Part 4 out of 5
distances, on which the eye may feed perpetually; and in the woods and
bents a never-ceasing pageantry of flowers.
And what beauty in the little chapel-yard itself! Below it the ground ran
down steeply to the village and the river, and at its edge--out of its
loose boundary wall--rose a clump of Scotch firs, drawn in a grand
Italian manner upon the delicacy of the scene beyond. Close to them a
huge wild cherry thrust out its white boughs, not yet in their full
splendour, and through their openings the distant blues of fell and sky
wavered and shimmered as the wind played with the tree. And all round,
among the humble nameless graves, the silkiest, finest grass--grass that
gives a kind of quality, as of long and exquisite descent, to thousands
of Westmoreland fields--grass that is the natural mother of flowers, and
the sister of all clear streams. Daffodils grew in it now, though the
daffodil hour was waning. A little faded but still lovely, they ran
dancing in and out of the graves--up to the walls of the chapel itself--a
foam of blossom breaking on the grey rock of the church.
Generations ago, when the fells were roadless and these valleys hardly
peopled, the monks of a great priory church on the neighbouring coast
built here this little pilgrimage chapel, on the highest point of a long
and desolate track connecting the inland towns with the great abbeys of
the coast, and with all the western seaboard. Fields had been enclosed
and farms had risen about it; but still the little church was one of the
loneliest and remotest of fanes. So lonely and remote that the violent
hand of Puritanism had almost passed it by, had been content at least
with a rough blow or two, defacing, not destroying. Above the moth-eaten
table that replaced the ancient altar there still rose a window that
breathed the very _secreta_ of the old faith--a window of radiant
fragments, piercing the twilight of the little church with strange
uncomprehended things--images that linked the humble chapel and its
worshippers with the great European story, with Chartres and Amiens, with
Toledo and Rome.
For here, under a roof shaken every Sunday by Mr. Bayley's thunders,
there stood a golden St. Anthony, a virginal St. Margaret. And all round
them, in a ruined confusion, dim sacramental scenes--that flamed into
jewels as the light smote them! In one corner a priest raised the Host.
His delicate gold-patterned vestments, his tonsured head, and the
monstrance in his hands, tormented the curate's eyes every Sunday as he
began, robed in his black Genevan gown, to read the Commandments. And in
the very centre of the stone tracery, a woman lifted herself in bed to
receive the Holy Oil--so pale, so eager still, after all these centuries!
Her white face spoke week by week to the dalesfolk as they sat in their
high pews. Many a rough countrywoman, old perhaps, and crushed by toil
and child-bearing, had wondered over her, had felt a sister in her, had
loved her secretly.
But the children's dreams followed St. Anthony rather--the kind, sly old
man, with the belled staff, up which his pig was climbing.
Laura haunted the little place.
She could not be made to go when Mr. Bayley preached; but on week-days
she would get the key from the schoolmistress, and hang over the old
pews, puzzling out the window--or trying to decipher some of the other
Popish fragments that the church contained. Sometimes she would sit
rigid, in a dream that took all the young roundness from her face. But it
was like the Oratory church, and Benediction. It brought her somehow near
to Helbeck, and to Bannisdale.
To-day, however, she could not tear herself from the breeze and the sun.
She sat among the daffodils, in a sort of sad delight, wondering
sometimes at the veil that had dropped between her and beauty--dulling
and darkening all things.
Surely Cousin Elizabeth would bring a letter from Augustina. Every day
she had been expecting it. This was the beginning of the second week
after Easter. All the Easter functions at Bannisdale must now be over;
the opening of the new orphanage to boot; and the gathering of Catholic
gentry to meet the Bishop--in that dreary, neglected house! Augustina,
indeed, knew nothing of these things--except from the reports that might
be brought to her by the visitors to her sick room. Bannisdale had now no
hostess. Mr. Helbeck kept the house as best he could.
Was it not three weeks and more, now, that Laura had been at the farm?
And only two visits to Bannisdale! For the Squire, by Augustina's wish,
and against the girl's own judgment, knew nothing of her presence in the
neighbourhood, and she could only see her stepmother on days when
Augustina could be certain that her brother was away. During part of
Passion week, all Holy week, and half Easter week, priests had been
staying in the house--or the orphanage ceremony had detained the Squire.
But by now, surely, he had gone to London on some postponed business.
That was what Mrs. Fountain expected. The girl hungered for her letter.
Poor Augustina! The heart malady had been developing rapidly. She was
very ill, and Laura thought unhappy.
And yet, when the first shock of it was over--in spite of the
bewilderment and grief she suffered in losing her companion--Mrs.
Fountain had been quite willing to recognise and accept the situation
which had been created by Laura's violent action. She wailed over the
countermanded gowns and furnishings; but she was in truth relieved. "Now
we know where we are again," she had said both to herself and Father
Bowles. That strange topsy--turveydom of things was over. She was no more
tormented with anxieties; and she moved again with personal ease and
comfort about her old home.
Poor Alan of course felt it dreadfully. And Laura could not come to
Bannisdale for a long, long time. But Mrs. Fountain could go to
her--several times a year. And the Sisters were very good, and chatty. Oh
no, it was best--much best!
But now--whether it came from physical weakening or no--Mrs. Fountain was
always miserable, always complaining. She spoke of her brother
perpetually. Yet when he was with her, she thought him hard and cold. It
was evident to Laura that she feared him; that she was never at ease with
him. Merely to speak of those increased austerities of his, which had
marked the Lent of this year, troubled and frightened her.
Often, too, she would lie and look at Laura with an expression of dry
bitterness and resentment, without speaking. It was as though she were
equally angry with the passion which had changed her brother--and with
Laura's strength in breaking from it.
* * * * *
Laura moved her seat a little. Between the wild cherry and the firs was a
patch of deep blue distance. Those were his woods. But the house, was
hidden by the hills.
"Somehow I have got to live!" she said to herself suddenly, with a
But how? For she bore two griefs. The grief for him, of which she never
let a word pass her lips, was perhaps the strongest among the forces that
were destroying her. She knew well that she had torn the heart that loved
her--that she had set free a hundred dark and morbid forces in Helbeck's
But it was because she had realised, by the insight of a moment, the
madness of what they had done, the gulf to which they were
rushing--because, at one and the same instant, there had been revealed to
her the fatality under which she must still resist, and he must become
gradually, inevitably, her persecutor, and her tyrant!
Amid the emotion, the overwhelming impressions of his story of himself,
that conviction had risen in her inmost being--a strange inexorable voice
of judgment--bidding her go! In a flash, she had seen the wretched future
years--the daily struggle--the aspect of violence, even of horror, that
his pursuit of her, his pressure upon her will, might assume--the
sharpening of all those wild forces in her own nature.
She was broken with the anguish of separation--and how she had been able
to do what she had done, she did not know. But the inner voice
persisted--that for the first time, amid the selfish, or passionate, or
joy-seeking impulses of her youth, she had obeyed a higher law. The moral
realities of the whole case closed her in. She saw no way out--no way in
which, so far as her last act was concerned, she could have bettered or
changed the deed. She had done it for him, first of all. He must be
delivered from her. And she must have room to breathe, without making of
her struggle for liberty a hideous struggle with him, and with love.
Well, but--comfort!--where was it to be had? The girl's sensuous craving
nature fought like a tortured thing in the grasp laid upon it. How was it
possible to go on suffering like this? She turned impatiently to one
thought after another.
Beauty? Nature? Last year, yes! But now! That past physical ecstasy--in
spring--in flowing water--in flowers--in light and colour--where was it
gone? Let these tears--these helpless tears--make answer!
Music?--books?--the books that "make incomparable old maids"--friends?
The thought of the Friedlands made her realise that she could still love.
But after all--how little!--against how much!
Religion? All religion need not be as Alan Helbeck's. There was religion
as the Friedlands understood it--a faith convinced of God, and of a
meaning for human life, trusting the "larger hope" that springs out of
the daily struggle of conscience, and the garnered experience of feeling.
Both in Friedland and his wife, there breathed a true spiritual dignity
But Laura was not affected by this fact in the least. She put away the
suggestions of it with impatience. Her father had not been so. Now that
she had lost her lover, she clung the more fiercely to her father. And
there had been no anodynes for him.
... Oh if the sun--the useless sun--would only go--and Cousin Elizabeth
would come back--and bring that letter! Yes, one little pale joy there
was still--for a few weeks or months. The craving for the bare rooms of
Bannisdale possessed her--for that shadow-happiness of entering his house
as he quitted it--walking its old boards unknown to him--touching the
cushions and chairs in Augustina's room that he would touch, perhaps that
very same night, or on the morrow!
Till Augustina's death.--Then both for Laura and for Helbeck--an
Unknown--before which the girl shut her eyes.
* * * * *
There was company that night in the farm kitchen. Mr. Bayley, the more
than evangelical curate, came to tea.
He was a little man, with a small sharp anaemic face buried in red hair.
It was two or three years of mission work, first in Mexico, and then at
Lima as the envoy of one of the most thoroughgoing of Protestant
societies, that had given him his strangely vivid notions of the place of
Romanism among the world's forces. At no moment in this experience can he
have had a grain of personal success. Lima, apparently, is of all towns
in the universe the town where the beard of Protestantism is least worth
the shaving--to quote a northern proverb. At any rate, Mr. Bayley
returned to his native land at fifty with a permanent twist of brain.
Hence these preposterous sermons in the fell chapel; this eager nosing
out and tracking down of every scent of Popery; this fanatical
satisfaction in such a kindred soul as that of Elizabeth Mason. Some mild
Ritualism at Whinthorpe had given him occupation for years; and as for
Bannisdale, he and the Masons between them had raised the most causeless
of storms about Mr. Helbeck and his doings, from the beginning; they had
kept up for years the most rancorous memory of the Williams affair; they
had made the owner of the old Hall the bogey of a country-side.
Laura knew it well. She never spoke to the little red man if she could
help it. What pleased her was to make Daffady talk of him--Daffady, whose
contempt as a "Methody" for "paid priests" made him a sure ally.
"Why, he taaks i' church as thoo God Awmighty were on the pulpit
stairs--gi-en him his worrds!" said the cow-man, with the natural
distaste of all preachers for diatribes not their own; and Laura, when
she wandered the fields with him, would drive him on to say more and
Mr. Bayley, on the other hand, had found a new pleasure in his visits to
the farm-since Miss Fountain's arrival. The young lady had escaped indeed
from the evil thing--so as by fire. But she was far too pale and thin;
she showed too many regrets. Moreover she was not willing to talk of Mr.
Helbeck with his enemies. Indeed, she turned her back rigorously on any
attempt to make her do so.
So all that was left to the two cronies was to sit night after night,
talking to each other in the hot hope that Miss Fountain might be reached
thereby and strengthened--that even Mrs. Fountain and that distant black
brood of Bannisdale might in some indirect way be brought within the
saving-power of the Gospel.
Strange fragments of this talk floated through the kitchen.--
"Oh, my dear friend!--forbidding to marry is a doctrine of _devils_!--Now
Lima, as I have often told you, is a city of convents----"
There was a sudden grinding of chairs on the flagged floor. The grey head
and the red approached each other; the nightly shudder began; while the
girls chattered and coughed as loudly as they dared.
"No--a woan't--a conno believe 't!" Mrs. Mason would say at last,
throwing herself back against her chair with very red cheeks. And Daffady
would look round furtively, trying to hear.
But sometimes the curate would try to propitiate the young ladies. He
made himself gentle; he raised the most delicate difficulties. He had,
for instance, a very strange compassion for the Saints. "I hold it," he
said--with an eye on Miss Fountain--"to be clearly demonstrable that the
Invocation of Saints is, of all things, most lamentably injurious to the
"Hoo can he knaw?" said Polly to Laura, open-mouthed.
But Mrs. Mason frowned.
"A doan't hod wi Saints whativer," she said violently. "So A doan't fash
mysel aboot em!"
Daffady sometimes would be drawn into these diversions, as he sat smoking
on the settle. And then out of a natural slyness--perhaps on these latter
occasions, from a secret sympathy for "missie"--he would often devote
himself to proving the solidarity of all "church priests,"
Establishments, and prelatical Christians generally. Father Bowles might
be in a "parlish" state; but as to all supporters of bishops and the
heathenish custom of fixed prayers--whether they wore black gowns or
no--"a man mut hae his doots."
Never had Daffady been so successful with his shafts as on this
particular evening. Mrs. Mason grew redder and redder; her large face
alternately flamed and darkened in the firelight. In the middle the girls
tried to escape into the parlour. But she shouted imperiously after them.
"Polly--Laura--what art tha aboot? Coom back at yance. I'll not ha sickly
foak sittin wi'oot a fire!"
They came back sheepishly. And when they were once more settled as
audience, the mistress--who was by this time fanning herself
tempestuously with the Whinthorpe paper--launched her last word:
"Daffady--thoo's naa call to lay doon t' law, on sic matters at aw.
Mappen tha'll recolleck t' Bible--headstrong as tha art i' thy aan
conceit. Bit t' Bible says 'How can he get wisdom that holdeth the
plough--whose taak is o' bullocks?' Aa coom on that yestherday--an A've
bin sair exercised aboot thy preachin ever sen!"
Daffady held his peace.
The clergyman departed, and Daffady went out to the cattle. Laura had not
given the red-haired man her hand. She had found it necessary to carry
her work upstairs, at the precise moment of his departure. But when he
was safely off the premises she came down again to say good-night to her
Oh! they had not been unkind to her these last weeks. Far from it. Mrs.
Mason had felt a fierce triumph--she knew--in her broken engagement.
Probably at first Cousin Elizabeth had only acquiesced in Hubert's demand
that Miss Fountain should be asked to stay at the farm, out of an ugly
wish to see the girl's discomfiture for herself. And she had not been
able to forego the joy of bullying Mr. Helbeck's late betrothed through
Mr. Bayley's mouth.
Nevertheless, when this dwindled ghostly Laura appeared, and began to
flit through the low-ceiled room and dark passages of the farm--carefully
avoiding any talk about herself or her story--always cheerful,
self-possessed, elusive--the elder woman began after a little to have
strange stirrings of soul towards her. The girl's invincible silence,
taken with those physical signs of a consuming pain that were beyond her
concealment, worked upon a nature that, as far as all personal life and
emotion were concerned, was no less strong and silent. Polly saw with
astonishment that fires were lit in the parlour at odd times--that Laura
might read or practise. She was amazed to watch her mother put out some
little delicacy at tea or supper that Laura might be made to eat.
And yet!--after all these amenities, Mr. Bayley would still be asked to
supper, and Laura would still be pelted and harried from supper-time till
To-night when Laura returned, Mrs. Mason was in a muttering and stormy
mood. Daffady had angered her sorely. Laura, moreover, had a letter from
Bannisdale, and since it came there had been passing lights in Miss
Fountain's eyes, and passing reds on her pale cheeks.
As the girl approached her cousin, Mrs. Mason turned upon her abruptly.
"Dostha want the cart to-morrow? Daffady said soomat aboot it."
"If it could be spared."
Mrs. Mason looked at her fixedly.
"If Aa was thoo," she said, "Aa'd not flutter ony more roond _that_
Laura shrank as though her cousin had struck her. But she controlled
"Do you forget my stepmother's state, Cousin Elizabeth?"
"Oh!--yo' con aw mak much o' what suits tha!" cried the mistress, as she
walked fiercely to the outer door and locked it noisily from the great
key-bunch hanging at her girdle.
The girl's eyes showed a look of flame. Then her head seemed to swim. She
put her hand to her brow, and walked weakly across the kitchen to the
door of the stairs.
"Mother!" cried Polly, in indignation; and she sprang after Laura. But
Laura waved her back imperiously, and almost immediately they heard her
door shut upstairs.
* * * * *
An hour later Laura was lying sleepless in her bed. It was a clear cold
night--a spring frost after the rain. The moon shone through the white
blind, on the old four-poster, on Laura's golden hair spread on the
pillow, on the great meal-ark which barred the chimney, on the rude walls
and woodwork of the room.
Her arms were thrown behind her head, supporting it. Nothing moved in the
house, or the room--the only sound was the rustling of a mouse in one
A door opened on a sudden. There was a step in the passage, and someone
knocked at her door.
On the threshold stood Mrs. Mason in a cotton bedgown and petticoat, her
grey locks in confusion about her massive face and piercing eyes.
She closed the door, and came to the bedside.
"Laura!--Aa've coom to ast thy pardon!"
Laura raised herself on one arm, and looked at the apparition with
"Mebbe A've doon wrang.--We shouldna quench the smoakin flax. Soa theer's
my han, child--if thoo can teaek it."
The old woman held out her hand. There was an indescribable sound in her
voice, as of deep waters welling up.
Laura fell back on her pillows--the whitest, fragilest creature--under
the shadows of the old bed. She opened her delicate arms. "Suppose you
kiss me, Cousin Elizabeth!"
The elder woman stooped clumsily. The girl linked her arms round her neck
and kissed her warmly, repeatedly, feeling through all her motherless
sense the satisfaction of a long hunger in the contact of the old face
and ample bosom.
The reserve of both forbade anything more. Mrs. Mason tucked in the small
figure--lingered a little--said, "Laura, th'art not coald--nor
sick?"--and when Laura answered cheerfully, the mistress went.
The girl's eyes were wet for a while; her heart beat fast. There had been
few affections in her short life--far too few. Her nature gave itself
with a fatal prodigality, or not at all. And now--what was there left to
But she slept more peacefully for Mrs. Mason's visit--with Augustina's
letter of summons under her hand.
* * * * *
The day was still young when Laura reached Bannisdale.
Never had the house looked so desolate. Dust lay on the oaken boards and
tables of the hall. There was no fire on the great hearth, and the blinds
in the oriel windows were still mostly drawn. But the remains of
yesterday's fire were visible yet, and a dirty duster and pan adorned the
The Irishwoman with a half-crippled husband, who had replaced Mrs.
Denton, was clearly incompetent. Mrs. Denton at least had been orderly
and clean. The girl's heart smote her with a fresh pang as she made her
She found Augustina no worse; and in her room there was always comfort,
and even brightness. She had a good nurse; a Catholic "Sister" from
London, of a kind and cheerful type, that Laura herself could not
dislike; and whatever working power there was in the household was
concentrated on her service.
Miss Fountain took off her things, and settled in for the day. Augustina
chattered incessantly, except when her weakness threw her into long
dozes, mingled often, Laura thought, with slight wandering. Her wish
evidently was to be always talking of her brother; but in this she
checked herself whenever she could, as though controlled by some
resolution of her own, or some advice from another.
Yet in the end she said a great deal about him. She spoke of the last
weeks of Lent, of the priests who had been staying in the house; of the
kindness that had been shown her. That wonderful network of spiritual
care and attentions--like a special system of courtesy having its own
rules and etiquette--with which Catholicism surrounds the dying, had been
drawn about the poor little widow. During the last few weeks Mass had
been said several times in her room; Father Leadham had given her
Communion every day in Easter week; on Easter Sunday the children from
the orphanage had come to sing to her; that Roman palm over the bed was
brought her by Alan himself. The statuette of St. Joseph, too, was his
So she lay and talked through the day, cheerfully enough. She did not
want to hear of Cambridge or the Friedlands, still less of the farm. Her
whole interest now was centred in her own state, and in the Catholic joys
and duties which it still permitted. She never spoke of her husband;
Laura bitterly noted it.
But there were moments when she watched her stepdaughter, and once when
the Sister had left them she laid her hand on Laura's arm and whispered:
"Oh! Laura--he has grown so much greyer--since--since October."
The girl said nothing. Augustina closed her eyes, and said with much
twitching and agitation, "When--when I am gone, he will go to the
Jesuits--I know he will. The place will come to our cousin, Richard
Helbeck. He has plenty of money--it will be very different some day."
"Did--did Father Leadham tell you that?" said Laura, after a while.
"Yes. He admitted it. He said they had twice dissuaded him in former
years. But now--when I'm gone--it'll be allowed."
Suddenly Augustina opened her eyes. "Laura! where are you?" Her little
crooked face worked with tears. "I'm glad!--We ought all to be glad. I
don't--I don't believe he ever has a happy moment!"
She began to weep piteously. Laura tried to console her, putting her
cheek to hers, with inarticulate soothing words. But Augustina turned
away from her--almost in irritation.
The girl's heart was wrung at every turn. She lingered, however, till the
last minute--almost till the April dark had fallen.
When she reached the hall again, she stood a moment looking round its
cold and gloom. First, with a start, she noticed a pile of torn envelopes
and papers lying on a table, which had escaped her in the morning. The
Squire must have thrown them down there in the early morning, just before
starting on his journey. The small fact gave her a throb of strange
joy--brought back the living presence. Then she noticed that the study
door was open.
A temptation seized her--drove her before it. Silence and solitude
possessed the house. The servants were far away in the long rambling
basement. Augustina was asleep with her nurse beside her.
Laura went noiselessly across the hall. She pushed the door--she looked
round his room.
No change. The books, the crucifix, the pictures, all as before. But the
old walls, and wainscots, the air of the room, seemed still to hold the
winter. They struck chill.
The same pile of books in daily use upon his table--a few little manuals
and reprints--"The Spiritual Combat," the "Imitation," some sermons--the
volume of "Acta Sanctorum" for the month.
She could not tear herself from them. Trembling, she hung over them, and
her fingers blindly opened a little book which lay on the top. It fell
apart at a place which had been marked--freshly marked, it seemed to her.
A few lines had been scored in pencil, with a date beside them. She
looked closer and read the date of the foregoing Easter Eve. And the
passage with its scored lines ran thus:
"Drive far from us the crowd of evil spirits who strive to approach us;
unloose the too firm hold of earthly things; _untie with Thy gentle and
wounded hands the fibres of our hearts that cling so fast round human
affections_; let our weary head rest on Thy bosom till the struggle is
over, and our cold form falls back--dust and ashes."
She stood a moment--looking down upon the book--feeling life one throb of
anguish. Then wildly she stooped and kissed the pages. Dropping on her
knees too, she kissed the arm of the chair, the place where his hand
No one came--the solitude held. Gradually she got the better of her
misery. She rose, replaced the book, and went.
* * * * *
The following night, very late, Laura again lay sleepless. But April was
blowing and plashing outside. The high fell and the lonely farm seemed to
lie in the very track of the storms, as they rushed from the south-west
across the open moss to beat themselves upon the mountains.
But the moon shone sometimes, and then the girl's restlessness would
remind her of the open fell-side, of pale lights upon the distant sea, of
cool blasts whirling among the old thorns and junipers, and she would
long to be up and away--escaped from this prison where she could not
How the wind could drop at times--to what an utter and treacherous
silence! And what strange, misleading sounds the silence brought with it!
She sat up in bed. Surely someone had opened the further gate--the gate
from the lane? But the wind surged in again, and she had to strain her
ears. Nothing. Yes!--wheels and hoofs! a carriage of some sort
A sudden thought came to her. The dog-cart--it seemed to be such by the
sound--drew up at the farm door, and a man descended. She heard the reins
thrown over the horse's back, then the groping for the knocker, and at
last blows loud and clear, startling the night.
Mrs. Mason's window was thrown open next, and her voice came out
imperiously--"What is it?"
Laura's life seemed to hang on the answer.
"Will you please tell Miss Fountain that her stepmother is in great
danger, and asks her to come at once."
She leapt from her bed, but must needs wait--turned again to stone--for
the next word. It came after a pause.
"And wha's the message from?"
"Kindly tell her that Mr. Helbeck is here with the dog-cart."
The window closed. Laura slipped into her clothes, and by the time Mrs.
Mason emerged the girl was already in the passage.
"I heard," she said briefly. "Let us go down."
Mrs. Mason, pale and frowning, led the way. She undid the heavy bars and
lock, and for the first time in her life stood confronted--on her own
threshold--with the Papist Squire of Bannisdale.
Mr. Helbeck greeted her ceremoniously. But his black eyes, so deep-set
and cavernous in his strong-boned face, did not seem to notice her. They
ran past her to that small shadow in the background.
"Are you ready?" he said, addressing the shadow.
"One moment, please," said Laura. She was tying a thick veil round her
hat, and struggling with the fastenings of her cloak.
Mrs. Mason looked from one to another like a baffled lioness. But to let
them go without a word was beyond her. She turned to the Squire.
"Misther Helbeck!--yo'll tell me on your conscience--as it's reet and
just--afther aw that's passt--'at this yoong woman should go wi yo?"
Laura shivered with rage and shame. Her fingers hastened. Mr. Helbeck
showed no emotion whatever.
"Mrs. Fountain is dying," he said briefly; and again his eye--anxious,
imperious--sought for the girl. She came hastily forward from the shadows
of the kitchen.
Mr. Helbeck mounted the cart, and held out his hand to her.
"Have you got a shawl? The wind is very keen!" He spoke with the careful
courtesy one uses to a stranger.
"Thank you--I am all right. Please let us go! Cousin Elizabeth!" Laura
threw herself backwards a moment, as the cart began to move, and kissed
Mrs. Mason made no sign. She watched the cart, slowly picking its way
over the rough ground of the farm-yard, till it turned the corner of the
big barn and disappeared in the gusty darkness.
Then she turned housewards. She put down her guttering candle on the
great oak table of the kitchen, and sank herself upon the settle.
"Soa--that's him!" she said to herself; and her peasant mind in a dull
heat, like that of the peat fire beside her, went wandering back over the
hatreds of twenty years.
As the dog-cart reached the turning of the lane, Mr. Helbeck said to his
"Would you kindly take the cart through? I must shut the gate."
He jumped down. Laura with some difficulty--for the high wind coming from
the fell increased her general confusion of brain--passed the gate and
took the pony safely down a rocky piece of road beyond.
His first act in rejoining her was to wrap the rugs which he had brought
more closely about her.
"I had no idea in coming," he said--"that the wind was so keen. Now we
He spoke precisely in the same voice that he might have used, say, to
Polly Mason had she been confided to him for a night journey. But as he
arranged the rug, his hand for an instant had brushed Laura's; and when
she gave him the reins, she leant back hardly able to breathe.
With a passionate effort of will, she summoned a composure to match his
"When did the change come?" she asked him.
"About eight o'clock. Then it was she told me you were here. We thought
at first of sending over a messenger in the morning. But finally my
sister begged me to come at once."
"Is there immediate danger?" The girlish voice must needs tremble.
"I trust we shall still find her," he said gently--"but her nurses were
"And was there--much suffering?"
She pressed her hands together under the coverings that sheltered them,
in a quick anguish. Oh! had she thought enough, cared enough, for
As she spoke the horse gave a sudden swerve, as though Mr. Helbeck had
pulled the rein involuntarily. They bumped over a large stone, and the
Squire hastily excused himself for bad driving. Then he answered her
question. As far as he or the Sister could judge there was little active
suffering. But the weakness had increased rapidly that afternoon, and the
breathing was much harassed.
He went on to describe exactly how he had left the poor patient, giving
the details with a careful minuteness. At the same moment that he had
started for Miss Fountain, old Wilson had gone to Whinthorpe for the
doctor. The Reverend Mother was there; and the nurses--kind and efficient
women--were doing all that could be done.
He spoke in a voice that seemed to have no colour or emphasis. One who
did not know him might have thought he gave his report entirely without
emotion--that his sister's coming death did not affect him.
Laura longed to ask whether Father Bowles was there, whether the Last
Sacraments had been given. But she did not dare. That question seemed to
belong to a world that was for ever sealed between them. And he
They entered on a steep descent to the main road. The wind came in fierce
gusts--so that Laura had to hold her hat on with both hands. The carriage
lamps wavered wildly on the great junipers and hollies, the clumps of
blossoming gorse, that sprinkled the mountain; sometimes in a pause of
the wind, there would be a roar of water, or a rush of startled sheep.
Tumult had taken possession of the fells no less than of the girl's
Once she was thrown against the Squire's shoulder, and murmured a hurried
"I beg your pardon." And at the same moment an image of their parting on
the stairs at Bannisdale rose on the dark. She saw his tall head
bending--herself kissing the breast of his coat.
At last they came out above the great prospect of moss and mountain.
There was just moon enough to see it by; though night and storm held the
vast open cup, across which the clouds came racing--beating up from the
coast and the south-west. Ghostly light touched the river courses here
and there, and showed the distant portal of the sea. Through the cloud
and wind and darkness breathed a great Nature-voice, a voice of power and
infinite freedom. Laura suddenly, in a dim passionate way, thought of the
words "to cease upon the midnight with no pain." If life could just
cease, here, in the wild dark, while, for the last time in their lives,
they were once more alone together!--while in this little cart, on this
lonely road, she was still his charge and care--dependent on his man's
strength, delivered over to him, and him only--out of all the world.
When they reached the lower road the pony quickened his pace, and the
wind was less boisterous. The silence between them, which had been
natural enough in the high and deafening blasts of the fell, began to be
itself a speech. The Squire broke it.
"I am glad to hear that your cousin is doing so well at Froswick," he
said, with formal courtesy.
Laura made a fitting reply, and they talked a little of the chances of
business, and the growth of Froswick. Then the silence closed again.
Presently, as the road passed between stone walls, with a grass strip on
either side, two dark forms shot up in front of them. The pony shied
violently. Had they been still travelling on the edge of the steep grass
slope which had stretched below them for a mile or so after their exit
from the lane, they must have upset. As it was, Laura was pitched against
the railing of the dog-cart, and as she instinctively grasped it to save
herself, her wrist was painfully twisted.
"You are hurt!" said Helbeck, pulling up the pony.
The first cry of pain had been beyond her control. But she would have
died rather than permit another.
"It is nothing," she said, "really nothing! What was the matter?"
"A mare and her foal, as far as I can see," said Helbeck, looking behind
him. "How careless of the farm people!" he added angrily.
"Oh! they must have strayed," said Laura faintly. All her will was
struggling with this swimming brain--it should not overpower her.
The tinkling of a small burn could be heard beside the road. Helbeck
jumped down. "Don't be afraid; the pony is really quite quiet--he'll
In a second or two he was back--and just in time. Laura knew well the
touch of the little horn cup he put into her cold hand. Many and many a
time, in the scrambles of their summer walks, had he revived her from it.
She drank eagerly. When he mounted the carriage again, some strange
instinct told her that he was not the same. She divined--she was sure of
an agitation in him which at once calmed her own.
She quickly assured him that she was much better, that the pain was fast
subsiding. Then she begged him to hurry on. She even forced herself to
smile and talk.
"It was very ghostly, wasn't it? Daffady, our old cow-man, will never
believe they were real horses. He has a story of a bogle in this road--a
horse-bogle, too--that makes one creep."
"Oh! I know that story," said Helbeck. "It used to be told of several
roads about here. Old Wilson once said to me, 'When Aa wor yoong, ivery
field an ivery lane wor fu o' bogles!' It is strange how the old tales
have died out, while a brand new one, like our own ghost story, has grown
Laura murmured a "Yes." Had he forgotten who was once the ghost?
Silence fell again--a silence in which each heart could almost hear the
other beat. Oh! how wicked--wicked--would she be if she had come
meddling with his life again, of her own free will!
Here at last was the bridge, and the Bannisdale gate. Laura shut her
eyes, and reckoned up the minutes that remained. Then, as they sped up
the park, she wrestled indignantly with herself. She was outraged by her
own callousness towards this death in front of her. "Oh! let me think of
her! Let me be good to her!" she cried, in dumb appeal to some power
beyond herself. She recalled her father. She tried with all her young
strength to forget the man beside her--and those piteous facts that lay
* * * * *
In Augustina's room--darkness--except for one shaded light. The doors
were all open, that the poor tormented lungs might breathe.
Laura went in softly, the Squire following. A nurse rose.
"She has rallied wonderfully," she said in a cheerful whisper, as she
approached them, finger on lip.
"Laura!" said a sighing voice.
It came from a deep old-fashioned chair, in which sat Mrs. Fountain,
propped by many pillows.
Laura went up to her, and dropping on a stool beside her, the girl
tenderly caressed the wasted hand that had itself no strength to move
In the few hours since Laura had last seen her, a great change had passed
over Mrs. Fountain. Her little face, usually so red, had blanched to
parchment white, and the nervous twitching of the head, in the general
failure of strength, had almost ceased. She lay stilled and refined under
the touch of death; and the sweetness of her blue eyes had grown more
conscious and more noble.
"Laura--I'm a little better. But you mustn't go again. Alan--she must
She tried to turn her head to him, appealing. The Squire came forward.
"Everything is ready for Miss Fountain, dear--if she will be good enough
to stay. Nurse will provide--and we will send over for any luggage in the
At those words "Miss Fountain," a slight movement passed over the
"Laura!" she said feebly.
"Yes, Augustina--I will stay. I won't leave you again."
"Your father did wish it, didn't he?"
The mention of her father so startled Laura that the tears rushed to her
eyes, and she dropped her face for a moment on Mrs. Fountain's hand. When
she lifted it she was no longer conscious that Helbeck stood behind his
sister's chair, looking down upon them both.
"Yes--always, dear. Do you remember what a good nurse he was?--so much
better than I?"
Her face shone through the tears that bedewed it. Already the emotion of
her drive--the last battles with the wind--had for the moment restored
the brilliancy of eye and cheek. Even Augustina's dim sight was held by
her, and by the tumbled gold of her hair as it caught the candle-light.
But the name which had given Laura a thrill of joy had roused a disturbed
and troubled echo in Mrs. Fountain.
She looked miserably at her brother and asked for her beads. He put them
across her hand, and then, bending over her chair, he said a "Hail Mary"
and an "Our Father," in which she faintly joined.
"And Alan--will Father Leadham come to-morrow?"
* * * * *
A little later Laura was in her old room with Sister Rosa. The doctor had
paid his visit. But for the moment the collapse of the afternoon had been
arrested; Mrs. Fountain was in no urgent danger.
"Now then," said the nurse cheerily, when Miss Fountain had been supplied
with all necessaries for sleep, "let us look at that arm, please."
Laura turned in surprise.
"Mr. Helbeck tells me you wrenched your wrist on the drive. He thought
you would perhaps allow me to treat it."
Laura submitted. It was indeed nearly helpless and much swollen, though
she had been hardly conscious of it since the little accident happened.
The brisk, black-eyed Sister had soon put a comforting bandage round it,
chattering all the time of Mrs. Fountain and the ups and downs of the
"She missed you very much after you went yesterday. But now, I suppose,
you will stay? It won't be long, poor lady!"
The Sister gave a little professional sigh, and Laura, of course,
repeated that she must certainly stay. As the Sister broke off the cotton
with which she had been stitching the bandage, she stole a curious glance
at her patient. She had not frequented the orphanage in her off-time for
nothing; and she was perfectly aware of the anxiety with which the
Catholic friends of Bannisdale must needs view the re-entry of Miss
Fountain. Sister Rosa, who spoke French readily, wondered whether it had
not been after all "reculer pour mieux sauter."
After a first restless sleep of sheer fatigue, Laura found herself
sitting up in bed struggling with a sense of horrible desolation.
Augustina was dead--Mr. Helbeck was gone, was a Jesuit--and she herself
was left alone in the old house, weeping--with no one, not a living soul,
to hear. That was the impression; and it was long before she could
disentangle truth from nightmare.
When she lay down again, sleep was banished. She lit a candle and waited
for the dawn. There in the flickering light were the old tapestries--the
princess stepping into her boat, Diana ranging through the wood. Nothing
was changed in the room or its furniture. But the Laura who had fretted
or dreamed there; who had written her first letter to Molly Friedland
from that table; who had dressed for her lover's eye before that rickety
glass; who had been angry or sullen, or madly happy there--why, the Laura
who now for the second time watched the spring dawn through that
diamond-paned window looked back upon her as the figures in Rossetti's
strange picture meet the ghosts of their old selves--with the same sense
of immeasurable, irrevocable distance. What childish follies and
impertinences!--what misunderstanding of others, and misreckoning of the
things that most concerned her--what blind drifting--what inevitable
Ah! this aching of the whole being, physical and moral,--again she asked
herself, only with a wilder impatience, how long it could be borne.
The wind had fallen, but in the pause of the dawn the river spoke with
the hills. The light mounted quickly. Soon the first glint of sun came
through the curtains. Laura extinguished her candle, and went to let in
the day. As on that first morning, she stood in the window, following
with her eye the foaming curves of the Greet, or the last streaks of snow
upon the hills, or the daffodil stars in the grass.
Hush!--what time was it? She ran for her watch. Nearly seven.
She wrapped a shawl about her, and went back to her post, straining to
see the path on the further side of the river through the mists that
still hung about it. Suddenly her head dropped upon her hands. One sob
forced its way. Helbeck had passed.
* * * * *
For some three weeks, after this April night, the old house of Bannisdale
was the scene of one of those dramas of life and death which depend, not
upon external incident, but upon the inner realities of the heart, its
inextinguishable affections, hopes, and agonies.
Helbeck and Laura were once more during this time brought into close and
intimate contact by the claims of a common humanity. They were united by
the common effort to soften the last journey for Augustina, by all the
little tendernesses and cares that a sick room imposes, by the pities and
charities, the small renascent hopes and fears of each successive day and
But all the while, how deeply were they divided!--how sharp was the clash
between the reviving strength of passion, which could not but feed itself
on the daily sight and contact of the beloved person, and those facts of
character and individuality which held them separated!--facts which are
always, and in all cases, the true facts of this world.
In Helbeck the shock of Laura's October flight had worked with profound
and transforming power. After those first desperate days in which he had
merely sought to recover her, to break down her determination, or to
understand if he could the grounds on which she had acted, a new
conception of his own life and the meaning of it had taken possession of
him. He fell into the profoundest humiliation and self-abasement,
denouncing himself as a traitor to his faith, who out of mere
self-delusion, and a lawless love of ease, had endangered his own
obedience, and neglected the plain task laid upon him. That fear of
proselytism, that humble dread of his own influence, which had once
determined his whole attitude towards those about him, began now to seem
to him mere wretched cowardice and self-will--the caprice of the servant
who tries to better his master's instructions.
But now I cast that finer sense
And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
Such aim at heaven was pride.
Again and again he said to himself that if he had struck at once for the
Church and for the Faith at the moment when Laura's young heart was first
opened to him, when under the earliest influences of her love for
him--how could he doubt that she had loved him!--her nature was still
plastic, still capable of being won to God, as it were, by a _coup de
main_--might not--would not--all have been well? But no!--he must needs
believe that God had given her to him for ever, that there was room for
all the gradual softening, the imperceptible approaches by which he had
hoped to win her. It had seemed to him the process could not be too
gentle, too indulgent. And meanwhile the will and mind that might have
been captured at a rush had time to harden--the forces of revolt to
What wonder? Oh! blind--infatuate! How could he have hoped to bring her,
still untouched, within the circle of his Catholic life, into contact
with its secrets and its renunciations, without recoil on her part,
without risk of what had actually happened? The strict regulation of
every hour, every habit, every thought, at which he aimed as a
Catholic--what _could_ it seem to her but a dreary and forbidding
tyranny?--to her who had no clue to it, who was still left free, though
she loved him, to judge his faith coldly from outside? And when at last
he had begun to drop hesitation, to change his tone--then, it was too
_Tyranny!_ She had used that word once or twice, in that first letter
which had reached him on the evening of her flight, and in a subsequent
one. Not of anything that had been, apparently--but of that which might
be. It had wounded him to the very quick.
And yet, in truth, the course of his present thoughts--plainly
interpreted--meant little else than this--that if, at the right moment,
he had coerced her with success, they might both have been happy.
Later on he had seen his own self-judgment reflected in the faces, the
consolations, of his few intimate friends. Father Leadham, for
instance--whose letters had been his chief support during a period of
dumb agony when he had felt himself more than once on the brink of some
morbid trouble of brain.
"I found her adamant," said Father Leadham. "Never was I so powerless
with any human soul. She would not discuss anything. She would only say
that she was born in freedom--and free she would remain. All that I urged
upon her implied beliefs in which she had not been brought up, which were
not her father's and were not hers. Nor on closer experience had she been
any more drawn to them--quite the contrary; whatever--and there, poor
child! her eyes filled with tears--whatever she might feel towards those
who held them. She said fiercely that you had never argued with her or
persuaded her--or perhaps only once; that you had promised--this with an
indignant look at me--that there should be no pressure upon her. And I
could but feel sadly, dear friend, that you only, under our Blessed Lord,
could have influenced her; and that you, by some deplorable mistake of
judgment, had been led to feel that it was wrong to do so. And if ever, I
will even venture to say, violence--spiritual violence, the violence that
taketh by storm--could have been justified, it would have been in this
case. Her affections were all yours; she was, but for you and her
stepmother, alone in the world; and amid all her charms and gifts, a soul
more starved and destitute I never met with. May our Lord and His
Immaculate Mother strengthen you to bear your sorrow! For your friends,
there are and must be consolations in this catastrophe. The cross that
such a marriage would have laid upon you must have been heavy indeed."
Harassed by such thoughts and memories Helbeck passed through these
strange, these miserable days--when he and Laura were once more under the
same roof, living the same household life. Like Laura, he clung to every
hour; like Laura, he found it almost more than he could bear. He suffered
now with a fierceness, a moroseness, unknown to him of old. Every
permitted mortification that could torment the body or humble the mind he
brought into play during these weeks, and still could not prevent himself
from feeling every sound of Laura's voice and every rustle of her dress
as a rough touch upon a sore.
What was in her mind all the time--behind those clear indomitable eyes?
He dared not let himself think of the signs of grief that were written so
plainly on her delicate face and frame. One day he found himself looking
at her from a distance in a passionate bewilderment. So white--so sad!
For what? What was this freedom, this atrocious freedom--that a creature
so fragile, so unfit to wield it, had yet claimed so fatally? His
thoughts fell back to Stephen Fountain, cursing an influence at once so
intangible and so strong.
* * * * *
It was some relief that they were in no risk of _tete-a-tete_ outside
Augustina's sick room. One or other of the nurses was always present at
meals. And on the day after Laura's arrival Father Leadham appeared and
stayed for ten days.
The relations of the Jesuit towards Miss Fountain during this time were
curious. It was plain to Helbeck that Father Leadham treated the girl
with a new respect, and that she on her side showed herself much more at
ease with him than she had used to be. It was as though they had tested
each other, with the result that each had found in the other something
nobler and sincerer than they had expected to find. Laura might be
spiritually destitute; but it was evident that since his conversation
with her, Father Leadham had realised for the first time the "charms and
gifts" which might be supposed to have captured Mr. Helbeck.
So that when they met at meals, or in the invalid's room, the Jesuit
showed Miss Fountain a very courteous attention. He was fresh from
Cambridge; he brought her gossip of her friends and acquaintances; he
said pleasant things of the Friedlands. She talked in return with an ease
that astonished Helbeck and his sister. She seemed to both to have grown
It was the same with all the other Catholic haunters of the house. For
the first time she discovered how to get on with the Reverend Mother,
even with Sister Angela--how not to find Father Bowles himself too
wearisome. She moved among them with a dignity, perhaps an indifference,
that changed her wholly.
Once, when she had been chatting in the friendliest way with the Reverend
Mother, she paused for a moment in the passage outside Augustina's room,
amazed at herself.
It was liberty, no doubt--this strange and desolate liberty in which she
stood, that made the contrast. By some obscure association she fell on
the words that Helbeck had once quoted to her--how differently! "My soul
is escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is
broken, and we are delivered."
"Ah! but the bird's wings are broken and its breast pierced. What can it
do with its poor freedom?" she said to herself, in a passion of tears.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, she realised the force of the saying that Catholicism is the
faith to die in.
The concentration of all these Catholic minds upon the dying of
Augustina, the busy fraternal help evoked by every stage of her _via
dolorosa_, was indeed marvellous to see. "It is a work of art," Laura
thought, with that new power of observation which had developed in her.
"It is--it must be--the most wonderful thing of its sort in the world!"
For it was no mere haphazard series of feelings or kindnesses. It was an
act--a function--this "good death" on which the sufferer and those who
assisted her were equally bent. Something had to be done, a process to be
gone through; and everyone was anxiously bent upon doing it in the right,
the prescribed, way--upon omitting nothing. The physical fact, indeed,
became comparatively unimportant, except as the evoking cause of certain
symbolisms--nay, certain actual and direct contacts between earth and
heaven, which were the distraction of death itself--which took precedence
of it, and reduced it to insignificance.
When Father Leadham left, Father Bowles came to stay in the house, and
Communion was given to Mrs. Fountain every day. Two or three times a
week, also, Mass was said in her room. Laura assisted once or twice at
these scenes--the blaze of lights and flowers in the old panelled
room--the altar adorned with splendid fittings brought from the chapel
below--the small, blanched face in the depths of the great tapestried
bed--the priest bending over it.
On one of these occasions, in the early morning, when the candles on the
altar were almost effaced by the first brilliance of a May day, Laura
stole away from the darkened room where Mrs. Fountain lay soothed and
sleeping, and stood for long at an open window overlooking the wild
She was stifled by the scent of flowers and burning wax; still more,
mentally oppressed. The leaping river, the wide circuit of the fells, the
blowing of the May wind!--to them, in a great reaction, the girl gave
back her soul, passionately resting in them. They were no longer a joy
and intoxication. But the veil lifted between her and them. They became a
sanctuary and refuge.
From the Martha of the old faith, so careful and troubled about many
things--sins and penances, creeds and sacraments, the miraculous
hauntings of words and objects, of water and wafer, of fragments of bone
and stuff, of scapulars and medals, of crucifixes and indulgences--her
mind turned to this Mary of a tameless and patient nature, listening and
loving in the sunlight.
Only, indeed, to destroy her own fancy as soon as woven! Nature was pain
and combat, too, no less than Faith. But here, at least, was no jealous
lesson to be learnt; no exclusions, no conditions. Her rivers were deep
and clear for all; her "generous sun" was lit for all. What she promised
she gave. Without any preliminary _credo_, her colours glowed, her
breezes blew for the unhappy. Oh! such a purple shadow on the fells--such
a red glory of the oak twigs in front of it--such a white sparkle of the
Greet, parting the valley!
What need of any other sacrament or sign than these--this beauty and
bounty of the continuing world? Indeed, Friedland had once said to her,
"The joy that Catholics feel in the sacrament, the plain believer in God
will get day by day out of the simplest things--out of a gleam on the
hills--a purple in the distance--a light on the river; still more out of
any tender or heroic action."
She thought very wistfully of her old friend and his talk; but here also
with a strange sense of distance, of independence. How the river dashed
and raced! There had been wild nights of rain amid this May beauty, and
the stream was high. Day by day, of late, she had made it her comrade.
Whenever she left Augustina it was always to wander beside it, or to sit
above it, cradled and lost in that full triumphant song it went uttering
to the spring.
* * * * *
But there was a third person in the play, by no means so passive an actor
as Laura was wont to imagine her.
There is often a marvellous education in such a tedious parting with the
world as Augustina was enduring. If the physical conditions allow it, the
soul of the feeblest will acquire a new dignity, and perceptions more to
the point. As she lay looking at the persons who surrounded her,
Augustina passed without an effort, and yet wonderfully, as it seemed to
her, into a new stage of thought and desire about them. A fresh, an eager
ambition sprang up in her, partly of the woman, partly of the believer.
She had been blind; now she saw. She felt the power of her weakness, and
she would seize it.
Meanwhile, she made a rally which astonished all the doctors. Towards the
end of the second week in May she had recovered strength so far that on
several occasions she was carried down the chapel passage to the garden,
and placed in a sheltered corner of the beech hedge, where she could see
the bright turf of the bowling-green and the distant trees of the
One afternoon Helbeck came out to sit with her. He was no sooner there
than she became so restless that he asked her if he should recall Sister
Rosa, who had retired to a distant patch of shade.
"No--no! Alan, I want to say something. Will you raise my pillow a
He did so, and she looked at him for a moment with her haunting blue
eyes, without speaking. But at last she said:
"Where is Laura?"
"Indoors, I believe."
"Don't call her. I have been talking to her, Alan, about--about what she
means to do."
"Did she tell you her plans?"
He spoke very calmly, holding his sister's hand.
"She doesn't seem to have any. The Friedlands have offered her a home, of
course. Alan!--will you put your ear down to me?"
He stooped, and she whispered brokenly, holding him several times when he
would have drawn back.
But at last he released himself. A flush had stolen over his fine and
"My dear sister, if it were so--what difference can it make?"
He spoke with a quick interrogation. But his glance had an intensity, it
expressed a determination, which made her cry out--
"Alan--if she gave way?"
"She will _never_ give way. She has more self-control; but her mind is in
precisely the same bitter and envenomed state. Indeed, she has grown more
fixed, more convinced. The influence of her Cambridge friends has been
decisive. Every day I feel for what she has to bear and put up with--poor
child!--in this house."
"It can't be for long," said Augustina with tears; and she lay for a
while, pondering, and gathering force. But presently she made her brother
stoop to her again.
"Alan--please listen to me! If Laura _did_ become a Catholic--is there
anything in the way--anything you can't undo?"
He raised himself quickly. He would have suffered these questions from no
one else. The stern and irritable temper that he inherited from his
father had gained fast upon the old self-control since the events of
October. Even now, with Augustina, he was short.
"I shall take no vows, dear, before the time. But it would please me--it
would console me--if you would put all these things out of your head. I
see the will of God very plainly. Let us submit to it."
"It hurts me so--to see you suffer!" she said, looking at him piteously.
He bent over the grass, struggling for composure.
"I shall have something else to do before long," he said in a low voice,
"than to consider my own happiness."
She was framing another question, when there was a sound of footsteps on
the gravel behind them.
Augustina exclaimed, with the agitation of weakness, "Don't let any
visitors come!" Helbeck looked a moment in astonishment, then his face
"Augustina!--it is the relic--from the Carmelite nuns. I recognise their
Augustina clasped her hands; and Sister Rosa, obeying Helbeck's signal,
came quickly over to her. Mr. Helbeck bared his head and walked over the
grass to meet the strange priest, who was carrying a small leather box.
Soon there was a happy group round Augustina's couch. The Confessor who
had brought this precious relic of St. John of the Cross had opened the
case, and placed the small and delicate reliquary that it contained in
Mrs. Fountain's hands. She lay clasping it to her breast, too weak to
speak, but flushed with joy. The priest, a southern-eyed kindly man, with
an astonishing flow of soft pietistic talk, sat beside her, speaking
soothingly of the many marvels of cure or conversion that had been
wrought by the treasure she held. He was going on to hold a retreat at a
convent of the order near Froswick, and would return, he said, by
Bannisdale in a week's time, to reclaim his charge. The nuns, he repeated
with gentle emphasis, had never done such an honour to any sick person
before. But for Mr. Helbeck's sister nothing was too much. And a novena
had already been started at the convent. The nuns were praying--praying
hard that the relic might do its holy work.
He was still talking when there was a step and a sound of low singing
behind the beech hedge. The garden was so divided by gigantic hedges of
the eighteenth century, which formed a kind of Greek cross in its centre,
that many different actions or conversations might be taking place in it
without knowing anything one of the other. Laura, who had been away for
an hour, was not aware that Augustina was in the garden till she came
through a little tunnel in the hedge, and saw the group.
The priest looked up, startled by the appearance of the young lady. Laura
had marked the outburst of warm weather by the donning of a white dress
and her summer hat. In one hand she held a bunch of lilac that she had
been gathering for her stepmother; in the other a volume of a French life
of St. Theresa that she had taken an hour before from Augustina's table.
In anticipation of the great favor promised her by the Carmelite nuns,
Augustina had been listening feebly from time to time to her brother's
reading from the biography of the greatest of Carmelite saints and
"Laura!" said Mrs. Fountain faintly.
Helbeck's expression changed. He bent over his sister, and said in a low
decided voice, "Will you give me the relic, dear? I will return it to its
"Oh, no, Alan," she said imploringly. "Laura, do you know what those kind
dear nuns have done? They have sent me their relic. And I feel so much
better already--so relieved!" Mrs. Fountain raised the little case and
kissed it fervently. Then she held it out for Laura to see.
The girl bent over it in silence.
"What is it?" she said.
"It is a relic of St. John of the Cross," said the priest opposite,
glancing curiously at Miss Fountain, "It once belonged to the treasury of
the Cathedral of Seville, and was stolen during the great war. But it has
been now formally conveyed to our community by the Archbishop and
"Wasn't it kind of the dear nuns, Laura?" said Augustina fervently.
"I--I suppose so," said Laura, in a low embarrassed voice. Helbeck, who
was watching her, saw that she could hardly restrain the shudder of
repulsion that ran through her.
Her extraordinary answer threw a silence on the party. The tears started
to the sick woman's eyes. The priest rose to take his leave. Mrs.
Fountain asked him for an absolution and a blessing. He gave them, coldly
bowed to Laura, shook hands with Sister Rosa, and took his departure,
Helbeck conducting him.
"Oh, Laura!" said Mrs. Fountain reproachfully. The girl's lips were quite
white. She knelt down by her stepmother and kissed her hand.
"Dear, I wouldn't have hurt you for the world! It was something I had
been reading--it--it seemed to me horrible!--just for a moment. Of course
I'm glad it comforts you, poor darling!--of course--of course, I am!"
Mrs. Fountain was instantly appeased--for herself.
"But Alan felt it so," she said restlessly, as she closed her eyes--"what
you said. I saw his face."
It was time for the invalid to be moved, and Sister Rosa had gone for
help. Laura was left for a moment kneeling by her stepmother. No one
could see her; the penitence and pain in the girl's feeling showed in her
pallor, her pitiful dropping lip.
Helbeck was heard returning. Laura looked up. Instinctively she rose and
proudly drew herself together. Never yet had she seen that face so
changed. It breathed the sternest, most concentrated anger--a storm of
feeling that, in spite of the absolute silence that held it in curb, yet
so communicated itself to her that her heart seemed to fail in her
* * * * *
A few minutes later Miss Fountain, having gathered together a few
scattered possessions of the invalid, was passing through the chapel
passage. A step approached from the hall, and Helbeck confronted her.
"Miss Fountain--may I ask you a kindness?"
What a tone of steel! Her shoulders straightened--her look met his in a
"Augustina is weak. Spare her discussion--the sort of discussion with
which, no doubt, your Cambridge life makes you familiar. It can do
nothing here, and "--he paused, only to resume unflinchingly--"the dying
should not be disturbed."
Laura wavered in the dark passage like one mortally struck. His pose as
the protector of his sister--the utter distance and alienation of his
"I discussed nothing," she said, breathing fast.
"You might be drawn to do so," he said coldly. "Your contempt for the
practices that sustain and console Catholics is so strong that no one can
mistake the difficulty you have in concealing it. But I would ask you to
conceal it for her sake."
"I thank you," she said quietly, as she swept past him. "But you _are_
She walked away from him and mounted the stairs without another word.
* * * * *
Laura sat crouched and rigid in her own room. How had it happened, this
horrible thing?--this break-down of the last vestiges and relics of the
old relation--this rushing in of a temper and a hostility that stunned
She looked at the book on her knee. Then she remembered. In the
"Wilderness" she had been reading that hideous account which appears in
all the longer biographies, of the mutilation of St. Theresa's body three
years after her death by some relic-hunting friars from Avila. In a
ruthless haste, these pious thieves had lifted the poor embalmed corpse
from its resting-place at Alba; they had cut the old woman's arm from the
shoulder; they had left it behind in the rifled coffin, and then hastily
huddling up the body, they had fled southwards with their booty, while
the poor nuns, who had loved and buried their dead "mother," who had been
shut by a trick into their own choir while the awful thing was done, were
still singing the office, ignorant and happy.
The girl had read the story with sickening. Then Augustina had held up to
her the relic case, with that shrivelled horror inside it. A finger, was
it? or a portion of one. Perhaps torn from some poor helpless one in the
same way. And to such aids and helps must a human heart come in dying!
She had not been quick enough to master herself. Oh! that was wrong--very
wrong. But had it deserved a stroke so cruel--so unjust?
Oh! miserable, miserable religion! Her wild nature rose against
That night Augustina was marvellously well. She lay with the relic case
beside her in a constant happiness.
"Oh, Laura! Laura, dear!--even you must see what it has done for me!"
So she whispered, when Sister Rosa had withdrawn into the next room and
she and Laura were left together.
"I am so glad," said the girl gently, "so very glad."
"You are so dreadfully pale, Laura!"
Laura said nothing. She raised the poor hand she held, and laid it softly
against her cheek. Augustina looked at her wistfully. Gradually her
"Laura, I must say it--God tells me to say it!"
"What! dear Augustina?"
"Laura--you could save Alan!--you could alter his whole life. And you are
breaking his heart!"
Laura stared at her, letting the hand slowly drop upon the bed. What was
happening in this strange, strange world?
"Laura, come here!--I can't bear it. He suffers so! You don't see it, but
I do. He has the look of my father when my mother died. I know that he
will go to the Jesuits. They will quiet him, and pray for him--and prayer
saves you. But you, Laura--_you_ might save him another way--oh! I must
call it a happier way." She looked up piteously to the crucifix that hung
on the wall opposite. "You thought me unkind when you were engaged--I
know you did. I didn't know what to think--I was so upset by it all. But,
oh! how I have prayed since I came back that he might marry, and have
children,--and a little happiness. He is not forty yet--and he has had a
hard life. How he will be missed here, too! Who can ever take his place?
Why, he has made it all! And he loves his work. Of course I see
that--now--he thinks it a sin--what happened last year--your engagement.
But all the same, he can't tear his heart away from you. I can't
understand it. It seems to me almost terrible--to love as he loves you."
"Dear Augustina, don't--don't say such things." The girl fell on her
knees beside her stepmother. Her pride was broken; her face convulsed.
"Why, you don't know, dear! He has lost all love for me. He says hard
things to me even. He judges me like--like a stranger." She looked at
Augustina imploringly through her tears.
"Did he scold you just now about the relic? But it was _because_ it was
you. Nobody else could have made him angry about such a thing. Why, he
would have just laughed and pitied them!--you know he would. But you--oh,
Laura, you torture him!"
Laura hid her face, shaking with the sobs she tried to control. Her heart
melted within her. She thought of that marked book upon his table.
"And Laura," said the sighing thread of a voice, "how _can_ you be wiser
than all the Church?--all these generations? Just think, dear!--you
against the Saints and the Fathers, and the holy martyrs and confessors,
from our Lord's time till now! Oh! your poor father. I know. But he never
came near the faith, Laura--how could he judge? It was not offered to
him. That was my wicked fault. If I had been faithful I might have gained
my husband. But Laura"--the voice grew so eager and sharp--"we judge no
one. We must believe for ourselves the Church is the only way. But God is
so merciful! But you--it _is_ offered to you, Laura. And Alan's love with
it. Just so little on your part--the Church is so tender, so indulgent!
She does not expect a perfect faith all at once. One must just make the
step blindly--_obey_--throw oneself into her arms. Father Leadham said so
to me one day---not minding what one thinks and believes--not looking at
oneself--just obeying--and it will all come!"
But Laura could not speak. Little Augustina, full of a pleading, an
apostolic strength, looked at her tenderly.
"He hardly sleeps, Laura. As I lie awake, I hear him moving about at all
hours. I said to Father Leadham the other day--'his heart is broken. When
you take him, he will be able to do what you tell him, perhaps. But--for
this world--it will be like a dead man.' And Father Leadham did not deny
it. He _knows_ it is true."
And thus, so long as her poor strength lasted, Augustina lay and
whispered--reporting all the piteous history of those winter
months--things that Laura had never heard and never dreamed--a tale of
grief so profound and touching that, by the time it ended, every landmark
was uprooted in the girl's soul, and she was drifting on a vast tide of
pity and passion, whither she knew not.
The next day there was no outing for Augustina. The south-west wind was
again let loose upon the valley and the moss, with violent rain from the
sea. In the grass the daffodils lay all faded and brown. But the
bluebells were marching fast over the copses--as though they sprang in
the traces of the rain.
Laura sat working beside Augustina, or reading to her, from morning till
dark. Mr. Helbeck had gone into Whinthorpe as usual before breakfast, and
was not expected home till the evening. Mrs. Fountain was perhaps more
restless and oppressed than she had been the day before. But she would
hardly admit it. She lay with the relic beside her, and took the most
hopeful view possible of all her symptoms.
Miss Fountain herself that day was in singular beauty. The dark circles
round her eyes did but increase their brilliance; the hot fire in
Augustina's rooms made her cheeks glow; and the bright blue cotton of her
dress had been specially chosen by Molly Friedland to set off the gold of
She was gay too, to Augustina's astonishment. She told stories of Daffady
and the farm; she gossiped with Sister Rosa; she alternately teased and
coaxed Fricka. Sister Rosa had been a little cool to her at first after
the affair of the relic. But Miss Fountain was so charming this
afternoon, so sweet to her stepmother, so amiable to other people, that
the little nurse could not resist her.
And at regular intervals she would walk to the window, and report to
Augustina the steady rising of the river.
"It has flooded all that flat bank opposite the first seat--and of that
cattle-rail, that bar--what do you call it?--just at the bend--you can
only see the very top line. And such a current under the otter cliff!
It's splendid, Augustina!--it's magnificent!"
And she would turn her flushed face to her stepmother in a kind of
"It will wash away the wooden bridge if it goes on," said Augustina
plaintively, "and destroy all the flowers."
But Laura seemed to exult in it. If it had not been for the curb of Mrs.
Fountain's weakness she could not have kept still at all as the evening
drew on, and the roar of the water became continuously audible even in
this high room. And yet every now and then it might perhaps have been
thought that she was troubled or annoyed by the sound--that it prevented
her from hearing something else.
Mrs. Fountain did not know how to read her. Once, when they were alone,
she tried to reopen the subject of the night before. But Laura would not
even allow it to be approached. To-day she had the lightest, softest ways
of resistance. But they were enough.
Mrs. Fountain could only sigh and yield.
Towards seven o'clock she began to fidget about her brother. "He
certainly meant to be home for dinner," she said several times, with
"I am going to have dinner here!" said Laura, smiling.
"Why?" said Augustina, astonished.
"Oh! let me, dear. Mr. Helbeck is sure to be late. And Sister Rosa will
look after him. Teaching Fricka has made me as hungry as that!"--and she
opened her hands wide, as a child measures.
Augustina looked at her sadly, but said nothing. She remembered that the
night before, too, Laura, would not go downstairs.
The little meal went gayly. Just as it was over, and while Laura was
still chattering to her stepmother as she had not chattered for months, a
step was heard in the passage.
"Ah! there is Alan!" cried Mrs. Fountain.
The Squire came in tired and mud-stained. Even his hair shone with rain,
and his clothes were wet through.
"I must not come too near you," he said, standing beside the door.
Mrs. Fountain bade him dress, get some dinner, and come back to her. As
she spoke, she saw him peering through the shadows of the room. She too
looked round. Laura was gone.
"At the first sound of his step!" thought Augustina. And she wept a
little, but so secretly that even Sister Rosa did not discover it. Her
ambition--her poor ambition--was for herself alone. What chance had
it?--alas! Never since Stephen's death surely had Augustina seen Laura
shed such tears as she had shed the night before. But no words, no
promises--nothing! And where, now, was any sign of it?
She drew out her beads for comfort. And so, sighing and praying, she fell
* * * * *
After supper Helbeck was in the hall smoking. He was half abashed that he
should find so much comfort in his pipe, and that he should dread so much
the prospect of giving it up.
His thoughts, however, were black enough--black as the windy darkness
A step on the stairs--at which his breath leapt. Miss Fountain, in her
white evening dress, was descending.
"May I speak to you, Mr. Helbeck?"
He flung down his pipe and approached her. She stood a little above him
on one of the lower steps; and instantly he felt that she came in
An agitation he could barely control took possession of him. All day long
he had been scourging himself for the incident of the night before. They
had not met since. He looked at her now humbly--with a deep sadness--and
waited for what she had to say.
"Shall we go into the drawing-room? Is there a light?"
"We will take one."
He lifted a lamp, and she led the way. Without another word, she opened
the door into the deserted room. Nobody had entered it since the
orphanage function, when some extra service had been hastily brought in
to make the house habitable. The mass of the furniture was gathered into
the centre of the carpet, with a few tattered sheets flung across it. The
gap made by the lost Romney spoke from the wall, and the windows stood
uncurtained to the night.
Laura, however, found a chair and sank into it. He put down the lamp, and
They were almost in their old positions. How to find strength and voice!
That room breathed memories.
When she did speak, however, her intonation was peculiarly firm and
"You gave me a rebuke last night, Mr. Helbeck--and I deserved it!"
He made a sudden movement--a movement which seemed to trouble her.
"No!--don't!"--she raised her hand involuntarily--"don't please say
anything to make it easier for me. I gave you great pain. You were
right--oh! quite right--to express it. But you know----"
She broke off suddenly.
"You know, I can't talk--if you stand there like that! Won't you
come here, and sit down"--she pointed to a chair near her--"as if we
were friends still? We can be friends, can't we? We ought to be
for Augustina's sake. And I very much want to discuss with
you--seriously--what I have to say."
He obeyed her. He came to sit beside her, recovering his
composure--bending forward that he might give her his best attention.
She paused a moment--knitting her brows.
"I thought afterwards, a long time, of what had happened. I talked, too,
to Augustina. She was much distressed--she appealed to me. And I saw a
great deal of force in what she said. She pointed out that it was absurd
for me to judge before I knew; that I never--never--had been willing to
know; that everything--even the Catholic Church"--she smiled
faintly--"takes some learning. She pleaded with me--and what she said
touched me very much. I do not know how long I may have to stay in your
house--and with her. I would not willingly cause you pain. I would gladly
_understand_, at least, more than I do--I should like to learn--to be
instructed. Would--would Father Leadham, do you think, take the trouble
to correspond with me--to point me out the books, for instance, that I
Helbeck's black eyes fastened themselves upon her.
"You--you would like to correspond with Father Leadham?" he repeated, in
She nodded. Involuntarily she began a little angry beating with her foot
that he knew well. It was always the protest of her pride, when she could
not prevent the tears from showing themselves.
He controlled himself. He turned his chair so as to come within an easy
"Will you pardon me," he said quietly, "if I ask for more information?
Did you only determine on this last night?"
"I think so."
"It is a serious step, Miss Fountain! You should not take it only from
pity for Augustina--only from a wish to give her comfort in dying!"
She turned away her face a little. That penetrating look pierced too
deeply. "Are there not many motives?" she said, rather hoarsely--"many
ways? I want to give Augustina a happiness--and--and to satisfy many
questions of my own. Father Leadham is bound to teach, is he not, as a
priest? He could lose nothing by it."
"Certainly he is bound," said Helbeck.
He dropped his head, and stared at the carpet, thinking.
"He would recommend you some books, of course."
The same remembrance flew through both. Absently and involuntarily,
Helbeck shook his head, with a sad lifting of the eyebrows. The colour
rushed into Laura's cheeks.
"It must be something very simple," she said hurriedly. "Not 'Lives of
the Saints,' I think, and not 'Catechisms' or 'Outlines.' Just a building
up from the beginning by somebody--who found it hard, _very_ hard, to
believe--and yet did believe. But Father Leadham will know--of course he
Helbeck was silent. It suddenly appeared to him the strangest, the most
incredible conversation. He felt the rise of a mad emotion--the beating
in his breast choked him.
Laura rose, and he heard her say in low and wavering tones:
"Then I will write to him to-morrow--if you think I may."
He sprang to his feet, and as she passed him the fountains of his being
broke up. With a wild gesture he caught her in his arms.
It was not the cry of his first love for her. It was a cry under which
she shuddered. But she submitted at once. Nay, with a womanly
tenderness--how unlike that old shrinking Laura--she threw her arm round
his neck, she buried her little head in his breast.
"Oh, how long you were in understanding!" she said with a deep sigh. "How
"Laura!--what does it mean?--my head turns!"
"It means--it means--that you shall never--never again speak to me as you
did yesterday; that either you must love me or--well, I must just die!"
she gave a little sharp sobbing laugh. "I have tried other things--and
they can't--they can't be borne. And if you can't love me unless I am a
Catholic--now, I know you wouldn't--I must just _be_ a Catholic--if any
power in the world can make me one. Why, Father Leadham can persuade
me--he must!" She drew away from him, holding him, almost fiercely, by
her two small hands. "I am nothing but an ignorant, foolish girl. And he
has persuaded so many wise people--you have often told me. Oh, he
must--he must persuade me!"
She hid herself again on his breast. Then she looked up, feeling the
tears on his cheek.
"But you'll be very, very patient with me--won't you? Oh! I'm so dead to
all those things! But if I say whatever you want me to say--if I do what
is required of me--you won't ask me too many questions--you won't press
me too hard? You'll trust to my being yours--to my growing into your
heart? Oh! how did I ever bear the agony of tearing myself away!"
It was an ecstasy--a triumph. But it seemed to him afterwards in looking
back upon it, that all through it was also an anguish! The revelation of
the woman's nature, of all that had lived and burned in it since he last
held her in his arms, brought with it for both of them such sharp pains
of expansion, such an agony of experience and growth.
* * * * *
Very soon, however, she grew calmer. She tried to tell him what had
happened to her since that black October day. But conversation was not
altogether easy. She had to rush over many an hour and many a
thought--dreading to remember. And again and again he could not rid
himself of the image of the old Laura, or could not fathom the new. It
was like stepping from the firmer ground of the moss on to the softer
patches where foot and head lost themselves. He could see her as she had
been, or as he had believed her to be, up to twenty-four hours
before--the little enemy and alien in the house; or as she had lived
beside him those four months--troubled, petulant, exacting. But this
radiant, tender Laura--with this touch of feverish extravagance in her
love and her humiliation--she bewildered him; or rather she roused a new
response; he must learn new ways of loving her.
Once, as he was holding her hand, she looked at him timidly.
"You would have left Bannisdale, wouldn't you?"
He quickly replied that he had been in correspondence with his old Jesuit
friends. But he would not dwell upon it. There was a kind of shame in the
subject, that he would not have had her penetrate. A devout Catholic does
not dwell for months on the prospects and secrets of the religious life
to put them easily and in a moment out of his hand--even at the call of
the purest and most legitimate passion. From the Counsels, the soul
returns to the Precepts. The higher, supremer test is denied it. There is
humbling in that--a bitter taste, not to be escaped.
Perhaps she did penetrate it. She asked him hurriedly if he regretted
anything. She could so easily go away again--for ever. "I could do it--I
could do it now!" she said firmly. "Since you kissed me. You could always
be my friend."
He smiled, and raised her hands to his lips. "Where thou livest, dear, I
will live, and where----"
She withdrew a hand, and quickly laid it on his mouth.
"No--not to-night! We have been so full of death all these weeks! Oh! how
I want to tell Augustina!"
But she did not move. She could not tear herself from this comfortless
room--this strange circle of melancholy light in which they sat--this
beating of the rain in their ears as it dashed against the old and
"Oh! my dear," he said suddenly as he watched her, "I have grown so old
and cross. And so poor! It has taken far more than the picture"--he
pointed to the vacant space--"to carry me through this six months. My
schemes have been growing--what motive had I for holding my hand? My
friends have often remonstrated--the Jesuits especially. But at last I
have had my way. I have far--far less to offer you than I had before."
He looked at her in a sad apology.
"I have a little money," she said shyly. "I don't believe you ever knew
"Have you?" he said in astonishment.
"Just a tiny bit. I shall pay my way"--and she laughed happily.
"Alan!--have you noticed--how well I have been getting on with the
Sisters?--what friends Father Leadham and I made? But no!--you didn't
notice anything. You saw me all _en noir_--_all_" she repeated with a
mournful change of voice.
Then her eyelids fell, and she shivered.
"Oh! how you hurt--how you _hurt_!--last night."
He passionately soothed her, denouncing himself, asking her pardon. She
gave a long sigh. She had a strange sense of having climbed a long stair
out of an abyss of misery. Now she was just at the top--just within light
and welcome. But the dark was so close behind--one touch! and she was
thrust down to it again.
"I have only hated two people this last six months," she said at last, _a
propos_, apparently, of nothing. "Your cousin, who was to have
Bannisdale--and--and--Mr. Williams. I saw him at Cambridge."
There was a pause; then Helbeck said, with an agitation that she felt
beneath her cheek as her little head rested on his shoulder:
"You saw Edward Williams? How did he dare to present himself to you?"
He gently withdrew himself from her, and went to stand before the hearth,
drawn up to his full stern height. His dark head and striking pale
features were fitly seen against the background of the old wall. As he
stood there he was the embodiment of his race, of its history, its
fanaticisms, its "great refusals" at once of all mean joys and all new
freedoms. To a few chosen notes in the universe, tender response and
exquisite vibration--to all others, deaf, hard, insensitive, as the stone
of his old house.
Laura looked at him with a mingled adoration and terror. Then she hastily
explained how and where she had met Williams.
"And you felt no sympathy for him?" said Helbeck, wondering.
"I knew what it must have been to you. And--and--he showed no sense of
Her tone was so simple, so poignant, that Helbeck smiled only that he
might not weep. Hurriedly coming to her he kissed her soft hair.
"There were temptations of his youth," he said with difficulty, "from
which the Faith rescued him. Now these same temptations have torn him
from the faith. It has been all known to me from first to last. I see no
hope. Let us never speak of him again."
"No," she said trembling.
He drew a long breath. Suddenly he knelt beside her.
"And you!" he said in a low voice--"you! What love--what sweetness--shall
be enough for you! Oh! my Laura, when I think of what you have done
to-night--of all that it means, all that it promises--I humble myself
before you. I envy and bless you. Yours has been no light struggle--no
small sacrifice. I can only marvel at it. Dear, the Church will draw you
so softly--teach you so tenderly! You have never known a mother. Our Lady
will be your Mother. You have had few friends--they will be given to you
in all times and countries--and this will you are surrendering will come
back to you strengthened a thousand-fold for my support--and your own."
He looked at her with emotion. Oh! how pale she had grown under these
words of benediction. There was a moment's silence--then she rose feebly.
"Now--let me go! To-morrow--will you tell Augustina? Or to-night, if she
were awake, and strong enough? How can one be sure--?"
"Let us come and see."
He took her hand, and they moved a few steps across the room, when they
were startled by the thunder of the storm upon the windows. They stopped
involuntarily. Laura's face lit up.
"How the river roars! I love it so. Yesterday I was on the top of the
otter cliff when it was coming down in a torrent! To-morrow it will be
"I wish you wouldn't go there till I have had some fencing done," said
Helbeck with decision. "The rain has loosened the moss and made it all
slippery and unsafe. I saw some people gathering primroses there to-day,
and I told Murphy to warn them off. We must put a railing----"
Laura turned her face to the hall.
"What was that?" she said, catching his arm.
A sudden cry--loud and piercing--from the stairs.
"Mr. Helbeck--Miss Fountain!"
They rushed into the hall. Sister Rosa ran towards them.
"Oh! Mr. Helbeck--come at once--Mrs. Fountain----"
* * * * *
Augustina still sat propped in her large chair by the fire.
But a nurse looked up with a scared face as they entered.
"Oh come--_come_--Mr. Helbeck! She is just going."
Laura threw herself on her knees beside her stepmother. Helbeck gave one
look at his sister, then also kneeling he took her cold and helpless
hand, and said in a steady voice--
"Receive thy servant, O Lord, into the place of salvation, which she
hopes from Thy mercy."
The two nurses, sobbing, said the "Amen."
"Deliver, O Lord, the soul of Thy servant from all the perils of hell,
from pains and all tribulations."
Mrs. Fountain's head fell gently back upon the cushions. The eyes
withdrew themselves in the manner that only death knows, the lids dropped
"Augustina--dear Augustina--give me one look!" cried Laura in despair.
She wrapped her arms round her stepmother and laid her head on the poor
But Helbeck possessed himself of one of the girl's hands, and with his
own right he made the sign of the Cross upon his sister's brow.
"Depart, O Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the Father
Almighty, who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of the
living God, who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Ghost, who has
been poured out upon thee; in the name of the angels and archangels; in
the name of the thrones and dominations; in the name of the
principalities and powers; in the name of the cherubim and seraphim; in
the name of the patriarchs and prophets; in the name of the holy apostles
and evangelists; in the name of the holy martyrs and confessors; in the
name of the holy monks and hermits; in the name of the holy virgins, and
of all the saints of God; let thy place be this day in peace, and thy
abode in the Holy Sion; through Christ our Lord. Amen."
There was silence, broken only by Laura's sobs and the nurses' weeping.
Helbeck alone was quite composed. He gazed at his sister, not with
grief--rather with a deep, mysterious joy. When he rose, still looking
down upon Augustina, he questioned the nurses in low tones.
There had been hardly any warning. Suddenly a stifled cry--a gurgling in
the throat--a spasm. Sister Rosa thought she had distinguished the words
"Jesus!--" "Alan--" but there had been no time for any message, any
farewell. The doctors had once warned the brother that it was possible,
though not likely, that the illness would end in this way.
"Father Bowles gave her Communion this morning?" said Helbeck, with a
grave exactness, like one informing himself of all necessary things.
"This morning and yesterday," said Sister Rosa eagerly; "and dear Mrs.
Fountain confessed on Saturday."
Laura rose from her knees and wrung her hands.
"Oh! I can't bear it!" she said to Helbeck. "If I had been there--if we
could just have told her! Oh, how strange--how _strange_ it is!"
And she looked wildly about her, seized by an emotion, a misery, that
Helbeck could not altogether understand. He tried to soothe her,
regardless of the presence of the nurses. Laura, too, did not think of
them. But when he put his arm round her, she withdrew herself in a
restlessness that would not be controlled.
"How strange--_how strange_!" she repeated, as she looked down on the