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Nancy by Rhoda Broughton

Part 8 out of 8

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Life, worsted daily in a thousand cruel fights, has gained one little
victory. To-day, for the first time, we all three at once leave him--
leave him coolly and quietly asleep, and dine together in Mrs. Huntley's
little dusk-shaded dining-room.

We are quite a party. Mother is here, come to rejoice over her restored
first-born son; the Brat is here; he has run over from Oxford. Musgrave
is here. I am in such spirits; I do not know what has come to me. It
seems to me as if I were newly born into a fresh and altogether good and
jovial world.

Not even the presence of Musgrave lays any constraint upon my spirits.

For the first time since the dark day in Brindley Wood, I meet him
without embarrassment. I answer him: I even address him now and then.

All the small civilizations of life--the flower-garnished table; the
lamps softly burning; the evening-dresses (for the first time we have
dressed for dinner)--fill me with a keen pleasure, that I should have
thought such little etceteras were quite incapable of affording.

I seem as if I could not speak without broad smiles. I am tired, indeed,
still, and my eyes are heavy. But what does that matter? Life has won!
Life has won! We are still all six here!

"Nancy!" says the Brat, regarding me with an eye of friendly criticism,
"I think you are _cracked_ to-night!--Do you remember what our nurses
used to tell us? Much laughing always ends in much crying."

But I do not heed: I laugh on. Barbara is not nearly so boisterously
merry as I, but then she never is. She is more overdone with fatigue
than I, I think; for she speaks little--though what she does say is full
of content and gladness--and there are dark streaks of weariness and
watching under the serene violets of her eyes. She is certainly very
tired; as we go to bed at night she seems hardly able to get up the
stairs, but leans heavily on the banisters--one who usually runs so
lightly up and down.

Yes, _very_ tired, but what of that? it would be unnatural, _most_
unnatural if she were not; she will be all right to-morrow, after a good
long night's rest--yes, all right.

I say this to her, still gayly laughing as I give her my last kiss, and
she smiles and echoes, "All right!"


"So mayst thou die, as I do; fear and pain
Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!"

All right! Yes, for Barbara it _is_ all right. Friends, I no more doubt
that than I doubt that I am sitting here now, with the hot tears on my
cheeks, telling you about it; but oh! not--_not_ for us!

"Much laughing will end in much crying." The Brat was right. God knows
the old saw has come true enough in my case. I exulted too soon. Too
soon I said that the all-victor was vanquished. He might have left us
our one little victory, might not he?--knowing that at best it was but a
reprieve, that soon or late--soon or late, Algy--we all, every human
flower that ever blossomed out in this world's sad garden, must be
embraced in the icy iron of his arms.

I always said that we were too many and too prosperous; long ago I said
it. I always wondered that he had so long overlooked us. And now that he
comes, he takes our choicest and best. With nothing less is he content.
Barbara sickens. Not until the need for her tender nursing is ended, not
until Algy can do without her, does she go; and then she makes haste to
leave us.

On the morning after my mad and premature elation, it is but too plain
that the fever has laid hold of her too, and in its parching, withering
clasp, our unstained lily fades. We take her back to Tempest at her
wish, and there she dies--yes, _dies_.

Somehow, I never thought of Barbara dying. Often I have been nervous
about the boys; out in the world, exposed to a hundred dangers and rough
accidents, but about Barbara--_never_^ hardly more than about myself,
safely at home, scarcely within reach of any probable peril. And now the
boys are all alive and safe, and Barbara is going. One would think that
she had cared nothing for us, she is in such a hurry to be gone; and yet
we all know that she has loved us well--that she loves us still--none

Alas! we have no long and tedious nursing of her. She has never given
any trouble in her life, and she gives none now. Almost before we
realize the reality and severity of her sickness, she is gone. Neither
does she make any struggle. She never was one to strive or cry; never
loud, clamorous, and self-asserting, like the boys and me; she was
always most meek, and with a great meekness she now goes forth from
among us--meekness and yet valor, for with a full and collected
consciousness she looks in the face of Him from whom the nations
shuddering turn away their eyes, and puts her slight hand gently into
his, saying, "Friend, I am ready!"

And the days roll by; _but_ few, _but_ few of them, for, as I tell you,
she goes most quickly, and it comes to pass that our Barbara's death-day
dawns. Most people go in the morning. God grant that it is a good omen,
that for them, indeed, the sun is rising!

We are all round her--all we that loved her and yet so lightly--for
every trivial thing called upon her, and taxed her, and claimed this and
that of her, as if she were some certain common thing that we should
always have within our reach. Yes, we are all about her, kneeling and
standing in a hallowed silence, choking back our tears that they may not
stain the serenity of her departure.

Musgrave is nearest her; her hand is clasped in his; even at this sacred
and supreme moment a pang of most bitter earthly jealousy contracts my
heart that it should be so. What is he to her? what has he to do with
our Barbara?--_ours, not his, not his!_ But it pleases her.

_She_ has never doubted him. Never has the faintest suspicion of his
truth dimmed the mirror of her guileless mind, nor will it ever now. She
goes down to the grave smiling, holding his hand, and kissing it. Now
and then she wanders a little, but there is nothing painful or uneasy in
her wanderings.

Her fair white body lies upon the bed, but by the smile that kindles all
the dying loveliness of her face, by the happy broken words that fall
from her sweet mouth, we know that she is already away in heaven. Now
and again her lips part as if to laugh--a laugh of pure pleasantness.

"As the man lives, so shall he die!" As Barbara has lived, so does she
die--meekly, unselfishly--with a great patience, and an absolute peace.
O wise man! O philosophers! who would take from us--who have all but
taken from us--our Blessed Land, the land over whose borders our
Barbara, at that smile, seems setting her feet--you _may_ be right--I,
for one, know not! I am weary of your pros and cons! But when you take
it away, for God's sake give us something better instead!

Who, while they kneel, with the faint hand of their life's life in
theirs, can be satisfied with the _probability_ of meeting again? God!
God! give us _certainty_.

The night has all but waned, the dawn has come. God has sent his
messenger for Barbara. An awful hunger to hear her voice once more
seizes me, _masters_ me. I rise from my knees, and lean over her.

"Barbara!" I say, in a strangling agony of tears, "you are not _afraid_,
are you?"

_Afraid!_ She has all but forgotten our speech--she, who is hovering on
the confines of that other world, where our speech is needed not, but
she just repeats my word, "_Afraid_!"

Her voice is but a whisper now, but in all her look there is such an
utter, tender, joyful disdain, as leaves no room for misgiving.

Nay, friends, our Barbara is not at all afraid. She never was reckoned
one of the bravest of us--never--timorous rather! Often we have laughed
at her easy fears, we bolder ones. But which of us, I pray you, could go
with such valiant cheer to meet the one prime terror of the nations as
she is doing?

And it comes to pass that, about the time of the sun-rising, Barbara

"She is gone! God bless her!" Roger says, with low and reverent
tenderness, stooping over our dead lily, and, putting his arm round me,
tries to lead me away. But I shake him off, and laugh out loud.

"Are you _mad_?" I cry, "she is _not_ dead! She is no more dead than
_you_ are! Only a moment ago, she was speaking to me! Do dead people

But rave and cry as I may, she _is_ dead. In smiling and sweetly
speaking, even while yet I said "She is here!" yea, in that very moment
she went.

Our Barbara is asleep!--to awake--when?--where?--we know not, only we
altogether hope, that, when next she opens her blue eyes, it will be in
the sunshine of God's august smile--God, through life and in death, _her


"Then, breaking into tears, 'Dear God,' she cried, 'and must we see,
All blissful things depart from us, or e'er we go to Thee;
We cannot guess Thee in the wood, or hear Thee in the wind:
Our cedars must fall round us e'er we see the light behind.
Ay, sooth, we feel too strong in weal to need Thee on that road;
But, woe being come, the soul is dumb that crieth not on God.'"

I am twenty years old now, barely twenty; and seventy is the appointed
boundary of man's date, often exceeded by ten, by fifteen years. During
all these fifty--perhaps sixty--years, I shall have to do without
Barbara. I have not yet arrived at the _pain_ of this thought: _that_
will come, quick enough, I suppose, by-and-by!--it is the _astonishment_
of it that is making my mind reel and stagger!

I suppose there are few that have not endured and overlived the
frightful _novelty_ of this idea.

I am sitting in a stupid silence; my stiff eyes--dry now, but dim and
sunk with hours of frantic weeping--fixed on vacancy, while I try to
think _exactly_ of her face, with a greedy, jealous fear lest, in the
long apathy of the endless years ahead of me, one soft line, one lovely
line, may become faint and hazy to me.

How often I have sat for hours in the same room with her, without one
glance at her! It seems to me, now, _monstrous_, incredible, that I
should ever have moved my eyes from her--that I should ever have ceased
kissing her, and telling her how altogether beloved she was by me.

If all of us, while we are alive, could stealthily, once a year, and
during a moment long enough to exchange but two words with them, behold
those loved ones whom we have lost, death would be no more death.

But, O friends, that one moment, for whose sake we could so joyfully
live through all the other minutes of the year, to us never comes.

I suppose trouble has made me a little light-headed. I think to-day I am
foolisher than usual. Thoughts that would not tease other people, tease

If I ever see her again--if God ever give me that great felicity--I do
not quite know why He should, but if--if--(ah! what an if it is!)--my
mind misgives me--I have my doubts that it will not be _quite_ Barbara--
not the Barbara that knitted socks for the boys, and taught Tou Tou, and
whose slight, fond arms I can--now that I have shut my eyes--so plainly
feel thrown round my shoulders, to console me when I have broken into
easy tears at some silly tiff with the others. Can even the omnipotent
God remember all the unnumbered dead, and restore to them the shape and
features that they once wore, and by which they who loved them knew

The funeral is over now--over two days ago. She lies in Tempest
church-yard, at her own wish. The blinds are drawn up again; the sun
looks in; and life goes on as before.

Already there has grown a sacredness about the name of Barbara--the name
that used to echo through the house oftener than any other, as one and
another called for her. Now, it is less lightly named than the names of
us live ones.

I shall always _wince_ when I hear it. Thank God! it is not a common
name. After a while, I know that she will become a sealed subject, never
named; but as yet--while my wound is in its first awful rawness, I must
speak of her to some one.

I am talking of her to Roger now; Roger is very good to me--very! I do
not seem to care much about him, nor about anybody for the matter of
that, but he is very good.

"You liked her," I say, in a perfectly collected, tearless voice, "did
not you? You were very kind and forbearing to them all, always--I am
very grateful to you for it--but you liked _her_ of your own accord--you
would have liked her, even if she had not been one of us, would not

I seem greedy to hear that she was dear to everybody.

"I was very fond of her," he answers, in a choked voice.

"And you are _sure_ that she is happy now?" say I, with the same keen
agony of anxiety with which I have put the question twenty times before
--"well off--better than she was here--you do not say so to comfort me,
suppose; you would say it even if I were talking--not of her--but of
some one like her that I did not care about?"

He turns to me, and clasps my dry, hot hands.

"Child!" he says, looking at me with great tears standing in his gray
eyes--"I would stake all my hopes of seeing His face myself, that she
has gone to God!" I look at him with a sort of wistful envy. How is it
that he and Barbara have attained such a certainty of faith? He can
_know_ no more than I do. After a pause--

"I think," say I, "that I should like to go home for a bit, if you do
not mind. Everybody was fond of her there. Nobody knew any thing about
her, nobody cared for her here."

So I go home. As I turn in at the park-gates, in the gray, wet gloom of
the November evening, I think of my first home-coming after my

Again I see the divine and jocund serenity of the summer evening--the
hot, red sunset making all the windows one great flame, and they all,
Barbara, Algy, Bobby, Tou Tou, laughing welcome to me from the opened
gate. Tonight I feel as if they were _all_ dead. I reach the house. I
stand in the empty school-room!--I, alone, of all the noisy six. The
stains of our cookery still discolor the old carpet; there is still the
great ink-splash on the wall, that marks the spot where the little
inkstand, aimed by Bobby at my head, and dodged by me, alighted.

How little I thought that those stains and that splash would ever speak
to me with voices of such pathos! I have asked to be allowed to sleep in
Barbara's and my old room. I am there now. I have thrown myself on
Barbara's little white bed, and am clasping her pillow in my empty arms.
Then, with blurred sight and swimming eyes, I look round at all our
little childish knick-knacks.

There is the white crockery lamb that she gave me the day I was six
years old! Poor little trumpery lamb! I snatch it up, and deluge its
crinkly back, and its little pink nose, with my scalding tears.

At night I cannot sleep. I have pulled aside the curtains, that through
the windows my eyes may see the high stars, beyond which she has gone.
Through the pane they make a faint and ghostly glimmer on the empty bed.

I sit up in the dead middle of the night, when the darkness and
so-called silence are surging and singing round me, while the whole room
feels full of spirit presences. _I alone_! I am accompanied by a host--a
bodiless host.

I stretch out my arms before me, and cry out:

"Barbara! Barbara! If you are here, make some sign! I _command_ you,
touch me, speak to me! I shall not be afraid!--dead or alive, can I be
afraid of _you_?--give me some sign to let me know where you are--
whether it is worth while trying to be good to get to you! I _adjure_
you, give me some sign!"

The tears are raining down my cheeks, as I eagerly await some answer.
Perhaps it will come in the cold, _cold_ air, by which some have known
of the presence of their dead; but in vain. The darkness and the silence
surge round me. Still, still I feel the spirit-presences; but Barbara is

"You have been away such a short time!" I cry, piteously. "You cannot
have gone far! Barbara! Barbara! I _must_ get to you! If _I_ had died,
and _you_ had lived, a hundred thousand devils should not have kept me
from you. I should have broken through them all and reached you. Ah!
cruel Barbara! you do not _want_ to come to me!"

I stop, suffocated with tears; and through the pane the high stars still
shine, and Barbara is dumb!


"The last touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it by day and by
Their last step on the stairs, at the door, still throbs through me,
if ever so light.
Their last gift which they left to my childhood, far off in the
long-ago years,
Is now turned from a toy to a relic, and seen through the crystals of
'Dig the snow,' she said,
For my church-yard bed;
Yet I, as I sleep, shall not fear to freeze,
If one only of these, my beloveds, shall love with heart-warm tears,
As I have loved these.'"

It seems to me in these days as if, but for the servants, I were quite
alone in the house. Father is ill. We always thought that he never would
care about any thing, or any of us, but we are wrong. Barbara's death
has shaken him very much. Mother is with him always, nursing him, and
being at his beck and call, and I see nothing of her.

Tou Tou has gone to school, and so it comes to pass that, in the late
populous school-room, I sit alone. Where formerly one could hardly make
one's voice heard for the merry clamor, there is now no noise, but the
faint buzzing of the house-flies on the pane, and now and again, as it
grows toward sunset, the loud wintry winds keening and calling.

The Brat indeed runs over for a couple of days, but I am so glad when
they are over, and he is gone. I used to like the Brat the best of all
the boys, and perhaps by-and-by I shall again; but, for the moment, do
you know, I almost hate him.

Once or twice I _quite_ hate him, when I hear him laughing in his old
thorough, light-hearted way--when I hear him jumping up-stairs three
steps at a time, whistling the same tune he used to whistle before he

Poor boy! He would be always sorrowful if he could, and is very much
ashamed of himself for not being, but he cannot.

Life is still pleasant to him, though Barbara is dead, and so I unjustly
hate him, and am glad when he is gone. Have not I come home because here
she was loved, here, at least, through all the village--the village
about which she trod like one of God's kind angels--I shall be certain
of meeting a keen and assured sympathy in my sorrow.

"....Where indeed
The roof so lowly but that beam of heaven
Dawned some time through the door-way?"

And yet, now that I am here, the village seems much as it was. Still the
same groups of fat, frolicking children about the doors; still the same
busy women at the wash-tub; about the house still the same coarse

It would be most unnatural, impossible that it should not be so, and yet
I feel angry--sorely angry with them.

One day when this sense of rawness is at its worst and sharpest, I
resolve that I will pay a visit to the almshouse. There, at least, I
shall find that she is remembered; there, out of mere selfishness, they
must grieve for her. When will they, in their unlovely eld, ever find
such a friend again?

So I go there. I find the old women, some crooning over the fire, half
asleep, some squabbling. I suppose they are glad to see me, though not
_so_ glad when they discover that I have brought no gift in my hand, for
indeed I have forgotten--no quarter-pounds of tea--no little
three-cornered parcels of sugar.

They begin to talk about Barbara at once. Among the poor there is never
any sacredness about the names of the dead, and though I have hungered
for sorrowful talk about her, for assurance that by some one besides
myself the awful emptiness of her place is felt, yet I wince and shrink
from hearing her lightly named in common speech.

They are sorry about her, certainly--quite sorry--but it is more what
they have lost by her, than her that they deplore. And they are more
taken up with their own little miserable squabbles--with detracting
tales of one another--than with either.

"Eh? she's a bad 'un, she is! I says to her, says I, 'Sally,' says I,
'if you'll give yourself hully and whully to the Lord for one week, I'll
give you a _hounce_ of baccy,' and she's that wicked, she actilly would

Is _this_ the sort of thing I have come to hear? I rise up hastily, and
take my leave.

As I walk home again through the wintry roads, and my eyes fix
themselves with a tired languor on the green ivy-flowers--on the little
gray-green lichen-cups on the almshouse-wall, I think, "Does _no one_
remember her? Is she already altogether forgotten?"

It is still early in the afternoon when I reach home. The dark is
_coming_ indeed, for it comes soon nowadays, but it has not yet come.

I go into the garden, and begin to pace up and down the gravel walks,
under the naked lime-trees that have forgotten their July perfume, and
are tossing their bare, cold arms in the evening wind.

Only _one_ of my old playfellows is left me. Jacky still stands on the
gravel as if the whole place belonged to him; still stands with his head
on one side, roguishly eying the sunset.

Thank Heaven, Jacky is still here, sly and nefarious, as when I bent
down to give him my tearful good-by kiss on my wedding-morning. I kneel
down, half laughing, half crying, on the damp walk, to stroke his round
gray head, and hear his dear cross croak. Whether he resents the
blackness of my appearance as being a mean imitation of his own, I do
not know, but he will not come near me; he hops stiffly away, and stands
eying me from the grass, with an unworthy affectation of not knowing who
I am. I am still wasting useless blandishments on him, when my attention
is distracted by the sound of footsteps on the walk.

I look up. Who is this man that is coming, stepping toward me in the

I am not long left in doubt. With a slight and sudden emotion of
surprised distaste, I see that it is Musgrave. I rise quickly to my

"It is you, is it?" I say, with a cold ungraciousness, for I have not
half forgiven him yet--still I bear a grudge against him--still I feel
an angry envy that Barbara died with her hand in his.

"Yes, it is I!"

He is dressed in deep mourning. His cheeks are hollow and pale; he looks
dejected, and yet fierce. We walk alongside of each other in silence for
a few yards.

"Why do not you ask what has brought me here?" he asks suddenly, with a
harsh abruptness. "I know that that is what you are thinking of."

"Yes," I reply, gravely, without looking at him, "it is!--what has?"

"I have come to bid you all good-by," he answers, in a low, quick voice,
with his eyes bent on the ground; "you know"--raising them, and
beginning to laugh hoarsely--"if--if--things had gone right--you would
have been my nearest relation by now."

I shudder.

"Yes," say I, "I know."

"I am going away," he goes on, raising his voice to a louder tone of
reckless unrest, "_where?_--God knows!--_I_ do not, and do not care
either!--going away for good!--I am going to let the abbey."

"To _let_ it!"

"You are _glad_!" he cries in a tone of passionate and sombre
resentment, while his great eyes, lifted, flash a miserable resentment
into mine; "I _knew_ you would be! I have not given you much pleasure
very often, have I?"--(still with that same harsh mirth).--"Well, it is
something to have done it _once_!"

I clasp my down-hanging hands loosely together. I lift my eyes to the
low, dark sky.

"_Am_ I glad?" I say, hazily. "I do not know!--I do not think I am!--I
do not think I care one way or another!"

"Nancy!" he says, presently, in a tone no longer of counterfeit mirth,
but of deep and serious earnestness, "I do not know why I told you just
now that I had come to bid them all good-by--it was not true--you know
it was not. What are they to me, or I to them, now? I came--"

"For what did you come, then?" cry I, interrupting him, pantingly, while
my eyes wide and aghast, grow to his face. What is it that he is going
to say? He--from whose clasp Barbara's dead hand was freed!

"Do not look at me like that!" he cries, wildly, putting up his hands
before his eyes. "It reminds me--great God! it reminds me--"

He breaks off; then goes on a little more calmly:

"You need not be afraid! Brute and blackguard as I am, I am not quite
brute and blackguard enough for _that!_--that would be past _even_ me! I
have come to ask you once again to forgive me for that--that old
offense" (with a shamed red flush on the pallor of his cheeks); "I asked
you once before, you may remember, and you answered"--(my words with a
resentful accuracy)--"that you '_would not, and by God's help, you never

"Did I?" say I, with that same hazy feeling. Those old emotions seem
grown so distant and dim, "I dare say!--I did not recollect!"

"And so I have come to ask you once again," he goes on, with a heavy
emphasis--"it will do me no great harm if you say 'No' again!--it will
do me small good if you say 'Yes.' And yet, before I go _away forever_--
yes"--(a bitter smile)--"cheer up!--_-forever!_--I must have one more

I am silent.

"You may as well forgive me!" he says, taking my cold and passive hand,
and speaking with an intense though composed mournfulness. "After all, I
have not done you much harm, have I?--that is no credit to me, I know. I
would have done, if I could, but I could not! You may as well forgive
me, may not you? God forgives!--at least"--(with a sigh of heavy and
apathetic despair)--"so they say!--would _you_ be less clement than He?"

I am looking back at him, with a quiet fixedness. I no longer feel the
slightest embarrassment in his presence; it no longer disquiets me, that
he should hold my hand.

"Yes," say I, speaking slowly, and still with my sunk and tear-dimmed
eyes calmly resting on the dull despair of his, "yes--if you wish--it is
all so long ago--and _she_ liked you!--yes!--I forgive you!"


"Love is enough."

And so, as the days go by, the short and silent days, it comes to pass
that a sort of peace falls upon my soul; born of a slow yet deep
assurance that with Barbara it is well.

One can do with probabilities in prosperity, when to most of us careless
ones it seems no great matter whether there be a God or no? When all the
world's wheels seem to roll smoothly, as if of themselves, and one can
speculate with a confused curiosity as to the nature of the great far
cause that moves them; but in grief--in the destitute bareness, the
famished hunger of soul, when "one is not," how one craves for
_certainties_! How one yearns for the solid heaven of one's childhood;
the harping angels, the never-failing flowers; the pearl gates and
jeweled walls of God's great shining town!

They may be gone; I know not, but at least _one_ certainty remains--
guaranteed to us by no outside voice, but by the low yet plain tones
that each may listen to in his own heart. That, with him who is pure and
just and meek, who hates a lie worse than the sharpness of death, and
loves others dearer than himself, it shall be well.

Do you ask where? or when? or how? We cannot say. We know not; only we
know that it shall be well.

Never, never shall I reach Barbara's clear child-faith; Barbara, to whom
God was as real and certain as I; never shall I attain to the steady
confidence of Roger. I can but grope dimly with outstretched hands;
sometimes in the outer blackness of a moonless, starless night;
sometimes, with strained eyes catching a glimpse of a glimmer in the
east, I can but _feel_ after God, as a plant in a dark place feels after
the light.

And so the days go by, and as they do, as the first smart of my despair
softens itself into a slow and reverent acquiescence in the Maker's
will, my thoughts stray carefully, and needfully back over my past life:
they overleap the gulf of Barbara's death and linger long and
wonderingly among the previous months.

With a dazed astonishment I recall that even then I looked upon myself
as one most unprosperous, most sorrowful-hearted.

What in Heaven's name ailed me? What did I lack? My jealousy of Roger,
such a living, stinging, biting thing _then_; how dead it is now!

Barbara always said I was wrong; always!

As his eyes, in the patient mournfulness of their reproachful appeal,
answer again in memory the shrewish violence of my accusation on the
night of the ball--the last embers of my jealousy die. He does not love
me as he did; of that I am still persuaded. There is now, perhaps, there
always will be, a film, a shade between us.

By my peevish tears, by my mean and sidelong reproaches, by my sulky
looks, I have necessarily diminished, if not quite squandered the stock
of hearty, wholesome, honest love that on that April day he so
diffidently laid at my feet. I have already marred and blighted a year
and three-quarters of his life. I recollect how much older, than me he
is, how much time I have already wasted; a pang of remorse, sharp as my
knife, runs through my heart; a great and mighty yearning to go back to
him at once, to begin over again _at once, this very minute_ to begin
over again--overflows and floods my whole being. Late in the day as it
is--doubly unseemly and ungracious as the confession will seem now--I
will tell him of that lie with which I first sullied the cleanness of
our union. With my face hidden on his broad breast, so that I may not
see his eyes, I will tell him--yes, I will tell him. "I will arise, and
go to him, and say, 'I have sinned against Heaven and before thee.'"

So I go. I am nearing Tempest: as I reach the churchyard gate, I stop
the carriage, and get out.

Barbara was always the one that, after any absence from home, I used
first to run in search of. I will go and seek her now.

It is drawing toward dusk as I pass, in my long black gown, up the
church-path, between the still and low-lying dead, to the quiet spot
where, with the tree-boughs waving over her, with the ivy hanging the
loose luxuriance of its garlands on the church-yard wall above her head,
our Barbara is taking her rest.

As I near the grave, I see that I am not its only visitor. Some one, a
man, is already there, leaning pensively on the railings that surround
it, with his eyes fixed on the dark and winterly earth, and on the
newly-planted, flagging flowers. It is Roger. As he hears my approaching
steps, the swish of my draperies, he turns; and, by the serene and
lifted gravity of his eyes, I see that he has been away in heaven with
Barbara. He does not speak as I come near; only he opens his arms
joyfully, and yet a little diffidently, too, and I fly to then.

"Roger!" I cry, passionately, with a greedy yearning for human love
here--at this very spot, where so much of the love of my life lies in
death's austere silence at my feet--"love me a little--_ever so little_!
I know I am not very lovable, but you once liked me, did not you?--not
nearly so much as I thought, I know, but still _a little_!"

"_A little_!"

"I am going to begin all over again!" I go on, eagerly, speaking very
quickly, with my arms clasped about his neck, "quite all over again;
indeed I am! I shall be so different that you will not know me for the
same person, and if--if--" (beginning to falter and stumble)--"if you
still go on liking _her_ best, and thinking her prettier and pleasanter
to talk to--well, you cannot help it, it will not be your fault--and I--
I--will try not to mind!"

He has taken my hands from about his neck, and is holding them warmly,
steadfastly clasped in his own.

"Child! child!" he cries, "shall I _never_ undeceive you? are you still
harping on that old worn-out string?"

"_Is_ it worn out?" I ask, anxiously, staring up with my wet eyes
through the deep twilight into his. "Yes, yes!" (going on quickly and
impulsively), "if you say so, I will believe it--without another word I
will believe it, but--" (with a sudden fall from my high tone, and lapse
into curiosity)--"you know you must have liked her a good deal once--you
know you were engaged to her."

"_Engaged to her!_"

"Well, _were not_ you?"

"I never was engaged to any one in my life," he answers with solemn
asseveration; "odd as it may seem, I never in my life had asked any
woman to marry me until I asked you. I had known Zephine from a child;
her father was the best and kindest friend ever any man had. When he was
dying, he was uneasy in his mind about her, as she was not left well
off, and I promised to do what I could for her--one does not lightly
break such a promise, does one? I was fond of her--I would do her any
good turn I could, for old sake's sake, but _marry_ her--be _engaged_ to

He pauses expressively.

"Thank God! thank God!" cry I, sobbing hysterically; "it has all come
right, then--Roger!--Roger!"--(burying my tear-stained face in his
breast)--"I will tell you _now_--perhaps I shall never feel so brave
again!--do not look at me--let me hide my face; I want to get it over in
a hurry! Do you remember--" (sinking my voice to an indistinct and
struggling whisper)--"that night that you asked me about--about
_Brindley Wood_?"

"Yes, I remember."

Already, his tone has changed. His arms seem to be slackening their
close hold of me.

"Do not loose me!" cry I, passionately; "hold me tight, or I can _never_
tell you--how could you expect me? Well, that night--you know as well as
I do--I _lied_."

"You _did_?"

How hard and quick he is breathing! I am glad I cannot see his face.

"I _was_ there! I _did_ cry! she _did_ see me--"

I stop abruptly, choked by tears, by shame, by apprehension.

"Go on!" (spoken with panting shortness).

"He met me there!" I say, tremulously. "I do not know whether he did it
on purpose or not, and said dreadful things! must I tell you them?"
(shuddering)--"pah! it makes me sick--he said" (speaking with a
reluctant hurry)--"that he loved me, and that I loved him, and that I
_hated_ you, and it took me so by surprise--it was all so horrible, and
so different from what I had planned, that I cried--of course I ought
not, but I did--I _roared!_"

There does not seem to me any thing ludicrous in this mode of
expression, neither apparently does there to him.


"I do not think there is any thing more!" say I, slowly and timidly
raising my eyes, to judge of the effect of my confession, "only that I
was so _deadly, deadly_ ashamed; I thought it was such a shameful thing
to happen to any one that I made up my mind I would never tell anybody,
and I did not."

"And is that _all_?" he cries, with an intense and breathless anxiety in
eyes and voice, "are you sure that that is _all_?"

"All!" repeat I, opening my eyes very wide in astonment; "do not you
think it is _enough_?"

"Are you sure," he cries, taking my face in his hands, and narrowly,
searchingly regarding it--"Child! child!--to-day let us have nothing--
_nothing_ but truth--are you sure that you did not a little regret that
it must be so--that you did not feel it a little hard to be forever tied
to my gray hairs--my eight-and-forty years?"

"Hush!" cry I, snatching away my hands, and putting them over my ears.
"I will not listen to you!--what do I care for your forty-eight years?--
If you were a hundred--two hundred--what is it to me?--what do I care--I
love you! I love you! I love you--O my darling, how stupid you have been
not to see it all along!"

And so it comes to pass that by Barbara's grave we kiss again with
tears. And now we are happy--stilly, inly happy, though I, perhaps, am
never quite so boisterously gay as before the grave yawned for my
Barbara; and we walk along hand-in-hand down the slopes and up the hills
of life, with our eyes fixed, as far as the weakness of our human sight
will let us, on the one dread, yet good God, whom through the veil of
his great deeds we dimly discern. Only I wish that Roger were not
nine-and-twenty years older than I!


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