Part 3 out of 5
Sir, I am bound to admit that this audacious claim spoilt my
wanderings up and down the pages of your excellent magazine, and I
resolved that whenever I should find time I would write to you to
revindicate the claims of the "Berkshire Lady" to be native born and
entirely unconnected with the Countess Mary or Slains Castle. I can
scarcely remember the time when I did not know the story, which indeed
all Berkshire boys--or at any rate all Bath-road Berkshire boys--took
as regularly as measles in early youth. But let me explain to
New-World readers what I mean by a Bath-road Berkshire boy. Our royal
county of Berks is in shape somewhat like a highlow or ancle-jack boot
with the toe toward London, and at the tip of the toe Windsor Castle,
which, as we all know, looks down on the Thames as it finally leaves
the county, of which it has formed the northern boundary for more than
one hundred miles. The sweet river--for in spite of all pollution it
is still sweet at Windsor--has run all along the top of the boot
and down the instep, and along the toes, taking Oxford, Abingdon,
Wallingford, Henley, Reading and Maidenhead in its way, with other
places historically interesting in a small way over here, but which
would scarcely be known by name even in the best-drilled classes of
your public schools. Along the sole of the boot, from the heel at
Hungerford, but sloping gently upward till it joins the Thames at
Reading, runs another stream (a river we call it in little England)--
The Kennet swift, for silver eels renowned.
Now, before the Great Western Railway had opened up the county the
only main line of road which passed through it was the great Bath
road, which entered near the toe at Windsor and ran along the sole for
the greater part of the way by the side of the Kennet to the extreme
heel at Hungerford. All the northern part of the county--the Thames
valley and Vale of White Horse, and the hill-district which separates
these from the Vale of Kennet--was at that time pierced only by
cross-country roads, and remained during the pre-railroad era one of
the most primitive districts of the West of England. Its inhabitants
retained their broad drawling speech, very slightly modified from
Tudor times, and looked with a mixture of distrust and envy even on
their fellow county brethren in the Kennet Valley, who were being
demoralized by their daily intercourse with London through the
constantly growing traffic of the Bath road. Along that thoroughfare,
besides strings of post-chaises, vans and wagons, ran daily more than
one hundred coaches most of which started from Bristol, and made the
journey to London in the day. The best of them did their ten miles an
hour, and so punctually that many of the inhabitants preferred setting
their watches by the "York House." the "Tantivy" or the "Bristol Mail"
rather than by the village clock. It were much to be desired that
their gigantic successor would follow their excellent example more
faithfully in this matter.
Notwithstanding the distrust with which we of the back country were
bred to regard the metropolitan varnish which was thus undermining the
ancient Berkshire habits and speech along our one great artery, it was
always, I am bound to admit, a high day for the dweller in uncorrupted
Berkshire when business or pleasure drew him from his home in the
downs or rich pastures of the primitive northern half of the county by
devious parish ways to the nearest point on the great Bath road, where
he was to meet the coach which would carry him in a few hours "in
amongst the tide of men." I can still vividly recall the pleasing
thrill of excitement which ran through us when we caught the first
faint clink of hoof and roll of wheels, which told of the approach
of the coach before the leaders appeared over the brow of the gentle
slope some two hundred yards from the cross-roads, where, recently
deposited from the family phaeton (dog-carts not having been yet
invented), we had been waiting with our trunk beside us in joyful
expectation. Thrice happy if, as the coach pulled up to take us on
board, we heard the inspiring words "room in front," and proceeded to
scramble up and take our seats behind the box, waving a cheerful
adieu to the sober family servant as he turned his horse's head slowly
homeward, his mission discharged.
The habit of our family, and of most others, was to attach ourselves
to one particular coach or coachman on the road, as thus special
attention was secured for ladies or children traveling alone, and
preference as to places should there happen to be a glut of would-be
passengers. I cannot honestly say that the old Bath-road coachman
was, as a rule, an attractive member of society, though the mellowing
effects of time and the traditions of the road (helped largely by the
immortal sayings and doings of Mr. Tony Weller) have done much for his
class. He was often a silent, short-tempered fellow, with a very keen
eye for half-crowns, and no information to speak of as to the country
which passed daily under his eyes. But there were plenty of exceptions
to the rule, of whom Bob Naylor was perhaps the most remarkable
example. He had no doubt been selected as our guardian on the road for
his kindly and genial nature and great love of children, and for his
repute as one of the safest of whips. But, besides these sterling
qualities, he was gifted with irrepressible spirits, a good voice and
ear, and a special delight in the exercise of them. To county magnate
or parson or stranger seated by him on the box he could be as decorous
as a churchwarden, and talk of politics or cattle or county business
with all due solemnity. But he was only at his best when "the front"
was occupied by boys, or at any rate with a strong sprinkling of boys,
amongst whom he was quite at his ease, and who were even more eager
to hear than he to sing and talk. And of both songs and talk he had
a curious and ample store. Of songs his own special favorites, I
remember, were a long ballad in which a faithful soldier is informed
on his return to his native village that his own true love "lives with
her own granny dear," which he, his mind running in military grooves,
takes for "grenadier," with temporarily distressing results--though
all comes right at last--and a lyrical description of an upset of his
coach, the only one he ever had, written by a gifted hostler. But on
call he could give "The Tight Little Island," "Rule Britannia" or any
one of a dozen other insular melodies.
Then his talk was racy of his beloved road, of which he would recount
the glories even in the days of its decline, when the cormorant iron
way was already swallowing stage after stage of the best of it. He
would narrate to us the doings and feats of mighty whips--notably of
a never-to-be-forgotten dinner at the Pelican Inn, Newbury, to which
were gathered the _elite_ of the Bath-road cracksmen. At that great
repast we heard how "for wittles there was trout, speckled like a
dane dog, weal as wite as allablaster, sherry-wite-wine, red-port,
and everything in season. Then for company there was Sir Pay (Sir H.
Peyton), Squire Willy boys (Vielbois), Cherry Bob, Long Dick, _and_
I; and where would you go to find five sech along any road out of
London?" But his crowning story, which he never missed as he cracked
his four bays along on the first stage west out of Reading, was that
of the Berkshire Lady, which, alas! my gifted countrywoman has now
laid covetous hands on and claimed for that dour Lady Mary Hay,
hereditary lord high constable of Scotland,
The "Berkshire Lady" is so bound up in my mind with my early friend
of the road, from whom I first heard it, that I have let Memory fairly
run away with me. But now, if your readers will pardon me for this
gossip, I will promise to stick to my text.
At the beginning of the last century the fortune of one of the last of
the "Great Clothiers of the West," John Kendrick, was inherited by a
young lady, his granddaughter, who thus became the mistress of Calcott
Park, past which the Bath road runs, three miles to the west of
Reading. The house stands some three hundred yards from the road,
facing due south, with a background of noble timber behind it, and
in front a gentle slope of fine green turf, on which the deer seem to
delight in grouping themselves at the most picturesque points. Miss
Kendrick is said to have been beautiful and accomplished, and it is
certain that she was an eccentric young person, who turned a deaf
ear to the suits of many wooers, for, as the ballad quoted by your
Many noble persons courted
This young lady, 'tis reported;
But their labor was in vain:
They could not her love obtain.
This metrical version of the story is, I fear, lost except the
fragments which I shall quote; at least I have sought for it in vain
in all likely quarters since reading Lady Blanche's article.
So Miss Kendrick lived a lonely and stately life in Calcott Park.
Now, at this time there was a young gentleman of the name of Benjamin
Child, a barrister of the Temple, belonging to the western circuit, of
which Reading is the first assize-town. He came of a family which had
seen better days, but his ancestors had suffered in the civil war, and
he had no fortune but his good looks. His practice was as slender as
his means, but nevertheless he managed to ride the western circuit
after the judges of assize. The arrival of the judges in a county-town
in those days was a signal for hospitalities and festivities in which
the circuit barristers were welcome guests, and one spring assizes
Benjamin Child found himself at a wedding and ball, where no doubt he
carried himself as a young gentleman of good birth and town breeding
Next morning he received at his lodgings a written challenge,
which alleged that he had grievously injured the writer at the
entertainments on the previous day, and appointed a meeting in Calcott
Park on the following morning to settle the affair in mortal combat.
In those days no gentleman could refuse such an invitation,
and accordingly Child appeared at the appointed time and place,
accompanied by another young barrister as his second. The rendezvous
was at a spot near the present lodge, and the young men on arriving
found the lawn occupied by two women in masks, while a carriage
was drawn up under some trees hard by. They were naturally in some
embarrassment, from which they were scarcely relieved when the ladies
advanced to meet them, and Child learned that one of them was his
challenger, the mortal offence being that he had won her heart at the
Reading ball, and that she had come there to demand satisfaction.
So, now take your choice, says she--
Either fight or marry me.
Said he, Madam, pray, what mean ye?
In my life I ne'er have seen ye,
Pray, unmask, your visage show,
Then I'll tell you, ay or no.
_Lady_. I shall not my face uncover
Till the marriage rites are over.
Therefore, take you which you will--
Wed me, sir, or try your skill.
Benjamin Child retires to consult with his friend, who advises him--
If my judgment may be trusted,
Wed her, man: you can't be worsted.
If she's rich, you rise in fame;
If she's poor, you are the same.
This advice, coupled perhaps with the figure and appearance of his
challenger, and the family coach in the background, prevails, and the
two young men and the masked ladies drive to Tilchurst parish church,
where the priest is waiting. After the ceremony the bride,
With a courteous, kind behavior,
Did present his friend a favor:
Then she did dismiss him straight,
That he might no longer wait.
They then drive, the bride still masked, to Calcott House, where he is
left alone in a fair parlor for two hours, till
He began to grieve at last,
For he had not broke his fast.
Then the steward appears and asks his business, and
There was peeping, laughing, jeering,
All within the lawyer's hearing;
But his bride he could not see.
"Would I were at home!" said he.
At last the denouement comes. The lady of the house appears and
_Lady_. Sir, my servants have related
That some hours you have waited
In my parlor. Tell me who
In this house you ever knew?
_Gentleman_. Madam, if I have offended
It is more than I intended.
A young lady brought me here.
"That is true," said she, "my dear."
His challenger was the heiress of Calcott, where he lived with her for
many years; and
Now he's clothed in rich attire,
Not inferior to a squire.
Beauty, honor, riches, store!
What can man desire more?
They had two daughters, through one of whom the property has descended
to the Blagraves, the present owners.
And so ends the story of "The Berkshire Lady," and if it should meet
the eye of your accomplished contributor I trust she will for ever
hereafter give up all claim on behalf of Lady Mary Hay.
Perhaps, too, some of your readers may be led to visit the scene
of these doings if they ever come to wander about the old country.
Reading is only an hour from London now-a-days, and I will promise
them that they will not easily find a fairer corner in all England.
The Bath road, it is true, is now comparatively deserted, and no
well-appointed coaches flash by in front of Calcott Park. But it is
an easy three miles' walk or ride from Reading Station, and by missing
one train the pilgrim may get a glimpse of English country-life under
its most favorable aspects, while at the same time, if skeptical as
to this "strange yet true narration," as the metrical chronicler calls
it, he may at any rate satisfy himself as to the marriage of B. Child
and the Berkshire Lady, and the birth of their two daughters, by
inspecting the parish register at Tilchurst church for the years 1710
THE SABBATH OF THE LOST.
Mid homes eternal of the blessed
Erewhile beheld in trance of prayer,
A secret wish the saint possessed
To see the regions of despair.
The Power in whose omniscient ken
The thoughts of every heart abide
Sent him to those lost souls of men,
A splendid spirit for his guide--
Michael, the warrior, the prince
Of those before the throne who dwell,
The brightest of archangels since,
Eclipsed, the son of morning fell.
Down through the voids of light they sped
Till Heaven's anthems faintly rung
Through darkening space, and overhead
Earth's planets dim and dwindled hung.
Still downward into lurid gloom
The saint and angel took their way,
Moving within a clear cool room,
The light benign of heavenly day.
The wretched thronged on every side.
"Have mercy on us, radiant twain!
O Paul! beloved of God!" they cried,
"Pray Heaven for surcease of our pain."
"Weep, weep, unhappy ones, bewail!
We too our prayers and tears will lend:
Our supplication may prevail,
And haply God some respite send."
Then upward from the lost there swept
As every wave of ocean wept:
"O Christ! have mercy upon us!"
And as their clamor rose on high
Beyond the pathway of the sun,
Heav'n's happy legions joined the cry,
Their voices melting into one.
The saint, up-gazing through the dew
Of pity brimming o'er his eyes,
Discerned in Heav'n's remotest blue
The Son of God lean from the skies.
Then through their agonies were heard
The tones which still'd the angry sea,
The voice of the Eternal Word:
"And do ye ask repose of me?
"Me whom ye pierced with curse and jeer,
Whose mortal thirst ye quenched with gall?
I died for your immortal cheer:
What profit have I of you all?
"Liars, traducers, proud in thought,
Misers! no offering of psalms
Or prayer or thanks ye ever brought--
No deed of penitence or alms."
Michael and Paul at that dread speech,
With all the myriads of Heaven,
Fell on their faces to beseech
Peace for the lost one day in seven.
The Son of God, who hearkens prayer,
In mercy to those souls forlorn
Bade that their torments should forbear
From Sabbath eve to Monday morn.
The torments swarmed forth at the gate--
Hell's solemn guardians let them pass:
Those awful cherubim who wait
All sorrowful surveyed the mass.
But from the lost a single cry,
Which rang rejoicing through the spheres:
"O blessed Son of God most high!
Two nights, a day, no pain or tears?"
"O Son of God, for ever blessed!
Praise and give thanks, all spirits sad:
A day, two nights of perfect rest?
So much on earth we never had!"
[Footnote 1: See Fauriel, _Hist. de la Poesie provencale_, tom. i. ch.
THE ATONEMENT OF LEAM DUNDAS.
BY MRS. E. LYNN LINTON, AUTHOR OF "PATRICIA KEMBALL."
THE FRIEND OF THE FUTURE.
Instead of going home when she left Steel's Corner, Leam turned up
into the wood, making for the old hiding-place where she and Alick had
so often sat in the first days of her desolation and when he had been
her sole comforter. She was very sorrowful, and oppressed with doubts
and self-reproaches. As she climbed the steep wood-path, her eyes
fixed on the ground, her empty basket in her hand, and her heart as
void of hope or joy as was this of flowers, she thought over the last
hour as she might have thought over a death. How sorry she was that
Alick had said those words! how grieved that he loved her like this,
when she did not love him, when she could never have loved him if even
she had not been a Spaniard and her mother's daughter!
But she did not wish that he was different from what he was, so that
she might have been able to return his love. Leam had none of that
shifting uncertainty, that want of a central determination, which
makes so many women transact their lives by an If. She knew what she
did not feel, and she did not care to regret the impossible, to tamper
with the indefinite. She knew that she neither loved Alick nor, wished
to love him. Whether she had unwittingly deceived him in the first
place, and in the second ought to sacrifice herself for him, unloving,
was each a question on which she pondered full of those doubts and
self-reproaches that so grievously beset her.
As she was wandering drearily onward Mr. Gryce saw her from a side
path. He struck off to meet her, smiling, for he had taken a strong
affection for this strange and beautiful young creature, which he
justified to himself as interest in her history.
This acute, suspicious and inquisitive old heathen had some queer
notions packed away in his wallet of biological speculations--notions
which supplemented the fruits of his natural gifts, and which
he always managed to harmonize with what he already knew by more
commonplace means. He had been long in the East, whence he had brought
a cargo of half-scientific, half-superstitious fancies--belief
in astrology, mesmerism, spiritualism, and cheiromancy the most
prominent. He could cast a horoscope, summon departed spirits, heal
the sick and read the reticent by mesmeric force, and explain the past
as well as prophesy the future by the lines in the hand.
So at least he said; and people were bound to believe that he believed
in himself when he said so. He had once looked at Leam's hand, and had
seen something there which, translated by his rules, had helped him
on the road that he had already opened for himself by private inquiry
based on the likelihood of things. Crime, love, sorrow--it was no
ordinary history that was printed in the lines of her feverish little
palm, as it was no ordinary character that looked out from her intense
pathetic face. There was something almost as interesting here as a
meditation on the mystic Nirvana or a discourse on that persistent
residuum of all myths--Maya, delusion.
It was to follow up the line thus opened to him that he had attached
himself with so much zeal to his landlord, unsympathetic as such a man
as Sebastian Dundas must needs be to a metaphysical and superstitious
student of humanity, a born detective, shrewd, inquisitive and
suspicious. But he attached himself for the sake of Leam and her
future, saying often to himself, "By and by. She will come to me by
and by, when I can be useful to her."
Meanwhile, Leam received his cares with the characteristic
indifference of youth for the attentions of age. She was not at the
back of the motives which prompted him, and thought him tiresome with
his mild way of getting to know so many things that were no concern of
his. The shrewd guesses which he was making, and the terrible mosaic
that he was piecing together out of such stray fragments as he could
pick up--and he was always picking them up--were hidden from her; and
she understood nothing of the mingled surmise and certainty which made
his interest in her partly retrospective and partly prophetic, as
he fitted in bit by bit that hidden thing in the past or foresaw the
discovery that must come in the future. She only thought him tiresome
and inquisitive, and wished that he would not come so often to see
It did not take a large amount of that faculty of thought-reading
which Mr. Gryce claimed as so peculiarly his own to see that something
unusual had happened to disturb poor Leam to-day. As she came on, so
wrapped in the sorrow of her thoughts that the world around her was
as a world that is dead--taking no heed of the flowers, the birds,
the sweet spring scents, the glory of the deep-blue sky, while the
flickering shadows of the budding branches played over her like the
shadow of the net in which she had entangled herself--she looked the
very embodiment of despair. Her face, never joyous, was now infinitely
tragic. Her dark eyes were bright with the tears that lay behind them;
her proud mouth had drooped at the corners; she was walking as one
who neither knows where she is nor sees what is before her, as one for
whom there is no sun by day and no stars for the night--lost to all
sense but the one faculty of suffering. She did not even see that some
one stood straight in the path before her, till "Whither and whence?"
asked Mr. Gryce, barring her way.
Then she started and looked up. Evidently she had not heard him. He
repeated the question with a difference. "Ah! good-morning to you,
Miss Dundas. Where are you going? where have you been?" he said in
his soft, low-pitched, lisping voice, with the provincial accent
struggling through its patent affectation.
"I am going to the yew tree and I have been to Steel's Corner," she
answered slowly, in her odd, almost mathematically exact manner of
"From Steel's Corner! And how is that excellent young man, our deputy
shepherd?" he asked.
"Better," she said with even more than her usual curtness, and she was
"He has been fearfully ill, poor fellow!" said Mr. Gryce, in the
manner of an ejaculation.
She looked at the flowers with which the wood was golden and azure.
"Yes," was her not too eloquent assent.
"And you have been sorry?"
"Every one has been sorry," said Leam evasively.
"Yes, you have been sorry," he repeated: "I have read it in your
He had done nothing of the kind: he had guessed it from the fact of
her daily visits, and he had surmised a special interest from that
other group of facts which had first set him thinking--namely, that
Steel's Corner owned a laboratory--two, for the matter of that; that
old Dr. Corfield was a clever toxicologist; that Leam had stayed there
during her father's honeymoon; and that her stepmother had died on
the night of her arrival. "And your average Englishman calls himself
a creature with brains and inductive powers!" was his unspoken
commentary on the finding of the coroner's jury and the verdict of the
coroner. "Bull is a fool," the old heathen used to think, hugging his
own superior sagacity as a gift beyond those which Nature had allowed
to Bull in the abstract.
"I have known him since I was a child. Of course, I have been sorry,"
said Leam coldly.
She disliked being questioned as much as being touched. The two,
indeed, were correlative.
"Early friendships are very dear," said Mr. Gryce, watching her. He
was opening the vein of another idea which he had long wanted to work.
She was silent.
"Don't you think so?" he asked.
"They may be," was her reluctant answer.
"No, they are--believe me, they are. The happiest fate that man or
woman can have is to marry the early friend--transform the playmate of
childhood into the lover of maturity, the companion of age."
Leam made no reply. She was afraid of this soft-voiced, large-eyed,
benevolent old man who seemed able to read the hidden things of life
at will. It disturbed her that he should speak at this moment of the
happiness lying in the fulfillment of youthful friendship by the way
of mature love; and, proud and self-restrained as her bearing was, Mr.
Gryce saw through the calmer surface into the disturbance beneath.
"Don't you think so?" he asked for the second time.
"How should I know?" Leam answered, raising her eyes, but not looking
into her companion's face--looking an inch or two above his head. "I
have seen too little to say which is best."
"True, my child, I had forgotten that," he said kindly. "Will you take
my word for it, then, in lieu of your own experience?"
"That depends," said Leam. "What is good for one is not good for all."
"But safety is always good," returned Mr. Gryce, meaning to fall back
on the safety of love and happiness if he had made a bad shot by his
aim at safety from the detection of crime.
A scared look passed over Leam's face. It was a look that meant a cry.
She pressed her hands together and involuntarily drew back a step,
cowering. She felt as if some strong hand had struck her a heavy blow,
and that it had made her reel. "You are cruel to say that. Why should
I marry--?" She began in a defiant tone, and then she stopped. Was she
not betraying herself for the very fear of discovery?
"Alick Corfield, for instance?" put in Mr. Gryce, at a venture. "He
may serve for an illustration as well as any one else," he added with
a soothing kind of indifference, troubled by the intense terror that
came for one moment into her face. How soon he had startled her
from her poor little hiding-place! How easy the assumption of
extraordinary, powers based on the clever use of ordinary faculties!
Your true magician is, after all, only your quiet and accurate
observer. "You are not vexed that I speak of him when I want a
name?" he asked, after a pause to give Leam time to regain her
self-possession, to readjust the screen, to fasten once more the mask.
"Why should I be vexed?" she said in a low voice.
"He is not disagreeable to you?"
"No, he is my friend," she answered.
"And a good fellow," said Mr. Gryce, lisping over a maple twig. "Don't
you think so?"
"He is good," responded Leam like a dry and lifeless echo.
"An admirable son."
"A devoted friend--a friend to be trusted to the death; a man without
his price, incorruptible, with whom a secret, say, would be as safe as
if buried in the grave. He would not give it even to the wind, and no
reed on his land would whisper 'Midas has ass's ears.'"
"He is good," she repeated with a shiver. Yet the sun was shining and
the spring-tide air was sweet and warm.
"And he would make the most faithful and indulgent husband."
There was no answer.
"Do you not agree with me?"
"How should I know?" she answered; and she said no more, though she
"Be sure of it--take my word for it," he said again, earnestly.
"It is nothing to me. And I hate your word _indulgent_!" cried Leam
with a flash of her mother's fierceness.
Mr. Gryce, still watching her, smiled softly to himself. His love of
knowledge, as he euphemistically termed his curiosity, was roused to
the utmost, and he was like a hunter who has struck an obscure
trail. He wished to follow this thing to the end, and to know in what
relations she and her old friend stood together--if Alick knew what
he, Mr. Gryce, knew now, and had offered to marry her notwithstanding;
and whether, if he had offered, Leam had refused or accepted.
Observation and induction were hurrying him very near the point. Her
changing color, her averted eyes, her effort to maintain the pride and
coldness which were as a rule maintained without effort, the spasm
of terror that had crossed her face when he had spoken of Alick's
fidelity, all confirmed him in his belief that he was on the right
track, and that the lines in her hand coincided with the facts of
her tragic life. Tragic indeed--one of those lives fated from the
beginning, doomed to sorrow and to crime like the Orestes, the
Oedipus, of old.
But if he was curious, he was compassionate: if he tortured her now,
it was that he might care for her hereafter. That hereafter would
come--he knew that--and then he would make himself her salvation.
He thought all this as he still watched her, Leam standing there like
a creature fascinated, longing to break the spell and escape, and
"Tell me," then said Mr. Gryce in a soft and crooning kind of voice,
coming nearer to her, "what do you think of gratitude?"
"Gratitude is good," said Leam slowly, in the manner of one whose
answer is a completed thesis.
"But how far?"
"I do not know what you mean," she answered with a weary sigh.
Again he smiled: it was a soft, sleepy, soothing kind of smile, that
was almost an opiate.
"You are not good at metaphysics?" he said, coming still nearer and
passing his short thick hands over her head carressingly.
"I am not good at anything," she answered dreamily.
"Yes, at many things--to answer me for one--but bad at dialectics."
"I do not understand your hard words," said Leam, her sense of injury
at being addressed in an unknown tongue rousing her from the torpor
creeping over her.
How much she wished that he would release her! She had no power to
leave him of her own free-will. A certain compelling something in
Mr. Gryce always forced her to do just as he wished--to answer his
questions, stay when he stopped, follow when he beckoned. She resented
in feeling, but she obeyed in fact; and he valued her obedience more
than he regretted her resentment.
"How far would you go to prove your gratitude?" he continued.
"I do not know," said Leam, the weary sigh repeated.
"Would you marry for gratitude where you did not love?"
"No," she answered in a low voice.
"Would you marry for fear, then, if not for gratitude or love? If you
were in the power of a man, would you marry that man to save yourself
from all chance of betrayal? I have known women who would. Are you one
Again he passed his hands over her head and across and down her face.
His voice sounded sweet and soft as honey: it was like a cradle-song
to a tired child. Leam's eyes drooped heavily. A mist seemed stealing
up before her through which everything was transformed--by which the
sunshine became as a golden web wherein she was entangled, and the
shadows as lines of the net that held her--where the songs of the
birds melted into distant harmonies echoing the sleepy sweetness of
that soft compelling voice, and where the earth was no longer solid,
but a billowy cloud whereon she floated rather than stood. A strange
sense of isolation possessed her. It was as if she were alone in the
universe, with some all-powerful spirit who was questioning her of the
secret things of life, and whose questions she must answer. Mr. Gryce
was not the tenant of Lionnet, as the world knew him, but a mild yet
awful god, in whose presence she stood revealed, and who was reading
her soul, like her past, through and through. She was before him there
as a criminal before a judge--discovered, powerless--and all attempt
at concealment was at an end.
"Tell me what you know," said the soft and honeyed voice, ever
sweeter, ever more soothing, more deadening to her senses.
Leam's whole form drooped, yielded, submitted. In another moment she
would have made full confession, when suddenly the harsh cry of
a frightened bird near at hand broke up the sleepy harmonies and
scattered the compelling charm. Leam started, flung back her head,
opened her eyes wide and fixed them full on her inquisitor. Then she
stiffened herself as if for a personal resistance, passed her hands
over her face as if she were brushing it from cobwebs, and said in a
natural voice, offended, haughty, cold, "I did not hear what you said.
I was nearly asleep."
"Wake, then," said Mr. Gryce, making a movement as if he too were
brushing away cobwebs from her face. After a pause he took both her
hands in his. "Child," he said, speaking naturally, without a lisp
and with a broader provincial accent than usual--speaking, too, with
ill-concealed emotion--"some day you will need a friend. When that day
dawns come to me. Promise me this. I know your life and what lies in
the past. Do not start--no, nor cover your face, my child. I am safe,
and so are you. You must feel this, that I may be of use to you when
you want me; for you will want me some day, and I shall be the only
one who can save you."
"What do you know?" asked Leam, making one supreme effort over herself
and confronting him.
"Everything," said Mr. Gryce solemnly.
"Then I am lost," she answered in a low voice.
"You are saved," he said with tenderness. "Do not be afraid of me:
rather thank God that He has given you into my care. You have
two friends now instead of one, and the latest the most powerful.
Good-bye, my poor misguided and bewildered child. A greater than you
or I once said, 'Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her, because
she loved much.' Cannot you take that to yourself? If not now, nor yet
when remorse is your chief thought, you will later. Till then, trust
He turned to leave her, tears in his eyes.
"Stay!" cried Leam, but he only shook his head and waved his hand.
"Not now," he said, smiling as he broke through the wood, leaving her
with the impression that a chasm had suddenly opened at her feet, into
which sooner or later she must fall.
She stood a few moments where the old philosopher and born detective
had left her, then went up the path to the hiding-place where she
had so often before found the healing to be had from Nature and
solitude--to the old dark-spreading yew, which somehow seemed to be
more her friend than any human being could be or was--more than even
Alick in his devotedness or Mr. Gryce in his protection. And there,
sitting on the lowest branch, and sitting so still that the birds
came close to her and were not afraid, she dreamed herself back to the
desolate days of her innocent youth--those days which were before she
had committed a crime or gained friend or lover.
She had been miserable enough then--one alone in the world and one
against the world. But how gladly she would have exchanged her present
state for the worst of her days then! How she wished that she had died
with mamma, or, living, had not taken it as her duty to avenge those
wrongs which the saints allowed! Oh, what a tangled dream it all was!
she so hideously guilty in fact, and yet that thought of hers, if
unreal and insane, that had not been a sin.
But she must wake to the reality of the present, not sit here dreaming
over the past and its mystery of loving crime. She must go on as if
life were a mere holiday-time of peace with her, where no avenging
Furies followed her, lurking in the shadows, no sorrows threatened
her, looking out with scared, scarred faces from the distance. She
must carry her burden to the end, remembering that it was one of her
own making, and for self-respect must be borne with that courage of
despair which lets no one see what is suffered. Of what good to dream,
to lament? She must live with dignity while she chose to live. When
her grief had grown too great for her strength, then she could take
counsel with herself whether the fire of life was worth the trouble of
keeping alight, or might not rather be put out without more ado.
Leam was not dedicated to peace to-day. As she turned out of the road
she came upon the rectory pony-carriage--Adelaide driving Josephine
and little Fina--just as it had halted in the highway for Josephine to
speak to her brother.
Adelaide was looking very pretty. Her delicate pink cheeks were rather
more flushed and her blue eyes darker and fuller of expression than
usual. Change of air had done her good, and Edgar's evident admiration
was even a better stimulant. She and her mother had ended their
absence from North Aston by a visit to the lord lieutenant of the
county, and she was not sorry to be able to speak familiarly of
certain great personages met there as her co-guests--the prime
minister for one and an archbishop for another. And as Edgar was, she
knew, influenced by the philosophy of fitness more than most men, she
thought the prime minister and the archbishop good cards to play at
Edgar was listening to her, pleased, smiling, thinking how pretty
she looked, and taking her social well-being and roll-call of grand
friendships as gems that enriched him too--flowers in his path as well
as roses in her hand, and as a sunny sky overarching both alike. She
really was a very charming girl--just the wife for an English country
gentleman--just the mistress for a place like the Hill, the heart of
the man owning the Hill not counting.
But when Leam turned from the wood-path into the road, Edgar felt
like a man who has allowed himself to be made enthusiastic over but
an inferior bit of art, knowing better. Her beautiful face, with its
glorious eyes so full of latent passion, dreaming thought, capacity
for sorrow--all that most excites yet most softens the heart of a man;
her exquisite figure, so fine in its lines, so graceful yet not weak,
so tender yet not sensual; as she stood there in the sunlight the
gleam of dusky gold showing on the edges of her dark hair; her very
attitude and action as she held a basket full of wild-flowers which
with unconscious hypocrisy she had picked to give herself the color of
an excuse for her long hiding in the yew tree,--all dwarfed, eclipsed
Adelaide into a mere milk-and-roses beauty of a type to be seen
by hundreds in a day; while Leam--who was like this peerless Leam?
Neither Spain nor England could show such a one as she. Ah, where
was the philosophy of fitness now, when this exquisite creation, more
splendid than fit, came to the front?
Edgar went forward to meet her, that look of love surprised out of
concealment which told so much on his face. Adelaide saw it, and
Josephine saw it, and the eyes of the latter grew moist, but the lips
of the other only closed more tightly. She accepted the challenge, and
she meant to conquer in the fight.
Wearied by her emotions, saddened both by the love that had been
confessed and the friendship that had been offered, this meeting with
Edgar Harrowby seemed to Leam like home and rest to one very tired and
long lost. The bright spring day, which until now had been as gray as
winter, suddenly broke upon her with a sense of warmth and beauty, and
her sad face reflected in its tender, evanescent smile the delight of
which she had become thus suddenly conscious. She laid her hand in
his frankly: he had never seen her so frankly glad to meet him; and a
look, a gesture, from Leam--grave, proud, reticent Leam--meant as much
as cries of joy and caresses from others.
"Good-morning, Miss Dundas: where have you been?" said Edgar, his
accent of familiar affection, which meant "Beloved Leam," in nowise
overlaid by the formality of the spoken "Miss Dundas."
"Into the wood," said Leam, her hand, as if for proof thereof,
stirring the flowers.
"It is a new phase to see you given to rural delights and
wild-flowers, Leam," said Adelaide with a little laugh.
"But how pleasant that our dear Leam should have found such a nice
amusement!" said Josephine.
"As picking primroses and bluebells, Joseph?" And Adelaide laughed
Somehow, her laugh, which was not unmusical, was never pleasant. It
did not seem to come from the heart, and was the farthest in the world
removed from mirth.
Leam looked at her coldly. "I like flowers," she said, carrying her
"So do I," said Edgar with the intention of taking her part. "What are
these things?" holding up a few cuckoo-flowers that were half hidden
like delicate shadows among the primroses.
"You certainly show your liking by your knowledge. I thought every
schoolboy knew the cuckoo-flower!" cried Adelaide, trying to seem
natural and not bitter in her banter, and not succeeding.
"I can learn. Never too late to mend, you know. And Miss Dundas shall
teach me," said Edgar.
"I do not know enough: I cannot teach you," Leam answered, taking him
"My dear Leam, how frightfully literal you are!" said Adelaide. "Do
you think it looks pretty? Do you really believe that Major Harrowby
was in earnest about your giving him botanical lessons?"
"I believe people I respect," returned Leam gravely.
"Thanks," said Edgar warmly, his face flushing.
Adelaide's face flushed too. "Are you going through life taking as
gospel all the unmeaning badinage which gentlemen permit themselves
to talk to ladies?" she asked from the heights of her superior wisdom.
"Remember, Leam, at your age girls cannot be too discreet."
"I do not understand you," said Leam, fixing her eyes on the fair face
that strove so hard to conceal the self within from the world without,
and to make impersonal and aphoristic what was in reality passionate
"A girl who has been four years at a London boarding-school not to
understand such a self-evident little speech as that!" cried Adelaide,
with well-acted surprise. "How can you be insincere? I must say I have
no faith, myself, in Bayswater _ingenues_: have you, Edgar?" with the
most graceful little movement of her head, her favorite action, and
one that generally made its mark.
"I do not understand you," said Leam again. "I only know that you are
rude: you always are."
She spoke in her most imperturbable manner and with her quietest face.
Nothing roused in her so much the old Leam of pride and disdain
as these encounters with Adelaide Birkett. The two were like the
hereditary foes of old-time romance, consecrated to hate from their
"Come, come, fair lady, you are rather hard on our young friend," said
Edgar with a strange expression in his eyes--angry, intense, and yet
uncertain. He wanted to protect Leam, yet he did not want to offend
Adelaide; and though he was angry with this last, he did not wish her
to see that he was.
"Dear Leam! I am sure she is very sweet and nice," breathed Josephine;
but little Fina, playing with Josephine's chatelaine, said in her
childish treble, "No, no, she is not nice: she is cross, and never
laughs, and she has big eyes. They frighten me at night, and then I
scream. Your are far nicer, Missy Joseph."
Adelaide laughed outright; Josephine was embarrassed between the weak
good-nature that could not resist even a child's caressing words and
her constitutional pain at giving pain; Edgar tried to smile at the
little one's pertness as a thing below the value of serious notice,
while feeling all that a man does feel when the woman whom he loves
is in trouble and he cannot defend her; but Leam herself said to the
child, gravely and without bitterness, "I am not cross, Fina, and
laughing is not everything."
"Right, Miss Dundas!" said Edgar warmly. "If the little puss were
older she would understand you better. You unconscionable little
sinner! what do you mean? hey?" good-humoredly taking Fina by the
"Oh, pray don't try and make the child a hypocrite," said Adelaide.
"You, of all people in the world, Edgar, objecting to her naive
truth!--you, who so hate and despise deception!"
While she had spoken Fina had crawled over Josephine's lap to the
side where Edgar was standing. She put up her fresh little face to be
kissed. "I don't like Learn, and I do like you," she said, stroking
And Edgar, being a man, was therefore open to female flattery, whether
it was the frank flattery of an infant Venus hugging a waxen Cupid
or the more subtle overtures of a withered Ninon taking God for her
latest lover--with interludes.
"But you should like Leam too," he said, fondling her, "I want you to
love me, but you should love her as well."
"Oh, any one can get the love of children who is kind to them," said
Adelaide. "You know you are a very kind man, Edgar," in a quiet,
matter-of-fact way. "All animals and children love you. It is a gift
you have, but it is only because you are kind."
The context stood without any need of an interpreter to make it
"But I am sure that Leam is kind to Fina," blundered Josephine.
"And the child dislikes her so much?" was Adelaide's reply, made in
the form of an interrogation and with arched eyebrows.
"Fina is like the discontented little squirrel who was never happy,"
said Josephine, patting the plump little hand that still meandered
through the depths of Edgar's beard.
"I am happy with you, Missy Joseph," pouted Fina; "and you," to Edgar,
whom she again lifted up her face to kiss, kisses and sweeties being
her twin circumstances of Paradise.
"And with sister Leam: say 'With Leam,' else I will not kiss you,"
said Edgar, holding her off.
She struggled, half laughing, half minded to cry. "I want to kiss
you," she cried.
"Say 'With Leam,' and then I will," said Edgar.
The child's face flushed a deeper crimson, her struggles became more
earnest, more vicious, and her laugh lost itself in the puckered
preface of tears.
"Don't make her cry because she will not tell a falsehood,"
remonstrated Adelaide quietly.
"She does not like me. Saying that she does would not be true, and
would not make her," added Leam just as quietly and with a kind of
hopeless acceptance of undeserved obloquy.
On which Edgar, not wishing to prolong a scene that began to be
undignified, released the child, who scrambled back to Josephine's
lap and hid her flushed and disordered little face on the comfortable
bosom made by Nature for the special service of discomposed childhood.
"She is right to like you best," said Leam, associating Edgar as the
brother with Josephine's generous substitution of maternity.
"I don't think so. You are the one she should love--who deserves her
love," he answered emphatically.
"Come, Joseph," cried Adelaide. "If these two are going to bandy
compliments, you and I are not wanted."
"Don't go, Adelaide: I have worlds yet to say to you," said Edgar.
"Thanks! another time. I do not like to see things of which I
disapprove," was her answer, touching her ponies gently and moving
When she had drawn off out of earshot she beckoned Edgar with her
whip. It was impolitic, but she was too deeply moved to make accurate
calculations. "Dear Edgar, do not be offended with me," she said
in her noblest, most sisterly manner. "Of course I do not wish to
interfere, and it is no business of mine, but is it right to fool that
unhappy girl as you are doing? I put it to you, as one woman anxious
for the happiness and reputation of another--as an old friend who
values you too much to see you make the mistake you are making now
without a word of warning. It can be no business of mine, outside the
purest regard and consideration for you as well as for her. I do not
like her, but I do not want to see her in a false position and with a
damaged character through you."
Had they been alone, Edgar would probably have accepted this
remonstrance amicably enough. He might even have gone a long way in
proving it needless. But in the presence of Josephine his pride took
the alarm, and the weapon intended for Leam cut Adelaide's fingers
He listened patiently till she ended, then he drew himself up.
"Thanks!" he drawled affectedly. "You are very kind both to Miss
Dundas and myself. All the world knows that the most vigilant overseer
a pretty girl can have is a pretty woman. When the reputation of Miss
Dundas is endangered by me, it will then be time for her father to
interfere. Meanwhile, thanks! I like her quite well enough to take
care of her."
"Now, Adelaide, you have vexed him," said Josephine in dismay as Edgar
strode back to where Leam remained waiting for him.
"I have done my duty," said Adelaide, drawing her lips into a thin
line and lowering her eyebrows; and her friend knew her moods and
On this point of warning Edgar against an entanglement with Leam she
did really think that she had done her duty. She knew that she wished
to marry him herself--in fact, meant to marry him--and that she would
probably have been his wife before now had it not been for this girl
and her untimely witcheries; but though, naturally enough, she was not
disposed to love Leam any the more because she had come between her
and her intended husband, she thought that she would have borne the
disappointment with becoming magnanimity if she had been of the
right kind for Edgar's wife. With Adelaide, as with so many among us,
conventional harmony was a religion in itself, and he who despised its
ritual was a blasphemer. And surely that harmony was not be found in
the marriage of an English gentleman of good degree with the daughter
of a dreadful low-class Spanish woman--a girl who at fifteen years
of age had prayed to the saints, used her knife as a whanger, and
maintained that the sun went round the earth because mamma said so,
and mamma knew! No, if Edgar married any one but herself, let him at
least marry some one as well fitted for him as herself, not one like
For the sake of the neighborhood at large the mistress of the Hill
ought to be a certain kind of person--they all knew of what kind--and
a queer, unconformable creature like Leam set up there as the Mrs.
Harrowby of the period would throw all things into confusion. Whatever
happened, that must be prevented if possible, for Edgar's own sake and
for the sake of the society of the place.
All of which thoughts strengthened Adelaide in her conviction that she
had done what she ought to have done in warning Edgar against Leam,
and that she was bound to be faithful in her course so long as he was
persistent in his.
Meanwhile, Edgar returned to Leam, who had remained standing in the
middle of the road waiting for him. Nothing belonged less to Leam
than forwardness or flattery to men; and it was just one of those odd
coincidences which sometimes happen that as Edgar had not wished her
good-bye, she felt herself bound to wait his return. But it had the
look of either a nearer intimacy than existed between them, or of
Leam's laying herself out to win the master of the Hill as she would
not have laid herself out to win the king of Spain. In either case it
added fuel to the fire, and confirmed Adelaide more and more in the
course she had taken. "Look there!" she said to Josephine, pointing
with her whip across the field, the winding way having brought them in
a straight line with the pair left on the road.
"Very bold, I must say," said Josephine; "but Leam is such a
child!--she does not understand things as we do," she added by way of
apology and defence.
"Think not?" was Adelaide's reply; and then she whipped her ponies and
said no more.
"Why does Miss Birkett hate me?" asked Leam when Edgar came back.
"Because--Shall I tell you?" he answered with a look which she could
"Yes, tell me."
"Because you are more beautiful than she is, and she is jealous of
you. She is very good in her own way, but she does not like rivals
near her throne; and you are her rival without knowing it."
Leam had looked straight at Edgar when he began to speak, but now she
dropped her eyes. For the first time in her life she did not disclaim
his praise, nor feel it a thing that she ought to resent. On the
contrary, it made her heart beat with a sudden throb that almost
frightened her with its violence, and that seemed to break down her
old self in its proud reticence and cold control, leaving her soft,
subdued, timid, humble--childlike, and yet not a child. Her face was
pale; her eyelids seemed weighted over her eyes, so that she could
not raise them; her breath came with so much difficulty that she was
forced to unclose her lips for air; she trembled as if with a sudden
chill, and yet her veins seemed running with fire; and she felt as
if the earth moved under her feet. What malady was this that had
overtaken her so suddenly? What did it all mean? It was something like
that strange sensation which she had had a few hours back in the
wood, when Mr. Gryce had seemed to her like some compelling spirit
questioning her of her life, while she was his victim, forced to
reveal all. And yet it was the same, with a difference. That had been
torture covered down by an anodyne: this was in its essence ecstasy,
if on the outside pain.
"Look at me, Leam," half whispered Edgar, bending over her.
She raised her eyes with shame and difficulty--very slowly, for their
lids were so strangely heavy; very shyly, for there was something in
them, she herself did not know what, which she did not wish him to
see. Nevertheless, she raised them because he bade her. How sweet and
strange it was to obey him against her own desire! Did he know that
she looked at him because he told her to do so? and that she would
have rather kept her eyes to the ground? Yes, she raised them and met
Veiled, humid, yearning, those eyes of hers told all--all that she
herself did not know, all that Edgar had now hoped, now feared, as
passion or prudence had swayed him, as love or fitness had seemed the
best circumstance of life.
"Leam!" he said in an altered voice: she scarcely recognized it as
his. He took her hand in his, when suddenly there came two voices on
the air, and Mr. Gryce and Sebastian Dundas, disputing hotly on the
limits of the Unknowable, turned the corner and came upon them.
Then the moment and its meaning passed, the enchanted vision faded,
and all that remained of that brief foretaste of Paradise before the
serpent had entered or the forbidden fruit been tasted was the bald,
prosaic fact of Major Harrowby bidding Miss Dundas good-day, too much
pressed for time to stop and talk on the Unknowable.
"Disappointed, baulked, ill-used!" were Edgar's first angry thoughts
as he strode along the road: his second, those that were deepest and
truest to his real self, came with a heavy sigh. "Saved just in time
from making a fool of myself," he said below his breath, his eyes
turned in the direction of the Hill. "It must be a warning for the
future. I must be more on my guard, unless indeed I make up my mind to
tempt fortune and take the plunge--for happiness such as few men have,
or for the ruin of everything."
Meanwhile, pending this determination, Edgar kept himself out of
Leam's way, and days passed before they met again. And when they did
next meet it was in the churchyard, in the presence of the assembled
congregation, with Alick Corfield as the centre of congratulation
on his first resumption of duty, and Leam and Edgar separated by the
crowd and stiffened by conventionality into coldness.
Maya--delusion! That strange trouble, sweet and thrilling, which
disturbed Leam's whole being; Edgar's unfathomable eyes, which seemed
almost to burn as she looked at them; his altered voice, scarcely
recognizable it was so changed--all a mere phantasy born of a
dream--all, what is so much in this life of ours, a mockery, a
mistake, a vague hope without roots, a shadowy heaven that had
no place in fact, the cold residuum of enthralling and bewitching
myths--all Maya, delusion!
BY THE BROAD.
After that scene in the pony-carriage Leam began to take it to heart
that little Fina did not love her. Hitherto, solicitous only to do
her duty unrelated to sentiment, she had not cared to win the child's
rootless and unmeaning affection: now she longed to hear her say to
Major Harrowby, "I love Leam." She did not care about her saying it to
any one else, but she thought it would be pleasant to see Edgar smile
on her as he had smiled at Josephine when Fina had crawled on to her
lap that day of Maya, and said, "You are far nicer, Missy Joseph."
She would like to have Edgar's good opinion. Indeed, that was only
proper gratitude to a friend, not unwomanly submission to the great
young man of the place. He was invariably kind to her, and he had done
much to make her cheerless life less dreary. He had lent her books to
read, and had shown her pretty places in the district which she would
never have seen but for him: he talked to her as if he liked talking
to her, and he had defended her when Adelaide was rude. It was
right, then, that she should wish to please him and show him that she
deserved his respect.
Hence she put out her strength to win Fina's love that she might hear
her say, when next Major Harrowby asked her, "Yes, I love Leam."
But who ever gained by conscious endeavor the love that was not given
by the free sympathies of Nature? Hearts have been broken and lives
ruined before now for the want of a spell strong enough to turn
the natural course of feeling; and Leam's success with Fina was no
exception to the common experience. The more she sought to please her
the less she succeeded; and, save that the child grew disobedient in
proportion to the new indulgences granted, no change was effected.
How should there be a change? Leam could not romp, was not fond
of kissing, knew no childish games, could not enter into childish
nonsense, was entirely incapable of making believe, never seemed to
be thinking of what she was about, and had big serious eyes that
oppressed the little one with a sense of awe not conducive to love,
and of which she dreamed with terrifying adjuncts when she had had too
much cake too late at night. What there was of sterling in Leam had
no charm for, because no point of contact with, Fina. Thus, all her
efforts went astray, and the child loved her no better for being
coaxed by methods that did not amuse her. At the end of all she still
said with her pretty pout that Leam was cross--she would not talk to
her about mamma.
One day Learn took Fina for a walk to the Broad. It was the
most unselfish thing she could do, for her solitary rambles, her
unaccompanied rides, were her greatest pleasures; save, indeed, when
the solitude of these last was interrupted by Major Harrowby. This,
however, had not been nearly so often since the return of the families
as before; for Adelaide's pony-carriage was wellnigh ubiquitous, and
Edgar did not care that the rector's sarcastic daughter should see him
escorting Leam in lonely places three or four times a week. Thus, the
girl had fallen back into her old habits of solitude, and to take
the child with her was a sacrifice of which she herself only knew the
But, if blindly and with uncertain feet, stumbling often and straying
wide, Leam did desire to find the narrow way and walk in it--to know
the better thing and do it. At the present moment she knew nothing
better than to give nurse a holiday and burden herself with an
uncongenial little girl as her charge and companion when she would
rather have been alone. So this was how it came about that on this
special day the two set out for the Broad, where Fina had a fancy to
The walk was pleasant enough, Leam was not called on to rack her
brains--those non-inventive brains of hers, which could not imagine
things that never happened--for stories wherewith to while away the
time, as Fina ran alone, happy in picking the spring flowers growing
thick on the banks and hedgerows. Thus the one was amused and the
other was left to herself undisturbed; which was an arrangement that
kept Leam's good intentions intact, but prevented the penance which
they included from becoming too burdensome. Indeed, her penance was so
light that she thought it not so great a hardship, after all, to make
little Fina her companion in her rambles if she would but run on alone
and content herself with picking flowers that neither scratched nor
stung, and where therefore neither the surgery of needles nor the
dressing of dock-leaves was required, nor yet the supplementary
soothing of kisses and caresses for her tearful, sobbing, angry pain.
The Broad, always one of the prettiest points in the landscape, was
to-day in one of its most interesting phases. The sloping banks were
golden with globe-flowers and marsh "mary-buds," and round the margin,
was a broad belt of silver where the starry white ranunculus grew. All
sorts of the beautiful aquatic plants of spring were flowering--some
near the edges, apparently just within reach, tempting and perilous,
and some farther off and manifestly hopeless: the leaves of the
water-lilies, which later would be set like bosses of silver and gold
on the shimmering blue, had risen to the surface in broad, green,
shining platters, and the low-lying branches of the trees at the edge
dipped in the water and swayed with the running stream.
It was the loveliest bit of death and danger to be found for miles
round--so lovely that it might well have tempted the sorrowful to take
their rest for ever in a grave so sweet, so eloquent of eternal peace.
Even Leam, with all the unspoken yearnings, the formless hopes, of
youth stirring in her heart, thought how pleasant it would be to go to
sleep among the flowers and wake up only when she had found mamma in
heaven; while Fina, dazzled by the rank luxuriance before her, ran
forward to the water's edge with a shrill cry of delight.
Leam called to her to stand back, to come away from the water and the
bank, which, shelving abruptly, was a dangerous place for a child. The
footing was insecure and the soil treacherous--by no means a proper
playground for the rash, uncertain feet of six. Twice or thrice Leam
called, but Fina would not hear, and began gathering the flowers with
the bold haste of a child disobeying orders and resolved to make
the most of her opportunity before the time came of her inevitable
Thus Leam, walking fast, came up to her and took her by the arm in
high displeasure. "Fina, did you not hear me? You must not stand
here," she said,
"Don't, Leam, you hurt me--you are cross: leave me alone," screamed
Fina, twisting her little body to free herself from her step-sister's
"Be quiet. You will fall into the river and be drowned if you go on
like this," said Leam, tightening her hold; and those small nervous
hands of hers had an iron grasp when she chose to put out her
"Leave me alone. You hurt me--oh, you hurt me so much!" screamed Fina,
"Come with me, then. Do as you are bid and come away," returned Leam,
slightly relaxing her grasp. Though she was angry with the child, she
did not want to hurt her.
"I shan't. Leave me alone. You are a cross, ugly thing, and I hate
you," was Fina's sobbing reply.
With a sudden wrench she tore herself from the girl's hands, slipped,
staggered, shrieked, and the next moment was in the water, floating
downward with the current and struggling vainly to get out; while
Leam, scarcely understanding what she saw, stood paralyzed and
motionless on the bank.
Fortunately, at this instant Josephine drove up. She was alone,
driving her gray ponies in the basket phaeton, and saw the child
struggling in the stream, with Learn standing silent, helpless, struck
to stone as it seemed, watching her without making an effort to save
her. "Leam! Fina! save her! save her!" cried Josephine, who herself
had enough to do to hold her ponies, in their turn startled by her own
sudden cries. "Leam, save her!" she repeated; and then breaking down
into helpless dismay she began to sob and scream with short, sharp
hysterical shrieks as her contribution to the misery of the moment.
Poor Josephine! it was all that she could do, frightened as she was
at her own prancing ponies, distracted at the sight of Fina's danger,
horrified at Leam's apparent apathy.
As things turned out, it was the best that she could have done, for
her voice roused Leam's faculties into active life again, and broke
the spell of torpor into which horror had thrown them. "Holy St. Jago,
help me!" she said, instinctively turning back to first traditions and
making the sign of the cross, which she did not often make now, and
only when surprised out of conscious into automatic action.
Running down and along the bank, with one hand she seized the branch
of an oak that swept into the water, then plunged in up to her
shoulders to catch the child drifting down among the white ranunculus.
Fortunately, Fina was still near enough to the shore to be caught as
she drifted by without absolute danger of drowning to Leam, who waded
back to land, drawing the child with her, not much the worse for her
dangerous moment save for the fright which she had suffered and the
cold of her dripping clothes; in both of which conditions Leam was her
So soon as she was safe on shore the child began to scream and cry
piteously, as was perhaps but natural, and when she saw Josephine she
tore herself away from Leam and ran up to her as if for protection.
"Take me home to nurse," she sobbed, climbing into the little low
phaeton and clinging to Josephine, who was also weeping and trembling
hysterically. "Leam pushed me in: take me away from her."
"You say what is not true, Fina," said Leam gravely, trembling as much
as Josephine, though her eyes were dry and she did not sob. "You fell
in because you would not let me hold you."
"You pushed me in, and I hate you," reiterated Fina, cowering close to
the bosom of her warm, soft friend.
"Do you believe this?" asked Leam, turning to Josephine and speaking
with all her old pride of voice and bearing. Nevertheless, she was as
white as those flowers on the water. It was madame's child who accused
her of attempting to kill her, and it was the child whom she had so
earnestly desired to win who now said, "I hate her," to the sister of
the man to whom she longed to hear her say, "I love Leam."
"Believe that you pushed her in--that you wanted to drown dear little
Fina? No!" cried Josephine in broken sentences through her tears.
"She mistakes.--You must not say such dreadful things, my darling,"
to Fina. "Dear sister Leam would not hurt a hair of your head, I am
"She did: she pushed me in on purpose," persisted the shivering child,
beginning to cry afresh.
On which, a little common sense dawning on Josephine's distracted
mind, she did her best to stop her own hysterical sympathy,
remembering that to go home, change their wet clothes, have something
warm to drink and be put to bed would be more to the purpose for
both at this moment than to stand there crying, shivering and
recriminating, with herself as the weak and loving judge, inclining to
both equally, to settle the vexed question of accident or malice.
"Good gracious! why are we waiting here?" she cried, drying her eyes
quickly and ceasing to sob. "You will both get your deaths from cold
if you stand here in your wet clothes.--Come in, dear Leam, and I will
drive you home at once.--Fina, my darling, leave off crying, that's
my little angel. I will take you to papa, and you will be all right
directly. I cannot bear to see you cry so much, dear Fina: don't, my
Which only made the little one weep I and sob the more, children,
like women, liking nothing better than to be commiserated because of
distress which they could; control without difficulty if they would.
Seating the child at the bottom of the carriage and covering her with
the rug, Josephine flicked her ponies, which were glad enough to
be off and doing something to which they were accustomed, and soon
brought her dripping charge to Ford House, where they found Mr. Dundas
in the porch drawing on his gloves, his horse standing at the door.
"Good heavens! what is all this about?" he cried, rushing forward to
receive the disconsolate cargo, unloading one by one the whole group
dank and dismal--Josephine's scared face swollen with tears, white
and red in the wrong places; Leam's set like a mask, blanched, rigid,
tragic; Fina's now flushed and angry, now pale and frightened, with
a child's swift-varying emotions; and the garments of the last two
clinging like cerements and dripping small pools on the gravel.
"Learn pushed me into the river," said Fina, beginning to cry afresh,
and holding on by Josephine, who now kissed and coaxed her, and said,
"Fina, my darling, don't say such a wicked thing of poor Leam: it is
so naughty, so very naughty," and then took to hugging her again, as
the mood of the instant swayed her toward the child or the girl,
but always full of womanly weakness and kindness to each, and only
troubled that she had to make distinctions, as it were, between them.
"What is it you say, Fina?" asked Mr. Dundas slowly--"Leam pushed you
into the river?"
"Yes," sobbed Fina.
"I did not, papa. And I went in myself to save her," said Leam,
holding her head very straight and high.
Mr. Dundas looked at her keenly, sternly. "Well, no, Leam," he
answered, with, as it seemed to her, marked coldness and in a strange
voice: "with all your unpleasant temper I do not like to suppose you
could be guilty of the crime of murder."
The girl shuddered visibly. Her proud little head drooped, her fixed
and fearless eyes sank shamed to the ground. "I have always taken care
of Fina," she said in a humbled voice, as if it was a plea for pardon
that she was putting forward.
"You pushed me in, and you did it on purpose," repeated Fina; and Mr.
Dundas was shocked at himself to find that he speculated for a moment
on the amount of truth there might be in the child's statement.
Cold, trembling, distressed, Leam turned away. Would that sin of hers
always thus meet her face to face? Should she never be free from
its shadow? Go where she would, it followed her, ineffaceable,
irreparable--the shame of it never suffered to die out, its remorse
never quenched, the sword always above her head, to fall she knew not
when, but to fall some day: yes, that she did know.
"But you must go up stairs now," said Josephine with a creditable
effort after practicality: "we shall have you both seriously ill
unless you get your clothes changed at once."
Mr. Dundas looked at her kindly. "How wise and good you are!" he said
with almost enthusiasm; and Josephine, her eyes humid with glad tears,
her cheeks flushed with palpitating joy, sank in soul to him again,
as so often before, and offered the petition of her humble love, which
wanted only his royal signature to make an eternal bond.
"I love little Fina," she said tremulously. It was as if she had said,
"I love you."
Then she turned into the house and indulged her maternal instinct by
watching nurse as she undressed the child, put her in a warm bath,
gave her some hot elderberry wine and water, laid her in her little
bed, and with many kisses bade her go to sleep and forget all about
everything till tea-time. And the keen relish with which she
followed all these nursery details marked her fitness for the post
of pro-mother so distinctly that it made nurse look at her more than
once, and think--also made her say, as a feeler--"Law, miss! what a
pity you've not had one of your own!"
Her tenderness of voice and action with the child when soothing her at
the door had also made Sebastian think, and the child's fondness for
this soft-faced, weak and kindly woman was setting a mark on the man's
mind, well into middle age as she was. He began to ask himself whether
the blighted tree could ever put forth leaves again? whether there was
balm in Gilead yet for him, and nepenthe for the past in the happiness
of the future. He thought there might be, and that he had sat long
enough now by the open grave of his dead love. It was time to close
it, and leave what it held to the keeping of a dormant memory only--a
memory that would never die, but that was serene, passive and at rest.
So he pondered as he rode, and told Josephine's virtues as golden
beads between his fingers, to which his acceptance would give their
due value, wanting until now--their due value, merited if not won. And
for himself, would she make him happy? On the whole he thought that
she would. She worshiped him, perhaps, as he had worshiped that other,
and it was pleasant to Sebastian Dundas to be worshiped. He might do
worse, if also he might do better; but at least in taking Josephine he
knew what he was about, and Fina would not be made unhappy. He forgot
Leam. Yes, he would take Josephine for his wife by and by, when the
fitting moment came, and in doing so he would begin life anew and be
once more made free of joy.
He was one of those men resilient if shallow, and resilient perhaps
because shallow, who, persecuted by an evil fortune, are practically
unconquerable--men who, after they have been prostrated by a blow
severe enough to shatter the strongest heart, come back to their old
mental place after a time smiling, in nowise crushed or mutilated, and
as ready to hope and love and believe and plan as before--men who are
never ennobled by sorrow, never made more serious in their thoughts,
more earnest in their aims, though, as Sebastian had been, they may
be fretful enough while the sore is open--men who seem to be the
unresisting sport of the unseen powers, buffeted, tortured as we see
helpless things on earth--dogs beaten and horses lashed--for the mere
pleasure of the stronger in inflicting pain, and for no ultimate good
to be attained by the chastening. The souls of such men are like
those weighted tumblers of pith: knocked down twenty times, on
the twenty-first they stand upright, and nothing short of absolute
destruction robs them of their elasticity. As now when Sebastian
planned the base-lines of his new home with Josephine, and built
thereon a pretty little temple of friendship armed like love.
His heart was broken, he said to himself, but Josephine held the
fragments, and he would make himself tolerably content with the rivet.
Still, it was broken all the same; which simply meant that of the two
he loved madame the better, and would have chosen her before the other
could she have come back; but that failing, this other would do, even
Josephine's love being better than no love at all. Besides, she
had her own charms, if of a sober kind. She was a sweet-tempered,
soft-hearted creature, with the aroma of remembrance round her
when she was young and pretty and unattainable: consequently, being
unattainable, held as the moral pot of gold under the rainbow,
which, could it have been caught, would have made all life glad. The
sentimental rest which she and her people had afforded during the
turbulent times of that volcanic Pepita had also its sweet savor of
association that did not make her less delightful in the present;
and when he looked at her now, faded as she was, he used to try and
conjure back her image, such as it had been when she was a pretty,
blushing, affectionate young girl, who loved him as flowers love the
sun, innocently, unconsciously, and without the power of repulsion.
Also, she had the aroma of remembrance about her from another
side--remembrance when she had been madame's chosen friend and
favorite, and the unconscious chaperon, poor dear! who had made his
daily visits to Lionnet possible and respectable. He pitied her a
little now when he thought of how he had used her as Virginie's hood
and his own mask then; and he pitied her so much that he took it on
his conscience, as a duty which he owed her and the right, to make
her happy at last. Yes, it was manifestly his duty--unquestionably the
right thing to do. The petition must be signed, the suppliant raised;
Ahasuerus must exalt his Esther, his loving, faithful, humble Esther;
and when inclination models itself as duty the decision is not far
PALMAM QUI NON MERUIT.
All North Aston rang with the story of little Fina's peril,
Josephine's admirable devotion and Leam's shameful neglect--so
shameful as to be almost criminal. It was the apportionment of
judgment usual with the world. The one who had incurred no kind of
risk, and had done only what was pleasant to her, received unbounded
praise, while the one who was of practical use got for her personal
peril and discomfort universal blame. They said she had allowed the
child to run into danger by her own carelessness, and then had done
nothing to save her: and they wondered beneath their breath if she had
really wished the little one to be drowned. She was an odd girl, you
know, they whispered from each to each--moody, uncomfortable, and
unlike any one else; and though she had certainly behaved admirably to
little Fina, so far as they could see, yet it was not quite out of the
nature of things that she should wish to get rid of the child, who,
after all, was the child of no one knows whom, and very likely spoilt
and tiresome enough.
But no one said this aloud. They only whispered it to each other,
their comments making no more noise than the gliding of snakes through
the evening grass.
As for Fina, she suffered mainly from a fit of indigestion consequent
on the shower of sweetmeats which fell on her from all hands as the
best consolation for her willful little ducking known to sane men and
women presumably acquainted with the elements of physiology. She was
made restless, too, from excitement by reason of the multiplicity of
toys which every one thought it incumbent on him and her to bestow;
for it was quite a matter for public rejoicing that she had not been
drowned, and Josephine, as her reputed savior, leapt at a bound to the
highest pinnacle of popular favor.
It made not the slightest difference in the estimation of these clumsy
thinkers that the thing for which Josephine was praised was a pure
fiction, just as the thing for which Leam was condemned was a pure
fiction. Society at North Aston had the need of hero-worship on it at
this moment, and a mythic heroine did quite as well for the occasion
as a real one.
No one was so lavish of her praise as Adelaide. It was really
delightful to note the generosity with which she eulogized her friend
Joseph, and the pleasure that she had in dwelling on her heroism;
Josephine deprecating her praises in that weak, conscious, and
blushing way which seems to accept while disclaiming.
She invariably said, "No, Adelaide, I do not deserve the credit of it:
it was Leam who saved the child;" but she said it in that voice and
manner which every one takes to mean more modesty than truth, and
which therefore no one believes as it is given; the upshot being that
it simply brings additional grist to the mill whence popularity is
Her disclaimers were put down to her good-natured desire to screen
Leam: she had always been good to that extraordinary young person,
they said. But then Josephine Harrowby was good to every one, and if
she had a fault it was the generalized character of her benevolence,
which made her praise of no value, you see, because she praised every
one alike, and took all that glittered for gold. Hence, her assurances
that Leam had really and truly put herself into (the appearance of)
actual danger to save Fina from drowning, while she herself had done
nothing more heroic than take the dripping pair of them home when all
was over--she forgot to add, sit in the carriage and scream--went for
nothing, and the popular delusion for all. She was still the
heroine of the day, and
She did not mean it to be so--quite the contrary--but wrong comes
about from good intentions to the full as often as from evil ones.
Her design was simply to be truthful, as so much conscientious
self-respect, in the first instance, and to do justice to Leam in
the second; but between her good-natured advocacy and Adelaide's
undisguised hostility maybe the former did Leam the most harm.
The child's past danger was quite sufficient reason why Josephine
should come more frequently than usual to Ford House. It was only
natural that she should wish to know how the little one went on. The
cold, sore throat, rheumatic fever, measles that never came, might
yet be always on the way, and the woman's fond fears were only to be
quieted by the comforting assurance of her daily observation. Leam
did get a cold, and a severe one, but then Leam was grown up and
could take care of herself. Fina was the natural charge of universal
womanhood, and no one who was a woman at all could fail to be
interested in such a pretty, caressing little creature. And then
Sebastian Dundas loved best the child which was not his own; and
that, too, had its weight with Josephine, who somehow seemed to
have forgotten by now that little Fina was madame's child--false and
faithless madame--and was not part and parcel of the man she loved,
as also in some strange sense her own. Madame's initial dedication had
touched her deeply both at the time and ever after; the likeness of
name was again another tie; and that subtle resemblance to herself
which every one saw and spoke of seemed to round off all into an
harmonious whole, and give her a right which even Mrs. Birkett did not
It was about a week after the accident when Josephine went one
morning, as usual, to ask after Fina, and be convinced by personal
inspection that the pretty little featherhead, the child of many
loves, was well. She was met in the drawing-room by Mr. Dundas, who
when he greeted her took both her hands in his in a more effusive
manner than he had ever permitted himself to show since Pepita's
death, save once before he had decided on madame and when Josephine
had one day touched an old chord tenderly.
Holding her thus, he led her to the sofa with a certain look of
purpose in his face, of loving proprietorship in his bearing, that
made poor fond Josephine's foolish heart knock loudly against her
Was it then coming at last, that reward of constancy for which she
had borne so much suspense, so many delays, such long dull days and
tearful nights? Was the rickety idol of her whole life's worship
really about to bless her with his smiles?
She cast down her eyes, trembling, blushing. She was thirty-five years
of age, but she was only a great girl still, and her love had the
freshness which belongs to the cherished sentiment of girlhood ripened
into the confessed, patient, unchanging love of maturity.
"You have been always good to me, Josephine," began Mr. Dundas, still
holding her hand.
Josephine did not answer, save through the crimson of her telltale
cheeks and the smile akin to tears about her quivering mouth.
"I think you have always liked me," he went on to say, looking down
into her face.
Josephine closed her hand over his more warmly and glanced up swiftly,
bashfully. Was there much doubt of it? had there ever been any doubt
"And I have always liked you," he added; and then he paused.
She looked up again, this time a certain tender reproach and surprise
lying behind her evident delight and love.
"Had not my darling Virginie come between us you would have been my
wife long ago," said Mr. Dundas, the certainty of her acceptance at
any time of their acquaintance as positive to him as that the famished
hound would accept food, the closed pimpernel expand in the sunlight.
"I was always fond of you, even in poor Pepita's time, though of
course, as a man of honor, I could neither encourage nor show my
affection. But Virginie--she took me away from the whole world, and I
lost you, as well as herself, for that one brief month of happiness."
His eyes filled up with tears. Though he was wooing his third bride,
he did not conceal his regret for his second.
By an effort of maidenly reserve over feminine sympathy Josephine
refrained from throwing her arms round his neck and weeping on his
shoulder for pity at his past sorrow. She had none of the vice of
jealousy, and she could honestly and tenderly pity the man whom she
loved for his grief at the loss of the woman whom he had preferred to
herself. She did, however, refrain, and Sebastian could only guess at
her impulse. But he made a tolerably accurate guess, though he seemed
to see nothing. He knew that his way was smooth before him, and that
he need not give himself a moment's trouble about the ending. And
though, as a rule, a man likes the excitement of doubt and the
sentiment of difficulties to be overcome, still there are times when,
if he is either very weary or too self-complacent to care to strive,
he is glad to be assured that he has won before he has wooed, and has
only to claim the love that is waiting for him. Which was what Mr.
Dundas felt now when he noted the simplicity with which Josephine
showed her heart while believing she was hiding it so absolutely, and
knew that he had only to speak to have the whole thing concluded.
"And now I have only half a heart to offer you," he said plaintively:
"the other half is in the grave with my beloved. But if you care to
ally yourself to one who has been the sport of sorrow as I have, if
you care to make the last years of my life happy, and will be content
with the ashes rather than the fires, I will do my best to make you
feel that you have not sacrificed yourself in vain. Will it be
a sacrifice, Josephine?" he asked in a lower tone, and with the
exquisite sweetness which love and pleading give to even a commonplace
"I have loved you all my life," said Josephine simply; and then
dissolving into happy tears she hid her face in his breast and felt
that heaven was sometimes very near to earth.
Sebastian passed his arms round her ample comely form and pressed her
to his heart, tenderly and without affectation. It was pleasant to him
to see her devotion, to feel her love; and though he disliked tears,
as a man should, still tears of joy were a tribute which he did not
despise in essence if the method might have been more congenial.
"Dear Josephine!" he said. "I always knew what a good soul you were."
This was the way in which Sebastian Dundas wooed and won an
honest-hearted English lady who loved him, and who, virtue for virtue,
was infinitely his superior--a wooing in striking contrast with the
methods which he had employed to gain the person of a low-class,
half-savage Spanish girl, whom he had loved for her beauty and who
took him for her pleasure; also in striking contrast with those
he employed to gain Madame de Montfort, a clever adventuress, who
balanced him, in hand, against her bird in the bush, and decided that
to make sure of the less was better than to wait for the chance of the
greater. But Josephine felt nothing humiliating in his lordliness. She
loved him, she was a woman devoid of self-esteem; hence humiliation
from his hand was impossible.
Just then pretty little Fina came running to the window from the
garden, where she was playing.
"Come here, poppet," said Mr. Dundas, holding out his left hand, his
right round comely Josephine.
She came through the open window and ran up to him. "Nice papa!" she
lisped, stroking his hand.
He took her on his knee, "I have I given you a new mamma, Fina," he
said, kissing her; and then he kissed Josephine for emphasis. "Will
you be good to her and love her very much? This is your mamma.".
"Will you love me, little Fina?" asked Josephine in a voice full of
emotion, taking the child's fair head between her hands. "Will you
like me to be your mamma?"
"Yes," cried Fina, clapping her hands. "I shall like a nice new mamma
instead of Learn. I hate Leam: she is cross and has big eyes."
"Oh, we must not hate poor Leam," remonstrated Josephine tenderly.
"I cannot understand the child's aversion," said Mr. Dundas in a
half-musing, half-suspicious way. "Leam seems to be all that is good
and kind to her, but nothing that she does can soften the little
creature's dislike. It must be natural instinct," he added in a lower
"Yes, perhaps it is," assented Josephine, who would have answered,
"Yes, perhaps it is," to anything else that her lover might have said.
"Where is Leam, my little Fina? Do you know?" asked Sebastian of the
"In the garden. She is coming in," answered Fina; and at the word Leam
passed before the window as Fina had done.
"Leam, my child, come in: I want to speak to you," said her father,
with unwonted kindness; and Leam, too, as Fina had done before her,
passed through the open window and came in.
The two middle-aged lovers were still sitting side by side and close
together on the sofa. Fina was on her stepfather's knee, caressing his
hand and Josephine's, which were clasped together on her little lap,
while his other arm encircled the substantial waist of his promised
bride, whose disengaged hand rested on his shoulder.
"Leam," said the father, "I have given you--"
He stopped. The name which he was about to utter, with all its
passionate memories, was left unsaid. He remembered in time Leam's
former renunciation of the new mamma whom he had once before proposed.
"I have asked Josephine Harrowby to be my wife," he said after a short
pause. "She has consented, and made me very happy. Let me hope that it
will make you happy too."
He spoke with forced calmness and something of sternness under his
apparent serenity. In heart he was troubled, remembering the past and
half fearing the future. How would she bear herself? Would she accept
his relations pleasantly, or defy and reject as before?
Leam looked at the triad gravely. It was a family group with which she
felt that she had no concern. She was outside it--as much alone as in
a strange country. She knew in that deepest self which does not palm
and lie to us that all her efforts to put herself in harmony with
her life were in vain. Race, education and that fearful memory stood
between her and her surroundings, and she never lost the perception of
her loneliness save when she was with Edgar. At this moment she looked
on as at a picture of love and gladness with which she had nothing
in common; nevertheless, she accepted what she saw, and if not
expansive--which was not her way--was, as her father said afterward,
"perfectly satisfactory." She went up to the sofa slowly and held out
her hand. "You are welcome," she said gravely to Josephine, but the
contempt which she had always had for her father, though she had tried
so hard of late to wear it down, surged up afresh, and she could
not turn her eyes his way. What a despicable thing that must be, she
thought--that thing he called his heart--to shift from one to
the other so easily! To her, the keynote of whose character was
single-hearted devotion, this facile, fluid love, which could be
poured out with equal warmth on every one alike, was no love at
all. It was a degraded kind of self-indulgence for which she had no
respect; and though she did not feel for Josephine as she had felt for
madame--as her mother's enemy--she despised her father even more now
Also a rapid thought crossed her mind, bringing with it a deadly
trouble. "If Josephine was her stepmother, would Major Harrowby be her
stepfather?" They were brother and sister, and she had an idea that
the family followed the relations of its members. She did not know
why, but she would rather not have Major Harrowby for her stepfather
or for any relation by law. She preferred that he should be wholly
unconnected with her--just her friend unrelated: that was all.
"Thank you, dear Leam!" said Josephine gratefully; and Leam, looking
at her with large mournful eyes, said in a soft but surprised tone of
voice, "Thank me!--why?"
"That you accept me as your stepmother so sweetly, and do not hate me
for it," said Josephine.
Leam glanced with a pained look at Fina. "I have done with hate," she
answered. "It is not my business what papa likes to do."
"Sensible at last!" cried Mr. Dundas with a half-mocking, half-kindly
triumph in his voice.
Leam turned pale. "But you must not think that _I_ forget mamma as you
do," she said with emphasis, her lip quivering.
"No, dear Leam, I would be the last to wish that you should forget
your own mamma for me," said Josephine humbly. "Only try to love me
a little for myself, as your friend, and I will be satisfied. Love
always your own mamma, but me too a little."
"You are good," said Leam softly, her eyes filling with tears. "I do
like you very much; but mamma--there is only one mother for me. None
of papa's wives could ever be mamma to me."
"But friend?" said Josephine, half sobbing.
"Friend? yes," returned Leam; and for the first time in her life she
bent her proud little head and kissed Josephine on her cheek. "And I
will be good to you," she said quietly, "for you are good." She did
not add, "And Edgar's sister."
The families approved of this marriage. Every one said it was what
ought to have been when Pepita died, and that Mr. Dundas had missed
his way and lost his time by taking that doubtful madame meanwhile.
Adelaide and her mother were especially congratulatory; but, though
the rector said he was glad for the sake of poor Josephine, who had
always been a favorite of his, yet he could not find terms of too
great severity for Sebastian. For a man to marry three times--it was
scarcely moral; and he wondered at the Harrowbys for allowing one of
their own to be the third venture. And then, though Josephine was a
good girl enough, she was but a weak sister at the best; and to
think of any man in his senses taking her as the successor of that
delightful and superior madame!
Mrs. Birkett dissented from these views, and said it would keep the
house together and be such a nice thing for Fina and Leam: both
would be the better for a woman's influence and superintendence, and
Josephine was very good.
"Yes," said the rector with his martial air--"good enough, I admit,
but confoundedly slow."
To Edgar, Adelaide expressed herself with delightful enthusiasm.
She was not often stirred to such a display of feeling. "It is _the_
marriage of the county," she said with her prettiest smile--"the very
thing for every one."
"Think so?" was his reply, made by no means enthusiastically. "If
Joseph likes it, that is all that need be said; but it is a marvel
to me how she can--such an unmanly creature as he is! such a muff all
"Well, I own he would not have been my choice exactly," said Adelaide
with a nice little look. "I like something stronger and more decided
in a man; but it is just as well that we all do not like the same
person; and then, you see, there are Leam and the child to be
considered. Lean is such an utterly unfit person to bring up Fina:
she is ruining her, indeed, as it is, with her capricious temper and
variable moods; and dear Josephine's quiet amiability and good sense
will be so valuable among them. I think we ought to be glad, as
Christians, that such a chance is offered them."
"Whatever else you may be, at least you are no hypocrite," said Edgar
with a forced smile that did not look much like approbation.
She chose to accept it simply. "No," she answered quite tranquilly, "I
am not a hypocrite."
"At all events, you do not disguise your dislike to Leam Dundas," he
"No: why should I? I confess it honestly, I do not like her. The
daughter of such a woman as her mother was; up to fifteen years of age
a perfect savage; a heathen with a temper that makes me shudder when I
think of it; capable of any crime. No, don't look shocked, Edgar: I am
sure of it. That girl could commit murder; and I verily believe that
she did push Fina into the water, as the child says, and that if
Josephine had not got there in time she would have let her drown. And
if I think all this, how can I like her?"
"No, if you think all this, as you say, you cannot like her," replied
Edgar coldly. "I don't happen to agree with you, however, and I think
your assumptions monstrous."
"You are not the first man blinded by a pair of dark eyes, Edgar,"
said Adelaide with becoming mournfulness. "It makes me sorry to see
such a mind as yours dazzled out of its better sense, but you will
perhaps come right in time. At all events, Josephine's marriage with
Mr. Dundas will give you a kind of fatherly relation with Leam that
may show you the truth of what I say."
"Fatherly relation! what rubbish!" cried Edgar, irritated out of his
Adelaide smiled. "Well, you would be rather a young father for her,"
she answered. "Still, the character of the relation will be, as I say,
Edgar laughed impatiently.
"Society will accept it in that light," said Adelaide gravely, glad to
erect even this barrier of shadows between the man of her choice and
the girl whom she both dreaded and disliked.
And she was right in her supposition. Brother and sister marrying
daughter and father would not be well received in a narrow society
like North Aston, where the restrictions of law and elemental morality
were supplemented by an adventitious code of denial which put Nature
into a strait waistcoat and shackled freedom of action and opinion
with chains and bands of iron. Perhaps it was some such thought as
this on his own part that made Edgar profess himself disgusted with
this marriage, and declare loudly that Sebastian Dundas was not worthy
of such a girl as Josephine. His hearers smiled in their sleeves when
he said so, and thought that Josephine Harrowby, thirty-five years of
age, fat and freckled, was not so far out in her running to have got
at last--they always put in "at last"--the owner of Ford House. It was
more than she might have expected, looking at things all round; and
Edgar was as unreasonable as proud men always are. With the redundancy
of women as we have it in England, happy the head of the house who can
get rid of his superfluous petticoats anyhow in honor and sufficiency.
This was the verdict of society on the affair--the two extremities of
the line wherefrom the same fact was viewed.
As for Josephine herself, dear soul! she was supremely happy. It was
almost worth while to have waited so long, she thought, to have such
an exquisite reward at last. She went back ten years in her life, and
grew quite girlish and fresh-looking, and what was wanting in romance
on Sebastian's part was made up in devotion and adoration on hers.
Sebastian himself took pleasure in her happiness, her adoration, the
supreme content of her rewarded love. It made him glad to think that
he had given so good a creature so much happiness; and he warmed his
soul at his rekindled ashes as a philosophic widower generally knows