Part 5 out of 9
Hockin; and the patient old hen, who was come in a basket of hay to
see the end of it, echoed with a cluck that sentiment.
These things being so, I was left once more to follow my own
guidance, which had seemed, in the main, to be my fortune ever
since my father died. For one day Mr. Shovelin had appeared, to my
great joy and comfort, as a guide and guardian; but, alas! for one
day only. And, except for his good advice and kind paternal
conduct to me, it seemed at present an unlucky thing that I had
ever discovered him. Not only through deep sense of loss and real
sorrow for him, but also because Major Hockin, however good and
great and generous, took it unreasonably into his head that I threw
him over, and threw myself (as with want of fine taste he expressed
it) into the arms of the banker. This hurt me very much, and I
felt that Major Hockin could never have spoken so hastily unless
his hair had been originally red; and so it might be detected, even
now, where it survived itself, though blanched where he brushed it
into that pretentious ridge. Sometimes I liked that man, when his
thoughts were large and liberal; but no sooner had he said a fine
brave thing than he seemed to have an after-thought not to go too
far with it; just as he had done about the poor robbed woman from
the steerage and the young man who pulled out his guinea. I paid
him for my board and lodging, upon a scale settled by Uncle Sam
himself, at California prices; therefore I am under no obligation
to conceal his foibles. But, take him altogether, he was good and
brave and just, though unable, from absence of inner light, to be
to me what Uncle Sam had been.
When I perceived that the Major condemned my simple behavior in
London, and (if I may speak it, as I said it to myself) "blew hot
and cold" in half a minute--hot when I thought of any good things
to be done, and cold as soon as he became the man to do them--also,
when I remembered what a chronic plague was now at Bruntsea, in the
shape of Sir Montague, who went to and fro, but could never be
trusted to be far off, I resolved to do what I had long been
thinking of, and believed that my guardian, if he had lived another
day, would have recommended. I resolved to go and see Lord
Castlewood, my father's first cousin and friend in need.
When I asked my host and hostess what they thought of this, they
both declared that it was the very thing they were at the point of
advising, which, however, they had forborne from doing because I
never took advice. At this, as being such a great exaggeration, I
could not help smiling seriously; but I could not accept their sage
opinion that, before I went to see my kinsman, I ought to write and
ask his leave to do so. For that would have made it quite a rude
thing to call, as I must still have done, if he should decline
beforehand to receive me. Moreover, it would look as if I sought
an invitation, while only wanting an interview. Therefore, being
now full of money again, I hired the flyman who had made us taste
the water, and taking train at Newport, and changing at two or
three places as ordered, crossed many little streams, and came to a
fair river, which proved to be the Thames itself, a few miles above
In spite of all the larger lessons of travel, adventure, and
tribulation, my heart was throbbing with some rather small
feelings, as for the first time I drew near to the home of my
forefathers. I should have been sorry to find it ugly or mean, or
lying in a hole, or even modern or insignificant; and when none of
these charges could be brought against it, I was filled with highly
discreditable pain that Providence had not seen fit to issue me
into this world in the masculine form; in which case this fine
property would, according to the rules of mankind, have been mine.
However, I was very soon ashamed of such ideas, and sat down on a
bank to dispel them with the free and fair view around me.
The builder of that house knew well both where to place and how to
shape it, so as not to spoil the site. It stood near the brow of a
bosoming hill, which sheltered it, both with wood and clevice, from
the rigor and fury of the north and east; while in front the
sloping foreground widened its soft lap of green. In bays and
waves of rolling grass, promontoried, here and there, by jutting
copse or massive tree, and jotted now and then with cattle as calm
as boats at anchor, the range of sunny upland fell to the reedy
fringe and clustered silence of deep river meadows. Here the
Thames, in pleasant bends of gentleness and courtesy, yet with will
of its own ways, being now a plenteous river, spreads low music,
and holds mirror to the woods and hills and fields, casting afar a
broad still gleam, and on the banks presenting tremulous infinitude
Now these things touched me all the more because none of them
belonged to me; and, after thus trying to enlarge my views, I got
up with much better heart, and hurried on to have it over, whatever
it might be. A girl brought up in the real English way would have
spent her last shilling to drive up to the door in the fly at the
station--a most sad machine--but I thought it no disgrace to go in
a more becoming manner.
One scarcely ever acts up to the force of situation; and I went as
quietly into that house as if it were Betsy Bowen's. If any body
had been rude to me, or asked who I was, or a little thing of that
sort, my spirit might have been up at once, and found, as usually
happens then, good reason to go down afterward. But happily there
was nothing of the kind. An elderly man, without any gaudy badges,
opened the door very quietly, and begged my pardon, before I spoke,
for asking me to speak softly. It was one of his lordship's very
worst days, and when he was so, every sound seemed to reach him. I
took the hint, and did not speak at all, but followed him over deep
matting into a little room to which he showed me. And then I gave
him a little note, written before I left Bruntsea, and asked him
whether he thought that his master was well enough to attend to it.
He looked at me in a peculiar manner, for he had known my father
well, having served from his youth in the family; but he only asked
whether my message was important. I answered that it was, but that
I would wait for another time rather than do any harm. But he said
that, however ill his master was, nothing provoked him more than to
find that any thing was neglected through it. And before I could
speak again he was gone with my letter to Lord Castlewood.
Some of the miserable, and I might say strange, things which had
befallen me from time to time unseasonably, now began to force
their remembrance upon me. Such dark figures always seem to make
the most of a nervous moment, when solid reason yields to
fluttering fear and small misgivings. There any body seems to lie,
as a stranded sailor lies, at the foot of perpendicular cliffs of
most inhuman humanity, with all the world frowning down over the
crest, and no one to throw a rope down. Often and often had I felt
this want of any one to help me, but the only way out of it seemed
to be to do my best to help myself.
Even, now I had little hope, having been so often dashed, and
knowing that my father's cousin possessed no share of my father's
strength. He might, at the utmost, give good advice, and help me
with kind feeling; but if he wanted to do more, surely he might
have tried ere now. But my thoughts about this were cut short by a
message that he would be glad to see me, and I followed the servant
to the library.
Here I found Lord Castlewood sitting in a high-backed chair,
uncushioned and uncomfortable. When he saw me near him he got up
and took my hand, and looked at me, and I was pleased to find his
face well-meaning, brave, and generous. But even to rise from his
chair was plainly no small effort to him, and he leaned upon a
staff or crutch as he offered me a small white hand.
"Miss Castlewood," he said, with a very weak yet clear and silvery
voice, "for many years I have longed in vain and sought in vain to
hear of you. I have not escaped all self-reproach through my sense
of want of energy; yet, such as I am, I have done my best, or I do
my best to think so."
"I am sure you have," I replied, without thinking, knowing his
kindness to my father, and feeling the shame of my own hot words to
Mr. Shovelin about him. "I owe you more gratitude than I can tell,
for your goodness to my dear father. I am not come now to trouble
you, but because it was my duty."
While I was speaking he managed to lead me, feebly as himself could
walk, to a deep chair for reading, or some such use, whereof I have
had few chances. And in every step and word and gesture I
recognized that foreign grace which true-born Britons are proud to
despise on both sides of the Atlantic. And, being in the light, I
watched him well, because I am not a foreigner.
In the clear summer light of the westering sun (which is better for
accurate uses than the radiance of the morning) I saw a firm, calm
face, which might in good health have been powerful--a face which
might be called the moonlight image of my father's. I could not
help turning away to cry, and suspicion fled forever.
"My dear young cousin," he said, as soon as I was fit to speak to,
"your father trusted me, and so must you. You may think that I
have forgotten you, or done very little to find you out. It was no
indifference, no forgetfulness: I have not been able to work
myself, and I have had very deep trouble of my own."
He leaned on his staff, and looked down at me, for I had sat down
when thus overcome, and I knew that the forehead and eyes were
those of a learned and intellectual man. How I knew this it is
impossible to say, for I never had met with such a character as
this, unless it were the Abbe of Flechon, when I was only fourteen
years old, and valued his great skill in spinning a top tenfold
more than all his deep learning. Lord Castlewood had long, silky
hair, falling in curls of silver gray upon either side of his
beautiful forehead, and the gaze of his soft dark eyes was sad,
gentle, yet penetrating. Weak health and almost constant pain had
chastened his delicate features to an expression almost feminine,
though firm thin lips and rigid lines showed masculine will and
fortitude. And when he spoke of his own trouble (which, perhaps,
he would not have done except for consolation's sake), I knew that
he meant something even more grievous than bodily anguish.
"It is hard," he said, "that you, so young and healthy and full of
high spirit as you are (unless your face belies you), should begin
the best years of your life, as common opinion puts such things, in
such a cloud of gloom and shame."
"There is no shame at all," I answered; "and if there is gloom, I
am used to that; and so was my father for years and years. What is
my trouble compared with his?"
"Your trouble is nothing when compared with his, so far as regards
the mere weight of it; but he was a strong man to carry his load;
you are a young and a sensitive woman. The burden may even be
worse for you. Now tell me all about yourself, and what has
brought you to me."
His voice was so quiet and soothing that I seemed to rest beneath
it. He had not spoken once of religion or the will of God, nor
plied me at all with those pious allusions, which even to the
reverent mind are like illusions when so urged. Lord Castlewood
had too deep a sense of the will of God to know what it is; and he
looked at me wistfully as at one who might have worse experience of
Falling happily under his influence, as his clear, kind eyes met
mine, I told him every thing I could think of about my father and
myself, and all I wanted to do next, and how my heart and soul were
set upon getting to the bottom of every thing. And while I spoke
with spirit, or softness, or, I fear, sometimes with hate, I could
not help seeing that he was surprised, but not wholly displeased,
with my energy. And then, when all was exhausted, came the old
question I had heard so often, and found so hard to answer--
"And what do you propose to do next, Erema?"
"To go to the very place itself," I said, speaking strongly under
challenge, though quite unresolved about such a thing before; "to
live in the house where my father lived, and my mother and all of
the family died; and from day to day to search every corner and
fish up every bit of evidence, until I get hold of the true man at
last, of the villain who did it--who did it, and left my father and
all the rest of us to be condemned and die for it."
"Erema," replied my cousin, as he had told me now to call him, "you
are too impetuous for such work, and it is wholly unfit for you.
For such a task, persons of trained sagacity and keen observation
are needed. And after all these eighteen years, or nearly nineteen
now it must be, there can not be any thing to discover there."
"But if I like, may I go there, cousin, if only to satisfy my own
mind? I am miserable now at Bruntsea, and Sir Montague Hockin
wears me out."
"Sir Montague Hockin!" Lord Castlewood exclaimed; "why, you did not
tell me that he was there. Wherever he is, you should not be."
"I forgot to speak of him. He does not live there, but is
continually to and fro for bathing, or fishing, or rabbit-shooting,
or any other pretext. And he makes the place very unpleasant to
me, kind as the Major and Mrs. Hockin are, because I can never make
him out at all."
"Do not try to do so," my cousin answered, looking at me earnestly;
"be content to know nothing of him, my dear. If you can put up
with a very dull house, and a host who is even duller, come here
and live with me, as your father would have wished, and as I, your
nearest relative, now ask and beg of you."
This was wonderfully kind, and for a moment I felt tempted. Lord
Castlewood being an elderly man, and, as the head of our family, my
natural protector, there could be nothing wrong, and there might be
much that was good, in such an easy arrangement. But, on the other
hand, it seemed to me that after this my work would languish.
Living in comfort and prosperity under the roof of my forefathers,
beyond any doubt I should begin to fall into habits of luxury, to
take to the love of literature, which I knew to be latent within
me, to lose the clear, strong, practical sense of the duty for
which I, the last of seven, was spared, and in some measure,
perhaps, by wanderings and by hardships, fitted. And then I
thought of my host's weak health, continual pain (the signs of
which were hardly repressed even while he was speaking), and
probably also his secluded life. Was it fair to force him, by
virtue of his inborn kindness and courtesy, to come out of his
privileges and deal with me, who could not altogether be in any
place a mere nobody? And so I refused his offer.
"I am very much obliged to you indeed," I said, "but I think you
might be sorry for it. I will come and stop with you every now and
then, when your health is better, and you ask me. But to live here
altogether would not do; I should like it too well, and do nothing
"Perhaps you are right," he replied, with the air of one who cares
little for any thing, which is to me the most melancholy thing, and
worse than any distress almost; "you are very young, my dear, and
years should be allowed to pass before you know what full-grown
sorrow is. You have had enough, for your age, of it. You had
better not live in this house; it is not a house for cheerfulness."
"Then if I must neither live here nor at Bruntsea," I asked, with
sudden remonstrance, feeling as if every body desired to be quit of
me or to worry me, "to what place in all the world am I to go,
unless it is back to America? I will go at once to Shoxford, and
take lodgings of my own."
"Perhaps you had better wait a little while," Lord Castlewood
answered, gently, "although I would much rather have you at
Shoxford than where you are at present. But please to remember, my
good Erema, that you can not go to Shoxford all alone. I have a
most faithful and trusty man--the one who opened the door to you.
He has been here before his remembrance. He disdains me still as
compared with your father. Will you have him to superintend you?
I scarcely see how you can do any good, but if you do go, you must
go openly, and as your father's daughter."
"I have no intention whatever of going in any other way, Lord
Castlewood; but perhaps," I continued, "it would be as well to make
as little stir as possible. Of an English village I know nothing
but the little I have seen at Bruntsea, but there they make a very
great fuss about any one who comes down with a man-servant."
"To be sure," replied my cousin, with a smile; "they would not be
true Britons otherwise. Perhaps you would do better without
Stixon; but of course you must not go alone. Could you by any
means persuade your old nurse Betsy to go with you?"
"How good of you to think of it!--how wise you are!" I really could
not help saying, as I gazed at his delicate and noble face. "I am
sure that if Betsy can come, she will; though of course she must be
compensated well for the waste all her lodgers will make of it.
They are very wicked, and eat most dreadfully if she even takes one
day's holiday. What do you think they even do? She has told me
with tears in her eyes of it. They are all allowed a pat of
butter, a penny roll, and two sardines for breakfast. No sooner do
they know that her back is turned--"
"Erema!" cried my cousin, with some surprise; and being so
recalled, I was ashamed. But I never could help taking interest in
very little things indeed, until my own common-sense, or somebody
else, came to tell me what a child I was. However, I do believe
that Uncle Sam liked me all the better for this fault.
"My dear, I did not mean to blame you," Lord Castlewood said, most
kindly; "it must be a great relief for you to look on at other
people. But tell me--or rather, since you have told me almost
every thing you know--let me, if only in one way I can help you,
help you at least in that way."
Knowing that he must mean money, I declined, from no false pride,
but a set resolve to work out my work, if possible, through my own
resources. But I promised to apply to him at once if scarcity
should again befall me, as had happened lately. And then I longed
to ask him why he seemed to have so low an opinion of Sir Montague
Hockin. That question, however, I feared to put, because it might
not be a proper one, and also because my cousin had spoken in a
very strange tone, as if of some private dislike or reserve on that
subject. Moreover, it was too evident that I had tried his
courtesy long enough. From time to time pale shades of bodily
pain, and then hot flushes, had flitted across his face, like
clouds on a windy summer evening. And more than once he had
glanced at the time-piece, not to hurry me, but as if he dreaded
its announcements. It was a beautiful clock, and struck with a
silvery sound every quarter of an hour. And now, as I rose to say
good-by, to catch my evening train, it struck a quarter to five,
and my cousin stood up, with his weight upon his staff, and looked
at me with an inexpressible depth of weary misery.
"I have only a few minutes left," he said, "during which I can say
any thing. My time is divided into two sad parts: the time when I
am capable of very little, and the time when I am capable of
nothing; and the latter part is twice the length of the other. For
sixteen hours of every day, far better had I be dead than living,
so far as our own little insolence may judge. But I speak of it
only to excuse bad manners, and perhaps I show worse by doing so.
I shall not be able to see you again until to-morrow morning. Do
not go; they will arrange all that. Send a note to Major Hockin by
Stixon's boy. Stixon and Mrs. Price will see to your comfort, if
those who are free from pain require any other comfort. Forgive
me; I did not mean to be rude. Sometimes I can not help giving
Less enviable than the poorest slave, Lord Castlewood sank upon his
hard stiff chair, and straightened his long narrow hands upon his
knees, and set his thin lips in straight blue lines. Each hand was
as rigid as the ivory handle of an umbrella or walking-stick, and
his lips were like clamped wire. This was his regular way of
preparing for the onset of the night, so that no grimace, no cry,
no moan, or other token of fierce agony should be wrung from him.
"My lord will catch it stiff to-night," said Mr. Stixon, who came
as I rang, and then led me away to the drawing-room; "he always
have it ten times worse after any talking or any thing to upset him
like. And so, then, miss--excuse a humble servant--did I
understand from him that you was the Captain's own daughter?"
"Yes; but surely your master wants you--he is in such dreadful
pain. Do please to go to him, and do something."
"There is nothing to be done, miss," Stixon answered, with calm
resignation; "he is bound to stay so for sixteen hours, and then he
eases off again. But bless my heart, miss--excuse me in your
presence--his lordship is thoroughly used to it. It is my certain
knowledge that for seven years now he has never had seven minutes
free from pain--seven minutes all of a heap, I mean. Some do say,
miss, as the Lord doeth every thing according to His righteousness,
that the reason is not very far to seek."
I asked him what he meant, though I ought, perhaps, to have put a
stop to his loquacity; and he pretended not to hear, which made me
ask him all the more.
"A better man never lived than my lord," he answered, with a little
shock at my misprision; "but it has been said among censoorous
persons that nobody ever had no luck as came in suddenly to a
property and a high state of life on the top of the heads of a
family of seven."
"What a poor superstition!" I cried, though I was not quite sure of
its being a wicked one. "But what is your master's malady, Stixon?
Surely there might be something done to relieve his violent pain,
even if there is no real cure for it?"
"No, miss, nothing can be done. The doctors have exorced
themselves. They tried this, that, and the other, but nature only
flew worse against them. 'Tis a thing as was never heard of till
the Constitooshon was knocked on the head and to pieces by the
Reform Bill. And though they couldn't cure it, they done what they
could do, miss. They discovered a very good name for it--they
christened it the 'New-rager!'"
In the morning, when I was called again to see my afflicted cousin--
Stixon junior having gladly gone to explain things for me at
Bruntsea--little as I knew of any bodily pain (except hunger, or
thirst, or weariness, and once in my life a headache), I stood
before Lord Castlewood with a deference and humility such as I had
never felt before toward any human being. Not only because he bore
perpetual pain in the two degrees of night and day--the day being
dark and the night jet-black--without a murmur or an evil word; not
only because through the whole of this he had kept his mind clear
and his love of knowledge bright; not even because he had managed,
like Job, to love God through the whole of it. All these were good
reasons for very great and very high respect of any man; and when
there was no claim whatever on his part to any such feeling, it
needs must come. But when I learned another thing, high respect at
once became what might be called deep reverence. And this came to
pass in a simple and, as any one must confess, quite inevitable
It was not to be supposed that I could sit the whole of my first
evening in that house without a soul to speak to. So far as my
dignity and sense of right permitted, I wore out Mr. Stixon, so far
as he would go, not asking him any thing that the very worst-minded
person could call "inquisitive," but allowing him to talk, as he
seemed to like to do, while he waited upon me, and alternately
lamented my hapless history and my hopeless want of taste.
"Ah, your father, the Captain, now, he would have knowed what this
is! You've no right to his eyes, Miss Erma, without his tongue and
palate. No more of this, miss! and done for you a-purpose! Well,
cook will be put out, and no mistake! I better not let her see it
go down, anyhow." And the worthy man tearfully put some dainty by,
perhaps without any view to his own supper.
"Lord Castlewood spoke to me about a Mrs. Price--the housekeeper,
is she not?" I asked at last, being so accustomed to like what I
could get, that the number of dishes wearied me.
"Oh yes, miss," said Stixon, very shortly, as if that description
exhausted Mrs. Price.
"If she is not too busy, I should like to see her as soon as these
things are all taken away. I mean if she is not a stranger, and if
she would like to see me."
"No new-comers here," Mr. Stixon replied; "we all works our way up
regular, the same as my lad is beginning for to do. New-fangled
ways is not accepted here. We puts the reforming spirits scrubbing
of the steps till their knuckles is cracked and their knees like a
bean. The old lord was the man for discipline--your grandfather,
if you please, miss. He catched me when I were about that high--"
"Excuse me, Mr. Stixon; but would he have encouraged you to talk as
you so very kindly talk to me, instead of answering a question?"
I thought that poor Stixon would have been upset by this, and was
angry with myself for saying it; but instead of being hurt, he only
smiled and touched his forehead.
"Well, now, you did remind me uncommon of him then, miss. I could
have heard the old lord speak almost, though he were always harsh
and distant. And as I was going for to say, he catched me fifty
years agone next Lammas-tide; a pear-tree of an early sort it was;
you may see the very tree if you please to stand here, miss, though
the pears is quite altered now, and scarcely fit to eat. Well, I
was running off with my cap chock-full, miss--"
"Please to keep that story for another time," I said; "I shall be
most happy to hear it then. But I have a particular wish, if you
please, to see Mrs. Price before dark, unless there is any good
reason why I should not."
"Oh no, Miss Erma, no reason at all. Only please to bear in mind,
miss, that she is a coorous woman. She is that jealous, and I
might say forward--"
"Then she is capable of speaking for herself."
"You are right, miss, there, and no mistake. She can speak for
herself and for fifty others--words enough, I mean, for all of
them. But I would not have her know for all the world that I said
"Then if you do not send her to me at once, the first thing I shall
do will be to tell her."
"Oh no, miss, none of your family would do that; that never has
been done anonymous."
I assured him that my threat was not in earnest, but of pure
impatience. And having no motive but downright jealousy for
keeping Mrs. Price from me, he made up his mind at last to let her
come. But he told me to be careful what I said; I must not expect
it to be at all like talking to himself, for instance.
The housekeeper came up at last, by dint of my persistence, and she
stopped in the doorway and made me a courtesy, which put me out of
countenance, for nobody ever does that in America, and scarcely any
one in England now, except in country-dancing. Instead of being as
described by Stixon, Mrs. Price was of a very quiet, sensible, and
respectful kind. She was rather short, but looked rather tall,
from her even walk and way of carrying her head. Her figure was
neat, and her face clear-spoken, with straight pretty eyebrows, and
calm bright eyes. I felt that I could tell her almost any thing,
and she would think before she talked of it. And in my strong want
of some woman to advise with--Betsy Bowen being very good but very
narrow, and Mrs. Hockin a mere echo of the Major until he
contradicted her, and Suan Isco, with her fine, large views, five
thousand miles out of sight just now--this was a state of things to
enhance the value of any good countenance feminine.
At any rate, I was so glad to see her that, being still ungraduated
in the steps of rank (though beginning to like a good footing
there), I ran up and took her by both hands, and fetched her out of
her grand courtesy and into a low chair. At this she was
surprised, as one quick glance showed; and she thought me, perhaps,
what is called in England "an impulsive creature." This put me
again upon my dignity, for I never have been in any way like that,
and I clearly perceived that she ought to understand a little more
distinctly my character.
It is easy to begin with this intention, but very hard indeed to
keep it up when any body of nice ways and looks is sitting with a
proper deferential power of listening, and liking one's young
ideas, which multiply and magnify themselves at each demand. So
after some general talk about the weather, the country, the house,
and so on, we came to the people of the house, or at any rate the
chief person. And I asked her a few quiet questions about Lord
Castlewood's health and habits, and any thing else she might like
to tell me. For many things had seemed to me a little strange and
out of the usual course, and on that account worthy to be spoken of
without common curiosity. Mrs. Price told me that there were many
things generally divulged and credited, which therefore lay in her
power to communicate without any derogation from her office. Being
pleased with these larger words (which I always have trouble in
pronouncing), I asked her whether there was any thing else. And
she answered yes, but unhappily of a nature to which it was
scarcely desirable to allude in my presence. I told her that this
was not satisfactory, and I might say quite the opposite; that
having "alluded" to whatever it might be, she was bound to tell me
all about it. That I had lived in very many countries, in all of
which wrong things continually went on, of which I continually
heard just in that sort of way and no more. Enough to make one
uncomfortable, but not enough to keep one instructed and vigilant
as to things that ought to be avoided. Upon this she yielded
either to my arguments or to her own dislike of unreasonable
silence, and gave me the following account of the misfortunes of
Herbert William Castlewood was the third son of Dean Castlewood, a
younger brother of my grandfather, and was born in the year 1806.
He was older, therefore, than my father, but still (even before my
father's birth, which provided a direct heir) there were many lives
betwixt him and the family estates. And his father, having as yet
no promotion in the Church, found it hard to bring up his children.
The eldest son got a commission in the army, and the second entered
the navy, while Herbert was placed in a bank at Bristol--not at all
the sort of life which he would have chosen. But being of a
gentle, unselfish nature, as well as a weak constitution, he put up
with his state in life, and did his best to give satisfaction.
This calm courage generally has its reward, and in the year 1842,
not very long before the death of my grandfather at Shoxford, Mr.
Herbert Castlewood, being well-connected, well-behaved, diligent,
and pleasing, obtained a partnership in the firm, which was,
perhaps, the foremost in the west of England. His two elder
brothers happened then to be at home, Major and Commander
Castlewood, each of whom had seen very hard service, and found it
still harder slavery to make both ends meet, although bachelors.
But, returning full of glory, they found one thing harder still,
and that was to extract any cash from their father, the highly
venerated Dean, who in that respect, if in no other, very closely
resembled the head of the family. Therefore these brave men
resolved to go and see their Bristol brother, to whom they were
tenderly attached, and who now must have money enough and to spare.
So they wrote to their brother to meet them on the platform,
scarcely believing that they could be there in so short a time from
London; for they never had travelled by rail before; and they set
forth in wonderful spirits, and laughed at the strange, giddy rush
of the travelling, and made bets with each other about punctual
time (for trains kept much better time while new), and, as long as
they could time it, they kept time to a second. But, sad to
relate, they wanted no chronometers when they arrived at Bristol,
both being killed at a blow, with their watches still going, and a
smile on their faces. For the train had run into a wall of Bath
stone, and several of the passengers were killed.
The sight of his two brothers carried out like this, after so many
years of not seeing them, was too much for Mr. Herbert Castlewood's
nerves, which always had been delicate. And he shivered all the
more from reproach of conscience, having made up his mind not to
lend them any money, as a practical banker was compelled to do.
And from that very moment he began to feel great pain.
Mrs. Price assured me that the doctors all agreed that nothing but
change of climate could restore Mr. Castlewood's tone and system,
and being full of art (though so simple, as she said, which she
could not entirely reconcile), he set off for Italy, and there he
stopped, with the good leave of his partners, being now valued
highly as heir to the Dean, who was known to have put a good trifle
together. And in Italy my father must have found him, as related
by Mr. Shovelin, and there received kindness and comfort in his
trouble, if trouble so deep could be comforted.
Now I wondered and eagerly yearned to know whether my father, at
such a time, and in such a state of loneliness, might not have been
led to impart to his cousin and host and protector the dark mystery
which lay at the bottom of his own conduct. Knowing how resolute
and stern he was, and doubtless then imbittered by the wreck of
love and life, I thought it more probable that he had kept silence
even toward so near a relative, especially as he had seen very
little of his cousin Herbert till he had found him thus. Moreover,
my grandfather and the Dean had spent little brotherly love on each
other, having had a life-long feud about a copy-hold furze brake of
nearly three-quarters of an acre, as Betsy remembered to have heard
her master say.
To go on, however, with what Mrs. Price was saying. She knew
scarcely any thing about my father, because she was too young at
that time to be called into the counsels of the servants' hall, for
she scarcely was thirty-five yet, as she declared, and she
certainly did not look forty. But all about the present Lord
Castlewood she knew better than any body else, perhaps, because she
had been in the service of his wife, and, indeed, her chief
attendant. Then, having spoken of her master's wife, Mrs. Price
caught herself up, and thenceforth called her only his "lady."
Mr. Herbert Castlewood, who had minded his business for so many
years, and kept himself aloof from ladies, spending all his leisure
in good literature, at this time of life and in this state of
health (for the shock he had received struck inward), fell into an
accident tenfold worse--the fatal accident of love. And this
malady raged the more powerfully with him on account of breaking
out so late in life. In one of the picture-galleries at Florence,
or some such place, Mrs. Price declared, he met with a lady who
made all the pictures look cold and dull and dead to him. A lovely
young creature she must have been (as even Mrs. Price, who detested
her, acknowledged), and to the eyes of a learned but not keen man
as good as lovely. My father was gone to look after me, and fetch
me out of England, but even if he had been there, perhaps he
scarcely could have stopped it; for this Mr. Castlewood, although
so quiet, had the family fault of tenacity.
Mrs. Price, being a very steady person, with a limited income, and
enough to do, was inclined to look down upon the state of mind in
which Mr. Castlewood became involved. She was not there at the
moment, of course, but suddenly sent for when all was settled;
nevertheless, she found out afterward how it began from her
master's man, through what he had for dinner. And in the kitchen-
garden at Castlewood no rampion would she allow while she lived. I
asked her whether she had no pity, no sympathy, no fine feeling,
and how she could have become Mrs. Price if she never had known
such sentiments. But she said that they only called her "Mistress"
on account of her authority, and she never had been drawn to the
opposite sex, though many times asked in marriage. And what she
had seen of matrimony led her far away from it. I was sorry to
hear her say this, and felt damped, till I thought that the world
was not all alike.
Then she told me, just as if it were no more than a bargain for a
pound of tallow candles, how Mr. Herbert Castlewood, patient and
persistent, was kept off and on for at least two years by the
mother of his sweet idol. How the old lady held a balance in her
mind as to the likelihood of his succession, trying, through
English friends, to find the value and the course of property. Of
what nation she was, Mrs. Price could not say, and only knew that
it must be a bad one. She called herself the Countess of Ixorism,
as truly pronounced in English; and she really was of good family
too, so far as any foreigner can be. And her daughter's name was
Flittamore, not according to the right spelling, perhaps, but
pronounced with the proper accent.
Flittamore herself did not seem to care, according to what Mrs.
Price had been told, but left herself wholly in her mother's hands,
being sure of her beauty still growing upon her, and desiring to
have it admired and praised. And the number of foreigners she
always had about her sometimes made her real lover nearly give her
up. But, alas! he was not quite wise enough for this, with all
that he had read and learned and seen. Therefore, when it was
reported from Spain that my father had been killed by bandits--the
truth being that he was then in Greece--the Countess at last
consented to the marriage of her daughter with Herbert Castlewood,
and even seemed to press it forward for some reasons of her own.
And the happy couple set forth upon their travels, and Mrs. Price
was sent abroad to wait upon the lady.
For a few months they seemed to get on very well, Flittamore
showing much affection for her husband, whose age was a trifle more
than her own doubled, while he was entirely wrapped up in her, and
labored that the graces of her mind might be worthy to compare with
those more visible. But her spiritual face and most sweet poetic
eyes were vivid with bodily brilliance alone. She had neither mind
enough to learn, nor heart enough to pretend to learn.
It is out of my power to describe such things, even if it were my
duty to do so, which, happily, it has never been; moreover, Mrs.
Price, in what she told me, exercised a just and strict reserve.
Enough that Mr. Castlewood's wedded life was done with in six
months and three days. Lady Castlewood, as she would be called,
though my father still was living and his cousin disclaimed the
title--away she ran from some dull German place, after a very stiff
lesson in poetry, and with her ran off a young Englishman, the
present Sir Montague Hockin. He was Mr. Hockin then, and had not a
half-penny of his own; but Flittamore met that difficulty by
robbing her husband to his last farthing.
This had happened about twelve years back, soon after I was placed
at the school in Languedoc, to which I was taken so early in life
that I almost forget all about it. But it might have been better
for poor Flittamore if she had been brought up at a steady place
like that, with sisters and ladies of retreat, to teach her the
proper description of her duties to mankind. I seemed now in my
own mind to condemn her quite enough, feeling how superior her
husband must have been; but Mrs. Price went even further, and
became quite indignant that any one should pity her.
"A hussy! a hussy! a poppet of a hussy!" she exclaimed, with
greater power than her quiet face could indicate; "never would I
look at her. Speak never so, Miss Castlewood. My lord is the very
best of all men, and she has made him what he is. The pity she
deserves is to be trodden under foot, as I saw them do in Naples."
After all the passion I had seen among rough people, I scarcely
could help trembling at the depth of wrath dissembled and firmly
controlled in calm clear eyes under very steadfast eyebrows. It
was plain that Lord Castlewood had, at any rate, the gift of being
loved by his dependents.
"I hope that he took it aright!" I cried, catching some of her
indignation; "I hope that he cast her to the winds, without even a
sigh for such a cruel creature!"
"He was not strong enough," she answered, sadly; "his bodily health
was not equal to it. From childhood he had been partly crippled
and spoiled in his nerves by an accident. And the shock of that
sight at Bristol flew to his weakness, and was too much for him.
And now this third and worst disaster, coming upon him where his
best hope lay, and at such a time of life, took him altogether off
his legs. And off his head too, I might almost say, miss; for,
instead of blaming her, he put the fault entirely upon himself. At
his time of life, and in such poor health, he should not have
married a bright young girl: how could he ever hope to make her
happy? That was how he looked at it, when he should have sent
constables after her."
"And what became of her--the mindless animal, to forsake so good
and great a man! I do hope she was punished, and that vile man
"She was, Miss Castlewood; but he was not; at least he has not
received justice yet. But he will, he will, he will, miss. The
treacherous thief! And my lord received him as a young fellow-
countryman under a cloud, and lent him money, and saved him from
starving; for he had broken with his father and was running from
"Tell me no more," I said; "not another word. It is my fate to
meet that--well, that gentleman--almost every day. And he, and he--
oh, how thankful I am to have found out all this about him!"
The above will show why, when I met my father's cousin on the
following morning--with his grand, calm face, as benevolent as if
he had passed a night of luxurious rest instead of sleepless agony--
I knew myself to be of a lower order in mind and soul and heart
than his; a small, narrow, passionate girl, in the presence of a
large, broad-sighted, and compassionate man.
I threw myself altogether on his will; for, when I trust, I trust
wholly. And, under his advice, I did not return with any rash
haste to Bruntsea, but wrote in discharge of all duty there; while
Mrs. Price, a clear and steadfast woman, was sent to London to see
Wilhelmina Strouss. These two must have had very great talks
together, and, both being zealous and faithful, they came to many
misunderstandings. However, on the whole, they became very honest
friends, and sworn allies at last, discovering more, the more they
talked, people against whom they felt a common and just enmity.
Are there people who have never, in the course of anxious life,
felt desire to be away, to fly away, from every thing, however good
and dear to them, and rest a little, and think new thought, or let
new thought flow into them, from the gentle air of some new place,
where nobody has heard of them--a place whose cares, being felt by
proxy, almost seem romantic, and where the eyes spare brain and
heart with a critic's self-complacence? If any such place yet
remains, the happy soul may seek it in an inland English village.
A village where no billows are to stun or to confound it, no crag
or precipice to trouble it with giddiness, and where no hurry of
restless tide makes time, its own father, uneasy. But in the
quiet, at the bottom of the valley, a beautiful rivulet, belonging
to the place, hastens or lingers, according to its mood; hankering
here and there, not to be away yet; and then, by the doing of its
own work, led to a swift perplexity of ripples. Here along its
side, and there softly leaning over it, fresh green meadows lie
reposing in the settled meaning of the summer day. For this is a
safer time of year than the flourish of the spring-tide, when the
impulse of young warmth awaking was suddenly smitten by the bleak
east wind, and cowslip and cuckoo-flower and speedwell got their
bright lips browned with cold. Then, moreover, must the meads have
felt the worry of scarcely knowing yet what would be demanded of
them; whether to carry an exacting load of hay, or only to feed a
few sauntering cows.
But now every trouble has been settled for the best; the long grass
is mown, and the short grass browsed, and capers of the fairies and
caprices of the cows have dappled worn texture with a deeper green.
Therefore let eyes that are satisfied here--as any but a very bad
eye must be, with so many changes of softness--follow the sweet
lead of the valley; and there, in a bend of the gently brawling
river, stands the never-brawling church.
A church less troubled with the gift of tongues is not to be found
in England: a church of gray stone that crumbles just enough to
entice frail mortal sympathy, and confesses to the storms it has
undergone in a tone that conciliates the human sigh. The tower is
large, and high enough to tell what the way of the wind is without
any potato-bury on the top, and the simple roof is not cruciated
with tiles of misguided fancy. But gray rest, and peace of ages,
and content of lying calmly six feet deeper than the bustle of the
quick; memory also, and oblivion, following each other slowly, like
the shadows of the church-yard trees--for all of these no better
place can be, nor softer comfort.
For the village of Shoxford runs up on the rise, and straggles away
from its burial-place, as a child from his school goes mitching.
There are some few little ups and downs in the manner of its
building, as well as in other particulars about it; but still it
keeps as parallel with the crooked river as the far more crooked
ways of men permit. But the whole of the little road of houses
runs down the valley from the church-yard gate; and above the
church, looking up the pretty valley, stands nothing but the mill
and the plank bridge below it; and a furlong above that again the
stone bridge, where the main road crosses the stream, and is
consoled by leading to a big house--the Moonstock Inn.
The house in which my father lived so long--or rather, I should
say, my mother, while he was away with his regiment--and where we
unfortunate seven saw the light, stands about half-way down the
little village, being on the right-hand side of the road as you
come down the valley from the Moonstock bridge. Therefore it is on
the further and upper side of the street--if it can be called a
street--from the valley and the river and the meads below the mill,
inasmuch as every bit of Shoxford, and every particle of the parish
also, has existence--of no mean sort, as compared with other
parishes, in its own esteem--on the right side of the river Moon.
My father's house, in this good village, standing endwise to the
street, was higher at one end than at the other. That is to say,
the ground came sloping, or even falling, as fairly might be said,
from one end to the other of it, so that it looked like a Noah's
ark tilted by Behemoth under the stern-post. And a little lane,
from a finely wooded hill, here fell steeply into the "High Street"
(as the grocer and the butcher loved to call it), and made my
father's house most distinct, by obeying a good deal of its
outline, and discharging in heavy rain a free supply of water under
the weather-board of our front-door. This front-door opened on the
little steep triangle formed by the meeting of lane and road, while
the back-door led into a long but narrow garden running along the
road, but raised some feet above it; the bank was kept up by a
rough stone wall crested with stuck-up snap-dragon and valerian,
and faced with rosettes and disks and dills of houseleek,
pennywort, and hart's-tongue.
Betsy and I were only just in time to see the old house as it used
to be; for the owner had died about half a year ago, and his
grandson, having proved his will, was resolved to make short work
with it. The poor house was blamed for the sorrows it had
sheltered, and had the repute of two spectres, as well as the pale
shadow of misfortune. For my dear father was now believed by the
superstitious villagers to haunt the old home of his happiness and
love, and roam from room to room in search of his wife and all his
children. But his phantom was most careful not to face that of his
father, which stalked along haughtily, as behooved a lord, and
pointed forever to a red wound in its breast. No wonder,
therefore, that the house would never let; and it would have been
pulled down long ago if the owner had not felt a liking for it,
through memories tender and peculiar to himself. His grandson,
having none of these to contend with, resolved to make a mere
stable of it, and build a public-house at the bottom of the garden,
and turn the space between them into skittle-ground, and so forth.
To me this seemed such a very low idea, and such a desecration of a
sacred spot, that if I had owned any money to be sure of, I would
have offered hundreds to prevent it. But I found myself now in a
delicate state of mind concerning money, having little of my own,
and doubting how much other people might intend for me. So that I
durst not offer to buy land and a house without any means to pay.
And it was not for that reason only that Betsy and I kept ourselves
quiet. We knew that any stir in this little place about us--such
as my name might at once set going--would once for all destroy all
hope of doing good by coming. Betsy knew more of such matters than
I did, besides all her knowledge of the place itself, and her great
superiority of age; therefore I left to her all little management,
as was in every way fair and wise. For Mrs. Strouss had forsaken a
large and good company of lodgers, with only Herr Strouss to look
after them--and who was he among them? If she trod on one side of
her foot, or felt a tingling in her hand, or a buzzing in her ear,
she knew in a moment what it was--of pounds and pounds was she
being cheated, a hundred miles off, by foreigners!
For this reason it had cost much persuasion and many appeals to her
faithfulness, as well as considerable weekly payment, ere ever my
good nurse could be brought away from London; and perhaps even so
she never would have come if I had not written myself to Mrs.
Price, then visiting Betsy in European Square, that if the landlady
was too busy to be spared by her lodgers, I must try to get Lord
Castlewood to spare me his housekeeper. Upon this Mrs. Strouss at
once declared that Mrs. Price would ruin every thing; and rather
than that--no matter what she lost--she herself would go with me.
And so she did, and she managed very well, keeping my name out of
sight (for, happen what might, I would have no false one); and she
got quiet lodgings in her present name, which sounded nicely
foreign; and the village being more agitated now about my father's
material house, and the work they were promised in pulling it down,
than about his shattered household, we had a very favorable time
for coming in, and were pronounced to be foreigners who must not be
allowed to run up bills.
This rustic conclusion suited us quite well, and we soon confirmed
it unwittingly, Betsy offering a German thaler and I an American
dollar at the shop of the village chandler and baker, so that we
were looked upon with some pity, and yet a kind desire for our
custom. Thus, without any attempt of ours at either delusion or
mystery, Mrs. Strouss was hailed throughout the place as "Madam
Straw," while I, through the sagacity of a deeply read shoe-maker,
obtained a foreign name, as will by-and-by appear.
We lodged at the post-office, not through any wisdom or even any
thought on our part, but simply because we happened there to find
the cleanest and prettiest rooms in the place. For the sun being
now in the height of August, and having much harvest to ripen, at
middle day came ramping down the little street of Shoxford like the
chairman of the guild of bakers. Every house having lately
brightened up its whitewash--which they always do there when the
frosts are over, soon after the feast of St. Barnabas--and the
weeds of the way having fared amiss in the absence of any water-
cart, it was not in the strong, sharp character of the sun to miss
such an opportunity. After the red Californian glare, I had no
fear of any English sun; but Betsy was frightened, and both of us
were glad to get into a little place sheltered by green blinds.
This chanced to be the post-office, and there we found nice
By an equal chance this proved to be the wisest thing we could
possibly have done, if we had set about it carefully. For why,
that nobody ever would impute any desire of secrecy to people who
straightway unpacked their boxes at the very head-quarters of all
the village news. And the mistress of the post was a sharp-tongued
woman, pleased to speak freely of her neighbors' doings, and prompt
with good advice that they should heed their own business, if any
of them durst say a word about her own. She kept a tidy little
shop, showing something of almost every thing; but we had a side
door, quite of our own, where Betsy met the baker's wife and the
veritable milkman; and neither of them knew her, which was just
what she had hoped; and yet it made her speak amiss of them.
But if all things must be brought to the harsh test of dry reason,
I myself might be hard pushed to say what good I hoped to do by
coming thus to Shoxford. I knew of a great many things, for
certain, that never had been thoroughly examined here; also I
naturally wished to see, being a native, what the natives were;
and, much more than that, it was always on my mind that here lay my
mother and the other six of us.
Therefore it was an impatient thing for me to hear Betsy working
out the afternoon with perpetual chatter and challenge of prices,
combating now as a lodger all those points which as a landlady she
never would allow even to be moot questions. If any applicant in
European Square had dared so much as hint at any of all the
requirements which she now expected gratis, she would simply have
whisked her duster, and said that the lodgings for such people must
be looked for down the alley. However, Mrs. Busk, our new
landlady, although she had a temper of her own (as any one keeping
a post-office must have) was forced by the rarity of lodgers here
to yield many points, which Mrs. Strouss, on her own boards, would
not even have allowed to be debated. All this was entirely against
my wish; for when I have money, I spend it, finding really no other
good in it; but Betsy told me that the purest principle of all was--
not to be cheated.
So I left her to have these little matters out, and took that
occasion for stealing away (as the hours grew on toward evening) to
a place where I wished to be quite alone. And the shadow of the
western hills shed peace upon the valley, when I crossed a little
stile leading into Shoxford church-yard.
For a minute or two I was quite afraid, seeing nobody any where
about, nor even hearing any sound in the distance to keep me
company. For the church lay apart from the village, and was
thickly planted out from it, the living folk being full of
superstition, and deeply believing in the dead people's ghosts.
And even if this were a wife to a husband, or even a husband
reappearing to his wife, there was not a man or a woman in the
village that would not run away from it.
This I did not know at present, not having been there long enough;
neither had I any terror of that sort, not being quite such a
coward, I should hope. But still, as the mantles of the cold trees
darkened, and the stony remembrance of the dead grew pale, and of
the living there was not even the whistle of a grave-digger--my
heart got the better of my mind for a moment, and made me long to
be across that stile again. Because (as I said to myself) if there
had been a hill to go up, that would be so different and so easy;
but going down into a place like this, whence the only escape must
be by steps, and where any flight must be along channels that run
in and out of graves and tombstones, I tried not to be afraid, yet
could not altogether help it.
But lo! when I came to the north side of the tower, scarcely
thinking what to look for, I found myself in the middle of a place
which made me stop and wonder. Here were six little grassy
tuffets, according to the length of children, all laid east and
west, without any stint of room, harmoniously.
From the eldest to the youngest, one could almost tell the age at
which their lowly stature stopped, and took its final measurement.
And in the middle was a larger grave, to comfort and encourage
them, as a hen lies down among her chicks and waits for them to
shelter. Without a name to any of them, all these seven graves lay
together, as in a fairy ring of rest, and kind compassion had
prevented any stranger from coming to be buried there.
I would not sit on my mother's grave for fear of crushing the
pretty grass, which some one tended carefully; but I stood at its
foot, and bent my head, and counted all the little ones. Then I
thought of my father in the grove of peaches, more than six
thousand miles away, on the banks of the soft Blue River. And a
sense of desolate sorrow and of the blessing of death overwhelmed
With such things in my mind, it took me long to come back to my
work again. It even seemed a wicked thing, so near to all these
proofs of God's great visitation over us, to walk about and say, "I
will do this," or even to think, "I will try to do that." My own
poor helplessness, and loss of living love to guide me, laid upon
my heart a weight from which it scarcely cared to move. All was
buried, all was done with, all had passed from out the world, and
left no mark but graves behind. What good to stir anew such
sadness, even if a poor weak thing like me could move its mystery?
Time, however, and my nurse Betsy, and Jacob Rigg the gardener,
brought me back to a better state of mind, and renewed the right
courage within me. But, first of all, Jacob Rigg aroused my terror
and interest vividly. It may be remembered that this good man had
been my father's gardener at the time of our great calamity, and
almost alone of the Shoxford people had shown himself true and
faithful. Not that the natives had turned against us, or been at
all unfriendly; so far from this was the case, that every one felt
for our troubles, and pitied us, my father being of a cheerful and
affable turn, until misery hardened him; but what I mean is that
only one or two had the courage to go against the popular
conclusion and the convictions of authority.
But Jacob was a very upright man, and had a strong liking for his
master, who many and many a time--as he told me--had taken a spade
and dug along with him, just as if he were a jobbing gardener born,
instead of a fine young nobleman; "and nobody gifted with that turn
of mind, likewise very clever in white-spine cowcumbers, could ever
be relied upon to go and shoot his father." Thus reasoned old
Jacob, and he always had done so, and meant evermore to abide by
it; and the graves which he had tended now for nigh a score of
years, and meant to tend till he called for his own, were--as sure
as he stood there in Shoxford church-yard a-talking to me, who was
the very image of my father, God bless me, though not of course so
big like--the graves of slaughtered innocents, and a mother who was
always an angel. And the parson might preach forever to him about
the resurrection, and the right coming uppermost when you got to
heaven, but to his mind that was scarcely any count at all; and if
you came to that, we ought to hang Jack Ketch, as might come to
pass in the Revelations. But while a man had got his own bread to
earn, till his honor would let him go to the work-house, and his
duty to the rate-payers, there was nothing that vexed him more than
to be told any texts of Holy Scripture. Whatever God Almighty had
put down there was meant for ancient people, the Jews being long
the most ancient people, though none the more for that did he like
them; and so it was mainly the ancient folk, who could not do a
day's work worth eighteenpence, that could enter into Bible
promises. Not that he was at all behindhand about interpretation;
but as long as he could fetch and earn, at planting box and doing
borders, two shillings and ninepence a day and his beer, he was not
going to be on for kingdom come.
I told him that I scarcely thought his view of our condition here
would be approved by wise men who had found time to study the
subject. But he answered that whatever their words might be, their
doings showed that they knew what was the first thing to attend to.
And if it ever happened him to come across a parson who was as full
of heaven outside as he was inside his surplice, he would keep his
garden in order for nothing better than his blessing.
I knew of no answer to be made to this. And indeed he seemed to be
aware that his conversation was too deep for me; so he leaned upon
his spade, and rubbed his long blue chin in the shadow of the
church tower, holding as he did the position of sexton, and
preparing even now to dig a grave.
"I keeps them well away from you," he said, as he began to chop out
a new oblong in the turf; "many a shilling have I been offered by
mothers about their little ones, to put 'em inside of the 'holy
ring,' as we calls this little cluster; but not for five golden
guineas would I do it, and have to face the Captain, dead or alive,
about it. We heard that he was dead, because it was put in all the
papers; and a pleasant place I keeps for him, to come home
alongside of his family. A nicer gravelly bit of ground there
couldn't be in all the county; and if no chance of him occupying
it, I can drive down a peg with your mark, miss."
"Thank you," I answered; "you are certainly most kind; but, Mr.
Rigg, I would rather wait a little. I have had a very troublesome
life thus far, and nothing to bind me to it much; but still I would
rather not have my peg driven down just--just at present."
"Ah, you be like all the young folk that think the tree for their
coffins ain't come to the size of this spade handle yet. Lord
bless you for not knowing what He hath in hand! Now this one you
see me a-raising of the turf for, stood as upright as you do, a
fortnight back, and as good about the chest and shoulders, and
three times the color in her cheeks, and her eyes a'most as bright
as yourn be. Not aristocratic, you must understand me, miss, being
only the miller's daughter, nor instructed to throw her voice the
same as you do, which is better than gallery music; but setting
these haxidents to one side, a farmer would have said she was more
preferable, because more come-at-able, though not in my opinion to
be compared--excuse me for making so free, miss, but when it comes
to death we has a kind of right to do it--and many a young farmer,
coming to the mill, was disturbed in his heart about her, and far
and wide she was known, being proud, as the Beauty of the
Moonshine, from the name of our little river. She used to call me
'Jacob Diggs,' because of my porochial office, with a meaning of a
joke on my parenshal name. Ah, what a merry one she were! And now
this is what I has to do for her! And sooner would I 'a doed it
a'most for my own old ooman!"
"Oh, Jacob!" I cried, being horrified at the way in which he tore
up the ground, as if his wife was waiting, "the things you say are
quite wrong, I am sure, for a man in your position. You are
connected with this church almost as much as the clerk is."
"More, miss, ten times more! He don't do nothing but lounge on the
front of his desk, and be too lazy to keep up 'Amen,' while I at my
time of life go about, from Absolution to the fifth Lord's prayer,
with a stick that makes my rheumatics worse, for the sake of the
boys with their pocket full of nuts. When I was a boy there was no
nuts, except at the proper time of year, a month or two on from
this time of speaking; and we used to crack they in the husk, and
make no noise to disturb the congregation; but now it is nuts,
nuts, round nuts, flat nuts, nuts with three corners to them--all
the year round nuts to crack, and me to find out who did it!"
"But, Mr. Rigg," I replied, as he stopped, looking hotter in mind
than in body, "is it not Mrs. Rigg, your good wife, who sells all
the nuts on a Saturday for the boys to crack on a Sunday?"
"My missus do sell some, to be sure; yes, just a few. But not of a
Saturday more than any other day."
"Then surely, Mr. Rigg, you might stop it, by not permitting any
sale of nuts except to good boys of high principles. And has it
not happened sometimes, Mr. Rigg, that boys have made marks on
their nuts, and bought them again at your shop on a Monday? I
mean, of course, when your duty has compelled you to empty the
pockets of a boy in church."
Now this was a particle of shamefully small gossip, picked up
naturally by my Betsy, but pledged to go no further; and as soon as
I had spoken I became a little nervous, having it suddenly brought
to my mind that I had promised not even to whisper it; and now I
had told it to the man of all men! But Jacob appeared to have been
quite deaf, and diligently went on digging. And I said "good-
evening," for the grave was for the morrow; and he let me go nearly
to the stile before he stuck his spade into the ground and
"Excoose of my making use," he said, "of a kind of a personal
reference, miss; but you be that pat with your answers, it maketh
me believe you must be sharp inside--more than your father, the
poor Captain, were, as all them little grass buttons argueth. Now,
miss, if I thought you had head-piece enough to keep good counsel
and ensue it, maybe I could tell you a thing as would make your
hair creep out of them coorous hitch-ups, and your heart a'most
bust them there braids of fallallies."
"Why, what in the world do you mean?" I asked, being startled by
the old man's voice and face.
"Nothing, miss, nothing. I was only a-joking. If you bain't come
to no more discretion than that--to turn as white as the clerk's
smock-frock of a Easter-Sunday--why, the more of a joke one has,
the better, to bring your purty color back to you. Ah! Polly of
the mill was the maid for color--as good for the eyesight as a
chaney-rose in April. Well, well, I must get on with her grave;
they're a-coming to speak the good word over un on sundown."
He might have known how this would vex and perplex me. I could not
bear to hinder him in his work--as important as any to be done by
man for man--and yet it was beyond my power to go home and leave
him there, and wonder what it was that he had been so afraid to
tell. So I quietly said, "Then I will wish you a very good evening
again, Mr. Rigg, as you are too busy to be spoken with." And I
walked off a little way, having met with men who, having begun a
thing, needs must have it out, and fully expecting him to call me
back. But Jacob only touched his hat, and said, "A pleasant
evening to you, ma'am."
Nothing could have made me feel more resolute than this did. I did
not hesitate one moment in running back over the stile again, and
demanding of Jacob Rigg that he should tell me whether he meant any
thing or nothing; for I was not to be played with about important
matters, like the boys in the church who were cracking nuts.
"Lord! Lord, now!" he said, with his treddled heel scraping the
shoulder of his shining spade; "the longer I live in this world,
the fitter I grow to get into the ways of the Lord. His ways are
past finding out, saith King David: but a man of war, from his
youth upward, hath no chance such as a gardening man hath. What a
many of them have I found out!"
"What has that got to do with it!" I cried. "Just tell me what it
was you were speaking of just now."
"I was just a-thinking, when I looked at you, miss," he answered,
in the prime of leisure, and wiping his forehead from habit only,
not because he wanted it, "how little us knows of the times and
seasons and the generations of the sons of men. There you stand,
miss, and here stand I, as haven't seen your father for a score of
years a'most; and yet there comes out of your eyes into mine the
very same look as the Captain used to send, when snakes in the
grass had been telling lies about me coming late, or having my half
pint or so on. Not that the Captain was a hard man, miss--far
otherwise, and capable of allowance, more than any of the women be.
But only the Lord, who doeth all things aright, could 'a made you
come, with a score of years atween, and the twinkle in your eyes
"You know what you mean, perhaps, but I do not," I answered, quite
gently, being troubled by his words and the fear of having tried to
hurry him; "but you should not say what you have said, Jacob Rigg,
to me, your master's daughter, if you only meant to be joking. Is
this the place to joke with me?"
I pointed to all that lay around me, where I could not plant a foot
without stepping over my brothers or sisters; and the old man,
callous as he might be, could not help feeling for--a pinch of
snuff. This he found in the right-hand pocket of his waistcoat,
and took it very carefully, and made a little noise of comfort; and
thus, being fully self-assured again, he stood, with his feet far
apart and his head on one side, regarding me warily. And I took
good care not to say another word.
"You be young," he said at last; "and in these latter days no
wisdom is ordained in the mouths of babes and sucklings, nor always
in the mouths of them as is themselves ordained. But you have a
way of keeping your chin up, miss, as if you was gifted with a
stiff tongue likewise. And whatever may hap, I has as good mind to
"That you are absolutely bound to do," I answered, as forcibly as I
could. "Duty to your former master and to me, his only child--and
to yourself, and your Maker too--compel you, Jacob Rigg, to tell me
every thing you know."
"Then, miss," he answered, coming nearer to me, and speaking in a
low, hoarse voice, "as sure as I stand here in God's churchyard, by
all this murdered family, I knows the man who done it!"
He looked at me, with a trembling finger upon his hard-set lips,
and the spade in his other hand quivered like a wind vane; but I
became as firm as the monument beside me, and my heart, instead of
fluttering, grew as steadfast as a glacier. Then, for the first
time, I knew that God had not kept me living, when all the others
died, without fitting me also for the work there was to do.
"Come here to the corner of the tower, miss," old Jacob went on, in
his excitement catching hold of the sleeve of my black silk jacket.
"Where we stand is a queer sort of echo, which goeth in and out of
them big tombstones. And for aught I can say to contrairy, he may
be a-watching of us while here we stand."
I glanced around, as if he were most welcome to be watching me, if
only I could see him once. But the place was as silent as its
graves; and I followed the sexton to the shadow of a buttress.
Here he went into a deep gray corner, lichened and mossed by a drip
from the roof; and being, both in his clothes and self, pretty much
of that same color, he was not very easy to discern from stone when
the light of day was declining.
"This is where I catches all the boys," he whispered; "and this is
where I caught him, one evening when I were tired, and gone to
nurse my knees a bit. Let me see--why, let me see! Don't you
speak till I do, miss. Were it the last but one I dug? Or could
un 'a been the last but two? Never mind; I can't call to mind
quite justly. We puts down about one a month in this parish,
without any distemper or haxident. Well, it must 'a been the one
afore last--to be sure, no call to scratch my head about un. Old
Sally Mock, as sure as I stand here--done handsome by the rate-
payers. Over there, miss, if you please to look--about two land-
yard and a half away. Can you see un with the grass peeking up
"Never mind that, Jacob. Do please to go on."
"So I be, miss. So I be doing to the best of the power granted me.
Well, I were in this little knuckle of a squat, where old Sally
used to say as I went to sleep, and charged the parish for it--a
spiteful old ooman, and I done her grave with pleasure, only
wishing her had to pay for it; and to prove to her mind that I
never goed asleep here, I was just making ready to set fire to my
pipe, having cocked my shovel in to ease my legs, like this, when
from round you corner of the chancel-foot, and over again that
there old tree, I seed a something movin' along--movin' along,
without any noise or declarance of solid feet walking. You may see
the track burnt in the sod, if you let your eyes go along this here
"Oh, Jacob, how could you have waited to see it?"
"I did, miss, I did; being used to a-many antics in this dead-yard,
such as a man who hadn't buried them might up foot to run away
from. But they no right, after the service of the Church, to come
up for more than one change of the moon, unless they been great
malefactors. And then they be ashamed of it; and I reminds them of
it. 'Amen,' I say, in the very same voice as I used at the tail of
their funerals; and then they knows well that I covered them up,
and the most uneasy goes back again. Lor' bless you, miss, I no
fear of the dead. At both ends of life us be harmless. It is in
the life, and mostways in the middle of it, we makes all the death
for one another."
This was true enough; and I only nodded to him, fearing to
interject any new ideas from which he might go rambling.
"Well, that there figure were no joke, mind you," the old man
continued, as soon as he had freshened his narrative powers with
another pinch of snuff, "being tall and grim, and white in the
face, and very onpleasant for to look at, and its eyes seemed
a'most to burn holes in the air. No sooner did I see that it were
not a ghostie, but a living man the same as I be, than my knees
begins to shake and my stumps of teeth to chatter. And what do you
think it was stopped me, miss, from slipping round this corner, and
away by belfry? Nort but the hoddest idea you ever heared on. For
all of a suddint it was borne unto my mind that the Lord had been
pleased to send us back the Captain; not so handsome as he used to
be, but in the living flesh, however, in spite of they newspapers.
And I were just at the pint of coming forrard, out of this here
dark cornder, knowing as I had done my duty by them graves that his
honor, to my mind, must 'a come looking after, when, lucky for me,
I see summat in his walk, and then in his countenance, and then in
all his features, unnateral on the Captain's part, whatever his
time of life might be. And sure enough, miss, it were no Captain
more nor I myself be."
"Of course not. How could it be? But who was it, Jacob?"
"You bide a bit, miss, and you shall hear the whole. Well, by that
time 'twas too late for me to slip away, and I was bound to scrooge
up into the elbow of this nick here, and try not to breathe, as
nigh as might be, and keep my Lammas cough down; for I never see a
face more full of malice and uncharity. However, he come on as
straight as a arrow, holding his long chin out, like this, as if he
gotten crutches under it, as the folk does with bad water. A tall
man, as tall as the Captain a'most, but not gifted with any kind
aspect. He trampsed over the general graves, like the devil come
to fetch their souls out; but when he come here to the 'holy ring,'
he stopped short, and stood with his back to me. I could hear him
count the seven graves, as pat as the shells of oysters to pay for,
and then he said all their names, as true, from the biggest to the
leastest one, as Betsy Bowen could 'a done it, though none of 'em
got no mark to 'em. Oh, the poor little hearts, it was cruel hard
upon them! And then my lady in the middle, making seven. So far
as I could catch over his shoulder, he seemed to be quite a-talking
with her--not as you and I be, miss, but a sort of a manner of a
"And what did he seem to say? Oh, Jacob, how long you do take over
"Well, he did not, miss; that you may say for sartain. And glad I
was to have him quick about it; for he might have redooced me to
such a condition--ay, and I believe a' would, too, if onst a' had
caught sight of me--as the parish might 'a had to fight over the
appintment of another sexton. And so at last a' went away. And I
were that stiff with scrooging in this cornder--"
"Is that all? Oh, that comes to nothing. Surely you must have
more to tell me? It may have been some one who knew our names. It
may have been some old friend of the family."
"No, miss, no! No familiar friend; or if he was, he were like King
David's. He bore a tyrannous hate against 'e, and the poison of
asps were under his lips. In this here hattitude he stood, with
his back toward me, and his reins more upright than I be capable of
putting it. And this was how he held up his elbow and his head.
Look 'e see, miss, and then 'e know as much as I do."
Mr. Rigg marched with a long smooth step--a most difficult strain
for his short bowed legs--as far as the place he had been pointing
out; and there he stood with his back to me, painfully doing what
the tall man had done, so far as the difference of size allowed.
It was not possible for me to laugh in a matter of such sadness;
and yet Jacob stood, with his back to me, spreading and stretching
himself in such a way, to be up to the dimensions of the stranger,
that--low as it was--I was compelled to cough, for fear of fatally
"That warn't quite right, miss. Now you look again," he exclaimed,
with a little readjustment. "Only he had a thing over one
shoulder, the like of what the Scotchmen wear; and his features was
beyond me, because of the back of his head, like. For God's sake
keep out of his way, miss."
The sexton stood in a musing and yet a stern and defiant attitude,
with the right elbow clasped in the left-hand palm, the right hand
resting half-clinched upon the forehead, and the shoulders thrown
back, as if ready for a blow.
"What a very odd way to stand!" I said.
"Yes, miss. And what he said was odder. 'Six, and the mother!' I
heared un say; 'no cure for it, till I have all seven.' But stop,
miss. Not a breath to any one! Here comes the poor father and
mother to speak the blessing across their daughter's grave--and the
grave not two foot down yet!"
A SIMPLE QUESTION
Now this account of what Jacob Rigg had seen and heard threw me
into a state of mind extremely unsatisfactory. To be in eager
search of some unknown person who had injured me inexpressibly,
without any longing for revenge on my part, but simply with a view
to justice--this was a very different thing from feeling that an
unknown person was in quest of me, with the horrible purpose of
destroying me to insure his own wicked safety.
At first I almost thought that he was welcome to do this; that such
a life as mine (if looked at from an outer point of view) was
better to be died than lived out. Also that there was nobody left
to get any good out of all that I could do; and even if I ever
should succeed, truth would come out of her tomb too late. And
this began to make me cry, which I had long given over doing, with
no one to feel for the heart of it.
But a thing of this kind could not long endure; and as soon as the
sun of the morrow arose (or at least as soon as I was fit to see
him), my view of the world was quite different. Here was the merry
brook, playing with the morning, spread around with ample depth and
rich retreat of meadows, and often, after maze of leisure,
hastening with a tinkle into shadowy delight of trees. Here, as
well, were happy lanes, and footpaths of a soft content, unworn
with any pressure of the price of time or business. None of them
knew (in spite, at flurried spots, of their own direction posts)
whence they were coming or whither going--only that here they lay,
between the fields or through them, like idle veins of earth, with
sometimes company of a man or boy, whistling to his footfall, or a
singing maid with a milking pail. And how ungrateful it would be
to forget the pleasant copses, in waves of deep green leafage
flowing down and up the channeled hills, waving at the wind to
tints and tones of new refreshment, and tempting idle folk to come
and hear the hush, and see the twinkled texture of pellucid gloom.
Much, however, as I loved to sit in places of this kind alone, for
some little time I feared to do so, after hearing the sexton's
tale; for Jacob's terror was so unfeigned (though his own life had
not been threatened) that, knowing as I did from Betsy's account,
as well as his own appearance, that he was not at all a nervous
man, I could not help sharing his vague alarm. It seemed so
terrible that any one should come to the graves of my sweet mother
and her six harmless children, and, instead of showing pity, as
even a monster might have tried to do, should stand, if not with
threatening gestures, yet with a most hostile mien, and thirst for
the life of the only survivor--my poor self.
But terrible or not, the truth was so; and neither Betsy nor myself
could shake Mr. Rigg's conclusion. Indeed, he became more and more
emphatic, in reply to our doubts and mild suggestions, perhaps that
his eyes had deceived him, or perhaps that, taking a nap in the
corner of the buttress, he had dreamed at least a part of it. And
Betsy, on the score of ancient friendship and kind remembrance of
his likings, put it to him in a gentle way whether his knowledge of
what Sally Mock had been, and the calumnies she might have spoken
of his beer (when herself, in the work-house, deprived of it),
might not have induced him to take a little more than usual in
going down so deep for her. But he answered, "No; it was nothing
of the sort. Deep he had gone, to the tiptoe of his fling; not
from any feeling of a wish to keep her down, but just because the
parish paid, and the parish would have measurement. And when that
was on, he never brought down more than the quart tin from the
public; and never had none down afterward. Otherwise the ground
was so ticklish, that a man, working too free, might stay down
there. No, no! That idea was like one of Sally's own. He just
had his quart of Persfield ale--short measure, of course, with a
woman at the bar--and if that were enough to make a man dream
dreams, the sooner he dug his own grave, the better for all
connected with him."
We saw that we had gone too far in thinking of such a possibility;
and if Mr. Rigg had not been large-minded, as well as notoriously
sober, Betsy might have lost me all the benefit of his evidence by
her London-bred clumsiness with him. For it takes quite a
different handling, and a different mode of outset, to get on with
the London working class and the laboring kind of the country; or
at least it seemed to me so.
Now my knowledge of Jacob Rigg was owing, as might be supposed, to
Betsy Strouss, who had taken the lead of me in almost every thing
ever since I brought her down from London. And now I was glad
that, in one point at least, her judgment had overruled mine--to
wit, that my name and parentage were as yet not generally known in
the village. Indeed, only Betsy herself and Jacob and a faithful
old washer-woman, with no roof to her mouth, were aware of me as
Miss Castlewood. Not that I had taken any other name--to that I
would not stoop--but because the public, of its own accord, paying
attention to Betsy's style of addressing me, followed her lead
(with some little improvement), and was pleased to entitle me "Miss
Some question had been raised as to spelling me aright, till a man
of advanced intelligence proved to many eyes, and even several
pairs of spectacles (assembled in front of the blacksmith's shop),
that no other way could be right except that. For there it was in
print, as any one able might see, on the side of an instrument
whose name and qualities were even more mysterious than those in
debate. Therefore I became "Miss Raumur;" and a protest would have
gone for nothing unless printed also. But it did not behoove me to
go to that expense, while it suited me very well to be considered
and pitied as a harmless foreigner--a being who on English land may
find some cause to doubt whether, even in his own country, a
prophet could be less thought of. And this large pity for me, as
an outlandish person, in the very spot where I was born, endowed me
with tenfold the privilege of the proudest native. For the natives
of this valley are declared to be of a different stock from those
around them, not of the common Wessex strain, but of Jutish or
Danish origin. How that may be I do not know; at any rate, they
think well of themselves, and no doubt they have cause to do so.
Moreover, they all were very kind to me, and their primitive ways
amused me, as soon as they had settled that I was a foreigner,
equally beyond and below inquiry. They told me that I was kindly
welcome to stay there as long as it pleased me; and knowing how
fond I was of making pictures, after beholding my drawing-book,
every farmer among them gave me leave to come into his fields,
though he never had heard there was any thing there worth painting.
When once there has been a deposit of idea in the calm deep eocene
of British rural mind, the impression will outlast any shallow
deluge of the noblest education. Shoxford had settled two points
forever, without troubling reason to come out of her way--first,
that I was a foreign young lady of good birth, manners, and money;
second, and far more important, I was here to write and paint a
book about Shoxford. Not for the money, of that I had no need
(according to the congress at the "Silver-edged Holly"), but for
the praise and the knowledge of it, like, and to make a talk among
high people. But the elders shook their heads--as I heard from Mr.
Rigg, who hugged his knowledge proudly, and uttered dim sayings of
wisdom let forth at large usury: he did not mind telling me that
the old men shook their heads, for fear of my being a deal too
young, and a long sight too well favored (as any man might tell
without his specs on), for to write any book upon any subject yet,
leave alone an old, ancient town like theirs. However, there might
be no harm in my trying, and perhaps the school-master would cross
out the bad language.
Thus for once fortune now was giving me good help, enabling me to
go about freely, and preventing (so far as I could see, at least)
all danger of discovery by my unknown foe. So here I resolved to
keep my head-quarters, dispensing, if it must be so, with Betsy's
presence, and not even having Mrs. Price to succeed her, unless my
cousin should insist upon it. And partly to dissuade him from
that, and partly to hear his opinion of the sexton's tale, I paid a
flying visit to Lord Castlewood; while "Madam Straw," as Betsy now
was called throughout the village, remained behind at Shoxford.
For I long had desired to know a thing which I had not ventured to
ask my cousin--though I did ask Mr. Shovelin--whether my father had
intrusted him with the key of his own mysterious acts. I scarcely
knew whether it was proper even now to put this question to Lord
Castlewood; but even without doing so, I might get at the answer by
watching him closely while I told my tale. Not a letter had
reached me since I came to Shoxford, neither had I written any,
except one to Uncle Sam; and keeping to this excellent rule, I
arrived at Castlewood without notice.
In doing this I took no liberty, because full permission had been
given me about it; and indeed I had been expected there, as Stixon
told me, some days before. He added that his master was about as
usual, but had shown some uneasiness on my account, though the
butler was all in the dark about it, and felt it very hard after
all these years, "particular, when he could hardly help thinking
that Mrs. Price--a new hand compared to himself, not to speak of
being a female--knowed all about it, and were very aggravating.
But there, he would say no more; he knew his place, and he always
had been valued in it, long afore Mrs. Price come up to the bottom
of his waistcoat."
My cousin received me with kindly warmth, and kissed me gently on
the forehead. "My dear, how very well you look!" he said. "Your
native air has agreed with you. I was getting, in my quiet way,
rather sedulous and self-reproachful about you. But you would have
your own way, like a young American; and it seems that you were
"It was quite right," I answered, with a hearty kiss, for I never
could be cold-natured; and this was my only one of near kin, so
far, at least, as my knowledge went. "I was quite right in going;
and I have done good. At any rate, I have found out something--
something that may not be of any kind of use; but still it makes me
With that, in as few words as ever I could use, I told Lord
Castlewood the whole of Jacob's tale, particularly looking at him
all the while I spoke, to settle in my own mind whether the idea of
such a thing was new to him. Concerning that, however, I could
make out nothing. My cousin, at his time of life, and after so
much travelling, had much too large a share of mind and long skill
of experience for me to make any thing out of his face beyond his
own intention. And whether he had suspicion or not of any thing at
all like what I was describing, or any body having to do with it,
was more than I ever might have known, if I had not gathered up my
courage and put the question outright to him. I told him that if I
was wrong in asking, he was not to answer; but, right or wrong, ask
him I must.
"The question is natural, and not at all improper," replied Lord
Castlewood, standing a moment for change of pain, which was all his
relief. "Indeed, I expected you to ask me that before. But,
Erema, I have also had to ask myself about it, whether I have any
right to answer you. And I have decided not to do so, unless you
will pledge yourself to one thing."
"I will pledge myself to any thing," I answered, rashly; "I do not
care what it is, if only to get at the bottom of this mystery."
"I scarcely think you will hold good to your words when you hear
what you have to promise. The condition upon which I tell you what
I believe to be the cause of all is, that you let things remain as
they are, and keep silence forever about them."
"Oh, you can not be so cruel, so atrocious!" I cried, in my bitter
disappointment. "What good would it be for me to know things thus,
and let the vile wrong continue? Surely you are not bound to lay
on me a condition so impossible?"
"After much consideration and strong wish to have it otherwise, I
have concluded that I am so bound."
"In duty to my father, or the family, or what? Forgive me for
asking, but it does seem so hard."
"It seems hard, my dear, and it is hard as well," he answered, very
gently, yet showing in his eyes and lips no chance of any yielding.
"But remember that I do not know, I only guess, the secret; and if
you give the pledge I speak of, you merely follow in your father's
"Never," I replied, with as firm a face as his. "It may have been
my father's duty, or no doubt he thought it so; but it can not be
mine, unless I make it so by laying it on my honor. And I will not
"Perhaps you are right; but, at any rate, remember that I have not
tried to persuade you. I wish to do what is for your happiness,
Erema. And I think that, on the whole, with your vigor and high
spirit, you are better as you are than if you had a knowledge which
you could only brood over and not use."
"I will find out the whole of it myself," I cried, for I could not
repress all excitement; "and then I need not brood over it, but may
have it out and get justice. In the wildest parts of America
justice comes with perseverance: am I to abjure it in the heart of
England? Lord Castlewood, which is first--justice or honor?"
"My cousin, you are fond of asking questions difficult to answer.
Justice and honor nearly always go together. When they do
otherwise, honor stands foremost, with people of good birth, at
"Then I will be a person of very bad birth. If they come into
conflict in my life, as almost every thing seems to do, my first
thought shall be of justice; and honor shall come in as its
"Erema," said my cousin, "your meaning is good, and at your time of
life you can scarcely be expected to take a dispassionate view of
At first I felt almost as if I could hate a "dispassionate view of
things." Things are made to arouse our passion, so long as
meanness and villainy prevail; and if old men, knowing the balance
of the world, can contemplate them all "dispassionately," more
clearly than any thing else, to my mind, that proves the beauty of
being young. I am sure that I never was hot or violent--qualities
which I especially dislike--but still I would rather almost have
those than be too philosophical. And now, while I revered my
father's cousin for his gentleness, wisdom, and long-suffering, I
almost longed to fly back to the Major, prejudiced, peppery, and
red-hot for justice, at any rate in all things that concerned
SOME ANSWER TO IT
Hasty indignation did not drive me to hot action. A quiet talk
with Mrs. Price, as soon as my cousin's bad hour arrived, was quite
enough to bring me back to a sense of my own misgovernment.
Moreover, the evening clouds were darkening for a night of thunder,
while the silver Thames looked nothing more than a leaden pipe down
the valleys. Calm words fall at such times on quick temper like
the drip of trees on people who have been dancing. I shivered, as
my spirit fell, to think of my weak excitement, and poor petulance
to a kind, wise friend, a man of many sorrows and perpetual
affliction. And then I recalled what I had observed, but in my
haste forgotten--Lord Castlewood was greatly changed even in the
short time since I had left his house for Shoxford. Pale he had
always been, and his features (calm as they were, and finely cut)
seemed almost bleached by in-door life and continual endurance.
But now they showed worse sign than this--a delicate transparence
of faint color, and a waxen surface, such as I had seen at a time I
can not bear to think of. Also he had tottered forward, while he
tried for steadfast footing, quite as if his worried members were
almost worn out at last.
Mrs. Price took me up quite sharply--at least for one of her well-
trained style--when I ventured to ask if she had noticed this,
which made me feel uneasy. "Oh dear, no!" she said, looking up
from the lace-frilled pockets of her silk apron, which appeared to
my mind perhaps a little too smart, and almost of a vulgar
tincture; and I think that she saw in my eyes that much, and was
vexed with herself for not changing it--"oh dear, no, Miss
Castlewood! We who know and watch him should detect any difference
of that nature at the moment of its occurrence. His lordship's
health goes vacillating; a little up now, and then a little down,
like a needle that is mounted to show the dip of compass; and it
varies according to the electricity, as well as the magnetic
"What doctor told you that?" I asked, seeing in a moment that this
housekeeper was dealing in quotation.
"You are very"--she was going to say "rude," but knew better when
she saw me waiting for it--"well, you are rather brusque, as we
used to call it abroad, Miss Castlewood; but am I incapable of
observing for myself?"
"I never implied that," was my answer. "I believe that you are
most intelligent, and fit to nurse my cousin, as you are to keep
his house. And what you have said shows the clearness of your
memory and expression."
"You are very good to speak so," she answered, recovering her
temper beautifully, but, like a true woman, resolved not to let me
know any thing more about it. "Oh, what a clap of thunder! Are
you timid? This house has been struck three times, they say. It
stands so prominently. It is this that has made my lord look so."
"Let us hope, then to see him much better to-morrow," I said, very
bravely, though frightened at heart, being always a coward of
thunder. "What are these storms you get in England compared to the
tropical outbursts? Let us open the window, if you please, and
"I hear myself called," Mrs. Price exclaimed. "I am sorry to leave
you, miss. You know best. But please not to sit by an open
window; nothing is more dangerous."
"Except a great bunch of steel keys," I replied; and gazing at her
nice retreating figure, saw it quickened, as a flash of lightning
passed, with the effort of both hands to be quit of something.
The storm was dreadful; and I kept the window shut, but could not
help watching, with a fearful joy, the many-fingered hazy pale
vibrations, the reflections of the levin in the hollow of the land.
And sadly I began to think of Uncle Sam and all his goodness; and
how in a storm, a thousandfold of this, he went down his valley in
the torrent of the waves, and must have been drowned, and perhaps
never found again, if he had not been wearing his leathern apron.
This made me humble, as all great thoughts do, and the sidelong
drizzle in among the heavy rain (from the big drops jostling each
other in the air, and dashing out splashes of difference) gave me
an idea of the sort of thing I was--and how very little more. And
feeling rather lonely in the turn that things had taken, I rang the
bell for somebody; and up came Stixon.
"Lor', miss! Lor', what a burning shame of Prick!--'Prick' we call
her, in our genial moments, hearing as the 'k' is hard in Celtic
language; and all abroad about her husband. My very first saying
to you was, not to be too much okkipied with her. Look at the
pinafore on her! Lord be with me! If his lordship, as caught me,
that day of this very same month fifty years, in the gooseberry
"To be sure!" I said, knowing that story by heart, together with
all its embellishments; "but things are altered since that day.
Nothing can be more to your credit, I am sure, than to be able to
tell such a tale in the very place where it happened."
"But, Miss--Miss Erma, I ain't begun to tell it."
"Because you remember that I am acquainted with it. A thing so
remarkable is not to be forgotten. Now let me ask you a question
of importance; and I beg you, as an old servant of this family, to
answer it carefully and truly. Do you remember any one, either
here or elsewhere, so like my father, Captain Castlewood, as to be
taken for him at first sight, until a difference of expression and
of walk was noticed?"
Mr. Stixon looked at me with some surprise, and then began to think
profoundly, and in doing so he supported his chin with one hand.
"Let me see--like the Captain?" He reflected slowly: "Did I ever
see a gentleman like poor Master George, as was? A gentleman, of
course, it must have been--and a very tall, handsome, straight
gentleman, to be taken anyhow for young Master George. And he must
have been very like him, too, to be taken for him by resemblance.
Well then, miss, to the best of my judgment, I never did see such a
"I don't know whether it was a gentleman or not," I answered, with
some impatience at his tantalizing slowness; "but he carried his
chin stretched forth--like this."
For Stixon's own attitude had reminded me of a little point in
Jacob Rigg's description, which otherwise might have escaped me.
"Lor', now, and he carried his chin like that!" resumed the butler,
with an increase of intelligence by no means superfluous. "Why,
let me see, now, let me see. Something do come across my mind when
you puts out your purty chin, miss; but there, it must have been a
score of years agone, or more--perhaps five-and-twenty. What a
daft old codger I be getting, surely! No wonder them new lights
puts a bushel over me."
"No," I replied; "you are simply showing great power of memory,
Stixon. And now please to tell me, as soon as you can, who it was--
a tall man, remember, and a handsome one, with dark hair, perhaps,
or at any rate dark eyes--who resembled (perhaps not very closely,
but still enough to mislead at a distance) my dear father--Master
George, as you call him, for whose sake you are bound to tell me
every thing you know. Now try to think--do please try your very
best, for my sake."
"That I will, miss; that I will, with all my heart, with all my
mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength, as I used to have
to say with my hands behind my back, afore education were invented.
Only please you to stand with your chin put out, miss, and your
profield towards me. That is what brings it up, and nothing else
at all, miss. Only, not to say a word of any sort to hurry me. A
tracherous and a deep thing is the memory and the remembrance."
Mr. Stixon's memory was so deep that there seemed to be no bottom
to it, or, at any rate, what lay there took a very long time to get
at. And I waited, with more impatience than hope, the utterance of
"I got it now; I got it all, miss, clear as any pictur'!" the old
man cried out, at the very moment when I was about to say, "Please
to leave off; I am sure it is too much for you." "Not a pictur' in
all of our gallery, miss, two-and-fifty of 'em, so clear as I see
that there man, dark as it was, and a heavy wind a-blowing. What
you call them things, miss, if you please, as comes with the sun,
like a face upon the water? Wicked things done again the will of
the Lord, and He makes them fade out afterwards."
"Perhaps you mean photographs. Is that the word?"
"The very word, and no mistake. A sinful trespass on the works of
God, to tickle the vanity of gals. But he never spread himself
abroad like them. They shows all their ear-rings, and their necks,
and smiles. But he never would have shown his nose, if he could
help it, that stormy night when I come to do my duty. He come into
this house without so much as a 'by your leave' to nobody, and
vexed me terrible accordingly. It was in the old lord's time,
you know, miss, a one of the true sort, as would have things
respectful, and knock down any man as soon as look. And it put me
quite upon the touch-and-go, being responsible for all the
footman's works, and a young boy promoted in the face of my
opinion, having my own son worth a dozen of him. This made me look
at the nature of things, miss, and find it on my conscience to be
after every body."
"Yes, Stixon, yes! Now do go on. You must always have been, not
only after, but a very long way after, every body."
"Miss Erma, if you throw me out, every word goes promiscuous. In a
heffort of the mind like this it is every word, or no word. Now,
did I see him come along the big passage?--a 'currydoor' they call
it now, though no more curry in it than there is door. No, I never
seed him come along the passage, and that made it more reproachful.
He come out of a green-baize door--the very place I can point out
to you, and the selfsame door, miss, though false to the accuracy
of the mind that knows it, by reason of having been covered up
red, and all the brass buttons lost to it in them new-fangled
upholsteries. Not that I see him come through, if you please, but
the sway of the door, being double-jointed, was enough to show
legs, had been there. And knowing that my lord's private room was
there, made me put out my legs quite wonderful."
"Oh, do please to put out your words half as quickly."
"No, miss, no. I were lissome in those days, though not so very
stiff at this time of speaking, and bound to be guarded in the
guidance of the tongue. And now, miss, I think if you please to
hear the rest to-morrow, I could tell it better."
A more outrageous idea than this was never presented to me. Even
if I could have tried to wait, this dreadful old man might have
made up his mind not to open his lips in the morning, or, if he
would speak, there might be nothing left to say. His memory was
nursed up now, and my only chance was to keep it so. Therefore I
begged him to please to go on, and no more would I interrupt him.
And I longed to be ten years older, so as not to speak when
"So then, Miss Erma, if I must go on," resumed the well-coaxed
Stixon, "if my duty to the family driveth me to an 'arrowing
subjeck, no words can more justly tell what come to pass than my
language to my wife. She were alive then, the poor dear hangel,
and the mother of seven children, which made me, by your leave
comparing humble roofs with grandeur, a little stiff to him up
stairs, as come in on the top of seven. For I said to my wife when
I went home--sleeping out of the house, you see, miss, till the
Lord was pleased to dissolve matrimony--'Polly,' I said, when I
took home my supper, 'you may take my word for it there is
something queer.' Not another word did I mean to tell her, as
behooved my dooty. Howsoever, no peace was my lot till I made a
clean bosom of it, only putting her first on the Testament, and
even that not safe with most of them. And from that night not a
soul has heard a word till it comes to you, miss. He come striding
along, with his face muffled up, for all the world like a bugglar,
and no more heed did he pay to me than if I was one of the
pedestals. But I were in front of him at the door, and to slip out
so was against all orders. So in front of him I stands, with my
hand upon the handles, and meaning to have a word with him, to know
who he was, and such like, and how he comes there, and what he had
been seeking, with the spoons and the forks and the gravies on my
mind. And right I would have been in a court of law (if the
lawyers was put out of it) for my hefforts in that situation. And
then, what do you think he done, miss? So far from entering into
any conversation with me, or hitting at me, like a man--which would
have done good to think of--he send out one hand to the bottom of
my vest--as they call it now in all the best livery tailors--and
afore I could reason on it, there I was a-lying on a star in six
colors of marble. When I come to think on it, it was but a push
directed to a part of my system, and not a hit under the belt, the
like of which no Briton would think of delivering. Nevertheless,
there was no differ in what came to me, miss, and my spirit was
roused, as if I had been hit foul by one of the prizemen. No time
to get up, but I let out one foot at his long legs as a' was
slipping through the door, and so nearly did I fetch him over that