Part 8 out of 12
"I imagine so; and I have seen nearly all childish diseases, except--
no, THAT is quite impossible!" added the mother, hastily. She cast
an anxious glance on her little ones; her hand slightly shook as she
poured out their cups of milk. "Do you think, John--it was hard to
do it when the child is so ill--I ought to have sent them away with
"Certainly not. If it were anything dangerous, of course Mary Baines
would have told us. What are the lad's symptoms?"
As Ursula informed him, I thought he looked more and more serious;
but he did not let her see.
"Make your mind easy, love; a word from Dr. Jessop will decide all.
I will fetch him after tea. Cheer up! Please God, no harm will come
to our little ones!"
The mother brightened again; with her all the rest; and the tea-table
clatter went on merry as ever. Then, it being a wet night, Mrs.
Halifax gathered her boys round her knee for an evening chat over the
kitchen-fire; while through the open door, out of the dim parlour
came "Muriel's voice," as we called the harpsichord. It seemed
sweeter than ever this night, like--as her father once said, but
checked himself, and never said it afterwards--like Muriel talking
He sat listening awhile, then, without any remark, put on his coat
and went out to fetch the good doctor. I followed him down to the
"Phineas," he said, "will you mind--don't notice it to the mother--
but mind and keep her and the children down-stairs till I come back?"
I promised. "Are you uneasy about Mary Baines's lad?"
"No; I have full trust in human means, and above all, in--what I need
not speak of. Still, precautions are wise. Do you remember that day
when, rather against Ursula's wish, I vaccinated the children?"
I remembered. Also that the virus had taken effect with all but
Muriel; and we had lately talked of repeating the much-blamed and
miraculous experiment upon her. I hinted this.
"Phineas, you mistake," he answered, rather sharply. "She is quite
safe--as safe as the others. I wrote to Dr. Jenner himself. But
don't mention that I spoke about this."
"Because to-day I heard that they have had the small-pox at
I felt a cold shudder. Though inoculation and vaccination had made
it less fatal among the upper classes, this frightful scourge still
decimated the poor, especially children. Great was the obstinacy in
refusing relief; and loud the outcry in Norton Bury, when Mr.
Halifax, who had met and known Dr. Jenner in London--finding no
practitioner that would do it, persisted in administering the vaccine
virus himself to his children. But still, with a natural fear, he
had kept them out of all risk of taking the small-pox until now.
"John, do you think--"
"No; I will not allow myself to think. Not a word of this at home,
He walked away, and I returned up the path heavily, as if a cloud of
terror and dole were visibly hanging over our happy Longfield.
The doctor appeared; he went up to the sick lad; then he and Mr.
Halifax were closeted together for a long time. After he was gone,
John came into the kitchen, where Ursula sat with Walter on her knee.
The child was in his little white night-gown, playing with his elder
brothers, and warming his rosy toes.
The mother had recovered herself entirely: was content and gay. I
saw John's glance at her, and then--and then I feared.
"What does the doctor say? The child will soon be well?"
"We must hope so."
"John, what do you mean? I thought the little fellow looked better
when I went up to see him last. And there--I hear the poor mother
"She may cry; she has need," said John, bitterly. "She knew it all
the while. She never thought of our children; but they are safe. Be
content, love--please God, they are quite safe. Very few take it
"It--do you mean the small-pox? Has the lad got small-pox? Oh, God
help us! My children--my children!"
She grew white as death; long shivers came over her from head to
foot. The little boys, frightened, crept up to her; she clasped them
all together in her arms, turning her head with a wild savage look,
as if some one were stealing behind to take them from her.
Muriel, perceiving the silence, felt her way across the room, and
touching her mother's face, said, anxiously, "Has anybody been
"No, my darling; no!"
"Then never mind. Father says, nothing will harm us, except being
naughty. Did you not, father?"
John snatched his little daughter up to his bosom, and called her for
the hundredth time the name my poor old father had named her--the
We all grew calmer; the mother wept a little, and it did her good:
we comforted the boys and Muriel, telling them that in truth nothing
was the matter, only we were afraid of their catching the little
lad's sickness, and they must not go near him.
"Yes; she shall quit the house this minute--this very minute," said
the mother, sternly, but with a sort of wildness too.
Her husband made no immediate answer; but as she rose to leave the
room, he detained her. "Ursula, do you know the child is all but
"Let him die! The wicked woman! She knew it, and she let me bring
him among my children--my own poor children!"
"I would she had never come. But what is done, is done. Love,
think--if YOU were turned out of doors this bleak, rainy night--with
a dying child."
"Hush! hush!"--She sank down with a sob.
"My darling!" whispered John, as he made her lean against him--her
support and comfort in all things: "do you think my heart is not
ready to break, like yours? But I trust in God. This trouble came
upon us while we were doing right; let us do right still, and we need
not fear. Humanly speaking, our children are safe; it is only our
own terror which exaggerates the danger. They may not take the
disease at all. Then, how could we answer it to our conscience if we
turned out this poor soul, and HER child died?"
"We will use all precautions. The boys shall be moved to the other
end of the house."
I proposed that they should occupy my room, as I had had smallpox,
and was safe.
"Thank you, Phineas; and even should they take it, Dr. Jenner has
assured me that in every case after vaccination it has been the very
slightest form of the complaint. Be patient, love; trust in God, and
have no fear."
Her husband's voice gradually calmed her. At last, she turned and
clung round his neck, silently and long. Then she rose up and went
about her usual duties, just as if this horrible dread were not upon
Mary Baines and her children stayed in the house. Next day, about
noon, the little lad died.
It was the first death that had ever happened under our roof. It
shocked us all very much, especially the children. We kept them far
away on the other side of the house--out of the house, when possible-
-but still they would be coming back and looking up at the window, at
which, as Muriel declared, the little sick boy "had turned into an
angel and flown away." The mother allowed the fancy to remain; she
thought it wrong and horrible that a child's first idea should be
"putting into the pit-hole." Truer and more beautiful was Muriel's
instinctive notion of "turning into an angel and flying away." So we
arranged that the poor little body should be coffined and removed
before the children rose next morning.
It was a very quiet tea-time. A sense of awe was upon the little
ones, they knew not why. Many questions they asked about poor Tommy
Baines, and where he had gone to, which the mother only answered
after the simple manner of Scripture--he "was not, for God took him."
But when they saw Mary Baines go crying down the field-path, Muriel
asked "why she cried? how could she cry, when it was God who had
taken little Tommy?"
Afterwards she tried to learn of me privately, what sort of place it
was he had gone to, and how he went; whether he had carried with him
all his clothes, and especially the great bunch of woodbine she sent
to him yesterday; and above all, whether he had gone by himself, or
if some of the "angels," which held so large a place in Muriel's
thoughts, and of which she was ever talking, had come to fetch him
and take care of him. She hoped--indeed, she felt sure--they had.
She wished she had met them, or heard them about in the house.
And seeing how the child's mind was running on the subject, I thought
it best to explain to her as simply as I could, the solemn putting
off of life and putting on of immortality. I wished that my darling,
who could never visibly behold death, should understand it as no
image of terror, but only as a calm sleep and a joyful waking in
another country, the glories of which eye had not seen nor ear heard.
"Eye has not seen!" repeated Muriel, thoughtfully; "can people SEE
there, Uncle Phineas?"
"Yes, my child. There is no darkness at all."
She paused a minute, and said earnestly, "I want to go--I very much
want to go. How long do you think it will be before the angels come
"Many, many years, my precious one," said I, shuddering; for truly
she looked so like them, that I began to fear they were close at
But a few minutes afterwards she was playing with her brothers and
talking to her pet doves, so sweet and humanlike, that the fear
We sent the children early to bed that night, and sat long by the
fire, consulting how best to remove infection, and almost satisfied
that in these two days it could not have taken any great hold on the
house. John was firm in his belief in Dr. Jenner and vaccination.
We went to bed greatly comforted, and the household sank into quiet
slumbers, even though under its roof slept, in deeper sleep, the
little dead child.
That small closet, which was next to the nursery I occupied, safely
shut out by it from the rest of the house, seemed very still now. I
went to sleep thinking of it, and dreamed of it afterwards.
In the middle of the night a slight noise woke me, and I almost
fancied I was dreaming still; for there I saw a little white figure
gliding past my bed's foot; so softly and soundlessly--it might have
been the ghost of a child--and it went into the dead child's room.
For a moment, that superstitious instinct which I believe we all
have, paralyzed me. Then I tried to listen. There was most
certainly a sound in the next room--a faint cry, quickly smothered--a
very human cry. All the stories I had ever heard of supposed death
and premature burial rushed horribly into my mind. Conquering alike
my superstitious dread or fear of entering the infected room, I
leaped out of bed, threw on some clothes, got a light, and went in.
There laid the little corpse, all safe and still--for ever. And like
its own spirit watching in the night at the head of the forsaken
clay, sat Muriel.
I snatched her up and ran with her out of the room, in an agony of
She hid her face on my shoulder, trembling, "I have not done wrong,
have I? I wanted to know what it was like--that which you said was
left of little Tommy. I touched it--it was so cold. Oh! Uncle
Phineas! THAT isn't poor little Tommy?"
"No, my blessed one--no, my dearest child! Don't think of it any
And, hardly knowing what was best to be done, I called John, and told
him where I had found his little daughter. He never spoke, but
snatched her out of my arms into his own, took her in his room, and
shut the door.
From that time our fears never slumbered. For one whole week we
waited, watching the children hour by hour, noting each change in
each little face; then Muriel sickened.
It was I who had to tell her father, when as he came home in the
evening I met him by the stream. It seemed to him almost like the
stroke of death.
"Oh, my God! not her! Any but her!" And by that I knew, what I had
long guessed, that she was the dearest of all his children.
Edwin and Walter took the disease likewise, though lightly. No one
was in absolute danger except Muriel. But for weeks we had what
people call "sickness in the house;" that terrible overhanging shadow
which mothers and fathers well know; under which one must live and
move, never resting night nor day. This mother and father bore their
portion, and bore it well. When she broke down, which was not often,
he sustained her. If I were to tell of all he did--how, after being
out all day, night after night he would sit up watching by and
nursing each little fretful sufferer, patient as a woman, and
pleasant as a child play-mate--perhaps those who talk loftily of "the
dignity of man" would smile. I pardon them.
The hardest minute of the twenty-four hours was, I think, that when,
coming home, he caught sight of me afar off waiting for him, as I
always did, at the white gate; and many a time, as we walked down to
the stream, I saw--what no one else saw but God. After such times I
used often to ponder over what great love His must be, who, as the
clearest revelation of it, and of its nature, calls Himself "the
And He brought us safe through our time of anguish: He left us every
one of our little ones.
One November Sunday, when all the fields were in a mist, and the rain
came pouring softly and incessantly upon the patient earth which had
been so torn and dried up by east winds, that she seemed glad enough
to put aside the mockery of sunshine and melt in quiet tears, we once
more gathered our flock together in thankfulness and joy.
Muriel came down-stairs triumphantly in her father's arms, and lay on
the sofa smiling; the firelight dancing on her small white face--
white and unscarred. The disease had been kind to the blind child;
she was, I think, more sweet-looking than ever. Older, perhaps; the
round prettiness of childhood gone--but her whole appearance wore
that inexpressible expression, in which, for want of a suitable word,
we all embody our vague notions of the unknown world, and call
"Does Muriel feel quite well--quite strong and well?" the father and
mother both kept saying every now and then, as they looked at her.
She always answered, "Quite well."
In the afternoon, when the boys were playing in the kitchen, and John
and I were standing at the open door, listening to the dropping of
the rain in the garden, we heard, after its long silence, Muriel's
"Father, listen!" whispered the mother, linking her arm through his
as he stood at the door. Soft and slow came the notes of the old
harpsichord--she was playing one of the abbey anthems. Then it
melted away into melodies we knew not--sweet and strange. Her
parents looked at one another--their hearts were full of thankfulness
"And Mary Baines's little lad is in the churchyard."
"What a comfort! the day-light is lengthening. I think this has been
the very dreariest winter I ever knew. Has it not, my little
daughter? Who brought her these violets?"
And John placed himself on a corner of my own particular armchair,
where, somehow or other, Muriel always lay curled up at tea-time now-
-(ay, and many hours in the day-time, though we hardly noticed it at
first). Taking between his hands the little face, which broke into
smiles at the merest touch of the father's fingers, be asked her
"when she intended to go a walk with him?"
"So we have said for a great many to-morrows, but it is always put
off. What do you think, mother--is the little maid strong enough?"
Mrs. Halifax hesitated; said something about "east winds."
"Yet I think it would do her good if she braved east winds, and
played out of doors as the boys do. Would you not like it, Muriel?"
The child shrank back with an involuntary "Oh, no."
"That is because she is a little girl, necessarily less strong than
the lads are. Is it not so, Uncle Phineas?" continued her father,
hastily, for I was watching them.
"Muriel will be quite strong when the warm weather comes. We have
had such a severe winter. Every one of the children has suffered,"
said the mother, in a cheerful tone, as she poured out a cup of cream
for her daughter, to whom was now given, by common consent, all the
richest and rarest of the house.
"I think every one has," said John, looking round on his
apple-cheeked boys; it must have been a sharp eye that detected any
decrease of health, or increase of suffering, there. "But my plan
will set all to rights. I spoke to Mrs. Tod yesterday. She will be
ready to take us all in. Boys, shall you like going to Enderley?
You shall go as soon as ever the larch-wood is green."
For, at Longfield, already we began to make a natural almanack and
chronological table. "When the may was out"--"When Guy found the
first robin's nest"--"When the field was all cowslips"--and so on.
"Is it absolutely necessary we should go?" said the mother, who had a
strong home-clinging, and already began to hold tiny Longfield as the
apple of her eye.
"I think so, unless you will consent to let me go alone to Enderley."
She shook her head.
"What, with those troubles at the mills? How can you speak so
"Not lightly, love--only cheerfully. The troubles must be borne; why
not bear them with as good heart as possible? They cannot last--let
Lord Luxmore do what he will. If, as I told you, we re-let Longfield
for this one summer to Sir Ralph, we shall save enough to put the
mill in thorough repair. If my landlord will not do it, I will; and
add a steam-engine, too."
Now the last was a daring scheme, discussed many a winter night by us
three in Longfield parlour. At first, Mrs. Halifax had looked grave-
-most women would, especially wives and mothers, in those days when
every innovation was regarded with horror, and improvement and ruin
were held synonymous. She might have thought so too, had she not
believed in her husband. But now, at mention of the steam-engine,
she looked up and smiled.
"Lady Oldtower asked me about it to-day. She said, 'she hoped you
would not ruin yourself, like Mr. Miller of Glasgow!' I said I was
Her husband returned a bright look. "It is easier to make the world
trust one, when one is trusted by one's own household."
"Ah! never fear; you will make your fortune yet, in spite of Lord
For, all winter, John had found out how many cares come with an
attained wish. Chiefly, because, as the earl had said, his lordship
possessed an "excellent memory." The Kingswell election had worked
its results in a hundred small ways, wherein the heavy hand of the
landlord could be laid upon the tenant. He bore up bravely against
it; but hard was the struggle between might and right, oppression and
staunch resistance. It would have gone harder, but for one whom John
now began to call his "friend;" at least, one who invariably called
Mr. Halifax so--our neighbour, Sir Ralph Oldtower.
"How often has Lady Oldtower been here, Ursula?"
"She called first, you remember, after our trouble with the children;
she has been twice since, I think. To-day she wanted me to bring
Muriel and take luncheon at the Manor House. I shall not go--I told
"But gently, I hope?--you are so very outspoken, love. You made her
clearly understand that it is not from incivility we decline her
invitations?--Well--never mind! Some day we will take our place, and
so shall our children, with any gentry in the land."
I think--though John rarely betrayed it--he had strongly this
presentiment of future power, which may often be noticed in men who
have carved out their own fortunes. They have in them the instinct
to rise; and as surely as water regains its own level, so do they,
from however low a source, ascend to theirs.
Not many weeks after, we removed in a body to Enderley. Though the
chief reason was, that John might be constantly on the spot,
superintending his mills, yet I fancied I could detect a secondary
reason, which he would not own even to himself; but which peered out
unconsciously in his anxious looks. I saw it when he tried to rouse
Muriel into energy, by telling her how much she would enjoy Enderley
Hill; how sweet the primroses grew in the beechwood, and how wild and
fresh the wind swept over the common, morning and night. His daily
longing seemed to be to make her love the world, and the things
therein. He used to turn away, almost in pain, from her smile, as
she would listen to all he said, then steal off to the harpsichord,
and begin that soft, dreamy music, which the children called "talking
We came to Enderley through the valley, where was John's cloth-mill.
Many a time in our walks he and I had passed it, and stopped to
listen to the drowsy fall of the miniature Niagara, or watch the
incessant turning--turning of the great water-wheel. Little we
thought he should ever own it, or that John would be pointing it out
to his own boys, lecturing them on "undershot," and "overshot," as he
used to lecture me.
It was sweet, though half-melancholy, to see Enderley again; to climb
the steep meadows and narrow mule-paths, up which he used to help me
so kindly. He could not now; he had his little daughter in his arms.
It had come, alas! to be a regular thing that Muriel should be
carried up every slight ascent, and along every hard road. We paused
half-way up on a low wall, where I had many a time rested, watching
the sunset over Nunneley Hill--watching for John to come home. Every
night--at least after Miss March went away--he usually found me
He turned to me and smiled. "Dost remember, lad?" at which
appellation Guy widely stared. But, for a minute, how strangely it
brought back old times, when there were neither wife nor children--
only he and I! This seat on the wall, with its small twilight
picture of the valley below the mill, and Nunneley heights, with that
sentinel row of sun-set trees--was all mine--mine solely--for
"Enderley is just the same, Phineas. Twelve years have made no
change--except in us." And he looked fondly at his wife, who stood a
little way off, holding firmly on the wall, in a hazardous group, her
three boys. "I think the chorus and comment on all life might be
included in two brief phrases given by our friend Shakspeare, one to
Hamlet, the other to Othello: ''Tis very strange,' and ''Tis better
as it is.'"
"Ay, ay," said I thoughtfully. Better as it was; better a thousand
I went to Mrs. Halifax, and helped her to describe the prospect to
the inquisitive boys; finally coaxing the refractory Guy up the
winding road, where, just as if it had been yesterday, stood my old
friends, my four Lombardy poplars, three together and one apart.
Mrs. Tod descried us afar off and was waiting at the gate; a little
stouter, a little rosier--that was all. In her delight, she so
absolutely forgot herself as to address the mother as Miss March; at
which long-unspoken name Ursula started, her colour went and came,
and her eyes turned restlessly towards the church hard by.
"It is all right--Miss--Ma'am, I mean. Tod bears in mind Mr.
Halifax's orders, and has planted lots o' flower-roots and
"Yes, I know."
And when she had put all her little ones to bed--we, wondering where
the mother was, went out towards the little churchyard, and found her
quietly sitting there.
We were very happy at Enderley. Muriel brightened up before she had
been there many days. She began to throw off her listlessness, and
go about with me everywhere. It was the season she enjoyed most--the
time of the singing of birds, and the springing of delicate-scented
flowers. I myself never loved the beech-wood better than did our
Muriel. She used continually to tell us this was the happiest spring
she had ever had in her life.
John was much occupied now. He left his Norton Bury business under
efficient care, and devoted himself almost wholly to the cloth-mill.
Early and late he was there. Very often Muriel and I followed him,
and spent whole mornings in the mill meadows. Through them the
stream on which the machinery depended was led by various
contrivances, checked or increased in its flow, making small ponds,
or locks, or waterfalls. We used to stay for hours listening to its
murmur, to the sharp, strange cry of the swans that were kept there,
and the twitter of the water-hen to her young among the reeds. Then
the father would come to us and remain a few minutes--fondling
Muriel, and telling me how things went on at the mill.
One morning, as we three sat there, on the brick-work of a little
bridge, underneath an elm tree, round the roots of which the water
made a pool so clear, that we could see a large pike lying like a
black shadow, half-way down; John suddenly said:
"What is the matter with the stream? Do you notice, Phineas?"
"I have seen it gradually lowering--these two hours. I thought you
were drawing off the water."
"Nothing of the kind--I must look after it. Good-bye, my little
daughter. Don't cling so fast; father will be back soon--and isn't
this a sweet sunny place for a little maid to be lazy in?"
His tone was gay, but he had an anxious look. He walked rapidly down
the meadows, and went into his mill. Then I saw him retracing his
steps, examining where the stream entered the bounds of his property.
Finally, he walked off towards the little town at the head of the
valley--beyond which, buried in woods, lay Luxmore Hall. It was two
hours more before we saw him again.
Then he came towards us, narrowly watching the stream. It had sunk
more and more--the muddy bottom was showing plainly.
"Yes--that's it--it can be nothing else! I did not think he would
have dared to do it."
"Do what, John? Who?"
"Lord Luxmore." He spoke in the smothered tones of violent passion.
"Lord Luxmore has turned out of its course the stream that works my
I tried to urge that such an act was improbable; in fact, against the
"Not against the law of the great against the little. Besides, he
gives a decent colouring--says he only wants the use of the stream
three days a week, to make fountains at Luxmore Hall. But I see what
it is--I have seen it coming a whole year. He is determined to ruin
John said this in much excitement. He hardly felt Muriel's tiny
"What does 'ruin' mean? Is anybody making father angry?"
"No, my sweet--not angry--only very, very miserable!"
He snatched her up, and buried his head in her soft, childish bosom.
She kissed him and patted his hair.
"Never mind, dear father. You say nothing signifies, if we are only
good. And father is always good."
"I wish I were."
He sat down with her on his knee; the murmur of the elm-leaves, and
the slow dropping of the stream, soothed him. By and by, his spirit
rose, as it always did, the heavier it was pressed down.
"No, Lord Luxmore shall not ruin me! I have thought of a scheme.
But first I must speak to my people--I shall have to shorten wages
for a time."
"To-night. If it must be done--better done at once, before winter
sets in. Poor fellows! it will go hard with them--they'll be hard
upon me. But it is only temporary; I must reason them into patience,
if I can;--God knows, it is not they alone who want it."
He almost ground his teeth as he saw the sun shining on the far white
wing of Luxmore Hall.
"Have you no way of righting yourself? If it is an unlawful act, why
not go to law?"
"Phineas, you forget my principle--only mine, however; I do not force
it upon any one else--my firm principle, that I will never go to law.
Never! I would not like to have it said, in contradistinction to the
old saying, 'See how these Christians FIGHT!'"
I urged no more; since, whether abstractedly the question be right or
wrong, there can be no doubt that what a man believes to be evil, to
him it is evil.
"Now, Uncle Phineas, go you home with Muriel. Tell my wife what has
occurred--say, I will come to tea as soon as I can. But I may have
some little trouble with my people here. She must not alarm
No, the mother never did. She wasted no time in puerile
apprehensions--it was not her nature; she had the rare feminine
virtue of never "fidgetting"--at least, externally. What was to be
borne--she bore: what was to be done--she did; but she rarely made
any "fuss" about either her doings or her sufferings.
To-night, she heard all my explanation; understood it, I think, more
clearly than I did--probably from being better acquainted with her
husband's plans and fears. She saw at once the position in which he
was placed; a grave one, to judge by her countenance.
"Then you think John is right?"
"Of course I do."
I had not meant it as a question, or even a doubt. But it was
pleasant to hear her thus answer. For, as I have said, Ursula was
not a woman to be led blindfold, even by her husband. Sometimes they
differed on minor points, and talked their differences lovingly out;
but on any great question she had always this safe trust in him--that
if one were right and the other wrong, the erring one was much more
likely to be herself than John.
She said no more; but put the children to bed; then came downstairs
with her bonnet on.
"Will you come with me, Phineas? Or are you too tired? I am going
down to the mill."
She started, walking quickly--yet not so quick but that on the slope
of the common she stooped to pick up a crying child, and send it home
to its mother in Enderley village.
It was almost dark, and we met no one else except a young man, whom I
had occasionally seen about of evenings. He was rather odd looking,
being invariably muffled up in a large cloak and a foreign sort of
"Who is that, watching our mills?" said Mrs. Halifax, hastily.
I told her all I had seen of the person.
"A Papist, most likely--I mean a Catholic." (John objected to the
opprobrious word "Papist.") "Mrs. Tod says there are a good many
hidden hereabouts. They used to find shelter at Luxmore."
And that name set both our thoughts anxiously wandering; so that not
until we reached the foot of the hill did I notice that the person
had followed us almost to the mill-gates.
In his empty mill, standing beside one of its silenced looms, we
found the master. He was very much dejected--Ursula touched his arm
before he even saw her.
"Well, love--you know what has happened?"
"Yes, John. But never mind."
"I would not--except for my poor people."
"What do you intend doing? That which you have wished to do all the
"Our wishes come as a cross to us sometimes," he said, rather
bitterly. "It is the only thing I can do. The water-power being so
greatly lessened, I must either stop the mills, or work them by
"Do that, then. Set up your steam-engine."
"And have all the country down upon me for destroying hand-labour?
Have a new set of Luddites coming to burn my mill, and break my
machinery? That is what Lord Luxmore wants. Did he not say he would
ruin me?--Worse than this--he is ruining my good name. If you had
heard those poor people whom I sent away tonight! What must they,
who will have short work these two months, and after that
machinery-work, which they fancy is taking the very bread out of
their mouths--what must they think of the master?"
He spoke--as we rarely heard John speak: as worldly cares and
worldly injustice cause even the best of men to speak sometimes.
"Poor people!" he added, "how can I blame them? I was actually dumb
before them to-night, when they said I must take the cost of what I
do--they must have bread for their children. But so must I for mine.
Lord Luxmore is the cause of all."
Here I heard--or fancied I heard--out of the black shadow behind the
loom, a heavy sigh. John and Ursula were too anxious to notice it.
"Could anything be done?" she asked. "Just to keep things going till
your steam-engine is ready? Will it cost much?"
"More than I like to think of. But it must be;--nothing venture--
nothing have. You and the children are secure anyhow, that's one
comfort. But oh, my poor people at Enderley!"
Again Ursula asked if nothing could be done.
"Yes--I did think of one plan--but--"
"John, I know what you thought of."
She laid her hand on his arm, and looked straight up at him--eye to
eye. Often, it seemed that from long habit they could read one
another's minds in this way, clearly as a book. At last John said:
"Would it be too hard a sacrifice, love?"
"How can you talk so! We could do it easily, by living in a plainer
way; by giving up one or two trifles. Only outside things, you know.
Why need we care for outside things?"
"Why, indeed?" he said, in a low, fond tone.
So I easily found out how they meant to settle the difficulty;
namely, by setting aside a portion of the annual income which John,
in his almost morbid anxiety lest his family should take harm by any
possible non-success in his business, had settled upon his wife.
Three months of little renunciations--three months of the old narrow
way of living, as at Norton Bury--and the poor people at Enderley
might have full wages, whether or no there was full work. Then in
our quiet valley there would be no want, no murmurings, and, above
all, no blaming of the master.
They decided it all--in fewer words than I have taken to write it--it
was so easy to decide when both were of one mind.
"Now," said John, rising, as if a load were taken off his breast--
"now, do what he will Lord Luxmore cannot do me any harm."
"Husband, don't let us speak of Lord Luxmore."
Again that sigh--quite ghostly in the darkness. They heard it
likewise this time.
"Only I. Mr. Halifax---don't be angry with me."
It was the softest, mildest voice--the voice of one long used to
oppression; and the young man whom Ursula had supposed to be a
Catholic appeared from behind the loom.
"I do not know you, sir. How came you to enter my mill?"
"I followed Mrs. Halifax. I have often watched her and your
children. But you don't remember me."
Yes; when he came underneath the light of the one tallow candle, we
all recognized the face--more wan than ever--with a sadder and more
hopeless look in the large grey eyes.
"I am surprised to see you here, Lord Ravenel."
"Hush! I hate the very sound of the name. I would have renounced it
long ago. I would have hid myself away from him and from the world,
if he would have let me."
"He--do you mean your father?"
The boy--no, he was a young man now, but scarcely looked more than a
boy--assented silently, as if afraid to utter the name.
"Would not your coming here displease him?" said John, always
tenacious of trenching a hair's breadth upon any lawful authority.
"It matters not--he is away. He has left me these six months alone
"Have you offended him?" asked Ursula, who had cast kindly looks on
the thin face, which perhaps reminded her of another--now for ever
banished from our sight, and his also.
"He hates me because I am a Catholic, and wish to become a monk."
The youth crossed himself, then started and looked round, in terror
of observers. "You will not betray me? You are a good man, Mr.
Halifax, and you spoke warmly for us. Tell me--I will keep your
secret--are you a Catholic too?"
"Ah! I hoped you were. But you are sure you will not betray me?"
Mr. Halifax smiled at such a possibility. Yet, in truth, there was
some reason for the young man's fears; since, even in those days,
Catholics were hunted down both by law and by public opinion, as
virulently as Protestant nonconformists. All who kept out of the
pale of the national church were denounced as schismatics, deists,
atheists--it was all one.
"But why do you wish to leave the world?"
"I am sick of it. There never was but one in it I cared for, or who
cared for me--and now--Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis."
His lips moved in a paroxysm of prayer--helpless, parrot-learnt,
Latin prayer; yet, being in earnest, it seemed to do him good. The
mother, as if she heard in fancy that pitiful cry, which rose to my
memory too--"Poor William!--don't tell William!"--turned and spoke to
him kindly, asking him if he would go home with us.
He looked exceedingly surprised. "I--you cannot mean it? After Lord
Luxmore has done you all this evil?"
"Is that any reason why I should not do good to his son--that is, if
I could? Can I?"
The lad lifted up those soft grey eyes, and then I remembered what
his sister had said of Lord Ravenel's enthusiastic admiration of Mr.
Halifax. "Oh, you could--you could."
"But I and mine are heretics, you know!"
"I will pray for you. Only let me come and see you--you and your
"Come, and welcome."
"Heartily welcome, Lord--"
"No--not that name, Mrs. Halifax. Call me as they used to call me at
St. Omer--Brother Anselmo."
The mother was half inclined to smile; but John never smiled at any
one's religious beliefs, howsoever foolish. He held in universal
sacredness that one rare thing--sincerity,
So henceforward "Brother Anselmo" was almost domesticated at Rose
Cottage. What would the earl have said, had a little bird flown over
to London and told him that his only son, the heir-apparent to his
title and political opinions, was in constant and open association--
for clandestine acquaintance was against all our laws and rules--with
John Halifax the mill-owner, John Halifax the radical, as he was
still called sometimes; imbibing principles, modes of life and of
thought, which, to say the least, were decidedly different from those
of the house of Luxmore!
Above all, what would that noble parent have said, had he been aware
that this, his only son, for whom, report whispered, he was already
planning a splendid marriage--as grand in a financial point of view
as that he planned for his only daughter--that Lord Ravenel was
spending all the love of his loving nature in the half paternal, half
lover-like sentiment which a young man will sometimes lavish on a
mere child--upon John Halifax's little blind daughter, Muriel!
He said, "She made him good"--our child of peace. He would sit,
gazing on her almost as if she were his guardian angel--his patron
saint. And the little maid in her quiet way was very fond of him;
delighting in his company when her father was not by. But no one
ever was to her like her father.
The chief bond between her and Lord Ravenel--or "Anselmo," as he
would have us call him--was music. He taught her to play on the
organ, in the empty church close by. There during the long midsummer
evenings, they two would sit for hours in the organ-gallery, while I
listened down below; hardly believing that such heavenly sounds could
come from those small child-fingers; almost ready to fancy she had
called down some celestial harmonist to aid her in playing. Since,
as we used to say--but by some instinct never said now--Muriel was so
fond of "talking with the angels."
Just at this time, her father saw somewhat less of her than usual.
He was oppressed with business cares; daily, hourly vexations. Only
twice a week the great water-wheel, the delight of our little Edwin
as it had once been of his father, might be seen slowly turning; and
the water-courses along the meadows, with their mechanically-forced
channels, and their pretty sham cataracts, were almost always low or
dry. It ceased to be a pleasure to walk in the green hollow, between
the two grassy hills, which heretofore Muriel and I had liked even
better than the Flat. Now she missed the noise of the water--the cry
of the water-hens--the stirring of the reeds. Above all, she missed
her father, who was too busy to come out of his mill to us, and
hardly ever had a spare minute, even for his little daughter.
He was setting up that wonderful novelty--a steam-engine. He had
already been to Manchester and elsewhere, and seen how the new power
was applied by Arkwright, Hargreaves, and others; his own ingenuity
and mechanical knowledge furnished the rest. He worked early and
late--often with his own hands--aided by the men he brought with him
from Manchester. For it was necessary to keep the secret--especially
in our primitive valley--until the thing was complete. So the
ignorant, simple mill people, when they came for their easy
Saturday's wages, only stood and gaped at the mass of iron, and the
curiously-shaped brickwork, and wondered what on earth "the master"
was about? But he was so thoroughly "the master," with all his
kindness, that no one ventured either to question or interfere.
Summer waned. Already the beech-wood began to turn red, and the
little yellow autumn flowers to show themselves all over the common,
while in the midst of them looked up the large purple eye of the
ground-thistle. The mornings grew hazy and dewy. We ceased to take
Muriel out with us in our slow walk along John's favourite "terrace"
before any one else was stirring. Her father at first missed her
sorely, but always kept repeating that "early walks were not good for
children." At last he gave up the walk altogether, and used to sit
with her on his knee in front of the cottage till breakfast-time.
After that, saying with a kind of jealousy "that every one of us had
more of his little daughter than he," he got into a habit of fetching
her down to the mill every day at noon, and carrying her about in his
arms, wherever he went, during the rest of his work.
Many a time I have seen the rough, coarse, blue-handed,
blue-pinafored women of the mill stop and look wistfully after
"master and little blind miss." I often think that the quiet way in
which the Enderley mill people took the introduction of machinery,
and the peaceableness with which they watched for weeks the setting
up of the steam-engine, was partly owing to their strong impression
of Mr. Halifax's goodness as a father, and the vague, almost
superstitious interest which attached to the pale, sweet face of
Enderley was growing dreary, and we began to anticipate the cosy
fireside of Longfield.
"The children will all go home looking better than they came; do you
not think so, Uncle Phineas?--especially Muriel?"
To that sentence I had to answer with a vague assent; after which I
was fain to rise and walk away, thinking how blind love was--all love
save mine, which had a gift for seeing the saddest side of things.
When I came back, I found the mother and daughter talking
mysteriously apart. I guessed what it was about, for I had overheard
Ursula saying they had better tell the child--it would be "something
for her to look forward to--something to amuse her next winter."
"It is a great secret, mind," the mother whispered, after its
"Oh, yes!" The tiny face, smaller than ever, I thought, flushed
brightly. "But I would much rather have a little sister, if you
please. Only"--and the child suddenly grew earnest--"will she be
"Possibly; sisters often are alike."
"No, I don't mean that; but--you know?" And Muriel touched her own
"I cannot tell, my daughter. In all things else, pray God she may be
like you, Muriel, my darling--my child of peace!" said Ursula,
embracing her with tears.
After this confidence, of which Muriel was very proud, and only
condescended, upon gaining express permission, to re-confide it to
me, she talked incessantly of the sister that was coming, until
"little Maud"--the name she chose for her--became an absolute entity
in the household.
The dignity and glory of being sole depositary of this momentous
fact, seemed for a time to put new life--bright human life--into this
little maid of eleven years old. She grew quite womanly, as it were;
tried to help her mother in a thousand little ways, and especially by
her own solitary branch of feminine industry--poor darling! She set
on a pair of the daintiest elfin socks that ever were knitted. I
found them, years after--one finished, one with the needles (all
rusty) stuck through the fine worsted ball, just as the child had
laid it out of her hand. Ah, Muriel, Muriel!
The father took great delight in this change, in her resuming her
simple work, and going about constantly with her mother.
"What a comfort she will be to Ursula one day--an eldest daughter
always is. So will she: will she not, Uncle Phineas?"
I smiled assentingly. Alas! his burthens were heavy enough! I think
I did right to smile.
"We must take her down with us to see the steam-engine first worked.
I wish Ursula would have gone home without waiting for to-morrow.
But there is no fear--my men are so quiet and good-humoured. What in
most mills has been a day of outrage and dread, is with us quite a
festival. Boys, shall you like to come? Edwin, my practical lad, my
lad that is to carry on the mills--will you promise to hold fast by
Uncle Phineas, if I let you see the steam-engine work?"
Edwin lifted up from his slate bright, penetrating eyes. He was
quite an old man in his ways--wise even from his babyhood, and quiet
even when Guy snubbed him; but, I noticed, he did not come to "kiss
and make friends" so soon as Guy. And though Guy was much the
naughtiest, we all loved him best. Poor Guy! he had the frankest,
warmest, tenderest boy-heart, always struggling to be good, and never
able to accomplish it.
"Father," cried Guy, "I want to see the steam-engine move, but I'll
not be a baby like Edwin; I'll not hold Uncle Phineas' hand."
Hereupon ensued one of those summer storms which sometimes swept
across the family horizon, in the midst of which Muriel and I stole
out into the empty church, where, almost in the dark--which was no
dark to her--for a long hour she sat and played. By and by the moon
looked in, showing the great gilt pipes of the organ, and the little
fairy figure sitting below.
Once or twice she stooped from the organ-loft to ask me where was
Brother Anselmo, who usually met us in the church of evenings, and
whom to-night--this last night before the general household moved
back to Longfield--we had fully expected.
At last he came, sat down by me, and listened. She was playing a
fragment of one of his Catholic masses. When it ended, he called
Her soft, glad answer came down from the gallery.
"Child, play the 'Miserere' I taught you."
She obeyed, making the organ wail like a tormented soul. Truly, no
tales I ever heard of young Wesley and the infant Mozart ever
surpassed the wonderful playing of our blind child.
"Now, the 'Dies Irae.'--It will come," he muttered, "to us all."
The child struck a few notes, heavy and dolorous, filling the church
like a thunder-cloud, then suddenly left off, and opening the
flute-stop, burst into altogether different music.
"That is Handel--'I know that my Redeemer liveth.'"
Exquisitely she played it, the clear treble notes seemed to utter
like a human voice the very words:
"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and He shall stand
at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh
shall I see God."
With that she ceased.
"More, more!" we both cried.
"Not now--no more now."
And we heard her shutting up the stops and closing the organ lid.
"But my little Muriel has not finished her tune?"
"She will, some day," said the child.
So she came down from the organ-loft, feeling her way along the
aisles; and we all went out together, locking the church-door.
Lord Ravenel was rather sad that night; he was going away from
Luxmore for some time. We guessed why--because the earl was coming.
Bidding us good-bye, he said, mournfully, to his little pet, "I wish
I were not leaving you. Will you remember me, Muriel?"
"Stoop down; I want to see you."
This was her phrase for a way she had of passing her extremely
sensitive fingers over the faces of those she liked. After which she
always said she "saw" them.
"Yes; I shall remember you."
"And love me?"
"And love you, Brother Anselmo."
He kissed, not her cheek or mouth, but her little child-hands,
reverently, as if she had been the saint he worshipped, or, perhaps,
the woman whom afterwards he would learn to adore. Then he went
"Truly," said the mother, in an amused aside to me, as with a kind of
motherly pride she watched him walk hastily down between those
chestnut-trees, known of old--"truly, time flies fast. Things begin
to look serious--eh, father? Five years hence we shall have that
young man falling in love with Muriel."
But John and I looked at the still, soft face, half a child's and
half an angel's.
"Hush!" he said, as if Ursula's fancy were profanity; then eagerly
snatched it up and laughed, confessing how angry he should be if
anybody dared to "fall in love" with Muriel.
Next day was the one fixed for the trial of the new steam-engine;
which trial being successful, we were to start at once in a
post-chaise for Longfield; for the mother longed to be at home, and
so did we all.
There was rather a dolorous good-bye, and much lamenting from good
Mrs. Tod, who, her own bairns grown up, thought there were no
children worthy to compare with our children. And truly, as the
three boys scampered down the road--their few regrets soon over,
eager for anything new--three finer lads could not be seen in the
Mrs. Halifax looked after them proudly--mother-like, she gloried in
her sons; while John, walking slowly, and assuring Mrs. Tod over and
over again that we should all come back next summer, went down the
steep hill, carrying, hidden under many wraps and nestled close to
his warm shoulder, his little frail winter-rose--his only daughter.
In front of the mill we found a considerable crowd; for the time
being ripe, Mr. Halifax had made public the fact that he meant to
work his looms by steam, the only way in which he could carry on the
mill at all. The announcement had been received with great surprise
and remarkable quietness, both by his own work-people and all along
Enderley valley. Still there was the usual amount of contemptuous
scepticism, incident on any new experiment. Men were peering about
the locked door of the engine-room with a surly curiosity; and one
village oracle, to prove how impossible it was that such a thing as
steam could work anything, had taken the trouble to light a fire in
the yard and set thereon his wife's best tea-kettle, which, as she
snatched angrily away, scalded him slightly, and caused him to limp
away swearing, a painful illustration of the adage, that "a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing."
"Make way, my good people," said Mr. Halifax; and he crossed the
mill-yard, his wife on his arm, followed by an involuntary murmur of
"He be a fine fellow, the master; he sticks at nothing," was the
comment heard made upon him by one of his people, and probably it
expressed the feeling of the rest. There are few things which give a
man more power over his fellows than the thoroughly English quality
Perhaps this was the secret why John had as yet passed safely through
the crisis which had been the destruction of so many mill-owners,
namely, the introduction of a power which the mill-people were
convinced would ruin hand-labour. Or else the folk in our valley,
out of their very primitiveness, had more faith in the master; for
certainly, as John passed through the small crowd, there was only one
present who raised the old fatal cry of "Down with machinery!"
"Who said that?"
At the master's voice--at the flash of the master's eye--the little
knot of work-people drew back, and the malcontent, whoever he was,
shrunk into silence.
Mr. Halifax walked past them, entered his mill, and unlocked the door
of the room which he had turned into an engine-room, and where, along
with the two men he had brought from Manchester, he had been busy
almost night and day for this week past in setting up his machinery.
They worked--as the Manchester fellows said they had often been
obliged to work--under lock and key.
"Your folk be queer 'uns, Mr. Halifax. They say there's six devils
inside on her, theer."
And the man pointed to the great boiler which had been built up in an
"Six devils, say they?--Well, I'll be Maister Michael Scot--eh,
Phineas?--and make my devils work hard."
He laughed, but he was much excited. He went over, piece by piece,
the complicated but delicate machinery; rubbed here and there at the
brass-work, which shone as bright as a mirror; then stepped back, and
eyed it with pride, almost with affection.
"Isn't it a pretty thing?--If only I have set it up right--if it will
His hands shook--his cheeks were burning--little Edwin came peering
about at his knee; but he pushed the child hastily away; then he
found some slight fault with the machinery, and while the workmen
rectified it stood watching them, breathless with anxiety. His wife
came to his side.
"Don't speak to me,--don't, Ursula. If it fails I am ruined."
"John!"--she just whispered his name, and the soft, firm fold of her
fingers closed round his, strengthening, cheering. Her husband
"Here!"--He unlocked the door, and called to the people outside.
"Come in, two of you fellows, and see how my devils work. Now then!
Boys, keep out of the way; my little girl"--his voice softened--"my
pet will not be frightened? Now, my men--ready?"
He opened the valve.
With a strange noise, that made the two Enderley men spring back as
if the six devils were really let loose upon them, the steam came
rushing into the cylinder. There was a slight motion of the
"All's right! it will work?"
No, it stopped.
John drew a deep breath.
It went on again, beginning to move slowly up and down, like the
strong right arm of some automaton giant. Greater and lesser cog-
wheels caught up the motive power, revolving slowly and majestically,
and with steady, regular rotation, or whirling round so fast you
could hardly see that they stirred at all. Of a sudden a soul had
been put into that wonderful creature of man's making, that inert
mass of wood and metal, mysteriously combined. The monster was
Speechless, John stood watching it. Their trial over, his energies
collapsed; he sat down by his wife's side, and taking Muriel on his
knee, bent his head over hers.
"Is all right, father?" the child whispered.
"All quite right, my own."
"You said you could do it, and you have done it," cried his wife, her
eyes glowing with triumph, her head erect and proud.
John dropped his lower, lower still. "Yes," he murmured; "yes, thank
Then he opened the door, and let all the people in to see the
They crowded in by dozens, staring about in blank wonder, gaping
curiosity, ill-disguised alarm. John took pains to explain the
machinery, stage by stage, till some of the more intelligent caught
up the principle, and made merry at the notion of "devils." But they
all looked with great awe at the master, as if he were something more
than man. They listened open-mouthed to every word he uttered,
cramming the small engine-room till it was scarcely possible to
breathe, but keeping at a respectful distance from the iron-armed
monster, that went working, working on, as if ready and able to work
on to everlasting.
John took his wife and children out into the open air. Muriel, who
had stood for the last few minutes by her father's side, listening
with a pleasing look to the monotonous regular sound, like the
breathing of the demon, was unwilling to go.
"I am very glad I was with you to-day,--very glad, father," she kept
He said, as often--twice as often--that next summer, when he came
back to Enderley, she should be with him at the mills every day, and
all day over, if she liked.
There was now nothing to be done but to hasten as quickly and as
merrily as possible to our well-beloved Longfield.
Waiting for the post-chaise, Mrs. Halifax and the boys sat down on
the bridge over the defunct and silenced water-fall, on the muddy
steps of which, where the stream used to dash musically over, weeds
and long grasses, mingled with the drooping water-fern, were already
beginning to grow.
"It looks desolate, but we need not mind that now," said Mrs.
"No," her husband answered. "Steam power once obtained, I can apply
it in any way I choose. My people will not hinder; they trust me,
they like me."
"And, perhaps, are just a little afraid of you. No matter, it is
wholesome fear. I should not like to have married a man whom nobody
was afraid of."
John smiled; he was looking at the horseman riding towards us along
the high road. "I do believe that is Lord Luxmore. I wonder whether
he has heard of my steam-engine. Love, will you go back into the
mill or not?"
"Certainly not." The mother seated herself on the bridge, her boys
around her; John avouched, with an air like the mother of the
Gracchi, or like the Highland woman who trained one son after another
to fight and slay their enemy--their father's murderer.
"Don't jest," said Ursula. She was much more excited than her
husband. Two angry spots burnt on her cheeks when Lord Luxmore came
up, and, in passing, bowed.
Mrs. Halifax returned it, haughtily enough. But at the moment a loud
cheer broke out from the mill hard by, and "Hurrah for the master!"
"Hurrah for Mr. Halifax!" was distinctly heard. The mother smiled,
Lord Luxmore turned to his tenant--they might have been on the best
terms imaginable from his bland air.
"What is that rather harsh noise I hear, Mr. Halifax?"
"It is my men cheering me."
"Oh, how charming! so grateful to the feelings. And WHY do they
cheer you, may I ask?"
John briefly told him, speaking with perfect courtesy as he was
"And this steam-engine--I have heard of it before--will greatly
advantage your mills?"
"It will, my lord. It renders me quite independent of your stream,
of which the fountains at Luxmore can now have the full monopoly."
It would not have been human nature if a spice of harmless malice--
even triumph--had not sparkled in John's eye, as he said this. He
was walking by the horse's side, as Lord Luxmore had politely
They went a little way up the hill together, out of sight of Mrs.
Halifax, who was busy putting the two younger boys into the chaise.
"I did not quite understand. Would you do me the favour to repeat
"Merely, my lord, that your cutting off of the water-course has been
to me one of the greatest advantages I ever had in my life; for
which, whether meant or not, allow me to thank you."
The earl looked full in John's face, without answering; then spurred
his horse violently. The animal started off, full speed.
"The children. Good God--the children!"
Guy was in the ditch-bank, gathering flowers--but Muriel--For the
first time in our lives, we had forgotten Muriel.
She stood in the horse's path--the helpless, blind child. The next
instant she was knocked down.
I never heard a curse on John Halifax's lips but once--that once.
Lord Luxmore heard it too. The image of the frantic father,
snatching up his darling from under the horse's heels, must have
haunted the earl's good memory for many a day.
He dismounted, saying, anxiously, "I hope the little girl is not
injured? It was accident--you see--pure accident."
But John did not hear; he would scarcely have heard heaven's thunder.
He knelt with the child in his arms by a little runnel in the
ditch-bank. When the water touched her she opened her eyes with that
wide, momentary stare so painful to behold.
"My little darling!"
Muriel smiled, and nestled to him. "Indeed, I am not hurt, dear
Lord Luxmore, standing by, seemed much relieved, and again pressed
"Go away," sobbed out Guy, shaking both his fists in the nobleman's
face. "Go away--or I'll kill you--wicked man! I would have done it
if you had killed my sister."
Lord Luxmore laughed at the boy's fury--threw him a guinea, which Guy
threw back at him with all his might, and rode placidly away.
"Guy--Guy--" called the faint, soft voice which had more power over
him than any other, except his mother's. "Guy must not be angry.
Father, don't let him be angry."
But the father was wholly occupied in Muriel--looking in her face,
and feeling all her little fragile limbs, to make sure that in no way
she was injured.
It appeared not; though the escape seemed almost miraculous. John
recurred, with a kind of trembling tenacity, to the old saying in our
house, that "nothing ever harmed Muriel."
"Since it is safe over, and she can walk--you are sure you can, my
pet?--I think we will not say anything about this to the mother; at
least not till we reach Longfield."
But it was too late. There was no deceiving the mother. Every
change in every face struck her instantaneously. The minute we
rejoined her she said:
"John, something has happened to Muriel."
Then he told her, making as light of the accident as he could; as,
indeed, for the first ten minutes we all believed, until alarmed by
the extreme pallor and silence of the child.
Mrs. Halifax sat down by the roadside, bathed Muriel's forehead and
smoothed her hair; but still the little curls lay motionless against
the mother's breast,--and still to every question she only answered
"that she was not hurt."
All this while the post-chaise was waiting.
"What must be done?" I inquired of Ursula; for it was no use asking
"We must go back again to Enderley," she said decidedly.
So, giving Muriel into her father's arms, she led the way, and, a
melancholy procession, we again ascended the hill to Rose Cottage
Without any discussion, our plans were tacitly changed--no more was
said about going home to dear Longfield. Every one felt, though no
one trusted it to words, that the journey was impossible. For Muriel
lay, day after day, on her little bed in an upper chamber, or was
carried softly down in the middle of the day by her father, never
complaining, but never attempting to move or talk. When we asked her
if she felt ill, she always answered, "Oh, no! only so very tired."
"She is dull, for want of the others to play with her. The boys
should not run out and leave their sister alone," said John, almost
sharply, when one bright morning the lads' merry voices came down
from the Flat, while he and I were sitting by Muriel's sofa in the
"Father, let the boys play without me, please. Indeed, I do not
mind. I had rather lie quiet here."
"But it is not good for my little girl always to be quiet, and it
"Does it?" She roused herself, sat upright, and began to move her
limbs, but wearily.
"That is right, my darling. Now let me see how well you can walk."
Muriel slipped to her feet and tried to cross the room, catching at
table and chairs--now, alas! not only for guidance but actual
support. At last she began to stagger, and said, half crying:
"I can't walk, I am so tired. Oh, do take me in your arms, dear
Her father took her, looked long in her sightless face, then buried
his against her shoulder, saying nothing. But I think in that moment
he too saw, glittering and bare, the long-veiled Hand which, for this
year past, _I_ had seen stretched out of the immutable heavens,
claiming that which was its own. Ever after there was discernible in
John's countenance a something which all the cares of his anxious yet
happy life had never written there--an ineffaceable record, burnt in
He held her in his arms all day. He invented all sorts of tales and
little amusements for her; and when she was tired of these he let her
lie in his bosom and sleep. After her bed-time he asked me to go out
with him on the Flat.
It was a misty night. The very cows and asses stood up large and
spectral as shadows. There was not a single star to be seen.
We took our walk along the terrace and came back again, without
exchanging a single word. Then John said hastily:
"I am glad her mother was so busy to-day--too busy to notice."
"Yes," I answered; unconnected as his words were.
"Do you understand me, Phineas? Her mother must not on any account
be led to imagine, or to fear--anything. You must not look as you
looked this morning. You must not, Phineas."
He spoke almost angrily. I answered in a few quieting words. We
were silent, until over the common we caught sight of the light in
Muriel's window. Then I felt rather than heard the father's groan.
"Oh, God! my only daughter--my dearest child!"
Yes, she was the dearest. I knew it. Strange mystery, that He
should so often take, by death or otherwise, the DEAREST--always the
dearest. Strange that He should hear us cry--us writhing in the
dust, "O Father, anything, anything but this!" But our Father
answers not; and meanwhile the desire of our eyes--be it a life, a
love, or a blessing--slowly, slowly goes--is gone. And yet we have
to believe in our Father. Perhaps of all trials to human faith this
is the sorest. Thanks be to God if He puts into our hearts such love
towards Him that even while He slays us we can trust Him still.
This father--this broken-hearted earthly father--could.
When we sat at the supper-table--Ursula, John, and I, the children
being all in bed--no one could have told that there was any shadow
over us, more than the sadly-familiar pain of the darling of the
house being "not so strong as she used to be."
"But I think she will be, John. We shall have her quite about again,
The mother stopped, slightly smiling. It was, indeed, an especial
mercy of heaven which put that unaccountable blindness before her
eyes, and gave her other duties and other cares to intercept the
thought of Muriel. While, from morning till night, it was the
incessant secret care of her husband, myself, and good Mrs. Tod, to
keep her out of her little daughter's sight, and prevent her mind
from catching the danger of one single fear.
Thus, within a week or two, the mother lay down cheerfully upon her
couch of pain, and gave another child to the household--a little
sister to Muriel.
Muriel was the first to whom the news was told. Her father told it.
His natural joy and thankfulness seemed for the moment to efface
every other thought.
"She is come, darling! little Maud is come. I am very rich--for I
have two daughters now."
"Muriel is glad, father." But she showed her gladness in a strangely
quiet, meditative way, unlike a child--unlike even her old self.
"What are you thinking of, my pet?"
"That--though father has another daughter, I hope he will remember
the first one sometimes."
"She is jealous!" cried John, in the curious delight with which he
always detected in her any weakness, any fault, which brought her
down to the safe level of humanity. "See, Uncle Phineas, our Muriel
is actually jealous."
But Muriel only smiled.
That smile--so serene--so apart from every feeling or passion
appertaining to us who are "of the earth, earthy," smote the father
to the heart's core.
He sat down by her, and she crept up into his arms.
"What day is it, father?"
"The first of December."
"I am glad. Little Maud's birthday will be in the same month as
"But you came in the snow, Muriel, and now it is warm and mild."
"There will be snow on my birthday, though. There always is. The
snow is fond of me, father. It would like me to lie down and be all
covered over, so that you could not find me anywhere."
I heard John try to echo her weak, soft laugh.
"This month it will be eleven years since I was born, will it not,
"Yes, my darling."
"What a long time! Then, when my little sister is as old as I am, I
shall be--that is, I should have been--a woman grown. Fancy me
twenty years old, as tall as mother, wearing a gown like her, talking
and ordering, and busy about the house. How funny!" and she laughed
again. "Oh! no, father, I couldn't do it. I had better remain
always your little Muriel, weak and small, who liked to creep close
to you, and go to sleep in this way."
She ceased talking--very soon she was sound asleep. But--the father!
Muriel faded, though slowly. Sometimes she was so well for an hour
or two that the Hand seemed drawn back into the clouds, till of a
sudden again we discerned it there.
One Sunday--it was ten days or so after Maud's birth, and the weather
had been so bitterly cold that the mother had herself forbidden our
bringing Muriel to the other side of the house where she and the baby
lay--Mrs. Tod was laying the dinner, and John stood at the window
playing with his three boys.
He turned abruptly, and saw all the chairs placed round the table--
all save one.
"Where is Muriel's chair, Mrs. Tod?"
"Sir, she says she feels so tired like, she'd rather not come down
to-day," answered Mrs. Tod, hesitatingly.
"Not come down?"
"Maybe better not, Mr. Halifax. Look out at the snow. It'll be
warmer for the dear child to-morrow."
"You are right. Yes, I had forgotten the snow. She shall come down
I caught Mrs. Tod's eyes; they were running over. She was too wise
to speak of it--but she knew the truth as well as we.
This Sunday--I remember it well--was the first day we sat down to
dinner with the one place vacant.
For a few days longer, her father, every evening when he came in from
the mills, persisted in carrying her down, as he had said, holding
her on his knee during tea, then amusing her and letting the boys
amuse her for half-an-hour or so before bed-time. But at the week's
end even this ceased.
When Mrs. Halifax, quite convalescent, was brought triumphantly to
her old place at our happy Sunday dinner-table, and all the boys came
pressing about her, vying which should get most kisses from little
sister Maud--she looked round, surprised amidst her smiling, and
"Where is Muriel?"
"She seems to feel this bitter weather a good deal," John said; "and
I thought it better she should not come down to dinner."
"No," added Guy, wondering and dolefully, "sister has not been down
to dinner with us for a great many days."
The mother started; looked first at her husband, and then at me.
"Why did nobody tell me this?"
"Love--there was nothing new to be told."
"Has the child had any illness that I do not know of?"
"Has Dr. Jessop seen her?"
"Mother," said Guy, eager to comfort--for naughty as he was
sometimes, he was the most tender-hearted of all the boys, especially
to Muriel and to his mother,--"sister isn't ill a bit, I know. She
was laughing and talking with me just now--saying she knows she could
carry baby a great deal better than I could. She is as merry as ever
she can be."
The mother kissed him in her quick, eager way--the sole indication of
that maternal love which was in her almost a passion. She looked
Nevertheless, when Mrs. Tod came into the parlour, she rose and put
little Maud into her arms.
"Take baby, please, while I go up to see Muriel."
"Don't--now don't, please, Mrs. Halifax," cried earnestly the good
Ursula turned very pale. "They ought to have told me," she muttered;
"John, YOU MUST let me go and see my child."
"Presently--presently--Guy, run up and play with Muriel. Phineas,
take the others with you. You shall go up-stairs in one minute, my
He turned us all out of the room, and shut the door. How he told her
that which was necessary she should know--that which Dr. Jessop
himself had told us this very morning--how the father and mother had
borne this first open revelation of their unutterable grief--for ever
I was sitting by Muriel's bed, when they came up-stairs. The darling
laid listening to her brother, who was squatted on her pillow, making
all sorts of funny talk. There was a smile on her face; she looked
quite rosy: I hoped Ursula might not notice, just for the time
being, the great change the last few weeks had made.
But she did--who could ever blindfold a mother? For a moment I saw
her recoil--then turn to her husband with a dumb, piteous, desperate
look, as though to say, "Help me--my sorrow is more than I can bear!"
But Muriel, hearing the step, cried with a joyful cry, "Mother! it's
The mother folded her to her breast.
Muriel shed a tear or two there--in a satisfied, peaceful way; the
mother did not weep at all. Her self-command, so far as speech went,
was miraculous. For her look--but then she knew the child was blind.
"Now," she said, "my pet will be good and not cry? It would do her
harm. We must be very happy to-day."
"Oh, yes." Then, in a fond whisper, "Please, I do so want to see
"Who?" with an absent gaze.
"My little sister Maud--Maud that is to take my place, and be
everybody's darling now."
"Hush, Muriel," said the father, hoarsely.
A strangely soft smile broke over her face--and she was silent.
The new baby was carried up-stairs proudly, by Mrs. Tod, all the boys
following. Quite a levee was held round the bed, where, laid close
beside her, her weak hands being guided over the tiny face and form,
Muriel first "saw" her little sister. She was greatly pleased. With
a grave elder-sisterly air she felt all over the baby-limbs, and when
Maud set up an indignant cry, began hushing her with so quaint an
imitation of motherliness, that we were all amused.
"You'll be a capital nurse in a month or two, my pretty!" said Mrs.
Muriel only smiled. "How fat she is!--and look, how fast her fingers
take hold! And her head is so round, and her hair feels so soft--as
soft as my dove's neck at Longfield. What colour is it? Like mine?"
It was; nearly the same shade. Maud bore, the mother declared, the
strongest likeness to Muriel.
"I am so glad. But these"--touching her eyes anxiously.
"No--my darling. Not like you there," was the low answer.
"I am VERY glad. Please, little Maud, don't cry--it's only sister
touching you. How wide open your eyes feel! I wonder,"--with a
thoughtful pause--"I wonder if you can see me. Little Maud, I should
like you to see sister."
"She does see, of course; how she stares!" cried Guy. And then Edwin
began to argue to the contrary, protesting that as kittens and
puppies could not see at first, he believed little babies did not:
which produced a warm altercation among the children gathered round
the bed, while Muriel lay back quietly on her pillow, with her little
sister fondly hugged to her breast.
The father and mother looked on. It was such a picture--these five
darlings, these children which God had given them--a group perfect
and complete in itself, like a root of daisies, or a branch of
ripening fruit, which not one could be added to, or taken from--
No. I was sure, from the parents' smile, that, this once, Mercy had
blinded their eyes, so that they saw nothing beyond the present
The children were wildly happy. All the afternoon they kept up their
innocent little games by Muriel's bed-side; she sometimes sharing,
sometimes listening apart. Only once or twice came that wistful,
absent look, as if she were listening partly to us, and partly to
those we heard not; as if through the wide-open orbs the soul were
straining at sights wonderful and new--sights unto which HER eyes
were the clear-seeing, and ours the blank and blind.
It seems strange now, to remember that Sunday afternoon, and how
merry we all were; how we drank tea in the queer bed-room at the top
of the house; and how afterwards Muriel went to sleep in the
twilight, with baby Maud in her arms. Mrs. Halifax sat beside the
little bed, a sudden blazing up of the fire showing the intentness of
her watch over these two, her eldest and youngest, fast asleep; their
breathing so soft, one hardly knew which was frailest, the life
slowly fading or the life but just begun. Their breaths seemed to
mix and mingle, and the two faces, lying close together, to grow into
a strange likeness each to each. At least, we all fancied so.
Meanwhile, John kept his boys as still as mice, in the broad window-
seat, looking across the white snowy sheet, with black bushes peering
out here and there, to the feathery beech-wood, over the tops of
which the new moon was going down. Such a little young moon! and how
peacefully--nay, smilingly--she set among the snows!
The children watched her till the very last minute, when Guy startled
the deep quiet of the room by exclaiming--"There--she's gone."
"No, mother, I am awake," said Muriel. "Who is gone, Guy?"
"The moon--such a pretty little moon."
"Ah, Maud will see the moon some day." She dropped her cheek down
again beside the baby sister, and was silent once more.
This is the only incident I remember of that peaceful, heavenly hour.
Maud broke upon its quietude by her waking and wailing; and Muriel
very unwillingly let the little sister go.
"I wish she might stay with me--just this one night; and to-morrow is
my birthday. Please, mother, may she stay?"
"We will both stay, my darling. I shall not leave you again."
"I am so glad;" and once more she turned round, as if to go to sleep.
"Are you tired, my pet?" said John, looking intently at her.
"Shall I take your brothers down-stairs?"
"Not yet, dear father."
"What would you like, then?"
"Only to lie here, this Sunday evening, among you all."
He asked her if she would like him to read aloud? as he generally did
on Sunday evenings.
"Yes, please; and Guy will come and sit quiet on the bed beside me
and listen. That will be pleasant. Guy was always very good to his
"I don't know that," said Guy, in a conscience-stricken tone. "But I
mean to be when I grow a big man--that I do."
No one answered. John opened the large Book--the Book he had taught
all his children to long for and to love--and read out of it their
favourite history of Joseph and his brethren. The mother sat by him
at the fireside, rocking Maud softly on her knees. Edwin and Walter
settled themselves on the hearth-rug, with great eyes intently fixed
on their father. From behind him the candle-light fell softly down
on the motionless figure in the bed, whose hand he held, and whose
face he every now and then turned to look at--then, satisfied,
continued to read.
In the reading his voice had a fatherly, flowing calm--as Jacob's
might have had, when "the children were tender," and he gathered them
all round him under the palm-trees of Succoth--years before he cried
unto the Lord that bitter cry--(which John hurried over as he read)--
"IF I AM BEREAVED OF MY CHILDREN, I AM BEREAVED."
For an hour, nearly, we all sat thus--with the wind coming up the
valley, howling in the beech-wood, and shaking the casement as it
passed outside. Within, the only sound was the father's voice. This
ceased at last; he shut the Bible, and put it aside. The group--that
last perfect household picture--was broken up. It melted away into
things of the past, and became only a picture, for evermore.
"Now, boys--it is full time to say good-night. There, go and kiss
"Which?" said Edwin, in his funny way. "We've got two now; and I
don't know which is the biggest baby."
"I'll thrash you if you say that again," cried Guy. "Which, indeed?
Maud is but the baby. Muriel will be always 'sister.'"
"Sister" faintly laughed, as she answered his fond kiss--Guy was
often thought to be her favourite brother.
"Now, off with you, boys; and go down-stairs quietly--mind, I say
They obeyed--that is, as literally as boy-nature can obey such an
admonition. But an hour after I heard Guy and Edwin arguing
vociferously in the dark, on the respective merits and future
treatment of their two sisters, Muriel and Maud.
John and I sat up late together that night. He could not rest--even
though he told me he had left the mother and her two daughters as
cosy as a nest of wood-pigeons. We listened to the wild night, till
it had almost howled itself away; then our fire went out, and we came
and sat over the last faggot in Mrs. Tod's kitchen--the old
Debateable Land. We began talking of the long-ago time, and not of
this time at all. The vivid present--never out of either mind for an
instant--we in our conversation did not touch upon, by at least ten
years. Nor did we give expression to a thought which strongly
oppressed me, and which I once or twice fancied I could detect in
John likewise--how very like this night seemed to the night when Mr.
March died; the same silentness in the house--the same windy whirl
without--the same blaze of the wood-fire on the same kitchen ceiling.
More than once I could almost have deluded myself that I heard the
faint moans and footsteps over-head--that the staircase door would
open, and we should see there Miss March, in her white gown, and her
pale, steadfast look.
"I think the mother seemed very well and calm to-night," I said,
hesitatingly, as we were retiring.
"She is. God help her--and us all!"
This was all we said.
He went up-stairs the last thing, and brought down word that mother
and children were all sound asleep.
"I think I may leave them until daylight to-morrow. And now, Uncle
Phineas, go you to bed, for you look as tired as tired can be."
I went to bed; but all night long I had disturbed dreams, in which I
pictured over and over again, first the night when Mr. March died--
then the night at Longfield, when the little white ghost had crossed
by my bed's foot, into the room where Mary Baines' dead boy lay. And
continually, towards morning, I fancied I heard through my window,
which faced the church, the faint, distant sound of the organ, as
when Muriel used to play it.
Long before it was light I rose. As I passed the boy's room Guy
called out to me:
"Halloa! Uncle Phineas, is it a fine morning?--for I want to go down
into the wood and get a lot of beech-nuts and fir-cones for sister.
It's her birthday to-day, you know."
It WAS, for her. But for us--Oh, Muriel, our darling--darling child!
Let me hasten over the story of that morning, for my old heart quails
before it still.
John went early to the room up-stairs. It was very still. Ursula
lay calmly asleep, with baby Maud in her bosom; on her other side,
with eyes wide open to the daylight, lay--that which for more than
ten years we had been used to call "blind Muriel." She saw, now.
* * * *
The same day at evening we three were sitting in the parlour; we
elders only--it was past the children's bed-time. Grief had spent
itself dry; we were all very quiet. Even Ursula, when she came in
from fetching the boys' candle, as had always been her custom, and
though afterwards I thought I had heard her going up-stairs, likewise
from habit,--where there was no need to bid any mother's good-night
now--even Ursula sat in the rocking-chair, nursing Maud, and trying
to still her crying with a little foolish baby-tune that had
descended as a family lullaby from one to the other of the whole
five--how sad it sounded!
John--who sat at the table, shading the light from his eyes, an open
book lying before him, of which he never turned one page--looked up
"Love, you must not tire yourself. Give me the child."
"No, no! Let me keep my baby--she comforts me so." And the mother
burst into uncontrollable weeping.
John shut his book and came to her. He supported her on his bosom,
saying a soothing word or two at intervals, or when the paroxysm of
her anguish was beyond all bounds supporting her silently till it had
gone by; never once letting her feel that, bitter as her sorrow was,
his was heavier than hers.
Thus, during the whole of the day, had he been the stay and
consolation of the household. For himself--the father's grief was
At last Mrs. Halifax became more composed. She sat beside her
husband, her hand in his, neither speaking, but gazing, as it were,
into the face of this their great sorrow, and from thence up to the
face of God. They felt that He could help them to bear it; ay, or
anything else that it was His will to send--if they might thus bear
We all three sat thus, and there had not been a sound in the parlour
for ever so long, when Mrs. Tod opened the door and beckoned me.
"He will come in--he's crazy-like, poor fellow! He has only just
She broke off with a sob. Lord Ravenel pushed her aside and stood at
the door. We had not seen him since the day of that innocent jest
about his "falling in love" with Muriel. Seeing us all so quiet, and
the parlour looking as it always did when he used to come of
evenings--the young man drew back, amazed.
"It is not true! No, it could not be true!" he muttered.
"It is true," said the father. "Come in."
The mother held out her hand to him. "Yes, come in. You were very
Ah! that name!--now nothing but a name! For a little while we all
Then we told him--it was Ursula who did it chiefly--all particulars
about our darling. She told him, but calmly, as became one on whom
had fallen the utmost sorrow and crowning consecration of motherhood-
-that of yielding up her child, a portion of her own being, to the
corruption of the grave--of resigning the life which out of her own