning her, he had full confidence in the artillery he could
bring to the siege: he had not yet made any real effort to gain her
affections.

Neither had he a doubt that, having succeeded, all would be easy, and he
could do with her much as he pleased. He had no anxiety concerning the
philanthropic craze thereafter. His wife, once introduced to such
society as would then be her right, would speedily be cured of any such
extravagance or enthusiasm as gave it the character of folly.

Under the influence of the lovely place, of the lovely weather, and of
his admiration for Hester, the latent poetry of his nature awoke with
increasing rapidity; and, this reacting on its partial occasion, he was
growing more and more in love with Hester. He was now, to use the phrase
with which he confessed the fact to himself, "over head and ears in love
with her," and notwithstanding the difficulties in his way, it was a
pleasant experience to him: like most who have gone through the same, he
was at this time nearer knowing what bliss may be than he had ever been
before. Most men have the gates once thus opened to them a little way,
that they may have what poor suggestion may be given them, by their
closing again, of how far off they are from them. Very hard! Is it? Then
why in the name of God, will you not go up to them and enter? You do not
like the conditions? But the conditions are the only natural
possibilities of entrance. Enter as you are and you would but see the
desert you think to leave behind you, not a glimpse of a promised land.
The false cannot inherit the true nor the unclean the lovely.

And it began to grow plain to him that now his aunt could no longer look
upon the idea of such an alliance, as she must _naturally_ have
regarded it before. It was a very different thing to see her in the
midst of such grounds and in such a house, with all the old-fashioned
comforts and luxuries of an ancient and prosperous family around her,
and in that of a toiling _litterateur_ in the dingy region of
Bloomsbury, where everything was--of course respectable in a way, but
that way a very inferior and--well, snuffy kind of way--where indeed you
could not dissociate the idea of smoke and brokers' shops from the
newest bonnet on Hester's queenly head! If he could get his aunt to see
her in the midst of these surroundings, then her beauty would have a
chance of working its natural effect upon her, tuned here to "its right
praise and true perfection." She was not a jealous woman, and was ready
to admire where she could, but not the less would keep even beauty at
arm's length when prudence recommended: here, thought Vavasor, prudence
would hold her peace. He would at least himself stand amid no small
amount of justification.

By degrees, and without any transition marked of Hester, emboldened
mainly by the influences of the soft dusky twilight, he came to speak
with more warmth and nearer approach. His heart was tuned above its
ordinary pitch, and he was borne a captive slave in the triumph of
Nature's hour.

"How strangely this loveliness seems to sink into the soul," he said one
evening, when the bats were coming and going like thoughts that refuse
to take shape and be shared, and when with intensest listening you could
not be sure whether it was a general murmur of nature you heard, low in
her sleep, or only the strained nerves of your own being imitating that
which was not.

"For the moment," he went on, "you seem to be the soul of that which is
around you, yet oppressed with the weight of its vastness, and unable to
account for what is going on in it."

"I think I understand you," returned Hester. "It is strange to feel at
once so large and so small; but I presume that is how all true feeling
seems to itself."

"You are right," responded Vavasor; "for when one loves, how it exalts
his whole being, yet in the presence of the woman he worships, how small
he feels, and how unworthy!"

In the human being humility and greatness are not only correlative, but
are one and the same condition. But this was beyond Vavasor.

For the first time in her life Hester felt, nor knew what it was, a
vague pang of jealousy. Whatever certain others may think, there are
women who, having had their minds constantly filled with true and
earnest things, have come for years to woman's full dignity, without
having even speculated on what it may be to be in love. Such therefore
are somewhat in the dark when first it begins to show itself within
themselves: that it should be within them, they having never invited its
presence, adds to their perplexity. She was silent, and Vavasor, whose
experience was scarcely so valuable as her ignorance, judged he might
venture a little farther. But with all his experience in the manufacture
of compliments and in high-flown poetry, he was now at a loss; he had no
fine theories of love to talk from! Love was with him, _at its
best_, the something that preceded marriage--after which, whatever
boys and girls might think, and although, of course, to a beautiful wife
like Hester he could never imagine himself false, it must take its
chance. But as he sat beside God's loveliest idea, exposed to the
mightiest enchantment of life, little imagining it an essential heavenly
decree for the redemption of the souls of men, he saw, for broken
moments, and with half-dazed glimpses, into the eternal, and spoke as
one in a gracious dream:

"If one might sit forever thus!" he said, almost in a whisper,--"forever
and ever, needing nothing, desiring nothing! lost in perfect, in
absolute bliss! so peacefully glad that you do not want to know what
other joy lies behind! so content, that, if you were told there was no
other bliss, you would but say, 'I am the more glad; I want no other! I
refuse all else! let the universe hear, and trouble me with none! This
and nought else ought ever to be--on and on! to the far-away end. The
very soul of me is music, and needs not the softest sound of earth to
keep it alive.'"

At that moment came a sigh of the night-wind, and bore to their ears the
whispered moan of the stream away in the hollow, as it broke its being
into voice over the pebbly troubles of its course. It came with a swell,
and a faint sigh through the pines, and they woke and answered it with
yet more ethereal voice.

"Still! still!" said Vavasor, apostrophizing the river as if it were a
live thing and understood him; "do not speak to me. I cannot attend even
to your watery murmur. A sweeter music, born of the motions of my own
spirit, fills my whole hearing. Be content with thy flowing, as I am
content with my being. Would that God in the mercy of a God would make
this moment eternal!"

He ceased, and was silent.

Hester could not help being thrilled by the rhythm, moved by the poetic
phrase, and penetrated by the air of poetic thought that pervaded the
utterance--which would doubtless indeed have entranced many a smaller
woman than herself, yet was not altogether pleased. Never yet had she
reached anything like a moment concerning which even in transient mood
she could pray, "Let it last forever!" Nor was the present within sight
of any reason why she should not wish it to make way for a better behind
it. But the show of such feeling in Vavasor, was at least the unveiling
of a soul of song in him, of such a nature, such a relation to upper
things that he must one day come to feel the highest, and know a bliss
beyond all feeble delights of the mere human imagination. She must not
be captious and contrary with the poor fellow, she thought--that would
be as bad as to throw aside her poor people: he was afflicted with the
same poverty that gave all the sting to theirs. To be a true woman she
must help all she could help--rich or poor, nor show favor. "Thou shalt
not countenance a poor man in his cause."

"I do not _quite_ understand you," she said. "I can scarcely
imagine the time should ever come when I should wish it, or even be
content that it should last for ever."

"Have you had so little happiness?" he asked sympathetically.

"I do not mean that," she replied. "Indeed I have had a great deal--more
than all but a very few, I should imagine. But I do not think much of
happiness. Perhaps that is a sign--I daresay it is--that I have not had
much of what is not happiness. But no amount of happiness that I have
known yet would make me wish the time to stand still. I want to be
always growing--and while one is growing Time cannot stand if he would:
you drag him on with you! I want, if you would like it better put in
that way, to be always becoming more and more capable of happiness.
Whether I have it or not, I must be and ought to be capable of it."

"Ah!" returned Vavasor, "you are as usual out of sight beyond me. You
must take pity on me and carry me with you, else you will leave me miles
behind, and I shall never look on you again; and what eternity would be
to me without your face to look at, God only knows. There will be no
punishment necessary for me but to know that there is a gulf I cannot
pass between us."

"But why should it be so!" answered Hester almost tenderly. "Our fate is
in our own hands. It is ours to determine the direction in which we
shall go. I don't want to preach to you, dear Mr. Vavasor, but so much
surely one friend may say to another! Why should not every one be
reasonable enough to seek the one best thing, and then there would be no
parting; whereas all the love and friendship in the world would not
suffice to keep people together if they were inwardly parted by such
difference as you imply."

Vavasor's heart was touched in two ways by this simple speech--first, in
the best way in which it was at the moment capable of being touched; for
he could not help thinking for a moment what a blessed thing it must be
to feel good and have no weight upon you--as this lovely girl plainly
did, and live like her in perfect fearlessness of whatever might be
going to happen to you. Religion would be better than endurable in the
company of such an embodiment of it! He might even qualify for some
distinction in it with such a teacher!--Second, in the way of
self-satisfaction; for clearly she was not disinclined to be on terms of
closer intimacy with him. And as she made the advance why should he not
accept, if not the help, yet the offer of the help she had _almost_
made? That would and could bind him to nothing. He understood her well
enough to have no slightest suspicion of any coquetry such as a fool
like Cornelius would have imagined. He was nevertheless a fool, also,
only of another and deeper sort. It needs brains to be a real fool!

From that night he placed himself more than ever in the position of a
pupil towards her, hoping in the natural effect of the intimacy. To keep
up and deepen the relation, he would go on imagining himself in this and
that difficulty, such as he was never really in, or even quite knew that
he was not in. He was no conscious hypocrite in the matter--only his
intellect alone was concerned where he talked as if his being was. No
answer he could have had would have had the smallest effect on the
man--Vavasor only determined what he would say next. Hester kept trying
to meet him as simply and directly as she could, although to meet these
supposed difficulties she was unconsciously compelled to transform them,
in order to get a hold of them at all, into something the nearest like
them that she understood--still something very different from anything
in Vavasor's thoughts. But what she said made no difference to him, so
long as she would talk to him. And talk she did, sometimes with an
affectionate fervor of whose very possibility he had had no idea. So
long as she would talk, he cared not a straw whether she understood what
he had said; and with all her misconception, she understood it better
than he did himself. Thus her growing desire to wake in him the better
life, brought herself into relations with him which had an earthly side,
as everything heavenly of necessity has; for this life also is God's,
and the hairs of our heads are numbered.




CHAPTER XXVII.

MAJOR H.G. MARVEL.


One afternoon when Vavasor was in his room, writing a letter to his
aunt, in which he described in not too glowing terms, for he knew
exaggeration would only give her a handle, the loveliness of the retreat
among the hills where he was spending his holiday--when her father was
in his study, her mother in her own room, and the children out of doors,
a gentleman was shown in upon her as she sat alone in the drawing-room
at her piano, not playing but looking over some books of old music she
had found in the house. The servant apologized, saying he thought she
was out. The visitor being already in the room, the glance she threw on
the card the man had given her had had time to teach her little or
nothing with regard to him when she advanced to receive him. The name on
the card was _Major H.G. Marvel_. She vaguely thought she had heard
it, but in the suddenness of the meeting was unable to recall a single
idea concerning the owner of it. She saw before her a man whose
decidedly podgy figure yet bore a military air, and was not without a
certain grace of confidence. For his bearing was even _marked_ by
the total absence of any embarrassment, anxiety, or any even of that air
of apology which one individual seems almost to owe to another. At the
same time there was not a suspicion of truculence or even repulse in his
carriage. There was self-assertion, but not of the antagonistic--solely
of the inviting sort. His person beamed with friendship. Notably above
the middle height, the impression of his stature was reduced by a too
great development of valor in the front of his person, which must always
have met the enemy considerably in advance of the rest of him. On the
top of rather asthmatic-looking shoulders was perched a head that looked
small for the base from which it rose, and the smaller that it was an
evident proof of the derivation of the word _bald_, by Chaucer
spelled _balled_; it was round and smooth and shining like ivory,
and the face upon it was brought by the help of the razor into as close
a resemblance with the rest of the ball as possible. The said face was a
pleasant one to look at--of features altogether irregular--a retreating
and narrow forehead over keen gray eyes that sparkled with intelligence
and fun, prominent cheek-bones, a nose thick in the base and
considerably elevated at the point, a large mouth always ready to show a
set of white, regular, serviceable teeth--the only regular arrangement
in the whole facial economy--and a chin whose original character was
rendered doubtful by its _duplicity_--physical, I mean, with no
hint at the moral.

"Cousin Hester!" he said, advancing, and holding out his hand.

Mechanically she gave him hers. The voice that addressed her was at once
a little husky, and very cheery; the hand that took hers was small and
soft and kind and firm. A merry, friendly smile lighted up eyes and face
as he spoke. Hester could not help liking him at first sight--yet felt a
little shy of him. She thought she had heard her mother speak of a
cousin somewhere abroad: this must be he--if indeed she did remember any
such!

"You don't remember me," he said, "seeing you were not in this world,
wherever else you may have been, for a year or two after I left the
country: and, to tell the truth, had I been asked, I should have
objected to your appearance on any terms."

As this speech did not seem to carry much enlightenment with it, he went
on to explain. "The fact is, my dear young lady, that I left the country
because your mother and I were too much of one mind."

"Of one mind?" said Hester, bewildered.

"Ah, you don't understand!" said the major, who was all the time
standing before her with the most polite though confident bearing. The
thing you see, was this: I liked your mother better than myself, and so
did she; and without any jealousy of one another, it was not an
arrangement for my happiness. I had the choice between two things,
stopping at home and breaking my heart by seeing her the wife of another
man, and going away and getting over it the best way I could. So you see
I must by nature be your sworn enemy, only it's of no use, for I've
fallen in love with you at first sight. So now, if you will ask me to
sit down, I will swear to let bygones be bygones, and be your true
knight and devoted servant as long as I live. How you do remind me of
your mother, only by Jove, you're twice as handsome."

"Do pray sit down, Mr. Marley----"

"Marvel, if you please," interrupted the major; "and I'm sure it's a
great marvel if not a great man I am, after what I've come through! But
don't you marvel at me too much, for I'm a very good sort of fellow when
you know me. And if you could let me have a glass of water, with a
little sherry just to take the taste off it, I should be greatly obliged
to you. I have had to walk farther for the sight of you than on such a
day as this I find altogether refreshing: it's as hot as the tropics, by
George! But I am well repaid--even without the sherry."

As he spoke he was wiping his round head all over with a red silk
handkerchief.

"I will get it at once, and let my mother know you are here," said
Hester, turning to the door.

"No, no, never mind your mother; I daresay she is busy, or lying down.
She always went to lie down at this time of the day; she was never very
strong you know, though I don't doubt it was quite as much to get rid of
me. I shouldn't wonder if she thought me troublesome in those days. But
I bear no malice now, and I hope she doesn't either. Tell her I say so.
It's more than five and twenty years ago, though to me it don't seem
more than so many weeks. Don't disturb your mother, my dear. But if you
insist on doing so, tell her old Harry is come to see her--very much
improved since she turned him about his business."

Hester told a servant to take the sherry and the water to the
drawing-room, and, much amused, ran to find her mother. "There's the
strangest gentleman down-stairs, mamma, calling himself old Harry. He's
having some sherry and water in the drawing-room! I never saw such an
odd man!" Her mother laughed--a pleased little laugh. "Go to him, Hester
dear, and say I shall be down directly." "Is he really a cousin, mamma?"
"To be sure--my second cousin! He was very fond of me once." "Oh, he
has told me all about that already. He says you sent him about his
business." "If that means that I wouldn't marry him, it is true enough.
But he doesn't know what I went through for always taking his part. I
always stood up for him, though I never could bear him near me. He was
such an odd, good-natured bear! such a rough sort of creature! always
saying the thing he ought not to, and making everybody, ladies
especially, uncomfortable! He never meant any harm, but never saw where
fun should stop. You wouldn't believe the vulgar things Harry would say
out of pure fun!--especially if he got hold of a very stiff old maid; he
would tease her till he got her in a passion. But if she began to cry,
then Harry had the worst of it, and was as penitent as any good child. I
daresay he's much improved by this time." "He told me to tell you he
was. But if he is much improved--well, what he must have been! I like
him though, mamma--I suppose because you liked him a little. So take
care you are not too hard upon him; I'm going to take him up now."

"I make over my interest in him, and have no doubt he will be pleased
enough with the change, for a man can't enjoy finding an old woman where
he had all the time been imagining a young one. But I must warn you,
Hester, as he seems to have made a conquest of you already, that he has
in the meantime been married to a black--or at least a very brown Hindoo
woman."

"That's nothing to his discredit with you, mamma, I hope. Has he brought
her home with him, I wonder."

"She has been dead now for some ten years. I believe he had a large
fortune with her, which he has since by judicious management increased
considerably. He is really a good-hearted fellow, and was kind to every
one of his own relations as long as there was one left to be kind to."

"Well, I shall go back to him, mamma, and tell him you are coming as
soon as you have got your wig and your newest lace-cap on, and your
cheeks rouged and pearl-powdered, to look as like the lady that would
none of him as you can."

Her mother laughed merrily, and pretended to box her daughter's ears. It
was not often any mood like this rose between them; for not only were
they serious in heart, but from temperament, and history, and modes and
direction of thought, their ways were serious as well. Yet who may so
well break out in childlike merriment as those whose life has in it no
moth-eaten Mammon-pits, who have no fear, no greed, and live with a
will--rising like the sun to fill the day with the work given them to
do!

"Look what I have brought you, cousin," said major Marvel, the moment
Hester re-entered the room, holding out to her a small necklace. "You
needn't mind taking them from an old fellow like me. It don't mean that
I want to marry you off-hand before I know what sort of a temper you've
got. Take them."

Hester drew near, and looked at the necklace.

"Take it," said the major again.

"How strangely beautiful it is!--all red, pear-shaped, dull,
scratched-looking stones, hanging from a savage-looking gold chain! What
are they, Mr. Marvel?"

"You have described it like a book!" he said. "It is a barbarous native
necklace--but they are fine rubies--only rough--neither cut nor
polished."

"It is beautiful," repeated Hester. "Did you really mean it for me?"

"Of course I did!"

"I will ask mamma if I may keep it."

"Where's the good of that? I hope you don't think I stole it? Though
faith there's a good deal that's like stealing goes on where that comes
from!--But here comes the mother!--Helen, I'm so glad to see you once
more!"

Hester slipped away with the necklace in her hand, and left her mother
to welcome her old admirer before she would trouble her about the
offered gift. They met like trusting friends whom years had done nothing
to separate, and while they were yet talking of bygone times, Mr.
Raymount entered, received him cordially, and insisted on his remaining
with them as long as he could; they were old friends, although rivals,
and there never had been any ground for bitterness between them. The
major agreed; Mr. Raymount sent to the station for his luggage, and
showed him to a room.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE MAJOR AND VAVASOR.


As major Marvel, for all the rebuffs he had met with, had not yet
learned to entertain the smallest doubt as to his personal
acceptability, so he was on his part most catholic in his receptivity.
But there were persons whom from the first glance he disliked, and then
his dislike was little short of loathing. I suspect they were such as
found the heel of his all but invulnerable vanity and wounded it. Not
accustomed to be hurt, it resented hurt when it came the more sorely. He
was in one sense, and that not a slight one, a true man: there was no
discrepancy, no unfittingness between his mental conditions and the
clothing in which those conditions presented themselves to others. His
words, looks, manners, tones, and everything that goes to express man to
man, expressed him. What he felt that he showed. I almost think he was
unaware of the possibility of doing otherwise. At the same time, he had
very little insight into the feelings of others, and almost no sense of
the possibility that the things he was saying might affect his listeners
otherwise than they affected him. If he boasted, he meant to boast, and
would scorn to look as if he did not know it was a good thing he was
telling of himself: why not of himself as well as of another? He had no
very ready sympathy with other people, especially in any suffering he
had never himself experienced, but he was scrupulously fair in what he
said or did in regard of them, and nothing was so ready to make him
angry as any appearance of injustice or show of deception. He would have
said that a man's first business was to take care of himself, as so many
think who have not the courage to say it; and so many more who do not
think it. But the Major's conduct went far to cast contempt upon his
selfish opinion.

During dinner he took the greater part of the conversation upon himself,
and evidently expected to be listened to. But that was nearly all he
wanted. Let him talk, and hear you laugh when he was funny, and he was
satisfied. He seemed to have no inordinate desire for admiration or even
for approbation. He was fond of telling tales of adventure, some
wonderful, some absurd, some having nothing in them but his own
presence, and occasionally, while the detail was good the point for the
sake of which it had been introduced would be missing; but he was just
as willing to tell one, the joke of which turned against himself, as one
amusing at the expense of another. Like many of his day who had spent
their freshest years in India, he was full of the amusements and sports
with which so much otherwise idle time is passed by Englishmen in the
East, and seemed to think nothing connected with the habits of their
countrymen there could fail to interest those at home. Every now and
then throughout the dinner he would say, "Oh, that reminds me!" and then
he would tell something that happened when he was at such and such a
place, when So-and-So "of our regiment" was out tiger-shooting, or
pig-sticking, or whatever the sport might be; "and if Mr. Raymount will
take a glass of wine with me, I will tell him the story"--for he was
constantly drinking wine, after the old fashion, with this or that one
of the company.

When he and Vavasor were introduced to each other, he glanced at him,
drew his eyebrows together, made his military bow, and included him
among the listeners to his tales of exploit and adventure by sea and
land.

Vavasor was annoyed at his presence--not that he much minded a little
boring in such good company, or forgot that everything against another
man was so much in his own favor; but he could not help thinking, "What
would my aunt say to such a relative?" So while he retained the blandest
expression, and was ready to drink as many glasses of wine with the new
comer as he wished, he set him down in his own mind not only as an
ill-bred man and a boaster, in which there was some truth, but as a liar
and a vulgar-minded man as well, in which there was little or no truth.

Now although major Marvel had not much ordinary insight into character,
the defect arose mainly from his not feeling a deep enough interest in
his neighbor; and if his suspicion or dislike was roused in respect of
one, he was just as likely as any other ever is to arrive at a correct
judgment concerning a man he does not love.

He had been relating a thrilling adventure with a man-eating tiger. He
saw, as they listened, the eyes of little Mark and Saffy had almost
surpassed the use of eyes and become ears as well. He saw Hester also,
who was still child enough to prefer a story of adventure to a love-tale
fixed as if, but for the way it was bound over to sobriety, her hair
would have stood on end. But at one moment he caught also--surprised
indeed a certain expression on the face of Vavasor, which that
experienced man of the world never certainly intended to be so
surprised, only at the moment he was annoyed to see the absorption of
Hester's listening; she seemed to have eyes for no one but the man who
shot tigers as Vavasor would have shot grouse.

The major, who upon fitting occasion and good cause, was quarrelsome as
any turkey-cock, swallowed something that was neither good, nor good for
food, and said, but not quite so carelessly as he had intended:

"Ha, ha, I see by your eyes, Mr. Passover, you think I'm drawing the
long bow--drawing the arrow to the head, eh?"

"No, 'pon my word!" said Vavasor earnestly, "nothing farther from
my thoughts. I was only admiring the coolness of the man who would
actually creep into the mouth of the--the--the jungle after
a--what-you-call-him--a man-eating tiger."

"Well, you see, what was a fellow to do," returned the major
suspiciously. "The fellow wouldn't come out! and by Jove I wasn't the
only fellow that wanted him out! Besides I didn't creep in; I only
looked in to see whether he was really there. That I could tell by the
shining eyes of him."

"But is not a man-eating tiger a something tremendous, you know? When he
once takes to that kind of diet, don't you know--they say he likes
nothing else half so well! Good beef and mutton will no longer serve his
turn, I've been told at the club. A man must be a very Munchausen to
venture it."

"I don't know the gentleman--never heard of him," said the major: for
Vavasor had pronounced the name German-fashion, and none of the
listeners recognized that of the king of liars; "but you are quite
mistaken in the character of the man-eating tiger. It is true he does
not care for other food after once getting a passion for the more
delicate; but it does not follow that the indulgence increases either
his courage or his fierceness. The fact is it ruins his moral nature. He
does not get many Englishmen to eat; and it would seem as if the flesh
of women and children and poor cowardly natives, he devours, took its
revenge upon him by undermining and destroying his natural courage. The
fact is, he is well-known for a sneak. I sometimes can't help thinking
the ruffian knows he is a rebel against the law of his Maker, and a
traitor to his natural master. The man-eating tiger and the
rogue-elephant are the devils of their kind. The others leave you alone
except you attack them; then they show fight. These attack you--but
run--at least the tiger, not the elephant, when you go out after him.
From the top of your elephant you may catch sight of him sneaking off
with his tail tucked between his legs from cover to cover of the jungle,
while they are beating up his quarters to drive him out. You can never
get any sport out of him. _He_ will never fly at your elephant, or
climb a tree, or take to the water after you! If there's a creature on
earth I hate it's a coward!" concluded the major.

Said Vavasor to himself, "The man is a coward!"

"But _why_ should you hate a coward so?" asked Hester, feeling at
the moment, with the vision of a man-eating tiger before her, that she
must herself come under the category. "How can a poor creature made
without courage help being one? You can neither learn nor buy courage!"

"I am not so sure about the learning. But such as you mean, I wouldn't
call cowards," returned the major. "Nobody thinks worse of the hare, or
even the fox, for going away before the hounds. Men whose business it is
to fight go away before the enemy when they have not a chance, and when
it would do no good to stand and be cut down. To let yourself be killed
when you ought not is to give up fighting. There is a time to run and a
time to stand. But the man will run like a man and the coward like a
coward."

Said Vavasor to himself, "I'll be bound you know when to run at least!"

"What can harmless creatures do but run," resumed the major, filling his
glass with old port. "But when the wretch that has done all the hurt he
could will not show fight for it, but turns tail the moment danger
appears, I call him a contemptible coward. Man or beast I would set my
foot on him. That's what made me go into the hole to look after the
brute."

"But he might have killed you, though he was a coward," said Hester,
"when you did not leave him room to run."

"Of course he might, my dear! Where else would be the fun of it? Without
that the thing would be no better than this shooting of pigeons and
pheasants by men who would drop their guns if a cock were to fly in
their faces. You _had_ to kill him, you know! He's first cousin--the
man-eating, or rather woman-eating tiger, to a sort that I understand
abounds in the Zoological Gardens called English society; if the woman
be poor, he devours her at once; if she be rich he marries her, and eats
her slowly up at his ease in his den."

"How with the black wife!" thought Mr. Raymount, who had been little
more than listening.

But Mr. Raymount did not really know anything about that part of his old
friend's history; it was hardly to his discredit. The black wife, as he
called her, was the daughter of an English merchant by a Hindoo wife, a
young creature when he first made her acquaintance, unaware of her own
power, and kept almost in slavery by the relatives of her deceased
father, who had left her all his property. Major Marvel made her
acquaintance and became interested in her through a devilish attempt to
lay the death of her father to her door. I believe the shine of her gold
had actually blinded her relatives into imagining, I can hardly say
_believing_ her guilty. The major had taken her part and been of
the greatest service to her. She was entirely acquitted. But although
nobody believed her in the smallest degree guilty, _society_ looked
askance upon her. True, she was rich, but was she not black? and had she
not been accused of a crime? And who saw her father and mother married?
Then said the major to himself--"Here am I a useless old fellow, living
for nobody but myself! It would make one life at least happier if I took
the poor thing home with me. She's rather too old, and I'm rather too
young to adopt her; but I daresay she would marry me. She has a trifle I
believe that would eke out my pay, and help us to live decently!" He did
not know then that she had more than a very moderate income, but it
turned out to be a very large fortune indeed when he came to inquire
into things. That the major rejoiced over his fortune, I do not doubt;
but that he would have been other than an honorable husband had he found
she had nothing, I entirely disbelieve. When she left him the widowed
father of a little girl, he mourned sincerely for her. When the child
followed her mother, he was for some time a sad man indeed. Then, as if
her money was all he had left of her, and he must lead what was left of
his life in its company, he went heartily into speculation with it, and
at least doubled the fortune she brought him. He had now returned to his
country to find almost every one of his old friends dead, or so changed
as to make them all but dead to him. Little as any one would have
imagined it from his conversation or manner, it was with a kind of
heart-despair that he sought the cousin he had loved. And scarcely had
he more than seen the daughter of his old love than, in the absence of
almost all other personal interest, he was immediately taken possession
of by her--saw at once that she was a grand sort of creature, gracious
as grand, and different from anything he had even seen before. At the
same time he unconsciously began to claim a property in her; to have
loved the mother seemed to give him a right in the daughter, and that
right there might be a way of making good. But all this was as yet only
in the region of the feeling, not at all in that of the thinking.

In proportion as he was taken with the daughter of the house, he
disliked the look of the fine gentleman visitor that seemed to be
dangling after her. Who he was, or in what capacity there, he did not
know, but almost from the first sight profoundly disliked him, and the
more as he saw more sign of his admiration of Hester. He might be a
woman-eater, and after her money--if she had any: such suspects must be
watched and followed, and their haunts marked.

"But," said Hester, fearing the conversation might here take a dangerous
turn, "I should like to understand the thing a little better. I am not
willing to set myself down as a coward; I do not see that a woman has
any right to be a coward any more than a man. Tell me, major
Marvel--when you know that a beast may have you down, and begin eating
you any moment, what is it that keeps you up? What have you to fall back
upon? Is it principle, or faith, or what is it?"

"Ho, ho!" said the Major, laughing, "a meta-physician in the very bosom
of my family!--I had not reckoned upon that!--Well, no, my dear, I
cannot exactly say that it is principle, and I am sure it is not faith.
You don't think about it at all. It's partly your elephant, and partly
your rifle--and partly perhaps--well, there I daresay comes in something
of principle!--that as an Englishman you are sent to that benighted
quarter of the world to kill their big vermin for them, poor things! But
no, you don't think of that at the time. You've got to kill him--that's
it. And then when he comes roaring on, your rifle jumps to your shoulder
of itself."

"Do you make up your mind beforehand that if the animal should kill you,
it is all right?" asked Hester.

"By no means, I give you my word of honor," answered the major,
laughing.

"Well now," answered Hester, "except I had made up my mind that if I was
killed it was all right, I couldn't meet the tiger."

"But you see, my dear," said the major, "you do not know what it is to
have confidence in your eye and your rifle. It is a form of power that
you soon come to feel as resting in yourself--a power to destroy the
thing that opposes you!"

Hester fell a-thinking, and the talk went on without her. She never
heard the end of the story, but was roused by the laughter that followed
it.

"It was no tiger at all--that was the joke of the thing," said the
major. "There was a roar of laughter when the brute--a great lumbering
floundering hyena, rushed into the daylight. But the barrel of my rifle
was bitten together as a schoolboy does a pen--a quill-pen, I mean. They
have horribly powerful jaws, those hyenas."

"And what became of the man-eater?" asked Mark, with a disappointed
look.

"Stopped in the hole till it was safe to come out and go on with his
delicate meals."

"Just imagine that horrible growl behind you, as if it came out of a
whole mine of teeth inside!"

"By George! for a young lady," said the major, "you have an imagination!
Too much of that, you know, won't go to make you a good hunter of
tigers!"

"Then you owe your coolness to want of imagination?" suggested Hester.

"Perhaps so. Perhaps, after all," returned the major, with a merry
twinkle in his eye, "we hunters are but a set of stupid fellows--too
stupid to be reasonably frightened!"

"I don't mean that exactly. I think that perhaps you do not know so well
as you might where your courage comes from. For my part I would rather
be courageous to help the good than to destroy the bad."

"Ah, but we're not all good enough ourselves for that," said the major,
with a serious expression, and looking at her full out of his clear
eyes, from which their habitual twinkle of fun had for the moment
vanished. "Some of us are only fit to destroy what is yet worse than
ourselves."

"To be sure we can't _make_ anything," said Hester thoughtfully,
"but we can help God to make. To destroy evil things is good, but the
worst things can only be destroyed by being good, and that is so hard!"

"It _is_ hard," said the major--"so hard that most people never try
it!" he added with a sigh, and a gulp of his wine.

Mrs. Raymount rose, and with Hester and the children withdrew. After
they were gone the major rattled on again, his host putting in a word
now and then, and Vavasor sat silent, with an expression that seemed to
say, "I am amused, but I don't eat all that is put on my plate."




CHAPTER XXIX.

A BRAVE ACT.


The major had indeed taken a strong fancy to Hester, and during the
whole of his visit kept as near her as he could, much to the annoyance
of Vavasor. Doubtless it was in part to keep the other from her that he
himself sought her: the major did not take to Vavasor. There was a
natural repulsion between them. Vavasor thought the major a most
objectionable, indeed low fellow, full of brag and vulgarity, and the
major thought Vavasor a supercilious idiot. It is curious how
differently a man's character will be read by two people in the same
company, but it is not hard to explain, seeing his carriage to the
individual affects only the man who is the object of it, and is seldom
observed by the other; like a man, and you will judge him with more or
less fairness; dislike him, fairly or unfairly, and you cannot fail to
judge him unjustly. All deference and humility towards Hester and her
parents, Vavasor without ceasing for a moment to be conventionally
polite, allowed major Marvel to see unmistakably that his society was
not welcome to the man who sat opposite him. Entirely ignorant each of
the other's pursuits, and nearly incapable of sympathy upon any point,
each would have gladly shown the other to be the fool he counted him.
Only the major, being the truer man, was able to judge the man of the
world with a better gauge than he could apply in return. Each watched
the other--the major annoyed with the other's silent pretension, and
disgusted with his ignorance of everything in which he took an interest,
and Vavasor regarding the major as a narrow-minded overgrown
school-boy--though, in fact, his horizon was very much wider than his
own--and disgusted with the vulgarity which made even those who knew his
worth a little anxious every time he opened his mouth. He did not offend
very often, but one never knew when he might not. The offence never
hurt, only rendered the sensitive, and others for their sakes,
uncomfortable.

After breakfast the next day, they all but Mr. Raymount went out for a
little walk together.

It seemed destined to be a morning of small adventures. As they passed
the gate of the Home Farm, out rushed, all of a sudden, a half-grown pig
right between the well-parted legs of the major, with the awkward
consequence that he was thrown backwards, and fell into a place which,
if he had had any choice, he certainly would not have chosen for the
purpose. A look of keen gratification rose in Vavasor's face, but was
immediately remanded; he was much too well-bred to allow it to remain.
With stony countenance he proceeded to offer assistance to the fallen
hero, who, however, heavy as he was, did not require it, but got
cleverly on his feet again with a cheerfulness which discomfited
discomfiture, and showed either a sweetness or a command of temper which
gave him a great lift in the estimation of Hester.

"Confound the brute!" he said, laughing. "He can't know how many of his
wild relatives I have stuck, else I should set it down to revenge. What
a mess he has made of me! I shall have to throw myself in the river,
like a Hindoo, for purification. It's a good thing I've got some more
clothes in my portmanteau."

Saffy laughed right merrily over his fall and the fun he made of it; but
Mark looked concerned. He ran and pulled some grass and proceeded to rub
the Major down.

"Let us go into the farmhouse," said Mrs. Raymount. "Mrs. Stokes will
give us some assistance."

"No, no," returned the major. "Better let the mud dry, it will come off
much better then. A hyena once served me the same. I didn't mind that,
though all the fellows cracked their waistbands laughing at me. Why
shouldn't piggy have his fun as well as another--eh, Mark? Come along.
You sha'n't have your walk spoiled by my heedllessness."

"The pig didn't mean it, sir," said Mark. "He only wanted to get out."

But there seemed to be more creatures about the place that wanted to get
out. A spirit of liberty was abroad. Mark and Saffy went rushing away
like wild rabbits every now and then, making a round and returning,
children once more. It was one of those cooler of warm mornings that
rouse all the life in heart, brain and nerves, making every breath a
pleasure, and every movement a consciousness.

They had not gone much farther, when, just as they approached the paling
of a paddock, a horse which had been turned in to graze, came blundering
over the fence, and would presently have been ranging the world.
Unaccustomed to horses, except when equipped and held ready by the hand
of a groom, the ladies and children started and drew back. Vavasor also
stepped a little aside, making way for the animal to follow his own
will. But as he lighted from his jump, carrying with him the top bar of
the fence, he stumbled, and almost fell, and while yet a little
bewildered, the major went up to him, and ere he could recover such wits
as by nature belonged to him, had him by nose and ear, and leading him
to the gap, made him jump in again, and replaced the bar he had knocked
away.

"Mind we don't forget to mention it as we go back," he said to Mark.

"Thank you! How brave of you, major Marvel!" said Mrs. Raymount.

The Major laughed with his usual merriment.

"If it had been the horse of the Rajah of Rumtool," he said, "I should
have been brave indeed only by this time there would have been nothing
left of me to thank. A man would have needed courage to take him by the
head! But a quiet good-tempered carriage-horse--none but a cockney would
be frightened at him!"

With that he began and to the awful delight of the children, told them
the most amazing and indeed horrible tales about the said horse. Whether
it was all true or not I cannot tell; all I can say is that the major
only told what he had heard and believed, or had himself seen.

Vavasor, annoyed at the involuntary and natural enough nervousness he
had shown, for it was nothing more, turned his annoyance on the Major,
who by such an insignificant display of coolness, had gained so great an
advantage over him in the eyes of the ladies, and made up his opinion
that in every word he said about the horse of the Rajah of Rumtool he
was romancing--and that although there had been no slightest pretence to
personal prowess in the narrative. Our judgment is always too much at
the mercy of our likes and dislikes. He did indeed mention himself, but
only to say that once in the street of a village he saw the horse at
some distance with a child in his teeth shaking him like a terrier with
a rat. He ran, he said, but was too far off. Ere he was half-way, the
horse's groom, who was the only man with any power over the brute, had
come up and secured him--though too late to save the child.

They were following the course of the river, and had gradually descended
from the higher grounds to the immediate banks, which here spread out
into a small meadow on each side. There were not now many flowers, but
Saffy was pulling stalks of feathery-headed grasses, while Mark was
walking quietly along by the brink of the stream, stopping every now and
then to look into it. The bank was covered with long grass hanging over,
here and there a bush of rushes amongst it, and in parts was a little
undermined. On the opposite side lower down was a meal-mill, and nearly
opposite, a little below, was the head of the mill-lade, whose weir,
turning the water into it, clammed back the river, and made it deeper
here than in any other part--some seven feet at least, and that close to
the shore. It was still as a lake, and looked, as deep as it was. The
spot was not a great way from the house, but beyond its grounds. The two
ladies and two gentlemen were walking along the meadow, some distance
behind the children, and a little way from the bank, when they were
startled by a scream of agony from Saffy. She was running towards
them-shrieking, and no Mark was to be seen. All started at speed to meet
her, but presently Mrs. Raymount sank on the grass. Hester would have
stayed with her, but she motioned her on.

Vavasor outran the major, and reached Saffy first, but to his anxious
questions--"Where is he? Where did you leave him? Where did you see him
last?" she answered only by shrieking with every particle of available
breath. When the major came up, he heard enough to know that he must use
his wits and lose no time in trying to draw information from a creature
whom terror had made for the moment insane. He kept close to the bank,
looking for some sign of the spot where he had fallen in.

He had indeed overrun the place, and was still intent on the bank when
he heard a cry behind him. It was the voice of Hester, screaming
"Across; Across!"

He looked across, and saw half-way over, slowly drifting towards the
mill-lade, a something dark, now appearing for a little above the water,
now sinking out of sight. The major's eye, experienced in every point of
contact between man and nature, saw at once it must be the body, dead or
alive--only he could hardly be dead yet--of poor Mark. He threw off his
coat, and plunged in, found the water deep enough for good swimming, and
made in the direction of the object he had seen. But it showed so little
and so seldom, that fearing to miss it, he changed his plan, and made
straight for the mouth of the mill-lade, anxious of all things to
prevent him from getting down to the water-wheel.

In the meantime, Hester, followed by Vavasor, while Saffy ran to her
mother, sped along the bank till she came to the weir, over which hardly
any water was running. When Vavasor saw her turn sharp round and make
for the weir, he would have prevented her, and laid his hand on her arm;
but she turned on him with eyes that flashed, and lips which,
notwithstanding her speed, were white as with the wrath that has no
breath for words. He drew back and dared only follow. The footing was
uncertain, with deep water on one side up to a level with the stones,
and a steep descent to more deep water on the other. In one or two spots
the water ran over, and those spots were slippery. But, rendered
absolutely fearless by her terrible fear, Hester flew across without a
slip, leaving Vavasor some little way behind, for he was neither very
sure-footed nor very sure-headed.

But when they had run along the weir and landed, they were only on the
slip between the lade and the river: the lade was between them and the
other side--deep water therefore between them and the major, where
already he was trying to heave the unconscious form of Mark on to the
bank. The poor man had not swum so far for many years, and was nearly
spent.

"Bring him here," cried Vavasor. "The stream is too strong for me to get
to you. It will bring you in a moment."

The major muttered an oath, gave a great heave, got the body half on the
shore, and was then just able to scramble out himself.

When Vavasor looked round, he saw Hester had left him, and was already
almost at the mill. There she crossed the lade and turning ran up the
other side, and was soon at the spot where the major was doing all he
could to bring back life. But there was little hope out there in the
cold. Hester caught the child up in her arms.

"Come; come!" she cried, and ran with him back to the mill. The major
followed, running, panting, dripping. When they met Vavasor, he would
have taken him from her, but she would not give him up.

"Go back to my mother," she said. "Tell her we have got him, and he is
at the mill. Then go and tell my father, and ask him to send for the
doctor."

Vavasor obeyed, feeling again a little small. But Hester had never
thought that he might have acted at all differently; she never recalled
even that he had tried to prevent her from crossing to the major's help.
She thought only of Mark and her mother.

In a few minutes they had him in the miller's blankets, with hot water
about him, while the major, who knew well what ought to be done, for he
had been tried in almost every emergency under the sun, went through the
various movements of the arms prescribed; inflated the chest again and
again with his own breath, and did all he could to bring back the action
of the breathing muscles.

Vavasor took upon him to assure Mrs. Raymount that Mark was safe and
would be all right in a little while. She rose then, and with what help
Saffy could give her, managed to walk home. But after that day she never
was so well again. Vavasor ran on to the house. Mr. Raymount crossed the
river by the bridge, and was soon on the spot--just as the first signs
of returning animation appeared. His strength and coolness were a great
comfort both to Hester and the major. The latter was the more anxious
that he knew the danger of such a shock to a delicate child. After about
half-an-hour, the boy opened his eyes, looked at his father, smiled in
his own heavenly way, and closed them again with a deep sigh. They
covered him up warm, and left him to sleep till the doctor should
appear.

That same night, as Hester was sitting beside him, she heard him talking
in his sleep:

"When may I go and play with the rest by the river? Oh, how sweetly it
talks! it runs all through me and through me! It was such a nice way,
God, of fetching me home! I rode home on a water-horse!"

He thought he was dead; that God had sent for him home; that he was now
safe, only tired. It sent a pang to the heart of Hester. What if after
all he was going to leave them! For the child had always seemed fitter
for. Home than being thus abroad, and any day he might be sent for!

He recovered by degrees, but seemed very sleepy and tired; and when, two
days after, he was taken home he only begged to go to bed. But he never
fretted or complained, received every attention with a smile, and told
his mother not to mind, for he was not going away yet. He had been told
that under the water, he said.

Before winter, he was able to go about the house, and was reading all
his favourite books over again, especially the Pilgrim's Progress, which
he had already read through five times.

The major left Yrndale the next morning, saying now there was Mark to
attend to, his room was better than his company. Vavasor would stay a
day or two longer, he said, much relieved. He could not go until he saw
Mark fairly started on the way of recovery.

But in reality the major went because he could no longer endure the
sight of "that idiot," as he called Vavasor, and with design against him
fermenting in his heart.

"The poltroon!" he said. "A fellow like that to marry a girl like cousin
Helen's girl! A grand creature, by George! The grandest creature I ever
saw in my life! Why, rather than wet his clothes the sneak would have
let us both drown after I had got him to the bank! Calling to me to go
to him, when I had done my best, and was at the last gasp!"

He was not fair to Vavasor; he never asked if he could swim. But indeed
Vavasor could swim, well enough, only he did not see the necessity for
it. He did not love his neighbor enough to grasp the facts of the case.
And after all he could and did do without him!

The major hurried to London, assured he had but to inquire to find out
enough and more than enough to his discredit, of the fellow.

He told them to tell Mark he was gone to fetch tiger-skins and a little
idol with diamond eyes, and a lot of queer things that he had brought
home; and he would tell him all about them, and let him have any of them
he liked to keep for his own, as soon as he was well again. So he must
make haste, for the moth would get at them if they were long lying about
and not seen to.

He told Mr. Raymount that he had no end of business to look after; but
now he knew the way to Yrndale, he might be back any day. As soon as
Mark was well enough to be handed over to a male nurse he would come
directly. He told Mrs. Raymount that he had got some pearls for her--he
knew she was fond of pearls--and was going to fetch them.

For Hester he made her promise to write to him at the Army and Navy Club
every day till Mark was well. And so he departed, much blessed of all
the family for saving the life of their precious boy.

The major when he reached London hunted up some of his old friends, and
through them sent out inquiry concerning Vavasor. He learned then some
few things about him--nothing very bad as things went where everything
was more or less bad, and nothing to his special credit. That he was
heir to an earldom he liked least of all, for he was only the more
likely to marry his beautiful cousin, and her he thought a great deal
too good for him--which was truer than he knew.

Vavasor was relieved to find that Hester, while full of gratitude to the
major, had no unfavourable impression concerning his own behaviour in
the sad affair. As the days went on, however, and when he expected
enthusiasm to have been toned down, he was annoyed to find that she was
just as little impressed with the objectionable character of the man who
by his unselfish decision, he called it his good luck, had got the start
of him in rendering the family service. To himself he styled him "a
beastly fellow, a lying braggart, a disgustingly vulgar ill-bred
rascal." He would have called him an army-cad, only the word _cad_
was not then invented. If there were any more such relations likely to
turn up, the sooner he cut the connection the better! But that Hester
should not be shocked with him was almost more than he could bear; that
was shocking indeed!

He could not understand that as to the pure all things are pure, so the
common mind sees far more vulgarity in others than the mind developed in
genuine refinement. It understands, therefore forgives, nor finds it
hard. Hester was able to look deeper than he, and she saw much that was
good and honourable in the man, however he might have the bridle of his
tongue too loose for safe riding in the crowded paths of society.
Vavasor took care, however, after hearing the first words of defence
which some remark of his brought from Hester, not to go farther, and
turned the thing he had said aside. Where was the use of quarrelling
about a man he was never likely to set eyes on again?

A day or two before the natural end of his visit, as Mrs. Raymount,
Hester and he were sitting together in the old-fashioned garden, the
letters were brought them--one for Vavasor, with a great black seal. He
read it through, and said quietly:

"I am sorry I must leave you to-morrow. Or is there not a train
to-night? But I dare say it does not matter, only I ought to be present
at the funeral of my uncle, Lord Gartley. He died yesterday, from what I
can make out. It is a tiresome thing to succeed to a title with hardly
property enough to pay the servants!"

"Very tiresome," assented Mrs. Raymount; "but a title is not like an
illness. If you can live without, you can live with one."

"True; very true! But society, you see. There's so much expected of a
man in my position! What do you think, Miss Raymount?" he asked, turning
towards her with a look that seemed to say whatever she thought would
always be law to him.

"I think with mamma," replied Hester. "I do not see why a mere name
should have any power to alter one's mode of life. Of course if the
change brings new duties, they must be attended to; but if the property
be so small as you say, it cannot want much looking after. To be sure
there are the people upon it, but they cannot be many. Why should you
not go on as you are?"

"I must go a good deal by what my aunt thinks best. She has a sort of
right, you see. All her life her one fixed idea, knowing I was likely to
succeed, has been the rehabilitation of the earldom, and all her life
she has been saving for that."

"Then she is going to make you her heir?" said Hester, who, having been
asked her opinion, simply desired the grounds on which to give it.

"My dear Hester!" said her mother.

"I am only too much delighted Miss Raymount should care to ask me
_any_thing," said Vavasor. "My aunt does mean to make me her heir,
I believe, but one must not depend upon that, because, if I were to
displease her, she might change her mind any moment. But she has been
like a mother to me, and I do not think, for any small provocation such
as I am likely to give her, she would yield the dream of her life. She
is a kind-hearted woman, though a little peculiar; true as steel where
she takes a fancy. I wish you knew my aunt, Mrs. Raymount."

"I should be much pleased to know her."

"She would be delighted with this lovely place of yours. It is a perfect
paradise. I feel its loveliness the more that I am so soon to hear its
gates close behind me. Happily there is no flaming sword to mount guard
against the expelled!"

"You must bring your aunt some time, Mr. Vavasor. We should make her
very welcome," said Mrs. Raymount.

"Unfortunately, with all her good qualities, my aunt, as I have said, is
a little peculiar. For one thing she shrinks from making new
acquaintances."

He should have said--any acquaintances out of her own world. All others,
so far as she was concerned, existed only on the sufferance of
remoteness.

But by this time Vavasor had resolved to make an attempt to gain his
aunt, and so Hester. He felt sure his aunt could not fail to be taken
with Hester if only she saw her in fit surroundings: with her the frame
was more than half the picture. He was glad now that she had not
consented to call on the family in Addison Square: they would be of so
much more importance in her eyes in the setting of Yrndale. He had
himself also the advantage of being now of greater importance, the title
being no longer in prospect but in possession: he was that Earl of
Gartley for whom she had been saving all the time he was merely the
heir, who might die, or be kept waiting twenty years for the succession.
She must either be of one mind with him now, or lose the cherished
purpose of so many years. If he stood out, seeming to prefer poverty and
the woman of his choice, she would be compelled to give in.

That same evening he left them in high spirits, and without any pretence
of decent regret for the death of one whom he had never seen, and who
had for many years lived the life of an invalid and a poor man--neither
of much account in his world.

He left behind him one child--a lovely but delicate girl, of whom no one
seemed to think in the change that had arrived.

It would be untrue to say that Hester was not interested in the news.
They had been so much thrown together of late, and in circumstances so
favourable to intimacy, to the manifestation of what of lovable was in
him, and to the revelation of how much her image possessed him, that she
could hardly have been a woman at all and not care for what might befall
him. Neither, although her life lay, and she felt that it lay, in far
other regions, was she so much more than her mother absorbed in the
best, as to be indifferent to the pleasure of wearing a distinguished
historical name, or of occupying an exalted position in the eyes of the
world. Her nature was not yet so thoroughly possessed with the things
that _are_ as distinguished from the things that only appear, as
not to feel some pleasure in being a countess of this world, while
waiting the inheritance of the saints in light. Of course this was just
as far unworthy of her as it is unworthy of any one who has seen the hid
treasure not to have sold all that he has to buy it--not to have
counted, with Paul, everything but dross to the winning of Christ--not
even worth being picked up on the way as he presses towards the mark of
the high calling; but I must say this for her, that she thought of it
first of all as a buttressing help to the labours, which, come what
might, it remained her chief hope to follow again among her poor friends
in London. To be a countess would make many things easier for her, she
thought. Little she knew how immeasurably more difficult it would make
it to do anything whatever worth doing!--that, at the very first, she
would have to fight for freedom--her own--with hidden crafts of slavery,
especially mighty in a region more than any other under the influences
of the prince of the power of the air! She had the foolish notion that,
thus uplifted among the shows of rule, she would be able with more than
mere personal help to affect the load of injustice laid upon them from
without, and pressing them earthwards. She had learned but not yet
sufficiently learned that, until a man has begun to throw off the
weights that hold him down, it is a wrong done him to attempt to lighten
those weights. Why seek a better situation for the man whose increase of
wages will only go into the pocket of the brewer or distiller? While the
tree is evil, its fruit will be evil.

So again the days passed quietly on. Mark grew a little better. Hester
wrote regularly, but the briefest bulletins, to the major, seldom
receiving an acknowledgment. The new earl wrote that he had been to the
funeral, and described in a would-be humorous way the house and lands to
which he had fallen heir. The house might, he said, with unlimited
money, be made fit to live in, but what was left of the estate was
literally a mere savage mountain.




CHAPTER XXX.

IN ANOTHER LIGHT.


Mr. Raymount went now and then to London, but never stayed long. In the
autumn he had his books removed to Yrndale, saying in London he could
always get what books he wanted, but must have his own about him in the
country. When they were accommodated and arranged to his mind, all on
the same floor, and partly in the same room with the old library of the
house, he began, for the first time in his life, to feel he had an
abiding place and talked of selling the house in Addison Square. It
would have been greater progress to feel that there is no abiding in
place or among things.

In the month of October, when the forsaken spider-webs were filled no
more with flies, but in the morning now with the dew-drops, now with
hoarfrost, and the fine stimulus and gentle challenge of the cold roused
the vital spirit in every fibre to meet it; when the sun shone a little
sadly, and the wraith of the coming winter might be felt hovering in the
air, major Marvel again made his appearance at Yrndale, but not quite
the man he was; he had a troubled manner, and an expression on his face
such as Mrs. Raymount had never before seen there: it was the look of
one who had an unpleasant duty to discharge--a thing to do he would
rather not do, but which it would cost him far more to leave undone. He
had brought the things he promised, every one, and at sight of them Mark
had brightened up amazingly. At table he tried to be merry as before,
but failed rather conspicuously, drank more wine than was his custom,
and laid the blame on the climate. His chamber was over that of his host
and hostess, and they heard him walking about for hours in the night.
There was something on his mind that would not let him sleep! In the
morning he appeared at the usual hour, but showed plain marks of a
sleepless night. When condoled with he answered he must seek a warmer
climate, for if it was like this already, what would it be in January?

It was in reality a perfect autumn morning, of which every one except
the major felt the enlivening influence--the morning of all mornings for
a walk! Just as Hester was leaving the room to get ready to go with
Saffy--Mark was not able for a long walk--the major rose, and overtaking
her in the anteroom, humbly whispered the request that she would walk
with him alone, as he much wished a private conversation with her.
Hester, though with a little surprise, also a little undefined anxiety,
at once consented, but ran first to her mother.

"What can he want to talk to me about, mamma?" she concluded.

"How can I tell, my dear?" answered her mother with a smile. "Perhaps
he will dare the daughter's refusal too."

"Oh, mamma! how can you joke about such a thing!"

"I am not quite joking, my child. There is no knowing what altogether
unsuitable things men will do!--Who can blame them when they see how
women consent to many unsuitable things!"

"But, mamma, he is old enough to be my father!"

"Of course he is! Poor man! it would be a hard fate to have fallen in
love with both mother and daughter in vain!"

"I won't go with him, mamma!"

"You had better go, my dear. You need not be much afraid. He is really a
gentleman, however easily mistaken for something else. You must not
forget how much we owe him for Mark!"

"Do you mean, mamma," said Hester, with a strange look out of her eyes,
"that I ought to marry him if he asks me?" Hester was sometimes oddly
stupid for a moment as to the intent of those she knew best.

Her mother laughed heartily.

"What a goose you are, my darling! Don't you know your mother from a
miscreant yet?"

But in truth her mother so rarely jested that there was some excuse for
her. Relieved from the passing pang of a sudden dread, Hester went
without more words and put on her bonnet to go with the cause of it. She
did not like the things at all, for no one could be certain what absurd
thing he might not do.

They set out together, but until they were some distance from the house
walked in absolute silence, which seemed to Hester to bode no good. But
how changed the poor man was, she thought. It would be pitiful to have
to make him still more miserable! Steadily the major marched along, his
stick under his arm like a sword, and his eyes looking straight before
him.

"Cousin Hester," he said at length, "I am about to talk to you very
strangely--to conduct myself indeed in a very peculiar manner. Can you
imagine a man rendering himself intensely, unpardonably disagreeable,
from the very best of motives?"

It was a speech very different from any to be expected of him. That he
should behave oddly seemed natural--not that he should knowingly intend
to do so!

"I think I could," answered Hester, wishing neither to lead him on nor
to deter him: whatever he had to say, the sooner it was said the better!

"Tell me," he said suddenly after a pause just beginning to be
awkward--then paused again. "--Let me ask you first," he resumed,
"whether you are able to trust me a little. I am old enough to be your
father--let me say your grandfather;--fancy I am your grandfather: in my
soul I believe neither could wish you well more truly than myself. Tell
me--trust me and tell me: what is there between you and Mr. Vavasor?"

Hester was silent. The silence would have lasted but a moment had Hester
to ask herself, not what answer she should give to his question, but
what answer there was to give to it. Whether bound, whether pleased to
answer it or not, might have come presently, but it did not; every
question has its answer, known or unknown: what was the answer to this
one? Before she knew it, the major resumed.

"I know," he said, "ladies think such things are not to be talked about
with gentlemen; but there are exceptions to every rule: David ate the
show-bread because there was a good reason for breaking a good
rule.--Are you engaged to Mr. Vavasor?"

"No," answered Hester promptly.

"What is it then? Are you going to be?"

"If I answered that in the affirmative," said Hester, "would it not be
much the same as acknowledging myself already engaged?"

"No! no!" cried the major vehemently. "So long as your word is not
passed you remain free. The two are as far asunder as the pole from the
equator. I thank God you are not engaged to him!"

"But why?" asked Hester, with a pang of something like dread. "Why
should you be so anxious about it?"

"Has he never said he loved you?" asked the major eagerly.

"No," said Hester hurriedly. She felt instinctively it was best to
answer directly where there was no reason for silence. What he might be
wrong to ask she was not therefore wrong to answer. But her _No_
trembled a little, for the doubt came with it, whether though literally,
it was strictly true. "We are friends," she added. "We trust each other
a good deal."

"Trust him with nothing, least of all your heart, my dear," said the
major earnestly. "Or if you must trust him, trust him with anything,
with everything, except that. He is not worthy of you."

"Do you say so to flatter me or to disparage him?"

"Entirely to disparage him. I never flatter."

"You did not surely bring me out, major Marvel, to hear evil of one of
my best friends?" said Hester, now angry.

"I certainly did--if the truth be evil--but only for your sake. The man
I do not feel interest enough in to abuse even. He is a nobody."

"That only proves you do not know him: you would not speak so if you
did," said Hester, widening the space between her and the major, and
ready to choke with what in utterance took such gentle form.

"I am confident I should have worse to say if I knew him better. It is
you who do not know him. It astonishes me that sensible people like your
father and mother should let a fellow like that come prowling after
you!"

"Major Marvel, if you are going to abuse my father and mother as well as
lord Gartley,--" cried Hester, but he interrupted her.

"Ah, there it is!" exclaimed he bitterly. "Lord Gartley!--I have no
business to interfere--no more than your gardener or coachman! but to
think of an angel like you in the arms of a----"

"Major Marvel!"

--"I beg ten thousand pardons, cousin Hester! but I am so damnably in
earnest I can't pick and choose my phrases. Believe me the man is not
worthy of you."

"What have you got against him?--I do hate backbiting! As his friend I
ask you what you have against him."

"That's the pity of it! I can't tell you anything very bad of him. But a
man of whom no one has anything good to say--one of whom never a warm
word is uttered--"

"I have called him my friend!" said Hester.

"That's the worst of it! If it were not for that he might go to the
devil for me!--I daresay you think it a fine thing he should have stuck
to business so long!

"He was put to that before there was much chance of his succeeding; his
aunt would not have him on her hands consuming the money she meant for
the earldom. His elder brother would have had it, but he killed himself
before it fell due: there are things that must not be spoken of to young
ladies. I don't say your _friend_ has disgraced himself; he has
not: by George, it takes a good deal for that in his set! But not a soul
out of his own family cares two-pence for him."

"There are some who are better liked everywhere than at home, and
they're not the better sort," said Hester. "That goes for less than
nothing. I know the part of him chance acquaintances cannot know. He
does not bear his heart on his sleeve. I assure you, major Marvel, he is
a man of uncommon gifts and--"

"Great attractions, no doubt--to me invisible," blurted the major.

Hester turned from him.

"I am going home," she said. "--Luncheon is at the usual hour."

"Just one word," cried he, hurrying after her. "I swear by the living
God I have no purpose or hope in interfering but to save you from a
miserable future. Promise me not to marry this man, and I will settle on
you a thousand a year--safe. You shall have the principal down if you
prefer."

Hester walked the faster.

"Hear me," he went on, in an agony of entreaty mingled with something
like anger.

"I mean it," he continued. "Why should I not for Helen's child!"

He was a yard or two behind her. She turned on him with a glance of
contempt. But the tears were in his eyes, and her heart smote her. He
had abused her friend, but was plainly honest himself. Her countenance
changed as she looked at him. He came up to her. She laid her hand on
his arm, and said--

"Dear major Marvel, I will speak to you without anger. What would you
think of one who took money to do the thing she ought to do? I will not
ask you what you would think of one who took money to do the thing she
ought not to do! I would not _promise_ not to marry a beggar from
the street. It _might_ be disgraceful to marry the beggar; it
_must_ be disgraceful to promise not!"

"Yes, yes, my dear! you are quite right--absolutely right," said the
major humbly. "I only wanted to make you independent. You don't think
half enough of yourself.--But I will dare one more question before I
give you up; is he going to ask you to marry him?"

"Perhaps. I do not know."

"One more question yet: can you secure any liberty? Will your father
settle anything upon you?"

"I don't know. I have never thought about anything of the kind."

"How could they let you go about with him so much and never ask him what
he meant by it?"

"They could easier have asked me what I meant by it!"

"If I had such a jewel I would look after it!"

"Have me shut up like an eastern lady, I suppose," said Hester,
laughing; "make my life miserable to make it safe. If a woman has any
sense, major Marvel, she can take care of herself; if she has not, she
must learn the need of it."

"Ah!" said the major sadly, "but the thousand pangs and aches and
heart-sickenings! I would sooner see my child on the funeral pyre of a
husband she loved, than living a merry life with one she despised!"

Hester began to feel she had not been doing the major justice.

"So would I!" she said heartily. "You mean me well, and I shall not
forget how kind you have been. Now let us go back."

"Just one thing more: if ever you think I can help you, you _will_
let me know?"

"That I promise with all my heart," she answered.

"I mean," she added, "if it be a thing I count it right to trouble you
about."

The major's face fell.

"I see!" he said; "you won't promise anything. Well, stick to that, and
_don't_ promise."

"You wouldn't have me come to you for a new bonnet, would you?"

"By George! shouldn't I be proud to fetch you the best in Regent street
by the next train!"

"Or saddle the pony for me?"

"Try me.--But I won't have any more chaff. I throw myself on your
generosity, and trust you to remember there is an old man that loves
you, and has more money than he knows what to do with."

"I think," said Hester, "the day is sure to come when I shall ask your
help. In the meantime, if it be any pleasure to you to know it, I trust
you heartily. You are all wrong about lord Gartley though. He is not
what you think him."

She gave him her hand. The major took it in his own soft small
one--small enough almost for the hilt of an Indian tulwar--and pressed
it devoutly to his lips. She did not draw it away, and he felt she
trusted him.

Now that the hard duty was done, and if not much good yet no harm had
resulted, he went home a different man. A pang of fear for Hester in the
power of "that ape Gartley" would now and then pass through him; but he
had now a right to look after her, and who can tell what might not turn
up!

His host congratulated him on looking so much better for his walk, and
Hester recounted to her mother their strange conversation.

"Only think, mamma!" she said; "he offered me a thousand a year not to
marry lord Gartley!"

"Hester!"

"He does not like the earl, and he does like me; so he wants me not to
marry him. That is all!"

"I thought I could have believed anything of him, but this goes almost
beyond belief!"

"Why should it, mamma? There is an odder thing still: instead of hating
him for it, I like him better than before."

"Are you sure he has no notion of making room for himself?"

"Quite sure. He would have it he was old enough to be my grandfather.
But you know he is not that!"

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind if he were a little younger yet!" said her
mother merrily, "as he is too young to be your grandfather."

"I suppose you had a presentiment I should like him, and left him for
me, mamma!" returned Hester in like vein.

"But seriously, Hester, is it not time we knew what lord Gartley means?"

"Oh, mamma! please don't talk like that!"

"It does sound disagreeable--vulgar, if you like, my child; but I cannot
help being anxious about you. If he does not love you he has no right to
court your company so much."

"I encourage it, mamma. I like him."

"That is what makes me afraid."

"It will be time enough to think about it if he comes again now he has
got the earldom."

"Should you like to be a countess, Hester?"

"I would rather not think about it, mother. It may never make any
difference whether I should like it or not.

"I can't help thinking it strange he should be so much with you and
never say a word!"

"Might you not just as well say it was strange of me to be so much with
him, or of you, mother dear, to let him come so much to the house?"

"It was neither your part nor mine to say anything. Your father even has
always said he would scorn to ask a man his _intentions_: either he
was fit to be in his daughter's company, or he was not. Either he must
get rid of him, or leave his daughter to manage her own affairs. He is
quite American in his way of looking at those matters."

"Don't you think he is right, mother? If I let lord Gartley come, surely
he is not to blame for coming!

"Only if you should have got fond of him, and it were to come to
nothing?"

"It can't come to nothing, mother, and neither of us will be the worse
for it, I trust. As to what I think about him, I don't feel as if I
quite knew; and I don't think at present I need ask myself. I am afraid
you think me very cool: and in truth I don't quite understand myself;
but perhaps if one tries to do right as things come up, one may get on
without understanding oneself. I don't think, so far as I can make out,
St. Paul understood himself always. Miss Dasomma says a great part of
music is the agony of the musician after the understanding of himself. I
will try to do what is right--you may be sure of that, mother."

"I am sure of that, my dear--quite sure; and I won't trouble you more
about it. You may imagine I should not like to see my Hester a love-sick
maiden, pining and wasting away!"

"Depend upon It, mamma, if I found myself in that state no one else
should discover it," said Hester, partly in play, but thoroughly in
earnest.

"That only reveals how little you know about such things, my love! You
could no more hide it from the eyes of your mother than you could a
husband."

"Such things have been hid before now, mamma! And yet why should a woman
ever hide anything? I must think about that! From one's own mother? No;
when I am dying of love, you shall know, mamma. But it won't be
to-morrow or the next day."




CHAPTER XXXI.

THE MAJOR AND COUSIN HELEN'S BOYS.


The major was in no haste to leave, but he spent most of his time with
Mark, and was in nobody's way. Mark was very happy with the major. The
nature of the man was so childlike that, although he knew little of the
deep things in which Mark was at home, his presence was never an
interruption to the child's thoughts; and when the boy made a remark in
the upward direction, he would look so grave, and hold such a peace that
the child never missed the lacking words of response. Who knows what the
man may not have gained even from silent communication with the child!

One day he was telling the boy how he had been out alone on a desolate
hill all night; how he heard the beasts roaring round him, and not one
of them came near him. "Did you see _him_?" asked Mark.

"See who, sonny?" returned the major.

"The one between you and them," answered Mark in a subdued tone; and
from the tone the major understood.

"No," he answered; and taking into his the spirit of the child, went on.
"I don't think any one sees him now-a-days."

"Isn't it a pity?" said Mark. Then after a thoughtful pause, he resumed:
"Well, not see him just with your eyes, you know! But old Jonathan at
the cottage--he has got no eyes--at least none to speak of, for they're
no good to see with--he always speaks of seeing the people he has been
talking with--and in a way he does see them, don't you think? But I
fancy sometimes I must have seen _him_ with my very eyes when I was
young: and that's why I keep always expecting to see him again--some
day, you know--some day. Don't you think I shall, Majie?"

"I hope so, indeed, Mark! It would be a bad job if we were never to see
him!" he added, suddenly struck with a feeling he had never had before.

"Yes, indeed; that it would!" responded the child. "Why, where would be
the good of it all, you know! That's what we came here for--ain't it?
God calls children--I know he calls some, for he said, 'Samuel! Samuel!'
I wish he would call me!"

"What would you say?" asked the major.

"I would say--' Here I am, God! What is it?' We musn't keep God waiting,
you know!"

The major felt, like Wordsworth with the leech-gatherer, that the child
was there to give him "apt admonishment." Could God have ever called him
and he not have listened? Of course it was all a fancy! And yet as he
looked at the child, and met his simple believing eyes, he felt he had
been a great sinner, and the best things he had done were not fit to be
looked at. Happily there were no conventional religious phrases in the
mouth of the child to repel him; his father and mother had a horror of
pharisaic Christianity: I use the word _pharisaic_ in its true
sense--as _formal_, not as _hypocritical_. They had both seen
in their youth too many religious prigs to endure temple-whitewash on
their children. Except what they heard at church, hardly a special
religious phrase ever entered their ears. Those of the New Testament
were avoided from reverence, lest they should grow common and fail of
their purpose when the children read them for themselves. "But if this
succeeded with Hester and Mark, how with Cornelius?" I answer, if to
that youth's education had been added the common _forms_ of a
religious one, he would have been--not perhaps a worse fellow, but a far
more offensive one, and harder to influence for good. Inclined to scoff,
he would have had the religious material for jest and ribaldry ready to
his hand; while if he had wanted to start as a hypocrite, it would have
been specially easy. The true teaching for children is persons, history
and doctrine in the old sense of the New Testament--instruction in
righteousness, that is--not human theory about divine facts.

The major was still at Yrndale, when, in the gloomy month to which for
reasons he had shifted his holiday, Cornelius arrived. The major could
hardly accept him as one of the family, so utterly inferior did he show.
There was a kind of mean beauty about his face and person and an evident
varnish on his manners which revolted him. "That lad will bring grief on
them!" he said to himself. He was more than usually polite to the major:
he was in the army, the goal of his aspiration! but he laughed at what
he called his vulgarity in private, and delighted to annoy Hester with
remarks upon her "ancient adorer." Because he prized nothing of the
kind, he could see nothing of his essential worth, and took note merely
of his blunders, personal ways and oddities. The major was not properly
vulgar, only ill-bred: he had not had a sharp enough mother, jealous for
the good manners as well as good behaviour of her boy. There are many
ladylike mothers--ladylike because their mothers were ladies and taught
them to behave like ladies, whose children do not turn out ladies and
gentlemen because they do not teach them as they were taught themselves.
Cornelius had been taught--and had learned nothing but manners. He was
vulgar with a vulgarity that went miles deeper than that of the major.
The major would have been sorry to find he had hurt the feelings of a
dog; Cornelius would have whistled on learning that he had hurt the
feelings of a woman. If the major was a clown, Cornelius was a cad. The
one was capable of genuine sympathy; the other not yet of any. The latter
loved his own paltry self, counting it the most precious thing in
creation; the former was conceited it is true, but had no lofty opinion
of himself. Hence it was that he thought so much of his small successes.
His boasting of them was mainly an uneasy effort at establishing himself
comfortably in his own eyes and the eyes of friends. It was little more
than a dog's turning of himself round and round before he lies down.
He knew they were small things of which he boasted but he had no other,
and scorned to invent: his great things, those in which he had shown
himself a true and generous man, he looked on as matters of course, nor
recognized anything in them worth thinking of. He was not a great man,
but had elements of greatness; he had no vision of truth, but obeyed his
moral instincts: when those should blossom into true intents, as one day
they must, he would be a great man. As yet he was not safe. But how
blessed a thing that God will judge us and man shall not! Where we see
no difference, he sees ages of difference. The very thing that looks to
us for condemnation may to the eyes of God show in its heart ground of
excuse, yea, of partial justification. Only God's excuse is, I suspect,
seldom coincident with the excuse a man makes for himself. If any one
thinks that God will not search closely into things, I say there could
not be such a God. He will see the uttermost farthing paid. His excuses
are as just as his condemnations.

In respect of Cornelius the major was more careful than usual not to
make himself disagreeable, for his feelings put him on his guard: there
are not a few who behave better to those they do not like than to those
they do. He thus flattered, without intending it, the vanity of the
youth, who did not therefore spare his criticism behind his back. Hester
usually answered in his defence, but sometimes would not condescend to
justify him to such an accuser. One day she lost her temper with her
beam-eyed brother. "Cornelius, the major may have his faults," she said,
"but you are not the man to find them out. He is ten times the gentleman
you are. I say it deliberately, and with all my soul!" As she began this
speech, the major entered the room, but she did not see him. He asked
Cornelius to go with him for a walk. Hoping he had only just come in,
but a little anxious, Cornelius agreed, and as they walked behaved
better than he had ever done before--till he had persuaded himself that
the major had heard nothing, when he speedily relapsed into his former
manner--one of condescension and thin offence to nearly every one about
him. But all the time the major was studying him, and saw into him
deeper than his mother or Hester--descried a certain furtive anxiety in
the youth's eyes when he was silent, an unrest as of trouble he would
not show. "The rascal has been doing something wrong," he said to
himself; "he is afraid of being found out! And found out he is sure to
be; he has not the brains to hide a thing! It's not murder--he ain't got
the pluck for that; but it may be petty larceny!"

The weeks went on. Cornelius's month wore out, but he seemed restless
for it to be gone, making no response to the lamentations of the
children that Christmas was so near, and their new home such a grand one
for keeping it in, and Corney not to be with them! He did not show them
much kindness, but a little went a great way with them, and they loved
him.

"Mind you're well, before I come again, Markie," he said as he took his
leave; "you're not a pleasant sight moping about the house!" The tears
came in the child's eyes. He was not moping--only weakly and even when
looking a little sad, was quite happy.

"I don't think I mope, Hessy--do I?" he said. "What does Corney mean? I
don't want to do what ain't nice. I want to be pleasant!"

"Never mind, Markie dear," answered Hester; "it's only that you are not
very strong--not up to a game of romps as you used to be. You will be
merry again one day."

"I am merry enough," replied Mark; "only somehow the merry goes all
about inside me, and don't want to come out--like the little bird, you
know, that wouldn't go out of its cage though I left the door open for
it. I suppose it felt just like me. I don't care if I never go out of
the house again."

He was indeed happy enough--more than happy when _Majie_ was there.
They would be together most days all day long. And the amount of stories
Mark, with all his contemplativeness could swallow, was amazing. That
may be good food which cannot give life. But the family-party was soon
to be broken up--not by subtraction, but by addition. The presence of
the major had done nothing to spoil the homeness of home, but it was now
for a time to be set aside.

There is something wrong with anyone who, entering a house of any kind,
makes it less of a home. The angel-stranger makes the children of a
house more aware of their home; they delight in showing it to him, for
he takes interest in all that belongs to the family-life--the only
blessed life in heaven or upon earth, and sees the things as the
children see them. But the stranger of this world makes the very home by
his presence feel out of doors.




CHAPTER XXXII.

A DISTINGUISHED GUEST.


A letter came from lord Gartley, begging Mrs. Raymount to excuse the
liberty he took, and allow him to ask whether he might presume upon her
wish, casually expressed, to welcome his aunt to the hospitality of
Yrndale. London was empty, therefore her engagements, although Parliament
was sitting, were few, and he believed if Mrs. Raymount would take the
trouble to invite her, she might be persuaded to avail herself of the
courtesy. "I am well aware," he wrote, "of the seeming rudeness of this
suggestion, but you, dear Mrs. Raymount, can read between lines, and
understand that it is no presumptuous desire to boast my friends to my
relatives that makes me venture what to other eyes than yours might well
seem an arrogance. If you have not room for us, or if our presence would
spoil your Christmas party, do not hesitate to put us off, I beg. I
shall understand you, and say nothing to my rather peculiar but most
worthy aunt, waiting a more convenient season." The desired invitation
was immediately dispatched,--with some wry faces on the part of the head
of the house who, however, would not oppose what his wife wished.

Notwithstanding his knowledge of men, that is, of fundamental human
nature, Mr. Raymount was not good at reading a man who made himself
agreeable, and did not tread on the toes of any of his theories--of
which, though mostly good, he made too much, as every man of theory
does. I would not have him supposed a man of theory only: such a man is
hardly man at all; but while he thought of the practice, he too
sparingly practiced the thought. He laid too much upon words altogether;
especially words in print, attributing more power to them for the
regeneration of the world than was reasonable. If he had known how few
cared a pin's point for those in which he poured out his mind, just
flavored a little with his heart, he would have lost hope altogether. If
he had known how his arguments were sometimes used against the very
principles he used them for, it would have enraged him. Perhaps the
knowledge of how few of those who admired his words acted upon them,
would have made him think how little he struggled himself to do the
things which by persuasion and argument he drove home upon the
consciences of others. He had not yet believed that to do right is more
to do for the regeneration of the world than any quality or amount of
teaching can do. "_The Press_" no doubt has a great power for good,
but every man possesses, involved in the very fact of his consciousness,
a greater power than any verbal utterance of truth whatever. It is
righteousness--not of words, not of theories, but in being, that is, in
vital action, which alone is the prince of the power of the spirit.
Where that is, everything has its perfect work; where that is not, the
man is not a power--is but a walker in a vain show.

He did not see through or even into Gartley who was by no means a
profound or intentional hypocrite. But he never started on a new
relation with any suspicions. Men of the world called him too good,
therefore a fool. It was not however any over-exalted idea of human
nature that led him astray in his judgment of the individual; it was
merely that he was too much occupied with what he counted his work--with
his theories first, then his writing of them, then the endless defending
of them, to care to see beyond the focus of his short-sighted eyes.
Vavasor was a gentlemanly fellow, and that went a long way with him. He
did not oppose him, and that went another long way: of all things he
could not bear to be opposed in what he so plainly saw to be true, nor
could think why every other honest man should not at once also see it
true. He forgot that the difficulty is not so much in recognizing the
truth of a proposition, as in recognizing what the proposition is. In
the higher regions of thought the recognition of what a proposition is,
and the recognition of its truth are more than homologous--they are the
same thing.

The ruin of a man's teaching comes of his followers, such as having
never touched the foundation he has laid, build upon it wood, hay, and
stubble, fit only to be burnt. Therefore, if only to avoid his worst
foes, his admirers, a man should avoid system. The more correct a system
the worse will it be misunderstood; its professed admirers will take
both its errors and their misconceptions of its truths, and hold them
forth as its essence. Mr. Raymount, then, was not the man to take that
care of his daughter which people of the world think necessary. But, on
the whole, even with the poor education they have, women, if let alone,
would take better care of themselves, than father or brother will for
them. I say _on the whole_; there may well be some exceptions. The
only thing making men more fit to take care of women than the women
themselves, is their greater opportunity of knowing the character of men
concerned--which knowledge, alas! they generally use against those they
claim to protect, concealing facts from the woman to whom they ought to
be conveyed; sometimes indeed having already deluded her with the
persuasion that is of no consequence in the man which is essential in
herself.

The day before Christmas-eve the expected visitors arrived--just in time
to dress for dinner.

The family was assembled in the large old drawing-room of dingy white
and tarnished gold when Miss Vavasor entered. She was tall and handsome
and had been handsomer, for she was not of those who, growing within,
grow more beautiful without as they grow older. She was dressed in the
plainest, handsomest fashion--in black velvet, fitting well her fine
figure, and half covered with point lace of a very thick
texture--Venetian probably. The only stones she wore were diamonds. Her
features were regular; her complexion was sallow, but not too sallow for
the sunset of beauty; her eyes were rather large, and of a clear gray;
her expression was very still, self-contained and self-dependent,
without being self-satisfied; her hair was more than half gray, but very
plentiful. Altogether she was one with an evident claim to distinction,
never asserted because always yielded. To the merest glance she showed
herself well born, well nurtured, well trained, and well kept, hence
well preserved. At an age when a poor woman must have been old and
wrinkled, and half undressed for the tomb, she was enough to make any
company look distinguished by her mere presence. Her manner was as
simple as her dress--without a trace of the vulgarity of condescension
or the least more stiffness than was becoming with persons towards whose
acquaintance, the rather that she was their guest, it was but decent to
advance gently, while it was also prudent to protect her line of
retreat, lest it should prove desirable to draw back. She spoke with the
utmost readiness and simplicity, looked with interest at Hester but
without curiosity, had the sweetest smile at hand for use as often as
wanted--a modest smile which gleamed but a moment and was gone. There
was nothing in her behaviour to indicate a consciousness of error from
her sphere. The world had given her the appearance of much of which
Christ gives the reality. For the world very oddly prizes the form whose
informing reality it despises.

Lord Gartley was in fine humour. He had not before appeared to so great
advantage. Vavasor had never put off his company manner with Hester's
family, but Gartley was almost merry, quite graciously familiar--as if
set on bringing out the best points of his friends, and preventing his
aunt's greatness from making them abashed, or their own too much modesty
from showing a lack of breeding. But how shall I describe his face when
major Marvel entered! he had not even feared his presence. A blank
dismay, such as could seldom have been visible there, a strange mingling
of annoyance, contempt, and fear, clouded it with an inharmonious
expression, which made him look much like a discomfited commoner. In a
moment he had overcome the unworthy sensation, and was again impassive
and seemingly cool. The major did not choose to see him at first, but
was presented to Miss Vavasor by their hostess as her cousin. He
appeared a little awed by the fine woman, and comported himself with the
dignity which awe gives, behaving like any gentleman used to society.
Seated next her at dinner, he did not once allude to pig-sticking or
tiger-shooting, to elephants or niggers, or even to his regiment or
India, but talked about the last opera and the last play, with some good
criticisms on the acting he had last seen, conducting himself in such
manner as would have made lord Gartley quite grateful to him, had he not
put it down to the imperial presence of his high-born aunt, cowering his
inferior nature. But while indeed the major was naturally checked by a
self-sufficing feminine presence, the cause that mainly operated to his
suppression was of another kind and from an opposite source.

He had been strongly tempted all that day to a very different behaviour.
Remembering what he had heard of the character of the lady, and of the
relation between her and her nephew, he knew at once, when told she was
coming, that lord Gartley was bringing her down with the hope of gaining
her consent to his asking Hester to marry him. "The rascal knows," said
the major to himself, "that nothing human could stand out against her!
There is only her inferior position to urge from any point of view!" And
therewith arose his temptation: might he not so comport himself before
the aunt as to disgust her with the family, and save his lovely cousin
from being sacrificed to a heartless noodle? To the extent of his means
he would do what money could to console her! It was at least better than
the empty title! He recalled the ways of his youth, remembered with what
delightful success he had annoyed aunts and cousins and lady friends,
chuckled to think that some of them had for months passed him without
even looking at him:

"I'll settle the young ape's hash for him!" he said to himself. "It only
wants a little free-and-easyness with my lady to do the deed. It can
cost me nothing except her good opinion, which I can afford. But I'll
lay you anything to nothing, if she knew the weight of my four quarters,
she would have me herself after all! I don't quite think myself a
lady-killer: by George, my--hum!--_entourage_ is against that, but
where money is money can! Only I don't want her, and my money is for her
betters! What damned jolly fun it will be to send her out of the house
in a rage!--and a good deed done too!--By George, I'll do it! See if I
don't!"

He might possibly have found it not quite so easy to shock Miss Vavasor
as some of his late country cousins.

In this resolution he had begun to dress, but before he had finished had
begun to have his doubts. Would it not be dishonorable? Would it not
bring such indignation upon him that even Mark would turn away? Hester
would never except so much as a postage-stamp from him if he brought
disgrace on her family, and drove away her suitor! Besides, he might
fail! They might come to an understanding and leave him out in the cold!
By the time he was dressed he had resolved to leave the fancy alone, and
behave like a gentleman. But now with every sip of wine the temptation
came stronger and stronger. The spirit of fun kept stirring in him. Not
merely for the sake of Hester, but for the joke of the thing, he was
tempted, and had to keep fighting the impulse till the struggle was
almost more than he could endure. And just from this came the subdued
character of his demeanour! What had threatened to destroy his manners
for the evening turned out the corrective of his usual behaviour: as an
escape from the strife within him, he tried to make himself agreeable.
Miss Vavasor being good natured, was soon interested and by and by
pleased with him. This reacted; he began to feel pleased with her, and
was more at his ease. Therewith came the danger not unforeseen of some
at the table: he began to tell one of his stories. But he saw Hester
look anxious; and that was enough to put him on his careful honour. Ere
dinner was over he said to himself that if only the nephew were half as
good a fellow as the aunt, he would have been happy to give the young
people his blessing and a handsome present.

"By Jove!" said lord Gartley, "the scoundrel is not such a low fellow
after all! I think I will try to forgive him!" Now and then he would
listen across the table to their talk, and everything the major said
that pleased his aunt pleased him amazingly. At one little witticism of
hers in answer to one of the major's he burst into such a hearty laugh
that his aunt looked up.

"You are amused, Gartley!" she said.

"You are so clever, aunt!" he returned.

"Major Marvel has all the merit of my wit," she answered. This gave the
_coup de grace_ to the major's temptation to do evil that good
might come, and sacrifice himself that Hester might not be sacrificed.

After dinner, they sat down to whist, of which Miss Vavasor was very
fond. When however she found they did not play for money, though she
praised the asceticism of the manner, she plainly took little interest
in the game. The major therefore, who had no scruples either of
conscience or of pocket in the matter, suggested that his lordship and
Hester should take their places, and proposed cribbage to her, for what
points she pleased. To this she acceded at once. The major was the best
player in his regiment, but Miss Vavasor had much the better of it, and
regretted she had not set the points higher. All her life she had had
money in the one eye and the poor earldom in the other. The major laid
down his halfcrowns so cheerfully, with such a look of satisfaction
even, that she came quite to like the man, and to hope he would be there
for some time, and prove as fond of cribbage as she was. The fear of
lord Gartley as to the malign influence of the major vanished entirely.

And now that he was more at his ease, and saw that his aunt was at least
far from displeased with Hester, lord Gartley began to radiate his
fascinations. All his finer nature appeared. He grew playful, even
teasing; gave again and again a quick repartee; and sang as his aunt had
never heard him sing before. But when Hester sang, the thing was done,
and the aunt won: she perceived at once what a sensation such a singer
would make in her heavenly circle! She had, to be sure, a little
_too_ much expression, and sang well enough for a professional,
which was too well for a lady with no object in her singing except to
please. But in manner and style, to mention neither beauty nor
accomplishments, she would be a decided gain to the family, possessing
even in herself a not inconsiderable counterpoise to the title. Then who
could tell but this cousin--who seemed to have plenty of money, he
parted with it so easily--might be moved by like noble feelings with her
own to make a poor countess a rich one. The thing, I say, was settled,
so far as the chief family-worshipper was concerned.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

COURTSHIP IN EARNEST.


I do not care to dwell upon what followed. Christmas was a merry day to
all but the major, who did not like the engagement any better than
before. He found refuge and consolation with Mark. The boy was merry in
a mild, reflected way, because the rest were merry, but preferred his
own room with "dear Majie," to the drawing-room with the grand lady. He
would steal from it, assured that in a moment the major would be after
him, to keep him company, and tell him such stories!

Lord Gartley now began to make love with full intent and purpose. "How
could she listen to him!" says this and that reader? I can but echo the
exclamation, "How could she!" To explain the thing is more than I am
bound to undertake. As I may have said twenty times before, how this
woman will have this man is one of the deeper mysteries of the
world--yea, of the maker of the world, perhaps. One thing I may fairly
suggest--that where men see no reason why a woman should love this or
that man, she may see something in him which they do not see, or do not
value as she does. Alas for her if she only imagines it! Another thing
we may be sure of--that in few cases does the woman see what the men
know: much of that which is manifest to the eyes of the male world, is
by the male world scrupulously hidden from the female. One thing more I
would touch upon which men are more likely never to have thought of than
to have forgotten: that the love which a beautiful woman gives a man, is
in itself not an atom more precious than that which a plain woman gives.
In the two hearts they are the same, if the hearts be like; if not, the
advantage may well be with the plain woman. The love of a beautiful
woman is no more thrown away than the love of the plainest. The same
holds with regard to women of differing intellectual developments or
endowment. But when a woman of high hopes and aims--a woman filled with
eternal aspirations after life, and unity with her divine original gives
herself to such a one as lord Gartley, I cannot help thinking she must
have seriously mistaken some things both in him and in herself, the
consequence, probably, of some self-sufficiency, ambition, or other
fault in her, which requires the correction of suffering.

Hester found her lover now very pleasant. If sometimes he struck a
jarring chord, she was always able to find some way of accounting for
it, or explaining it away--if not entirely to her satisfaction, yet so
far that she was able to go on hoping everything, and for the present to
put off any further consideration of the particular phenomenon to the
time when, like most self-deceiving women, she _scarcely_ doubted
she would have greater influence over him--namely, the time when, man
and wife, they would be one flesh. But where there is not already a far
deeper unity than marriage can give, marriage itself can do little to
bring two souls together--may do much to drive them asunder.

She began to put him in training, as she thought, for the help he was to
give her with her loved poor. "What a silly!" exclaims a common-minded
girl-reader. "That was not the way to land her fish!" But let those who
are content to have fishy husbands, net or hook and land them as they
can; a woman has more in herself than any husband can give her, though
he may take much from her. Lord Gartley had no real conception of her
outlook on life, and regarded all her endeavor as born of the desire to
perfect his voice and singing. With such teaching he must, he imagined,
soon become her worthy equal. He had no notion of the sort of thing
genius is. Few have. They think of it as something supreme in itself,
whereas it is altogether dependent on truth in the inward parts. It may
last for a time separated from truth, but it dies its life, not lives
it. Its utterance depends on enthusiasm; all enthusiasm depends on love
and nobility of purpose; and love and nobility depend upon truth--that
is, live truth. Not millions of years, without an utter regeneration of
nature, could make such a man as Gartley sing like Hester. His faculties
were in the power of decay, therefore of the things that pass; Hester
was of the powers that give life, and keep things going and growing. She
sang because of the song that was in her soul. Her music came out of her
being, not out of her brain and her throat. If such a one as Gartley can
sing, there is no reason why he should be kept singing. In all the arts
the man who does not reach to higher things falls away from the things
he has. The love of money will ruin poet, painter, or musician.

For Hester the days now passed in pleasure. I fear the closer contact
with lord Gartley, different he was in her thought from what he was in
his own best, influenced at least the _rate_ of her growth towards
the upper regions. We cannot be heart and soul and self in the company
of the evil--and the untrue is the evil, however beheld as an angel of
light in the mirage of our loving eyes, without sad loss. Her prayers
were not so fervent, her aspirations not so strong. I see again the curl
on the lip of a certain kind of girl-reader! Her judgment here is but
foolishness. She is much too low in the creation yet, be she as
high-born and beautiful as a heathen goddess, to understand the things
of which I am writing. But she has got to understand them--they are not
mine--and the understanding may come in dread pain, and dire dismay.
Hester was one of those who in their chambers are not alone, but with
him who seeth in secret; and not to get so near to God in her chamber
--I can but speak in human figure--did not argue well for the new
relationship. But the Lord is mindful of his own. He does not forget
because we forget. Horror and pain may come, but not because he
forgets--nay, just because he does not forget. That is a thing God never
does.

There are many women who would have bewitched Gartley more, yet great
was his delight in the presence and converse of Hester, and he yielded
himself with pleasing grace. Inclined to rebel at times when wearied
with her demands on his attention and endeavour, he yet condescended to
them with something of the playfulness with which one would humour a
child: he would have a sweet revenge by and by! His turn would come
soon, and he would have to instruct her in many things she was now
ignorant of! She had never moved in his great world: he must teach her
its laws, instruct her how to shine, how to make the most of herself,
how to do honour to his choice! He had but the vaguest idea of the
_folly_ that possessed her. He thought of her relation to the poor
but as a passing--indeed a past phase of a hitherto objectless life.
Anything beyond a little easy benevolence would be impossible to the
wife of lord Gartley! That she should contemplate the pursuit of her
former objects with even greater freedom and devotion than before, would
have seemed to him a thing utterly incredible. And Hester would have
been equally staggered to find he had so failed to understand her after
the way she had opened her heart to him. To imagine that for anything
she would forsake the work she had been sent to do! So things went on
_upon a mutual misunderstanding_--to make a bull for my purpose--each
in the common meaning of the word getting more and more in love with
the other every day, while in reality they were separating farther and
farther, in as much as each one was revelling in thoughts that were
alien to the other. An occasional blasting doubt would cross the mind
of Hester, but she banished it like an evil spectre.

Miss Vavasor continued the most pleasant and unexacting of guests. Her
perfect breeding, sustained by a quiet temper and kindly disposition,
was easily, by simple hearts, taken for the sweetness it only simulated.
To people like Miss Vavasor does the thought never occur--what if the
thing they find it so necessary to simulate should actually in itself be
indispensable? What if their necessity of simulating it comes of its
absolute necessity!

She found the company of the major agreeable in the slow time she had
for her nephew's sake to pass with such primitive people, and was glad
of what she might otherwise have counted barely endurable. For Mr.
Raymount, he would not leave what he counted his work for any goddess in
creation: Hester had got her fixedness of purpose through him, and its
direction through her mother. But it was well he did not give Miss
Vavasor much of his company: if they had been alone together for a
quarter of an hour, they would have parted sworn foes, hating each other
almost as much as is possible without having loved. So the major,
instead of putting a stop to the unworthy alliance, found himself
actually furthering the affair, doing his part with the lady on whom the
success of the enemy depended. He was still now and then tempted to
break through and have a hideous revenge; but, with no great sense of
personal dignity to restrain him, he was really a man of honour and
behaved like one, curbing himself with no little severity.

So the time went on till after the twelfth night, when Miss Vavasor took
her leave for a round of visits, and lord Gartley went up to town, with
intention thereafter to pay a visit to his property, such as it was. He
would return to Yrndale in three weeks or a month, when the final
arrangements for the marriage would be made.

A correspondence naturally commenced, and Hester, unwarned by former
experience, received his first letter joyfully. But, the letter read,
lo, there was the same disappointment as of old! And as the first
letter, so the last and all between. In Hester's presence, she
suggesting and leading, he would utter what seemed to indicate the
presence of what she would have in him; but alone in his room, without
guide to his thoughts, without the stimulus of her presence or the sense
of her moral atmosphere, the best things he could write were poor
enough; they had no bones in them, and no other fire than that which the
thought of Hester's loveliness could supply. So his letters were not
inspiriting. They absorbed her atmosphere and after each followed a
period of mental asphyxy. Had they been those of a person indifferent to
her, she would have called them stupid, thrown them down, and thought no
more of them. As it was, I doubt if she read many of them twice over.
But all would be well, she said to herself, when they met again. It was
her absence that oppressed him, poor fellow! He was out of spirits, and
could not write! He had not the faculty for writing that some had! Her
father had told her of men that were excellent talkers, but set them
down pen in hand and not a thought would come! Was it not to his praise
rather than blame? Was not the presence of a man's own kind the best
inspirer of his speech? It was his loving human nature--she would have
persuaded herself, but never quite succeeded--that made utterance in a
letter impossible to him. Yet she _would_ have liked a little
genuine, definite response to the things she wrote! He seemed to have
nothing to say from himself! He would assent and echo, but any response
was always such as to make her doubt whether she had written plainly,
invariably suggesting things of this world and not of the unseen, the
world of thought and being. And when she mentioned work he always
replied as if she meant an undefined something called _doing good_.
He never doubted the failure of that foolish concert of ladies and
gentlemen given to the riff-raff of London, had taught her that whether
man be equal in the sight of God or not, any attempt on the part of
their natural superiors to treat them as such could not but be
disastrous.




CHAPTER XXXIV.

CALAMITY.


One afternoon the post brought side by side with a letter from lord
Gartley, one in a strange-looking cramped hand, which Mrs. Raymount
recognized.

"What can Sarah be writing about?" she said, a sudden foreboding of evil
crossing her mind.

"The water-rate perhaps," answered Hester, opening her own letter as she
withdrew to read it. For she did not like to read Gartley's letters
before her mother--not from shyness, but from shame: she would have
liked ill to have her learn how poor her Gartley's utterances were upon
paper. But ere she was six slow steps away, she turned at a cry from her
mother.

"Good heavens, what can it be? Something has happened to him!" said Mrs.
Raymount.

Her face was white almost as the paper she held. Hester put her arms
round her.

"Mother! mother! what is it?" she cried. "Anything about Corney?"

"I thought something would come to stop it all. We were too happy!" she
moaned, and began to tremble.

"Come to papa, mamma dear," said Hester, frightened, but quiet. She
stood as if fixed to the ground. Mr. Raymount's letters had been carried
to him in the study, and one of them had put him into like perturbation.
He was pacing up and down the room almost as white as his wife, but his
pallor was that of rage.

"The scoundrel!" he groaned, and seizing a chair hurled it against the
wall. "I had the suspicion he was a mean dog! Now all the world will
know it--and that he is my son! What have I done--what has my wife done,
that we should give being to a vile hound like this? What is there in
her or in me--?"

There he paused, for he remembered: far back in the family some five
generations or so, one had been hanged for forgery.

He threw himself in a chair, and wept with rage and shame. He had for
years been writing of family and social duties; here was his
illustration! His books were his words; here was his deed! How should he
ever show himself again! He would leave the country! Damn the property!
The rascal should never succeed to it! Mark should have it--if he lived!
But he hoped he would die! He would like to poison them all, and go with
them out of the disgrace--all but the dog that had brought it on them!
Hester marry an earl! Not if the truth would prevent it! Her engagement
must at once be broken! Lord Gartley marry the sister of a thief!

While he was thus raging a knock came to the door, and a maid entered.

"Please, sir," she said, "Miss Raymount says will you come to mis'ess:
she's taken bad!"

This brought him to himself. The horrible fate was hers too! He must go
to her. How could she have heard the vile news? She must have heard it!
what else could make her ill! He followed the maid to the lawn. It was a
cold morning of January sunshine. There stood his wife in his daughter's
arms, trembling from head to foot, and apparently without power of
motion! He asked no question, took her in his arms, bore her to her
room, laid her on the bed, and sat down beside her, hardly caring if she
died, for the sooner they were all dead the better! She lay like one
dead, and do what she could Hester was unable to bring her to herself.
But by and by the doctor came.

She had caught up the letter and as her father sat there, she handed it
to him. The substance and manner of it were these:

"Dear mistress, it is time to let you know of the goings on here. I
never held with bearing of tales against my fellow-servants, and perhaps
it's worse to bring tales against Master Cornelius, as is your own flesh
and blood, but what am I to do as was left in charge, and to keep the
house respectable? He's not been home this three nights; and you ought
to know as there is a young lady, his cousin from New Zealand, as is
come to the house a three or four times since you went away, and stayed
a long time with him, though it is some time now that I ain't seen her.
She is a pretty, modest-looking young lady; though I must say I was
ill-pleased when Mr. Cornelius would have her stay all night; and I up
and told him if she was his cousin it wasn't as if she was his sister,
and it wouldn't do, and I would walk out of the house if he insisted on
me making up a bed for her. Then he laughed in my face, and told me I
was an old fool, and he was only making game of me. But that was after
he done his best to persuade me, and I wouldn't be persuaded. I told him
if neither he nor the young lady had a character to keep, I had one to
lose, and I wouldn't. But I don't think he said anything to her about
staying all night; for she come down the stair as innocent-like as any
dove, and bid me good night smiling, and they walked away together. And
I wouldn't by no means have took upon me to be a spy, nor I wouldn't
have mentioned the thing, for it's none of my business so long as nobody
doesn't abuse the house as is my charge; but he ain't been home for
three nights, and there is the feelings of a mother! and it's my part to
let her know as her son ain't slept in his own bed for three nights, and
that's a fact. So no more at present, and I hope dear mis'ess it won't
kill you to hear on it. O why did his father leave him alone in London,
with none but an old woman like me, as he always did look down upon, to
look after him! Your humble servant for twenty years to command, S. H."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Raymount had not read the half of this. It was enough to learn he
had not been home for three nights. How is it? Parents with no
reasonable ground for believing their children good, nay with
considerable ground for believing them worse than many, are yet seized
as by the awfully incredible when they hear they are going wrong. Helen
Raymount concluded her boy had turned into bad ways because left in
London, although she knew he had never taken to good ways while they
were all with him. If he had never gone right why should she wonder he
had gone wrong?

The doctor was sitting by the bedside, watching the effect of something
he had given her. Mr. Raymount rose and led Hester from the
room--sternly almost, as if she had been to blame for it all.

Some people when they are angry, speak as if they were angry with the
person to whom they are in fact looking for comfort. When in trouble few
of us are masters enough of ourselves, because few of us are children
enough of our Father in heaven, to behave like gentlemen--after the
fashion of "the first stock father of gentleness." But Hester understood
her mother and did not resent.

"Is this all your mother knows, Hester?" said her father, pointing to
the letter in his hand. She told him her mother had read but the first
sentence or two.

He was silent--returned to the bedside, and stood silent. The life of
his dearest had been suddenly withered at the root, like the gourd of
Jonah, and had she not learned nearly the worst!

His letter was from his wife's brother, in whose bank Cornelius was a
clerk. A considerable deficit had been discovered in his accounts. He
had not been to the bank for two days before, and no trace of him was to
be found. His uncle, from regard to the feelings of his sister, had not
allowed the thing to transpire, but had requested the head of his office
to be silent: he would wait his brother-in-law's reply before taking any
steps. He feared the misguided youth had reckoned on the forbearance of
an uncle; but for the sake of his own future, if for no other reason,
the thing could not be passed over!

"Passed over!" Had Gerald Raymount been a Roman with the power of life
and death over his children, he would in his present mood have put his
son to death with his own hands. But for his wife's illness he would
have been already on the way to London to repay the missing money; for
his son's sake he would not cross his threshold! So at least he said to
himself.

But something must be done. He must send some one! Who was there to
send? There was Hester! With her uncle she was a favourite! nor would
she dread the interview, which, as the heat of his rage yielded to a
cold despair, he felt would be to him an unendurable humiliation. For he
had had many arguments, not always quite friendly, with this same
brother-in-law concerning the way he brought up his children: they had
all turned out well, and here was his miserable son a felon, disgracing
both families! Yes; let Hester go! There were things a woman could do
better than a man! Hester was no child now, but a capable woman! While
she was gone he could be making up his mind what to do with the wretched
boy!

He led Hester again from her mother's room to his, and gave her her
uncle's letter to read. Tell her its contents he could not. He watched
her as she read--watched his own heart as it were in her bosom--saw her
grow pale, then flush, then turn pale again. At length her face settled
into a look of determination. She laid the letter on the table, and rose
with a steady troubled light in her eyes. What she was thinking of he
could not tell, but he made at once the proposal.

"Hester," he said, "I cannot leave your mother; you must go for me to
your uncle and do the best you can. If it were not for your mother I
would have the rascal prosecuted; but it would break her heart."

Hester wasted no words of reply: She had often heard him say there ought
to be no interference with public justice for private ends.

"Yes, papa," she answered. "I shall be ready in a moment. If I ride
Hotspur I shall catch the evening train."

"There is time to take the brougham."

"Am I to say anything to Corney, papa?" she asked, her voice trembling
over the name.

"You have nothing to do with him," he answered sternly. "Where is the
good of keeping a villain from being as much of a villain as he has got
it in him to be? I will sign you a blank cheque, which your uncle can
fill up with the amount he has stolen. Come for it as soon as you are
ready."

Hester thought as she went whether, if it had not been for the
possibility of repentance, the world would ever have been made at all.

On her way to her room she met the major, looking for herself, to tell
him about her mother, of whose attack, as he had been out for a long
walk, he had but just heard.

"But what did it, Hester?" he said. "I can smell in the air something
has gone wrong: what the deuce is it? There's always something getting
out of gear in this best of worlds?"

She would have passed him with a word in her haste, but he turned and
walked with her.

"The individual, any individual, all the individuals," he went on, "may
come to smash, but the world is all right, notwithstanding, and a good
serviceable machine!--by George, without a sound pinion in all the
carcass of it, or an engineer that cares there should be!"

They had met in a dark part of the corridor, and had now, at a turn in
it, come opposite a window. Then first the major saw Hester's face: he
had never seen her look like that!

"Is your mother in danger?" he asked, his tone changing to the gentlest,
for his heart was in reality a most tender one.

"She is very ill," answered Hester. "The doctor has been with her now
three hours. I am going up to London for papa. He can't leave her."

"Going up to London--and by the night-train!" said the major to himself.
"Then there has been bad news! What can they be? Money matters? No;
cousin Helen is not the one to send health after money! It's something
worse than that! I have it! That scoundrel Corney has been about some
mischief--damn him! I shouldn't be surprised to hear anything bad of
him! But what can you do, my dear?" he said aloud. "It's not fit--"

He looked up. Hester was gone.

She put a few things together, drank a cup of tea brought to her room,
went to her father and received the cheque, and was ready by the time
the brougham came to the door with a pair of horses. She would not look
at her mother again lest she might be sufficiently revived to wonder
where she was going, but hastened down, and saw no one on the way. One
of the servants was in the hall, and opened the carriage-door for her.
The moment it closed she was on her way through the gathering dusk to
the railway station.

While the lodge-gate was being opened, she thought she saw some one get
up on the box beside the coachman, and fancied it must be a groom going
with them. The drive was a long and anxious one; it seemed to her all
the time as if the horses could not get on. In spots the road was
slippery, and as the horses were not roughed they had to go slowly, and
parts were very heavy. What might not be happening to Corney, she
thought, while she was on the way to his rescue! She kept fancying one
dreadful thing after another. It was like a terrible dream, only with
the assurance of reality in it.

The carriage stopped, the door opened, and there was the major in a huge
fur coat, holding out his hand to help her down. It was as great a
pleasure as surprise, and she showed both.

"You didn't think I was going to let you travel alone?" he said. "Who
knows what wolf might be after my Red riding-hood! I'll go in another
carriage of course if you wish it; but in this train I'm going to
London."

Hester told him she was only too glad of his escort. Careful not to seem
in the least bent on the discovery of the cause of her journey, he
seated himself in the farthest corner, for there was no one else in the
carriage, and pretended to go to sleep. And now first began Hester's
private share in the general misery of the family. In the presence of
her suffering father and mother, she put off looking into the mist that
kept gathering deeper and deeper, filled with forms undefined, about
herself. Now these forms began to reveal themselves in shifting yet
recognizable reality. If this miserable affair should be successfully
hushed up, there was yet one must know it: she must immediately acquaint
lord Gartley with what had taken place! And therewith one of the shapes
in the mist settled into solidity: if the love between them had been of
an ideal character, would she have had a moment's anxiety as to how her
lover would receive the painful news? But therewith her own mind was
made up: if he but hesitated, that would be enough! Nothing could make
her marry a man who had once hesitated whether to draw back or not. It
was impossible.




CHAPTER XXXV.

IN LONDON.


It was much too early to do anything when they arrived. Nor could Hester
go to her uncle's house: it was in one of the suburbs, and she would
reach it before the household was stirring. They went therefore to
Addison square. When they had roused Sarah, the major took his leave of
Hester, promising to be with her in a few hours, and betook himself to
his hotel.

As she would not be seen at the bank, with the risk of being recognized
as the sister of Cornelius and rousing speculation, she begged the major
when he came to be her messenger to her uncle, and tell him that she had
come from her father, asking him where it would be convenient for him to
see her. The major undertook the commission at once, and went without
asking a question.

Early in the afternoon her uncle came, and behaved to her very kindly.
He was chiefly a man of business, and showing neither by look nor tone
that he had sympathy with the trouble she and her parents were in, by
his very reticence revealed it. His manner was the colder that he was
studiously avoiding the least approximation to remark on the conduct or
character of the youth--an abstinence which, however, had a chilling and
hopeless effect upon the ardent mind of the sister. At last, when she
had given him her father's cheque, with the request that he would
himself fill it up with the amount of which he had been robbed, and he
with a slight deprecatory smile and shrug had taken it, she ventured to
ask what he was going to do in regard to her brother.

"When I take this cheque," answered her uncle, "it indicates that I
treat the matter as a debt discharged, and leave him entirely in your
father's hands. He must do as he sees fit. I am sorry for you all, and
for you especially that you should have had to take an active part in
the business. I wish your father could have come up himself. My poor
sister!"

"I cannot be glad my father could not come," said Hester, "but I am glad
he did not come, for he is so angry with Cornelius that I could almost
believe he would have insisted on your prosecuting him. You never saw
such indignation as my father's at any wrong done by one man to
another--not to say by one like Cornelius to one like you, uncle, who
have always been so kind to him! It is a terrible blow! He will never
get over it--never! never!"

She broke down, and wept bitterly--the more bitterly that they were her
first tears since learning the terrible fact, for she was not one who
readily found such relief. To think of their family, of which she was
too ready to feel proud, being thus disgraced, with one for its future
representative who had not even the commonest honesty, and who, but that
his crime had been committed against an indulgent relative, would
assuredly, for the sake of the business morals of his associates, if for
no other reason, have been prosecuted for felony, was hard to bear! But
to one of Hester's deep nature and loyalty to the truth, there were
considerations far more sad. How was ever such a child of the darkness
to come to love the light? How was one who cared so little for
righteousness, one who, in all probability, would only excuse or even
justify his crime--if indeed he would trouble himself to do so much--how
was one like him to be brought to contrition and rectitude? There was a
hope, though a poor one, in the shame he must feel at the disgrace he
had brought upon himself. But alas! if the whole thing was to be kept
quiet, and the semblance allowed that he had got tired of business and
left it, how would even what regenerating power might lie in shame be
brought to bear upon him? If not brought to _open_ shame, he would
hold his head as high as ever--be arrogant under the protection of the
fact that the disgrace of his family would follow upon the exposure of
himself. When her uncle left her, she sat motionless a long time,
thinking much but hoping little. The darkness gathered deeper and deeper
around her. The ruin of her own promised history seemed imminent upon
that of her family. What sun of earthly joy could ever break through
such clouds! There was indeed a sun that nothing could cloud, but it
seemed to shine far away. Some sorrows seem beyond the reach of
consolation, in as much as their causes seem beyond setting right. They
can at best, _as it seems_, only be covered over. Forgetfulness
alone seems capable of removing their sting, and from that cure every
noble mind turns away as unworthy both of itself, and of its Father in
heaven. But the human heart has to go through much before it is able to
house even a suspicion of the superabounding riches of the creating and
saving God. The foolish child thinks there can be nothing where he sees
nothing; the human heart feels as if where it cannot devise help, there
is none possible to God; as if God like the heart must be content to
botch the thing up, and make, as we say, the best of it.

But as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher
than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.

"But what _can_ be done when--so and so?" says my reader; for,
whatever generalities I utter, his hurt seems not the less
unapproachable of any help. You think, I answer, that you see all round
your own sorrow; whereas much the greater part of the very being you
call yours, is as unknown to you as the other side of the moon. It is as
impossible you should understand it therefore, its sorrow, as that you
should understand God, who alone understands you. Be developed into the
divine idea of you; for your grief's sake let God have his way with you,
and not only will all be well, but you shall say, "It is well."

It was a sore and dreary time for Hester, alone in the room where she
had spent so many happy hours. She sat in a window, looking out upon the
leafless trees and the cold gloomy old statue in the midst of them.
Frost was upon every twig. A thin sad fog filled the comfortless air.
There might be warm happy homes many, but such no more belonged to her
world! The fire was burning cheerfully behind her, but her eyes were
fixed on the dreary square. She was hardly thinking--only letting
thoughts and feelings come and go. What a thing is life and being, when
a soul has become but the room in which ghosts hold their revel; when
the man is no longer master of himself, can no more say to this or that
thought, thou shall come, and thou shall go; but is a slave to his own
existence, can neither cease to be, nor order his being--able only in
fruitless rebellion to entangle himself yet more in the net he has
knotted around him! Such is every one parted from the essential life,
who has not the Power by which he lives one with him, holding pure and
free and true the soul he sent forth from the depths of his being. I
repent me of the ignorance wherein I ever said that God made man out of
nothing: there is no nothing out of which to make anything; God is all
in all, and he made us out of himself. He who is parted from God has no
original nothingness with which to take refuge. He is a live discord, an
anti-truth. He is a death fighting against life, and doomed to endless
vanity; an opposition to the very power by whose strength yet in him he
opposes; a world of contradictions, not greedy after harmony, but greedy
for lack of harmony--his being an abyss of positive negation. Not such
was Hester, and although her thoughts now came and went without her,
they did not come and go without God; and a truth from the depths of her
own true being was on its way to console her.

How would her lover receive the news?--that was the agitating question;
what would he thereupon do?

She could not at once write to acquaint him with the grief and disgrace
that had fallen upon them, for she did not know where precisely he was:
his movements were not fixed; and she dreaded the falling of such a
letter as she would have to write into any hands except his own.

But another, and far stronger reason against writing to him, made itself
presently clear to her mind: if she wrote, she could not know how he
received her sad story; and if his mind required making up, which was
what she feared, he would have time for it! This would not do! She must
communicate the dread defiling fact with her own lips! She must see how
he took it! Like Hamlet with the king at the play, "If he but blench, I
know my course!" she said. If he showed the slightest change towards
her, the least tendency to regard his relation to her as an
entanglement, to regret that he had involved himself with the sister of
a thief, marry her he should not! That was settled as the earth's
course! If he was not to be her earthly refuge in this trouble as in any
other, she would none of him! If it should break her heart she would
none of him! But break her heart it would not! There were worse evils
than losing a lover! There was losing a true man--and that he would not
be if she lost him! The behaviour of Cornelius had perhaps made her more
capable of doubt; possibly her righteous anger with him inclined her to
imagine grounds of anger with another; but probably this feeling of
uncertainty with regard to her lover had been prepared for by things
that had passed between them since their engagement, but upon which
regarding herself as his wife, she had not allowed herself to dwell,
turning her thought to the time when, as she imagined, she would be able
to do so much more for and with him. And now she was almost in a mood to
quarrel with him! Brought to moral bay, she stood with her head high,
her soul roused, and every nerve strung to defence. She had not yet cast
herself for defence on the care of her Father in heaven, who is jealous
for the righteousness of those who love righteousness. But he was not
far from her.

Yet deeper into the brooding fit she sank. Weary with her journey and
the sleepless night, her brain seemed to work itself; when suddenly came
the thought that, after so long a separation, she was at last in the
midst of her poor. But how was she to face them now! how hold up her
head amongst them! how utter a word of gentlest remonstrance! Who was
she to have dared speak to them of the evil of their ways, and the bad
influence of an ill-behaved family! But how lightly they bore such ills
as that which was now breaking her down with trouble and shame! Even
such of them as were honest people, would have this cousin or that
uncle, or even a son or the husband _in_ for so many months, and
think only of when they would have him out again! Misfortune had
overtaken them! and they loved them no less. The man or the woman was
still man or woman, mother or husband to them. Nothing could degrade
them beyond the reach of their sympathies! They had no thought of
priding themselves against them because they themselves had not
transgressed the law, neither of drawing back from them with disgust.
And were there not a thousand wrong things done in business and society
which had no depressing effect either on those who did them, or those
whose friends did them--only because these wrongs not having yet come
under the cognizance of law had not yet come to be considered
disgraceful? Therewith she felt nearer to her poor than ever before, and
it comforted her. The bare soul of humanity comforted her. She was not
merely of the same flesh and blood with them--not even of the same soul
and spirit only, but of the same failing, sinning, blundering breed; and
that not alone in the general way of sin, ever and again forsaking the
fountain of living water, and betaking herself to some cistern, but in
their individual sins was she not their near relative? Their shame was
hers: the son of her mother, the son of her father was a thief! She was
and would be more one with them than ever before! If they made less of
crime in another, they also made less of innocence from it in
themselves! Was it not even better to do wrong, she asked herself, than
to think it a very grand thing not to do it? What merit was there in
being what it would be contemptible not to be? The Lord Christ could get
nearer to the publican than the Pharisee, to the woman that was a sinner
than the self-righteous honest woman! The Pharisee was a good man, but
he thought it such a fine thing to be good that God did not like him
nearly so well as the other who thought it a sad thing to be bad! Let
her but get among her nice, honest, wicked poor ones, out of this
atmosphere of pretence and appearance, and she would breathe again! She
dropped upon her knees, and cried to her Father in heaven to make her
heart clean altogether, to deliver her from everything mean and
faithless, to make her turn from any shadow of ill as thoroughly as she
would have her brother repent of the stealing that made them all so
ashamed. Like a woman in the wrong she drew nigh the feet of her master;
she too was a sinner; her heart needed his cleansing as much as any!

And with that came another God-given thought of self-accusing. For
suddenly she perceived that self had been leading her astray: she was
tender towards those farther from her, hard towards the one nearer to
her! It was easy to be indulgent towards those whose evil did not touch
herself: to the son of her own mother she was severe and indignant! If
she condemned him, who would help his mother to give him the love of
which he stood in the sorer need that he was unworthy of it? Corney whom
she had nursed as a baby--who used to crow when she appeared--could it
be that she who had then loved him so dearly had ceased and was loving
him no more? True, he had grown to be teasing and trying in every way,
seeming to despise her and all women together; but was not that part of
the evil disease that clung fast to him? If God were to do like her, how
many would be giving honour to his Son? But God knew all the
difficulties that beset men, and gave them fair play when sisters did
not: he would redeem Corney yet! But was it possible he should ever wake
to see how ugly his conduct had been? It _seemed_ impossible; but
surely there were powers in God's heart that had not yet been brought to
bear upon him! Perhaps this, was one of them--letting him disgrace
himself! If he could but be made ashamed of himself there would be hope!
And in the meantime she must get the beam out of her own eye, that she
might see to take the mote or the beam, whichever it might be, out of
Corney's! Again she fell upon her knees, and prayed God to enable her.
Corney was her brother, and must for ever be her brother, were he the
worst thief under the sun! God would see to their honor or disgrace;
what she had to do was to be a sister! She rose determined that she
would not go home till she had done all she could to find him; that the
judgment of God should henceforth alone be hers, and the judgment of the
world nothing to her for evermore.

Presently the fact, which had at various times cast a dim presence up
her horizon without thoroughly attracting her attention, became plain to
her--that she had in part been drawn towards her lover because of his
social position. Certainly without loving him, she would never have
consented to marry him for that, but had she not come the more readily
to love him because of that? Had it not passed him within certain
defences which would otherwise have held out? Had he not been an earl in
prospect, were there not some things in him which would have more
repelled her, as not manifesting the highest order of humanity? Would
she, for instance, but for that, have tried so much to like his verses?
Clearly she must take her place with the sinners!




CHAPTER XXXVI.

A TALK WITH THE MAJOR.


While she meditated thus, major Marvel made his appearance. He had been
watching outside, saw her uncle go, and an hour after was shown to the
room where she still sat, staring out on the frosty trees of the square.

"Why, my child," he said, with almost paternal tenderness, "your hand is
as cold as ice! Why do you sit so far from the fire?"

She rose and went to the fire with him. He put her in an easy chair, and
sat down beside her. Common, pudgy, red-faced, bald-headed as he was,
she come to him, and that out of regions of deepest thought, with a
sense of refuge. He could scarcely have understood one of her
difficulties, would doubtless have judged not a few of her scruples
nonsensical and over-driven; yet knowing this it was a comfort to her to
come from those regions back to a mere, honest, human heart--to feel a
human soul in a human body nigh her. For the mere human is divine,
though not _the_ divine, and to the mere human essential comfort.
Should relations be broken between her and lord Gartley, she knew it
would delight the major; yet she was able to look upon him as a friend
in whom she could trust. Unity of _opinion_ is not necessary to
confident friendship and warm love.

As they talked, the major, seeing she was much depressed, and thinking
to draw her from troubled thought, began to tell her some of the more
personal parts of his history, and in these she soon became so
interested that she began to ask him questions, and drew from him much
that he would never have thought of volunteering. Before their talk was
over, she had come to regard the man as she could not have imagined it
possible she should. She had looked upon him as a man of so many and
such redeeming qualities, that his faults must be over-looked and
himself defended from any overweighing of them; but now she felt him a
man to be looked up to--almost revered. It was true that every now and
then some remark would reveal in him a less than attractive commonness
of thinking; and that his notions in religion were of the crudest, for
he regarded it as a set of doctrines--not a few of them very
dishonouring to God; yet was the man in a high sense a true man. There
is nothing shows more how hard it has been for God to redeem the world
than the opinions still uttered concerning him and his so-called
_plans_ by many who love him and try to obey him: a man may be in
possession of the most precious jewels, and yet know so little about
them that his description of them would never induce a jeweller to
purchase them, but on the contrary make him regard the man as a fool,
deceived with bits of coloured glass for rubies and sapphires. Major
Marvel was not of such. He knew nothing of the slang of the Pharisees,
knew little of the language of either the saints or the prophets, had,
like most Christians, many worldly ways of looking at things, and yet I
think our Lord would have said there was no guile in him.

With her new insight into the man's character came to Hester the
question whether she would not be justified in taking him into her
confidence with regard to Cornelius. She had received no injunctions to
secrecy from her father: neither he nor her mother ever thought of such
a thing with her; they knew she was to be trusted as they were
themselves to be trusted. Her father had taken no step towards any
effort for the rescue of his son, and she would sorely need help in what
she must herself try to do. She could say nothing to the major about
lord Gartley, or the influence her brother's behaviour might have on her
future: that would not be fair either to Gartley or to the major; but
might she not ask him to help her to find Corney? She was certain he
would be prudent and keep quiet whatever ought to be kept quiet; while
on the other hand her father had spoken as if he would have nothing of
it all concealed. She told him the whole story, hiding nothing that she
knew. Hardly could she restrain her tears as she spoke, but she ended
without having shed one. The major had said nothing, betrayed nothing,
only listened intently.

"My dear Hester," he said solemnly, after a few moments' pause, "the
mysteries of creation are beyond me!"

Hester thought the remark irrelevant, but waited. "It's such a mixture!"
he went on. "There is your mother, the loveliest woman except yourself
God ever made! Then comes Cornelius--a--well!--Then comes yourself! and
then little Mark! a child--I will not say too good to live--God
forbid!--but too good for any of the common uses of this world! I declare
to you I am terrified when left alone with him, and keep wishing for
somebody to come into the room!"

"What about him terrifies you?" asked Hester, amused at the idea, in
spite of the gnawing unrest at her heart.

"To answer you," replied the major, "I must think a bit! Let me see! Let
me see! Yes! it must be that! I am ashamed to confess it, but to a saint
one must speak the truth: I believe in my heart it is simply fear lest I
should find I must give up everything and do as I know he is thinking I
ought."

"And what is that?"

"Turn a saint like him."

"And why should you be afraid of that?"

"Well, you see, I'm not the stuff that saints--good saints, I mean, are
made of; and rather than not be a good one, if I once set about it, I
would, saving your presence, be the devil himself."

Hester laughed, yet with some self-accusation.

"I think," she said softly, "one day you will be as good a saint as love
can wish you to be."

"Give me time; give me time, I beg," cried the major, wiping his
forehead, and evidently in some perturbation. "I would not willingly
begin anything I should disgrace, for that would be to disgrace myself,
and I never had any will to that, though the old ladies of our village
used to say I was born without any shame. But the main cause of my
unpopularity was that I hated humbug--and I do hate humbug, cousin
Hester, and shall hate it till I die--and so want to steer clear of it."

"I hate it, I hope, as much as you do, major Marvel," responded Hester.
"But, whatever it may be mixed up with, what is true, you know, cannot
be humbug, and what is not true cannot be anything else than humbug."

"Yes, yes! but how is one to know what is true, my dear? There are so
many differing claims to the quality!"

"I have been told, and I believe it with all my heart," replied Hester,
"that the only way to know what is true is to do what is true."

"But you must know what is true before you can begin to do what is
true."

"Everybody knows something that is true to do--that is, something he
ought to lose no time in setting about. The true thing to any man is the
thing that must not be let alone but done. It is much easier to know
what is true to do than what is true to think. But those who do the one
will come to know the other--and none else, I believe."

The major was silent, and sat looking very thoughtful. At last he rose.

"Is there anything you want me to do in this sad affair, cousin Hester?"
he said.

"I want your help to find my brother."

"Why should you want to find him? You cannot do him any good!"

"Who can tell that? If Christ came to seek and save his lost, we ought
to seek and save our lost."

"Young men don't go wrong for the mere sake of going wrong: you may find
him in such a position as will make it impossible for you to have
anything to do with him."

"You know that line of Spenser's.--

  Entire affection hateth nicer hands'?"

asked Hester.

"No, I don't know it; and I don't know that I understand it now you tell
it me," replied the major, just a little crossly, for he did not like
poetry; it was one of his bugbear humbugs. "But one thing is plain: you
must not expose yourself to what in such a search would be unavoidable."

The care of men over some women would not seldom be ludicrous but for
the sad suggested contrast of their carelessness over others.

"Answer me one question, dear major Marvel," said Hester: "Which is in
most danger from disease--the healthy or the sickly?"

"That's a question for the doctor," he answered cautiously; "and I don't
believe he knows anything about it either. What it has to do with the
matter in hand I cannot think."

Hester saw it was not for her now to pursue the argument. And one would
almost imagine it scarce needed pursuing! For who shall walk safe in the
haunts of evil but those upon whom, being pure, evil has no hold? The
world's notions of purity are simply childish--because it is not itself
pure. You might well suppose its cherished ones on the brink of all
corruption, so much afraid does it seem of having them tainted _before
their time_. Sorry would one be, but for the sake of those for whom
Christ died, that any woman should be pained with the sight of evil, but
the true woman may, even like God himself, know all evil and remain just
as lovely, as clean, as angelic and worshipful as any child in the
simplest country home. The idea of a woman like Hester being _in any
sense_ defiled by knowing what her Lord knows while she fills up what
is left behind of the sufferings of Christ for her to suffer for the
sake of his world, is contemptible. As wrong melts away and vanishes in
the heart of Christ, so does the impurity she encounters vanish in the
heart of the pure woman: it is there burned up.

"I hardly see what is to be done," said the major, after a moment's
silence. "What do you say to an advertisement in _The Times_, to
the effect that, if C. R. will return to his family, all will be
forgiven?"

"That I must not, dare not do. There is surely some other way of finding
persons without going to the police!"

"What do you think your father would like done?"

"I do not know; but as I am Corney's sister, I will venture as a sister
may. I think my father will be pleased in the end, but I will risk his
displeasure for the sake of my brother. If my father were to cast him
off, would you say I was bound to cast him off?"

"I dare say nothing where you are sure, Hester. My only anxiety would be
whether you thoroughly knew what you were about."

"If one were able to look upon the question of life or death as a mere
candle-flame in the sun of duty, would she not at least be more likely
to do right than wrong?"

"If the question were put about a soldier I should feel surer how to
answer you," replied the major. "But you are so much better than I--you
go upon such different tactics, that we can hardly, I fear, bring our
troops right in front of each other.--I will do what I can for
you--though I greatly fear your brother will never prove worth the
trouble."

"People have repented who have gone as far wrong as Corney," said
Hester, with the tears in her voice it not in her eyes.

"True!" responded the major; "but I don't believe he has character
enough to repent of anything. He will be fertile enough in excuse! But I
will do what I can to find out where he is."

Hester heartily thanked him, and he took his leave.

Her very estrangement from him, the thought of her mother's misery and
the self-condemnation that must overtake her father if he did nothing,
urged her to find Cornelius. But if she found him, what would come of
it? Was he likely to go home with her? How would he be received if he
did go home? and if not, what was she to do with or for him? Was he to
keep the money so vilely appropriated? And what was he to do when it was
spent? If want would drive him home, the sooner he came to it the
better! We pity the prodigal with his swine, but then first a ray of
hope begins to break through the darkness of his fate.

To do nothing was nearly unendurable, and she saw nothing to do. She
could only wait, and it took all the patience and submission she could
find. She wrote to her father, told him what there was to tell, and
ended her letter with a message to her mother:--"Tell darling mother,"
she said, "that what a sister can do, up to the strength God gives her,
shall be done for my brother. Major Marvel is doing his best to find
him."

Next day she heard from her father that her mother was slowly
recovering; and on the following day that her letter was a great comfort
to her; but beyond this he made no remark. Even his silence however was
something of a relief to Hester.

In the meantime she was not idle. Hers was not the nature even in grief
to sit still. The moment she had dispatched her letter, she set out to
visit her poor friends. On her way she went into Mrs. Baldwin's shop and
had a little talk with her, in the course of which she asked if she had
ever heard anything more of the Frankses. Mrs. Baldwin replied that she
had once or twice heard of their being seen in the way of their
profession; but feared they were not getting on. Hester was sorry, but
had many more she knew better to think of.

There was much rejoicing at her return. But there were changes--new
faces where she had left friends, and not the best news of some who
remained. One or two were in prison of whom when she left she was in
great hope. One or two were getting on better in the sense of this
world, but she could see nothing in themselves to make her glad of their
"good luck." One who had signed the pledge some time before she went,
had broken out fearfully, and all but killed his wife. One of whom she
had been hopeful, had disappeared--it was supposed with another man's
wife. In spite of their sufferings the evil one seemed as busy among
them as among the world's elect.

The little ones came about her again, but with less confidence, both
because she had been away, and because they had grown more than they had
improved. But soon things were nearly on the old footing with them.

Every day she went among them. Certain of the women--chiefly those who
had suffered most with least fault--were as warmly her friends as
before. Amongst them was just one who had some experience of the
Christian life, and she had begun to learn long before Hester came to
know her: she did not seem, however, to have gained any influence even
with those who lived in the same house; only who can trace the slow
working of leaven?




CHAPTER XXVII.

RENCONTRES.


There was no news of Cornelius. In vain the detective to whom the major
had made liberal promises continued his inquiries. There was a rumour of
a young woman in whose company he had lately been seen, but she too had
disappeared from public sight.

Sarah did her best to make Hester comfortable, and behaved the better
that she was humbled by the consciousness of having made a bad job of
her caretaking with Cornelius.

One afternoon--it had rained, but the sun was now shining, and Hester's
heart felt lighter as she took deep breaths of the clean-washed air--she
turned into a passage to visit the wife of a book-binder who had been
long laid up with rheumatism so severe as to render him quite unable to
work.

They had therefore been on the borders of want, and for Hester it was
one of those happy cases in which she felt at full liberty to help with
money. The part of the house occupied by them was pretty decent, but the
rest of it was in bad repair and occupied by yet poorer people, of none
of whom she knew much.

It was in fact a little way beyond what she had come to count her limit.

She knocked at the door. It was opened by the parish doctor.

"You cannot come in, Miss Raymount," he said. "We have a very bad case
of small-pox here. You good ladies must make up your minds to keep away
from these parts for a while. Their bodies are in more danger than their
souls now."

"That may very well be," replied Hester. "My foot may be in more danger
than my head, but I can better afford to lose the one than the other."

The doctor did not see the point, and thought there was none.

"You will only carry the infection," he said.

"I will take every precaution," answered Hester. "I always take more, I
am certain, than it can be possible for you to take. Why should not I
also do my part to help them through?"

"While the parish is in my care," answered the doctor, "I must object to
whatever increases the risk of infection. It is hard while we are doing
all we can to stamp out the disease, to have you, with the best of
motives I admit, carrying it from one house to another. How are we to
keep it out of the West End, if you ladies carry the seeds of it?"

The hard-worked man spoke with some heat.

"So the poor brothers are to be left for fear of hurting the rich ones?"

"That's not fair--you know it is not!" said the doctor. "We are set here
to fight the disease, and fight it we must."

"And I am set here to fight something worse," returned Hester with a
smile.

The doctor came out and shut the door.

"I must beg of you to go away," he said. "I shall be compelled to
mention in my report how you and other ladies add to our difficulties."

He slipped in again and closed the door. Hester turned and went down the
stair, now on her part a little angry. She knew it was no use thinking
when she was angry, for when the anger was gone she almost always
thought otherwise. The first thing was to get rid of the anger.
Instinctively she sat down and began to sing; it was not the first time
she had sat and sung in a dirty staircase. It was not a wise thing to
do, but her anger prevented her from seeing its impropriety.

In great cities the children are like flies, gathering swiftly as from
out of the unseen: in a moment the stair below was half-filled with
them. The tenants above opened their doors and came down. Others came in
from the street and were pushed up by those who came behind them. The
stair and entrance were presently filled with people, all shabby, and
almost all dirty--men and women, young and old, good and bad, listening
to the voice of the singing lady, as she was called in the.
neighborhood.

By this time the doctor had finished his visit at the bookbinder's, and
appeared on the stair above. He had heard the singing, and thought it
was in the street; now he learnt it was actually in the house, and had
filled it with people! It was no wonder, especially when he saw who the
singer was, that he should lose his temper. Through the few women and
children above where Hester sat, he made his way towards the crowd of
faces below. When he reached her he seized her arm from behind and began
to raise at once and push her down the stair. He, too, was an enthusiast
in his way. Some of the faces below grew red with anger, and their eyes
flamed at the doctor. A loud murmur arose, and several began to force
their way up to rescue her, as they would one of their own from the
police. But Hester, the moment she saw who it was that had laid hold of
her, rose and began to descend the stair, closely followed by the
doctor. It was not easy; and the annoyance of a good many in the crowd,
some because Hester was their friend, others because the doctor had
stopped the singing, gave a disorderly and indeed rather threatening
look to the assemblage.

As she reached the door she saw, on the opposite side of the crowded
passage, the pale face and glittering eyes of Mr. Blaney looking at her
over the heads between. The little man was mounted on a box at the door
of a shop whose trade seemed to be in withered vegetables and salt fish,
and had already had the pint which, according to his brother-in-law, was
more than he could stand.

"Sarves you right, miss," he cried, when he saw who was the centre of
the commotion; "sarves you right! You turned me out o' your house for
singin', an' I don't see why you should come a singin' an' a misbehavin'
of yourself in ourn! Jest you bring her out here, pleeceman, an' let me
give her a bit o' my mind. Oh, don't you be afeared, I won't hurt her!
Not in all my life did I ever once hurt a woman--bless 'em! But it's
time the gentry swells knowed as how we're yuman bein's as well as
theirselves. We don't like, no more'n they would theirselves, havin' our
feelin's hurt for the sake o' what they calls bein' done good to. Come
you along down over here, miss!"

The crowd had been gathering from both ends of the passage, for high
words draw yet faster than sweet singing, and the place was so full that
it was hardly possible to get out of it. The doctor was almost wishing
he had let ill alone, for he was now anxious about Hester. Some of the
rougher ones began pushing. The vindictive little man kept bawling, his
mouth screwed into the middle of his cheek. From one of the cross
entrances of the passage came the pulse of a fresh tide of would-be
spectators, causing the crowd to sway hither and thither. All at once
Hester spied a face she knew, considerably changed as it was since last
she had seen it.

"Now we shall have help!" she said to her companion, making common cause
with him notwithstanding his antagonism. "--Mr. Franks!"

The athlete was not so far off that she needed to call very loud. He
heard and started with eager interest. He knew the voice, sent his eyes
looking and presently found her who called him. With his great lean
muscular arms he sent the crowd right and left like water, and reached
her in a moment.

"Come! come! don't you hurt her!" shouted Mr. Blaney from the top of his
box. "She ain't nothing to you. She's a old friend o' mine, an' I ain't
a goin' to see her hurt."

"You shut up!" bawled Franks, "or I'll finish the pancake you was meant
for."

Then turning to Hester, who had begun to be a little afraid he too had
been drinking, he pulled off his fur cap, and making the lowest and
politest of stage bows, said briefly,

"Miss Raymount--at your service, miss!"

"I am very glad to see you again, Mr. Franks," said Hester. "Do you
think you could get us out of the crowd?"

"Easy, miss. I'll _carry_ you out of it like a baby, miss, if
you'll let me."

"No, no; that will hardly be necessary," returned Hester, with a smile.

"Go on before, and make a way for us," said the doctor, with an
authority he had no right to assume.

"There is not the least occasion for you to trouble yourself about me
farther," said Hester. "I am perfectly safe with this man. I know him
very well. I am sorry to have vexed you."

Franks looked up sharply at the doctor, as if to see whether he dared
acknowledge a claim to the apology; then turning to Hester,--

"Nobody 'ain't ha' been finding fault with you, miss?" he said--a little
ominously.

"Not more than I deserved," replied Hester. "But come, Franks! lead the
way, or all Bloomsbury will be here, and then the police! I shouldn't
like to be shut up for offending Mr. Blaney!"

Those near them heard and laughed. She took Franks's arm. Room was
speedily made before them, and in a minute they were out of the crowd,
and in one of the main thoroughfares.

But as if everybody she knew was going to appear, who should meet them
face to face as they turned into Steevens's Road, with a fringe of the
crowd still at their heels, but lord Gartley! He had written from town,
and Mrs. Raymount had let him know that Hester was in London, for she
saw that the sooner she had an opportunity of telling him what had
happened the better. His lordship went at once to Addison square, and
had just left the house disappointed when he met Hester leaning on
Franks's arm.

"Miss Raymount!" he exclaimed almost haughtily.

"My lord!" she returned, with unmistakable haughtiness, drawing herself
up, and looking him in the face, hers glowing.

"Who would have expected to see you here?" he said.

"Apparently yourself, my lord!"

He tried to laugh.

"Come then; I will see you home," he said.

"Thank you, my lord. Come, Franks."

As she spoke she looked round, but Franks was gone. Finding she had met
one of her own family, as he supposed, he had quietly withdrawn: the
moment he was no longer wanted, he grew ashamed, and felt shabby. But he
lingered round a corner near, to be certain she was going to be taken
care of, till seeing them walk away together he was satisfied, and went
with a sigh.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

IN THE HOUSE.


The two were silent on their way, but from different causes. Lord
Gartley was uneasy at finding Hester in such a position--led into it by
her unreflecting sympathies, no doubt, so unbefitting the present
century of the world's history! He had gathered from the looks and words
of the following remnants of the crowd that she had been involved in
some street-quarrel--trying to atone it no doubt, or to separate the
combatants. For a woman of her refinement, she had the strangest
proclivity for low company!

Hester was silent, thinking how to begin her communication about
Cornelius. Uncomfortable from the contretemps, as well as from what she
had now to do, and irritated at the tone in which his lordship had
expressed the surprise he could not help feeling at sight of her so
accompanied and attended, she had felt for a moment as if the best thing
would be to break with him at once. But she was too just, had she not
had too much regard for him, to do so. She felt, however, for that one
moment very plainly, that the relation between them was far from the
ideal. Another thing was yet clearer: if he could feel such surprise and
annoyance at the circumstances in which he had just met her, it would be
well to come to a clearer understanding at once concerning her
life-ideal and projects. But she would make up her mind to nothing till
she saw how he was going to carry himself now his surprise had had time
to pass off: perhaps it would not be necessary to tell him anything
about Corney! they might part upon other grounds! In the one case it
would be she, in the other it would be he that broke off the engagement:
she would rather it were his doing than hers! No doubt she would stand
better in the eyes of the world if she dismissed him; but that was an
aspect of the affair she would never have deigned to heed had it
presented itself.

These thoughts, with what of ratiocination was in them, hardly passed
through her mind; it was filled, rather, with a confused mass of tangled
thought and feeling, which tossed about in it like the nets of a fishing
fleet rolled together by a storm.

Not before they reached the house did lord Gartley speak, and Hester
began to wonder if he might not already have heard of Cornelius. It was
plain he was troubled; plain too he was only waiting for the coverture
of the house to speak. It should be easy, oh, very easy for him to get
rid of her. He need not be anxious about that!

It was doubtless shock upon shock to the sensitive nature of his
lordship to find, when they reached the house, that, instead of ringing
the bell, she took a latch-key from her pocket, opened the door herself,
and herself closed it behind them. It was just as a bachelor might enter
his chambers! It did not occur to him that it was just such as his
bachelor that ought not to have the key, and such as Hester that ought
to have it, to let them come and go as the angels. She led the way up
the stair. Not a movement of life was audible in the house! The
stillness was painful.

"Did no one come up with you?" he asked.

"No one but major Marvel," she answered, and opened the door of the
drawing-room.

As she opened it, she woke to the consciousness that she was very cross,
and in a mood to make her unfair to Gartley: the moment she had closed
it, she turned to him and said,

"Forgive me, Gartley; I am in trouble; we are all in trouble. When I
have told you about it, I shall be more at ease."

Without preamble, or any attempt to influence the impression of the
dreadful news, she began her story, softening the communication only by
making it as the knowledge had come to her--telling first her mother's
distress at Sarah's letter, then the contents of that letter, and then
those of her uncle's. She could not have done it with greater fairness
to her friend: his practised self-control had opportunity for perfect
operation. But the result was more to her satisfaction than she could
have dared to hope. He held out his hand with a smile, and said,

"I am very sorry. What is there I can do?"

She looked up in his eyes. They were looking down kindly and lovingly.

"Then--then--," she said, "you don't--I mean there's no--I mean, you
don't feel differently towards me?"

"Towards you, my angel!" exclaimed Gartley, and held out his arms.

She threw herself into them, and clung to him. It was the first time
either of them had shown anything approaching to _abandon_.
Gartley's heart swelled with delight, translating her confidence into
his power. He was no longer the second person in the compact, but had
taken the place belonging to the male contracting party! For he had been
painfully conscious now and then that he played but second fiddle.

They sat down and talked the whole thing over.

Now that Hester was at peace she began to look at it from Gartley's
point of view.

"I am so sorry for you!" she said. "It is very sad you should have to
marry into a family so disgraced. What _will_ your aunt say?"

"My aunt will treat the affair like the sensible woman she is," replied
the earl. "But there is no fear of disgrace; the thing will never be
known. Besides, where is the family that hasn't one or more such loose
fishes about in its pond? The fault was committed inside the family too,
and that makes a great difference. It is not as if he'd been betting,
and couldn't pay up!"

From the heaven of her delight Hester fell prone. Was this the way her
almost husband looked at these things? But, poor fellow! how could he
help looking at them so? Was it not thus he had been from earliest
childhood taught to look at them? The greater was his need of all she
could do for him! He was so easy to teach anything! What she saw clear
as day it could not be hard to communicate to one who loved as he loved!
She would say nothing now--would let him see no sign of disappointment
in her!

"If he don't improve," continued his lordship, "we must get him out of
the country. In the meantime he will go home, and not a suspicion will
be roused. What else should he do, with such a property to look after?"

"My father will not see it so," answered Hester. "I doubt if he will
ever speak to him again. Certainly he will not except he show some
repentance."

"Has your father refused to have him home?"

"He has not had the chance. Nobody knows what has become of him."

"He'll have to condone, or compromise, or compound, or what do they call
it, for the sake of his family--for your sake, and my sake, my darling!
He can't be so vindictive as expose his own son! We won't think more
about it! Let us talk of ourselves!"

"If only we could find him!" returned Hester.

"Depend upon it he is not where you would like to find him. Men don't
come to grief without help! We must wait till he turns up."

Far as this was from her purpose, Hester was not inclined to argue the
point: she could not expect him or any one out of their own family to be
much interested in the fate of Cornelius. They began to talk about other
things; and if they were not the things Hester would most readily have
talked about, neither were they the things lord Gartley had entered the
house intending to talk about. He too had been almost angry, only by
nature he was cool and even good-tempered. To find Hester, the moment
she came back to London, and now in the near prospect of marriage with
himself, yielding afresh to a diseased fancy of doing good; to come upon
her in the street of a low neighbourhood, followed by a low crowd,
supported and championed by a low fellow--well, it was not agreeable!
His high breeding made him mind it less than a middle-class man of like
character would have done; but with his cold dislike to all that was
poor and miserable, he could not fail to find it annoying, and had
entered the house intending to exact a promise for the future--not the
future after marriage, for a change then went without saying.

But when he had heard her trouble, and saw how deeply it affected her,
he knew this was not the time to say what he had meant; and there was
the less occasion now that he was near to take care of her!

He had risen to go, and was about to take a loving farewell, when
Hester, suddenly remembering, drew back, with almost a guilty look.

"Oh, Gartley!" she said, "I thought not to have let you come near me!
Not that _I_ am afraid of anything! But you came upon me so
unexpectedly! It is all very well for one's self, but one ought to heed
what other people may think!"

"What _can_ you mean, Hester?" exclaimed Gartley, and would have
laid his hand on her arm, but again she drew back.

"There was small-pox in the house I had just left when you met me," she
said.

He started back and stood speechless--manifesting therein no more
cowardice than everyone in his circle would have justified: was it not
reasonable and right he should be afraid? was it not a humiliation to be
created subject to such a loathsome disease? The disgrace of fearing
anything except doing wrong, few human beings are capable of conceiving,
fewer still of actually believing.

"Has it never occurred to you what you are doing in going to such
places, Hester?" he faltered. "It is a treachery against every social
claim. I am sorry to use such hard words, but--really--I--I--cannot help
being a little surprised at you! I thought you had more--more--sense!"

"I am sorry to have frightened you."

"Frightened!" repeated Gartley, with an attempt at a smile, which closed
in a yet more anxious look, "--you do indeed frighten me! The whole
world would agree you give me good cause to be frightened. I should
never have thought _you_ capable of showing such a lack of
principle. Don't imagine I am thinking of myself; _you_ are in most
danger! Still, you may carry the infection without taking it yourself!"

"I didn't know it was there when I went to the house--only I should have
gone all the same," said Hester. "But if seeing you so suddenly had not
made me forget, I should have had a bath as soon as I got home. I
_am_ sorry I let you come near me!"

"One has no right either to take or carry infection," insisted lord
Gartley, perhaps a little glad of the height upon which an opportunity
of finding fault set him for the first time above her. "But there is no
time to talk about it now. I hope you will use what preventives you can.
It is very wrong to trifle with such things!"

"Indeed it is!" answered Hester; "and I say again I am sorry I forgot.
You see how it was--don't you? It was you made me forget!"

But his lordship was by no means now in a smiling mood. He bade her a
somewhat severe good night, then hesitated, and thinking it hardly
signified now, and he must not look too much afraid, held out his hand.
But Hester drew back a third time, saying, "No, no; you must not," and
with solemn bow he turned and went, his mind full of conflicting
feelings and perplexing thoughts:--What a glorious creature she
was!--and what a dangerous! He recalled the story of the young woman
brought up on poisons, whom no man could come near but at the risk of
his life. What a spirit she had! but what a pity it was so ill-directed!
It was horrible to think of her going into such abominable places--and
all alone too! How ill she had been trained!--in such utter disregard of
social obligation and the laws of nature! It was preposterous! He little
thought what risks he ran when he fell in love with _her_! If he
got off now without an attack he would be lucky! But--good heavens! if
she were to take it herself! "I wonder when she was last vaccinated!" he
said. "I was last year; I daresay I'm all right! But if she were to die,
or lose her complexion, I should kill myself! I know I should!" Would
honor compel him to marry her if she were horribly pock-marked? Those
dens ought to be rooted out! Philanthropy was gone mad! It was strict
repression that was wanted! To sympathize with people like that was only
to encourage them! Vice was like hysterics--the more kindness you showed
the worse grew the patient! They took it all as their right! And the
more you gave, the more they demanded--never showing any gratitude so
far as he knew!




CHAPTER XXXIX.

THE MAJOR AND THE SMALL-POX.


His lordship was scarcely gone when the major came. So closely did the
appearance of the one follow on the disappearance of the other, that
there was ground for suspecting the major had seen his lordship enter
the house, and had been waiting and watching till he was gone. But she
was not yet to be seen: she had no fear of the worst small-pox could do
to her, yet was taking what measures appeared advisable for her
protection. Her fearlessness came from no fancied absence of danger, but
from an utter disbelief in chance. The same and only faith that would
have enabled him to face the man-eating tiger, enabled her to face the
small-pox; if she did die by going into such places, it was all right.

For aught I know there may be a region whose dwellers are so little
capable of being individually cared for, that they are left to the
action of mere general laws as sufficient for what for the time can be
done for them. Such may well to themselves seem to be blown about by all
the winds of chaos and the limbo--which winds they call chance? Even
then and there it is God who has ordered all the generals of their
condition, and when they are sick of it, will help them out of it. One
thing is sure--that God is doing his best for _every_ man.

The major sat down and waited.

"I am at my wits' end!" he said, when she entered the room. "I can't
find the fellow! That detective's a muff! He ain't got a trace of him
yet! I must put on another!--Don't you think you had better go home? I
will do what can be done, you may be sure!"

"I _am_ sure," answered Hester. "But mamma is better; so long as I
am away papa will not leave her; and she would rather have papa than a
dozen of me."

"But it must be so dreary for you--here alone all day!" he said, with a
touch of malice.

"I go about among my people," she answered.

"Ah! ah!" he returned. "Then I hope you will be careful what houses you
go into, for I hear the small-pox is in the neighborhood."

"I have just come from a house where it is now," she answered. The major
rose in haste. "--But," she went on, "I have changed all my clothes, and
had a bath since."

The major sat down again.

"My dear young lady!" he said, the roses a little ashy on his
cheek-bones, "do you know what you are about?"

"I hope I do--I _think_ I do" she answered.

"Hope! Think!" repeated the major indignantly.

"Well, _believe_," said Hester.

"Come, come!" he rejoined with rudeness, "you may hope or think or
believe what you like, but you have no business to act but on what you
_know_."

"I suppose you never act where you do not know!" returned Hester. "You
always _know_ you will win the battle, kill the tiger, take the
small-pox, and be the worse for it?"

"It's all very well for you to laugh!" returned the major; "but what is
to become of us if you take the small-pox! Why, my dear cousin, you
might lose every scrap of your good looks!"

"And then who on earth would care for me any more!" said Hester, with
mock mournfulness, which brought a glimmer of the merry light back to
the major's face.

"But really, Hester," he persisted, "this is most imprudent. It is your
life, not your beauty only you are periling!"

"Perhaps," she answered.

"And the lives of us all!" added the major.

"Is the small-pox worse than a man-eating tiger?" she asked.

"Ten times worse," he answered. "You can fight the tiger, but you can't
fight the small-pox. You really ought _not_ to run such fearful
risks."

"How are they to be avoided? Every time you send for the doctor you run
a risk! You can't order a clean doctor every time!"

"A joke's all very well! but it is our duty to take care of ourselves."

"In reason, yes," replied Hester.

"You may think," said the major, "that God takes special care of you
because you are about his business--and far be it from me to say you are
not about his business or that he does not take care of you; but what is
to become of me and the like of me if we take the small-pox from you?"

Hester had it on her lips to say that if he was meant to die of the
small-pox, he might as well take it of her as of another; but she said
instead that she was sure God took care of her, but not sure she should
not die of the small-pox.

"How can you say God takes care of you if he lets you die of the
small-pox!"

"No doubt people would die if God forgot them, but do you think people
die because God forgets them?"

"My dear cousin Hester, if there is one thing I have a _penchant_
for, it is common sense! A paradox I detest with my whole soul!"

"One word, dear major Marvel: Did God take care of Jesus?"

"Of course! of course! But he wasn't like other men, you know."

"I don't want to fare better, that is, I don't want to have more of
God's care than he had."

"I don't understand you. I should think if we were sure God took as good
care of us as of him--"

But there he stopped, for he began to have a glimmer of where she was
leading him.

"Did he keep him what you call safe?" said Hester. "Did he not allow the
worst man could do to overtake him? Was it not the very consequence of
his obedience?"

"Then you have made up your mind to die of the small-pox?--In that
case----"

"Only if it be God's will," interrupted Hester.

"To that, and that alone, have I made up my mind. If I die of the
small-pox, it will not be because it could not be helped, or because I
caught it by chance; it will be because God allowed it as best for me
and for us all. It will not be a punishment for breaking his laws: he
loves none better, I believe, than those who break the laws of nature to
fulfil the laws of the spirit--which is the deeper nature, 'the nature
naturing nature,' as I read the other day: of course it sounds nonsense
to anyone who does not understand it."

"That's your humble servant," said the major. "I haven't a notion what
you or the author you quote means, though I don't doubt both of you mean
well, and that you are a most courageous and indeed heroic young woman.
For all that it is time your friends interfered; and I am going to write
by the next post to let your father know how you are misbehaving
yourself."

"They will not believe me quite so bad as I fear you will represent me."

"I don't know. I must write anyhow."

"That they may order me home to give them the small-pox? Wouldn't it be
better to wait and be sure I had not taken it already? Your letter, too,
might carry the infection. I think you had better not write."

"You persist in making fun of it! I say again it is not a thing to be
joked about," remarked the major, looking red.

"I think," returned Hester, "whoever lives in terror of infection had
better take it and have done with it. I know I would rather die than
live in the fear of death. It is the meanest of slaveries. At least, to
live a slave to one's fears is next worst to living a slave to one's
likings. Do as you please, major Marvel, but I give you warning that if
you interpose--I will not say _interfere_--because you do it all
for kindness--but if you interpose, I will never ask you to help me
again; I will never let you know what I am doing, or come to you for
advice, lest, instead of assisting me, you should set about preventing
me from doing what I may have to do."

She held out her hand to him, adding with a smile:

"Is it for good-bye, or a compact?"

"But just look at it from my point of view," said the major, disturbed
by the appeal. "What will your father say if he finds me aiding and
abetting?"

"You did not come up at my father's request, or from the least desire on
his part to have me looked after. You were not put in charge of me, and
have no right to suppose me doing anything my parents would not like.
They never objected to my going among my friends as I thought fit.
Possibly they had more faith in my good sense, knowing me better than
major Marvel."

"But when one sees you doing the thing that is plainly wrong----"

"If it be so plainly wrong, how is it that I who am really anxious to do
right, should not see it wrong? Why should you think me less likely to
know what is right than you, major Marvel?"

"I give in," said the major, "and will abide by the consequences."

"But you shall not needlessly put yourself in danger. You must not come
to me except I send for you. If you hear anything of Corney, write,
please."

"You don't imagine," cried the major, firing up, "that I am going to
turn tail where you advance? I'm not going to run from the small-pox any
more than you. So long as he don't get on my back to hunt other people,
I don't care. By George! you women have more courage ten times than we
men!"

"What we've got to do we just go and do, without thinking about danger.
I believe it is often the best wisdom to be blind and let God be our
eyes as well as our shield. But would it be right of you, not called to
the work, to put yourself in danger because you would not be out where I
am in? I could admire of course, but never quite justify sir Philip
Sidney in putting off his cuisses because his general had not got his
on."

"You're fit for a field-marshal, my dear!" said the major
enthusiastically--adding, as he kissed her hand, "I will think over what
you have said, and at least not betray you without warning."

"That is enough for the present," returned Hester, shaking hands with
him warmly.

The major went away hardly knowing whither, so filled was he with
admiration of "cousin Helen's girl."

"By Jove!" he said to himself, "it's a confounded good thing I didn't
marry Helen; she would never have had a girl like that if I had! Things
are always best. The world needs a few such in it--even if they be
fools--though I suspect they will turn out the wise ones, and we the
fools for taking such care of our precious selves!"

But the major was by no means a selfish man. He was pretty much mixed,
like the rest of us. Only, if we do not make up our minds not to be
mixed with the one thing, we shall by and by be but little mixed with
the other.

That same evening he sent her word that one answering the description of
Cornelius had been descried in the neighborhood of Addison square.




CHAPTER XL.

DOWN AND DOWN.


Down the hill and down!--to the shores of the salt sea, where the
flowing life is dammed into a stagnant lake, a dead sea, growing more
and more bitter with separation and lack of outlet. Mrs. Franks had come
to feel the comforting of her husband a hopeless thing, and had all but
ceased to attempt it. He grew more hopeless for the lack of what she
thought moved him no more, and when she ceased to comfort him, the
fountain of her own hope began to fail; in comforting him she had
comforted herself. The boys, whose merriment even was always of a sombre
kind, got more gloomy, but had not begun to quarrel; for that evil, as
interfering with their profession, the father had so sternly crushed
that they had less than the usual tendency to it.

They had reached at last the point of being unable to pay for their
lodging. They were indeed a fort-night's rent behind. Their landlady was
not willing to be hard upon them, but what could a poor woman do, she
said. The day was come when they must go forth like Abraham without a
home, but not like Abraham with a tent and the world before them to set
it up in, not like Abraham with camels and asses to help them along. The
weakly wife had to carry the sickly baby, who, with many ups and downs,
had been slowly pining away. The father went laden with the larger
portion of the goods yet remaining to them, and led the Serpent of the
Prairies, with the drum hanging from his neck, by the hand. The other
boys followed, bearing the small stock of implements belonging to their
art.

They had delayed their departure till it was more than dusk, for Franks
could not help a vague feeling of blame for the condition of his family,
and shrank from being seen of men's eyes; every one they met must know
they had not a place to lay their heads! The world was like a sea before
them--a prospect of ceaseless motion through the night, with the hope of
an occasional rest on a doorstep or the edge of the curb-stone when the
policeman's back was turned. They set out to go nowhither--to tramp on
and on. Is it any wonder--does it imply wickedness beyond that lack of
trust in God which is at the root of all wickedness, if the thought of
ending their troubles by death crossed his mind, and from very
tenderness kept returning? At the last gasp, as it seemed, in the close
and ever closer siege of misfortune, he was almost ready, like the Jews
of Masada, to conquer by self-destruction. But ever and again the sad
eyes of his wife turned him from the thought, and he would plod on,
thinking, as near as possible, about nothing.

At length as they wandered they came to a part where seemed to be only
small houses and mews. Presently they found themselves in a little lane
with no thoroughfare, at the back of some stables, and had to return
along the rough-paved, neglected way. Such was the quiet and apparent
seclusion of the spot, that it struck Franks they had better find its
most sheltered corner, in which to sit down and rest awhile, possibly
sleep. Scarcely would policeman, he thought, enter such a forsaken
place! The same moment they heard the measured tread of the enemy on the
other side of the stables. Instinctively, hurriedly, they looked around
for some place of concealment, and spied, at the end of a blank wall,
belonging apparently to some kind of warehouse, a narrow path between
that and the wall of the next property. Careless to what it led, anxious
only to escape the annoyance of the policeman, they turned quickly into
it. Scarcely had they done so when the Serpent, whose hand his father
had let go, disappeared with a little cry, and a whimper ascended
through the darkness.

"Hold your n'ise, you rascal!" said his father sharply, but under his
breath; "the bobby will hear you, and have us all to the lock-up!"

Not a sound more was heard. Neither did the boy reappear.

"Good heavens, John!" cried the mother in an agonized whisper, "the
child has fallen down a sewer! Oh, my God! he is gone for ever!"

"Hold your n'ise," said Franks again, "an' let's all go down a'ter him!
It's better down anywheres than up where there ain't nothing to eat an'
nowheres to lie down in."

"'Tain't a bad place," cried a little voice in a whisper broken with
repressed sobs. "'Tain't a bad place, I don't think, only I broken one
o' my two legs; it won't move to fetch of me up again."

"Thank God in heaven, the child's alive!" cried the mother. "--You ain't
much hurt, are you, Moxy?"

"Rather, mother!"

By this time the steps of the policeman, to which the father had been
listening with more anxiety than to the words of wife or child, were
almost beyond hearing. Franks turned, and going down a few steps found
his child, where he half lay, half sat upon them. But when he lifted
him, he gave a low cry of pain. It was impossible to see where or how
much he was hurt. The father sat down and took him on his knees.

"You'd better come an' sit here, wife," he said in a low dull voice.
"There ain't no one a sittin' up for us. The b'y's a bit hurt, an' here
you'll be out o' the wind at least."

They all got as far down the stair as its room would permit--the elder
boys with their heads hardly below the level of the wind. But by and by
one of them crept down past his mother, feebly soothing the whimpering
baby, and began to feel what sort of a place they were in.

"Here's a door, father!" he said.

"Well, what o' that?" returned his father. "'Taint no door open to us or
the likes on us. There ain't no open door for the likes of us but the
door o' the grave."

"Perhaps this is it, father," said Moxy.

"If it be," answered his father with bitterness, "we'll find it open,
I'll be bound."

The boy's hand had come upon a latch; he lifted it, and pushed.

"Father," he cried with a gasp, "_it is open_!"

"Get in then," said his father roughly, giving him a push with his foot.

"I daren't. It's so dark!" he answered.

"Here, you come an' take the Sarpint," returned the father, with faintly
reviving hope, "an' I'll see what sort of a place it is. If it's any
place at all, it's better than bein' i' the air all night at this
freezin' time!"

So saying he gave Moxy to his bigger brother and went to learn what kind
of a place they had got to. Ready as he had been a moment before for the
grave, he was careful in stepping into the unknown dark. Feeling with
foot and hand, he went in. He trod upon an earthen floor, and the place
had a musty smell: it might be a church vault, he thought. In and in he
went, with sliding foot on the soundless floor, and sliding hand along
the cold wall--on and on, round two corners, past a closed door, and
back to that by which he had entered, where, as at the grave's mouth,
sat his family in sad silence, waiting his return.

"Wife," he said, "we can't do better than to take the only thing that's
offered. The floor's firm, an' it's out o' the air. It's some sort of a
cellar--p'r'aps at the bottom of a church. It do look as if it wur left
open jest for us!--You _used_ to talk about _him_ above, wife!"

He took her by the hand and led the way into the darkness, the boys
following, one of them with a hold of his mother, and his arm round the
other, who was carrying Moxy. Franks closed the door behind them, and
they had gained a refuge. Feeling about, one of the boys came upon a
large packing-case; having laid it down against the inner wall, Franks
sat, and made his wife lie upon it, with her head on his knees, and took
Moxy again in his arms, wrapt in one of their three thin blankets. The
boys stretched themselves on the ground, and were soon fast asleep. The
baby moaned by fits all the night long.

In about an hour Franks, who for long did not sleep, heard the door open
softly and stealthily, and seemed aware of a presence besides themselves
in the place. He concluded some other poor creature had discovered the
same shelter; or, if they had got into a church-vault, it might be some
wandering ghost; he was too weary for further speculation, or any
uneasiness. When the slow light crept through the chinks of the door, he
found they were quite alone.

It was a large dry cellar, empty save for the old packing-case. They
must use great caution, and do their best to keep their hold of this
last retreat! Misfortune had driven them into the earth; it would be
fortune to stay there.

When his wife woke, he told her what he had been thinking. He and the
boys would creep out before it was light, and return after dark. She
must not put even a finger out of the cellar-door all day. He laid Moxy
down beside her, woke the two elder boys, and went out with them.

They were so careful that for many days they continued undiscovered.
Franks and the boys went and returned, and gained bread enough to keep
them alive, but it may well seem a wonder they did not perish with cold.
It is amazing what even the delicate sometimes go through without more
than a little hastening on the road the healthiest are going as well.




CHAPTER XLI.

DIFFERENCE.


About noon the next day, lord Gartley called. Whether he had got over
his fright, or thought the danger now less imminent, or was vexed that
he had _appeared_ to be afraid, I do not know. Hester was very glad
to see him again.

"I think I am a safe companion to-day," she said. "I have not been out
of the house yet. But till the bad time is over among my people, we had
better be content not to meet, I think."

Lord Gartley mentally gasped. He stood for a moment speechless,
gathering his thoughts, which almost refused to be gathered.

"Do I understand you, Hester?" he said. "It would trouble me more than I
can tell to find I do."

"I fear I understand you, Gartley!" said Hester. "Is it possible you
would have me abandon my friends to the small-pox, as a hireling his
sheep to the wolf?"

"There are those whose business it is to look after them."

"I am one of those," returned Hester.

"Well," answered his lordship, "for the sake of argument we will allow
it _has_ been your business; but how can you imagine it your
business any longer?"

Indignation, a fire always ready "laid" in Hester's bosom, but seldom
yet lighted by lord Gartley, burst into flame, and she spoke as he had
never heard her speak before.

"I am aware, my lord," she said, "that I must by and by have new duties
to perform, but I have yet to learn that they must annihilate the old.
The claims of love cannot surely obliterate those of friendship! The new
should make the old better, not sweep it away."

"But, my dear girl, the thing is preposterous!" exclaimed his lordship.
"Don't you see you will enter on a new life! In the most ordinary cases
even, the duties of a wife are distinct from those of an unmarried
woman."

"But the duties of neither can supersede those of a human being. If the
position of a wife is higher than that of an unmarried woman, it must
enable her to do yet better the things that were her duty as a human
being before."

"But if it be impossible she should do the same things?"

"Whatever is impossible settles its own question. I trust I shall never
desire to attempt the impossible."

"You have begun to attempt it now."

"I do not understand you."

"It is impossible you should perform the duties of the station you are
about to occupy, and continue to do as you are doing now. The attempt
wuld be absurd."

"I have not tried it yet."

"But I know what your duties will be, and I assure you, my dear Hester,
you will find the thing cannot be done."

"You set me thinking of more things than I can manage all at once," she
replied in a troubled way. "I must think."

"The more you think, the better satisfied you will be of what I say. All
I want of you is to think; for I am certain if you do, your good sense
will convince you I am right."

He paused a moment. Hester did not speak. He resumed:

"Just think," he said, "what it would be to have you coming home to go
out again straight from one of these kennels of the small-pox! The idea
is horrible! Wherever you were suspected of being present, the house
would be shunned like the gates of death."

"In such circumstances I should not go out."

"The suspicion of it would be enough. And in your absence, as certainly
as in your presence, though not so fatally, you would be neglecting your
duty to society."

"Then," said Hester, "the portion of society that is healthy, wealthy,
and--merry, has stronger claims than the portion that is poor and sick
and in prison!"

Lord Gartley was for a moment bewildered--not from any feeling of the
force of what she said, but from inability to take it in. He had to turn
himself about two or three times mentally before he could bring himself
to believe she actually meant that those to whom she alluded were to be
regarded as a portion of the same society that ruled his life. He
thought another moment, then said:

"There are the sick in every class: you would have those of your own to
visit. Why not leave others to visit those of theirs?"

"Then of course you would have no objection to my visiting a duchess in
the small-pox?"

Lord Gartley was on the point of saying that duchesses never took the
smallpox, but he did not, afraid Hester might know to the contrary.

"There could be no occasion for that," he said. "She would have
everything she could want."

"And the others are in lack of everything! To desert them would be to
desert the Lord. He will count it so."

"Well, certainly," said his lordship, returning on the track, "there
would be less objection in the case of the duchess, in as much as every
possible precaution would in her house be taken against the spread of
the disease. It would be horribly selfish to think only of the person
affected!"

"You show the more need that the poor should not be deserted of the rich
in their bitter necessity! Who among them is able to take the right
precautions against the spread of the disease? And if it spread among
them, there is no security against its reaching those at last who take
every possible care of themselves and none of their neighbours. You do
not imagine, because I trust in God, and do not fear what the small-pox
can do to me, I would therefore neglect any necessary preventive! That
would be to tempt God: means as well as results are his. They are a way
of giving us a share in his work."

"If I should have imagined such neglect possible, would not yesterday go
far to justify me?" said lord Gartley.

"You are ungenerous," returned Hester. "You know I was then taken
unprepared! The smallpox had but just appeared--at least I had not heard
of it before."

"Then you mean to give up society for the sake of nursing the poor?"

"Only upon occasion, when there should be a necessity--such as an
outbreak of infectious disease."

"And how, pray, should I account for your absence--not to mention the
impossibility of doing my part without you? I should have to be
continually telling stories; for if people came to know the fact, they
would avoid me too as if I were the pest itself!"

It was to Hester as if a wall rose suddenly across the path hitherto
stretching before her in long perspective. It became all but clear to
her that he and she had been going on without any real understanding of
each other's views in life. Her expectations tumbled about her like a
house of cards. If he wanted to marry her, full of designs and aims in
which she did not share, and she was going to marry him, expecting
sympathies and helps which he had not the slightest inclination to give
her, where was the hope for either of anything worth calling success?
She sat silent. She wanted to be alone that she might think. It would be
easier to write than talk further! But she must have more certainty as
to what was in his mind.

"Do you mean then, Gartley," she said, "that when I am your wife, if
ever I am, I shall have to give up all the friendships to which I have
hitherto devoted so much of my life?"

Her tone was dominated by the desire to be calm, and get at his real
feeling. Gartley mistook it, and supposed her at length betraying the
weakness hitherto so successfully concealed. He concluded he had only to
be firm now to render future discussion of the matter unnecessary.

"I would not for a moment act the tyrant, or say you must never go into
such houses again. Your own good sense, the innumerable engagements you
will have, the endless calls upon your time and accomplishments, will
guide you--and I am certain guide you right, as to what attention you
can spare to the claims of benevolence. But just please allow me one
remark: in the circle to which you will in future belong, nothing is
considered more out of place than any affectation of enthusiasm. I do
not care to determine whether your way or theirs is the right one; all I
want to say is, that as the one thing to be avoided is peculiarity, you
would do better not to speak of these persons, whatever regard you may
have for their spiritual welfare, as _your friends_. One cannot
have so many friends--not to mention that a unity of taste and feeling
is necessary to that much-abused word _friendship_. You know well
enough such persons cannot be your friends."

This was more than Hester could bear. She broke out with a vehemence for
which she was afterwards sorry, though nowise ashamed of it.

"They _are_ my friends. There are twenty of them would do more for
me than you would."

Lord Gartley rose. He was hurt. "Hester," he said, "you think so little
of me or my anxiety about your best interests, that I cannot but suppose
it will be a relief to you if I go."

She answered not a word--did not even look up, and his lordship walked
gently but unhesitatingly from the room.

"It will bring her to her senses!" he said to himself. "--How grand she
looked!"

Long after he was gone, Hester sat motionless, thinking, thinking. What
she had vaguely foreboded--she knew now she had foreboded it all the
time--at least she thought she knew it--was come! They were not, never
had been, never could be at one about anything! He was a mere man of
this world, without relation to the world of truth! To be tied to him
for life would be to be tied indeed! And yet she loved him--would gladly
die for him--not to give him his own way--for that she would not even
marry him; but to save him from it--to save him from himself, and give
him God instead--that would be worth dying for, even if it were the
annihilation unbelievers took it for! To marry him, swell his worldly
triumphs, help gild the chains of his slavery was not to be thought of!
It was one thing to die that a fellow-creature might have all things
good! another to live a living death that he might persist in the pride
of life! She could not throw God's life to the service of the stupid
Satan! It was a sad breakdown to the hopes that had clustered about
Gartley!

But did she not deserve it?

Therewith began a self-searching which did not cease until it had
prostrated her in sorrow and shame before him whose charity is the only
pledge of ours.

Was it then all over between them? Might he not bethink himself, and
come again, and say he was sorry he had so left her? He might indeed;
but would that make any difference to her? Had he not beyond a doubt
disclosed his real way of thinking and feeling? If he could speak thus
now, after they had talked so much, what spark of hope was there in
marriage?

To forget her friends that she might go into _society_ a countess!
The thought was as contemptible as poverty-stricken. She would leave
such ambition to women that devoured novels and studied the peerage! One
loving look from human eyes was more to her than the admiration of the
world! She would go back to her mother as soon as she had found her poor
Corney, and seen her people through the smallpox! If only the house was
her own, that she might turn it into a hospital! She would make it a
home to which any one sick or sad, any cast out of the world, any
betrayed by seeming friends, might flee for shelter! She would be more
than ever the sister and helper of her own--cling faster than ever to
the skirts of the Lord's garment, that the virtue going out of him might
flow through her to them! She would be like Christ, a gulf into which
wrong should flow and vanish--a sun radiating an uncompromising love!

How easy is the thought, in certain moods, of the loveliest, most
unselfish devotion! How hard is the doing of the thought in the face of
a thousand unlovely difficulties! Hester knew this, but, God helping,
was determined not to withdraw hand or foot or heart. She rose, and
having prepared herself, set out to visit her people. First of all she
would go to the bookbinder's, and see how his wife was attended to.

The doctor not being there, she was readily admitted. The poor husband,
unable to help, sat a picture of misery by the scanty fire. A neighbor,
not yet quite recovered from the disease herself, had taken on her the
duties of nurse. Having given her what instructions she thought it least
improbable she might carry out, and told her to send for anything she
wanted, she rose to take her leave.

"Won't you sing to her a bit, miss, before you go?" said the husband
beseechingly. "It'll do her more good than all the doctor's stuff."

"I don't think she's well enough," said Hester.

"Not to get all the good on it, I daresay, miss," rejoined the man; "but
she'll hear it like in a dream, an' she'll think it's the angels a
singin'; an' that'll do her good, for she do like all them creaturs!"

Hester yielded and sang, thinking all the time how the ways of the
open-eyed God look to us like things in a dream, because we are only in
the night of his great day, asleep before the brightness of his great
waking thoughts. The woman had been tossing and moaning in an undefined
discomfort, but as she sang she grew still, and when she ceased lay as
if asleep.

"Thank you, miss," said the man. "You can do more than the doctor, as I
told you! When he comes, he always wakes her up; you make her sleep
true!"




CHAPTER XLII.

DEEP CALLETH UNTO DEEP.


In the meantime yet worse trouble had come upon the poor Frankses. About
a week after they had taken possession of the cellar, little Moxy, the
Serpent of the Prairies, who had been weakly ever since his fall down
the steps, by which he had hurt his head and been sadly shaken, became
seriously ill, and grew worse and worse. For some days they were not
much alarmed, for the child had often been ailing--oftener of late since
they had not been faring so well; and even when they were they dared not
get a doctor to him for fear of being turned out, and having to go to
the workhouse.

By this time they had contrived to make the cellar a little more
comfortable. They managed to get some straw, and with two or three old
sacks made a bed for the mother and the baby and Moxy on the
packing-case. They got also some pieces of matting, and contrived to put
up a screen betwixt it and the rickety door. By the exercise of their
art they had gained enough to keep them in food, but never enough to pay
for the poorest lodging. They counted themselves, however, better off by
much than if they had been crowded with all sorts in such lodging as a
little more might have enabled them to procure.

The parents loved Moxy more tenderly than either of his brothers, and it
was with sore hearts they saw him getting worse. The sickness was a mild
smallpox--so mild that they did not recognize it, yet more than Moxy
could bear, and he was gradually sinking. When this became clear to the
mother, then indeed she felt the hand of God heavy upon her.

Religiously brought up, she had through the ordinary troubles of a
married life sought help from the God in whom her mother had
believed:--we do not worship our fathers and mothers like the
Chinese--though I do not envy the man who can scorn them for it--but
they are, if at all decent parents, our first mediators with the great
father, whom we can worse spare than any baby his mother;--but with
every fresh attack of misery, every step further down on the stair of
life, she thought she had lost her last remnant of hope, and knew that
up to that time she had hoped, while past seasons of failure looked like
times of blessed prosperity. No man, however little he may recognize the
hope in him, knows what it would be to be altogether hopeless. Now Moxy
was about to be taken from them, and no deeper misery seemed, to their
imagination, possible! Nothing seemed left them--not even the desire of
deliverance. How little hope there is in the commoner phases of
religion! The message grounded on the uprising of the crucified man, has
as yet yielded but little victory over the sorrows of the grave, but
small anticipation of the world to come; not a little hope of
deliverance from a hell, but scarce a foretaste of a blessed time at
hand when the heart shall exult and the flesh be glad. In general there
is at best but a sad looking forward to a region scarcely less shadowy
and far more dreary than the elysium of the pagan poets. When Christ
cometh, shall he find faith in the earth--even among those who think
they believe that he is risen indeed? Margaret Franks, in the cellar of
her poverty, the grave yawning below it for her Moxy, felt as if there
was no heaven at all, only a sky.

But a strange necessity was at hand to compel the mother to rouse afresh
all the latent hope and faith and prayer that were in her.

By an inexplicable insight the child seemed to know that he was dying.
For, one morning, after having tossed about all the night long, he
suddenly cried out in tone most pitiful,

"Mother, don't put me in a hole."

As far as any of them knew, he had never seen a funeral--at least to
know what it was--had never heard anything about death or burial: his
father had a horror of the subject!

The words went like a knife to the heart of the mother. She sat silent,
neither able to speak, not knowing what to answer.

Again came the pitiful cry,

"Mother, don't put me in a hole."

Most mothers would have sought to soothe the child, their own hearts
breaking the while, with the assurance that no one should put him into
any hole, or anywhere he did not want to go. But this mother could not
lie in the face of death, nor had it ever occurred to her that no
_person_ is ever put into a hole, though many a body.

Before she could answer, a third time came the cry, this time in
despairing though suppressed agony,--

"Mother, don't let them put me in a hole."

The mother gave a cry like the child's, and her heart within her became
like water.

"Oh, God!" she gasped, and could say no more.

But with the prayer--for what is a prayer but a calling on the name of
the Lord?--came to her a little calm, and she was able to speak. She
bent over him and kissed his forehead.

"My darling Moxy, mother loves you," she said.

What that had to do with it she did not ask herself. The child looked up
in her face with dim eyes.

"Pray to the heavenly father, Moxy," she went on--and there stopped,
thinking what she should tell him to ask for. "Tell him," she resumed,
"that you don't want to be put in a hole, and tell him that mother does
not want you to be put in a hole, for she loves you with all her heart."

"Don't put me in the hole," said Moxy, now using the definite article.

"Jesus Christ was put in the hole," said the voice of the next elder boy
from behind his mother. He had come in softly, and she had neither seen
nor heard him. It was Sunday, and he had strolled into a church or
meeting-house--does it matter which?--and had heard the wonderful story
of hope. It was remarkable though that he had taken it up as he did, for
he went on to add, "but he didn't mind it much, and soon got out again."

"Ah, yes, Moxy!" said the poor mother, "Jesus died for our sins, and you
must ask him to take you up to heaven."

But Moxy did not know anything about sins, and just as little about
heaven. What he wanted was an assurance that he would not be put in the
hole. And the mother, now a little calmer, thought she saw what she
ought to say.

"It ain't your soul, it's only your body, Moxy, they put in the hole,"
she said.

"I don't want to be put in the hole," Moxy almost screamed. "I don't
want my head cut off!"

The poor mother was at her wits' end.

But here the child fell into a troubled sleep, and for some hours a
silence as of the grave filled the dreary cellar.

The moment he woke the same cry came from his fevered lips, "Don't put
me in the hole," and at intervals, growing longer as he grew weaker, the
cry came all the day.




CHAPTER XLIII.

DELIVERANCE.


Hester had been to church, and had then visited some of her people,
carrying them words of comfort and hope. They received them in a way at
her hand, but none of them, had they gone, would have found them at
church. How seldom is the man in the pulpit able to make people feel
that the things he is talking about are things at all! Neither when the
heavens are black with clouds and rain, nor when the sun rises glorious
in a blue perfection, do many care to sit down and be taught astronomy!
But Hester was a live gospel to them--and most when she sang. Even the
name of the Saviour uttered in her singing tone and with the expression
she then gave it, came nearer to them than when she spoke it. The very
brooding of the voice on a word, seems to hatch something of what is in
it. She often felt, however, as if some new, other kind of messengers
than she or such as she, must one day be sent them; for there seemed a
gulf between their thoughts and hers, such as neither they nor she could
pass.

In fact they _could not_ think the things she thought, and had no
vocabulary or phrases or imagery whereby to express their own thinkings.
God does not hurry such: have we enough of hope for them, or patience
with them? I suspect their teachers must arise among themselves. They
too must have an elect of their own kind, of like passions with
themselves, to lift them up, and perhaps shame those that cannot reach
them. Our teaching to them is no teaching at all; it does not reach
their ignorance; perhaps they require a teaching that to our ignorance
would seem no teaching at all, or even bad teaching. How many things are
there in the world in which the wisest of us can ill descry the hand of
God! Who not knowing could read the lily in its bulb, the great oak in
the pebble-like acorn? God's beginnings do not _look_ like his
endings, but they _are_ like; the oak _is_ in the acorn, though
we cannot see it. The ranting preacher, uttering huge untruths, may yet
wake vital verities in chaotic minds--convey to a heart some saving fact,
rudely wrapped in husks of lies even against God himself.

Mr. Christopher, thrown at one time into daily relations with a good
sort of man, had tried all he could to rouse him to a sense of his
higher duties and spiritual privileges, but entirely without success. A
preacher came round, whose gospel was largely composed of hell-fire and
malediction, with frequent allusion to the love of a most unlovely God,
as represented by him. This preacher woke up the man. "And then," said
Christopher, "I was able to be of service to him, and get him on. He
speedily outgrew the lies his prophet had taught him, and became a
devout Christian; while the man who had been the means of rousing him
was tried for bigamy, convicted and punished."

This Sunday Hester, in her dejection and sadness about Gartley, over
whom--not her loss of him--she mourned deeply, felt more than ever, if
not that she could not reach her people, yet how little she was able to
touch them, and there came upon her a hopelessness that was heavy,
sinking into the very roots of her life, and making existence itself
appear a dull and undesirable thing. Hitherto life had seemed a good
thing, worth holding up as a heave-offering to him who made it; now she
had to learn to take life itself from the hand of God as his will, in
faith that he would prove it a good gift. She had to learn that in
_all_ drearinesses, of the flesh or spirit, even in those that seem
to come of having nothing to do, or from being unable to do what we
think we have to do, the refuge is the same--he who is the root and
crown of life. Who would receive comfort from anything but love? Who
would build on anything but the eternal? Who would lean on that which
has in itself no persistence? Even the closest human loves have their
only endurance, only hope of perfection, in the eternal perfect love of
which they are the rainbow-refractions. I cannot love son or daughter as
I would, save loving them as the children of the eternal God, in whom
his spirit dwells and works, making them altogether lovely, and me more
and more love-capable. That they are mine is not enough ground for
enough love--will not serve as operative reason to the height of the
love my own soul demands from itself for them. But they are mine because
they are his, and he is the demander and enabler of love.

The day was a close, foggy, cold, dreary day. The service at church had
not seemed interesting. She laid the blame on herself, and neither on
prayers nor lessons nor psalms nor preacher, though in truth some of
these might have been better; the heart seemed to have gone out of the
world--as if not Baal but God had gone to sleep, and his children had
waked before him and found the dismal gray of the world's morning full
of discomfortable ghosts. She tried her New Testament; but Jesus too
seemed far away--nothing left but the story about him--as if he had
forgotten his promise, and was no longer in the world. She tried some of
her favourite poems: each and all were infected with the same
disease--with common-place nothingness. They seemed all made up--words!
words! words! Nothing was left her in the valley but the shadow, and the
last weapon, All-prayer. She fell upon her knees and cried to God for
life. "My heart is dead within me," she said, and poured out her lack
into the hearing of him from whom she had come that she might have
himself, and so be. She did not dwell upon her sorrows; even they had
sunk and all but vanished in the gray mass of lost interest.

The modern representatives of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar would comfort
us with the assurance that all such depression has physical causes:
right or wrong, what does their comfort profit! Consolation in being
told that we are slaves! What noble nature would be content to be cured
of sadness by a dose of medicine? There is in the heart a conviction
that the soul ought to be supreme over the body and its laws; that there
must be a faith which conquers the body with all its tyrants; and that
no soul is right until it has that faith--until it is in closest, most
immediate understanding with its own unchangeable root, God himself.
Such faith may not at once remove the physical cause, if such there be,
but it will be more potent still; in the presence of both the cause and
the effect, its very atmosphere will be a peace tremulous with unborn
gladness. This gained, the medicine, the regimen, or the change of air
may be resorted to without sense of degradation, with cheerful hope and
some indifference. Such is perhaps the final victory of faith. Faith, in
such circumstances, must be of the purest, and may be of the strongest.
In few other circumstances can it have such an opportunity--can it rise
to equal height. It may be its final lesson, and deepest. God is in it
just in his seeming to be not in it--that we may choose him in the
darkness of the feeling, stretch out the hand to him when we cannot see
him, verify him in the vagueness of the dream, call to him in the
absence of impulse, obey him in the weakness of the will.

Even in her prayers Hester could not get near him. It seemed as if his
ear were turned away from her cry. She sank into a kind of lethargic
stupor. I think, in order to convey to us the spiritual help we need, it
is sometimes necessary--just as, according to the psalmist, "he giveth
to his beloved in their sleep"--to cast us into a sort of mental
quiescence, that the noise of the winds and waters of the questioning
intellect and roused feelings may not interfere with the impression the
master would make upon our beings. But Hester's lethargy lasted long,
and was not so removed. She rose from her knees in a kind of despair,
almost ready to think that either there was no God, or he would not hear
her. An inaccessible God was worse than no God at all! In either case
she would rather cease!

It had been dark for hours, but she had lighted no candle, and sat in
bodily as in spiritual darkness. She was in her bedroom, which was on
the second floor, at the back of the house, looking out on the top of
the gallery that led to the great room. She had no fire. One was burning
away unheeded in the drawing-room below. She was too miserable to care
whether she was cold or warm. When she had got some light in her body,
then she would go and get warm!

What time it was she did not know. She had been summoned to the last
meal of the day, but had forgotten the summons. It must have been about
ten o'clock. The streets were silent, the square deserted--as usual. The
evening was raw and cold, one to drive everybody in-doors that had doors
to go in at.

Through the cold and darkness came a shriek that chilled her with
horror. Yet it seemed as if she had been expecting it--as if the cloud
of misery that had all day been gathering deeper and deeper above and
around her, had at length reached its fullness, and burst in the
lightning of that shriek. It was followed by another and yet another.
Whence did they come? Not from the street, for all beside was still;
even the roar of London was hushed! And there was a certain something in
the sound of them that assured her that they rose in the house. Was
Sarah being murdered? She was half-way down the stairs before the
thought that sent her was plain to herself.

The house seemed unnaturally still. At the top of the kitchen stairs she
called aloud to Sarah--as loud, that is, as a certain tremor in her
throat would permit. There came no reply. Down she went to face the
worst: she was a woman of true courage--that is, a woman whom no amount
of apprehension could deter when she knew she ought to seek the danger.

In the kitchen stood Sarah, motionless, frozen with fear. A candle was
in her hand, just lighted. Hester's voice seemed to break her trance.

She started, stared, and fell a trembling. She made her drink some
water, and then she came to herself.

"It's in the coal-cellar, miss!" she gasped. "I was that minute going to
fetch a scuttleful! There's something buried in them coals as sure as my
name's Sarah!"

"Nonsense!" returned Hester. "Who could scream like that from under the
coals? Come; we'll go and see what it is."

"Laws, miss! don't you go near it now. It's too late to do anything.
Either it's the woman's sperrit as they say was murdered there, or it's
a new one."

"And you would let her be killed without interfering?"

"Oh, miss, all's over by this time!" persisted Sarah, with white lips
trembling.

"Then you are ready to go to bed with a murderer in the house?" said
Hester.

"He's done his business now, an' 'll go away."

"Give me the candle. I will go alone."

"You'll be murdered, miss--as sure's you're alive!"

Hester took the light from her, and went towards the coal-cellar. The
old woman sank on a chair.

I have already alluded to the subterranean portion of the house, which
extended under the great room. A long vault, corresponding to the
gallery above, led to these cellars. It was rather a frightful place to
go into in search of the source of a shriek. Its darkness was scarcely
affected by the candle she carried; it seemed only to blind herself. She
tried holding it above her head, and then she could see a little. The
black tunnel stretched on and on, like a tunnel in a feverish dream, a
long way before the cellars began to open from it. She advanced, I
cannot say fearless, but therefore only the more brave. She felt as if
leaving life and safety behind, but her imagination was not much awake,
and her mental condition made her almost inclined to welcome death. She
reached at last the coal-cellar, the first that opened from the passage,
and looked in. The coal-heap was low, and the place looked large and
very black. She sent her keenest gaze through the darkness, but could
see nothing; went in and moved about until she had thrown light into
every corner: no one was there. She was on the point of returning when
she bethought herself there were other cellars--one the wine-cellar,
which was locked: she would go and see if Sarah knew anything about the
key of it. But just as she left the coal-cellar, she heard a moan,
followed by a succession of low sobs. Her heart began to beat violently,
but she stopped to listen. The light of her candle fell upon another
door, a pace or two from where she stood. She went to it, laid her ear
against it, and listened. The sobs continued a while, ceased, and left
all silent. Then clear and sweet, but strange and wild, as if from some
region unearthly, came the voice of a child: she could hear distinctly
what it said.

"Mother," it rang out, "you _may_ put me in the hole."

And the silence fell deep as before.

Hester stood for a moment horrified. Her excited imagination suggested
some deed of superstitious cruelty in the garden of the house adjoining.
Nor were the sobs and cries altogether against such supposition. She
recovered herself instantly, and ran back to the kitchen.

"You have the keys of the cellars--have you not, Sarah?" she said.

"Yes, miss, I fancy so."

"Where does the door beyond the coal-cellar lead out to?"

"Not out to nowhere, miss. That's a large cellar as we never use. I
ain't been into it since the first day, when they put some of the
packing-cases there."

"Give me the key," said Hester. "Something is going on there we ought to
know about."

"Then pray send for the police, miss!" answered Sarah, trembling. "It
ain't for you to go into such places--on no account!"

"What! not in our own house?"

"It's the police's business, miss!"

"Then the police are their brothers' keepers, and not you and me,
Sarah?"

"It's the wicked as is in it, I fear, miss."

"It's those that weep anyhow, and they're our business, if it's only to
weep with them. Quick! show me which is the key."

Sarah sought the key in the bunch, and noting the coolness with which
her young mistress took it, gathered courage from hers to follow, a
little way behind.

When Hester reached the door, she carefully examined it, that she might
do what she had to do as quickly as possible. There were bolts and bars
upon it, but not one of them was fastened; it was secured only by the
bolt of the lock. She set the candle on the floor, and put in the key as
quietly as she could. It turned without much difficulty, and the door
fell partly open with a groan of the rusted hinge. She caught up her
light, and went in.

It was a large, dark, empty place. For a few moments she could see
nothing. But presently she spied, somewhere in the dark, a group of
faces, looking white through the circumfluent blackness, the eyes of
them fixed in amaze, if not in terror, upon herself. She advanced
towards them, and almost immediately recognized one of them--then
another; but what with the dimness, the ghostliness, and the strangeness
of it all, felt as if surrounded by the veiling shadows of a dream. But
whose was that pallid little face whose eyes were not upon her with the
rest? It stared straight on into the dark, as if it had no more to do
with the light! She drew nearer to it. The eyes of the other faces
followed her.

When the eyes of the mother saw the face of her Moxy who died in the
dark, she threw herself in a passion of tears and cries upon her dead.
But the man knelt upon his knees, and when Hester turned in pain from
the agony of the mother, she saw him with lifted hands of supplication
at her feet. A torrent of divine love and passionate pity filled her
heart, breaking from its deepest God-haunted caves. She stooped and
kissed the man upon his upturned forehead.

Many are called but few chosen. Hester was the disciple of him who could
have cured the leper with a word, but for reasons of his own, not far to
seek by such souls as Hester's, laid his hands upon him, sorely defiling
himself in the eyes of the self-respecting bystanders. The leper himself
would never have dreamed of his touching him.

Franks burst out crying like the veriest child. All at once in the
depths of hell the wings of a great angel were spread out over him and
his! No more starvation and cold for his poor wife and the baby! The
boys would have plenty now! If only Moxy--but he was gone where the
angels came from--and theirs was a hard life! Surely the God his wife
talked about must have sent her to them! Did he think they had borne
enough now? Only he had borne it so ill! Thus thought Franks, in
dislocated fashion, and remained kneeling.

Hester was now kneeling also, with her arms round her whose arms were
about the body of her child. She did not speak to her, did not attempt a
word of comfort, but wept with her: she too had loved little Moxy! she
too had heard his dying words--glowing with reproof to her faithlessness
who cried out like a baby when her father left her for a moment in the
dark! In the midst of her loneliness and seeming desertion, God had
these people already in the house for her help! The back-door of every
tomb opens on a hill-top.

With awe-struck faces the boys looked on. They too could now see Moxy's
face. They had loved Moxy--loved him more than they knew yet.

The woman at length raised her head, and looked at Hester.

"Oh, miss, it's Moxy!" she said, and burst into a fresh passion of
grief.

"The dear child!" said Hester.

"Oh, miss! who's to look after him now?"

"There will be plenty to look after him. You don't think he who provided
a woman like you for his mother before he sent him here, would send him
there without having somebody ready to look after him?"

"Well, miss, it wouldn't be like him--I don't think!"

"It would _not_ be like him," responded Hester, with
self-accusation.

Then she asked them a few questions about their history since last she
saw them, and how it was they had sunk so low, receiving answers more
satisfactory than her knowledge had allowed her to hope.

"But oh miss!" exclaimed Mrs. Franks, bethinking herself, "you ought not
to ha' been here so long: the little angel there died o' the small-pox,
as I know too well, an' it's no end o' catching!"

"Never mind me," replied Hester; "I'm not afraid. But," she added,
rising, "we must get you out of this immediately."

"Oh, miss! where would you send us?" said Mrs. Franks in alarm. "There's
nobody as 'll take us in! An' it would break both our two
hearts--Franks's an' mine--to be parted at such a moment, when us two's
the father an' mother o' Moxy. An' they'd take Moxy from us, an' put him
in the hole he was so afeared of!"

"You don't think I would leave my own flesh and blood in the cellar!"
answered Hester. "I will go and make arrangement for you above and be
back presently."

"Oh thank you, miss!" said the woman, as Hester sat down the candle
beside them. "I do want to look on the face of my blessed boy as long as
I can! He will be taken from me altogether soon!"

"Mrs. Franks," rejoined Hester, "you musn't talk like a heathen."

"I didn't know as I was saying anything wrong, miss!"

"Don't you know," said Hester, smiling through tears, "that Jesus died
and rose again that we might be delivered from death? Don't you know
it's he and not Death has got your Moxy? He will take care of him for
you till you are ready to have him again. If you love Moxy more than
Jesus loves him, then you are more like God than Jesus was!"

"Oh, miss, don't talk to me like that! The child was born of my own
body?"

"And both you and he were born of God's own soul: if you know how to
love he loves ten times better."

"You know how to love anyhow, miss! the Lord love you! An angel o' mercy
you been to me an' mine."

"Good-bye then for a few minutes," said Hester. "I am only going to
prepare a place for you."

Only as she said the words did she remember who had said them before
her. And as she went through the dark tunnel she sang with a voice that
seemed to beat at the gates of heaven, "Thou didst not leave his soul in
hell."

Mrs. Franks threw herself again beside her child, but her tears were not
so bitter now; she and hers were no longer forsaken! She also read her
New Testament, and the last words of Hester had struck her as well as
the speaker of them:

"And she'll come again and receive us to herself!" she said. "--An'
Christ'll receive my poor Moxy to himself! If he wasn't, as they say, a
Christian, it was only as he hadn't time--so young, an' all the hard
work he had to do--with his precious face a grinnin' like an angel
between the feet of him, a helpin' of his father to make a livin' for us
all! That would be no reason why he as did the will o' _his_ father
shouldn't take to him. If ever there was a child o' God's makin' it was
that child! I feel as if God must ha' made him right off, like!"

Thoughts like these kept flowing through the mind of the bereaved mother
as she lay with her arm over the body of her child--ever lovely to her,
now more lovely than ever. The small-pox had not been severe--only
severe enough to take a feeble life from the midst of privation, and the
expression of his face was lovely. He lay like the sacrifice that sealed
a new covenant between his mother and her father in heaven. We have yet
learned but little of the blessed power of death. We call it an evil! It
is a holy, friendly thing. We are not left shivering all the world's
night in a stately portico with no house behind it; death is the door to
the temple-house, whose God is not seated aloft in motionless state, but
walks about among his children, receiving his pilgrim sons in his arms,
and washing the sore feet of the weary ones. Either God is altogether
such as Christ, or the Christian religion is a lie.

Not a word passed between husband and wife. Their hearts were too full
for speech, but their hands found and held each the other. It was the
strangest concurrence of sorrow and relief! The two boys sat on the
ground with their arms about each other. So they waited.




CHAPTER XLIV.

ON THE WAY UP.


Hearing only the sounds of a peaceful talk, Sarah had ventured near
enough to the door to hear something of what was said, and set at rest
by finding that the cause of her terror was but a poor family that had
sought refuge in the cellar, she woke up to better, and was ready to
help. More than sufficiently afraid of robbers and murderers, she was
not afraid of infection: "What should an old woman like me do taking the
small-pox! I've had it bad enough once already!" She was rather
staggered, however, when she found what Hester's plan for the intruders
was.

Nothing more, since the night of the concert, had been done to make the
great room habitable by the family. It had been well cleaned out and
that was all. Now and then a fire was lighted in it, and the children
played in it as before, but it had never been really in use. What better
place, thought Hester, could there be for a small-pox ward! Thither she
would convey her friends rescued from the slimy embrace of London
poverty.

She told Sarah to light a great fire as speedily as possible, while she
settled what could be done about beds. Almost all in the house were
old-fashioned wooden ones, hard to take down, heavy to move, and hard to
put up again: with only herself and Sarah it would take a long time! For
safety too it would be better to hire iron beds which would be easily
purified--only it was Sunday night, and late! But she knew the little
broker in Steevens's Road: she would go to him and see if he had any
beds, and if he would help her to put them up at once!

The raw night made her rejoice the more that she had got hold of the
poor creatures drowning in the social swamp. It was a consolation,
strong even against such heavy sorrows and disappointments as housed in
her heart to know that virtue was going out of her for rescue and
redemption.

She had to ring the bell a good many times before the door opened, for
the broker and his small household had retired for the night: it was now
eleven o'clock. He was not well pleased at being taken from his warm bed
to go out and work--on such a night too! He grounded what objection he
made, however, on its being Sunday, and more than hinted his surprise
that Hester would ask him to do such a thing. She told him it was for
some who had nowhere to lay their heads, and in her turn more than
hinted that he could hardly know what Sunday meant if he did not think
it right to do any number of good deeds on it. The man assented to her
argument, and went to look out the two beds she wanted. But what in
reality influenced him was dislike to offending a customer; customers
are the divinities of tradesmen, as society is the divinity of society:
in her, men and women worship themselves. Having got the two bedsteads
extracted piecemeal from the disorganized heaps in his back shop, he and
Hester together proceeded to carry them home--and I cannot help wishing
lord Gartley had come upon her at the work--no very light job, for she
went three times, and bore good weights. It was long after midnight
before the beds were ready--and a meal of coffee, and toast, and bread
and butter, spread in the great room. Then at last Hester went back to
the cellar.

"Now, come," she said, and taking up the baby, which had just weight
enough to lie and let her know how light it was, led the way.

Franks rose from the edge of the packing-case, on which lay the body of
Moxy, with his mother yet kneeling beside it, and put his arm round his
wife to raise her. She yielded, and he led her away after their hostess,
the boys following hand in hand. But when they reached the cellar door,
the mother gave a heart-broken cry, and turning ran and threw herself
again beside her child. They all followed her.

"I can't! I can't!" she said. "I can't leave my Moxy lyin' here all
alone! He ain't used to it. He's never once slep' alone since he was
born. I can't bear to think o' that lovely look o' his lost on the dark
night--not a soul to look down an' see it! Oh, Moxy! was your mother
a-leavin' of you all alone!"

"What makes you think there will not be a soul to see it?" said Hester.
"The darkness may be full of eyes! And the night itself is only the
black pupil of the Father's eye.--But we're not going to leave the
darling here. We'll take him too, of course, and find him a good place
to lie in."

The mother was satisfied, and the little procession passed through the
dark way, and up the stair.

The boys looked pleased at sight of the comforts that waited them, but a
little awed with the great lofty room. Over the face of Franks,
notwithstanding his little Serpent of the Prairies had crept away
through the long tangled grass of the universe, passed a gleam of joy
mingled with gratitude: much was now begun to be set to rights between
him and the high government. But the mother was with the little body
lying alone in the cellar. Suddenly with a wild gesture she made for the
door.

"Oh, miss!" she cried, "the rats! the rats!" and would have darted from
the room.

"Stop, stop, dear Mrs. Franks!" cried Hester. "Here! take the baby;
Sarah and I are going immediately to bring him away, and lay him where
you can see him when you please."

Again she was satisfied. She took the baby, and sat down beside her
husband.

I have mentioned a low pitched room under the great one: in this Hester
had told Sarah to place a table covered with white: they would lay the
body there in such fashion as would be a sweet remembrance to the
mother: she went now to see whether this was done. But on the way she
met Sarah coming up with ashy face.

"Oh, miss!" she said, "the body mustn't be left a minute: there's a
whole army of rats in the house already! As I was covering the table
with a blanket before I put on the sheet, there got up all at once
behind the wainscot the most uprageous hurry-scurry o' them horrid
creaturs. They'll be in wherever it is--you may take your bible-oath!
Once when I was--"

Hester interrupted her.

"Come," she said, and led the way.

She looked first into the low room to see that it was properly prepared,
and was leaving it again, when she heard a strange sound behind the
wainscot as it seemed.

"There, miss!" said Sarah.

Hester made up her mind at once that little Moxy should not be left
alone. Her heart trembled a little at the thought, but she comforted
herself that Sarah would not be far off, and that the father and mother
of the child would be immediately over her head. The same instant she
was ashamed of having found this comfort first, for was he not
infinitely nearer to her who is lord of life and death?

They went to the cellar.

"But how," said Hester on the way, "can the Frankses have got into the
place?"

"There is a back door to it, of course!" answered Sarah. "The first load
of coals came in that way, but master wouldn't have it used: he didn't
like a door to his house he never set eyes on, he said."

"But how could it have been open to let them in?" said Hester.

When they reached the cellar, she took the candle and went to look at
the door. It was pushed to, but not locked, and had no fastening upon it
except the lock, in which was the key. She turned the key, and taking it
out, put it in her pocket.

Then they carried up the little body, washed it, dressed it in white,
and laid it straight in its beauty--symbol--passing, like all
symbols--of a peace divinely more profound--the little hands folded on
the breast under the well-contented face, repeating the calm expression
of that conquest over the fear of death, that submission to be "put in
the hole," with which the child-spirit passed into wide spaces. They
lighted six candles, three at the head and three at the feet, that the
mother might see the face of her child, and because light not darkness
befits death. To Hester they symbolized the forms of light that sat, one
at the head and one at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had
lain. Then they went to fetch the mother.

She was washing the things they had used for supper. The boys were
already in bed. Franks was staring into the fire: the poor fellow had
not even looked at one for some time. Hester asked them to go and see
where she had laid Moxy, and they went with her. The beauty of Death's
courtly state comforted them.

"But I can't leave him alone!" said the mother "--all night too!--he
wouldn't like it! I know he won't wake up no more; only, you know,
miss--"

"Yes, I know very well," replied Hester.

"I'm ready," said Franks.

"No, no!" returned Hester. "You are worn out and must go to bed, both of
you: I will stay with the beautiful thing, and see that no harm comes to
it."

After some persuasion the mother consented, and in a little while the
house was quiet. Hester threw a fur cloak round her, and sat down in the
chair Sarah had placed for her beside the dead.

When she had sat some time, the exceeding stillness of the form beside
her began to fill her heart with a gentle awe. The stillness was so
persistent that the awe gradually grew to dismay, and fear,
inexplicable, unreasonable fear, of which she was ashamed, began to
invade her. She knew at once that she must betake her to the Truth for
refuge. It is little use telling one's self that one's fear is silly. It
comes upon no pretence of wisdom or logic; proved devoid of both, it
will not therefore budge a jot. She prayed to the Father, awake with her
in the stillness; and then began to think about the dead Christ. Would
the women who waited for the dawn because they had no light by which to
minister, have been afraid to watch by that body all the night long? Oh,
to have seen it come to life! move and wake and rise with the informing
God! Every dead thing belonged to Christ, not to something called Death!
This dead thing was his. It was dead as he had been dead, and no
otherwise! There was nothing dreadful in watching by it, any more than
in sitting beside the cradle of a child yet unborn! In the name of
Christ she would fear nothing! He had abolished death!

Thus thinking, she lay back in her chair, closed her eyes, and thanking
God for having sent her relief in these his children to help, fell fast
asleep.

She started suddenly awake, seeming to have been roused by the opening
of a door. The fringe of a departing dream lay yet upon her eyes: was
the door of the tomb in which she had lain so long burst from its
hinges? was the day of the great resurrection come? Swiftly her senses
settled themselves, and she saw plainly and remembered clearly. Yet
could she be really awake? for in the wall opposite stood the form of a
man! She neither cried out nor fainted, but sat gazing. She was not even
afraid, only dumb with wonder. The man did not look fearful. A smile she
seemed to have seen before broke gradually from his lips and spread over
his face. The next moment he stepped from the wall and came towards her.

Then sight and memory came together: in that wall was a door, said to
lead into the next house: for the first time she saw it open!

The man came nearer and nearer: it was Christopher! She rose, and held
out her hand.

"You are surprised to see me!" he said, "--and well you may be! Am I in
your house?--And this watch! what does it mean? I seem to recognize the
sweet face! I must have seen you and it together before!--Yes! it is
Moxy!"

"You are right, Mr. Christopher," she answered. "Dear little Moxy died
of the small-pox in our cellar. He was just gone when I found them
there."

"Is it wise of you to expose yourself so much to the infection?" said
the doctor.

"Is it worthy of you to ask such a question?" returned Hester. "We have
our work to do; life or death is the care of him who sets the work."

The doctor bent his head low, lower, and lower still, before her.
Nothing moves a man more than to recognize in another the principles
which are to himself a necessity of his being and history.

"I put the question to know on what grounds you based your action," he
replied, "and I am answered."

"Tell me then," said Hester, "how you came to be here. It seemed to my
sleepy eyes as if an angel had melted his own door through the wall! Are
you free of ordinary hindrances?" She asked almost in seriousness; for,
with the lovely dead before her, in the middle of the night, roused
suddenly from a sleep into which she had fallen with her thoughts full
of the shining resurrection of the Lord, she would have believed him at
once if he had told her that for the service of the Lord's poor he was
enabled to pass where he pleased. He smiled with a wonderful sweetness
as he made answer:

"I hope you are not one of those who so little believe that the world
and its ways belong to God, that they want to have his presence proved
by something out of the usual way--something not so good; for surely the
way He chooses to work almost always, must be a better way than that in
which he only works now and then because of a special necessity!"

By these words Hester perceived she was in the presence of one who
understood the things of which he spoke.

"I came here in the simplest way in the world," he went on, "though I am
no less surprised than you to find myself in your presence."

"The thing is to me a marvel," said Hester.

"It shall not be such a moment longer. I was called to see a patient.
When I went to return as I came, I found the door by which I had entered
locked. I then remembered that I had passed a door on the stair, and
went back to try it. It was bolted on the side to the stair. I withdrew
the bolts, opened the door gently, and beheld one of the most impressive
sights I ever saw. Shall I tell you what I saw?"

"Do," answered Hester.

"I saw," said Christopher with solemnity, "the light shining in the
darkness, and the darkness comprehending it not--six candles, and only
the up-turned face of the dead, and the down-turned face of the
sleeping! I seemed to look into the heart of things, and see the whole
waste universe waiting for the sonship, for the redemption of the body,
the visible life of men! I saw that love, trying to watch by death, had
failed, because the thing that is not needs not to be watched. I saw all
this and more. I think I must have unconsciously pushed the door against
the wall, for somehow I made a noise with it, and you woke."

Hester's face alone showed that she understood him. She turned and
looked at Moxy to calm the emotion to which she would not give scope.

Christopher stood silent, as if brooding on what he had seen. She could
not ask him to sit down, but she must understand how he had got into the
house. Where was his patient? "In the next house, of course!" she
concluded. But the thing wanted looking into! That door must be secured
on their side? Their next midnight visitor might not be so welcome as
this, whose heart burned to the same labour as her own! "But what we
really want," she thought, "is to have more not fewer of our doors open,
if they be but the right ones for the angels to come and go!"

"I never saw that door open before," she said, "and none of us knew
where it led. We took it for granted it was into the next house, but the
old lady was so cross,--"

Here she checked herself; for if Mr. Christopher had just come from that
house, he might be a friend of the old lady's!

"It goes into no lady's house, so far as I understand," said
Christopher. "The stair leads to a garret--I should fancy over our heads
here--much higher up, though."

"Would you show me how you came in?" said Hester.

"With pleasure," he answered, and taking one of the candles, led the
way.

"I would not let the young woman leave her husband to show me out," he
went on. "When I found myself a prisoner, I thought I would try this
door before periling the sleep of a patient in the small-pox. You seem
to have it all round you here!"

Through the door so long mysterious Hester stepped on a narrow, steep
stair. Christopher turned downward, and trod softly. At the bottom he
passed through a door admitting them to a small cellar, a mere recess.
Thence they issued into that so lately occupied by the Frankses.
Christopher went to the door Hester had locked, and said,

"This is where I came in. I suppose one of your people must have locked
it."

"I locked it myself," replied Hester, and told him in brief the story of
the evening.

"I see!" said Christopher; "we must have passed through just after you
had taken them away."

"And now the question remains," said Hester, "--who can it be in our
house without our knowledge? The stair is plainly in our house."

"Beyond a doubt," said Christopher. "But how strange it is you should
know your own house so imperfectly! I fancy the young couple, having got
into some difficulty, found entrance the same way the Frankses did; only
they went farther and fared better!--to the top of the house, I mean.
They've managed to make themselves pretty comfortable too! There is
something peculiar about them--I can hardly say what in a word."

"Could I not go up with you to-morrow and see them!" said Hester.

"That would hardly do, I fear. I could be of no farther use to them were
they to suppose I had betrayed them. You have a perfect right to know
what is going on in your house, but I would rather not appear in the
discovery. One thing is plain, you must either go to them, or unlock the
cellar-door. You will be taken with the young woman. She is a capable
creature--an excellent nurse. Shall I go out this way?"

"Will you come to-morrow?" said Hester. "I am alone, and cannot ask
anybody to help me because of the small-pox; and I shall want help for
the funeral. You do not think me troublesome?"

"Not in the least. It is all in the way of my business. I will manage
for you."

"Come then; I will show you the way out. This is no. 18, Addison square.
You need not come in the cellar-way next time."

"If I were you," said Christopher, stopping at the foot of the kitchen
stair, "I would leave the key in that cellar-door. The poor young woman
would be terrified to find they were prisoners."

She turned immediately and went back, he following, and replaced the
key.

"Now let us fasten up the door I came in by," said Christopher. "I have
got a screw in my pocket, and I never go without my tool-knife."

This was soon done, and he went.

What a strange night it had been for Hester--more like some unbelievable
romance! For the time she had forgotten her own troubles! Ah, if she had
been of one mind with lord Gartley, those poor creatures would be now
moaning in darkness by the dead body of their child, or out with it in
their arms in the streets, or parted asunder in the casual wards of some
workhouse! Certainly God could have sent them other help than hers, but
where would _she_ be then--a fellow-worker with his lordship, and
not with God--one who did it not to _him_! Woe for the wife whose
husband has no regard to her deepest desires, her highest
aspirations!--who loves her so that he would be the god of her idolatry,
not the friend and helper of her heart, soul, and mind! Many of Hester's
own thoughts were revealed to her that night by the side of the dead
Moxy. It became clear to her that she had been led astray, in part by
the desire to rescue one to whom God had not sent her, in part by the
pleasure of being loved and worshipped, and in part by worldly ambition.
Surer sign would God have sent her had he intended she should give
herself to Gartley! Would God have her give herself to one who would
render it impossible for her to make life more abundant to others?
Marriage might be the absorbing duty of some women, but was it
necessarily hers? Certainly not with such a man? Might not the duties of
some callings be incompatible with marriage? Did not the providence of
the world ordain that not a few should go unmarried? The children of the
married would be but ill cared for were there only the married to care
for them! It was one thing to die for a man--another to enslave God's
child to the will of one who did not know him! Was a husband to take the
place of Christ, and order her life for her? Was man enough for woman?
Did she not need God? It came to that! Was he or God to be her master?
It grew clearer and clearer as she watched by the dead. There was, there
could be no relation of life over which the Lord of life was not
supreme! That this or that good woman could do this or that faithless or
mean thing, was nothing to her! What might be unavoidable to one less
instructed, would be sin in her! The other might heed the sufferings and
confusions that resulted; but for her must remain a fearful looking for
of judgment and fiery indignation!

When the morning came and she heard Sarah stirring, she sent her to take
her place, and went to get a little rest.




CHAPTER XLV.

MORE YET.


But she could not sleep. She rose, went back to the room where the dead
Moxy lay, and sent Sarah to get breakfast ready. Then came upon her an
urgent desire to know the people who had come, like swallows, to tenant,
without leave asked, the space overhead. She undid the screw, opened the
door, and stole gently up the stair, steep, narrow and straight, which
ran the height of the two rooms between two walls. A long way up she
came to another door, and peeping through a chink in it, saw that it
admitted to the small orchestra high in the end-wall of the great room.
Probably then the stair and the room below had been an arrangement for
the musicians.

Going higher yet, till she all but reached the roof, the stair brought
her to a door. She knocked. No sound of approaching foot followed, but
after some little delay it was opened by a young woman, with her finger
on her lip, and something of a scared look in her eye. She had expected
to see the doctor, and started and trembled at sight of Hester. There
was little light where she stood, but Hester could not help feeling as
if she had not merely seen her somewhere before. She came out on the
landing and shut the door behind her.

"He is very ill," she said; "and he hears a strange voice even in his
sleep. A strange voice is dreadful to him."

Her voice was not strange, and the moment she spoke it seemed to light
up her face: Hester, with a pang she could scarcely have accounted for,
recognized Amy Amber.

"Amy!" she said.

"Oh, Miss Raymount!" cried Amy joyfully, "is it indeed you? Are you come
at last? I thought I was never to see you any more!"

"You bewilder me," said Hester. "How do you come to be here? I don't
understand."

"_He_ brought me here."

"_Who_ brought you here?"

"Why, miss!" exclaimed Amy, as if hearing the most unexpected of
questions, "who should it be?"

"I have not the slightest idea," returned Hester.

But the same instant a feeling strangely mingled of alarm, discomfort,
indignation, and relief crossed her mind.

Through her whiteness Amy turned whiter still, and she turned a little
away, like a person offended.

"There is but one, miss!" she said coldly. "Who should it be but him?"

"Speak his name," said Hester almost sternly. "This is no time for
hide-and-seek. Tell me whom you mean."

"Are you angry with me?" faltered Amy. "Oh, Miss Raymount, I don't think
I deserve it!"

"Speak out, child! Why should I be angry with you?"

"Do you know what it is?--Oh, I hardly know what I am saying! He is
dying! he is dying!"

She sank on the floor, and covered her face with her hands. Hester stood
a moment and looked at her weeping, her heart filled with sad dismay,
mingled with a kind of wan hope. Then softly and quickly she opened the
door of the room and went in.

Amy started to her feet, but too late to prevent her, and followed
trembling, afraid to speak, but relieved to find that Hester moved so
noiselessly.

It was a great room, but the roof came down to the floor nearly all
round. It was lighted only with a skylight. In the farthest corner was a
screen. Hester crept gently towards it, and Amy after her, not
attempting to stop her. She came to the screen and peeped behind it.
There lay a young man in a troubled sleep, his face swollen and red and
blotched with the small-pox; but through the disfigurement she
recognized her brother. Her eyes filled with tears; she turned away, and
stole out again as softly as she came in. Amy had been looking up at her
anxiously; when she saw the tenderness of her look, she gathered courage
and followed her. Outside, Hester stopped, and Amy again closed the
door.

"You _will_ forgive him, won't you, miss?" she said pitifully,

"What do you want me to forgive him for, Amy?" asked Hester, suppressing
her tears.

"I don't know, miss. You seemed angry with him. I don't know what to
make of it. Sometimes I feel certain it must have been his illness
coming on that made him weak in his head and talk foolishness; and
sometimes I wonder whether he has really been doing anything wrong."

"He must have been doing something wrong, else how should _you_ be
here, Amy?" said Hester with hasty judgment.

"He never told me, miss: or of course I would have done what I could to
prevent it," answered Amy, bewildered. "We were so happy, miss, till
then! and we've never had a moment's peace since! That's why we came
here--to be where nobody would find us. I wonder how he came to know the
place!"

"Do _you_ not know where you are then, Amy?"

"No, miss; not in the least. I only know where to buy the things we
need. He has not been out once since we came."

"You are in our house, Amy. What will my father say!--How long have
you--have you been--"

Something in her heart or her throat prevented Hester from finishing the
sentence.

"How long have I been married to him, miss? You surely know that as well
as I do, miss!"

"My poor Amy! Did he make you believe we knew about it?"

Amy gave a cry, but after her old way instantly crammed her handkerchief
into her mouth, and uttered no further smallest sound.

"Alas!" said Hester, "I fear he has been more wicked than we know! But,
Amy, he has done something besides very wrong."

Amy covered her face with her apron, through which Hester could see her
soundless sobs.

"I have been doing what I could to find him," continued Hester, "and
here he was close to me all the time! But it adds greatly to my misery
to find you with him, Amy!"

"Indeed, miss, I may have been silly; but how was I to suspect he was
not telling me the truth? I loved him too much for that! I told him I
would not marry him without he had his father's leave. And he pretended
he had got it, and read me such a beautiful letter from his mother! Oh,
miss, it breaks my heart to think of it!"

A new fear came upon Hester: had he deceived the poor girl with a
pretended marriage? Was he bad through and through? What her father
would say to a marriage, was hard to think; what he would say to a
deception, she knew! That he would like such a marriage, she could ill
imagine; but might not the sense of escape from an alternative reconcile
him to it?

Such thoughts passed swiftly through her mind as she stood half turned
from Amy, looking down the deep stair that sank like a precipice before
her. She heard nothing, but Amy started and turned to the door. She was
following her, when Amy said, in a voice almost of terror,

"Please, miss, do not let him see you till I have told him you are
here."

"Certainly not," answered Hester, and drew back,--"if you think the
sight of me would hurt him!"

"Thank you, miss; I am sure it would," whispered Amy. "He is frightened
of you."

"Frightened of me!" said Hester to herself, repeating Amy's phrase, when
she had gone in, leaving her at the head of the stair. "I should have
thought he only disliked me! I wonder if he would have loved me a
little, if he had not been afraid of me! Perhaps I could have made him
if I had tried. It is easier then to wake fear than love!"

It may be very well for a nature like Corney's to fear a father: fear
does come in for some good where love is wanting: but I doubt if fear of
a sister can be of any good.

"If he couldn't love me," thought Hester, "it would have been better he
hadn't been afraid of me. Now comes the time when it renders me unable
to help him!"

When first it began to dawn upon Hester that there was in her a certain
hardness of character distinct in its nature from that unbending
devotion to the right which is imperative--belonging in truth to the
region of her weakness--that self which fears for itself, and is of
death, not of life. But she was one of those who, when they discover a
thing in them that is wrong, take refuge in the immediate endeavour to
set it right--with the conviction that God is on their side to help
them: for wherein, if not therein, is he God our Saviour?

She went down to the house, to get everything she could think of to make
the place more comfortable: it would be long before the patient could be
moved. In particular she sought out a warm fur cloak for Amy. Poor Amy!
she was but the shadow of her former self, but a shadow very pretty and
pleasant to look on. Hester's heart was sore to think of such a bright,
good honest creature married to a man like her brother. But she was sure
however credulous she might have been, she had done nothing to be
ashamed of. Where there was blame it must all be Corney's!

It was with feelings still strangely mingled of hope and dismay, that,
having carried everything she could at the time up the stair, she gave
herself to the comfort of her other guests.

Left alone in London, Corney had gone idly ranging about the house when
another man would have been reading, or doing something with his hands.
Curious in correspondent proportion to his secrecy, for the qualities go
together, the moment he happened to cast his eyes on the door in the
wainscot of the low room, no one being in the house to interfere with
him, he proceeded to open it. He little thought then what his discovery
would be to him, for at that time he had done nothing to make him fear
his fellow-men. But he kept the secret after his kind.

Contriving often to meet Amy, he had grown rapidly more and more fond of
her--became indeed as much in love with her as was possible to him; and
though the love of such a man can never be of a lofty kind, it may yet
be the best thing in him, and the most redemptive power upon him.
Without a notion of denying himself anything he desired and could
possibly have, he determined she should be his, but from fear as well as
tortuosity, avoided the direct way of gaining her: the straight line
would not, he judged, be the shortest: his father would never, or only
after unendurable delay, consent to his marriage with a girl like Amy!
How things might have gone had he not found her even unable to receive a
thought that would have been dishonorable to him, and had he not come to
pride himself on her simplicity and purity, I cannot say; but he
contrived to persuade her to a private marriage--contrived also to
prevent her from communicating with her sister.

His desire to please her, his passion for showing off, and the
preparations his design seemed to render necessary, soon brought him
into straits for money. He could not ask his father, who would have
insisted on knowing how it was that he found his salary insufficient,
seeing he was at no expense for maintenance, having only to buy his
clothes. He went on and on, hiding his eyes from the approach of the
"armed man," till he was in his grasp, and positively in want of a
shilling. Then he borrowed, and went on borrowing small sums from those
about him, till he was ashamed to borrow more. The next thing was to
_borrow_ a trifle of what was passing through his hands. He was
merely borrowing, and of his own uncle! It was a shame his uncle should
have so much and leave him in such straits!--be rolling in wealth and
pay him such a contemptible salary! It was the height of injustice! Of
course he would replace it long before any one knew! Thus by degrees the
poor weak creature, deluding himself with excuses, slipped into the
consciousness of being a rogue. There are some, I suspect, who fall into
vice from being so satisfied with themselves that they scorn to think it
possible they should ever do wrong.

He went on taking and taking until at last he was obliged to confess to
himself that there was no possibility of making restoration before the
time when his _borrowing_ must be embezzlement. Then in a kind of
cold despair he laid hold upon a large sum and left the bank an
unconvicted felon. What story he told Amy, to whom he was by this time
married, I do not know; but once convinced of the necessity for
concealment, she was as careful as himself. He brought her to their
refuge by the back way. She went and came only through the cellar, and
knew no other entrance. When they found that, through Amy's leaving the
door unfastened when she went to buy, there being no way of securing it
from the outside, others had taken refuge in the cellar, they dared not,
for fear of attracting attention to themselves, warn them off the
premises.




CHAPTER XLVI.

AMY AND CORNEY.


The Frankses remained at rest until the funeral was over, and then
Hester would have father and sons go out to follow their calling, while
the mother and she did what could be done for the ailing baby, who could
not linger long behind Moxy.

Hester had a little money of her own--not much, but enough to restore to
decency, with the help of the wife's fingers, the wardrobe of the
family. For the present she would not let them leave the house; she must
have them in better condition first, and with a little money in their
pockets of their own earning. And the very first day, though they went
out with heavy hearts, and could hardly have played with much spirit,
they brought home more money than any day for weeks before. And Franks
as he walked home weary, took some comfort that his Moxy was not with
him to trouble his mother with his white face and drawn look.

The same day lord Gartley called, but was informed by Sarah, who opened
the door but a chink, that the small-pox was in the house, and that she
could admit no one but the doctor. To his exclamation she made answer
that her young mistress was perfectly well, but could and would see
nobody--was in attendance upon the sick. So his lordship was compelled
to go without seeing her, not without a haunting doubt that he was being
played upon, and she did not want to see him.

As had happened more than once before, soon after he was gone the major
made his appearance. To him Sarah gave the same answer, adding by her
mistress's directions, that in the meantime there was no occasion to
prosecute inquiry about Mr. Cornelius, for it was all--as Sarah put
it--explained, and her mistress would write to him.

But what was Hester to tell her father and mother? Until she knew with
certainty the fact of her marriage, she shrank from mentioning Amy; and
at present it was impossible to find out anything from Cornelius. She
merely wrote, therefore, that she had found him, but very ill; that she
would take the best care of him she could, and as soon as he was able to
be moved, bring him home to be nursed by his mother.

The great room was for the mean time given over to the Frankses. The
wife kept everything tidy, and they managed things their own way. Hester
made inquiry now and then, to be sure they were having everything they
wanted, but left them to provide for themselves.

She did her best to help Amy without letting her brother suspect her
presence, and by degrees she got the room more comfortable for them.
Corney had indeed taken a good many things from the house to make
habitable the waste expanse, but had been careful not to take anything
Sarah would miss.

He was covered with the terrible eruption, and if he survived, which
again and again seemed doubtful, would probably be much changed, for Amy
could not keep his hands from his face: in trifles the lack of
self-restraint is manifested, and its consequences are sometimes
grievous.

Hitherto Hester had not let her parents quite know how ill he was--for
what may seem a far-fetched reason--not to save them from anxiety, but
to save her mother from hearing his father say, the best thing he could
do would be to die. Nor was she mistaken: many a time had her father
said so to himself. It was simply impossible, he said, that he should
ever again speak to him or in any way treat him as a son. He had by his
vile conduct ceased to be a son, and he was nowise bound to do anything
more for him; though, from mere compassion, he would keep him from
starving till he got some employment to which no character was
necessary.

He began at last to recover, but it was long before he could be treated
otherwise than as a child--so feeble was he, and so unreasonable. The
first time he saw and knew Hester, he closed his eyes and turned away
his head as if he would have no more of that apparition. She retired;
but, watching, presently saw him, in his own sly way, looking through
half closed lids to know whether she was gone. When he saw Amy where
Hester had stood, his face beamed up. "Amy," he said, "come here;" and
when she went, he took her hand and laid it on his cheek, little knowing
what a disfigured cheek it was.

"Thank God!" said Hester to herself: she had never seen him look so
sweet or loving or lovable, despite his disfigurement.

She took care not to show herself again till he should be a little
accustomed to the idea of her presence.

The more she saw of Amy the better she liked her. She treated her
patient with so much good sense, showed such a readiness to subordinate
her ignorance to the wisdom of others, and such a careful obedience to
the directions of the doctor, that she rose every day in Hester's
opinion, as well as found a yet deeper place in her heart.

His lordship wrote, making an apology for anything he had said, from
anxiety about one whom he loved to distraction, in which he might have
presumed on the closeness of their relation to each other. He would
gladly talk the whole matter over with her as soon as she gave him
leave. For his part he had not a moment's doubt that her good sense,
relieved from the immediate pressure of her feelings, which were in
themselves but too divine for the needs of this world, would convince
her of the reasonableness of all he had sought to urge upon her. As soon
as she was able, and judged it safe to admit a visitor, his aunt would
be happy to call upon her.

For the present, as he knew she would not admit him, he would content
himself with frequent and most anxious inquiries after her, reserving
argument and expostulation for a happier, and, he hoped, not very
distant time.

Hester smiled a curious smile at the prospect of a call from Miss
Vavasor: was she actually going to plead her nephew's cause?

As her brother grew better, and things became easier, the thought of
lord Gartley came oftener, with something of the old feeling for the man
himself, but mingled with sadness and a strange pity. She would never
have been able to do anything for him! It had been in her spiritual
presumption to think she could save him by the preciousness of her
self-gift to him and the strength of her power over him!

If God cannot save a man by all his good gifts, not even by the gift of
a woman offered to his higher nature, but by that refused, the woman's
giving of herself a slave to his lower nature can only make him the more
unredeemable; while the withholding of herself may do something--may at
least, as the years go on, wake in him some sense of what a fool he had
been. The man who would go to the dogs for lack of the woman he fancies,
will go to the dogs when he has her--may possibly drag her to the dogs
with him.

Hester began to see something of this. She recalled how she had never
once gained from him a satisfactory reply to anything she said worth
saying; she had in her foolishness supplied from her own imagination the
defective echoes of his response! Love had made her apt and able to do
this; but now that she had yielded entrance to doubt, she saw many
things otherwise than before. She loved the man enough to die for him:
she would not have one moment hesitated about that; but it was quite
another thing to marry him! It was her brother now she had to save! His
dear, good little wife was doing all she could for him, but it would
take sister and mother and all to save him! She could not do so much for
him as Amy now, but by and by there would be his father to meditate
with: to that she would give her energy!

But his poor mother! would she recognize him--so terribly scarred and
changed? He might in time, being young, grow more like himself, but now
he was not pleasant to look upon. Some men are as vain as any women, and
Corney was one of those some. While pretending to despise the kindest
word concerning his good looks, he had taken the greatest pleasure in
them; and the first time he saw himself in a mirror, the look of dismay,
of despairing horror that came over his face was as pitiful as it was
ludicrous. He had been accustomed to regard himself as one superior on
most grounds, on that of good looks in particular, to any one he
knew--and now! He could not but admit that he was nothing less than
unpleasant to behold--must be so even to those who loved him! It was a
pain that in itself could do little to cast out the evil spirit that
possessed him, but it was something that that evil spirit, while it
remained in him, should be deprived of one source of its nourishment. It
was a good thing that from any cause the transgressor should find his
ways hard. He dashed the glass from him, and burst into tears which he
did not even try to conceal.

It was notable that from that time he was more dejected, and less
peevish; and this latter might not be only from returning health, for he
had always been more or less peevish at home, where he never thought of
cultivating the same conception or idea of himself as before the eyes of
the world. Much of supposed goodness is merely a looking of the thing
men would like to be considered--originating doubtless sometimes in an
admiration of, perhaps in a vague wish to be that thing, but
unaccompanied of desire or strength enough to rouse the smallest
endeavour after being it. Still Hester found it difficult to bear with
his remaining peevishness and bad temper, knowing what he had made of
himself, and that he knew she must know it; but at such hard moments she
had the good sense to leave him to the soothing ministrations of his
wife. Amy never set herself against him: first of all she would show him
that she understood what was troubling him: then would say something
sympathetic, or petting, or coaxing, and always had her way with him.
She had the great advantage that not yet had he once quarrelled with
her.

That gave a ground of hope for her influence with him that his sister
had long lost. God had made Amy so that she had less trouble from
selfishness than all but a few people. Hester, more than Amy, felt her
own rights, and was ready to be indignant. She would have far more
trouble than Amy in getting rid of the self-asserting self in her, which
closes the door against heaven's divinest gifts. In Hester it was no
doubt associated with a loftier nature, and the harder victory would
have its greater reward, but until finally conquered it must continue to
obstruct her walk in the true way. So Hester learned from the sweetness
of Amy, as Amy from the unbending principle of Hester.

She at last made up her mind that she would take Cornelius home without
giving her father the opportunity of saying he should not come. She
would presume that he must go home after such an illness: the result she
would wait! The meeting could in no case be a happy one, but if he were
not altogether repulsed, if the mean devil in him was not thoroughly
roused by the harshness of his father, she would think much had been
gained!

With gentle watchfulness she regarded Amy, and was more and more
satisfied that, whatever might be wrong, she had had a share in it not
as one who did, but as one who endured wrong. The sweetness and devotion
with which she seemed to live only for her husband was to Hester, who
found it impossible to take such a position even in imagination towards
Gartley, in her tenderer moments almost a rebuke. But she could not
believe that had Amy known before she married him what kind of person
Cornelius was, she would have given herself to him. She did not think
how nearly the man she had once accepted stood on the same level of
manhood. But Amy was the wife of Cornelius, and that made an eternal
difference. Her duty was as plain as Hester's--and the same--to do the
best for him!

When he was able to be moved, Hester brought them into the house, and
placed them in a comfortable room. She then moved the Frankses into the
room they had left, making it over to them, subject to her father's
pleasure, for a time at least. With their own entrance through the
cellar, they were to live there after their own fashion, and follow
their own calling, only they were to let Hester know if they found
themselves in any difficulty. And now for the first time in her life she
wished she had some means of her own, that she might act with freedom.
She had seen hope of freedom in marriage, but now she wished it in
independence.




CHAPTER XLVII.

MISS VAVASOR.


About three weeks after lord Gartley's call, during which he had left a
good many cards in Addison square, Hester received the following letter
from Miss Vavasor: "My dear Miss Raymount, I am very anxious to see you,
but fear it is hardly safe to go to you yet. You with your heavenly
spirit do not regard such things, but I am not so much in love with the
future as to risk my poor present for it. Neither would I willingly be
the bearer of infection into my own circle: I am not so selfish as to be
careless about that. But communicate with you somehow I must, and that
for your own sake as well as Gartley's who is pining away for lack of
the sunlight of your eyes. I throw myself entirely on your judgment. If
you tell me you consider yourself out of quarantine, I will come to you
at once; if you do not, will you propose something, for meet we must."

Hester pondered well before returning an answer. She could hardly say,
she replied, that there was no danger, for her brother, who had been
ill, was yet in the house, too weak for the journey to Yrndale. She
would rather suggest, therefore, that they should meet in some quiet
corner of one of the parks. She need hardly add she would take every
precaution against carrying infection.

The proposal proved acceptable to Miss Vavasor. She wrote suggesting
time and place. Hester agreed, and they met.

Hester appeared on foot, having had to dismiss her cab at the gate; Miss
Vavasor, who had remained seated in her carriage; got down as soon as
she saw her, and having sent it away, advanced to meet her with a smile:
she was perfect in skin-hospitality.

"How long is it now," she began, "since you saw Gartley?"

"Three weeks or a month," replied Hester.

"I am afraid, sadly afraid, you cannot be much of a lover, not to have
seen him for so long and look so fresh!" smiled Miss Vavasor, with
gently implied reproach, and followed the words with a sigh, as if
_she_ had memories of a different complexion.

"When one has one's work to do,--" said Hester.

"Ah, yes!" returned Miss Vavasor, not waiting for the sentence, "I
understand you have some peculiar ideas about work. That kind of thing
is spreading very much in our circle too. I know many ladies who visit
the poor. They complain there are so few unobjectionable tracts to give
them. The custom came in with these Woman's-rights. I fear they will
upset everything before long. But I hope the world will last my time. No
one can tell where such things will end."

"No," replied Hester. "Nothing has ever stopped yet."

"Is that as much as to say that nothing ever will stop?"

"I think it is something like it," said Hester.

"We know nothing about the ends of things--only the beginnings."

There had been an air of gentle raillery in Miss Vavasor's tone, and
Hester used the same, for she had no hope of coming to an understanding
with her about anything.

"Then the sooner we do the better! I don't see else how things are to go
on at all!" said Miss Vavasor, revealing the drop of Irish blood in her.

"When the master comes he will stop a good deal," thought Hester, but
she did not say it. She could not allude to such things without at least
a possibility of response.

"You and Gartley had a small misunderstanding, he tells me, the last
time you met," continued Miss Vavasor, after a short pause.

"I think not," answered Hester; "at least I fancy I understood him very
well."

"My dear Miss Raymount, you must not be offended with me. I am an old
woman, and have had to compose differences that had got in the way of
their happiness between goodness knows how many couples. I am not
boasting when I say I have had considerable experience in that sort of
thing."

"I do not doubt it," said Hester. "What I do doubt is, that you have had
any experience of the sort necessary to set things right between lord
Gartley and myself. The fact is, for I will be perfectly open with you,
that I saw then--for the first time plainly, that to marry him would be
to lose my liberty."

"Not more, my dear, than every woman does who marries at all. I presume
you will allow marriage and its duties to be the natural calling of a
woman?"

"Certainly."

"Then she ought not to complain of the loss of her liberty."

"Not of so much as is naturally involved in _marriage_, I allow."

"Then why draw back from your engagement to Gartley?"

"Because he requires me to turn away at once, and before any necessity
shows itself, from the exercise of a higher calling yet."

"I am not aware of any higher calling."

"I am. God has given me gifts to use for my fellows, and use them I must
till he, not man, stops me. That is my calling."

"But you know that of necessity a woman must give up many things when
she accepts the position of a wife, and possibly the duties of a
mother."

"The natural claims upon a wife or mother I would heartily acknowledge."

"Then of course to the duties of a wife belong the claims Society has
upon her as a wife."

"So far as I yet know what is meant in your circle by such claims, I
count them the merest usurpations: I will never subject myself to
such--never put myself in a position where I should be expected to obey
a code of laws not merely opposed to the work for which I was made, but
to all the laws of the relations to each other of human beings as human
beings."

"I do not quite understand you," said Miss Vavasor.

"Well, for instance," returned Hester, willing to give the question a
general bearing, "a mother in your class, according at least to much
that I have heard, considers the duties she owes to society, duties that
consist in what looks to me the merest dissipation and killing of time,
as paramount even to those of a mother. Because of those 'traditions of
men,' or fancies of fashionable women rather, she justifies herself in
leaving her children in the nursery to the care of other women--the
vulgarest sometimes."

"Not knowingly," said Miss Vavasor. "We are all liable to mistakes."

"But certainly," insisted Hester, "without taking the pains necessary to
know for themselves the characters of those to whom they trust the
children God has given to their charge; whereas to abandon them to the
care of angels themselves would be to go against the laws of nature and
the calling of God."

Miss Vavasor began to think it scarcely desirable to bring a woman of
such levelling opinions into their quiet circle: she would be preaching
next that women were wicked who did not nurse their own brats! But she
would be faithful to Gartley!

"To set up as reformers would be to have the whole hive about our ears,"
she said.

"That may be," replied Hester, "but it does not apply to me. I keep the
beam out of my own eye which I have no hope of pulling out of my
neighhour's. I do not belong to your set."

"But you are about to belong to it, I hope."

"I hope not."

"You are engaged to marry my nephew."

"Not irrevocably, I trust."

"You should have thought of all that before you gave your consent.
Gartley thought you understood. Certainly our circle is not one for
saints."

"Honest women would be good enough for me. But I thought I had done and
said more than was necessary to make Gartley understand my ideas of what
was required of me in life, and I thought he sympathized with me so far
at least that he would be what help to me he could. Now I find instead
of this, that he never believed I meant what I said, but all the time
intended to put a stop to the aspiration of my life the moment he had it
in his power to do so."

"Ah, my dear young lady, you do not know what love is!" said Miss
Vavasor, and sighed again as if _she_ knew what love was. And in
truth she had been in love at least once in her youth, but had yielded
without word of remonstrance when her parents objected to her marrying
three hundred a year, and a curacy of _fifty_. She saw it was
reasonable: what fellowship can light have with darkness, or love with
starvation? "A woman really in love," she went on, "is ready to give up
everything, yes, my dear, _everything_ for the man she loves. She
who is not equal to that, does not know what love is."

"Suppose he should prove unworthy of her?"

"That would be nothing, positively nothing. If she had once learned to
love him she would see no fault in him."

"_Whatever_ faults he might have?"

"Whatever faults: love has no second thoughts."

"Suppose he were to show himself regardless of her best welfare--caring
for her only as an adjunct to his display?"

"If she loved him, I only say _if she loved him_, she would be
proud to follow in his triumph. His glory is hers."

"Whether it be real or not?"

"If he counts it so. A woman who loves gives herself to her husband to
be moulded by him."

"I fear that is the way men think of us," said Hester, sadly; "and no
doubt there are women whose behaviour would justify them in it. With all
my heart I say a woman ought to be ready to die for the man she loves;
that is a matter of course; she cannot really love him if she would not;
but that she should fall in with all his thoughts, feelings, and
judgments whatever, even such as in others she would most heartily
despise; that she should act as if her husband and not God made her, and
his whims, instead of the lovely will of him who created man and woman,
were to be to her the bonds of her being--that surely no woman could
grant who had not first lost her reason."

"You won't lose yours for love at least," concluded Miss Vavasor, who
could not help admiring her ability, though she despised the direction
it took. "I see," she said to herself, "she is one of the strong-minded
who think themselves superior to any man. Gartley will be well rid of
her--that is my conviction! I think I have done nearly all he could
require of me."

"I tell you honestly," continued Hester, "I love lord Gartley so well
that I would gladly yield my life to do him any worthy good."--"It is
easy to talk," said Miss Vavasor to herself.--"Not that that is saying
much," Hester went on, "for I would do that to redeem any human creature
from the misery of living without God. I would even marry lord
Gartley--I think I would, after what has passed--if only I knew that he
would not try to prevent me from being the woman I ought to be and have
to be;--perhaps I would--I am not clear about it just at this moment:
never, if I were married to him, would I be so governed by him that he
should do that! But who would knowingly marry for strife and debate? Who
would deliberately add to the difficulties of being what she ought to
be, what she desired, and was determined, with God's help, to be! I for
one will not take an enemy into the house of my life. I will not make it
a hypocrisy to say, 'Lead us not into temptation.' I grant you a wife
must love her husband grandly'--passionately, if you like the word; but
there is one to be loved immeasurably more grandly, yea
_passionately_, if the word means anything true and good in
love--he whose love creates love. Can you for a moment imagine, when the
question came between my Lord and my husband, I would hesitate?"

"'Tis a pity you were not born in the middle ages," said Miss Vavasor,
smiling, but with a touch of gentle scorn in the superiority of her
tone; "you would certainly have been canonized!"

"But now I am sadly out of date--am I not?" returned Hester, trying to
smile also.

"I could no more consent to live in God's world without minding what he
told me, than I would marry a man merely because he admired me."

"Heavens," exclaimed Miss Vavasor to what she called herself, "what an
extravagant young woman! She won't do for us! You'll have to let her
fly, my dear boy!"

What she said to Hester was,

"Don't you think, my dear, all that sounds a little--just a little
extravagant? You know as well as I do--you have just confessed it--that
the kind of thing is out of date--does not belong to the world of
to-day. And when a thing is once of the past, it cannot be called back,
do what you will. Nothing will ever bring in that kind of thing again.
It is all very well to go to church and that sort of thing; I should be
the last to encourage the atheism that is getting so frightfully common,
but really it seems to me such extravagant notions about religion as you
have been brought up in must have not a little to do with the present
sad state of affairs--must in fact go far to make atheists. Civilization
will never endure to be priest-ridden."

"It is my turn now," said Hester, "to say that I scarcely understand
you. Do you take God for a priest? Do you object to atheism, and yet
regard obedience to God as an invention of the priests? Was Jesus Christ
a priest? or did he say what was not true when he said that whoever
loved any one else more than him was not worthy of him? Or do you
confess it true, yet say it is of no consequence? If you do not care
about what he wants of you, I simply tell you that I care about nothing
else; and if ever I should change, I hope he will soon teach me
better--whatever sorrow may be necessary for me to that end. I desire
not to care a straw about anything he does not care about."

"It is very plain, at least," said Miss Vavasor, "that you do not love
my nephew as he deserves to be loved--or as any woman ought to love the
man to whom she has given her consent to be his wife! You have very
different ideas from such as were taught in my girlhood concerning the
duties of wives! A woman, I used to be told, was to fashion herself upon
her husband, fit her life to his life, her thoughts to his thoughts, her
tastes to his tastes."

Absurd indeed would have seemed, to any one really knowing the two, the
idea of a woman like Hester fitting herself into the mould of such a man
as lord Gartley!--for what must be done with the quantity of her that
would be left over after his lordship's mould was filled! The notion of
squeezing a large, divine being, like Hester, into the shape of such a
poor, small, mean, worldly, time-serving fellow, would have been so
convincingly ludicrous as to show at once the theory on which it was
founded for the absurdity it was. Instead of walking on together in
simple equality, in mutual honour and devotion, each helping the other
to be better still, to have the woman, large and noble, come cowering
after her pigmy lord, as if he were the god of her life, instead of a
Satan doing his best to damn her to his own meanness!--it is a contrast
that needs no argument! Not the less if the woman be married to such a
man, will it be her highest glory, by the patience of Christ, by the
sacrifice of self, yea of everything save the will of God, to win the
man, if he may by any means be won, from the misery of his self-seeking
to a noble shame of what he now delights in.

"You are right," said Hester; "I do not love lord Gartley sufficiently
for that! Thank you, Miss Vavasor, you have helped me to the thorough
conviction that there could never have been any real union between us.
Can a woman love with truest wifely love a man who has no care that she
should attain to the perfect growth of her nature? _He_ would have
been quite content I should remain for ever the poor creature I
am--would never by word, or wish, or prayer, have sought to raise me
above myself! The man I shall love as I could love must be a greater man
than lord Gartley! He is not fit to make any woman love him so. If she
were so much less than he as to have to look up to him, she would be too
small to have any devotion in her. No! I will be a woman and not a
countess!--I wish you good morning, Miss Vavasor."

"If I am not to help him," she said to herself, "what is there in reason
why I should marry him? His love, no doubt, is the best thing he has to
give, but a poor thing is his best, and save as an advantage for serving
him, not worth the having." What her love to him would have been three
months after marrying him, I am glad to have no occasion to imagine.

She held out her hand. Miss Vavasor drew herself up, and looked a cold
annihilation into her eyes. The warm blood rose from Hester's heart to
her brain. Quietly she returned her gaze, nor blenched a moment. She
felt as if she were looking a far off idea in the face--as if she were
telling her what a poor miserable creature of money and manners,
ambitions and expediencies she thought her. Miss Vavasor, unused to
having such a full strong virgin look fixed fearless, without defiance,
but with utter disapproval, upon her, quailed--only a little, but as she
had never in her life quailed before. She forced her gaze, and Hester
felt that to withdraw her eyes would give her a false sense of victory.
She therefore continued her look, but had no need to force it, for she
knew she was the stronger. It seemed minutes where only seconds passed.
She smiled at last and said,

"I am glad you are not going to be my aunt, Miss Vavasor."

"Thank goodness, no!" cried Miss Vavasor, with a slightly hysterical
laugh.

Notwithstanding her educated self-command, she felt cowed before the
majesty of Hester, for woman was face to face with woman, and the truth
was stronger than the lie. Had she then yielded to the motions within
her, she would, and it would have been but the second time in her life,
have broken into undignified objurgation. She had to go back to her
nephew and confess that she had utterly failed where she had expected,
if not an easy victory, yet the more a triumphant one! She had to tell
him that his lady was the most peculiar, most unreasonable young woman
she had ever had to deal with; and that she was not only unsuited to
him, but quite unworthy of him! He would conclude she had managed the
matter ill, and said things she ought not to have said! It was very hard
that she, who desired only to set things right, looking for no advantage
to herself--she who was recognized as a power in her own circle, should
have been so ignominiously foiled in the noble endeavour, having
sacrificed herself, to sacrifice also another upon the altar of her
beloved earldom! She could not reconcile herself to the thought. It did
not occur to her that there was a power here concerned altogether
different from any she had before encountered--namely a soul possessed
by truth and clad in the armour of righteousness. Of conscience that
dealt with the qualities of things, nor cared what had been decreed
concerning them by a class claiming for itself the apex of the world,
she had scarce even a shadowy idea; for never in her life had she
herself acted from any insight into primary quality. When therefore she
had to do with a girl who did not acknowledge the jurisdiction of the
law to which she bowed as supreme, she was out of her element--had got,
as it seemed to her, into water too shoal to swim in; whereas, in fact,
she had got into water too deep to wade in, and did not know how to
swim.

She turned and walked away, attempting a show of dignity, but showing
only that Brummagem thing, haughtiness--an adornment the possessor alone
does not recognize as a counterfeit. Then Hester turned too, and walked
in the opposite direction, feeling that one supposed portion of her
history was but an episode, and at an end.

She did not know that, both coming and going, she was attended at a near
distance by a tall, portly gentleman of ruddy complexion and military
bearing. He had beheld her interview--by no means overheard her
conversation--with Miss Vavasor, and had seen with delight the
unmistakable symptoms of serious difference which at last appeared, and
culminated in their parting. He did not venture to approach her, but
when she got into a cab, took a Hansom and followed her to the entrance
of the square, where he got down, his heart beating with exultant hope
that "the rascal ass of a nobleman" had been dismissed.

All the time since he came to London with Hester, he had, as far as
possible to him, kept guard over her, and had known a good deal more of
her goings and comings than she was aware of--this with an unselfishness
of devotion that took from him the least suspicion of its being a thing
unwarrantable. He was like the dog which, not allowed to accompany his
master, follows him at a distance, ready to interfere at any moment when
such interference may be desirable. She had let him know that she had
found her brother, that he was very ill, and that she was helping to
nurse him; but she had not yet summoned him. In severe obedience to
orders, therefore, he did not even now call. Next day, however, he found
a summons waiting him at his club, and made haste to obey it.

She had thought it better to prepare him for what she was about to ask
of him, therefore mentioned in her note that in a day or two she was
going to Yrndale with her brother and his wife.

"Whew!" exclaimed the major when he read it, "wife! this complicates
matters! I was sure he had not gone to the dogs--no dog but a cur would
receive him--without help!--Marriage and embezzlement! Poor devil! if he
were not such a confounded ape I should pity him! But the small-pox and
a wife may perhaps do something for him!"

When he reached the house, Hester received him warmly, and at once made
her request that he would go down with them. It would be such a relief
to her if he would, she said. He expressed entire readiness, but thought
she had better not say he was coming, as in the circumstances he could
hardly be welcome. They soon made their arrangements, and he left her
yet more confirmed in a respect such as he had never till now felt. And
this was the major's share in the good that flowed from Hester's
sufferings: the one most deficient thing in him was reverence, and in
this he was now having a strong lesson.




CHAPTER XLVIII.

MR. CHRISTOPHER.


On the Sunday evening, the last before she was to leave for Yrndale,
Hester had gone to see a poor woman in a house she had not been in
before, and was walking up the dismal stair, dark and dirty, when she
heard a moaning from a room the door of which was a little open. She
peeped in, and saw on a low bed a poor woman, old, yellow, and wrinkled,
apparently at the point of death. Her throat was bare, and she saw the
muscles of it knotted in the struggle for life.--Is not death the
victorious struggle for life?--She was not alone; a man knelt by her
bedside, his arm under the pillow to hold her head higher, and his other
hand clasping hers.

"The darkness! the darkness!" moaned the woman.

"You feel lonely?" said the voice of the man, low, and broken with
sympathy.

"All, all alone," sighed the woman.

"I can do nothing for you. I can only love you."

"Yes, yes," said the woman hopelessly.

"You are slipping away from me, but my master is stronger than me, and
can help you yet. He is not far from you though you can't see him. He
loves you too, and only wants you to ask him to help you. He can cure
death as easy as any other disease."

No reply came for a moment. Then, moulded of all-but dying breath, came
the cry,

"O Christ, save me!"

Then Hester was seized with a sudden impulse: she thought afterwards the
feeling of it might be like what men and women of old had when the
Spirit of God came upon them: it seemed she had not intended song when
the sounds issuing from her mouth entered her ears. The words she
uttered were those and no more, over and over again, which the poor
dying woman had just spoken: "O Christ, save me!" But the song-sounds in
which they were lapt and with which they came winged from her lips,
seemed the veriest outpouring of her whole soul. They seemed to rise
from some eternal deep within her, yet not to be of her making. She was
as in the immediate presence of Christ, pleading with him for the
consolation and strength which his poor dying creature so sorely needed.

The holy possession lasted but a minute or so, and left her dumb. She
turned away, and passed up the stair.

"The angels! the angels! I'm going now!" said the woman feebly.

"The angel was praying to Christ for you," said Christopher. "--Oh
living brother, save our dying sister!"

"O Christ, save me!" she murmured again, and they were her last words.

Christopher laid the body gently back on the pillow. A sigh of relief
passed from his lips, and he went from the room to give notice of the
death. The dead or who would might bury the dead; he must go to the
living!

Inflated sentiment all this looks to the man of this world. But when the
inevitable Death has him by the throat; when he lies like that poor
woman, lonely in the shadow, though his room be crowded with friends,
whatever his theories about future or no future, it may be an awful hour
in which less than a Christ will hardly comfort him.

Hester's heart was full when she found the woman she went to see, and
she was able to speak as she had never spoken before. She never troubled
her poor with any of the theories of salvation, which, right or wrong,
are _not_ the things to be presented for men's reception--now any
more than in the days of the first teachers who knew nothing of them:
they serve but to obscure the vision of the live brother in whom men
must believe to be lifted out of their evil and brought into the air of
truth and the room for growing deliverance. Hester spoke of Christ, the
friend of men, who came to save every one by giving him back to God, as
one gives back to a mother the stray child who has run from her to
escape obeying her.

The woman at least listened; and then she sang to her. But she could not
sing as she had sung a little while before. One cannot have or give the
best always--not at least until the soul shall be always in its highest
and best moods--a condition which may perhaps be on the way to us,
though I am doubtful whether the created will ever stand continuously on
the apex of conscious existence. I think part of the joy will be to
contemplate the conditions in which we are at our best: I delight to
think of twilights in heaven--the brooding on the best. Perhaps we may
be full of God always and yet not always full of the ecstasy of good, or
always able to make it pass in sweet splendours from heart to heart.

Hester was walking homewards when, passing through a court on her way,
she heard the voice of a man, which again she recognized as that of Mr.
Christopher. Glancing about her she discovered that it came from a room
half under ground. She went to the door. There was a little crowd of
dirty children making a noise round it, and she could not well hear what
was going on, but what she did hear was enough to let her know it was
the voice of one pleading with his fellows not to be miserable and die,
but to live and rejoice. Now for all the true liberality of Hester's
heart and brain both, she had never entered any place of worship that
did not belong to the established church, thinking all the rest only and
altogether sectarian, and she would not be a sectary. She had not yet
learned that therein she just was a sectary--from Christ the head. But
here was something meant only for the poor, she thought, and seeing they
would not go to church, a layman like Mr. Christopher might surely give
them of the good things he had! So she went in: she would sit near the
door, and come out again presently!

It was a low room, and though not many were present, the air was
stifling. The doctor stood at the farther end. Some of his congregation
were decently dressed, some but sparingly washed; many wore the same
clothes they wore through the week, though probably most of these had a
better gown or suit, if that could be called _having_ which was
represented by a pawn-ticket. Hester could hardly say she saw among them
much sign of listening. Most of the faces were just as vacant as those
to be seen in the most fashionable churches, but there were one or two
which seemed to show their owners in some kind of sympathetic relation
with the speaker, and that was a far larger proportion than was found in
Sodom that was destroyed, or in Nineveh that was spared. That the
speaker was in earnest there could be no manner of question. His eyes
were glowing, his face was gleaming with a light of its own; his hands
were often clenched hard and his motions broken by very earnestness: it
was the bearing of one that pleaded with men, saying, "Why will ye die?"

The whole rough appearance of the man was elevated into dignity.
Simplicity and self-forgetfulness were manifest in carriage and
utterance. He was not self-possessed--but he was God-possessed. He kept
saying the simplest things to them. One thing she heard him tell them
was, that they were like orphan children, hungry in the street, raking
the gutter for what they could get, while behind them stood a grand,
beautiful house to which they never so much as lifted up their eyes--and
there their father lived! There he sat in a beautiful room, waiting,
waiting, waiting for any one of them all who would but turn round, run
in, and up the stairs to him.

"But you will say," something as thus he went on,--"Why does he not
send out a message to them, to tell them he is waiting there for them?
How can they know without being told?--you say. But that is just what he
does do. He is constantly sending out messengers to them to tell them to
come in. But they mostly laugh and make faces at them. _They_ won't
be at the trouble to go up those stairs! 'It's not likely,' they say, 'a
man like that would trouble his head about such as us, even if we were
his children!' That makes me wonder how such people treat their own
children! But some do listen and hear and go in; and some of them come
out again, and say they find it all true. Very few believe them a bit,
or mind in the least what they say. They are not miserable enough yet to
go back to the father that loves them, and would be as good to them as
the bird that covers her young ones all over with her wings, or the
mother you see wrapping her shawl round her child in her arms.

"Some of you are thinking with yourselves now, '_We_ wouldn't do
like that! _We_ should be only too glad to get somebody that would
make us comfortable without any trouble on our parts!' Ah, there's the
rub! These children that won't go in, they're just like you: they won't
take any trouble about it. Why now here I am, sent to you with the very
message! and you fancy I am only talking, as you do so often, without
meaning anything! I am one of those who have been into the house, and
have found my father--oh, so grand! and so good to me! And I am come out
again to tell you it is so, and that if you will go in, you will have
the same kindness I have had. All the servants of the house even will
rejoice over you with music and dancing--so glad that you are come home.
Is it possible you will not take the trouble to go! There are certain
things required of you when you go: perhaps you are too lazy or too
dirty in your habits, to like doing them! I have known some refuse to
scrape their shoes, or rub them on the door-mat when they went in, and
then complain loudly that they were refused admittance. A fine house
would such make to their father, were they allowed to run in and out as
they pleased! such a house, in fact, as would very soon drive their
father himself out of it! for they would make it unfit for any decent
person to live in. A few months and they would have the grand beautiful
house as wretched and mean and dirty as the houses they live in now.
Such persons are those that keep grumbling that they are not rich. They
want to loaf about, and drink, and be a nuisance to everybody, like some
of the rich ones. They think it hard they should not be able to do just
as they please with everything that takes their fancy, when they would
do nothing but break and spoil it, and make it no good to anybody. Their
father, who can do whatever he sees fit, is not one to let such
disagreeable children work what mischief they like! He is a better
father than that would come to! A father who lets them be dirty and rude
just as they like, is one of the worst enemies of his children. And the
day is coming when, if he can't get them to mind him any other way, he
will put them where they will be ten times more miserable than ever they
were at the worst time of their lives, and make them mind. Out of the
same door whence came the messengers to ask them in, he will send dogs
and bears and lions and tigers and wild cats out upon them.

"You will, I daresay, some of you, say, 'Ah, we know what you mean; but
you see that's not the sort of thing we care for, so you needn't go on
about it.' I know it is not the sort of thing you care for, else you
might have been in a very different condition by this time. And I know
the kind of thing you do care for--low, dirty things: you are like a
child, if such there could be, that preferred mud and the gutter to all
the beautiful toys in the shop at the corner of Middle Row. But though
these things are not the things you want, they are the things you need;
and the time is coming when you will say, 'Ah me! what a fool I was not
to look at the precious things, and see how precious they were, and put
out my hand for them when they were offered me!'"

It was something in this simple way, but more earnestly yet, and
occasionally with an energy that rose to eloquence, that the man freed
his soul of the things he had to give. After about twenty minutes, he
ceased, saying, "We will now sing a hymn." Then he read a short hymn,
repeating each verse before they sang it, for there was no other
hymn-book than his own. It was the simplest hymn, Hester thought, she
had ever heard. He began the singing himself to a well-known tune, but
when he heard the voice of Hester take it up, he left the leading to
her, and betaking himself to the bass, did his part there. When they
heard her voice the people all turned to look, and some began to
whisper, but presently resumed the hymn. When it was ended, he prayed
for two or three minutes, not more, and sent them away. Hester being
near the door went out with the first of them, and walked home full of
pleasure in the thought of such preaching: if only her friends could
hear such! The great difficulty was to wake in them any vaguest
recognition of a Nature from whom they came. She had been driven to
conclude that the faculty for things _epouranian_ was awake in them
not an atom more than in the South-African Bushman, in whom most
travellers have failed to discover even the notion of a power above him.
But to wake the faculty in them what could be so powerful as the story
and the message of Jesus?--and Mr. Christopher had not spoken of him!
She did not know that every Sunday he taught them there, and that this
sermon, if such it could be called, was but one wave in the flow of a
river. The true teacher brings from his treasure things old and things
new; at one time tells, at another explains; and ever and anon lets his
own well of water flow to everlasting life.

But as she thought, Hester, like the true soul she was, turned from ways
and means to the questioning of herself: what of the faculty was awake
in her? Had she been obedient only to that she had been taught, or
obedient to the very God? This questioning again she left for better
labour: she turned her whole soul towards God in prayer unutterable. Of
one thing she could be sure--that she had but the faintest knowledge of
him whom to know is life eternal.

She was near the turning that led to the square when she heard a quick
footstep behind her, and was presently overtaken by Mr. Christopher.

"I was so glad to see you come in!" he said. "I was able to speak the
better, for I was sure then of some sympathy in the spiritual air. It is
not easy to go on when you feel all the time a doubt whether to one
present your words are more than mere words; or, if they have some
meaning to any, whether that meaning be not something very different
from your meaning."

"I do not see," said Hester, "how any one could misunderstand, or indeed
help understanding what I heard you say."

"Ah!" he returned, "the one incomprehensible thing is ignorance! To
understand why another does not understand seems to me beyond the power
of humanity. As God only can understand evil, while we only can be evil,
so God only can understand ignorance, while we only can be ignorant. I
have been trying now for a good many months to teach those people, and I
am not sure that a single thought has passed from my mind into one of
theirs. I sometimes think I am but beating the air. But I must tell you
how your singing comforted the poor woman at whose door you stopped this
afternoon! I saw it in her face. She thought it was the angels. And it
was one angel, for did not God send you? I trust your fellow-servants
were waiting for her: she died a minute or two after."

They walked some distance before either spoke again.

"I was surprised," said Hester at length, "to find you taking the
clergyman's part as well as the doctor's."

"By no means," returned Christopher; "I took no clergyman's part. I took
but the part of a human being, bound to share with his fellow. What
could make you think so? Did I preach like one?"

"Not very," she answered.

"I am glad of that," he returned, "for such a likeness would by no means
favour my usefulness with such as those. If you see any reason why a
layman, as was our Lord, should not speak to his fellows, I fear it is
one I should be unable to comprehend. I do whatever seems to me a
desirable action, so long as I see no reason for not doing it. As to the
customs of society, my experience of them has resulted in mere and
simple contempt--in so far at least as they would hamper my freedom. I
have another master; and they who obey higher rules need not regard
lower judgment. If Shakspere liked my acting, should I care if Marlowe
did not?"

"But if anybody and everybody be at liberty to preach, how are we to
have any assurance what kind of doctrine will be preached?"

"We must go without it.--But it is too late to object, for here are a
few of us laymen preaching, and no one to hinder us. There are many
uneducated preachers who move the classes the clergy cannot touch. Their
preaching has a far more evident effect, I know, than mine."

"Why do you not then preach like them?"

"I would not if I could, and could not if I would: I do not believe one
half of the things they say."

"How can they do more good if what they say is not true?"

"I did not say they did more good--about that I cannot tell; that may
need centuries to determine. I said they moved their people more. And
the fundamental element of what they say is most true, only the forms
they express it in contain much that is false."

"Will you then defend a man in speaking things that are not true?"

"If he believes them, what is he to do but speak them?" Let him speak
them in God's name. I cannot speak them because I do not believe them.
If I did believe them they would take from me the heart to preach."

"Can it be," said Hester, "that falsehood is more powerful than
truth--and for truth too?"

"By no means. A falsehood has in itself no power but for evil. It is the
spiritual truth clothed in the partially false form that is powerful.
Clearer truth will follow in the wake of it, and cast the false forms
out: they serve but to make a place of seeming understanding in ignorant
minds, wherein the truths themselves may lie and work with their own
might. But if what I teach be nearer the truth, let it be harder to get
in, it will in the end work more truth. In the meantime I say God-speed
to every man who honestly teaches what he honestly believes. Paul was
grand when he said he would rejoice that Christ was preached, from
whatever motive he might be preached. If you say those people, though
contentious, may have preached good doctrine, I answer--Possibly; for
they could not have preached much of what is called doctrine now-a-days.
If they preached theories of their own, they were teachers of lies, for
they were not true men, and the theories of an untrue man cannot be
true. But they told something about Christ, and of that Paul was glad."

Some may wonder that Hester, having got so far as she had, should need
to be told such things; but she had never had occasion to think about
them before, though the truth wrought out in her life had rendered her
capable of seeing them the moment they were put before her.

"You interest me much," she said. "--Would you mind telling me how you,
whose profession has to do with the bodies of men, have come to do more
for their souls?"

"I know nothing about less or more," answered Christopher. "--You would
find it, I fear, a long story if I were to attempt telling it in full. I
studied medicine from guile, not therefore the less carefully, that I
might have a good ostensible reason for going about among the poor. I
count myself bound to do all I can for their bodies; and pity itself
would, I think, when I came to go among them, have driven me to the
study, had I been ignorant. No one who has not been among them knows
their sufferings--borne by some of them without complaint--for the sad
reason that it is of no use. To be to such if only one to whom they can
speak, is in some sort to mediate between them and a possible world of
relief. But it was not primarily from the desire to alleviate their
sufferings that I learned what I could of medicine, but in the hope to
start them on the way towards victory over all evil. I saw that the man
who brought them physical help had a chance with them such as no
clergyman had--an advantage quite as needful with them as with the
heathen--to whom we are not so _immediately_ debtors. It would have
been a sad thing for the world if the Lord of it had not sought first
the lost sheep of the house of Israel. One awful consequence of our
making haste to pull out the mote out of our heathen brother's eye,
while yet the beam is in our own, is that wherever our missionaries go,
they are followed by a foul wave of our vices.

"With all my guile I have not done much. But now after nearly two
thousand years, such is the amount of faith I find in myself towards my
Lord and his Father, that sometimes I ask myself whether in very truth I
believe that that man did live and die as the story says: if it has
taken all this time for such a poor result, I say to myself, perhaps I
may have done something, for it must be too small to be seen; so I will
try on, helping God as the children help the father.--You know that
grand picture, on the ceiling of the pope's chapel, of the making of
Adam?"

"Michael Angelo's?--Yes."

"You must have noticed then how the Father is accompanied by a crowd of
young ones--come to help him to make Adam, I always think. The poet has
there, consciously or not, hit upon a great truth: it is the majesty of
God's great-heartedness, and the majesty of man's destiny, that every
man must be a fellow-worker with God, nor can ever in less attain his
end, and the conscious satisfaction of being. I want to help God with my
poor brothers."

"How well I understand you!" said Hester. "But would you mind telling me
what made you think of the thing first? I began because I saw how
miserable so many people were, and longed to do something to make life a
better thing for them."

"That was not quite the way with me," replied Christopher. "I see I must
tell you something of my external, in order to explain my internal
history."

"No, no, pray!" returned Hester, fearing she had presumed. "I did not
mean to be inquisitive. I ought not to have asked such a question; for
these things have to do with the most sacred regions of our nature."

"I was only going to cast the less in with the greater--the outer fact
to explain the inner truth," said Christopher. "I should like to tell
you about it.--And first,--you may suppose I could not have followed my
wishes had I not had some money!"

"A good thing you had, then!"

"I don't know exactly," replied the doctor in a dubious tone. "You shall
judge for yourself from my story.--I had money then--a good deal
too--left me by my grandfather. My father died when I was a child. I am
glad to say."

"Glad to say!" repeated Hester bewildered.

"Yes: if he had lived, how do I know he might not have done just like my
grandfather. But my mother lived, thank God.--Not that my grandfather
was what is counted a bad man; on the contrary he stood high in the
world's opinion--was considered indeed the prince of----well, I will
not say what, for my business is not to expose him. The world had
nothing against him.

"When he died and left me his money--I was then at school, preparing for
Oxford--it was necessary that I should look into the affairs of the
business, for it was my mother's wish that I should follow the same. In
the course of my investigation, I came across things not a few in the
books, all fair and square in the judgment of the trade itself, which
made me doubtful, and which at last, unblinded by custom, I was
confident were unfair, that is dishonest. Thereupon I began to argue
with myself: 'What is here?' I said. 'Am I to use the wages of iniquity
as if they were a clean God-gift? If there has been wrong done there
must be atonement, reparation. I cannot look on this money as mine, for
part of it at least, I cannot say how much, ought not to be mine.' The
truth flashed upon me; I saw that my business in life must be to send
the money out again into the channels of right. I could claim a
workman's wages for doing that. The history of the business went so far
back that it was impossible to make return of more than a small
proportion of the sums rightly due; therefore something else, and that a
large something, must be done as well.

"To be honest, however, in explaining how I came to choose the life I am
now leading, I must here confess the fact that about this time I had a
disappointment of a certain kind which set me thinking, for it gave me
such a shock that for some months I could not imagine anything to make
life worth living. Some day, if you like, I will give you a detailed
account of how I came to the truth of the question--came to see what
alone does make the value of life. A flash came first, then a darkness,
then a long dawn; by and in which it grew clearer and ever clearer, that
there could be no real good, in the very nature of things and of good,
but oneness with the will of God; that man's good lay in becoming what
the inventor of him meant in the inventing of him--to speak after the
fashion of man's making. Going on thinking about it all, and reading my
New Testament, I came to see that, if the story of Christ was true, the
God that made me was just inconceivably lovely, and that the perfection,
the very flower of existence, must be to live the heir of all things, at
home with the Father. Next, mingled inextricably with my resolve about
the money, came the perception that my fellow-beings, my brothers and
sisters of the same father, must be, next to the father himself, the
very atmosphere of life; and that perfect misery must be to care only
for one's self. With that there woke in me such a love and pity for my
people, my own race, my human beings, my brothers and sisters, whoever
could hear the word of the father of men, that I felt the only thing
worth giving the energy of a life to, was the work that Christ gave
himself to--the delivery of men out of their lonely and mean devotion to
themselves, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, whose joy and
rejoicing is the rest of the family. Then I saw that here the claim upon
my honesty, and the highest calling of man met. I saw that were I as
free to do with my grandfather's money as it was possible for man to be,
I could in no other way use it altogether worthily than in aiding to
give outcome, shape and operation to the sonship and brotherhood in me.
I have not yet found how best to use it all; and I will do nothing in
haste, which is the very opposite of divine, and sure to lead astray;
but I keep thinking in order to find out, and it will one day be
revealed to me. God who has laid the burden on me will enable me to bear
it until he shows me how to unpack and disperse it.

"First, I spent a portion in further study, and especially the study of
medicine. I could not work miracles; I had not the faith necessary to
that, if such is now to be had; but God might be pleased I should heal a
little by the doctor's art. So doing I should do yet better, and learn
how, to spend the money upon humanity itself, repaying to the race what
had been wrongfully taken from its individuals to whom it was impossible
to restore it; and should while so doing at the same time fill up what
was left behind for me of the labours of the Master.

"That is my story. I am now trying to do as I have seen, working
steadily, without haste, with much discouragement, and now and then with
a great gladness and auroral hope. I have this very day got a new idea
that may have in it a true germ!"

"Will you not tell me what it is?" said Hester.

"I don't like talking about things before at least they are begun,"
answered Christopher. "And I have not much hope from money. If it were
not that I have it and cannot help it, and am bound to spend it, I would
not trouble myself about any scheme to which it was necessary. I
sometimes feel as if it was a devil, restrained a little by being
spell-bound in mental discs. I know the feeling is wrong and faithless;
for money is God's as certainly as the earth in which the crops grow,
though he does not care so much about it."

"I know what I would do if I had money!" said Hester.

"You have given me the right to ask what--the right to ask--not the
right to have an answer."

"I would have a house of refuge to which any one might run for covert or
rest or warmth or food or medicine or whatever he needed. It should have
no society or subscriptions or committee, but should be my own as my
hands and my voice are mine--to use as God enabled me. I would have it
like the porch--not of Bethesda, but of heaven itself. It should come
into use by the growth of my friendships. It should be a refuge for the
needy, from the artisan out of work to the child with a cut finger, or
cold bitten feet. I would take in the weary-brained prophet, the worn
curate, or the shadowy needle-woman. I would not take in drunkards or
ruined speculators--not at least before they were very miserable indeed.
The suffering of such is the only desirable consequence of their doing,
and to save from it would be to take from them their last chance."

"It is a lovely idea," said Christopher. "One of my hopes is to build a
small hospital for children in some lovely place, near some sad ugly
one. But perhaps I cannot do it till I am old, for when I do, I must
live among them and have them and their nurses within a moment's reach."

"Is it not delightful to know that you can start anything when you
please?"

"Anybody with leisure can do that who is willing to begin where
everything ought to be begun--that is, at the beginning. Nothing worth
calling good can or ever will be started full grown. The essential of
any good is life, and the very body of created life, and essential to
it, being its self operant, is growth. The larger start you make, the
less room you leave for life to extend itself. You fill with the dead
matter of your construction the places where assimilation ought to have
its perfect work, building by a life-process, self-extending, and
subserving the whole. Small beginnings with slow growings have time to
root themselves thoroughly--I do not mean in place nor yet in social
regard, but in wisdom. Such even prosper by failures, for their failures
are not too great to be rectified without injury to the original idea.
God's beginnings are imperceptible, whether in the region of soul or of
matter. Besides, I believe in no good done save in person--by personal
operative presence of soul, body and spirit. God is the one only person,
and it is our personality alone, so far as we have any, that can work
with God's perfect personality. God can use us as tools, but to be a
tool of, is not to be a fellow-worker with. How the devil would have
laughed at the idea of a society for saving the world! But when he saw
_one_ take it in hand, one who was in no haste even to do that,
one who would only do the will of God with all his heart and soul, and
cared for nothing else, then indeed he might tremble for his kingdom! It
is the individual Christians forming the church by their obedient
individuality, that have done all the good done since men for the love
of Christ began to gather together. It is individual ardour alone that
can combine into larger flame. There is no true power but that which has
individual roots. Neither custom nor habit nor law nor foundation is a
root. The real roots are individual conscience that hates evil,
individual faith that loves and obeys God, individual heart with its
kiss of charity."

"I think I understand you; I am sure I do in part, at least," said
Hester.

They had, almost unconsciously, walked, twice round the square, and had
now the third time reached the house. He went in with her and saw his
patient, then took his leave to go home to his Greek Testament--for the
remainder of the evening if he might. Except when some particular case
required attention, he never went on-trying to teach with his soul
weary. He would carry material aid or social comfort, but would not
teach. His soul must be shining--with faith or hope or love or
repentance or compassion, when he unveiled it. "No man," he would say,
"will be lost because I do not this or that; but if I do the unfitting
thing, I may block his way for him, and retard his redemption." He would
not presume beyond what was given him--as if God were letting things go
wrong, and he must come in to prevent them! He would not set blunted or
ill tempered tools to the finest work of the universe!




CHAPTER XLIX.

AN ARRANGEMENT.


Hester had not yet gone to see Miss Dasomma because of the small-pox.

Second causes are God's as much as first, and Christ made use of them as
his father's way. It were a sad world indeed if God's presence were only
interference, that is, miracle. The roundabout common ways of things are
just as much his as the straight, miraculous ones--I incline to think
more his, in the sense that they are plainly the ways he prefers. In all
things that are, he is--present even in the evil we bring into the
world, to foil it and bring good out of it. We are always disbelieving
in him because things do not go as we intend and desire them to go. We
forget that God has larger ends, even for us, than we can see, so his
plans do not fit ours. If God were not only to hear our prayers, as he
does ever and always, but to answer them as we want them answered, he
would not be God our Saviour, but the ministering genius of our
destruction.

But now Hester thought she might visit her friend. She had much to say
to her and ask of her. First she told her of herself and lord Gartley.
Miss Dasomma threw her arms about her, and broke into a flood of
congratulation. Hester looked a little surprised, and was indeed a
little annoyed at the vehemence of her pleasure. Miss Dasomma hastened
to excuse herself.

"My dear," she said, "the more I saw of that man, the more I thought and
the more I heard about him, his ways, and his surroundings, the more I
marvelled you should ever have taken him for other than the most wordly,
shallow, stunted creature. It was the very impossibility of your
understanding the mode of being of such a man that made it possible for
him to gain on you. Believe me, if you had married him, you would have
been sick of him--forgive the vulgar phrase--yes, and hopeless of him,
in six weeks."

"There was more and better in him than you imagine," returned Hester,
hurt that her friend should think so badly of the man she loved, but by
no means sure that she was wrong.

"That may be," answered her friend; "but I am certain also that if you
had married him, you would have done him no good."

Then Hester went on with her tale of trouble. Her brother Cornelius had
been behaving very badly, she said, and had married a young woman
without letting them know. Her father and mother were unaware of the
fact as yet, and she dreaded having to communicate it to them. He had
been very ill with the small-pox, and she must take him home; but what
to do with his wife until she had broken the matter to them, she did not
know. She knew her father would be very angry, and until he should have
got over it a little she dared not have her home: in a word she was at
her wits' end.

"One question, excuse me if I ask," said Miss Dasomma: "_are_ they
married?"

"I am not sure; but I am sure she believes they are."

Then she told her what she knew of Amy. Miss Dasomma fell a thinking.

"Could I see her?" she said at length.

"Surely; any time," replied Hester, "now that Corney is so much better."

Miss Dasomma called, and was so charmed with Amy that she proposed to
Hester she should stay with her.

This was just what Hester wished but had not dared to propose.

Now came the painful necessity not only of breaking to the young wife
that she must be parted from her husband for a while, but--which was
much worse--of therein revealing that he had deceived her.

Had Cornelius not been ill and helpless, and characterless, he would
probably have refused to go home; but he did not venture a word of
opposition to Hester's determination. He knew she had not told Amy
anything, but saw that, if he refused, she might judge it necessary to
tell her all. And notwithstanding his idiotic pretence of superiority,
he had a kind of thorough confidence in Hester. In his sickness
something of the old childish feeling about her as a refuge from evil
had returned upon him, and he was now nearly ready to do and allow
whatever she pleased, trusting to her to get him out of the scrape he
was in: she could do more than any one else, he was sure!

"But now tell me, on your word of honour," she said to him that same
night, happening to find herself alone with him, "are you really and
truly married to Amy?"

She was delighted to see him blaze up in anger.

"Hester, you insult us both!" he said.

"No, Cornelius," returned Hester, "I have a right to distrust you--but I
distrust only you. Whatever may be amiss in the affair, I am certain you
alone are to blame--not Amy."

Thereupon Cornelius swore a solemn oath that Amy was as much his lawful
wife as he knew how to make her.

"Then what is to be done with her when you go home? You cannot expect
she will be welcomed. I have not dared tell them of your marriage--only
of your illness. The other must be by word of mouth."

"I don't know what's to be done with her. How should _I_ know!"
answered Cornelius with a return of his old manner. "I thought you would
manage it all for me! This cursed illness--"

"Cornelius," said Hester, "this illness is the greatest kindness God
could show you."

"Well, we won't argue about that!--Sis, you must get me out of the
scrape!"

Hester's heart swelled with delight at the sound of the old loving
nursery-word. She turned to him and kissed him.

"I will do what I honestly can, Cornelius," she said.

"All right!" replied Corney. "What do you mean to do?"

"Not to take Amy down with us. She must wait till I have told."

"Then my wife is to be received only on sufferance!" he cried.

"You can hardly expect to be otherwise received yourself. You have put
your wife at no end of disadvantage by making her your wife without the
knowledge of your family. For yourself, when a man has taken money not
his own; when he has torn the hearts of father and mother with anguish
such as neither ever knew before--ah, Corney! if you had seen them as I
saw them, you would not now wonder that I tremble at the thought of your
meeting. If you have any love for poor Amy, you will not dream of
exposing her to the first outbreak of a shocked judgment. I cannot be
sure what my mother might think, but my father would take her for your
evil genius! It is possible he may refuse to see yourself!"

"Then I'm not going. Better stay here and starve!"

"If so, I must at once tell Amy what you have done. I will not have the
parents on whom you have brought disgrace and misery supposed guilty of
cruelty. Amy must know all about it some day, but it ought to come from
yourself--not from me. You will never be fit for honest company till for
very misery you have told your wife."

Hester thought she must not let him fancy things were going back into
the old grooves--that his crime would become a thing of no consequence,
and pass out of existence, ignored and forgotten. Evil cannot be
destroyed without repentance.

He was silent as one who had nothing to answer.

"So now," said Hester, "will you, or must I, tell Amy that she cannot go
home?"

He thought for a moment.

"I will," he said.

Hester left him and sent Amy to him. In a few minutes she returned. She
had wept, but was now, though looking very sad, quite self-possessed.

"Please, miss," she said--but Hester interrupted her.

"You must not call me _miss_, Amy," she said. "You must call me
_Hester_. Am I not your sister?"

A gleam of joy shot from the girl's eyes, like the sun through red
clouds.

"Then you have forgiven me!" she cried, and burst into tears.

"No, Amy, not that! I should have had to know something to forgive
first. You may have been foolish; everybody can't always be wise, though
everybody must try to do right. But now we must have time to set things
straighter, without doing more mischief, and you mustn't mind staying a
little while with Miss Dasomma."

"Does she know all about it, miss---Hester?" asked Amy; and as she
called her new sister by her name, the blood rushed over her face.

"She knows enough not to think unfairly of you, Amy."

"And you won't be hard upon him when he hasn't me to comfort him--will
you, Hester?"

"I will think of my new sister who loves him," replied Hester. "But you
must not think I do not love him too. And oh, Amy! you must be very
careful over him. No one can do with him what you can. You must help him
to be good, for that is the chief duty of every one towards a neighbour,
and particularly of a wife towards a husband."

Amy was crying afresh, and made no answer; but there was not the most
shadowy token of resentment in her weeping.




CHAPTER L.

THINGS AT HOME.


In the meantime things had been going very gloomily at Yrndale. Mrs.
Raymount was better in health but hardly more cheerful. How could she
be? how get over the sadness that her boy was such? But the thing that
most oppressed her was to see the heart of his father so turned from the
youth. What would become of them if essential discord invaded their
home! Cornelius had not been pleasant, even she was to herself compelled
to admit, since first he began to come within sight of manhood; but she
had always looked to the time when growing sense would make him cast
aside young-mannish ways; and this was the outcome of her cares and
hopes and prayers for him! Her husband went about listless and sullen.
He wrote no more. How could one thus disgraced in his family presume to
teach the world anything! How could he ever hold up his head as one that
had served his generation, when this was the kind of man he was to leave
behind him for the life of the next! Cornelius's very being cast doubt
on all he had ever said or done!

He had been proud of his children: they were like those of any common
stock! and the shame recoiled upon himself. Bitterly he recalled the
stain upon his family in generations gone by. He had never forged or
stolen himself, yet the possibility had remained latent in him, else how
could he have transmitted it? Perhaps there were things in which he
might have been more honest, and so have killed the latent germ and his
child not have had it to develop! Far into the distance he saw a
continuous succession of dishonest Raymounts, nor succession only but
multiplication, till streets and prisons were swarming with them. For
hours he would sit with his hands in his pockets, scarcely daring to
think, for the misery of the thoughts that came crowding out the moment
the smallest chink was opened in their cage. He had become short, I do
not say rough in his speech to his wife. He would break into sudden
angry complaints against Hester for not coming home, but stop dead in
the middle, as if nothing was worth being angry about now, and turn away
with a sigh that was almost a groan. The sight of the children was a
pain to him. Saffy was not one to understand much of grief beyond her
own passing troubles; it was a thing for which she seemed to have little
reception; and her occasionally unsympathetic ways were, considering her
age, more of a grief to her mother than was quite reasonable; she feared
she saw in her careless glee the same root which in her brother flowered
in sullen disregard. Mark was very different. The father would order
Saffy away, but the boy might come and go as he pleased, nor give him
any annoyance, although he never or scarcely ever took any notice of
him. He had been told nothing of the cause of his parents' evident
misery. When the news came of Corney's illness, his mother told him of
that; but he had sympathy and penetration enough to perceive that there
must be something amiss more than that: if this were all, they would
have told him of it when first they began to be changed! And when the
news came that he was getting better, his father did not seem the least
happier! He would sometimes stand and gaze at his father, but the
solemn, far-off, starry look of the boy's eyes never seemed to disturb
him. He loved his father as few boys love, and yet had a certain dread
of him and discomfort in his presence, which he could not have accounted
for, and which would vanish at once when he spoke to him. He had never
recovered the effects of being so nearly drowned, and in the readier
apprehension caused by accumulated troubles his mother began to doubt if
ever he would be well again. He had got a good deal thinner; his food
did not seem to nourish him; and his being seemed slipping away from the
hold of the world. He was full of dreams and fancies, all of the higher
order of things where love is the law. He did not read much that was
new, for he soon got tired with the effort to understand; but he would
spend happy hours alone, seeming to the ordinary eye to be doing
nothing, because his doing was with the unseen. So-called religious
children are often peculiarly disagreeable, mainly from false notions of
the simple thing religion in their parents and teachers; but in truth
nowhere may religion be more at home than in a child. A strong
conscience and a loving regard to the desires of others were Mark's
chief characteristics. When such children as he die, we may well imagine
them wanted for special work in the world to which they go. If the very
hairs of our head are all numbered, and he said so who knew and is true,
our children do not drop hap-hazard into the near world, neither are
they kept out of it by any care or any power of medicine: all goes by
heavenliest will and loveliest ordinance. Some of us will have to be
ashamed of our outcry after our dead. Beloved, even for your dear faces
we can wait awhile, seeing it is His father, your father and our father
to whom you have gone, leaving us with him still. Our day will come, and
your joy and ours, and all shall be well.

The attachment of Mark to the major continued growing.

"When Majie comes," he said one of those days, "he must not go again."

"Why, Markie?" asked his mother, almost without a meaning, for her
thought was with her eldest-born, her disgrace.

"Because, if he does," he answered, "I shall not see much of him."

The mother looked at the child, but said nothing. Sorrow was now the
element of her soul. Cornelius had destroyed the family heart; the
family must soon be broken up, and vanish in devouring vacancy! Do you
ask where was her faith? I answer, Just where yours and mine is when we
give thanks trusting in the things for which we give thanks; when we
rest in what we have, in what we can do, in what people think of us, in
the thought of the friends we have at our back, or in anything whatever
but the living, outgoing power of the self-alive--the one causing
potency in the heart of our souls, and in every clothing of those souls,
from nerve, muscle, and skin to atmosphere and farthest space. The
living life is the one power, the only that can, and he who puts his
trust or hope in anything else whatever is a worshipper of idols. He who
does not believe in God must be a truster in that which is lower than
himself.

Mark seldom talked about his brother. Before he went away the last time
he had begun to shrink from him a little, as if with some instinct of an
inward separation. He would stand a little way off and look at him as if
he were a stranger in whom he was interested, and as if he himself were
trying to determine what mental attitude he must assume towards him.
When he heard that he was ill, the tears came in his eyes, but he did
not speak.

"Are you not sorry for Corney?" said his mother.

"I'm sorry," he answered, "because it must make him unhappy. He does not
like being ill."

"_You_ don't like being ill, I'm sure Mark!" returned his mother,
apprehending affectation.

"I don't mind it much," answered the boy, looking far away--as it seemed
to his mother, towards a region to which she herself had begun to look
with longing. The way her husband took their grief made them no more a
family, but a mere household. He brooded alone and said nothing. They
did not share sorrow as they had shared joy.

At last came a letter from Hester saying that in two days she hoped to
start with Corney to bring him home. The mother read the letter, and
with a faded gleam of joy on her countenance, passed it to her husband.
He took it, glanced at it, threw it from him, rose, and left the room.
For an hour his wife heard him pacing up and down his study; then he
took his hat and stick and went out. What he might have resolved upon
had Corney been returning in tolerable health, I do not know--possibly
to kick him out of the house for his impudence in daring to show his
face there; but even this wrathful father, who thought he did well to be
angry, could not turn from his sickly child, let him be the greatest
scoundrel under the all-seeing sun? But not therefore would he receive
or acknowledge him! Swine were the natural companions of the prodigal,
and the sooner he was with them the better! There was truth in the
remark, but hell in the spirit of it: for the heart of the father was
turned from his son. The Messiah came to turn the hearts of the fathers
to their children. Strange it should ever have wanted doing! But it
wants doing still. There is scarce a discernible segment of the round of
unity between many fathers and their children.

Gerald Raymount went walking through the pine-woods on his hills. Little
satisfaction lay in land to which such a son was to succeed! No! the
land was his own! not an acre, not as much as would bury him, should the
rascal have! Alas! he had taken honesty as a matter of course in
_his_ family. Were they not _his_ children? He had not thought
of God as the bond of life between him and them, nor sought to nourish
the life in them. He was their father and was content with them. He had
pondered much the laws by which society proceeds and prospers, but had
not endeavoured in his own case to carry towards perfection the relation
that first goes to the making of society: the relation between himself
and his children had been left to shift for itself. He had never known
anything of what was going on in the mind of his son. He had never asked
himself if the boy loved the truth--if he cared that things should stand
in him on the footing of eternal reason, or if his consciousness was
anything better than the wallowing of a happy-go-lucky satisfaction in
being. And now he was astonished to find _his_ boy no better than
the common sort of human animal! My reader may say he was worse, for
there is the stealing; but that is just the point in which I see him
likest the common run of men, while in his home relations he was worse.
It is my conviction that such an act of open disgrace as he had been
guilty of, may be the outcome of evil more easy to cast off than that
indicated by home-habits embodying a selfishness regarded embodied in
families, and which perhaps are as a mere matter of course. There is
little hope of the repentance and redemption of certain some until they
have committed one or another of the many wrong things of which they are
daily, through a course of unrestrained selfishness, becoming more and
more capable. Few seem to understand that the true end is not to keep
their children from doing what is wrong, though that is on the way to
it, but to render them incapable of doing wrong. While one is capable of
doing wrong, he is no nearer right than if that wrong were done--not so
near as if the wrong were done and repented of. Some minds are never
roused to the true nature of their selfishness until having clone some
patent wrong, the eyes of the collective human conscience are fixed with
the essence of human disapprobation and general repudiation upon them.
Doubtless in the disapproving crowd are many just as capable of the
wrong as they, but the deeper nature in them, God's and not yet theirs
utters its disapproval, and the culprit feels it. Happy he if then at
last he begin to turn from the evil itself, so repenting! This Cornelius
had not begun to do yet, but his illness, while perhaps it delayed the
time when the thought of turning should present itself, made it more
likely the thought would be entertained when it did present itself.

The father came back from his lonely walk, in which his communion with
nature had been of the smallest, as determined as before that his son,
having unsonned himself, should no more be treated as a son. He could
not refuse him shelter in his house for a time, but he should be in it
on sufferance--in no right of sonship, and should be made to understand
it was so!

But the heart of the mother was longing after her boy, like a human hen
whose chicken had run from under her wing and come to grief. He had
sinned, he had suffered, and was in disgrace--good reasons why the
mother's heart should cling to the youth, why her arms should long to
fold him to her bosom! The things which made his father feel he could
not speak to him again, worked in the deeper nature of the mother in
opposite fashion. In her they reached a stratum of the Divine. Was he
unlovely?--she must love him the more! Was he selfish and
repellent?--she must get the nearer to him! Everything was reason to her
for love and more love. If he were but with her! She would clasp him so
close that evil should not touch him! Satan himself could not get at him
with her whole mother-being folded round him! She had been feeling of
late as if she could not get near him: now that sickness had reduced his
strength, and shame his proud spirit, love would have room to enter and
minister! The good of all evil is to make a way for love, which is
essential good. Therefore evil exists, and will exist until love destroy
and cast it out. Corney could not keep his mother out of his heart now!
She thought there were ten things she could do for him now to one she
could have done for him before! When, oh when would he appear, that her
heart might go out to meet him!




CHAPTER LI.

THE RETURN.


The day came. It was fine in London. The invalid was carefully wrapt up
for the journey. Hester, the major and Miss Dasomma followed the young
couple to the station. There the latter received the poor little wife,
and when the train was out of sight, took her home with her. The major
who got into the next carriage, at every stop ran to see if anything was
wanted; and when they reached the station got on the box of the carriage
the mother had sent to meet them. Thus Hester bore her lost sheep
home--in little triumph and much anxiety. When they stopped at the door
no one was on the outlook for them. The hall was not lighted and the
door was locked. The major rang the bell. Ere the door was opened Hester
had got down and stood waiting. The major took the youth in his arms and
carried him into the dining-room, so weary that he could scarcely open
his eyes. There seemed no light in the house, except the candle the man
brought when he came to open the door. Corney begged to be put to bed.
"I wish Amy was here!" he murmured. Hester and the major were talking
together.

She hurried from the room and returned in a moment.

"I was sure of it," she whispered to the major. "There is a glorious
fire in his room, and everything ready for him. The house is my father,
but the room is my mother, and my mother is God."

The major took him again, and carried him up the stair--so thin and
light was he. The moment they were past the door of her room, out came
the mother behind them in her dressing gown, and glided pale and
noiseless as the disembodied after them. Hester looked round and saw
her, but she laid her finger on her lips, and followed without a word.
When they were in the room, she came to the door, looked in, and watched
them, but did not enter. Cornelius did not open his eyes. The major laid
him down on the sofa near the fire. A gleam of it fell on his face. The
mother drew a sharp quick breath and pressed her hands against her
heart: there was his sin upon his face, branding him that men might know
him. But therewith came a fresh rush from the inexhaustible fountain of
mother-love. She would have taken him into her anew, with all his sin
and pain and sorrow, to clear away in herself brand and pollution, and
bear him anew--even as God bears our griefs, and carries our sorrows,
destroys our wrongs, taking their consequences on himself, and gives us
the new birth from above. Her whole wounded heart seemed to go out to
him in one trembling sigh, as she turned to go back to the room where
her husband sat with hopeless gaze fixed on the fire. She had but
strength to reach the side of the bed, and fell senseless upon it. He
started up with a sting of self-accusation: he had killed her, exacting
from her a promise that by no word would she welcome the wanderer that
night. For she would not have her husband imagine in his bitterness that
she loved the erring son more than the father whose heart he had all but
broken, and had promised. She was, in truth, nearly as anxious about the
one as the other, for was not the unforgivingness of the one as bad--was
it not even worse than the theft of the other.

He lifted her, laid her on the bed, and proceeded to administer the
restoratives he now knew better than any other how to employ. In a
little while he was relieved, her eyelids began to tremble. "My baby!"
she murmured, and the tears began to flow.

"Thank God!" he said, and got her to bed.

But strange to say, for all his stern fulfilment of duty, he did not
feel fit to lie down by his wife. He would watch: she might have another
bad turn!

From the exhaustion that followed excess of feeling, she slept. He sat
watchful by the fire. She was his only friend, he said, and now she and
he were no more of one mind! Never until now had they had difference!

Hester and the major got Corney to bed, and instantly he was fast
asleep. The major arranged himself to pass the night by the fire, and
Hester went to see what she could do for her mother. Knocking softly at
the door and receiving no answer, she peeped in: there sat her father
and there slept her mother: she would not disturb them, but, taking her
share in the punishment of him she had brought home, retire without
welcome or good-night. She too was presently fast asleep. There was no
gnawing worm of duty undone or wrong unpardoned in her bosom to keep her
awake. Sorrow is sleepy, pride and remorse are wakeful.




CHAPTER LII.

A HEAVENLY VISION.


The night began differently with the two watchers. The major was
troubled in his mind at what seemed the hard-heartedness of the mother,
for he loved her with a true brotherly affection. He had not seen her
looking in at the door; he did not know the cause of her appearing so
withdrawn and unmotherly: he forgot his shilling novel and his sherry
and water, and brooded over the thing. He could not endure the
low-minded cub, he said to himself; he would gladly, if only the wretch
were well enough, give him a sound horse-whipping; but to see him so
treated by father and mother was more than he could bear: he began to
pity a lad born of parents so hard-hearted. What would have become of
himself, he thought, if his mother had treated him so? He had never, to
be sure, committed any crime against society worse than shocking certain
ridiculously proper people; but if she had made much of his foibles and
faults, he might have grown to be capable of doing how could he tell
what? who would turn out a mangy dog that was his own dog! If the fellow
were his he would know what to do with him! He did not reflect that just
because he was not his, he did not feel the wounds that disabled from
action. It was easy for him unhurt to think what he would do if he were
hurt. Some things seem the harder to forgive the greater the love. It is
but a false seeming, thank God, and comes only of selfishness, which
makes both the love and the hurt seem greater than they are.

And as the major sat thinking and thinking, the story came back to him
which his mother had so often told him and his brothers, all now gone
but himself, as they stood or sat or lay gathered round her on the
Sunday evenings in the nursery--about the boy that was tired of being at
home, and asked his father for money to go away; and how his father gave
it him, thinking it better he should go than grumble at the best he
could give him; and how he grew very naughty, and spent his money in
buying things that were not worth having, and in eating and drinking
with greedy, coarse, ill behaved people, till at last he had nothing
left to buy food with, and had to feed swine to earn something; and how
he fell a thinking, and would go home. It all came back to his mind just
as his mother used to tell it--how the poor prodigal, ragged and dirty
and hungry, set out for home, and how his father spied him coming a
great way off, and knew him at once, and set out running to meet him,
and fell on his neck and kissed him. This father would not even look at
the son that had but just escaped the jaws of death! True, the prodigal
came home repentant; but the father did not wait to know that, but ran
to meet him and fell on his neck and kissed him!

As the major thus reflected, he kept coming nearer and nearer to the
individual I lurking at the keyhole of every story. Only he had to go
home, else how was his father to receive him.

"I wonder now," he said, "if when a man die that is counted for going
home! I hardly think it; that is a thing the man can't help at all; he
has no hand in the doing of it. Who would come out to meet a fellow
because he was flung down dead at his door. I fear I should find myself
in no better box than this young rascal when he comes home because he
can't help it!"

The end of it was that the major, there in the middle of the night, went
down on his knees, and, as he had not now done since the eve of his last
battle, tried to say the prayers his mother had taught him. Presently he
found himself saying things she had not taught him--speaking from his
heart as if one was listening, one who in the dead of the night did not
sleep, but kept wide awake lest one of his children should cry.

"It is time," said the major to himself the next day, "that I began to
think about going home. I will try again to-night!"

In his wife's room Gerald Raymount sat on into the dead waste and middle
of the night. At last, as his wife continued quietly asleep, he thought
he would go down to his study, and find something to turn his thoughts
from his misery. None such had come to him as to his friend. He had been
much more of a religious man than the major--had his theories concerning
both the first and the second table of the law; nor had he been merely a
talker, though his talk, as with all talkers, was constantly ahead of
his deed: well is it for those whose talk is not ahead of their
endeavor! but it was the _idea_ of religion, and the thousand ideas
it broods, more than religion itself, that was his delight. He
philosophized and philosophized well of the relations between man and
his maker, of the necessity to human nature of belief in a God, of the
disastrous consequences of having none, and such like things; but having
such an interest is a very different thing from being in such relations
with the father that the thought of him is an immediate and ever
returning joy and strength. He did not rejoice in the thought of the
inheritance of the saints in light, as the inheriting of the nature of
God, the being made partaker of the father's essential blessedness: he
was far yet from that. He was so busy understanding with his intellect,
that he missed the better understanding of heart and imagination. He was
always so pleased with the thought of a thing, that he missed the thing
itself--whose _possession_, and not its thought is essential. Thus
when the trial came, it found him no true parent. The youth of course
could not be received either as clean-handed or as repentant; but love
is at the heart of every right way, and essential forgiveness at
the-heart of every true treatment of the sinner, even in the very
refusal of external forgiveness. That the father should not have longed
above all things for his son's repentance; that he should not have met
even a seeming return; that he should have nourished resentment because
the youth had sinned against _his_ family in which beauty as his he
had gloried; that he should care to devise no measures for generating a
sense of the evil he had done, and aiding repentance as makes
forgiveness a necessary consequence; that he should, instead, ruminate
how to make him feel most poignantly his absolute scorn of him, his
loathing of his all but convict son--this made the man a kind of
paternal Satan who sat watching by the repose of the most Christian,
because most loving, most forgiving, most self-forgetting mother,
stirring up in himself fresh whirlwinds of indignation at the incredible
thing which had become the fact of facts, lying heaviest, stinging
deepest, seeming unchangeable. That it might prove a blessing, he would
have spurned as a suggestion equally degrading and absurd. "What is done
is done," he would have said, in the mingled despair of pride and pride
of despair; "and all the power of God cannot make the thing otherwise.
We can hold up our heads no more for ever. My own son has not only
disgraced but fooled me, giving men good cause to say, 'Physician, heal
thyself.'"

He rose, and treading softly lest he should wake the only being he
_felt_ love for now, and whom he was loving less than before, for
self-love and pride are antagonistic to all loves, left the room and
went to his study. The fire was not yet out; he stirred it and made it
blaze, lighted his candles, took a book from a shelf, sat down, and
tried to read. But it was no use; his thoughts were such that they could
hold no company with other thoughts: the world of his kind was shut out;
he was a man alone, because a man unforgiving and unforgiven. His soul
slid into the old groove of miserable self-reiteration whose only result
was more friction-heat; and so the night slid away.

The nominal morning, if not the dawn was near, when, behold, a wonder of
the night! The door between the study and the old library opened so
softly that he heard nothing, and ere he was aware a child in long white
gown stood by his side. He started violently. It was Mark--but asleep!
He had seen his mother and father even more than usually troubled all
day, and their trouble had haunted him in his sleep; it had roused him
without waking him from his dreams, and the spirit of love had directed
his feet to the presence of his father. He stood a little way from him,
his face white as his dress, not a word issuing from his mouth, silent,
haunted by a smile of intense quiet, as of one who, being comforted,
would comfort. There was also in the look a slight something like
idiocy, for his soul was not precisely with his body; his thoughts,
though concerning his father, were elsewhere; the circumstances of his
soul and of his body were not the same; and so, being twinned, that is,
divided, _twained_, he was as one beside himself. His eyes,
although open, evidently saw nothing; and thus he stood for a little
time.

There had never been tender relations between Mark and his father like
those between the boy and his mother and sister. His father was always
kind to him, but betwixt him and his boys he had let grow a sort of hard
skin. He had not come so near to them as to the feminine portion of his
family--shrank indeed from close relations with their spirits, thoughts
or intents. It arose, I imagine, from an excess of the masculine element
in his nature. Even when as merest children they came to be kissed
before going to bed, he did not like the contact of their faces with
his. No woman, and perhaps not many men will understand this; but it was
always a relief to Mr. Raymount to have the nightly ceremony over. He
thought there was nothing he would not do for their good; and I think
his heart must in the main have been right towards them: he could hardly
love and honour his wife as he did, and not love the children she had
given him. But the clothes of his affections somehow did not sit easy on
him, and there was a good deal in his behaviour to Cornelius that had
operated unfavourably on the mind of the youth. Even Mark, although, as
I have said, he loved him as few boys love a father, was yet a little
afraid of him--never went to him with confidence--never snuggled close
to him--never sat down by his side to read his book in a heaven of
twilight peace, as he would by his mother's. He would never have gone to
his father's room for refuge from sleeplessness.

Not recognizing his condition his father was surprised and indeed
annoyed as well as startled to see him: he was in no mood for such a
visit. He felt also strangely afraid of the child, he could not have
told why. Wretched about one son, he was dismayed at the nocturnal visit
of the other. The cause was of course his wrong condition of mind; lack
of truth and its harmony in ourselves alone can make us miserable; there
is a cure for everything when that is cured. No ill in our neighbours,
if we be right in ourselves, will ever seem hopeless to us; but while we
stand wrapped in our own selfishness, our neighbour may well seem
incurable; for not only is there nothing in us to help their redemption,
but there is that in ourselves, and cherished in us, which cannot be
forgiven, but must be utterly destroyed.

There was an unnatural look, at the same time pitiful and lovely, about
the boy, and the father sat and stared in gathering dread. He had nearly
imagined him an angel of some doom.

Suddenly the child stretched out his hands to him, and with upcast,
beseeching face, and eyes that seemed to be seeing far off, came close
to his knee. Then the father remembered how once before, when a tiny
child, he had walked in his sleep, and how, suddenly wakened from it, he
had gone into a kind of fit, and had for a long time ailed from the
shock. Instantly anxious that nothing of the kind should occur again, he
took the child softly in his arms, lifted him to his knees, and held him
gently to his bosom. An expression of supreme delight came over the
boy's face--a look of absolute contentment mingled with hope. He put his
thin hands together, palm to palm, as if saying his prayers, but lifted
his countenance to that of his father. His gaze, however, though not its
direction, was still to the infinite. And now his lips began to move,
and a murmur came from them, which grew into words audible. He was
indeed praying to his father, but a father closer to him than the one
upon whose knees he sat.

"Dear God," said the child--and before I blame the familiarity, I must
know that God is displeased with such address from the mouth of a child:
for this was not a taught prayer he neither meant nor felt--

"Dear God!" said the child, "I don't know what to do, for papa and
Corney, I am afraid, are both naughty. I would not say so to anybody but
you, God, for papa is your little boy as I am his little boy, and you
know all about it. I don't know what it is, and I think Corney must be
more to blame than my dear papa, but when he came home to-night he did
not go to papa, and papa did not go to him. They never said How do you
do, or Good-night--and Corney very ill too! and I am always wanting to
come to you, God, to see you. O God, you are our big papa! please put it
all right. I don't know how, or I would tell you; but it doesn't
matter--you would only smile at my way, and take a much better one of
your own. But please, dear God, make papa and Corney good, and never
mind their naughtiness, only make it just nothing at all. You know they
must love one another. I will not pray a word more, for I know you will
do just what I want. Good-by, God; I'm going to bed now--down there.
I'll come again soon."

With that he slipped from his father's knee, who did not dare to detain
him, and walked from the room with slow stately step.

By this time the heart of the strong hard man was swelling with the love
which, in it all along, was now awake. He could not weep, but sobbed
dry, torturing sobs, that seemed as if they would kill him. But he must
see that the boy was safe in bed, and rising he left the room.

In the corridor he breathed more freely. Through an old window, the
bright moon, shining in peace with nobody to see, threw partly on the
wall and partly on the floor, a shadow-cross, the only thing to catch
the eye in the thin light. Severe protestant as Gerald Raymount was, he
found himself on his knees in the passage before the shadow--not
praying, not doing anything he knew, but under some spiritual influence
known only to God.

When the something had reached its height, and the passion for the time
was over--when the rush of the huge tidal wave of eternity had subsided,
and his soul was clearing of the storm that had swept through it, he
rose from his knees and went up to Mark's room, two stories higher. The
moonlight was there too, for the boy had drawn back the window-curtains
that from his pillow he might see the stars, and the father saw his
child's white bed glimmering like a tomb. He drew near, but through the
gray darkness it was some seconds before he could rightly see the face
of his boy, and for a moment--I wonder how brief a moment is enough for
a death-pang to feel eternal!--for an awful moment he felt as if he had
lost him: when he left the study he had been lifted straight to the
bosom of the Father to whom he had prayed! Slow through the dusk dawned
his face. He had not then been taken bodily!--not the less was he
gone!--that was a dead face! But as he gazed in a fascination of fear,
his eyes grew abler to distinguish, and he saw that he breathed. He was
astonished to find how weak was the revulsion: we know more about our
feelings than about anything else, yet scarcely understand them at all;
they play what seem to us the strangest pranks--moving all the time by
laws divine.

The boy seemed in his usual health, and was sleeping
peacefully--dreaming pleasantly, for the ghost of a smile glinted about
his just parted lips. Then upon the father--who was not, with all his
hardness, devoid of imagination--came the wonder of watching a dreamer:
what might not be going on within that brain, inaccessible as the most
distant star?--yea far more inaccessible, for what were gravity and
distance compared with difficulties unnamed and unnamable! No
spirit-shallop has yet been found to float us across the gulf, say
rather the invisible line, that separates soul from soul. Splendrous
visions might be gliding through the soul of the sleeper--his child,
born of his body and his soul--and not one of them was open to him! not
one of the thoughts whose lambent smile-flame flitted about his child's
lips would pass from him to him! Could they be more divided if the child
were dead, than now when he lay, in his sight indeed, yet remote in
regions of separate existence?

But how much nearer to him in reality was the child when awake and about
the house? How much more did he know then of the thoughts, the loves,
the imaginations, the desires, the aspirations that moved in the heart
and brain of the child? For all that his contact with him came to, he
might as well be dead! A phantom of him moving silent about the house
fill the part as well! The boy was sickly: he might be taken from him
ere he had made any true acquaintance with him! he was just the child to
die young! He would see him again, it was to be hoped, in the other
world, but the boy would have so few memories of him, so few
associations with him that it would be hard to knot the new to the old!

He turned away, and went back to his room. There, with a sense of
loneliness deeper than he had ever before felt, he went down on his
knees to beg the company of the great being whose existence he had so
often defended as if it were in danger from his creatures, but whom he
had so little regarded as actually existent that he had not yet sought
refuge with him. All the house was asleep--the major had long ended his
prayers and was slumbering by the fire--when Raymount knelt before the
living love, the source of his life, and of all the love that makes life
a good thing, and rose from his knees a humbler man.




CHAPTER LIII.

A SAD BEGINNING.


Towards morning he went to bed, and slept late--heavily and unreposefully;
and, alas! when he woke, there was the old feeling returned! How _could_
he forgive the son that had so disgraced him!

Instead of betaking himself afresh to the living strength, he began--not
directly to fight himself, but to try to argue himself right, persuading
himself on philosophical grounds that it was better to forgive his son;
that it was the part of a wise man, the part of one who had respect to
his own dignity, to abstain from harshness, nor drive the youth to
despair: he was his own son--he must do what he could for him!--and so
on! But he had little success. Anger and pride were too much for him.
His breakfast was taken to him in the study, and there Hester found him,
an hour after, with it untasted. He submitted to her embrace, but
scarcely spoke, and asked nothing about Corney. Hester felt sadly
chilled, and very hopeless. But she had begun to learn that one of the
principal parts of faith is patience, and that the setting of wrong
things right is so far from easy that not even God can do it all at
once. But time is nothing to him who sees the end from the beginning; he
does not grudge thousands of years of labor. The things he cares to do
for us require our co-operation, and that makes the great difficulty: we
are such poor fellow-workers with him! All that seems to deny his
presence and labour only, necessitates a larger theory of that presence
and labour. Yet time lies heavy on the young especially, and Hester left
the room with a heavy heart.

The only way in such stubbornnesses of the spirit, when we cannot feel
that we are wrong, is to open our hearts, in silence and loneliness and
prayer, to the influences from above--stronger for the right than any
for the wrong; to seek the sweet enablings of the living light to see
things as they are--as God sees them, who never is wrong because he has
no selfishness, but is the living Love and the living Truth, without
whom there would be no love and no truth. To rise humbly glorious above
our low self, to choose the yet infant self that is one with Christ, who
sought never his own but the things of his father and brother, is the
redemption begun, and the inheritance will follow. Mr. Raymount, like
most of us, was a long way indeed from this yet. He strove hard to
reconcile the memories of the night with the feelings of the
morning--strove to realize a state of mind in which a measure of
forgiveness to his son blended with a measure of satisfaction to the
wounded pride he called paternal dignity. How could he take his son to
his bosom as he was? he asked---but did not ask how he was to draw him
to repentance! He did not think of the tender entreaty with which, by
the mouths of his prophets, God pleads with his people to come back to
him. If the father, instead of holding out his arms to the child he
would entice to his bosom, folds them on that bosom and turns his
back--expectant it may be, but giving no sign of expectancy, the child
will hardly suppose him longing to be reconciled. No doubt there are
times when and children with whom any show of affection is not only
useless but injurious, tending merely to increase their self-importance,
and in such case the child should not see the parent at all, but it was
the opposite reason that made it better Cornelius should not yet see his
father; he would have treated him so that he would only have hated him.

For a father not to forgive is in truth far worse than for a son to need
forgiveness; and such a father will of course go from bad to worse as
well as the son, except he repent. The shifty, ungenerous spirit of
compromise awoke in Raymount. He would be very good, very gentle, very
kind to every one else in the house! He would, like Ahab, walk softly;
he was not ready to walk uprightly: his forgiveness he would postpone!
He knew his feelings towards Corney were wearing out the heart of his
wife--but not yet would he yield! There was little Mark, however, he
would make more of him, know him better, and make the child know him
better! I doubt if to know his father better just then would have been
for Mark to love him more.

He went to see how his wife was. Finding that, notwithstanding all she
had gone through the day before, she was a trifle better, he felt a
little angry and not a little annoyed: what added to his misery was a
comfort to her! she was the happier for having her worthless son! In the
selfishness of his misery he looked upon this as lack of sympathy with
himself. Such weakness vexed him too, in the wife to whom he had for so
many years looked up with more than respect, with even unacknowledged
reverence. He did not allude to Cornelius, but said he was going for a
walk, and went to find Mark--with a vague hope of consolation in the
child who had clung to him so confidently in the night. He had forgotten
it was not to him _his soul_ had clung, but to the father of both.

Mark was in the nursery, as the children's room was still called. The
two never quarrelled; had they been two Saffies, they would have
quarrelled and made it up twenty times a day. When Mark heard his
father's step, he bounded to meet him; and when his sweet moonlit rather
than sunshiny face appeared at the door, the gloom on his father's
yielded a little; the gleam of a momentary smile broke over it, and he
said kindly:

"Come, Mark, I want you to go for a walk with me."

"Yes, papa," answered the boy.--"May Saffy come too?"

The father was not equal however to the company of two of his children,
and Mark alone proceeded to get ready, while Saffy sulked in a corner.

But he was not doing the right thing in taking him out. He ought to have
known that the boy was not able for anything to be called a walk;
neither was the weather fit for his going out. But absorbed in his own
trouble, the father did not think of his weakness; and Hester not being
by to object, away they went. Mark was delighted to be his father's
companion, never doubted all was right that he wished, and forgot his
weakness as entirely as did his father.

With his heart in such a state the father naturally had next to nothing
to say to his boy, and they walked on in silence. The silence did not
affect Mark; he was satisfied to be with his father whether he spoke to
him or not--too blessed in the long silences between him and God to
dislike silence. It was no separation--so long as like speech it was
between them. For a long time he was growing tired without knowing it:
when weariness became conscious at last, it was all at once, and poor
Mark found he could scarcely put one leg past the other.

The sun had been shining when they started--beautiful though not very
warm spring-sun, but now it was clouded and rain was threatened. They
were in the middle of a bare, lonely moor, easily reached from the
house, but of considerable extent, and the wind had begun to blow cold.
Sunk in his miserable thoughts, the more miserable that he had now
yielded even the pretence of struggle, and relapsed into unforgiving
unforgivenness, the father saw nothing of his child's failing strength,
but kept trudging on. All at once he became aware that the boy was not
by his side. He looked round: he was nowhere visible. Alarmed, he
stopped, and turning, called his name aloud. The wind was blowing the
other way, and that might be the cause of his hearing no reply. He
called again, and this time thought he heard a feeble response. He
retraced his steps rapidly.

Some four or five hundred yards back, he came to a hollow, where on a
tuft of brown heather, sat Mark, looking as white as the vapour-like
moon in the daytime.

His anxiety relieved, the father felt annoyed, and rated the little
fellow for stopping behind.

"I wasn't able to keep up, papa," replied Mark. "So I thought I would
rest a while, and meet you as you came back."

"You ought to have told me. I shouldn't have brought you had I known you
would behave so. Come, get up, we must go home."

"I'm very sorry, papa, but I think I can't."

"Nonsense!"

"There's something gone wrong in my knee."

"Try," said his father, again frightened. Mark had never shown himself
whimsical.

He obeyed and rose, but with a little cry dropped on the ground. He had
somehow injured his knee that he could not walk a step.

His father stooped to lift him.

"I'll carry you, Markie," he said.

"Oh, no, no, you must not, papa! It will tire you! Set me on that stone,
and send Jacob. He carries a sack of meal, and I'm not so heavy as a
sack of meal."

His father was already walking homeward with him. The next moment Mark
spied the waving of a dress.

"Oh," he cried, "there's Hessie! She will carry me!"

"You little goose!" said his father tenderly, "can she carry you better
than I can?"

"She is not stronger than you, papa, because you are a big man; but I
think Hessie has more carry in her. She has such strong arms!"

Hester was running, and when she came near was quite out of breath.

She had feared how it would be when she found her father had taken Mark
for a walk, and her first feeling was of anger, for she had inherited
not a little of her father's spirit: indirectly the black sheep had
roused evils in the flock unknown before. Never in her life had Hester
been aware of such a feeling as that with which she now hurried to meet
her father. When, however, she saw the boy's arms round his father's
neck, and his cheek laid against his, her anger went from her, and she
was sorry and ashamed, notwithstanding that she knew by Mark's face, of
which she understood every light and shade, that he was suffering much.

"Let me take him, papa," she said.

The father had no intention of giving up the child. But before he knew,
Mark had stretched his arms to Hester, and was out of his into hers.
Instinctively trying to retain him, he hurt him, and the boy gave a
little cry. Thereupon with a new pang of pain, and a new sting of
resentment, which he knew unreasonable but could not help, he let him go
and followed in distressed humiliation.

Hester's heart was very sore because of this new grief, but she saw some
hope in it.

"He is too heavy for you, Hester," said her father. "Surely as it is my
fault, I ought to bear the penalty!"

"It's no penalty--is it, Markie?" said Hester merrily.

"No, Hessie," replied Mark, almost merrily. "--You don't know how strong
Hessie is, papa!"

"Yes, I am very strong. And you ain't heavy--are you, Markie?"

"No," answered Mark; "I feel so light sometimes, I think I could fly;
only I don't like to try for fear I couldn't. I like to think perhaps I
could."

By and by Hester found, with all her good will, that her strength was of
the things that can be shaken, and was obliged to yield him to her
father. It was much to his relief, for a sense of moral weakness had
invaded him as he followed his children: he was rejected of his family,
and had become a nobody in it!

When at length they reached home, Mark was put to bed, and the doctor
sent for.




CHAPTER LIV.

MOTHER AND SON.


In the meantime Cornelius kept his bed. The moment her husband was gone,
his mother rose and hastened to her son! Here again was a discord! for
the first time since their marriage, a jarring action: the wife was glad
the husband was gone that she might do what was right without annoying
him: with all her strength of principle, she felt too weak to go openly
against him, though she never dreamt of concealing what she did. She
tottered across his floor, threw herself on the bed beside him, and took
him to her bosom.

With his mother Corney had never pretended to the same degree as with
other people, and his behaviour to her was now more genuine than to any
but his wife. He clung to her as he had never clung since his infancy;
and felt that, let his father behave to him as he might, he had yet a
home. All the morning he had been fretting, in the midst of Hester's
kindest attentions, that he had not his wife to do things for him as he
liked them done;--and in all such things as required for their
well-doing a fitting of self to the notions of another, Amy was indeed
before Hester--partly, perhaps, in virtue of having been a little while
married. But now that Cornelius had his mother, he was more content, or
rather less discontented--more agreeable in truth than she had known him
since first he went to business. She felt greatly consoled, and he so
happy with her that he began to wish that he had not a secret from
her--for the first time in his life to be sorry that he was in
possession of one. He grew even anxious that she should know it, but
none the less anxious that he should not have to tell it.

A great part of the time when her husband supposed her asleep, she had
been lying wide awake, thinking of the Corney she had lost, and the
Corney that had come home to her instead: she was miserable over the
altered looks of her disfigured child. The truest of mothers, with all
her love for the real and indifference to outsides, can hardly be
expected to reconcile herself with ease to a new face on her child: she
has loved him in one shape, and now has to love him in another! It was
almost as if she had received again another child--her own indeed, but
taken from her the instant he was born and never seen by her
since--whom, now she saw him, she had to learn to love in a shape
different from that in which she had been accustomed to imagine him. His
sad, pock-marked face had a torturing fascination for her. It was almost
pure pain, yet she could not turn her eyes from it. She reproached
herself that it gave her pain, yet was almost indignant with the face
she saw for usurping the place of her boy's beauty: through that mask
she must force her way to the real beneath it! At the same time very
pity made her love with a new and deeper tenderness the poor spoilt
visage, pathetic in its ugliness. Not a word did she utter of reproach:
his father would do--was doing enough for both in that way! Every few
minutes she would gaze intently in his face for a moment, and then clasp
him to her heart as if seeking a shorter way to his presence than
through the ruined door of his countenance.

Hester, who had never received from her half so much show of tenderness,
could not help, like the elder brother in the divine tale, a little
choking at the sight, but she soon consoled herself that the less poor
Corney deserved it the more he needed it. The worst of it to Hester was
that she could not with any confidence look on the prodigal as a
repentant one; and if he was not, all this tenderness, she feared and
with reason, would do him harm, causing him to think less of his crime,
and blinding him to his low moral condition. But she thought also that
God would do what he could to keep the love of such a mother from
hurting; and it was not long before she was encouraged by a softness in
Corney's look, and a humid expression in his eyes which she had never
seen before. Doubtless had he been as in former days, he would have
turned from such over flow of love as womanish gush; but disgraced, worn
out, and even to his own eyes an unpleasant object, he was not so much
inclined to repel the love of the only one knowing his story who did not
feel for him more or less contempt. Sometimes in those terrible
half-dreams in the dark of early morn when suddenly waked by conscience
to hold a _tete-a-tete_ with her, he would imagine himself walking
into the bank, and encountering the eyes of all the men on his way to
his uncle, whom next to his father he feared--then find himself running
for refuge to the bosom of his mother. She was true to him yet! he would
say: yes, he used the word! he said _true!_ Slowly, slowly,
something was working on him--now in the imagined judgment of others,
now in the thought of his wife, now in the devotion of his mother.
Little result was there for earthly eye, but the mother's perceived or
imagined a difference in him. If only she could descry something plain
to tell her husband! If the ice that froze up the spring of his love
would but begin to melt! For to whom are we to go for refuge from
ourselves if not to those through whom we were born into the world, and
who are to blame for more or less of our unfitness for a true
life?--"His father _must_ forgive him!" she said to herself. She
would go down on her knees to him. Their boy should _not_ be left
out in the cold! If he had been guilty, what was that to the cruel world
so ready to punish, so ready to do worse! The mother still carried in
her soul the child born of her body, preparing for him the new and
better, the all-lovely birth of repentance unto life.

Hester had not yet said a word about her own affairs. No one but the
major knew that her engagement to lord Gartley was broken. She was not
willing to add yet an element of perturbance to the overcharged
atmosphere; she would not add disappointment to grief.

In the afternoon the major, who had retired to the village, two miles
off, the moment his night-watch was relieved, made his appearance, in
the hope of being of use. He saw only Hester, who could give him but a
few minutes. No sooner did he learn of Mark's condition, than he
insisted on taking charge of him. He would let her know at once if he
wanted to see her or any one: she might trust him to his care!

"I am quite as good at nursing--I don't say as you, cousin Hester, or
your mother, but as any ordinary woman. You will see I am! I know most
of the newest wrinkles, and will carry them out."

Hester could not be other than pleased with the proposal; for having
both her mother and Corney to look after, and Miss Dasomma or Amy to
write to every day, she had feared the patient Mark might run some risk
of being neglected. To be sure Saffy had a great notion of nursing, but
her ideas were in some respects, to say the least, a little peculiar;
and though at times she was a great gain in the sick room, she could
hardly be intrusted with entire management of the same. So the major
took the position of head-nurse, with Saffy for aid, and one of the
servants for orderly.

Hester's mind was almost constantly occupied with thinking how she was
to let her father and mother know what they must know soon, and ought to
know as soon as possible. She would tell her father first; her mother
should not know till he did: she must not have the anxiety of how he
would take it! But she could not see how to set about it. She had no
light, and seemed to have no leading--felt altogether at a standstill,
without impulse or energy.

She waited, therefore, as she ought; for much harm comes of the
impatience that outstrips guidance. People are too ready to think
_something_ must be done, and forget that the time for action may
not have arrived, that there is seldom more than one thing fit to be
done, and that the wrong thing must in any case be worse than nothing.

Cornelius grew gradually better, and at last was able to go down stairs.
But the weather continued so far unfavourable that he could not go out.
He had not yet seen his father, and his dread of seeing him grew to a
terror. He never went down until he knew he was not in the house, and
then would in general sit at some window that commanded the door by
which he was most likely to enter. He enticed Saffy from attendance on
Mark to be his scout, and bring him word in what direction his father
went. This did the child incalculable injury. The father was just as
anxious to avoid him, fully intending, if he met him, to turn his back
upon him. But it was a rambling and roomy old house, and there was
plenty of space for both. A whole week passed and they had not met--to
the disappointment of Hester, who cherished some hope in a chance
encounter.

She had just one consolation: ever since she had Cornelius safe under
her wing, the mother had been manifestly improving. But even this was a
source of dissatisfaction to the brooding selfishness of the
unhealthy-minded father. He thought with himself--"Here have I been
heart and soul nursing her through the illness he caused her, and all in
vain till she gets the rascal back, and then she begins at once to
improve! She would be perfectly happy with him if she and I never saw
each other again!"

The two brothers had not yet met. For one thing, Corney disliked the
major, and for another, the major objected to an interview. He felt
certain the disfigurement of Corney would distress Mark too much, and
retard the possible recovery of which he was already in great doubt.




CHAPTER LV.

MISS DASOMMA AND AMY.


Miss Dasomma was quite as much pleased with Amy as she had expected to
be, and that was not a little. She found her very ignorant in the
regions of what is commonly called education, but very quick in
understanding where human relation came in. A point in construction or
composition she would forget immediately; but once shown a possibility
of misunderstanding avoidable by a certain arrangement, Amy would recall
the fact the moment she made again the mistake. Her teachableness,
coming largely of her trustfulness, was indeed a remarkable point in her
character. It was partly through this that Corney gained his influence
over her: superior knowledge was to her a sign of superior goodness.

She began at once to teach her music: the sooner a beginning was made
the better! Her fingers were stiff, but so was her will: the way she
stuck to her work was pathetic. Here also she understood quickly, but
the doing of what she understood she found very hard--the more so that
her spirit was but ill at ease. Corney had deceived her; he had done
something wrong besides; she was parted from him, and could realize
little of his surroundings; all was very different from what she had
expected in marrying her Corney! Also, from her weariness and anxiety in
nursing him, and from other causes as well, her health was not what it
had been. Then Hester's letters were a little stiff! She felt it without
knowing what she felt, or why they made her uncomfortable. It was from
no pride or want of love they were such, but from her uncertainty--the
discomfort of knowing they were no nearer a solution of their difficulty
than when they parted at the railway: she did not even know yet what she
was going to do in the matter! This prevented all free flow of
communication. Unable to say what she would have liked to say, unwilling
to tell the uncomfortable condition of things, there rose a hedge and
seemed to sink a gulf between her and her sister. Amy therefrom,
naturally surmised that the family was not willing to receive her, and
that the same unwillingness though she was too good to yield to it, was
in Hester also. It was not in her. How she might have taken his marriage
had Corney remained respectable, I am not sure; but she knew that the
main hope for her brother lay in his love for Amy and her devotion to
him--in her common sense, her true, honest, bright nature. She was only
far too good for Corney!

Then again Amy noted, for love and anxiety made her very sharp, that
Miss Dasomma did not read to her every word of Hester's letters. Once
she stopped suddenly in the middle of a sentence, and after a pause went
on with another! Something was there she was not to know! It might have
some reference to her husband! If so, then something was not going right
with him! Was he worse and were they afraid to tell her, lest she should
go to him! Perhaps they were treating him as her aunts treated
her--making his life miserable--and she not with him to help him to bear
it! All no doubt because she had married him! It explained his deceiving
her! If he had told them, as he ought to have done, they would not have
let her have him at all, and what would have become of her without her
Corney! He ought not certainly to have told her lies, but if anything
could excuse him, so that making the best of things, and excusing her
husband all she could, she was in danger of lowering her instinctively
high sense of moral obligation.

She brooded over the matter but not long, she threw herself on her
knees, and begged her friend to let her know what the part of her
sister's letter she had not read to her was about.

"But, my dear," said Miss Dasomma, "Hester and I have been friends for
many years, and we may well have things to say to each other we should
not care that even one we loved so much as you should hear?--A lady must
not be inquisitive, you know."

"I know that, and I never did pry into other people's affairs. Tell me
it was nothing about my husband, and I shall be quite content."

"But think a moment, Amy!" returned Miss Dasomma, who began to find
herself in a difficulty; "there might be things between his family and
him, who have known him longer than you, which they were not quite
prepared to tell you all about before knowing you better. Some people in
the way they treated you would have been very different from that angel
sister of yours! There is nobody like her--that I know!"

"I love her with my whole heart," replied Amy sobbing--"next to
Cornelius. But even she must not come between him and me. If it is
anything affecting him, his wife has a right to know about it--a
greater right than any one else; and no one has a right to conceal it
from her!"

"Why do you think that?" asked Miss Dasomma, entirely agreeing with her
that she had a right to know, but thinking also, in spite of logic, that
one might have a right to conceal it notwithstanding. She was anxious to
temporize, for she did not see how to answer her appeal. She could not
tell her a story, and she did not feel at liberty to tell her the truth;
and if she declined to answer her question, the poor child might imagine
something dreadful.

"Why, miss," answered Amy, "we can't be divided!" I must do what I
can--all I can for him, and I have a right to know what there is to be
done for him."

"But can you not trust his own father and mother?" said Miss
Dasomma--and as she said it, her conscience accused her.

"Yes, surely," replied Amy, "if they were loving him, and not angry with
him. But I have seen even that angel Hester look very vexed with him
sometimes, and that when he was ill too! and I know he will never stand
that: he will run away as I did. I know what your own people can do to
make you miserable! They say a woman must leave all for her husband, and
that's true; but it is the other way in the Bible--I read it this
morning! In the Bible it is--'a man shall leave father and mother and
cleave to his wife;' and after that who will say there ought to be
anything between him and his parents she don't know about. It's
_she_ that's got to look after the man given to her like that!"

Miss Dasomma looked with admiration at the little creature--showing
fight like a wren for her nest. How rapidly she was growing! how noble
she was and free! She was indeed a treasure! The man she had married was
little worthy of her, but if she rescued him, not from his parents, but
from himself, she might perhaps have done as good a work as helping a
noble-hearted man!

"I've got him to look after," she resumed, "and I will. He's mine, miss!
If anybody's not doing right by him, I ought to be by and see him
through it."

Here Miss Dasomma's prudence for a moment forsook her: who shall explain
such _accidents_! It stung her to hear her friends suspected of
behaving unjustly.

"That's all you know, Amy!" she blurted out--and bit her lip in vexation
with herself.

Amy was upon her like a cat upon a mouse.

"What is it?" she cried. "I _must_ know what it is! You shall
_not_ keep me in the dark! I _must_ do my duty by my husband.
If you do not tell me, I will go to him."

In terror at what might be that result of her hasty remark, Miss Dasomma
faltered, reddened, and betrayed considerable embarrassment. A prudent
person, lapsing into a dilemma, is specially discomfitted. She had
committed no offence against love, had been guilty of no selfishness or
meanness, yet was in miserable predicament. Amy saw, and was the more
convinced and determined. She persisted, and Miss Dasomma knew that she
would persist. Presently, however, she recovered herself a little.

"How can you wonder," she said with confused vagueness, "when you know
he deceived you, and never told them he was going to marry you?"

"But they know nothing of it yet--at least from the way Hester writes!"

"Yes; but one who could behave like that would be only too likely to
give other grounds of offence."

"Then there _is_ something more--something I know nothing about!"
exclaimed Amy. "I suspected it the moment I saw Hester's face at the
door!"--she might have said before that.--"I _must_ know what it
is!" she went on. "I may be young and silly, but I know what a wife owes
to her husband; and a wife who cares for nothing but her husband can do
more for him than anybody else can. Know all about it I will! It is my
business!"

Miss Dasomma was dumb. She had waked a small but active volcano at her
feet, which, though without design against vineyards and villages, would
go to its ends regardless of them! She must either answer her questions
or persuade her not to ask any.

"I beg, Amy," she said with entreaty "you will do nothing rash. Can you
not trust friends who have proved themselves faithful?"

"Yes; for myself," answered Amy: "but it is my _husband_!"--She
almost screamed the word.--"And I will trust nobody to take care enough
of _him_. They can't know how to treat him or he would love them
more, and would not have been afraid to let them know he was marrying a
poor girl. Miss Dasomma, what have you got against him? I have no fear
you will tell me anything but the truth!"

"Of course not!" returned Miss Dasomma, offended, but repressing all
show of her feeling.--"Why then will you not trust me?"

"I will believe whatever you say; but I will not trust even you to tell
or not tell me as you please where my husband is concerned. That would
be to give up my duty to him. Tell me what it is, or--"

She did not finish the sentence: the postman's knock came to the door,
and she bounded off to see what he had brought, leaving Miss Dasomma in
fear lest she should appropriate a letter not addressed to her. She
returned with a look of triumph--a look so wildly exultant that her
hostess was momentarily alarmed for her reason.

"Now I shall know the truth!" she said. "This is from himself!"

And with that she flew to her room. Miss Dasomma should not hear a word
of it! How dared she keep from her what she knew about her husband!

It was Corney's first letter to her. It was filled, not with direct
complaints, but a general grumble. Here is a part of it.

"I do wish you were here, Amy, my own dearest! I love nobody like you--I
love nobody but you. If I did wrong in telling you a few diddle-daddies,
it was because I loved you so I could not do without you. And what
comforts me for any wrong I have done is that I have you. That would
make up to a man for anything short of being hanged! You little witch,
how did you contrive to make a fool of a man like me! I should have been
in none of this scrape but for you! My mother is very kind to me, of
course--ever so much better company than Hester! she never looks as if a
fellow had to be put up with, or forgiven, or anything of that sort, in
her high and mighty way. But you do get tired of a mother always keeping
on telling you how much she loves you. You can't help thinking there
must be something behind it all. Depend upon it she wants something of
you--wants you to be good, I daresay--to repent, don't you know, as they
call it! They're all right, I suppose, but it ain't nice for all that.
And that Hester has never told my father yet.

"I haven't even seen my father. He has not come near me once! Saffy
wouldn't look at me for a long time--that's the last of the litter, you
know; she shrieked when they called to her to come to me, and cried,
'That's ugly Corney! I won't have ugly Corney!' So you may see how I am
used! But I've got her under my thumb at last, and she's useful. Then
there's that prig Mark! I always liked the little wretch, though he is
such a precious humbug! He's in bed--put out his knee, or something. He
never had any stamina in him! Scrofulous, don't you know! They won't let
me go near him--for fear of frightening him! But that's that braggart,
major Marvel--and a marvel he is, I can tell you! He comes to me
sometimes, and makes me hate him--talks as if I wasn't as good as
he,--as if I wasn't even a gentleman! Many's the time I long to be back
in the garret--horrid place! alone with my little Amy!"

So went the letter.

When Amy next appeared before Miss Dasomma, she was in another mood. Her
eyes were red with weeping, and her hair was in disorder. She had been
lying now on the bed, now on the floor, tearing her hair, and stuffing
her handkerchief in her mouth.

"Well, what is the news?" asked Miss Dasomma, as kindly as she could
speak, and as if she saw nothing particular in her appearance.

"You must excuse me," replied Amy, with the stiffness of a woman of the
world resenting intrusion. But the next moment she said, "Do not think
me unkind, miss; there is nothing, positively nothing in the letter
interesting to any one but myself."

Miss Dasomma said nothing more. Perhaps she was going to escape without
further questioning! and though not a little anxious as to what the
letter might contain to have put the poor girl in such a state, she
would not risk the asking of a single question more.

The solemn fact was, that his letter, in conjunction with the word Miss
Dasomma let slip, had at last begun to open Amy's eyes a little to the
real character of her husband. She had herself seen a good deal of his
family, and found it hard to believe they would treat him unkindly, nor
did he exactly say so; but his father had not been once to see him since
his return!--Corney had not mentioned that he himself, had all he could,
avoided meeting his father.--If then they did not yet know he was
married, that other thing--the cause for such treatment of a son just
escaped the jaws of death, must be a very serious one! It might be very
hard, it might be even unfair treatment--she could not tell; but there
must be something to explain it--something to show it not altogether the
monstrous thing it seemed! I do not say she reasoned thus, but her
genius reasoned thus for her.

Of course it must be the same thing that made him take to the garret and
hide there! The more she thought of it the more convinced was she that
he had done something hideously wrong. It was a sore conviction to her,
and would have been a sorer yet had she understood his playful blame of
her in the letter. But such was the truth of her devotion that she would
only have felt accountable for the wrong, and bent body and soul to make
up for it. From the first glimmer of certainty as to the uncertain facts
she saw with absolute clearness what she must do. There was that in the
tone of the letter also, which, while it distressed her more than she
was willing to allow, strengthened her determination--especially the way
in which he spoke of his mother, for she not only remembered her
kindness at Burcliff, but loved the memory of her own mother with her
whole bright soul. But what troubled her most of all was that he should
be so careless about the wrong he had done, whatever it was. "I must
know all about it!" she said to herself, "or how am I to help him?" It
seemed to her the most natural thing that when one has done wrong, he
should confess it and confess it wrong--so have done with it, disowning
and casting away the cursed thing: this, alas, Cornelius did not seem
inclined to do! But was she, of all women in the world, to condemn him
without knowing what he had to say for himself? She was bound to learn
the truth of the thing, if only to give her husband fair play, which she
must give him to the uttermost farthing? To wrong him in her thoughts
was the greatest wrong woman could do him; no woman could wrong him as
she could!

By degrees her mind grew calm in settled resolve. It might, she
reasoned, be very well for husband and wife to be apart while they were
both happy: they had only to think the more of each other; but when
anything was troubling either, still more when it was anything _in_
either, then it was horrible and unnatural that they should be parted.
What could a heart then do but tear itself to pieces, think-thinking? It
was enough to make one kill oneself!

Should she tell Miss Dasomma what was in her thoughts? Neither she nor
Hester had trusted her: needed she trust them? She must take her own way
in silence, for they would be certain to oppose it! could there be a
design to keep her and Corney apart?

All the indignant strength and unalterable determination of the little
woman rose in arms. She would see who would keep them asunder now she
had made up her mind! She had money of her own--and there were the
trinkets Corney had given her! They must be valuable, for Corney hated
sham things! She would walk her way, work her way, or beg her way, if
necessary, but nothing should keep her from Corney!

Not a word more concerning their difference passed between her and Miss
Dasomma. They talked cheerfully, and kissed as usual when parting for
the night.

The moment she was in her room, Amy began to pack a small carpet-bag.
When that was done she made a bundle of her cloak and shawl, and lay
down in her clothes. Long before dawn she crept softly down the stairs,
and stole out.

Thus for the second time was she a fugitive--then _from_, now
_to_.

When Miss Dasomma had been down some time, she went up to see why Amy
was not making her appearance: one glance around her room satisfied her
that she was gone. It caused her terrible anxiety. She did not suspect
at first whither she had gone, but concluded that the letter which had
rendered her so miserable contained the announcement that their marriage
was not a genuine one, and that, in the dignity of her true heart, she
had thereupon at once and forever taken her leave of Cornelius. She
wrote to Hester, but the post did not leave before night, and would not
arrive till the afternoon of the next day. She had thought of sending a
telegram, but saw that that might do mischief.

When Amy got to the station she found she was in time for the first
train of the day. There was no third-class to it, but she found she had
enough money for a second-class ticket, and without a moment's
hesitation, though it left her almost penniless, she took one.




CHAPTER LVI.

THE SICK ROOM.


At Yrndale things went on in the same dull way, anger burrowing like a
devil-mole in the bosom of the father, a dreary spiritual fog hanging
over all the souls, and the mother wearying for some glimmer of a
heavenly dawn. Hester felt as if she could not endure it much longer--as
if the place were forgotten of God, and abandoned to chance. But there
was one dayspring in the house yet--Mark's room, where the major sat by
the bedside of the boy, now reading to him, now telling him stories, and
now and then listening to him as he talked childlike wisdom in childish
words. Saffy came and went, by no means so merry now that she was more
with Corney. In Mark's room she would at times be her old self again,
but nowhere else. Infected by Corney, she had begun to be afraid of her
father, and like him watched to keep out of his way. What seemed to add
to the misery, though in reality it operated the other way, was that the
weather had again put on a wintry temper. Sleet and hail, and even snow
fell, alternated with rain and wind, day after day for a week.

One afternoon the wind rose almost to a tempest. The rain drove in
sheets, and came against the windows of Mark's room nearly at right
angles. It was a cheerful room, though low-pitched and very old, with a
great beam across the middle of it. There were coloured prints, mostly
of Scripture-subjects, on the walls; and the beautiful fire burning in
the bow-fronted grate shone on them. It was reflected also from the
brown polished floor. The major sat by it in his easy-chair: he could
endure hardship, but saved strength for work, nursing being none of the
lightest. A bedroom had been prepared for him next to the boy's: Mark
had a string close to his hand whose slightest pull sufficed to ring a
bell, which woke the major as if it had been the opening of a cannonade.

This afternoon with the rain-charged wind rushing in fierce gusts every
now and then against the windows, and the twilight coming on the sooner
because the world was wrapt in blanket upon blanket of wet cloud, the
major was reading, by no means sure whether his patient waked or slept,
and himself very sleepy, longing indeed for a little nap. A moment and
he was far away, following an imaginary tiger, when the voice of Mark
woke him with the question:

"What kind of thing do you like best in all the world, majie?--I mean
_this_ world, you know--and of course I don't mean God or
any_body_, but things about you, I mean."

The major sat bolt upright, rubbed his eyes, stretched himself, but
quietly that Mark might not know he had waked him, pulled down his
waistcoat, gave a hem as if deeply pondering, instead of trying hard to
gather wits enough to understand the question put to him, and when he
thought his voice sufficiently a waking one not to betray him, answered:

"Well, Mark, I don't think we can beat this same--can we? What do you
think?"

"Let's see what makes it so nice!" returned Mark. "First of all, you're
there, majie!"

"And you're there, Markie," said the major.

"Yes, that's all right! Next there's my bed for me, and your easy-chair
for you, and the fire for us both! And the sight of your chair is better
to me than the feel of my bed! And the fire is _beautiful_, and
though I can't _feel_ that, because they're not my legs, I know it
is making your legs so nice and warm! And then there are the shines of
it all about the room!

"What a beautiful thing a shine is, majie! I wish you would put on your
grand uniform, and let me see the fire shining on the gold lace and the
buttons and the epaulettes and the hilt of your sword!"

"I will, Markie."

"I've seen your sword, you know, majie! and I think it is the
beautifullest thing in the world. I wonder why a thing for killing
should be so beautiful! Can you tell me, majie?"

The major had to think in order to answer that question, but thinking he
hit upon something like the truth of the thing.

"It must be that it is not made for the sake of the killing, but for the
sake of the right that would else be trodden down!" he said, "Whatever
is on the side of the right ought to be beautiful."

"But ain't a pirate's sword beautiful? I've read of precious stones in
the hilt of a pirate's sword! That's not for the right--is it now,
majie?"

The boy was gradually educating the man without either of them knowing
it--for the major had to _think_ in order to give reasonable
answers to not a few of Mark's questions. The boy was an unconscious
Socrates to the soldier; for there is a Teacher who, by fitting them
right together, can use two ignorances for two teachings. Here the
ostensible master, who was really the principal pupil, had to think
hard.

"Anything," he said at last, "may be turned from its right use, and then
it goes all wrong."

"But a sword looks all right--it shines--even when it is put to a wrong
use!"

"For a while," answered the major. "It takes time for anything that has
turned bad to lose its good looks."

"But, majie," said Mark, "how can a sword ever grow ugly?"

Again the major had to think.

"When people put things to a bad use, they are not good themselves," he
said; "and when they are not good, they are lazy, and neglect things.
When a soldier takes to drinking or cruelty, he neglects his weapons,
and the rust begins to eat them, and at last will eat them up."

"What is rust, majie?"

"It is a sword's laziness, making it rot. A sword is a very strong
thing, but not taken care of will not last so long as a silk
handkerchief."

At this point the major began to fear Mark was about to lead him into
depths and contradictions out of which he would hardly emerge.

"Sha'n't we go on with our reading?" he said.

Mark, however, had not lost sight of the subject they had started with,
and did not want to leave it yet.

"But, majie," he replied, "we haven't done with what we like best! We
hadn't said anything about the thick walls round us--between us and the
wide, with the fire-sun shining on their smooth side, while the rain is
beating and the wind blowing on their rough side. Then there's the wind
and the rain all about us, and can't come at us! I fancy sometimes, as I
lie awake in the night, that the wind and the rain are huge packs of
wolves howling in a Russian forest, but not able to get into the house
to hurt us. Then I feel so safe! And that brings me to the best of all.
It is in fancying danger that you know what it is to be safe."

"But, Mark, you know some people are really in danger!"

"Yes, I suppose so--I don't quite know! I know that I am not in danger,
because there is the great Think between me and all the danger!"

"How do you know he is between you and _all_ danger?" asked his
friend, willing to draw him out, and with no fear of making him uneasy.

"I don't know how I know it; I only know that I'm not afraid," he
answered. "I feel so safe! For you know if God were to go to sleep and
forget his little Mark, then he would forget that he was God, and would
not wake again; and that could not be! He can't forget me or you, majie,
more than any one of the sparrows. Jesus said so. And what Jesus said,
lasts forever. His words never wear out, or need to be made over
again.--Majie, I do wish everybody was as good as Jesus! He won't be
pleased till we all are. Isn't it glad! That's why I feel so safe that I
like to hear the wind roaring. If I did not know that he knows all about
the wind, and that it is not the bad man's wind, but the good man's
wind, I should be unhappy, for it might hurt somebody, and now it
cannot. If I thought he did not care whether everybody was good or not,
it would make me so miserable that I should like to die and never come
to life again!--He will make Corney good--won't he, majie?"

"I hope so, Markie," returned the major.

"But don't you think we ought to do something to help to make Corney
good? You help me to be good, majie--every day, and all day long! I know
mother teaches him, for he's her first-born! He's like Jesus--he's God's
first-born! I'm so glad it was Jesus and not me!"

"Why, Mark?"

"Because if it had been me, I shouldn't have had any Jesus to love.--But
I don't think we ought to leave Corney to mother all alone: she's not
strong enough! it's too hard for her! Corney never was willing to be
good! I can't make it out! Why shouldn't he like to be good? It's surely
good to be good!"

"Yes, Mark; but some people like their own way when it's ever so nasty,
better than God's way when it's ever so nice!"

"But God must be able to let them know what foolish creatures they are,
majie!"

It was on the major's lips to say 'He has sent you to teach it to me,
Mark!' but he thought it better not to say it. And indeed it was better
the child should not be set thinking about what he could do so much
better by not thinking about it!

The major had grown quite knowing in what was lovely in a soul--could
see the same thing lovely in the child and the Ancient of days. Some
foolishly object that the master taught what others had taught before
him, as if he should not be the wise householder with his old things as
well as new: these recognize the old things--the new they do not
understand, therefore do not consider. Who first taught that the mighty
God, the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, was like a child! Who
first said, "Love one another as I have loved you"? Who first dared to
say "He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne even as I
overcame and am set down with my father on his throne"?--taught men that
the creature who would but be a true creature should share the glory of
his creator, sitting with him upon his throne?

"You see, majie," Mark went on, "it won't do for you and me to be so
safe from all the storm and wind, wrapped in God's cloak, and poor
Corney out in the wind and rain, with the wolves howling after him! You
may say it's his own fault--it's because he won't let God take him up
and carry him: that's very true, but then that's just the pity of
it!--It is so dreadful! I can't understand it!"

The boy could understand good, but was perplexed with evil.

While they talked thus in their nest of comfort there was one out in the
wind and rain, all but spent with their buffeting, who hastened with
what poor remaining strength she had to the doing of His will. Amy, left
at the station with an empty purse, had set out to walk through mire and
darkness and storm, up hill and down dale, to find her husband--the man
God had given her "to look after."




CHAPTER LVII.

VENGEANCE IS MINE.


That same morning, Mr. Raymount had found it, or chosen to imagine it
necessary--from the instinct, I believe to oppose inner with outer
storm, to start pretty early for the county-town, on something he called
business, and was not expected home before the next day. Assuming heart
in his absence, Cornelius went freely wandering about the house, many
parts of which had not yet lost to him the interest of novelty, and
lunched with his mother and Hester and Saffy like one of the family. His
mother, wisely or not, did her best to prevent his feeling any
difference from old times: where one half of the parental pair erred so
much on the side of severity, perhaps it was well that the other should
err on that of leniency--I do not know; I doubt if it was right; I think
she ought to have justified her husband's conduct, to the extent to
which it would bear justification, by her own. But who shall be sure
what would have been right for another where so much was wrong and
beyond her setting right! If what is done be done in faith, some good
will come out of our mistakes even; only let no one mistake self-will
for that perfect thing faith!

Their converse at table was neither very interesting nor very
satisfactory. How could it be? As well might a child of Satan be happy
in the house of Satan's maker, as the unrepentant Cornelius in the house
of his mother, even in the absence of his father. Their talk was poor
and intermittent. Well might the youth long for his garret and the
company of the wife who had nothing for him but smiles and sweetest
attentions!

After dinner he sat for a time at the table alone. He had been ordered
wine during his recovery, and was already in some danger of adding a
fondness for that to his other weaknesses. He was one of those slight
natures to which wine may bring a miserable consolation. But the mother
was wise, and aware of the clanger, kept in her own hands the
administrating of the medicine. To-day, however, by some accident called
from the room, she had not put away the decanter, and Cornelius had
several times filled his glass before she thought of her neglect. When
she re-entered he sat as if he were only finishing the glass she had
left him with. The decanter revealed what had taken place, but the
mother blaming herself, thought it better to say nothing.

Cornelius leaving the room in a somewhat excited mood, but concealing
it, sauntered into the library, and thence into the study, where was his
father's own collection of books. Coming there upon a volume by a
certain fashionable poet of the day, he lighted the lamp which no one
used but his father, threw himself into his father's chair, and began to
read. He never had been able to read long without weariness, and from
the wine he had drunk and his weakness, was presently overcome with
sleep. His mother came and went, and would not disturb him, vexed that
she failed in her care over him. I fear, poor lady! her satisfaction in
having him under her roof was beginning to wane in the continual trouble
of a presence that showed no signs of growth any more than one of the
dead. But her faith in the over-care of the father of all was strong,
and she waited in hope.

The night now was very dark, "with hey, ho, the wind and the rain!" Up
above, the major and the boy talked of sweet, heavenly things, and down
below the youth lay snoring, where, had his father been at home, he
dared not have showed himself. The mother was in her own room, and
Hester in the drawing-room--where never now, in the oppression of these
latter times, did she open her piano. The house was quiet but for the
noise of the wind and the rain, and those Cornelius did not hear.

He started awake and sat up in terror. A hand was on his shoulder,
gripping him like a metal instrument, not a thing of flesh and blood.
The face of his father was staring at him through the lingering vapours
of his stupid sleep.

Mr. Raymount had started with a certain foolish pleasure in the prospect
of getting wet through, and being generally ill-used by the
weather--which he called _atrocious_, and all manner of evil names,
while not the less he preferred its accompaniment to his thoughts to the
finest blue sky and sunshine a southern summer itself could have given
him. Thinking to shorten the way he took a certain cut he knew, but
found the road very bad. The mud drew off one of his horse's shoes, but
he did not discover the loss for a long way--not until he came to a
piece of newly mended road. There the poor animal fell suddenly lame.
There was a roadside smithy a mile or two farther on, and dismounting he
made for that. The smith, however, not having expected anything to do in
such weather, and having been drinking hard the night before, was not
easily persuaded to appear. Mr. Raymount, therefore, leaving his horse
in the smithy, walked to an inn yet a mile or two farther on, and there
dried his clothes and had some refreshment. By the time his horse was
brought him and he was again mounted, the weather was worse than ever;
he thought he had had enough of it; and it was so late besides that he
could not have reached the town in time to do his business. He gave up
his intended journey therefore, and turning aside to see a friend in the
neighbourhood, resolved to go home again the same night.

His feelings when he saw his son asleep in his chair, were not like
those of the father in that one story of all the world. He had been
giving place to the devil for so long, that the devil was now able to do
with him as he would--for a season at least. Nor would the possessed
ever have been able to recognize the presence of the devil, had he not a
minute or two of his full will with them? Or is it that the miserable
possessed goes farther than the devil means him to go? I doubt if he
cares that we should murder; I fancy he is satisfied if only we hate
well. Murder tends a little to repentance, and he does not want that.
Anyhow, we cherish the devil like a spoiled child, till he gets too bad
and we find him unendurable. Departing then, he takes a piece of the
house with him, and the tenant is not so likely to mistake him when he
comes again. Must I confess it at this man so much before the multitude
of men, that he was annoyed, even angry, to see this unpleasant son of
his asleep in _his_ chair! "The sneak!" he said! "he dares not show
his face when I'm at home, but the minute he thinks me safe, gets into
my room and lies in my chair! Drunk, too, by Jove!" he added, as a fume
from the sleeper's breath reached the nostrils beginning to dilate with
wrath. "What can that wife of mine be about, letting the rascal go on
like this! She is faultless except in giving me such a son--and then
helping him to fool me!" He forgot the old forger of a bygone century!
His side of the house had, I should say, a good deal more to do with
what was unsatisfactory in the lad's character than his wife's.

The devil saw his chance, sprang up, and mastered the father.

"The snoring idiot!" he growled, and seizing his boy by the shoulder and
the neck, roughly shook him awake.

The father had been drinking, not what would have been by any of the
neighbours thought too much, but enough to add to the fierceness of his
wrath, and make him yet more capable of injustice. He had come into the
study straight from the stable, and when the poor creature looked up
half awake, and saw his father standing over him with a heavy whip in
his hand, he was filled with a terror that nearly paralyzed him. He sat
and stared with white, trembling lips, red, projecting eyes, and a look
that confirmed the belief of his father that he was drunk, whereas he
had only been, like himself, drinking more than was good for him.

"Get out of there, you dog!" cried his father, and with one sweep of his
powerful arm, half dragged, half hurled him from the chair. He fell on
the floor, and in weakness mixed with cowardice lay where he fell. The
devil--I am sorry to have to refer to the person so often, but he played
a notable part in the affair, and I should be more sorry to leave him
without his part in it duly acknowledged--the devil, I say, finding the
house abandoned to him, rushed at once into brain and heart and limbs,
and _possessed_. When Raymount saw the creature who had turned his
hitherto happy life into a shame and a misery lying at his feet thus
abject, he became instantly conscious of the whip in his hand, and
without a moment's pause, a moment's thought, heaved his arm aloft, and
brought it down with a fierce lash on the quivering flesh of his son. He
richly deserved the punishment, but God would not have struck him that
way. There was the poison of hate in the blow. He again raised his arm;
but as it descended, the piercing shriek that broke from the youth
startled even the possessing demon, and the violence of the blow was
broken. But the lash of the whip found his face, and marked it for a
time worse than the small-pox. What the unnatural father would have done
next, I do not know. While the cry of his son yet sounded in his ears,
another cry like its echo from another world, rang ghastly through the
storm like the cry of the banshee. From far away it seemed to come
through the world of wet mist and howling wind. The next instant a
spectral face flitted swift as a bird up to the window, and laid itself
close to the glass. It was a French window, opening to the ground, and
neither shutters nor curtains had been closed. It burst open with a
great clang and clash and wide tinkle of shivering and scattering glass,
and a small figure leaped into the room with a second cry that sounded
like a curse in the ears of the father. She threw herself on the
prostrate youth, and covered his body with hers, then turned her head
and looked up at the father with indignant defiance in her flashing eye.
Cowed with terror, and smarting with keenest pain, the youth took his
wife in his arms and sobbed like the beaten thing he was. Amy's eye
gleamed if possible more indignantly still. Protection grew fierce, and
fanned the burning sense of wrong. The father stood over them like a
fury rather than a fate--stood as the shock of Amy's cry, and her stormy
entrance, like that of an avenging angel, had fixed him. But presently
he began to recover his senses, and not unnaturally sprang to the
conclusion that here was the cause of all his misery--some worthless
girl that had drawn Cornelius into her toils, and ruined him and his
family for ever! The thought set the geyser of his rage roaring and
spouting in the face of heaven. He heaved his whip, and the devil having
none of the respect of the ordinary well bred Englishman for even the
least adorable of women, the blow fell. But instead of another and
shriller shriek following the lash, came nothing but a shudder and a
silence and the unquailing eye of the girl fixed like that of a spectre
upon her assailant. He struck her again. Again came the shivering
shudder and the silence: the sense that the blows had not fallen upon
Corney upheld the brave creature. Cry she would not, if he killed her!
She once drew in her breath sharply, but never took her eyes from his
face--lay expecting the blow that was to come next. Suddenly the light
in them began to fade, and went quickly out; her head dropped like a
stone upon the breast of her cowardly husband, and there was not even
mute defiance more.

What if he had killed the woman! At an inquest! A trial for murder!--In
lowest depths Raymount saw a lower deep, and stood looking down on the
pair with subsiding passion.

Amy had walked all the long distance from the station and more, for she
had lost her way. Again and again she had all but lain down to die on
the moorland waste on to which she had wandered, when the thought of
Corney and his need of her roused her again. Wet through and through,
buffeted by the wind so that she could hardly breathe, having had
nothing but a roll to eat since the night before, but aware of the want
of food only by its faintness, cold to the very heart, and almost
unconscious of her numbed limbs, she struggled on. When at last she got
to the lodge gate, the woman in charge of it took her for a common
beggar, and could hardly be persuaded to let her pass. She was just
going up to the door when she heard her husband's cry. She saw the
lighted window, flew to it, dashed it open, and entered. It was the last
expiring effort of the poor remnant of her strength. She had not life
enough left to resist the shock of her father-in-law's blows.

While still the father stood looking down on his children, the door
softly opened, and the mother entered. She knew nothing, not even that
her husband had returned, came merely to know how her unlovely but
beloved child was faring in his heavy sleep. She stood arrested. She saw
what looked like a murdered heap on the floor, and her husband standing
over it, like the murderer beginning to doubt whether the deed was as
satisfactory as the doing of it. But behind her came Hester, and peeping
over her shoulder understood at once. Almost she pushed her mother
aside, as she sprang to help. Her father would have prevented her. "No,
father!" she said, "it is time to disobey." A pang as of death went
through her at the thought that she had not spoken. All was clear! Amy
had come, and died defending her husband from his father! She put her
strong arms round the dainty little figure, and lifted it like a seaweed
hanging limp, its long wet hair continuing the hang of the body and
helpless head. Hester gave a great sob. Was this what Amy's lovely brave
womanhood had brought her to! What creatures men were! As the thought
passed through her, she saw on Amy's neck a frightful upswollen wale.
She looked at her father. There was the whip in his hand! "Oh, papa!"
she screamed, and dropped her eyes for shame: she could not look him in
the face--not for his shame, but for her shame through him. And as she
dropped them she saw the terrified face of Cornelius open its eyes.

"Oh, Corney!" said Hester, in the tone of an accusing angel, and ran
with her from the room.

The mother darted to her son.

But the wrath of the father rose afresh at sight of her "infatuation."

"Let the hound lie!" he said, and stepped between. "What right has he to
walk the earth like a man! He is but fit to go on all fours--Ha! ha!" he
went on, laughing wildly, "I begin to believe in the transmigration of
souls! I shall one day see that son of yours running about the place a
mangy mongrel!"

"You've killed him, Gerald!--your own son!" said the mother, with a
cold, still voice.

She saw the dread mark on his face, felt like one of the
dead--staggered, and would have fallen. But the arm that through her son
had struck her heart, caught and supported her. The husband bore the
wife once more to her chamber, and the foolish son, the heaviness of his
mother, was left alone on the floor, smarting, ashamed, and full of fear
for his wife, yet in ignorance that his father had hurt her.

A moment and he rose. But, lo, in that shameful time a marvel had been
wrought! The terror of his father which had filled him was gone. They
had met; his father had put himself in the wrong; he was no more afraid
of him. It was not hate that had cast out fear. I do not say that he
felt no resentment, he is a noble creature who, deserving to be beaten,
approves and accepts: there are not a few such children: Cornelius was
none of such; but it consoled him that he had been hardly used by his
father. He had been accustomed to look vaguely up to his father as a
sort of rigid but righteous divinity; and in a disobedient,
self-indulgent, poverty-stricken nature like his, reverence could only
take the form of fear; and now that he had seen his father in a rage,
the feeling of reverence, such as it was, had begun to give way, and
with it the fear: they were more upon a level. Then again, his father's
unmerciful use of the whip to him seemed a sort of settling of scores,
thence in a measure, a breaking down of the wall between them. He seemed
thereby to have even some sort of claim upon his father: so cruelly
beaten he seemed now near him. A weight as of a rock was lifted from his
mind by this violent blowing up of the horrible negation that had been
between them so long. He felt--as when punished in boyhood--as if the
storm had passed, and the sun had begun to appear. Life seemed a trifle
less uninteresting than before. He did not yet know to what a state his
wife was brought. He knew she was safe with Hester.

He listened, and finding all quiet, stole, smarting and aching, yet
cherishing his hurts like a possession, slowly to his room, there
tumbled himself into bed, and longed for Amy to come to him. He was an
invalid, and could not go about looking for her! it was her part to find
him! In a few minutes he was fast asleep once more, and forgot
everything in dreams of the garret with Amy.

When Mrs. Raymount came to herself, she looked up at her husband. He
stood expecting such reproaches as never yet in their married life had
she given him. But she stretched out her arms to him, and drew him to
her bosom. Her pity for the misery which could have led him to behave so
ill, joined to her sympathy in the distressing repentance which she did
not doubt must have already begun, for she knew her husband, made her
treat him much as she treated her wretched Corney. It went deep to the
man's heart. In the deep sense of degredation that had seized him--not
for striking his son, who, he said, and said over and over to himself,
entirely deserved it, but for striking a woman, be she who she
might--his wife's embrace was like balm to a stinging wound. But it was
only when, through Hester's behaviour to her and the words that fell
from her, he came to know who she was, that the iron, the beneficent
spear-head of remorse, entered his soul. Strange that the mere fact of
our knowing _who a person is_, should make such a difference in the
way we think of and behave to that person! A person is a person just the
same, whether one of the few of our acquaintances or not, and his claim
on us for all kinds of humanities just the same. Our knowledge of any
one is a mere accident in the claim, and can at most only make us feel
it more. But recognition of Amy showed his crime more heinous. It
brought back to Mr. Raymount's mind the vision of the bright girl he
used to watch in her daft and cheerful service, and with that vision
came the conviction that not she but Corney must be primarily to blame:
he had twice struck the woman his son had grievously wronged! He must
make to her whatever atonement was possible--first for having brought
the villain into the world to do her such wrong, then for his own
cruelty to her in her faithfulness! He pronounced himself the most
despicable and wretched of men: he had lifted his hand against a woman
that had been but in her right in following his son, and had shown
herself ready to die in his defence! His wife's tenderness confirmed the
predominance of these feelings, and he lay down in his dressing-room a
humbler man than he had ever been in his life before.




CHAPTER LVIII.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER-IN-LAW.


Hester carried poor little Amy to her own room, laid her on her own bed,
and did for her all one child of God could do for another. With hands
tender as a mother's, and weeping as she had never wept before, she
undressed her, put her in a warm bath, then got her into bed, and used
every enticement and persuasion to induce her to take some
nourishment--with poor success: the heart seemed to have gone out of
her. But instinctively Amy asked for milk, and that brought her round
better than anything else could have done. Still she lay like one dead,
seeming to care for nothing. She scarcely answered Hester when she
spoke, though she tried to smile to her: the most pitiful thing was that
smile Hester had ever seen. Her very brain and blood were haunted with
the presence of Corney's father. He seemed ever and always to be
standing over her and Corney with that terrible whip. All her thought
was how to get him away from the frightful place. Hester did her best to
reassure her. She told her Corney was fast asleep and little the worse;
did all she could to keep her quiet, and soothe her to sleep; and a
little after midnight was successful. Then she lay down herself on the
sofa beside her bed, sorely exhausted.

In the gray of the morning Mr. Raymount woke. He was aware of a great
hush about him. He looked from the window, and saw in the east the first
glimmer of a lovely spring-day. The stillness awed, almost frightened
him. It was not around him only but in him; his very soul seemed hushed,
as if in his sleep the Voice had said "Peace! be still!" He felt like a
naughty child, who, having slept, seems to have slept away his
naughtiness. Yesterday seemed far away--only the shudder of it was left;
but he knew if he began to think it would be back with its agony. Had
some angel been by his bedside to soothe him? A demon had surely
possessed him! Had it been but hinted as within the bounds of
possibility that he should behave to a woman as he had behaved, he would
have laughed the idea to scorn! He had always thought himself a
chivalrous gentleman! This was the end of his faith in himself! His
grand Hester would not feel herself safe from him! Truly a demon had
possessed him: might not an angel have been by him as he slept?

What had become of the poor girl? But he needed not to be anxious about
her: neither his wife nor his daughter would have turned her out into
the night! He would still be able to do something for her! He must make
atonement for treating her so brutally! Hope dawned feebly on his murky
horizon. He would be good to her as he would never have thought of had
he not ill-used her so! There was something to be done for
everybody--for himself and for poor Amy Amber! If she was gone he would
spend every penny he had to find her! But Cornelius would know! He must
see him! He would tell him he was sorry he had struck him!

In the yet dark gray of the morning he went to his son's room.

When he had all but reached the door he saw it was a little open. The
next instant he heard a soft voice within speaking persuadingly. He went
close and listened. It was Amy's voice!--In his house! In his son's
room! And after the lesson he had given them but the night before! This
was too bad! He pushed the door--and looked in! The dainty little figure
that had haunted his dreams was half lying on the bed, with an arm
thrown round his son. He could not see her face, but he could hear
perfectly the words that came through the dusk.

"Corney darling!" she said, "you must get up. You must come away. Here I
am to take you from them. I was sure they were not treating you well!
That was what made me come. I did not know how cruel they were, or I
would have come long ago. But, Corney, you must have done something very
wrong! I don't mean to me; I don't care what you do to me; I am your
own. But you must have done something very wrong to make your father so
angry with you! And you cannot have said you were sorry, or he would
have forgiven you! He can't be a bad man--though he does hurt
dreadfully!"

"He is a very good man!" muttered Corney from the pillow.

"But I'm afraid," continued Amy, "if he hasn't been able to make you
sorry before, he will never be able now! To beat you as he did last
night will never make you repent."

"Oh, he didn't hurt me much! You don't think a fellow would mind that
sort of thing from his own father--when he was in a passion, don't you
know? Besides, Amy--to you I will confess it--I only gave him too good
reason."

"Come, then, come. We will go somewhere. I want to make you think the
right way about the thing; and when you are sorry, we will come back and
tell him so. Then perhaps he will forgive me and we shall be all happy
again."

What was this he heard! The cunning creature! This was her trick to
entice him from his home!--And just as the poor boy was beginning to
repent too! She knew her trade! She would fall in with his better mood
and pretend goodness! She would help him to do what he ought! She would
be his teacher in righteousness! Deep, deep she was--beyond anything he
had dreamed possible! No doubt the fellow was just as bad as she, but
not the less must he do what little he yet might for the redemption of
his son!

But as he thought thus it smote him that Cornelius could not but prefer
going with one who loved him, and talked to him like that, let her be
what she might, to staying with a father who treated him as he had been
doing ever since he came home! He would behave to him very differently
after this! But he must interfere now, cost what it might! What else was
he father for!

He pushed the door wide and went in.

Amy heard and raised herself from the bed, stood upright and faced the
comer. There was just light enough to see that it was the father. The
horrid idea shot through her mind that it was his custom to come thus to
his son's room in the night and lash him. She roused every fevered nerve
to do battle with the strong man for his son. Clenching her little hands
hard, she stood like a small David between the bed and the coming
Goliath.

"Get out of this," he said, with the sternness of wrath suppressed.

"I came to take him away," said Amy, who had begun to tremble from head
to foot. "It is my business to take care of him."

"Your business to take care of him from his own"--he hesitated, then
said--"mother?" which certainly was the more fitting word.

"If," answered Amy, "a man is to leave father and mother and cleave to
his wife, it's the least thing the wife can do to take care of him from
his father!"

Mr. Raymount stood confounded: what could the hussey mean? Was she going
to pretend she was married to him? Indignation and rage began to rise
afresh; but if he gave way what might he not be guilty of a second time!
A rush of shame choked the words that crowded to his lips; and with the
self-restraint came wholesome doubt: was it possible he had married her?
Was it not possible? Would it not be just worthy of him to have done so
and never told one of his family! At least there need be nothing
incredible in it! This girl--yes--plainly she had both cunning and
fascination enough to make him not only run after her but marry her! How
was he to come at the truth of the thing? The coward would not have the
courage to contradict her, but he would know if he were lying!

"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that he has married you--without a
word to his own father or mother?"

Then out at last spoke Cornelius, rising on his elbow in the bed:

"Yes, father," he said, with slow determination, "I have married her. It
is all my fault, not one bit hers. I could never have persuaded her had
I not made her believe you knew all about it and had no objection."

"Why did you not let us know then?" cried the father in a voice which
ill suited the tameness of the question.

"Because I was a coward," answered Corney, speaking the truth with
courage. "I knew you would not like it."

"Little _you_ know of what I like or dislike!"

"You can soon prove him wrong, sir!" said Amy, clasping her hands, and
looking up in his face through the growing light of the morning.
"Forgive us, and take me too; I was so happy to think I was going to
belong to you all! I would never have married him, if I had
known--without your consent, I mean. It was very wrong of Corney, but I
will try to make him sorry for it."

"You never will!" said Corney, again burying his head in the pillow.

Now first the full horror of what he had done broke upon the mind of Mr.
Raymount. He stood for a moment appalled.

"You will let me take him away then?" said Amy, thinking he hesitated to
receive her.

Now whether it was from an impulse of honesty towards her, or of
justification of himself, I cannot tell, but he instantly returned:

"Do you know that his money is stolen?"

"If he stole it," she replied, "he will never steal again."

"He will never get another chance. He cannot get a situation now."

"I will work for both. It will only be me instead of him, and that's no
difference; he belongs to me as much as I do to him. If he had only kept
nothing from me, nothing of this would have happened.--Do come, Corney,
while I am able to walk; I feel as if I were going to die."

"And this is the woman I was such a savage to last night!" said Mr.
Raymount to himself.

"Forgive me, Amy!" he cried, stretching out his arms to her. "I have
behaved like a brute! To strike my son's wife! I deserve to be hanged
for it! I shall never forgive myself! But you must forgive me for
Christ's sake."

Long ere he had ended Amy was in his arms, clinging to him--he holding
her fast to his bosom.

The strong man was now the weaker; the father and not the daughter wept.
She drew back her head.

"Come, Corney," she cried; "come directly! Out of your bed and down on
your knees to your own blessed father, and confess your sins. Tell him
you're sorry for them, and you'll never do them again."

Corney obeyed: in some strange, lovely way she had got the mistressship
of his conscience as well as his heart. He got out of bed at once, went
straight down on his knees as she told him, and though he did not speak,
was presently weeping like a child. It was a strange group in the gray
of the new morning--ah, indeed, a new morning for them!--the girl in the
arms of the elderly man, and the youth kneeling at their feet, both men
weeping and the girl radiant.

Gerald Raymount closed the door on his son and his son's wife, and
hastened to his own to tell her all.

"Then surely will the forgiveness of God and his father take away
Corney's disgrace!" said the mother.

The arrival of this state of things was much favoured by the severe
illness into which Amy fell immediately the strain was off her. She was
brought almost to death's door. Corney in his turn became nurse, and
improved not a little from his own anxiety, her sweetness, and the
sympathy of every one, his father included, with both of them. But such
was her constitution that when she began to recover she recovered
rapidly, and was soon ready for the share lovingly allotted her in the
duties of the house.




CHAPTER LIX.

THE MESSAGE.


But the precious little Mark did not get better; and it soon became very
clear to the major that, although months might elapse ere he left them,
go he must before long. It was the sole cloud that now hung over the
family. But the parting drew nigh so softly and with so little increase
of suffering, also with such a changeless continuance of sweet, loving
ways, and mild but genuine enjoyment of existence, that of those who
would most feel the loss of him, he only was thoroughly aware that death
was at the door. The rest said the summer would certainly restore him;
but the major expected him to die in the first of the warm weather. The
child himself believed he was going soon. His patience, resting upon
entire satisfaction with what God pleased, was wonderful.

"Isn't it nice, majie," he said more than once, in differing forms,
"that I have nothing to do with anything--that there is no preparation,
no examination wanted for dying? It's all done for you! You have just to
be lifted and taken--and that's so nice! I don't know what it will feel
like, but when God is with you, you don't mind anything."

Another time he said,

"I was trying, while you were resting, majie, to tell Saffy a dream I
had; and when I had told her she said, 'But it's all nonsense, you know,
Mark! It's only a dream!'--What do you think, majie?"

"Was it a dream, Mark?" asked the major.

"Yes, it was a dream, but do you think a dream is nothing at all? I
think, if it is a good dream, it must be God's. For you know every good
as well as every perfect gift is from the father of lights! He made the
thing that dreams and the things that set it dreaming; so he must be the
master of the dreams--at least when he pleases--and surely always of
those who mind him!--The father of lights!" he repeated; "what a
beautiful name! The father of all the bright things in the world!
Hester's eyes, and your teeth, majie! and all the shines of the fire on
the things in the room! and the sun and the far-away stars that I shall
know more about by and by! and all the glad things that come and go in
my mind, as I lie here and you are sitting quiet in your chair,
majie!--and sometimes at night, oh, so many! when you think I am
sleeping! Oh, I will love him, and be afraid of nothing! I know he is in
it all, and the dark is only the box he keeps his bright things in!

"Oh, he is such a good father of lights! Do you know, majie, I used to
think he came and talked to me in the window-seat when I was a child!
What if he really did, and I should be going to be made sure that he
did--up there, I mean, you know--I don't know where, but it's where
Jesus went when he went back to his papa! Oh, how happy Jesus must have
been when he got back to his papa!"

Here he began to cough, and could not talk more; but the major did not
blame himself that he had not found the heart to stop him, though he
knew it was not what is called _good_ for him: the child when moved
to talk must be happier talking, and what if he died a few minutes
sooner for it!--was born again rather! thought the major to himself--and
almost added, "I would that my time were come!" For the child's and the
soldier's souls had got nearer to each other, than were yet any two
souls in that house in absolute love.

A great silent change, not the less a development, had been and was
passing in the major. Mark not only was an influence on him altogether
new, but had stirred up and brought alive in him a thousand influences
besides, not merely of things hitherto dormant in him, but of memories
never consciously, operant--words of his mother; a certain
Sunday-evening with her; her last blessing on his careless head; the
verse of a well-known hymn she repeated as she was dying; old scraps of
things she had taught him; dying little Mark gave life to these and many
other things. The major had never been properly a child, but now lived
his childness over again with Mark in a better fashion.

"I have had such a curious, such a beautiful dream, majie!" he said,
waking in the middle of one night. The major was sitting up with him: he
was never left alone now.

"What was it, Markie?" asked the major.

"I should like Corney to hear it," returned Mark.

"I will call him, and you can then tell it us together."

"Oh, I don't think it would do to wake Corney up! He would not like
that! He must hear it sometime--but it must be at the right time, else
he would laugh at it, and I could not bear that. You know Corney always
laughs, without thinking first whether the thing was made for laughing
at!"

By this time Corney had been to see Mark often. He always spoke kindly
to him now, but always as a little goose, and Mark, the least assuming
of mortals, being always in earnest, did not like the things he wanted
"to go in at Corney's ears to be blown away by Corney's nose!" For
Corney had a foolish way of laughing through his nose, and it sounded so
scornful, that the poor child would not expose to it what he loved.
Hence he was not often ready to speak freely to Corney--or to another
when he was within hearing distance.

"But I'll tell you what, majie," he went on "--I'll tell _you_ the
dream, and then, if I should go away without having told him, you must
tell it to Corney. He won't laugh then--at least I don't think he will.
Do you promise to tell it to him, majie?"

"I will," answered the major, drawing himself up with a mental military
salute, and ready to obey to the letter whatever Mark should require of
him.

Without another word the child began.

"I was somewhere," he said, "--I don't know where, and it don't matter
where, for Jesus was there too. And Jesus gave a little laugh, such a
beautiful little laugh, when he saw me! And he said, 'Ah, little one,
now you see me! I have been getting your eyes open as fast as I could
all the time! We're in our father's house together now! But, Markie,
where's your brother Corney?' And I answered and said, 'Jesus, I'm very
sorry, but I don't know. I know very well that I'm my brother's keeper,
but I can't tell where he is.' Then Jesus smiled again, and said, 'Never
mind, then. I didn't ask you because I didn't know myself. But we must
have Corney here--only we can't get him till he sets himself to be good!
You must tell Corney, only not just yet, that I want him. Tell him that
he and I have got one father, and I couldn't bear to have him out in the
cold, with all the horrid creatures that won't be good! Tell him I love
him so that I will be very sharp with him if he don't make haste and
come home. Our father is _so_ good, and it is dreadful to me that
Corney won't mind him! He is _so_ patient with him, Markie!' 'I
know that, Jesus,' I said; 'I know that he could easily take him to
pieces again because he don't go well, but he would much rather make him
go right'--I suppose I was thinking of mamma's beautiful gold watch,
with the wreath of different-coloured gold round the face of it: that
wouldn't go right, and papa wanted to change it, but mamma liked the old
one best. And I don't know what came next.--Now what am I to do, majie?
You see I couldn't bear to have that dream laughed at. Yet I must tell
it to Corney because there is a message in it for him!"

Whether the boy plainly believed that the Lord had been with him, and
had given him a message to his brother, the major dared not inquire.
"Let the boy think what he thinks!" he said to himself. "I dare not look
as if I doubted." Therefore he did not speak, but looked at the child
with his soul in his eyes.

"I do not think," Mark went on, "that he wanted me to tell Corney the
minute I woke: he knows how sore it would make me to have him laugh at
what _he_ said! I think when the time comes he will let me know it
is come. But if I found I was dying, you know, I would try and tell him,
whether he laughed or not, rather than go without having done it. But if
Corney knew I was going, I don't think he would laugh."

"I don't think he would," returned the major. "Corney is a better boy--a
little--I do think, than he used to be. You will be able to speak to him
by and by, I fancy."

A feeling had grown upon the household as if there were in the house a
strange lovely spot whence was direct communication with heaven--a
little piece cut out of the new paradise and set glowing in the heart of
the old house of Yrndale--the room where Mark lay shining in his bed, a
Christ-child, if ever child might bear the name. As often as the door
opened loving eyes would seek first the spot where the sweet face, the
treasure of the house, lay, reflecting already the light of the sunless
kingdom.

That same afternoon, as the major, his custom always of an afternoon,
dozed in his chair, the boy suddenly called out in a clear voice,

"Oh, majie, there was one bit of my dream I did not tell you! I've just
remembered it now for the first time!--After what I told you,--do you
remember?--"

"I do indeed," answered the major.

"--After that, Jesus looked at me for one minute--no, not a minute, for
a minute--on mamma's watch at least--is much longer, but say perhaps for
three seconds of a minute, and then said just one word,--'Our father,
Markie!' and I could not see him any more. But it did not seem to matter
the least tiny bit. There was a stone near me, and I sat down upon it,
feeling as if I could sit there without moving to all eternity, so happy
was I, and it was because Jesus's father was touching me everywhere; my
head felt as if he were counting the hairs of it. And he was not only
close to me, but far and far and farther away, and all between. Near and
far there was the father! I neither saw nor felt nor heard him, and yet
I saw and heard and felt him so near that I could neither see nor hear
nor feel him. I am talking very like nonsense, majie, but I can't do it
better. It was God, God everywhere, and there was no nowhere anywhere,
but all was God, God, God; and my heart was nothing, knew nothing but
him; and I felt I could sit there for ever, because I was right in the
very middle of God's heart. That was what made everything look so all
right that I was anxious about nothing and nobody."

Here he paused a little.

"He had a sleeping draught last night!" said the major to himself.
"--But the sleeping draught was God's, and who can tell whether God may
not have had it given to him just that he might talk with him! Some
people may be better to talk to when they are asleep, and others when
they are awake!"

"And then, after a while," the boy resumed, "I seemed to see a black
speck somewhere in the all-blessed. And I could not understand it, and I
did not like it; but always I kept seeing this black speck--only one;
and it made me at last, in spite of my happiness, almost miserable,
'Only,' I said to myself, 'whatever the black speck may be, God will rub
it white when he is ready!' for, you knew, he couldn't go on for ever
with a black speck going about in his heart! And when I said this, all
at once I knew the black speck was Corney, and I gave a cry. But with
that the black speck began to grow thin, and it grew thin and thin till
all at once I could see it no more, and the same instant Corney stood
beside me with a smile on his face, and the tears running clown his
cheeks. I stretched out my arms to him, and he caught me up in his, and
then it was all right; I was Corney's keeper, and Corney was my keeper,
and God was all of us's keeper. And it was then I woke, majie, not
before."

The days went on. Every new day Mark said, "Now, majie, I do think
to-day I shall tell Corney my dream and the message I have for him!" But
the day grew old and passed, and the dream was not told. The next and
the next and the next passed, and he seemed to the major not likely ever
to have the strength to tell Corney. Still even his mother, who was now
hardly out of his room during the day, though the major would never
yield the active part of the nursing, did not perceive that his time was
drawing nigh. Hester, also, was much with him now, and sometimes his
father, occasionally Corney and Mrs. Corney, as Mark called her with a
merry look--very pathetic on his almost transparent face; but none of
them seemed to think his end quite near.

One of the marvellous things about the child was his utter lack of
favouritism. He had got so used to the major's strong arms and
systematic engineering way of doing things as to prefer his nursing to
that of any one else; yet he never objected to the substitution of
another when occasion might require. He took everything that came to him
as in itself right and acceptable. He seemed in his illness to love
everybody more than even while he was well. For every one he kept his or
her own place. His mother was the queen; but he was nearly as happy with
Hester as with her; and the major was great; but he never showed any
discomfort, not to say unhappiness, when left alone for a while with
Saffy--who was not always so reasonable as he would have liked her to
be. When several were in the room, he would lie looking from one to
another like a miser contemplating his riches--and well he might! for
such riches neither moth nor rust corrupt, and they are the treasures of
heaven also.

One evening most of the family were in the room: a vague sense had
diffused itself that the end was not far off, and an unconfessed
instinct had gathered them.

A lamp was burning, but the fire-light was stronger.

Mark spoke. In a moment the major was bending over him.

"Majie," he said, "I want Corney. I want to tell him."

The major, on his way to Corney, told the father that the end was nigh.
With sorely self-accusing heart, for the vision of the boy on the stone
in the middle of the moor haunted him, he repaired to the anteroom of
heaven.

Mark kept looking for Corney's coming, his eyes turning every other
moment to the door. When his father entered he stretched out his arms to
him. The strong man bending over him could not repress a sob. The boy
pushed him gently away far enough to see his face, and looked at him as
if he could not quite believe his eyes.

"Father," he said--he had never called him _father_ before--"you
must be glad, not sorry. I am going to your father and my father--to our
great father."

Then seeing Corney come in, he stretched his arms towards him past his
father, crying, "Corney! Corney!" just as he used to call him when he
was a mere child. Corney bent over him, but the outstretched arms did
not close upon him; they fell.

But he was not yet ascended. With a strength seeming wonderful when they
thought of it afterwards, he signed to the major.

"Majie," he whispered, with a look and expression into the meaning of
which the major all his life long had never done inquiring, "Majie!
Corney! you tell!"

Then he went.

I think it was the grief at the grave of Lazarus that made our Lord
weep, not his death. One with eyes opening into both worlds could hardly
weep over any law of the Father of Lights! I think it was the
impossibility of getting them comforted over this thing death, which
looked to him so different from what they thought it, that made the
fearless weep, and give them in Lazarus a foretaste of his own
resurrection.

The major alone did not weep. He stood with his arms folded, like a
sentry relieved, and waiting the next order. Even Corney's eyes filled
with tears, and he murmured, "Poor Markie!" It should have been "Poor
Corney!" He stooped and kissed the insensate face, then drew back and
gazed with the rest on the little pilgrim-cloak the small prophet had
dropped as he rose to his immortality.

Saffy, who had been seated gazing into the fire, and had no idea of what
had taken place, called out in a strange voice, "Markie! Markie!"

Hester turned to her at the cry, and saw her apparently following
something with her eyes along the wall from the bed to the window. At
the curtained window she gazed for a moment, and then her eyes fell, and
she sat like one in a dream. A moment more and she sprang to her feet
and ran to the bed, crying again, "Markie! Markie!" Hester lifted her,
and held her to kiss the sweet white face. It seemed to content her; she
went back to her stool by the fire; and there sat staring at the
curtained window with the look of one gazing into regions unknown.

That same night, ere the solemn impression should pass, the major took
Corney to his room, and recalling every individual expression he could
of the little prophet-dreamer, executed, not without tears, the
commission intrusted to him. And Corney did not laugh. He listened with
a grave, even sad face; and when the major ceased, his eyes were full of
tears.

"I shall not forget Markie's dream," he said.

Thus came everything in to help the youth who had begun to mend his
ways.

And shall we think the boy found God not equal to his dream of him? He
made our dreaming: shall it surpass in its making his mighty self? Shall
man dream better than God? or God's love be inferior to man's
imagination or his own?




CHAPTER LX.

A BIRTHDAY GIFT.


When Mark's little cloak was put in the earth, for a while the house
felt cold--as if the bit of Paradise had gone out. Mark's room was like
a temple forsaken of its divinity. But it was not to be drifted up with
the sand of forgetfulness! The major put in a petition that it might
continue to be called Mark's, but should be considered the major's: he
would like to put some of his things in it and occupy it when he came!
Every one was pleased with the idea. They no longer would feel so
painfully that Mark was not there when his dear majie occupied the room!

To the major it was thenceforth chamber and chapel and monument. It
should not be a tomb save as upon the fourth day the sepulchre in the
garden! he would fill it with live memories of the risen child! Very
different was his purpose from that sickly haunting of the grave in
which some loving hearts indulge! We are bound to be hopeful, nor wrong
our great-hearted father.

Mark's books and pictures remained undisturbed. The major dusted them
with his own hands. Every day he read in Mark's bible. He never took it
away with him, but always when he returned in whatever part of the bible
he might have read in the meantime, he resumed his reading where he had
left off in it, The sword the boy used so to admire for its brightness
that he had placed it unsheathed upon the wall for the firelight to play
upon it, he left there, shining still. In Mark's bed the major slept,
and to Mark's chamber he went always to shut to the door. In solitude
there he learned a thousand things his busy life had prepared him for
learning. The master had come to him in the child. In him was fulfilled
a phase of the promise that whosoever receives a child in the name of
Jesus receives Jesus and his father. Through ministering to the child he
had come to know the child's elder brother and master. It was the
presence of the master in the child, that without his knowing it, opened
his heart to him, and he had thus entertained more than an angel.

Time passed, and their hearts began, not through any healing power in
time, but under the holy influences of duty and love and hope, to cover
with flowers their furrows of grief. Hester's birthday was at hand. The
major went up to London to bring her a present. He was determined to
make the occasion, if he could, a cheerful one.

He wrote to his cousin Helen asking if he might bring a friend with him.
He did not think, he said, his host or hostess knew him, but Hester did:
he was a young doctor, and his name was Christopher. He had met him
amongst "Hester's friends," and was much taken with him. He would be a
great acquisition to their party. He had been rather ailing for some
time, and as there was much less sickness now, he had persuaded him to
take a little relaxation.

Hester said for her part she would be most happy to see Mr. Christopher;
she had the highest esteem for him; and therewith she told them
something of his history. Mr. Raymount had known his grandfather a
little in the way of business, and was the more interested in him.

I may mention here that Corney soon began to show a practical interest
in the place--first in the look of it--its order and tidiness, and then
in its yield, beginning to develop a faculty for looking after property.
Next he took to measuring the land. Here the major could give him no end
of help; and having thus found a point of common interest, they began to
be drawn a little together, and to conceive a mild liking for each
other's company. Corney saw by degrees that the major knew much more
than he; and the major discovered that Corney had some brains.

Everything was now going on well at Yrndale--thanks to the stormy and
sorrowful weather that had of late so troubled its spiritual atmosphere,
and killed so many evil worms in its moral soil!

As soon as the distress caused by Corney's offences was soothed by
reviving love for the youth and fresh hope in him, Hester informed her
parents of the dissolution of her engagement to lord Gartley. The mother
was troubled: it is the girl that suffers evil judgment in such a case,
and she knew how the tongue of the world would wag. But those who
despise the ways of the world need not fret that low minds attribute to
them the things of which low minds are capable. The world and its
judgments will pass: the poisonous tongue will one day become pure, and
make ample apology for its evil speaking. The tongue is a fire, but
there is a stronger fire than the tongue. Her father and the major cared
little for this aspect of the matter, for they had both come to the
conclusion that the public is only a sort of innocent, whose behaviour
may be troublesome or pleasant, but whose opinion is worth considerably
less than that of a wise hound, The world is a fine thing to save, but a
wretch to worship. Neither did the father care much for lord Gartley,
though he had liked him; the major, we know, both despised and detested
him.

Hester herself was annoyed to find how soon the idea of his lordship
came to be altogether a thing of her past, looking there in its natural
place, a thing to trouble her no more. At his natural distance from her,
she could not fail to see what a small creature her imagination, and the
self that had mingled with her noblest feelings concerning him, had
chosen as her companion and help in her schemes of good. But she was
able to look on the whole blunder with calmness, and a thankfulness that
kept growing as the sting of her fault lost its burning, lenified in the
humility it brought.

There was nothing left her now, she said to herself, but the best of
all--a maiden life devoted to the work of her master. She was not
willing any more to run the risk of loosing her power to help the Lord's
creatures, down trodden of devils, _well-to-do_ people, and their
own miserable weaknesses and vices. Even remaining constant to duty, she
must, in continuous disappointment and the mockery of a false unity,
have lost the health, and worse, the spirits necessary to wholesome
contact and such work as she was fain to do. In constant opposition to
her husband, spending the best part of her strength in resistance ere it
could reach the place where it ought to be applied entire, with strife
consciously destroying her love and keeping her in a hopeless unrest,
how could any light have shone from her upon those whose darkness made
her miserable! Now she would hold herself free! What a blessed thing it
was to be her own mistress and the slave of the Lord, externally free!
To be the slave of a husband was the worst of all slavery except
self-slavery!

Nor was there in this her conclusion anything of chagrin, or pettish
self-humiliation. St. Paul abstained from marriage that he might the
better do the work given him by the Lord. For his perilous and laborious
work it was better, he judged, that he should not be married. It was for
the kingdom of heaven's sake.

Her spirits soon returned more buoyant than before. Her health was
better. She found she had been suffering from an oppression she had
refused to recognize--already in no small measure yoked, and right
unequally. Only a few weeks passed, and, in the prime of health and that
glorious thing feminine strength, she looked a yet grander woman than
before. There was greater freedom in her carriage, and she seemed to
have grown. The humility that comes with the discovery of error had made
her yet more dignified: true dignity comes only of humility. Pride is
the ruin of dignity, for it is a worshipping of self, and that involves
a continuous sinking. Humility, the worship of the Ideal--that is, of
the man Christ Jesus, is the only lifter-up of the head.

Everybody felt her more lovable than before. Her mother began to feel an
enchantment of peace in her presence. Her father sought her company more
than ever in his walks, and not only talked to her about Corney, but
talked about his own wrong feelings towards him, and how he had been
punished for them by what they wrought in him. He had begun, he told
her, to learn many things he had supposed he knew he had only thought
and written and talked about them! Father and daughter were therefore
much to each other now. Even Corney perceived a change in her. For one
thing, scarce a shadow of that "superiority" remained which used to
irritate him so much, making him rebel against whatever she said. She
became more and more Amy's ideal of womanhood, and by degrees she taught
her husband to read more justly his beautiful sister. She pointed out to
him how few would have tried to protect and deliver him as she had done;
how few would have so generously taken herself, a poor uneducated girl,
to a sister's heart. So altogether things were going well in the family:
it was bidding fair to be a family forevermore.

Miss Dasomma came to spend a few days with Hester and help celebrate her
birthday: she was struck with improvement where she would have been
loath to allow it either necessary or possible. Compelled to admit its
presence, she loved her yet more--for the one a fact, the other was a
necessity.

Her birthday was the sweetest of summer days, and she looked a perfect
summer-born woman. She dressed herself in white, but not so much for her
own birthday as for Mark's into the heavenly kingdom.

After breakfast all except the mother went out. Hester was little
inclined to talk, and the major was in a thoughtful, brooding mood. Miss
Dasomma and Mr. Raymount alone conversed. When the rest reached a
certain spot whither Mr. Raymount had led them for the sake of the view,
Hester had fallen a little behind, and Christopher went back to meet
her.

"You are thinking of your brother," he said, in a tone that made her
feel grateful.

"Yes," she answered.

"I knew by your eyes," he returned. "I wish I could talk to you about
him. The right way of getting used to death is to go nearer the dead.
Suppose you tell me something about him! Such children are rare! They
are prophets to whose word we have to listen."

He went on like this, drawing her from sadness with gentle speech about
children and death, and the look and reality of things; and so they
wandered about the moor for a little while before joining the rest.

Mr. Raymount was much pleased with Christopher, and even Corney found
himself drawn to his side, feeling, though he did not know it, a
strength in him that offered protection.

The day went on in the simplest, pleasantest intercourse. After lunch,
Hester opened her piano, and asked Miss Dasomma, gifted in her art even
to the pitch prophetic, to sit down and play---"upon _us_" she
said. And in truth she did: for what the hammers were to the strings,
such were the sounds she drew from them to the human chords stretched
expectant before her. Vibrating souls responded in the music that is
unheard. A rosy conscious silence pervaded the summer afternoon and the
ancient drawing-room, in which the listeners were one here and one
there, all apart--except Corney and "Mrs. Corney," as for love of Mark
she liked to be called, on a sofa side by side, and Saffy playing with a
white kitten, neither attending to the music, which may have been doing
something for both notwithstanding. Mr. Raymount sat in a great soft
chair with a book in his hand, listening more than reading: his wife lay
on a couch, and soon passed into dreams of pleasant sounds; the major
stood erect by Miss Dasomma, a little behind her, with his arms folded
across his chest; and Christopher sat on a low window-seat in an oriel,
where the balmiest of perfumed airs freely entered. Between him and all
the rest hung the heavy folds of a curtain, which every now and then
swelled out like the sail of Cleopatra's barge "upon the river Cydnus."

He sat with the tears rolling down his face, for the music to which he
listened seemed such as he had only dreamed of before. It was the music
of climes where sorrow is but the memory of that which has been turned
into joy. He thought no one saw him, and no one would have seen him but
for the traitor wind seeming only to play with the curtain but every now
and then blowing it wide out, as if the sheet of the sail had been let
go, and revealing him to Hester where she sat on a stool beside her
mother and held her sleeping hand. It was to her the revelation of a
heart, and she saw with reverence.

Lord Gartley could sing, lord Gartley could play, lord Gartley
understood the technicalities of music; Christopher could neither play
nor sing--at least anything more than a common psalm-tune to lead the
groans of his poor--and understood nothing of music; but there was in
him a whole sea of musical delight, to be set in motion by the
enchantress who knew the spell! Such an enchantress might float in the
bark of her own will across the heaving waves of that sea, moon and wind
of its tides and currents! When the music ceased she saw him go softly
from the room.

After an early dinner, early that they might have room for a walk in the
twilight, the major proposed the health of his cousin Hester, and made a
little speech in her honour and praise. Nor did his praise make Hester
feel awkward, for praise which is the odour of love neither fevers nor
sickens.

"And now, cousin Hester," concluded the major, "you know that I love you
like a child of my own! It is a good thing you are not, for if you were
then you would not be half so good, or so beautiful, or so wise, or so
accomplished as you are! Will you oblige me by accepting this foolscap,
which, I hope, will serve to make this blessed day yet a trifle more
pleasant to look back upon when Mark has got his old majie again. It
represents a sort of nut, itself too bulky for a railway truck. If my
Hester choose to call it an empty nut, I don't mind: the good of it to
her will be in the filling of it with many kernels."

With this enigmatical peroration the major made Hester a low bow, and
handed her a sheet of foolscap, twice folded, and tied with a bit of
white ribbon. She took it with a sweetly radiant curiosity. It was the
title-deed of the house in Addison square. She gave a cry of joy, got
up, threw her arms round majie's neck, and kissed him.

"Aha!" said the major, "if I had been a young man now, I should not
have had that! But I will not be conceited; I know what it is she means
it for: the kiss collective of all the dirty men and women in her dear
slums, glorified into that of an angel of God!"

Hester was not a young lady given to weeping, but she did here break
down and cry. Her long-cherished dream come true! She had no money, but
that did not trouble her: there was always a way of doing when one was
willing to begin small!

This is indeed a divine law! There shall be no success to the man who is
not willing to begin small. Small is strong, for it only can grow
strong. Big at the outset is but bloated and weak. There are thousands
willing to do great things for one willing to do a small thing; but
there never was any truly great thing that did not begin small.

In her delight Hester, having read the endorsement, handed the paper,
without opening it, to Christopher, who sat next her, with the
unconscious conviction that he would understand the delight it gave her.
He took it and, with a look asking if he might, opened it.

The major had known for some time that Mr. Raymount wanted to sell the
house, and believed, from the way Hester spent herself in London, he
could not rejoice her better than by purchasing it for her; so, just as
it was, with everything as it stood in it, he made it his birthday-gift
to her.

"There is more here than you know," said Christopher, handing her back
the paper. She opened it and saw something about a thousand pounds, for
which again she gave joyous and loving thanks. But before the evening
was over she learned that it was not a thousand pounds the dear majie
had given her, but the thousand a year he had offered her if she would
give up lord Gartley. Thus a new paradise of God-labour opened on the
delighted eyes of Hester.

In the evening, when the sun was down, they went for another walk. I
suspect the major, but am not sure:--anyhow, in the middle of a fir-wood
Hester found herself alone with Christopher. The wood rose towards the
moor, growing thinner and thinner as it ascended. They were climbing
westward full in face of the sunset, which was barred across the trees
in gold, blue, rosy pink, and a lovely indescribable green, such as is
not able to live except in the after sunset. The west lay like the
beautiful dead not yet faded into the brown dark of mother-earth. The
fir-trees and bars of sunset made a glorious gate before them.

"Oh, Hester!" said Christopher--he had been hearing her called
_Hester_ on all sides all day long, and it not only came of itself,
but stayed unnoticed of either--"if that were the gate of heaven, and we
climbing to it now to go in and see all the dear people!"

"That would be joy!" responded Hester.

"Come then: let us imagine it a while. There is no harm in dreaming."

"Sometimes when Mark would tell me one of his dreams, I could not help
thinking," said Hester, "how much more of reality there was in it than
in most so-called realities."

Then came a silence.

"Suppose," began Christopher again, "one claiming to be a prophet
appeared, saying that in the life to come we were to go on living just
such a life as here, with the one difference that we should be no longer
deluded with the idea of something better; that all our energies would
then be, and ought now to be spent in making the best of what we
had--without any foolish indulgence in hope or aspiration:--what would
you say to that?"

"I would say," answered Hester, "he must have had his revelation either
from God, from a demon, or from his own heart: it could not be from God,
because it made the idea of a God an impossibility; it must come from a
demon or from himself, and in neither case was worth paying attention
to.--I think," she went on, "my own feeling or imagination must be
better worth my own heeding than that of another. The essential delight
of this world seems to me to lie in the expectation of a better."

They emerged from the wood, the bare moor spread on all sides before
them, and lo, the sunset was countless miles away! Hills, fields,
rivers, mountains, lay between! Christopher stopped, and turning, looked
at Hester.

"Is this the reality?" he said. "We catch sight of the gate of heaven,
and set out for it. It comes nearer and nearer. All at once a something
they call a reality of life comes between, and the shining gate is
millions of miles away! Then cry some of its pilgrims, 'Alas, we are
fooled! There is no such thing as the gate of heaven! Let us eat and
drink and do what good we can, for to-morrow we die!' But is there no
gate because we find none on the edge of the wood where it seemed to
lie? There it is, before us yet, though a long way farther back. What
has space or time to do with being? Can distance destroy fact? What if
one day the chain of gravity were to break, and, starting from the edge
of the pine wood, we fared or flew farther and farther towards the bars
of gold and rose and green! And what if even then we found them recede
and recede as we advanced, until heart was gone out of us, and we could
follow no longer, but, sitting down on some wayside cloud, fell a
thinking! Should we not say--Justly are we punished, and our punishment
was to follow the vain thing we took for heaven-gate! Heaven-gate is too
grand a goal to be reached foot or wing. High above us, it yet opens
inside us; and when it opens, down comes the gate of amber and rose, and
we step through both, at once!"

He was silent. They were on the top of the ridge. A little beyond stood
the dusky group of their companions. And the world lay beneath them.

"Who would live in London who might live here?" said the major.

"No one," answered Hester and Christopher together.

The major turned and looked at them almost in alarm.

"But I _may not_," said Hester. "God chooses that I live in
London."

Said Christopher,--

"Christ would surely have liked better to go on living in his father's
house than go where so many did not know either him or his father! But
he could not go on enjoying his heaven while those many lived only a
death in life. He must go and start them for home! Who in any measure
seeing what Christ sees and feeling as Christ feels, would rest in the
enjoyment of beauty while so many are unable to desire it? We are not
real human beings until we are of the same mind with Christ. There are
many who would save the pathetic and interesting and let the ugly and
provoking take care of themselves! Not so Christ, nor those who have
learned of him!"

Christopher spoke so quietly there seemed even a contrast between his
manner and the fervour of his words.

"I would take as many in with me," he said, turning to Hester, "as I
might, should it be after a thousand years I went in at the gate of the
sunset--the sunrise rather, of which the sunset is a leaf of the folding
door! It would be sorrow to go in alone. My people, my own, my own
humans, my men, my women, my little ones, must go in with me!"

Hester laboured, and Christopher laboured. And if one was the heart and
the other the head, the major was the right hand. But what they did and
how they did it, would require a book, and no small one, to itself.

It is no matter that here I cannot tell their story. No man ever did the
best work who copied another. Let every man work out the thing that is
in him! Who, according to the means he has, great or small, does the
work given him to do, stands by the side of the Saviour, is a
fellow-worker with him. Be a brother after thy own fashion, only see it
be a brother thou art. The one who weighed, is found wanting the most,
is the one whose tongue and whose life do not match--who says, "Lord!
Lord!" and does not the thing the Lord says; the deacon who finds a good
seat for the man in goodly apparel, and lets the poor widow stand in the
aisle unheeded; the preacher who descants on the love of God in the
pulpit, and looks out for a rich wife in his flock; the missionary who
would save the heathen, but gives his own soul to merchandize; the woman
who spends her strength for the poor, and makes discord at home.





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