Part 5 out of 8
"The same as yesterday. Have you seen anything of Miss Emily? She
went back to London the day after you left us."
"I haven't been in London. I'm thankful to say my lodgings are
let to a good tenant."
"Then where have you lived, while you were waiting to come here?"
"I had only one place to go to, miss; I went to the village where
I was born. A friend found a corner for me. Ah, dear heart, it's
a pleasant place, there!"
"A place like this?"
"Lord help you! As little like this as chalk is to cheese. A fine
big moor, miss, in Cumberland, without a tree in sight--look
where you may. Something like a wind, I can tell you, when it
takes to blowing there."
"Have you never been in this part of the country?"
"Not I! When I left the North, my new mistress took me to Canada.
Talk about air! If there was anything in it, the people in _that_
air ought to live to be a hundred. I liked Canada."
"And who was your next mistress?"
Thus far, Mrs. Ellmother had been ready enough to talk. Had she
failed to hear what Francine had just said to her? or had she
some reason for feeling reluctant to answer? In any case, a
spirit of taciturnity took sudden possession of her--she was
Francine (as usual) persisted. "Was your next place in service
with Miss Emily's aunt?"
"Did the old lady always live in London?"
"What part of the country did she live in?"
"Among the hop gardens?"
"In what other part, then?"
"Isle of Thanet."
"Near the sea coast?"
Even Francine could insist no longer: Mrs. Ellmother's reserve
had beaten her--for that day at least. "Go into the hall," she
said, "and see if there are any letters for me in the rack."
There was a letter bearing the Swiss postmark. Simple Cecilia was
flattered and delighted by the charming manner in which Francine
had written to her. She looked forward with impatience to the
time when their present acquaintance might ripen into friendship.
Would "Dear Miss de Sor" waive all ceremony, and consent to be a
guest (later in the autumn) at her father's house? Circumstances
connected with her sister's health would delay their return to
England for a little while. By the end of the month she hoped to
be at home again, and to hear if Francine was disengaged. Her
address, in England, was Monksmoor Park, Hants.
Having read the letter, Francine drew a moral from it: "There is
great use in a fool, when one knows how to manage her."
Having little appetite for her breakfast, she tried the
experiment of a walk on the terrace. Alban Morris was right; the
air at Netherwoods, in the summer time, _was_ relaxing. The
morning mist still hung over the lowest part of the valley,
between the village and the hills beyond. A little exercise
produced a feeling of fatigue. Francine returned to her room, and
trifled with her tea and toast.
Her next proceeding was to open her writing-desk, and look into
the old account-book once more. While it lay open on her lap, she
recalled what had passed that morning, between Mrs. Ellmother and
The old woman had been born and bred in the North, on an open
moor. She had been removed to the keen air of Canada when she
left her birthplace. She had been in service after that, on the
breezy eastward coast of Kent. Would the change to the climate of
Netherwoods produce any effect on Mrs. Ellmother? At her age, and
with her seasoned constitution, would she feel it as those
school-girls had felt it--especially that one among them, who
lived in the bracing air of the North, the air of Yorkshire?
Weary of solitary thinking on one subject, Francine returned to
the terrace with a vague idea of finding something to amuse
her--that is to say, something she could turn into ridicule--if
she joined the girls.
The next morning, Mrs. Ellmother answered her mistress's bell
without delay. "You have slept better, this time?" Francine said.
"No, miss. When I did get to sleep I was troubled by dreams.
Another bad night--and no mistake!"
"I suspect your mind is not quite at ease," Francine suggested.
"Why do you suspect that, if you please?"
"You talked, when I met you at Miss Emily's, of wanting to get
away from your own thoughts. Has the change to this place helped
"It hasn't helped me as I expected. Some people's thoughts stick
"Remorseful thoughts?" Francine inquired.
Mrs. Ellmother held up her forefinger, and shook it with a
gesture of reproof. "I thought we agreed, miss, that there was to
be no pumping."
The business of the toilet proceeded in silence.
A week passed. During an interval in the labors of the school,
Miss Ladd knocked at the door of Francine's room.
"I want to speak to you, my dear, about Mrs. Ellmother. Have you
noticed that she doesn't seem to be in good health?"
"She looks rather pale, Miss Ladd."
"It's more serious than that, Francine. The servants tell me that
she has hardly any appetite. She herself acknowledges that she
sleeps badly. I noticed her yesterday evening in the garden,
under the schoolroom window. One of the girls dropped a
dictionary. She started at that slight noise, as if it terrified
her. Her nerves are seriously out of order. Can you prevail upon
her to see the doctor?"
Francine hesitated--and made an excuse. "I think she would be
much more likely, Miss Ladd, to listen to you. Do you mind
speaking to her?"
Mrs. Ellmother was immediately sent for. "What is your pleasure,
miss?" she said to Francine.
Miss Ladd interposed. "It is I who wish to speak to you, Mrs.
Ellmother. For some days past, I have been sorry to see you
"I never was ill in my life, ma'am."
Miss Ladd gently persisted. "I hear that you have lost your
"I never was a great eater, ma'am."
It was evidently useless to risk any further allusion to Mrs.
Ellmother's symptoms. Miss Ladd tried another method of
persuasion. "I daresay I may be mistaken," she said; "but I do
really feel anxious about you. To set my mind at rest, will you
see the doctor?"
"The doctor! Do you think I'm going to begin taking physic, at my
time of life? Lord, ma'am! you amuse me--you do indeed!" She
burst into a sudden fit of laughter; the hysterical laughter
which is on the verge of tears. With a desperate effort, she
controlled herself. "Please, don't make a fool of me again," she
said--and left the room.
"What do you think now?" Miss Ladd asked.
Francine appeared to be still on her guard.
"I don't know what to think," she said evasively.
Miss Ladd looked at her in silent surprise, and withdrew.
Left by herself, Francine sat with her elbows on the table and
her face in her hands, absorbed in thought. After a long
interval, she opened her desk--and hesitated. She took a sheet of
note-paper--and paused, as if still in doubt. She snatched up her
pen, with a sudden recovery of resolution--and addressed these
lines to the wife of her father's agent in London:
"When I was placed under your care, on the night of my arrival
from the West Indies, you kindly said I might ask you for any
little service which might be within your power. I shall be
greatly obliged if you can obtain for me, and send to this place,
a supply of artists' modeling wax--sufficient for the product ion
of a small image."
IN THE DARK.
A week later, Alban Morris happened to be in Miss Ladd's study,
with a report to make on the subject of his drawing-class. Mrs.
Ellmother interrupted them for a moment. She entered the room to
return a book which Francine had borrowed that morning.
"Has Miss de Sor done with it already?" Miss Ladd asked.
"She won't read it, ma'am. She says the leaves smell of
Miss Ladd turned to Alban, and shook her head with an air of
good-humored reproof. "I know who has been reading that book
last!" she said.
Alban pleaded guilty, by a look. He was the only master in the
school who smoked. As Mrs. Ellmother passed him, on her way out,
he noticed the signs of suffering in her wasted face.
"That woman is surely in a bad state of health," he said. "Has
she seen the doctor?"
"She flatly refuses to consult the doctor," Miss Ladd replied.
"If she was a stranger, I should meet the difficulty by telling
Miss de Sor (whose servant she is) that Mrs. Ellmother must be
sent home. But I cannot act in that peremptory manner toward a
person in whom Emily is interested."
From that moment Mrs. Ellmother became a person in whom Alban was
interested. Later in the day, he met her in one of the lower
corridors of the house, and spoke to her. "I am afraid the air of
this place doesn't agree with you," he said.
Mrs. Ellmother's irritable objection to being told (even
indirectly) that she looked ill, expressed itself roughly in
reply. "I daresay you mean well, sir--but I don't see how it
matters to you whether the place agrees with me or not."
"Wait a minute," Alban answered good-humoredly. "I am not quite a
stranger to you."
"How do you make that out, if you please?"
"I know a young lady who has a sincere regard for you."
"You don't mean Miss Emily?"
"Yes, I do. I respect and admire Miss Emily; and I have tried, in
my poor way, to be of some little service to her."
Mrs. Ellmother's haggard face instantly softened. "Please to
forgive me, sir, for forgetting my manners," she said simply. "I
have had my health since the day I was born--and I don't like to
be told, in my old age, that a new place doesn't agree with me."
Alban accepted this apology in a manner which at once won the
heart of the North-countrywoman. He shook hands with her. "You're
one of the right sort," she said; "there are not many of them in
Was she alluding to Francine? Alban tried to make the discovery.
Polite circumlocution would be evidently thrown away on Mrs.
Ellmother. "Is your new mistress one of the right sort?" he asked
The old servant's answer was expressed by a frowning look,
followed by a plain question.
"Do you say that, sir, because you like my new mistress?"
"Please to shake hands again!" She said it--took his hand with a
sudden grip that spoke for itself-- and walked away.
Here was an exhibition of character which Alban was just the man
to appreciate. "If I had been an old woman," he thought in his
dryly humorous way, "I believe I should have been like Mrs.
Ellmother. We might have talked of Emily, if she had not left me
in such a hurry. When shall I see her again?"
He was destined to see her again, that night--under circumstances
which he remembered to the end of his life.
The rules of Netherwoods, in summer time, recalled the young
ladies from their evening's recreation in the grounds at nine
o'clock. After that hour, Alban was free to smoke his pipe, and
to linger among trees and flower-beds before he returned to his
hot little rooms in the village. As a relief to the drudgery of
teaching the young ladies, he had been using his pencil, when the
day's lessons were over, for his own amusement. It was past ten
o'clock before he lighted his pipe, and began walking slowly to
and fro on the path which led to the summer-house, at the
southern limit of the grounds.
In the perfect stillness of the night, the clock of the village
church was distinctly audible, striking the hours and the
quarters. The moon had not risen; but the mysterious glimmer of
starlight trembled on the large open space between the trees and
Alban paused, admiring with an artist's eye the effect of light,
so faintly and delicately beautiful, on the broad expanse of the
lawn. "Does the man live who could paint that?" he asked himself.
His memory recalled the works of the greatest of all landscape
painters--the English artists of fifty years since. While
recollections of many a noble picture were still passing through
his mind, he was startled by the sudden appearance of a
bareheaded woman on the terrace steps.
She hurried down to the lawn, staggering as she ran--stopped, and
looked back at the house--hastened onward toward the
trees--stopped again, looking backward and forward, uncertain
which way to turn next--and then advanced once more. He could now
hear her heavily gasping for breath. As she came nearer, the
starlight showed a panic-stricken face--the face of Mrs.
Alban ran to meet her. She dropped on the grass before he could
cross the short distance which separated them. As he raised her
in his arms she looked at him wildly, and murmured and muttered
in the vain attempt to speak. "Look at me again," he said. "Don't
you remember the man who had some talk with you to-day?" She
still stared at him vacantly: he tried again. "Don't you remember
Miss Emily's friend?"
As the name passed his lips, her mind in some degree recovered
its balance. "Yes," she said; "Emily's friend; I'm glad I have
met with Emily's friend." She caught at Alban's arm--starting as
if her own words had alarmed her. "What am I talking about? Did I
say 'Emily'? A servant ought to say 'Miss Emily.' My head swims.
Am I going mad?"
Alban led her to one of the garden chairs. "You're only a little
frightened," he said. "Rest, and compose yourself."
She looked over her shoulder toward the house. "Not here! I've
run away from a she-devil; I want to be out of sight. Further
away, Mister--I don't know your name. Tell me your name; I won't
trust you, unless you tell me your name!"
"Hush! hush! Call me Alban."
"I never heard of such a name; I won't trust you."
"You won't trust your friend, and Emily's friend? You don't mean
that, I'm sure. Call me by my other name--call me 'Morris.'"
"Morris?" she repeated. "Ah, I've heard of people called
'Morris.' Look back! Your eyes are young--do you see her on the
"There isn't a living soul to be seen anywhere."
With one hand he raised her as he spoke--and with the other he
took up the chair. In a minute more, they were out of sight of
the house. He seated her so that she could rest her head against
the trunk of a tree.
"What a good fellow!" the poor old creature said, admiring him;
"he knows how my head pains me. Don't stand up! You're a tall
man. She might see you."
"She can see nothing. Look at the trees behind us. Even the
starlight doesn't get through them."
Mrs. Ellmother was not satisfied yet. "You take it coolly," she
said. "Do you know who saw us together in the passage to-day? You
good Morris, _she_ saw us--she did. Wretch! Cruel, cunning,
In the shadows that were round them, Alban could just see that
she was shaking her clinched fists in the air. He made another
attempt to control her. "Don't excite yourself! If she comes into
the garden, she might hear you."
The appeal to her fears had its effect.
"That's true," she said, in lowered tones. A sudden distrust of
him seized her the next moment. "Who told me I was excited?" she
burst out. "It's you who are excited. Deny it if you dare; I
begin to suspect you, Mr. Morris; I don't like your conduct. What
has become of your pipe? I saw you put your pipe in your coat
pocket. You did it when you set me down among the trees where
_she_ could see me! You are in league with her--she is coming to
meet you here--you know she doesnŐt like tobacco-smoke. Are you
two going to put me in the madhouse?"
She started to her feet. It occurred to Alban that the speediest
way of pacifying her might be by means of the pipe. Mere words
would exercise no persuasive influence over that bewildered mind.
Insta nt action, of some kind, would be far more likely to have
the right effect. He put his pipe and his tobacco pouch into her
hands, and so mastered her attention before he spoke.
"Do you know how to fill a man's pipe for him?" he asked.
"Haven't I filled my husband's pipe hundreds of times?" she
"Very well. Now do it for me."
She took her chair again instantly, and filled the pipe. He
lighted it, and seated himself on the grass, quietly smoking. "Do
you think I'm in league with her now?" he asked, purposely
adopting the rough tone of a man in her own rank of life.
She answered him as she might have answered her husband, in the
days of her unhappy marriage.
"Oh, don't gird at me, there's a good man! If I've been off my
head for a minute or two, please not to notice me. It's cool and
quiet here," the poor woman said gratefully. "Bless God for the
darkness; there's something comforting in the darkness--along
with a good man like you. Give me a word of advice. You are my
friend in need. What am I to do? I daren't go back to the house!"
She was quiet enough now, to suggest the hope that she might be
able to give Alban some information "Were you with Miss de Sor,"
he asked, "before you came out here? What did she do to frighten
There was no answer; Mrs. Ellmother had abruptly risen once more.
"Hush!" she whispered. "Don't I hear somebody near us?"
Alban at once went back, along the winding path which they had
followed. No creature was visible in the gardens or on the
terrace. On returning, he found it impossible to use his eyes to
any good purpose in the obscurity among the trees. He waited a
while, listening intently. No sound was audible: there was not
even air enough to stir the leaves.
As he returned to the place that he had left, the silence was
broken by the chimes of the distant church clock, striking the
three-quarters past ten.
Even that familiar sound jarred on Mrs. Ellmother's shattered
nerves. In her state of mind and body, she was evidently at the
mercy of any false alarm which might be raised by her own fears.
Relieved of the feeling of distrust which had thus far troubled
him, Alban sat down by her again--opened his match-box to relight
his pipe--and changed his mind. Mrs. Ellmother had unconsciously
warned him to be cautious.
For the first time, he thought it likely that the heat in the
house might induce some of the inmates to try the cooler
atmosphere in the grounds. If this happened, and if he continued
to smoke, curiosity might tempt them to follow the scent of
tobacco hanging on the stagnant air.
"Is there nobody near us?" Mrs. Ellmother asked. "Are you sure?"
"Quite sure. Now tell me, did you really mean it, when you said
just now that you wanted my advice?"
"Need you ask that, sir? Who else have I got to help me?"
"I am ready and willing to help you--but I can't do it unless I
know first what has passed between you and Miss de Sor. Will you
"May I depend on you?"
THE TREACHERY OF THE PIPE.
Alban took Mrs. Ellmother at her word. "I am going to venture on
a guess," he said. "You have been with Miss de Sor to-night."
"Quite true, Mr. Morris."
"I am going to guess again. Did Miss de Sor ask you to stay with
her, when you went into her room?"
"That's it! She rang for me, to see how I was getting on with my
needlework--and she was what I call hearty, for the first time
since I have been in her service. I didn't think badly of her
when she first talked of engaging me; and I've had reason to
repent of my opinion ever since. Oh, she showed the cloven foot
to-night! 'Sit down,' she says; 'I've nothing to read, and I hate
work; let's have a little chat.' She's got a glib tongue of her
own. All I could do was to say a word now and then to keep her
going. She talked and talked till it was time to light the lamp.
She was particular in telling me to put the shade over it. We
were half in the dark, and half in the light. She trapped me
(Lord knows how!) into talking about foreign parts; I mean the
place she lived in before they sent her to England. Have you
heard that she comes from the West lndies?"
"Yes; I have heard that. Go on."
"Wait a bit, sir. There's something, by your leave, that I want
to know. Do you believe in Witchcraft?"
"I know nothing about it. Did Miss de Sor put that question to
"And how did you answer?"
"Neither in one way nor the other. I'm in two minds about that
matter of Witchcraft. When I was a girl, there was an old woman
in our village, who was a sort of show. People came to see her
from all the country round--gentlefolks among them. It was her
great age that made her famous. More than a hundred years old,
sir! One of our neighbors didn't believe in her age, and she
heard of it. She cast a spell on his flock. I tell you, she sent
a plague on his sheep, the plague of the Bots. The whole flock
died; I remember it well. Some said the sheep would have had the
Bots anyhow. Some said it was the spell. Which of them was right?
How am I to settle it?"
"Did you mention this to Miss de Sor?"
"I was obliged to mention it. Didn't I tell you, just now, that I
can't make up my mind about Witchcraft? 'You don't seem to know
whether you believe or disbelieve,' she says. It made me look
like a fool. I told her I had my reasons, and then I was obliged
to give them."
"And what did she do then?"
"She said, 'I've got a better story of Witchcraft than yours.'
And she opened a little book, with a lot of writing in it, and
began to read. Her story made my flesh creep. It turns me cold,
sir, when I think of it now."
He heard her moaning and shuddering. Strongly as his interest was
excited, there was a compassionate reluctance in him to ask her
to go on. His merciful scruples proved to be needless. The
fascination of beauty it is possible to resist. The fascination
of horror fastens its fearful hold on us, struggle against it as
we may. Mrs. Ellmother repeated what she had heard, in spite of
"It happened in the West Indies," she said; "and the writing of a
woman slave was the writing in the little book. The slave wrote
about her mother. Her mother was a black--a Witch in her own
country. There was a forest in her own country. The devil taught
her Witchcraft in the forest. The serpents and the wild beasts
were afraid to touch her. She lived without eating. She was sold
for a slave, and sent to the island--an island in the West
Indies. An old man lived there; the wickedest man of them all. He
filled the black Witch with devilish knowledge. She learned to
make the image of wax. The image of wax casts spells. You put
pins in the image of wax. At every pin you put, the person under
the spell gets nearer and nearer to death. There was a poor black
in the island. He offended the Witch. She made his image in wax;
she cast spells on him. He couldn't sleep; he couldn't eat; he
was such a coward that common noises frightened him. Like Me! Oh,
God, like me!"
"Wait a little," Alban interposed. "You are exciting yourself
"You're wrong, sir! You think it ended when she finished her
story, and shut up her book; there's worse to come than anything
you've heard yet. I don't know what I did to offend her. She
looked at me and spoke to me, as if I was the dirt under her
feet. 'If you're too stupid to understand what I have been
reading,' she says, 'get up and go to the glass. Look at
yourself, and remember what happened to the slave who was under
the spell. You're getting paler and paler, and thinner and
thinner; you're pining away just as he did. Shall I tell you
why?' She snatched off the shade from the lamp, and put her hand
under the table, and brought out an image of wax. _My_ image! She
pointed to three pins in it. 'One,' she says, 'for no sleep. One
for no appetite. One for broken nerves.' I asked her what I had
done to make such a bitter enemy of her. She says, 'Remember what
I asked of you when we talked of your being my servant. Choose
which you will do? Die by inches' (I swear she said it as I hope
to be saved); 'die by inches, or tell me--'"
There--in the full frenzy of the agitation that possessed
her--there, Mrs. Ellmother suddenly stopped.
Alban's first impression was that she might have fainted. He
looked closer, and could just see her shadowy figure still seated
in the chair. He asked if she was ill. No.
"Then why don't you go on?"
"I have done," she answered.
"Do you think you can put me off," he rejoined sternly, "with
such an excuse as that? What did Miss de Sor ask you to tell her?
You promised to trust me. Be as good as your word."
In the days of her health and strength, she would have set him at
defiance. All she could do now was to appeal to his mercy.
"Make some allowance for me," she said. "I have been terribly
upset. What has become of my courage? What has broken me down in
this way? Spare me, sir."
He refused to listen. "This vile attempt to practice on your
fears may be repeated," he reminded her. "More cruel advantage
may be taken of the nervous derangement from which you are
suffering in the climate of this place. You little know me, if
you think I will allow that to go on."
She made a last effort to plead with him. "Oh sir, is this
behaving like the good kind man I thought you were? You say you
are Miss Emily's friend? Don't press me--for Miss Emily's sake!"
"Emily!" Alban exclaimed. "Is _she_ concerned in this?"
There was a change to tenderness in his voice, which persuaded
Mrs. Ellmother that she had found her way to the weak side of
him. Her one effort now was to strengthen the impression which
she believed herself to have produced. "Miss Emily _is_ concerned
in it," she confessed.
"In what way?"
"Never mind in what way."
"But I do mind."
"I tell you, sir, Miss Emily must never know it to her dying
The first suspicion of the truth crossed Alban's mind.
"I understand you at last," he said. "What Miss Emily must never
know--is what Miss de Sor wanted you to tell her. Oh, it's
useless to contradict me! Her motive in trying to frighten you is
as plain to me now as if she had confessed it. Are you sure you
didn't betray yourself, when she showed the image of wax?"
"I should have died first!" The reply had hardly escaped her
before she regretted it. "What makes you want to be so sure about
it?" she said. "It looks as if you knew--"
"I do know."
The kindest thing that he could do now was to speak out. "Your
secret is no secret to _me_," he said.
Rage and fear shook her together. For the moment she was like the
Mrs. Ellmother of former days. "You lie!" she cried.
"I speak the truth."
"I won't believe you! I daren't believe you!"
"Listen to me. In Emily's interests, listen to me. I have read of
the murder at Zeeland--"
"That's nothing! The man was a namesake of her father."
"The man was her father himself. Keep your seat! There is nothing
to be alarmed about. I know that Emily is ignorant of the horrid
death that her father died. I know that you and your late
mistress have kept the discovery from her to this day. I know the
love and pity which plead your excuse for deceiving her, and the
circumstances that favored the deception. My good creature,
Emily's peace of mind is as sacred to me as it is to you! I love
her as I love my own life--and better. Are you calmer, now?"
He heard her crying: it was the best relief that could come to
her. After waiting a while to let the tears have their way, he
helped her to rise. There was no more to be said now. The one
thing to do was to take her back to the house.
"I can give you a word of advice," he said, "before we part for
the night. You must leave Miss de Sor's service at once. Your
health will be a sufficient excuse. Give her warning
Mrs. Ellmother hung back, when he offered her his arm. The bare
prospect of seeing Francine again was revolting to her. On
Alban's assurance that the notice to leave could be given in
writing, she made no further resistance. The village clock struck
eleven as they ascended the terrace steps.
A minute later, another person left the grounds by the path which
led to the house. Alban's precaution had been taken too late. The
smell of tobacco-smoke had guided Francine, when she was at a
loss which way to turn next in search of Mrs. Ellmother. For the
last quarter of an hour she had been listening, hidden among the
CHANGE OF AIR.
The inmates of Netherwoods rose early, and went to bed early.
When Alban and Mrs. Ellmother arrived at the back door of the
house, they found it locked.
The only light visible, along the whole length of the building,
glimmered through the Venetian blind of the window-entrance to
Francine's sitting-room. Alban proposed to get admission to the
house by that way. In her horror of again encountering Francine,
Mrs. Ellmother positively refused to follow him when he turned
away from the door. "They can't be all asleep yet," she said--and
rang the bell.
One person was still out of bed--and that person was the mistress
of the house. They recognized her voice in the customary
question: "Who's there?" The door having been opened, good Miss
Ladd looked backward and forward between Alban and Mrs.
Ellmother, with the bewildered air of a lady who doubted the
evidence of her own eyes. The next moment, her sense of humor
overpowered her. She burst out laughing.
"Close the door, Mr. Morris," she said, "and be so good as to
tell me what this means. Have you been giving a lesson in drawing
Mrs. Ellmother moved, so that the light of the lamp in Miss
Ladd's hand fell on her face. "I am faint and giddy," she said;
"let me go to my bed."
Miss Ladd instantly followed her. "Pray forgive me! I didn't see
you were ill, when I spoke," she gently explained. "What can I do
"Thank you kindly, ma'am. I want nothing but peace and quiet. I
wish you good-night."
Alban followed Miss Ladd to her study, on the front side of the
house. He had just mentioned the circumstances under which he and
Mrs. Ellmother had met, when they were interrupted by a tap at
the door. Francine had got back to her room unperceived, by way
of the French window. She now presented herself, with an
elaborate apology, and with the nearest approach to a penitent
expression of which her face was capable.
"I am ashamed, Miss Ladd, to intrude on you at this time of
night. My only excuse is, that I am anxious about Mrs. Ellmother.
I heard you just now in the hall. If she is really ill, I am the
unfortunate cause of it."
"In what way, Miss de Sor?"
"I am sorry to say I frightened her--while we were talking in my
room--quite unintentionally. She rushed to the door and ran out.
I supposed she had gone to her bedroom; I had no idea she was in
In this false statement there was mingled a grain of truth. It
was true that Francine believed Mrs. Ellmother to have taken
refuge in her room--for she had examined the room. Finding it
empty, and failing to discover the fugitive in other parts of the
house, she had become alarmed, and had tried the grounds
next--with the formidable result which has been already related.
Concealing this circumstance, she had lied in such a skillfully
artless manner that Alban (having no suspicion of what had really
happened to sharpen his wits) was as completely deceived as Miss
Ladd. Proceeding to further explanation--and remembering that she
was in Alban's presence--Francine was careful to keep herself
within the strict limit of truth. Confessing that she had
frightened her servant by a description of sorcery, as it was
practiced among the slaves on her father's estate, she only lied
again, in declaring that Mrs. Ellmother had supposed she was in
earnest, when she was guilty of no more serious offense than
playing a practical joke.
In this case, Alban was necessarily in a position to detect the
falsehood. But it was so evidently in Francine's interests to
present her conduct in the most favorable light, that the
discovery failed to excite his suspicion. He waited in silence,
while Miss Ladd administered a severe reproof. Francine having
left the room, as penitently as she had entered it (with her
handkerchief over her tearless eyes), he was at liberty, with
certain reserves, to return to what had passed between Mrs.
Ellmother and himself.
" The fright which the poor old woman has suffered," he said,
"has led to one good result. I have found her ready at last to
acknowledge that she is ill, and inclined to believe that the
change to Netherwoods has had something to do with it. I have
advised her to take the course which you suggested, by leaving
this house. Is it possible to dispense with the usual delay, when
she gives notice to leave Miss de Sor's service?"
"She need feel no anxiety, poor soul, on that account," Miss Ladd
replied. "In any case, I had arranged that a week's notice on
either side should be enough. As it is, I will speak to Francine
myself. The least she can do, to express her regret, is to place
no difficulties in Mrs. Ellmother's way."
The next day was Sunday.
Miss Ladd broke through her rule of attending to secular affairs
on week days only; and, after consulting with Mrs. Ellmother,
arranged with Francine that her servant should be at liberty to
leave Netherwoods (health permitting) on the next day. But one
difficulty remained. Mrs. Ellmother was in no condition to take
the long journey to her birthplace in Cumberland; and her own
lodgings in London had been let.
Under these circumstances, what was the best arrangement that
could be made for her? Miss Ladd wisely and kindly wrote to Emily
on the subject, and asked for a speedy reply.
Later in the day, Alban was sent for to see Mrs. Ellmother. He
found her anxiously waiting to hear what had passed, on the
previous night, between Miss Ladd and himself. "Were you careful,
sir, to say nothing about Miss Emily?"
"I was especially careful; I never alluded to her in any way."
"Has Miss de Sor spoken to you?"
"I have not given her the opportunity."
"She's an obstinate one--she might try."
"If she does, she shall hear my opinion of her in plain words."
The talk between them turned next on Alban's discovery of the
secret, of which Mrs. Ellmother had believed herself to be the
sole depositary since Miss Letitia's death. Without alarming her
by any needless allusion to Doctor Allday or to Miss Jethro, he
answered her inquiries (so far as he was himself concerned)
without reserve. Her curiosity once satisfied, she showed no
disposition to pursue the topic. She pointed to Miss Ladd's cat,
fast asleep by the side of an empty saucer.
"Is it a sin, Mr. Morris, to wish I was Tom? _He_ doesn't trouble
himself about his life that is past or his life that is to come.
If I could only empty my saucer and go to sleep, I shouldn't be
thinking of the number of people in this world, like myself, who
would be better out of it than in it. Miss Ladd has got me my
liberty tomorrow; and I don't even know where to go, when I leave
"Suppose you follow Tom's example?" Alban suggested. "Enjoy
to-day (in that comfortable chair) and let to-morrow take care of
To-morrow arrived, and justified Alban's system of philosophy.
Emily answered Miss Ladd's letter, to excellent purpose, by
"I leave London to-day with Cecilia" (the message announced) "for
Monksmoor Park, Hants. Will Mrs. Ellmother take care of the
cottage in my absence? I shall be away for a month, at least. All
is prepared for her if she consents."
Mrs. Ellmother gladly accepted this proposal. In the interval of
Emily's absence, she could easily arrange to return to her own
lodgings. With words of sincere gratitude she took leave of Miss
Ladd; but no persuasion would induce her to say good-by to
Francine. "Do me one more kindness, ma'am; don't tell Miss de Sor
when I go away." Ignorant of the provocation which had produced
this unforgiving temper of mind, Miss Ladd gently remonstrated.
"Miss de Sor received my reproof in a penitent spirit; she
expresses sincere sorrow for having thoughtlessly frightened you.
Both yesterday and to-day she has made kind inquiries after your
health. Come! come! don't bear malice--wish her good-by." Mrs.
Ellmother's answer was characteristic. "I'll say good-by by
telegraph, when I get to London."
Her last words were addressed to Alban. "If you can find a way of
doing it, sir, keep those two apart."
"Do you mean Emily and Miss de Sor?
"What are you afraid of?"
"I don't know."
"Is that quite reasonable, Mrs. Ellmother?"
"I daresay not. I only know that I _am_ afraid."
The pony chaise took her away. Alban's class was not yet ready
for him. He waited on the terrace.
Innocent alike of all knowledge of the serious reason for fear
which did really exist, Mrs. Ellmother and Alban felt,
nevertheless, the same vague distrust of an intimacy between the
two girls. Idle, vain, malicious, false--to know that Francine's
character presented these faults, without any discoverable merits
to set against them, was surely enough to justify a gloomy view
of the prospect, if she succeeded in winning the position of
Emily's friend. Alban reasoned it out logically in this
way--without satisfying himself, and without accounting for the
remembrance that haunted him of Mrs. Ellmother's farewell look.
"A commonplace man would say we are both in a morbid state of
mind," he thought; "and sometimes commonplace men turn out to be
He was too deeply preoccupied to notice that he had advanced
perilously near Francine's window. She suddenly stepped out of
her room, and spoke to him.
"Do you happen to know, Mr. Morris, why Mrs. Ellmother has gone
away without bidding me good-by?"
"She was probably afraid, Miss de Sor, that you might make her
the victim of another joke."
Francine eyed him steadily. "Have you any particular reason for
speaking to me in that way?"
"I am not aware that I have answered you rudely--if that is what
"That is _not_ what I mean. You seem to have taken a dislike to
me. I should be glad to know why."
"I dislike cruelty--and you have behaved cruelly to Mrs.
"Meaning to be cruel?" Francine inquired.
"You know as well as I do, Miss de Sor, that I can't answer that
Francine looked at him again "Am I to understand that we are
enemies?" she asked.
"You are to understand," he replied, "that a person whom Miss
Ladd employs to help her in teaching, cannot always presume to
express his sentiments in speaking to the young ladies."
"If that means anything, Mr. Morris, it means that we are
"It means, Miss de Sor, that I am the drawing-master at this
school, and that I am called to my class."
Francine returned to her room, relieved of the only doubt that
had troubled her. Plainly no suspicion that she had overheard
what passed between Mrs. Ellmother and himself existed in Alban's
mind. As to the use to be made of her discovery, she felt no
difficulty in deciding to wait, and be guided by events. Her
curiosity and her self-esteem had been alike gratified--she had
got the better of Mrs. Ellmother at last, and with that triumph
she was content. While Emily remained her friend, it would be an
act of useless cruelty to disclose the terrible truth. There had
certainly been a coolness between them at Brighton. But
Francine--still influenced by the magnetic attraction which drew
her to Emily--did not conceal from herself that she had offered
the provocation, and had been therefore the person to blame. "I
can set all that right," she thought, "when we meet at Monksmoor
Park." She opened her desk and wrote the shortest and sweetest of
letters to Cecilia. "I am entirely at the disposal of my charming
friend, on any convenient day--may I add, my dear, the sooner the
"THE LADY WANTS YOU, SIR."
The pupils of the drawing-class put away their pencils and
color-boxes in high good humor: the teacher's vigilant eye for
faults had failed him for the first time in their experience. Not
one of them had been reproved; they had chattered and giggled and
drawn caricatures on the margin of the paper, as freely as if the
master had left the room. Alban's wandering attention was indeed
beyond the reach of control. His interview with Francine had
doubled his sense of responsibility toward Emily--while he was
further than ever from seeing how he could interfere, to any
useful purpose, in his present position, and with his reasons for
writing under reserve.
One of the servants addressed him as he was leaving the
schoolroom. The landlady's boy was waiting in the hall, with a
message from his lodgings.
"Now then! what is it?" he asked, irritably.
"The lady wants you, sir." With this mysterious answer, the boy
presented a visiting card. The name inscribed on it was--"Miss
She had arrived by the train, and she was then waiting at Alban's
lodgings. "Say I will be with her directly." Having given the
message, he stood for a while, with his hat in his
hand--literally lost in astonishment. It was simply impossible to
guess at Miss Jethro's object: and yet, with the usual perversity
of human nature, he was still wondering what she could possibly
want with him, up to the final moment when he opened the door of
She rose and bowed with the same grace of movement, and the same
well-bred composure of manner, which Doctor Allday had noticed
when she entered his consulting-room. Her dark melancholy eyes
rested on Alban with a look of gentle interest. A faint flush of
color animated for a moment the faded beauty of her face--passed
away again--and left it paler than before.
"I cannot conceal from myself," she began, "that I am intruding
on you under embarrassing circumstances."
"May I ask, Miss Jethro, to what circumstances you allude?"
"You forget, Mr. Morris, that I left Miss Ladd's school, in a
manner which justified doubt of me in the minds of strangers."
"Speaking as one of those strangers," Alban replied, "I cannot
feel that I had any right to form an opinion, on a matter which
only concerned Miss Ladd and yourself."
Miss Jethro bowed gravely. "You encourage me to hope," she said.
"I think you will place a favorable construction on my visit when
I mention my motive. I ask you to receive me, in the interests of
Miss Emily Brown."
Stating her purpose in calling on him in those plain terms, she
added to the amazement which Alban already felt, by handing to
him--as if she was presenting an introduction--a letter marked,
"Private," addressed to her by Doctor Allday.
"I may tell you," she premised, "that I had no idea of troubling
you, until Doctor Allday suggested it. I wrote to him in the
first instance; and there is his reply. Pray read it."
The letter was dated, "Penzance"; and the doctor wrote, as he
spoke, without ceremony.
"MADAM--Your letter has been forwarded to me. I am spending my
autumn holiday in the far West of Cornwall. However, if I had
been at home, it would have made no difference. I should have
begged leave to decline holding any further conversation with
you, on the subject of Miss Emily Brown, for the following
"In the first place, though I cannot doubt your sincere interest
in the young lady's welfare, I don't like your mysterious way of
showing it. In the second place, when I called at your address in
London, after you had left my house, I found that you had taken
to flight. I place my own interpretation on this circumstance;
but as it is not founded on any knowledge of facts, I merely
allude to it, and say no more."
Arrived at that point, Alban offered to return the letter. "Do
you really mean me to go on reading it?" he asked.
"Yes," she said quietly.
Alban returned to the letter.
"In the third place, I have good reason to believe that you
entered Miss Ladd's school as a teacher, under false pretenses.
After that discovery, I tell you plainly I hesitate to attach
credit to any statement that you may wish to make. At the same
time, I must not permit my prejudices (as you will probably call
them) to stand in the way of Miss Emily's interests--supposing
them to be really depending on any interference of yours. Miss
Ladd's drawing-master, Mr. Alban Morris, is even more devoted to
Miss Emily's service than I am. Whatever you might have said to
me, you can say to him--with this possible advantage, that _he_
may believe you."
There the letter ended. Alban handed it back in silence.
Miss Jethro pointed to the words, "Mr. Alban Morris is even more
devoted to Miss EmilyŐs service than I am."
"Is that true?" she asked.
"I don't complain, Mr. Morris, of the hard things said of me in
that letter; you are at liberty to suppose, if you like, that I
deserve them. Attribute it to pride, or attribute it to
reluctance to make needless demands on your time--I shall not
attempt to defend myself. I leave you to decide whether the woman
who has shown you that letter--having something important to say
to you--is a person who is mean enough to say it under false
"Tell me what I can do for you, Miss Jethro: and be assured,
beforehand, that I don't doubt your sincerity."
"My purpose in coming here," she answered, "is to induce you to
use your influence over Miss Emily Brown--"
"With what object?" Alban asked, interrupting her.
"My object is her own good. Some years since, I happened to
become acquainted with a person who has attained some celebrity
as a preacher. You have perhaps heard of Mr. Miles Mirabel?"
"I have heard of him."
"I have been in correspondence with him," Miss Jethro proceeded.
"He tells me he has been introduced to a young lady, who was
formerly one of Miss Ladd's pupils, and who is the daughter of
Mr. Wyvil, of Monksmoor Park. He has called on Mr. Wyvil; and he
has since received an invitation to stay at Mr. Wyvil's house.
The day fixed for the visit is Monday, the fifth of next month."
Alban listened--at a loss to know what interest he was supposed
to have in being made acquainted with Mr. Mirabel's engagements.
Miss Jethro's next words enlightened him.
"You are perhaps aware," she resumed, "that Miss Emily Brown is
Miss Wyvil's intimate friend. She will be one of the guests at
Monksmoor Park. If there are any obstacles which you can place in
her way--if there is any influence which you can exert, without
exciting suspicion of your motive--prevent her, I entreat you,
from accepting Miss Wyvil's invitation, until Mr. Mirabel's visit
has come to an end."
"Is there anything against Mr. Mirabel?" he asked.
"I say nothing against him."
"Is Miss Emily acquainted with him?"
"Is he a person with whom it would be disagreeable to her to
"Quite the contrary."
"And yet you expect me to prevent them from meeting! Be
reasonable, Miss Jethro."
"I can only be in earnest, Mr. Morris--more truly, more deeply in
earnest than you can suppose. I declare to you that I am speaking
in Miss Emily's interests. Do you still refuse to exert yourself
for her sake?"
"I am spared the pain of refusal," Alban answered. "The time for
interference has gone by. She is, at this moment, on her way to
Miss Jethro attempted to rise--and dropped back into her chair.
"Water!" she said faintly. After drinking from the glass to the
last drop, she began to revive. Her little traveling-bag was on
the floor at her side. She took out a railway guide, and tried to
consult it. Her fingers trembled incessantly; she was unable to
find the page to which she wished to refer. "Help me," she said,
"I must leave this place--by the first train that passes."
"To see Emily?" Alban asked.
"Quite useless! You have said it yourself--the time for
interference has gone by. Look at the guide."
"What place shall I look for?"
"Look for Vale Regis."
Alban found the place. The train was due in ten minutes. "Surely
you are not fit to travel so soon?" he suggested.
"Fit or not, I must see Mr. Mirabel--I must make the effort to
keep them apart by appealing to _him_."
"With any hope of success?"
"With no hope--and with no interest in the man himself. Still I
"Out of anxiety for Emily's welfare?"
"Out of anxiety for more than that."
"If you can't guess, I daren't tell you."
That strange reply startled Alban. Before he could ask what it
meant, Miss Jethro had left him.
In the emergencies of life, a person readier of resource than
Alban Morris it would not have been easy to discover. The
extraordinary interview that had now come to an end had found its
limits. Bewildered and helpless, he stood at the window of his
room, and asked himself (as if he had been the weakest man
living), "What shal l I do?"
BOOK THE FOURTH--THE COUNTRY HOUSE.
The windows of the long drawing-room at Monksmoor are all thrown
open to the conservatory. Distant masses of plants and flowers,
mingled in ever-varying forms of beauty, are touched by the
melancholy luster of the rising moon. Nearer to the house, the
restful shadows are disturbed at intervals, where streams of
light fall over them aslant from the lamps in the room. The
fountain is playing. In rivalry with its lighter music, the
nightingales are singing their song of ecstasy. Sometimes, the
laughter of girls is heard--and, sometimes, the melody of a
waltz. The younger guests at Monksmoor are dancing.
Emily and Cecilia are dressed alike in white, with flowers in
their hair. Francine rivals them by means of a gorgeous contrast
of color, and declares that she is rich with the bright emphasis
of diamonds and the soft persuasion of pearls.
Miss Plym (from the rectory) is fat and fair and prosperous: she
overflows with good spirits; she has a waist which defies
tight-lacing, and she dances joyously on large flat feet. Miss
Darnaway (officer's daughter with small means) is the exact
opposite of Miss Plym. She is thin and tall and faded--poor soul.
Destiny has made it her hard lot in life to fill the place of
head-nursemaid at home. In her pensive moments, she thinks of the
little brothers and sisters, whose patient servant she is, and
wonders who comforts them in their tumbles and tells them stories
at bedtime, while she is holiday-making at the pleasant country
Tender-hearted Cecilia, remembering how few pleasures this young
friend has, and knowing how well she dances, never allows her to
be without a partner. There are three invaluable young gentlemen
present, who are excellent dancers. Members of different
families, they are nevertheless fearfully and wonderfully like
each other. They present the same rosy complexions and
straw-colored mustachios, the same plump cheeks, vacant eyes and
low forehead; and they utter, with the same stolid gravity, the
same imbecile small talk. On sofas facing each other sit the two
remaining guests, who have not joined the elders at the
card-table in another room. They are both men. One of them is
drowsy and middle-aged--happy in the possession of large landed
property: happier still in a capacity for drinking Mr. Wyvil's
famous port-wine without gouty results.
The other gentleman--ah, who is the other? He is the confidential
adviser and bosom friend of every young lady in the house. Is it
necessary to name the Reverend Miles Mirabel?
There he sits enthroned, with room for a fair admirer on either
side of him--the clerical sultan of a platonic harem. His
persuasive ministry is felt as well as heard: he has an innocent
habit of fondling young persons. One of his arms is even long
enough to embrace the circumference of Miss Plym--while the other
clasps the rigid silken waist of Francine. "I do it everywhere
else," he says innocently, "why not here?" Why not indeed--with
that delicate complexion and those beautiful blue eyes; with the
glorious golden hair that rests on his shoulders, and the glossy
beard that flows over his breast? Familiarities, forbidden to
mere men, become privileges and condescensions when an angel
enters society--and more especially when that angel has enough of
mortality in him to be amusing. Mr. Mirabel, on his social side,
is an irresistible companion. He is cheerfulness itself; he takes
a favorable view of everything; his sweet temper never differs
with anybody. "In my humble way," he confesses, "I like to make
the world about me brighter." Laughter (harmlessly produced,
observe!) is the element in which he lives and breathes. Miss
Darnaway's serious face puts him out; he has laid a bet with
Emily--not in money, not even in gloves, only in flowers--that he
will make Miss Darnaway laugh; and he has won the wager. Emily's
flowers are in his button-hole, peeping through the curly
interstices of his beard. "Must you leave me?" he asks tenderly,
when there is a dancing man at liberty, and it is Francine's turn
to claim him. She leaves her seat not very willingly. For a
while, the place is vacant; Miss Plym seizes the opportunity of
consulting the ladies' bosom friend.
"Dear Mr. Mirabel, do tell me what you think of Miss de Sor?"
Dear Mr. Mirabel bursts into enthusiasm and makes a charming
reply. His large experience of young ladies warns him that they
will tell each other what he thinks of them, when they retire for
the night; and he is careful on these occasions to say something
that will bear repetition.
"I see in Miss de Sor," he declares, "the resolution of a man,
tempered by the sweetness of a woman. When that interesting
creature marries, her husband will be--shall I use the vulgar
word?--henpecked. Dear Miss Plym, he will enjoy it; and he will
be quite right too; and, if I am asked to the wedding, I shall
say, with heartfelt sincerity, Enviable man!"
In the height of her admiration for Mr. Mirabel's wonderful eye
for character, Miss Plym is called away to the piano. Cecilia
succeeds to her friend's place--and has her waist taken in charge
as a matter of course.
"How do you like Miss Plym?" she asks directly.
Mr. Mirabel smiles, and shows the prettiest little pearly teeth.
"I was just thinking of her," he confesses pleasantly; "Miss Plym
is so nice and plump, so comforting and domestic--such a perfect
clergyman's daughter. You love her, don't you? Is she engaged to
be married? In that case--between ourselves, dear Miss Wyvil, a
clergyman is obliged to be cautious--I may own that I love her
Delicious titillations of flattered self-esteem betray themselves
in Cecilia's lovely complexion. She is the chosen confidante of
this irresistible man; and she would like to express her sense of
obligation. But Mr. Mirabel is a master in the art of putting the
right words in the right places; and simple Cecilia distrusts
herself and her grammar.
At that moment of embarrassment, a friend leaves the dance, and
helps Cecilia out of the difficulty.
Emily approaches the sofa-throne, breathless--followed by her
partner, entreating her to give him "one turn more." She is not
to be tempted; she means to rest. Cecilia sees an act of mercy,
suggested by the presence of the disengaged young man. She seizes
his arm, and hurries him off to poor Miss Darnaway; sitting
forlorn in a corner, and thinking of the nursery at home. In the
meanwhile a circumstance occurs. Mr. Mirabel's all-embracing arm
shows itself in a new character, when Emily sits by his side.
It becomes, for the first time, an irresolute arm. It advances a
little--and hesitates. Emily at once administers an unexpected
check; she insists on preserving a free waist, in her own
outspoken language. "No, Mr. Mirabel, keep that for the others.
You can't imagine how ridiculous you and the young ladies look,
and how absurdly unaware of it you all seem to be." For the first
time in his life, the reverend and ready-witted man of the world
is at a loss for an answer. Why?
For this simple reason. He too has felt the magnetic attraction
of the irresistible little creature whom every one likes. Miss
Jethro has been doubly defeated. She has failed to keep them
apart; and her unexplained misgivings have not been justified by
events: Emily and Mr. Mirabel are good friends already. The
brilliant clergyman is poor; his interests in life point to a
marriage for money; he has fascinated the heiresses of two rich
fathers, Mr. Tyvil and Mr. de Sor--and yet he is conscious of an
influence (an alien influence, without a balance at its bankers),
which has, in some mysterious way, got between him and his
On Emily's side, the attraction felt is of another nature
altogether. Among the merry young people at Monksmoor she is her
old happy self again; and she finds in Mr. Mirabel the most
agreeable and amusing man whom she has ever met. After those
dismal night watches by the bed of her dying aunt, and the dreary
weeks of solitude that followed, to live in this new world of
luxury and gayety is like escaping from the darkness of night,
and basking in the fall brightn ess of day. Cecilia declares that
she looks, once more, like the joyous queen of the bedroom, in
the bygone time at school; and Francine (profaning Shakespeare
without knowing it), says, "Emily is herself again!"
"Now that your arm is in its right place, reverend sir," she
gayly resumes, "I may admit that there are exceptions to all
rules. My waist is at your disposal, in a case of necessity--that
is to say, in a case of waltzing."
"The one case of all others," Mirabel answers, with the engaging
frankness that has won him so many friends, "which can never
happen in my unhappy experience. Waltzing, I blush to own it,
means picking me up off the floor, and putting smelling salts to
my nostrils. In other words, dear Miss Emily, it is the room that
waltzes--not I. I can't look at those whirling couples there,
with a steady head. Even the exquisite figure of our young
hostess, when it describes flying circles, turns me giddy."
Hearing this allusion to Cecilia, Emily drops to the level of the
other girls. She too pays her homage to the Pope of private life.
"You promised me your unbiased opinion of Cecilia," she reminds
him; "and you haven't given it yet."
The ladies' friend gently remonstrates. "Miss Wyvil's beauty
dazzles me. How can I give an unbiased opinion? Besides, I am not
thinking of her; I can only think of you."
Emily lifts her eyes, half merrily, half tenderly, and looks at
him over the top of her fan. It is her first effort at
flirtation. She is tempted to engage in the most interesting of
all games to a girl--the game which plays at making love. What
has Cecilia told her, in those bedroom gossipings, dear to the
hearts of the two friends? Cecilia has whispered, "Mr. Mirabel
admires your figure; he calls you 'the Venus of Milo, in a state
of perfect abridgment.'" Where is the daughter of Eve, who would
not have been flattered by that pretty compliment--who would not
have talked soft nonsense in return? "You can only think of Me,"
Emily repeats coquettishly. "Have you said that to the last young
lady who occupied my place, and will you say it again to the next
who follows me?"
"Not to one of them! Mere compliments are for the others--not for
"What is for me, Mr. Mirabel?"
"What I have just offered you--a confession of the truth."
Emily is startled by the tone in which he replies. He seems to be
in earnest; not a vestige is left of the easy gayety of his
manner. His face shows an expression of anxiety which she has
never seen in it yet. "Do you believe me?" he asks in a whisper.
She tries to change the subject.
"When am I to hear you preach, Mr. Mirabel?"
He persists. "When you believe me," he says.
His eyes add an emphasis to that reply which is not to be
mistaken. Emily turns away from him, and notices Francine. She
has left the dance, and is looking with marked attention at Emily
and Mirabel. "I want to speak to you," she says, and beckons
impatiently to Emily.
Mirabel whispers, "Don't go!"
Emily rises nevertheless--ready to avail herself of the first
excuse for leaving him. Francine meets her half way, and takes
her roughly by the arm.
"What is it?" Emily asks.
"Suppose you leave off flirting with Mr. Mirabel, and make
yourself of some use."
"In what way?"
"Use your ears--and look at that girl."
She points disdainfully to innocent Miss Plym. The rector's
daughter possesses all the virtues, with one exception--the
virtue of having an ear for music. When she sings, she is out of
tune; and, when she plays, she murders time.
"Who can dance to such music as that?" says Francine. "Finish the
waltz for her."
Emily naturally hesitates. "How can I take her place, unless she
Francine laughs scornfully. "Say at once, you want to go back to
"Do you think I should have got up, when you beckoned to me,"
Emily rejoins, "if I had not wanted to get away from Mr.
Instead of resenting this sharp retort, Francine suddenly breaks
into good humor. "Come along, you little spit-fire; I'll manage
it for you."
She leads Emily to the piano, and stops Miss Plym without a word
of apology: "It's your turn to dance now. Here's Miss Brown
waiting to relieve you."
Cecilia has not been unobservant, in her own quiet way, of what
has been going on. Waiting until Francine and Miss Plym are out
of hearing, she bends over Emily, and says, "My dear, I really do
think Francine is in love with Mr. Mirabel."
"After having only been a week in the same house with him!" Emily
"At any rate," said Cecilia, more smartly than usual, "she is
jealous of _you_."
The next morning, Mr. Mirabel took two members of the circle at
Monksmoor by surprise. One of them was Emily; and one of them was
the master of the house.
Seeing Emily alone in the garden before breakfast, he left his
room and joined her. "Let me say one word," he pleaded, "before
we go to breakfast. I am grieved to think that I was so
unfortunate as to offend you, last night."
Emily's look of astonishment answered for her before she could
speak. "What can I have said or done," she asked, "to make you
"Now I breathe again!" he cried, with the boyish gayety of manner
which was one of the secrets of his popularity among women. "I
really feared that I had spoken thoughtlessly. It is a terrible
confession for a clergyman to make--but it is not the less true
that I am one of the most indiscreet men living. It is my rock
ahead in life that I say the first thing which comes uppermost,
without stopping to think. Being well aware of my own defects, I
naturally distrust myself."
"Even in the pulpit?" Emily inquired.
He laughed with the readiest appreciation of the satire--although
it was directed against himself.
"I like that question," he said; "it tells me we are as good
friends again as ever. The fact is, the sight of the
congregation, when I get into the pulpit, has the same effect
upon me that the sight of the footlights has on an actor. All
oratory (though my clerical brethren are shy of confessing it) is
acting--without the scenery and the costumes. Did you really mean
it, last night, when you said you would like to hear me preach?"
"Indeed, I did."
"How very kind of you. I don't think myself the sermon is worth
the sacrifice. (There is another specimen of my indiscreet way of
talking!) What I mean is, that you will have to get up early on
Sunday morning, and drive twelve miles to the damp and dismal
little village, in which I officiate for a man with a rich wife
who likes the climate of Italy. My congregation works in the
fields all the week, and naturally enough goes to sleep in church
on Sunday. I have had to counteract that. Not by preaching! I
wouldn't puzzle the poor people with my eloquence for the world.
No, no: I tell them little stories out of the Bible--in a nice
easy gossiping way. A quarter of an hour is my limit of time;
and, I am proud to say, some of them (mostly the women) do to a
certain extent keep awake. If you and the other ladies decide to
honor me, it is needless to say you shall have one of my grand
efforts. What will be the effect on my unfortunate flock remains
to be seen. I will have the church brushed up, and luncheon of
course at the parsonage. Beans, bacon, and beer--I haven't got
anything else in the house. Are you rich? I hope not!"
"I suspect I am quite as poor as you are, Mr. Mirabel."
"I am delighted to hear it. (More of my indiscretion!) Our
poverty is another bond between us."
Before he could enlarge on this text, the breakfast bell rang.
He gave Emily his arm, quite satisfied with the result of the
morning's talk. In speaking seriously to her on the previous
night, he had committed the mistake of speaking too soon. To
amend this false step, and to recover his position in Emily's
estimation, had been his object in view--and it had been
successfully accomplished. At the breakfast-table that morning,
the companionable clergyman was more amusing than ever.
The meal being over, the company dispersed as usual--with the one
exception of Mirabel. Without any apparent reason, he kept his
place at the table. Mr. Wyvil, the most courteous and considerate
of men, felt
it an attention due to his guest not to leave the room first.
All that he could venture to do was to give a little hint. "Have
you any plans for the morning?" he asked.
"I have a plan that depends entirely on yourself," Mirabel
answered; "and I am afraid of being as indiscreet as usual, if I
mention it. Your charming daughter tells me you play on the
Modest Mr. Wyvil looked confused. "I hope you have not been
annoyed," he said; "I practice in a distant room so that nobody
may hear me."
"My dear sir, I am eager to hear you! Music is my passion; and
the violin is my favorite instrument."
Mr. Wyvil led the way to his room, positively blushing with
pleasure. Since the death of his wife he had been sadly in want
of a little encouragement. His daughters and his friends were
careful--over-careful, as he thought--of intruding on him in his
hours of practice. And, sad to say, his daughters and his friends
were, from a musical point of view, perfectly right.
Literature has hardly paid sufficient attention to a social
phenomenon of a singularly perplexing kind. We hear enough, and
more than enough, of persons who successfully cultivate the
Arts--of the remarkable manner in which fitness for their
vocation shows itself in early life, of the obstacles which
family prejudice places in their way, and of the unremitting
devotion which has led to the achievement of glorious results.
But how many writers have noticed those other incomprehensible
persons, members of families innocent for generations past of
practicing Art or caring for Art, who have notwithstanding
displayed from their earliest years the irresistible desire to
cultivate poetry, painting, or music; who have surmounted
obstacles, and endured disappointments, in the single-hearted
resolution to devote their lives to an intellectual
pursuit--being absolutely without the capacity which proves the
vocation, and justifies the sacrifice. Here is Nature, "unerring
Nature," presented in flat contradiction with herself. Here are
men bent on performing feats of running, without having legs; and
women, hopelessly barren, living in constant expectation of large
families to the end of their days. The musician is not to be
found more completely deprived than Mr. Wyvil of natural capacity
for playing on an instrument--and, for twenty years past, it had
been the pride and delight of his heart to let no day of his life
go by without practicing on the violin.
"I am sure I must be tiring you," he said politely--after having
played without mercy for an hour and more.
No: the insatiable amateur had his own purpose to gain, and was
not exhausted yet. Mr. Wyvil got up to look for some more music.
In that interval desultory conversation naturally took place.
Mirabel contrived to give it the necessary direction--the
direction of Emily.
"The most delightful girl I have met with for many a long year
past!" Mr. Wyvil declared warmly. "I don't wonder at my daughter
being so fond of her. She leads a solitary life at home, poor
thing; and I am honestly glad to see her spirits reviving in my
"An only child?" Mirabel asked.
In the necessary explanation that followed, Emily's isolated
position in the world was revealed in few words. But one more
discovery--the most important of all--remained to be made. Had
she used a figure of speech in saying that she was as poor as
Mirabel himself? or had she told him the shocking truth? He put
the question with perfect delicacy---but with unerring directness
Mr. Wyvil, quoting his daughter's authority, described Emily's
income as falling short even of two hundred a year. Having made
that disheartening reply, he opened another music book. "You know
this sonata, of course?" he said. The next moment, the violin was
under his chin and the performance began.
While Mirabel was, to all appearance, listening with the utmost
attention, he was actually endeavoring to reconcile himself to a
serious sacrifice of his own inclinations. If he remained much
longer in the same house with Emily, the impression that she had
produced on him would be certainly strengthened--and he would be
guilty of the folly of making an offer of marriage to a woman who
was as poor as himself. The one remedy that could be trusted to
preserve him from such infatuation as this, was absence. At the
end of the week, he had arranged to return to Vale Regis for his
Sunday duty; engaging to join his friends again at Monksmoor on
the Monday following. That rash promise, there could be no
further doubt about it, must not be fulfilled.
He had arrived at this resolution, when the terrible activity of
Mr. Wyvil's bow was suspended by the appearance of a third person
in the room.
Cecilia's maid was charged with a neat little three-cornered note
from her young lady, to be presented to her master. Wondering why
his daughter should write to him, Mr. Wyvil opened the note, and
was informed of Cecilia's motive in these words:
"DEAREST PAPA--I hear Mr. Mirabel is with you, and as this is a
secret, I must write. Emily has received a very strange letter
this morning, which puzzles her and alarms me. When you are quite
at liberty, we shall be so much obliged if you will tell us how
Emily ought to answer it."
Mr. Wyvil stopped Mirabel, on the point of trying to escape from
the music. "A little domestic matter to attend to," he said. "But
we will finish the sonata first."
Out of the music room, and away from his violin, the sound side
of Mr. Wyvil's character was free to assert itself. In his public
and in his private capacity, he was an eminently sensible man.
As a member of parliament, he set an example which might have
been followed with advantage by many of his colleagues. In the
first place he abstained from hastening the downfall of
representative institutions by asking questions and making
speeches. In the second place, he was able to distinguish between
the duty that he owed to his party, and the duty that he owed to
his country. When the Legislature acted politically--that is to
say, when it dealt with foreign complications, or electoral
reforms--he followed his leader. When the Legislature acted
socially--that is to say, for the good of the people--he followed
his conscience. On the last occasion when the great Russian
bugbear provoked a division, he voted submissively with his
Conservative allies. But, when the question of opening museums
and picture galleries on Sundays arrayed the two parties in
hostile camps, he broke into open mutiny, and went over to the
Liberals. He consented to help in preventing an extension of the
franchise; but he refused to be concerned in obstructing the
repeal of taxes on knowledge. "I am doubtful in the first case,"
he said, "but I am sure in the second." He was asked for an
explanation: "Doubtful of what? and sure of what?" To the
astonishment of his leader, he answered: "The benefit to the
people." The same sound sense appeared in the transactions of his
private life. Lazy and dishonest servants found that the gentlest
of masters had a side to his character which took them by
surprise. And, on certain occasions in the experience of Cecilia
and her sister, the most indulgent of fathers proved to be as
capable of saying No, as the sternest tyrant who ever ruled a
Called into council by his daughter and his guest, Mr. Wyvil
assisted them by advice which was equally wise and kind--but
which afterward proved, under the perverse influence of
circumstances, to be advice that he had better not have given.
The letter to Emily which Cecilia had recommended to her father's
consideration, had come from Netherwoods, and had been written by
He assured Emily that he had only decided on writing to her,
after some hesitation, in the hope of serving interests which he
did not himself understand, but which might prove to be interests
worthy of consideration, nevertheless. Having stated his motive
in these terms, he proceeded to relate what had passed between
Miss Jethro and himself. On the subject of Francine, Alban only
ventured to add that she had not produced a favorable impression
on him, and that he could not think her
likely, on further experience, to prove a desirable friend.
On the last leaf were added some lines, which Emily was at no
loss how to answer. She had folded back the page, so that no eyes
but her own should see how the poor drawing-master finished his
letter: "I wish you all possible happiness, my dear, among your
new friends; but don't forget the old friend who thinks of you,
and dreams of you, and longs to see you again. The little world I
live in is a dreary world, Emily, in your absence. Will you write
to me now and then, and encourage me to hope?"
Mr. Wyvil smiled, as he looked at the folded page, which hid the
"I suppose I may take it for granted," he said slyly, "that this
gentleman really has your interests at heart? May I know who he
Emily answered the last question readily enough. Mr. Wyvil went
on with his inquiries. "About the mysterious lady, with the
strange name," he proceeded--"do you know anything of her?"
Emily related what she knew; without revealing the true reason
for Miss Jethro's departure from Netherwoods. In after years, it
was one of her most treasured remembrances, that she had kept
secret the melancholy confession which had startled her, on the
last night of her life at school.
Mr. Wyvil looked at Alban's letter again. "Do you know how Miss
Jethro became acquainted with Mr. Mirabel?" he asked.
"I didn't even know that they were acquainted."
"Do you think it likely--if Mr. Morris had been talking to you
instead of writing to you--that he might have said more than he
has said in his letter?"
Cecilia had hitherto remained a model of discretion. Seeing Emily
hesitate, temptation overcame her. "Not a doubt of it, papa!" she
"Is Cecilia right?" Mr. Wyvil inquired.
Reminded in this way of her influence over Alban, Emily could
only make one honest reply. She admitted that Cecilia was right.
Mr. Wyvil thereupon advised her not to express any opinion, until
she was in a better position to judge for herself. "When you
write to Mr. Morris," he continued, "say that you will wait to
tell him what you think of Miss Jethro, until you see him again."
"I have no prospect at present of seeing him again," Emily said.
"You can see Mr. Morris whenever it suits him to come here," Mr.
Wyvil replied. "I will write and ask him to visit us, and you can
inclose the invitation in your letter."
"Oh, Mr. Wyvil, how good of you!"
"Oh, papa, the very thing I was going to ask you to do!"
The excellent master of Monksmoor looked unaffectedly surprised.
"What are you two young ladies making a fuss about?" he said.
"Mr. Morris is a gentleman by profession; and--may I venture to
say it, Miss Emily?--a valued friend of yours as well. Who has a
better claim to be one of my guests?"
Cecilia stopped her father as he was about to leave the room. "I
suppose we mustn't ask Mr. Mirabel what he knows of Miss Jethro?"
"My dear, what can you be thinking of? What right have we to
question Mr. Mirabel about Miss Jethro?"
"It's so very unsatisfactory, papa. There must be some reason why
Emily and Mr. Mirabel ought not to meet--or why should Miss
Jethro have been so very earnest about it?"
"Miss Jethro doesn't intend us to know why, Cecilia. It will
perhaps come out in time. Wait for time."
Left together, the girls discussed the course which Alban would
probably take, on receiving Mr. Wyvil's invitation.
"He will only be too glad," Cecilia asserted, "to have the
opportunity of seeing you again."
"I doubt whether he will care about seeing me again, among
strangers," Emily replied. "And you forget that there are
obstacles in his way. How is he to leave his class?"
"Quite easily! His class doesn't meet on the Saturday
half-holiday. He can be here, if he starts early, in time for
luncheon; and he can stay till Monday or Tuesday."
"Who is to take his place at the school?"
"Miss Ladd, to be sure--if _you_ make a point of it. Write to
her, as well as to Mr. Morris."
The letters being written--and the order having been given to
prepare a room for the expected guest--Emily and Cecilia returned
to the drawing-room. They found the elders of the party variously
engaged--the men with newspapers, and the ladies with work.
Entering the conservatory next, they discovered Cecilia's sister
languishing among the flowers in an easy chair. Constitutional
laziness, in some young ladies, assumes an invalid character, and
presents the interesting spectacle of perpetual convalescence.
The doctor declared that the baths at St. Moritz had cured Miss
Julia. Miss Julia declined to agree with the doctor.
"Come into the garden with Emily and me," Cecilia said.
"Emily and you don't know what it is to be ill," Julia answered.
The two girls left her, and joined the young people who were
amusing themselves in the garden. Francine had taken possession
of Mirabel, and had condemned him to hard labor in swinging her.
He made an attempt to get away when Emily and Cecilia approached,
and was peremptorily recalled to his duty. "Higher!" cried Miss
de Sor, in her hardest tones of authority. "I want to swing
higher than anybody else!" Mirabel submitted with gentleman-like
resignation, and was rewarded by tender encouragement expressed
in a look.
"Do you see that?" Cecilia whispered. "He knows how rich she
is--I wonder whether he will marry her."
Emily smiled. "I doubt it, while he is in this house," she said.
"You are as rich as Francine--and don't forget that you have
other attractions as well."
Cecilia shook her head. "Mr. Mirabel is very nice," she admitted;
"but I wouldn't marry him. Would you?"
Emily secretly compared Alban with Mirabel. "Not for the world!"
The next day was the day of Mirabel's departure. His admirers
among the ladies followed him out to the door, at which Mr.
Wyvil's carriage was waiting. Francine threw a nosegay after the
departing guest as he got in. "Mind you come back to us on
Monday!" she said. Mirabel bowed and thanked her; but his last
look was for Emily, standing apart from the others at the top of
the steps. Francine said nothing; her lips closed
convulsively--she turned suddenly pale.
On the Monday, a plowboy from Vale Regis arrived at Monksmoor.
In respect of himself, he was a person beneath notice. In respect
of his errand, he was sufficiently important to cast a gloom over
the household. The faithless Mirabel had broken his engagement,
and the plowboy was the herald of misfortune who brought his
apology. To his great disappointment (he wrote) he was detained
by the affairs of his parish. He could only trust to Mr. Wyvil's
indulgence to excuse him, and to communicate his sincere sense of
regret (on scented note paper) to the ladies.
Everybody believed in the affairs of the parish--with the
exception of Francine. "Mr. Mirabel has made the best excuse he
could think of for shortening his visit; and I don't wonder at
it," she said, looking significantly at Emily.
Emily was playing with one of the dogs; exercising him in the
tricks which he had learned. She balanced a morsel of sugar on
his nose--and had no attention to spare for Francine.
Cecilia, as the mistress of the house, felt it her duty to
interfere. "That is a strange remark to make," she answered. "Do
you mean to say that we have driven Mr. Mirabel away from us?"
"I accuse nobody," Francine began with spiteful candor.
"Now she's going to accuse everybody!" Emily interposed,
addressing herself facetiously to the dog.
"But when girls are bent on fascinating men, whether they like it
or not," Francine proceeded, "men have only one alternative--they
must keep out of the way." She looked again at Emily, more
pointedly than ever.
Even gentle Cecilia resented this. "Whom do you refer to?" she
"My dear!" Emily remonstrated, "need you ask?" She glanced at
Francine as she spoke, and then gave the dog his signal. He
tossed up the sugar, and caught it in his mouth. His audience
applauded him--and so, for that time, the skirmish ended.
Among the letters of the next morning's delivery, arrived Alban's
reply. Emily's anticipations proved to be correct. The
drawing-master's du ties would not permit him to leave
Netherwoods; and he, like Mirabel, sent his apologies. His short
letter to Emily contained no further allusion to Miss Jethro; it
began and ended on the first page.
Had he been disappointed by the tone of reserve in which Emily
had written to him, under Mr. Wyvil's advice? Or (as Cecilia
suggested) had his detention at the school so bitterly
disappointed him that he was too disheartened to write at any
length? Emily made no attempt to arrive at a conclusion, either
one way or the other. She seemed to be in depressed spirits; and
she spoke superstitiously, for the first time in Cecilia's
experience of her.
"I don't like this reappearance of Miss Jethro," she said. "If
the mystery about that woman is ever cleared up, it will bring
trouble and sorrow to me--and I believe, in his own secret heart,
Alban Morris thinks so too."
"Write, and ask him," Cecilia suggested.
"He is so kind and so unwilling to distress me," Emily answered,
"that he wouldn't acknowledge it, even if I am right."
In the middle of the week, the course of private life at
Monksmoor suffered an interruption--due to the parliamentary
position of the master of the house.
The insatiable appetite for making and hearing speeches, which
represents one of the marked peculiarities of the English race
(including their cousins in the United States), had seized on Mr.
Wyvil's constituents. There was to be a political meeting at the
market hall, in the neighboring town; and the member was expected
to make an oration, passing in review contemporary events at home
and abroad. "Pray don't think of accompanying me," the good man
said to his guests. "The hall is badly ventilated, and the
speeches, including my own, will not be worth hearing."
This humane warning was ungratefully disregarded. The gentlemen
were all interested in "the objects of the meeting"; and the
ladies were firm in the resolution not to be left at home by
themselves. They dressed with a view to the large assembly of
spectators before whom they were about to appear; and they
outtalked the men on political subjects, all the way to the town.
The most delightful of surprises was in store for them, when they
reached the market hall. Among the crowd of ordinary gentlemen,
waiting under the portico until the proceedings began, appeared
one person of distinction, whose title was "Reverend," and whose
name was Mirabel.
Francine was the first to discover him. She darted up the steps
and held out her hand.
"This _is_ a pleasure!" she cried. "Have you come here to see--"
she was about to say Me, but, observing the strangers round her,
altered the word to Us. "Please give me your arm," she whispered,
before her young friends had arrived within hearing. "I am so
frightened in a crowd!"
She held fast by Mirabel, and kept a jealous watch on him. Was it
only her fancy? or did she detect a new charm in his smile when
he spoke to Emily?
Before it was possible to decide, the time for the meeting had
arrived. Mr. Wyvil's friends were of course accommodated with
seats on the platform. Francine, still insisting on her claim to
Mirabel's arm, got a chair next to him. As she seated herself,
she left him free for a moment. In that moment, the infatuated
man took an empty chair on the other side of him, and placed it
for Emily. He communicated to that hated rival the information
which he ought to have reserved for Francine. "The committee
insist," he said, "on my proposing one of the Resolutions. I
promise not to bore you; mine shall be the shortest speech
delivered at the meeting."
The proceedings began.
Among the earlier speakers not one was inspired by a feeling of
mercy for the audience. The chairman reveled in words. The mover
and seconder of the first Resolution (not having so much as the
ghost of an idea to trouble either of them), poured out language
in flowing and overflowing streams, like water from a perpetual
spring. The heat exhaled by the crowded audience was already
becoming insufferable. Cries of "Sit down!" assailed the orator
of the moment. The chairman was obliged to interfere. A man at
the back of the hall roared out, "Ventilation!" and broke a
window with his stick. He was rewarded with three rounds of
cheers; and was ironically invited to mount the platform and take