Part 3 out of 16
any unbeliever, however apparently worthy and good. He impressed
it upon them as their special sacred duty, in a time of wicked
enmity to religion, to cherish the faith and the whole faith. He
wished his wife and daughters to live on here after his death, that
they might be less in danger spiritually than in the big world, and
that they might have more opportunity of living the old-fashioned
Christian life. There was also some mystical idea, I think, of
making up through his children for the godless lives of their
forefathers. He used to reproach himself for having in his prosperous
days neglected his family, some of whom he might have helped to
'Well, but,' said Robert, 'all very well for Miss Leyburn, but I
don't see the father in the two younger girls.'
'Ah, there is Catherine's difficulty,' said the vicar, shrugging
his shoulders. 'Poor thing! How well I remember her after her
father's death! She came down to see me in the dinning-room about
some arrangement for the funeral. She was only sixteen, so pale
and thin with nursing. I said something about the comfort she had
been to her father. She took my hand and burst into tears. "He
was so good!" she said; "I loved him so! Oh, Mr. Thornburgh, help
me to look after the others!" And that's been her one thought since
then--that, next to following the narrow road.'
The vicar had begun to speak with emotion, as generally happened
to him whenever he was beguiled into much speech about Catherine
Leyburn. There must have been something great somewhere in the
insignificant elderly man. A meaner soul might so easily have been
jealous of this girl with her inconveniently high standards, and
her influence, surpassing his own, in his own domain.
'I should like to know the secret of the little musician's
independence,' said Robert, musing. 'There might be no tie of blood
at all between her and the elder, so far as I can see.'
'Oh, I don't know that. There's more than you think, or Catherine
wouldn't have kept her hold over her so far as she has. Generally
she gets her way, except about the music. There Rose sticks to
'And why shouldn't she?'
'Ah, well, you see, my dear fellow, I am old enough, and you're
not, to remember what people in the old days used to think about
art. Of course nowadays we all say very fine things about it; but
Richard Leyburn would no more have admitted that a girl who hadn't
got her own bread or her family's to earn by it was justified in
spending her time in fiddling than be would have approved of her
spending it in dancing. I have heard him take a text out of the
"Imitation," and lecture Rose when she was quite a baby for pestering
any stray person she could get hold of to give her music lessons.
"Woe to them"--yes, that was it--"that inquire many curious things
of men, and care little about the way of serving Me." However, he
wasn't consistent. Nobody is. It was actually he that brought
Rose her first violin from London in a green baize bag. Mrs. Leyburn
took me in one night to see her asleep with it on her pillow, and
all her pretty curls lying over the strings. I dare say poor man,
it was one of the acts toward his children that tormented his mind
in his last hour.'
'She has certainly had her way about practising it; she plays
'Oh, yes, she has had her way. She is a queer mixture, is Rose.
I see a touch of the old Leyburn recklessness in her; and then
there is the beauty and refinement of bar mother's side of the
family. Lately she has got quite out of hand. She went to stay
with some relations they have in Manchester, got drawn into a musical
set there, took to these funny gowns, and now she and Catherine
are, always half at war. Poor Catherine said to me the other day,
with tears, in her eyes, that she knew Rose thought her as hard as
iron. "But I promised papa." She makes herself miserable and it's
no use. I wish the little wild thing would get herself well married.
She's not meant for this humdrum place and she may kick over the
'She's pretty enough for anything and anybody,' said Robert.
The vicar looked at him sharply, but the young man's critical and
meditative look reassured him.
The next day, just before early dinner, Rose and Agnes, who had
been for a walk, were startled, as they were turning into their own
gate, by the frantic waving of a white handkerchief from the Vicarage
garden. It was Mrs. Thornburgh's accepted way of calling the
attention of the Burwood inmates, and the girls walked on. They
found the good lady waiting for them in the drive in a characteristic
glow and flutter.
'My dears, I have been looking out for you all the morning! I
should have come over but for the stores coming, and a tiresome man
from Randall's--I've had to bargain with him for a whole hour about
taking back those sweets. I was swindled, of course, but we should
have died if we'd had to eat them up. Well, now, my dears--'
The vicar's wife paused. Her square, short figure was between the
two girls; she had an arm of each, and she looked significantly,
from one to another, her gray curls, flapping across her face as
she did so.
'Go on, Mrs. Thornburgh,' cried Rose. 'You make us quite nervous.'
'How do ypu like Mr. Elsmere?' she inquired, solemnly.
'Very much,' said both, in chorus.
Mrs. Thornburgh surveyed Rose's smiling frankness with a little
sigh. Things were going grandly, but she could imagine a disposition
of affairs which would have given her personally more pleasure.
'_How--would--you--like_--him for a brother-in-law?' she inquired,
beginning in a whisper, with slow emphasis, patting Rose's arm, and
bringing out the last words with a rush.
'Agnes caught the twinkle in Rose's eye, but she answered for them
'We have no objection to entertain the idea. But you must explain.'
'Explain!' cried Mrs. Thornburgh. 'I should think it explains
itself. At least if you'd been in this house for the last twenty-four
hours you'd think so. Since the moment when he first met her, it's
been "Miss Leyburn," "Miss Leyburn," all the time. One might have
seen it with half an eye from the beginning.
Mrs. Thornburgh had not seen it with two eyes, as we know, till it
was pointed out to her; but her imagination worked with equal
liveliness backward or forward.
'He went to see you yesterday, didn't he--yes, I know he did--and
he overtook her in the pony-carriage--the vicar saw them from across
the valley--and he brought her back from your house, and then he
kept William up till nearly twelve talking of her. And now he wants
a picnic. Oh, it's plain as a pikestaff. And, my dears, _nothing_
to be said against him. Fifteen hundred a year if he's a penny.
A nice living, only his mother to look after, and as good a young
fellow as ever, stepped.'
Mrs. Thornburgh stopped, choked almost by her own eloquence. The
girls, who had by this time established her between them on a
garden-seat, looked at her with smiling composure. They were
accustomed to letting her have her budget out.
'And now, of course,' she resumed, taking breath, and chilled a
little by their silence, 'now, of course, I want to know about
Catherine?' She regarded them with anxious interrogation. Rose,
still smiling, slowly shook her head.
'What!' cried Mrs. Thornburgh; then, with charming inconsistency,
'Oh, you can't know anything in two days.'
'That's just it,' said Agnes, intervening; 'we can't know anything
in two days. No one ever will know anything about Catherine, if
she takes to anybody, till the list minute.'
Mrs. Thornburgh's face fell. 'It's very difficult 'when people
will be so reserved,' she said, dolefully.
The girls acquiesced, but intimated that they saw no way out of it.
'At any rate we can bring them together,' she broke out, brightening
again. 'We can have picnics, you know, and teas, and all that--and
watch. Now listen.'
And the vicar's wife sketched out a programme of festivities for
the next fortnight she had been revolving in her inventive head,
which took the sisters' breath away. Rose bit her lip to keep in
her laughter. Agnes, with vast self-possession, took Mrs. Thornburgh
in hand. She pointed out firmly that nothing would be so likely
to make Catherine impracticable as fuss. 'In vain is the net
spread,' etc. She preached from the text with a worldly wisdom
which quickly crushed Mrs. Thornburgh.
'Well, _what_ am I to do, my dears?' she said at last, helplessly.
'Look at the weather! We must have some picnics, if it's only to
Mrs. Thornburgh spent her life between a condition of effervescence
and a condition of feeling the world too much for her. Rose and
Agnes, having now reduced her to the latter state, proceeded
cautiously to give her her head again. They promised her two or
three expeditions and one picnic at least; they said they would do
their best; they promised they would report what they saw and be
very discreet, both feeling the comedy of Mrs. Thornburgh as the
advocate of discretion; and then they departed to their early dinner,
leaving the vicar's wife decidedly less self-confident than they
'The first matrimonial excitement of the family,' cried Agnes, as
they walked home. 'So far no one can say the Miss Leyburns have
'It will be all moonshine,' Rose replied, decisively. 'Mr. Elsmere
may lose his heart; we may aid and abet him; Catherine will live
in the clouds for a few weeks, and come down from them at the end
with the air of an angel, to give him his _coup de grace_. As I
said before--poor fellow!'
Agnes made no answer. She was never so positive as Rose, and on
the whole did not find herself the worse for it in life. Besides,
she understood that there was a soreness at the bottom of Rose's
heart that was always showing itself in unexpected connections.
There was no necessity, indeed, for elaborate schemes for assisting
Providence. Mrs. Thornburgh had her picnics and her expeditions,
but without them Robert Elsmere would have been still man enough
to see Catherine Leyburn every day. He loitered about the roads
along which she must needs pass to do her many offices of charity;
he offered the vicar to take a class in the school, and was naively
exultant that the vicar curiously happened to fix an hour when he
must needs see Miss Leyburn going or coming on the same errand; he
dropped into Burwood on any conceivable pretext, till Rose and Agnes
lost all inconvenient respect for his cloth and Mrs. Leyburn sent
him on errands; and he even insisted that Catherine and the vicar
should make use of him and his pastoral services in one or two of
the cases of sickness or poverty under their care. Catherine, with
a little more reserve than usual, took him one day to the Tysons',
and introduced him to the poor crippled son who was likely to live
on paralyzed for some time, under the weight, moreover, of a black
cloud of depression which seldom lifted. Mrs. Tyson Kept her
talking in the room, and she never forgot the scene. It showed her
a new aspect of a man whose intellectual life was becoming plain
to her, while his moral life was still something of a mystery. The
look in Elsmere's face as he sat bending over the maimed young
farmer, the strength and tenderness of the man, the diffidence of
the few religious things be said, and yet the reality and force of
them, struck her powerfully. He had forgotten her, forgotten
everything save the bitter human need, and the comfort it was his
privilege to offer. Catherine stood answering Mrs. Tyson at random,
the tears rising in her eyes. She slipped out while he was still
talking, and went home strangely moved.
As to the festivities, she did her best to join in them. The
sensitive soul often reproached itself afterward for having juggled
in the matter. Was it not her duty to manage a little society and
gayety for her sisters sometimes? Her mother could not undertake
it, and was always plaintively protesting that Catherine would not
be young. So for a short week or two Catherine did her best to be
young and climbed the mountain grass, or forded the mountain streams
with the energy and the grace of perfect health, trembling afterward
at night as she knelt by her window to think how much sheer pleasure
the day had contained. Her life had always had the tension of a
bent bow. It seemed to her once or twice during this fortnight as
though something were suddenly relaxed in her, and she felt a swift
Bunyan-like terror of backsliding, of falling away. But she never
confessed herself fully; she was even blind to what her perspicacity
would have seen so readily in another's case--the little arts and
maneuvers of those about her. It did not strike her that Mrs.
Thornburgh was more flighty and more ebullient than ever; that the
vicar's wife kissed her at odd times, and with a quite unwonted
effusion; or that Agnes and Rose, when they were in the wild heart
of the mountains, or wandering far and wide in search of sticks for
a picnic fire, showed a perfect genius for avoiding Mr. Elsmere,
whom both of them liked, and that in consequence his society almost
always fell to her. Nor did she ever analyze what would have been
the attraction of those walks to her without that tall figure at
her side, that bounding step, that picturesque impetuous talk.
There are moments when nature throws a kind of heavenly mist and
dazzlement round the soul it would fain make happy. The soul gropes
blindly on; if it saw its way it might be timid and draw back, but
kind powers lead it genially onward through a golden darkness.
Meanwhile if she did not know herself, she and Elsmere learned with
wonderful quickness and thoroughness to know each other. The two
households so near together, and so isolated from the world besides,
were necessarily in constant communication. And Elsmere made a
most stirring element in their common life. Never had he been more
keen, more strenuous. It gave Catherine new lights on modern
character altogether to see how he was preparing himself for this
Surrey living--reading up the history, geology, and botany of the
Weald and its neighborhood, plunging into reports of agricultural
commissions, or spending his quick brain on village sanitation,
with the oddest results sometimes, so far as his conversation was
concerned. And then in the middle of his disquisitions, which would
keep her breathless with a sense of being whirled through space at
the tail of an electric kite, the kite would come down with a run,
and the preacher and reformer would come hat in hand to the girl
beside him, asking her humbly to advise him, to pour out on him
some of that practical experience of hers among the poor and
suffering, for the sake of which he would in an instant scornfully
fling out of sight all his own magnificent plannings. Never had
she told so much of her own life to anyone; her consciousness of
it sometimes filled her with a sort of terror, lest she might have
been trading as it were, for her own advantage, on the sacred things
of God. But he would have it. His sympathy, his sweetness, his
quick spiritual feeling drew the stories out of her. And then how
his bright frank eyes would soften! With what a reverence would
he touch her hand when she said good-by!
And on her side she felt that she knew almost as much about Murewell
as he did. She could imagine the wild beauty of the Surrey heathland,
she could see the white square rectory with its sloping walled
garden, the juniper common just outside the straggling village; she
could even picture the strange squire, solitary in the great Tudor
Hall, the author of terrible books against the religion of Christ
of which she shrank from hearing, and share the anxieties of the
young rector as to his future relations toward a personality so
marked, and so important to every soul in the little community he
was called to rule. Here all was plain sailing; she understood him
perfectly, and her gentle comments, or her occasional sarcasms,
were friendliness itself.
But it was when he turned to larger things--to books, movements,
leaders, of the day--that she was often puzzled, sometimes distressed.
Why would he seem to exalt and glorify rebellion against the
established order in the person of Mr. Grey? Or why, ardent as his
own faith was, would he talk as though opinion was a purely personal
matter, hardly in itself to be made the subject of moral judgment
at all, and as though right belief were a blessed privilege and
boon rather than a law and an obligation? When his comments on men
and things took this tinge, she would turn silent, feeling a kind
of painful opposition between his venturesome speech and his
And yet, as we all know, these ways of speech were not his own.
He was merely talking the natural Christian language of this
generation; whereas she, the child of a mystic--solitary, intense,
and deeply reflective from her earliest Youth--was still thinking
and speaking in the language of her father's generation.
But although, as often as his unwariness brought him near to these
points of jarring, he would hurry away from them, conscious that
here was the one profound difference between them; it was clear to
him that insensibly she had moved further than she knew from her
father's standpoint. Even among these solitudes, far from men and
literature, she had unconsciously felt the breath of her time in
some degree. As he penetrated deeper into the nature, he found it
honeycombed as it were, here and there, with beautiful, unexpected
softnesses and diffidences. Once, after a long walk, as they were
lingering homeward under a cloudy evening sky, he came upon the
great problem of her life--Rose and Rose's art. He drew her
difficulty from her with the most delicate skill. She had laid it
bare, and was blushing to think bow she had asked his counsel,
almost before she knew where their talk was leading. How was it
lawful for the Christian to spend the few short years of the earthly
combat in any pursuit however noble and exquisite, which merely
aimed at the gratification of the senses, and implied in the pursuer
the emphasizing rather than the surrender of self?
He argued it very much as Kingsley would have argued it, tried to
lift her to a more intelligent view of a multifarious work, dwelling
on the function of pure beauty in life, and on the influence of
beauty on character, pointing out the value to the race of all
individual development, and pressing home on her the natural religious
question: How are the artistic aptitudes to be explained unless the
Great Designer meant them to have a use and function in His world?
She replied doubtfully that she had always supposed they were
lawful for recreation, and like any other trade for bread-winning,
Then he told her much that he knew about the humanizing effect of
music on the poor. He described to her the efforts of a London
society, of which he was a subscribing member, to popularize the
best music among the lowest class; he dwelt almost with passion on
the difference between the joy to be got out of such things and the
common brutalizing joys of the workman. And you could not have art
without artists. In this again he was only talking the commonplaces
of his day. But to her they were not commonplaces at all. She
looked at him from time to time, her great eyes lightening and
deepening as it seemed with every fresh thrust of his.
'I am grateful to you,' she said at last, with an involuntary
outburst, 'I am _very_ grateful to you!'
And she gave a long sigh, as if some burden she had long borne in
patient silence had been loosened a little, if only by the fact of
speech about it. She was not convinced exactly. She was too strong
a nature to relinquish a principle without a period of meditative
struggle in which conscience should have all its dues. But her
tone made his heart leap. He felt in it a momentary self-surrender
that, coming from a creature of so rare a dignity, filled him with
an exquisite sense of power, and yet at the same time with a strange
humility beyond words.
A day or two later he was the spectator of a curious little scene.
An aunt of the Leyburns living in Whinborough came to see them.
She was their father's youngest sister, and the wife of a man who
had made some money as a builder in Whinborough. When Robert came
in he found her sitting on the sofa having tea, a large homely-looking
woman with gray hair, a high brow, and prominent white teeth. She
had unfastened her bonnet strings, and a clean white handkerchief
lay spread out on her lap. When Elsmere was introduced to her, she
got up, and said with some effusiveness, and a distinct Westmoreland
'Very pleased indeed to make your acquaintance, sir,' while she
enclosed his fingers in a capacious hand.
Mrs. Leyburn, looking fidgety and uncomfortable, was sitting near
her, and Catherine, the only member of the party who showed no sign
of embarrassment when Robert entered was superintending her aunt's
tea and talking busily the while.
Robert sat down at a little distance beside Agnes and Rose, who
were chattering together a little artificially and of set purpose,
as it seemed to him. But the aunt was not to be ignored. She
talked too loud not to be overheard, and Agnes inwardly noted that
as soon as Robert Elsmere appeared she talked louder than before.
He gathered presently that she was an ardent Wesleyan, and that
she was engaged in describing to Catherine and Mrs. Leyburn the
evangelistic exploits of her oldest son, who had recently obtained
his first circuit as a Wesleyan minister. He was shrewd enough,
too, to guess, after a minute or two, that his presence and probably
his obnoxious clerical dress gave additional zest to the recital.
'Oh, his success at Colesbridge has been somethin' marvellous,' he
heard her say, with uplifted hands and eyes, '"some-thin" marvellous.
The Lord has blessed him indeed! It doesn't matter what it is,
whether it's meetin's, or sermons, or parlor work, or just faithful
dealin's with souls one by one. Satan has no cleverer foe than
Edward. He never shuts his eyes; as Edward says himself, it's like
trackin' for game is huntin' for souls. Why, the other day he was
walkin' out from Coventry to a service. It was the Sabbath, and
he saw a man in a bit of grass by the road-side, mendin' his cart.
And he stopped did Edward, and gave him the Word _strong_. The
man seemed puzzled like, and said he meant no harm. "No harm!"
says Edward, "when you're just doin' the devil's work every nail
you put in, and hammerin' away, mon, at your own damnation." But
here's his letter.' And while Rose turned away to a far window to
hide an almost hysterical inclination to laugh, Mrs. Fleming opened
her bag, took out a treasured paper, and read with the emphasis and
the unction peculiar to a certain type of revivalism:--
'"Poor sinner! He was much put about. I left him, praying the
Lord my shaft might rankle in him; ay, might fester and burn in him
till he found no peace but in Jesus. He seemed very dark and
destitute--no respect for the Word or its ministers. A bit farther
I met a boy carrying a load of turnips. To him, too, I was faithful,
and he went on, taking without knowing it, a precious leaflet with
him in his bag. Glorious work! If Wesleyans will but go on claiming
even the highways for God, sin will skulk yet."'
A dead silence. Mrs. Fleming folded up the letter and put it back
into her bag.
'There's your true minister,' she said, with a large judicial
utterance as she closed the snap. 'Wherever he goes Edward must
And she threw a swift searching look at the young clergyman in the
'He must have very hard work with so much walking and preaching,'
said Catherine, gently.
Somehow, as soon as she spoke, Elsmere saw the whole odd little
scene with other eyes.
'His work is just wearin' him out,' said the mother, fervently;
'but a minister doesn't think of that. Wherever he goes there are
sinners saved. He stayed last week at a house near Nuneaton. At
family prayer alone there were five saved. And at the prayer-meetin's
on the Sabbath such outpourin's of the Spirit! Edward comes home,
his wife tells me, just ready to drop. Are you acquainted, sir,'
she added, turning suddenly to Elsmere, and speaking in a certain
tone of provocation, 'with the labors of our Wesleyan ministers?'
'No,' said Robert, with his pleasant smile, 'not personally. But
I have the greatest respect for them as a body of devoted men.'
The look of battle faded from the woman's face. It was not an
unpleasant face. He even saw strange reminiscences of Catherine
in it at times.
'You're aboot right there, sir. Not that they dare take any credit
to themselves--it's grace, sir, all grace.'
'Aunt Ellen,' said Catherine, while a sudden light broke over her
face; 'I just want you to take Edward a little story from me.
Ministers are good things, but God can do without them.'
And she laid her hand on her aunt's knee with a smile in which there
was the slightest touch of affectionate satire.
'I was up among the fells the other day'--she went on--'I met an
elderly man cutting wood in a plantation, and I stopped and asked
him how he was. "Ah, miss," he said, "verra weel, verra weel. And
yet it was nobbut Friday morning lasst, I cam oop here, awfu' bad
in my sperrits like. For my wife she's sick an a' dwinnelt away,
and I'm gettin' auld, and can't wark as I'd used to, and it did
luke to me as thoo there was naethin' afore us nobbut t' Union.
And t' mist war low on t' fells, and I sat oonder t' wall, wettish
and broodin' like. And theer--all ov a soodent the Lord found me!
Yes, puir Reuben Judge, as dawn't matter to naebody, the Lord found
un. It war leyke as thoo His feeace cam a glisterin' an' a shinin'
through t' mist. An' iver sense then, miss, aa've jest felt as
thoo aa could a' cut an' stackt all t' wood on t' fell in naw time
at a'!" And he waved his hand round the mountain side which was
covered with plantation. And all the way along the path for ever
so long I could hear him singing, chopping away, and quavering out
"Rock of Ages."'
'She paused; her delicate face, with just a little quiver in the
lip, turned to her aunt, her eyes glowing as though a hidden fire
had leapt suddenly outward. And yet the gesture, the attitude, was
simplicity and unconsciousness itself. Robert had never heard her
say anything so intimate before. Nor had he ever seen her so
inspired, so beautiful. She had transmuted the conversation at a
touch. It had been barbarous prose; she had turned it into purest
poetry. Only the noblest souls have such an alchemy as this at
command, thought the watcher on the other side, of the room, with
a passionate reverence.
'I wasn't thinkin' of narrowin' the Lord down to ministers; said
Mrs. Fleming, with a certain loftiness. 'We all know He can do
without us puir worms.'
Then, seeing that no one replied, the good woman got up to go.
Much of her apparel had slipped away from her in the fervors of
revivalist anecdote, and while she hunted for gloves and
reticule--officiously helped by the younger girls--Robert crossed
over to Catherine.
'You lifted us on to your own high places!' he said, bending down
to her; 'I shall carry your story with me through the fells.'
She looked up, and as she met his warm, moved look a little glow
and tremor crept into the face, destroying its exalted expression.
He broke the spell; she sank from the poet into the embarrassed
'You must see my old man,' she said, with an effort; 'he is worth
a library of sermons. I must introduce him to you.'
He could think of nothing else to say just then, but could only
stand impatiently wishing for Mrs. Fleming's disappearance, that
he might somehow appropriate her eldest niece. But alas! when she
went, Catherine went out with her, and reappeared no more, though
he waited some time.
He walked home in a whirl of feeling; on the way he stopped, and
leaning over a gate which led into one of the river-fields, gave
himself up to the mounting tumult within. Gradually, from the
half-articulate chaos of hope and memory, there emerged the deliberate
voice of his inmost manhood.
'In her and her only is my heart's desire! She and she only if she
will, and God will, shall be my wife!'
He lifted his head and looked out on the dewy field, the evening
beauty of the hills, with a sense of immeasurable change:--
Were in his eyes, and in his ears
The murmur of a thousand years.
He felt himself knit to his kind, to his race, as he had never felt
before. It was as though, after a long apprenticeship, be had
sprung suddenly into maturity--entered at last into the full human
heritage. But the very intensity and solemnity of his own feeling
gave him a rare clear-sightedness. He realized that he had no
certainty of success, scarcely even an entirely reasonable hope.
But what of that? Were they not together, alone, practically, in
these blessed solitudes? Would they not meet to-morrow, and next
day, and the day after? Were not time and opportunity all his own?
How kind her looks are even now! Courage! And through that
maidenly kindness his own passion shall send the last, transmuting
The following morning about noon, Rose, who had been coaxed and
persuaded by Catherine, much against her will, into taking a singing
class at the school, closed the school door behind her with a sigh
of relief, and tripped up the road to Burwood.
'How abominably they sang this morning!' she said to herself, with
curving lip. 'Talk of the natural north-country gift for music!
What ridiculous fictions people set up! Dear me, what clouds!
Perhaps we shan't got our walk to Shanmnoor after all, and if we
don't, and if-if--' her cheek flashed with a sudden excitement-'if
Mr. Elsmere doesn't propose, Mrs. Thornburgh will be unmanageable.
It is all Agnes and I can do to keep her in bounds as it is, and
if something doesn't come off to-day, she'll be for reversing the
usual proceeding, and asking Catherine her intentions, which would
Then raising her head she swept her eyes round the sky. The wind
was freshening, the clouds were coming up fast from the westward;
over the summit of High Fell and the crags on either side, a gray
straight-edged curtain was already lowering.
'It will hold up yet a while,' she thought, 'and if it rains later
we can get a carriage at Shanmoor and come back by the road.'
And she walked on homeward meditating, her thin fingers clasped
before her, the wind blowing her skirts, the blue ribbons on her
hat, the little gold curls on her temples, in an artistic many-colored
turmoil about her. When she got to Burwood she shut herself into
the room which was peculiarly hers, the room which had been a stable.
Now it was full of artistic odds and ends--her fiddle, of course,
and piles of music, her violin stand, a few deal tables and cane
chairs beautified by a number of _chiffons_, bits of Liberty stuffs
with the edges still ragged, or cheap morsels of Syrian embroidery.
On the tables stood photographs of musicians and friends--the
spoils of her visits to Manchester, and of two visits to London
which gleamed like golden points in the girl's memory. The plastered
walls were covered with an odd medley. Here was a round mirror,
of which Rose was enormously proud. She had extracted it from a
farmhouse of the neighborhood, and paid for it with her own money.
There a group of unfinished, headlong sketches of the most
fiercely-impressionist description--the work and the gift of a knot
of Manchester artists, who had feted and flattered the beautiful
little Westmoreland girl, when she was staying among them, to her
heart's content. Manchester, almost alone among our great towns
of the present day, has not only a musical, but a pictorial life
of its own; its young artists dub themselves 'a school,' study in
Paris, and when they come home scout the Academy and its methods,
and pine to set up a rival art-centre, skilled in all the methods
of the Salon, in the murky north. Rose's uncle, originally a clerk
in a warehouse, and a rough diamond enough, had more or less moved
with the times, like his brother Richard; at any rate he had grown
rich, had married a decent wife, and was glad enough to befriend
his dear brother's children, who wanted nothing of him, and did
their uncle a credit of which he was sensible, by their good manners
and good looks. Music was the only point at which he touched the
culture of the times, like so many business men; but it pleased him
also to pose as a patron of local art; so that when Rose went to
stay with her childless uncle and aunt, she found long-haired artists
and fiery musicians about the place, who excited and encouraged her
musical gift, who sketched her while she played, and talked to the
pretty, clever, unformed creature of London and Paris, and Italy,
and set her pining for that golden _vie de Boheme_ which she alone
apparently of all artists was destined never to know.
For she was an artist--she would be an artist--let Catherine say
what she would! She came back from Manchester restless for she
knew not what, thirsty for the joys and emotions of art, determined
to be free, reckless, passionate; with Wagner and Brahms in her
young blood; and found Burwood waiting for her, Burwood, the lonely
house in the lonely valley, of which Catherine was the presiding
genius. _Catherine!_ For Rose, what a multitude of associations
clustered round the name! To her it meant everything at this moment
against which her soul rebelled--the most scrupulous order, the
most rigid self-repression, the most determined sacrificing of 'this
warm kind world,' with all its indefensible delights, to a cold
other-world, with its torturing, inadmissible claims. Even in the
midst of her stolen joys at Manchester or London, this mere name,
the mere mental image of Catherine moving through life, wrapped in
a religious peace and certainty as austere as they were beautiful,
and asking of all about her the same absolute surrender to an awful
Master she gave so easily herself, was enough to chill the wayward
Rose, and fill her with a kind of restless despair. And at home,
as the vicar said, the two sisters were always on the verge of
conflict. Rose had enough of her father in her to suffer in
resisting, but resist she must by the law of her nature.
Now, as she threw off her walking things, she fell first upon her
violin, and rushed through a Brahms' 'Liebeslied,' her eyes dancing,
her whole light form thrilling with the joy of it; and then with a
sudden revulsion she stopped playing, and threw herself down
listlessly by the open window. Close by against the wall was a
little looking-glass, by which she often arranged her ruffled locks;
she glanced at it now, it showed her a brilliant face enough, but
drooping lips, and eyes darkened with the extravagant melancholy
'It is come to a pretty pass,' she said to herself, 'that I should
be able to think of nothing but schemes for getting Catherine married
and out of my way! Considering what she is and what I am, and how
she has slaved for us all her life, I seem to have descended pretty
And with a portentous sigh she dropped her chin on her hand. She
was half acting, acting to herself. Life was not really quite
unbearable, and she knew it. But it relieved her to overdo it.
'I wonder how much chance there is,' she mused, presently. 'Mr.
Elsmere will soon be ridiculous. Why, _I_ saw him gather up those
violets she threw away yesterday on Moor Crag. And as for her, I
don't believe she has realized the situation a bit. At least, if
she has she is as unlike other mortals in this as in everything
else. But when she does--'
She frowned and meditated, but got no light on the problem. Chattie
jumped up on the windowsill, with her usual stealthy _aplomb_, and
rubbed herself against the girl's face.
'Oh, Chattie!' cried Rose, throwing her arms round the cat, 'if
Catherine 'll _only_ marry Mr. Elsmere, nay dear, and be happy ever
afterward, and set me free to live my own life a bit, I'll be _so_
good, you won't know me, Chattie. And you shall have a new collar,
my beauty, and cream till you die of it!'
And springing up she dragged in the cat, and snatching a scarlet
anemone from a bunch on the table, stood opposite Chattie, who stood
slowly waving her magnificent tail from side to side, and glaring
as though it were not at all to her taste to be hustled and bustled
in this way.
'Now, Chattie, listen! Will she?'
A leaf of the flower dropped on Chattie's nose.
'Won't she? Will she? Won't she? Will--Tiresome flower, why did
Nature give it such a beggarly few petals? 'If I'd had a daisy it
would have all come right. Come, Chattie, waltz; and let's forgot
this wicked world!'
And, snatching up her violin, the girl broke into a Strauss waltz,
dancing to it the while, her cotton skirts flying, her pretty feet
twinkling, till her eyes glowed, and her cheeks blazed with a double
intoxication--the intoxication of movement, and the intoxication
of sound--the cat meanwhile following her with little mincing,
perplexed steps, as though not knowing what to make of her.
'Rose, you madcap!' cried Agnes, opening the door.
'Not at all, my dear,' said Rose calmly, stopping to take breath.
'Excellent practice and uncommonly difficult. Try if you can do
it, and see!'
The weather held up in a gray, grudging, sort of way, and Mrs.
Thornburgh especially was all for braving the clouds and going on
with the expedition. It was galling to her that she herself would
have to be driven to Shanmoor behind the fat vicarage pony, while
the others would be climbing the fells, and all sorts of exciting
things might be happening. Still it was infinitely better to be
half in it than not in it at all, and she started by the side of
the vicarage 'man,' in a most delicious flutter. The skies might
fall any day now. Elsmere had not confided in her, though she was
unable to count the openings she had given him thereto. For one
of the frankest of men he had kept his secret, so far as words went,
with a remarkable tenacity. Probably the neighborhood of Mrs.
Thornburgh was enough to make the veriest chatterbox secretive.
But notwithstanding, no one possessing the clue could live in the
same house with him these June days without seeing that the whole
man was absorbed, transformed, and that the crisis might be reached
at any moment. Even the vicar was eager and watchful, and playing
up to his wife in fine style, and if the situation had so worked
on the vicar, Mrs. Thornburgh's state is easier imagined than
The walk to Shanmoor need not be chronicled. The party kept together.
Robert fancied sometimes that there was a certain note of purpose
in the way in which Catherine clung to the vicar. If so, it did
not disquiet him. Never had she been kinder, more gentle. Nay,
as the walk went on a lovely gayety broke through her tranquil
manner, as though she, like the others, had caught exhilaration
from the sharpened breeze and the towering mountains, restored to
all their grandeur by the storm clouds.
And yet she had started in some little inward trouble. She had
promised to join this walk to Shanmoor, she had promised to go with
the others on a picnic the following day, but her conscience was
pricking her. Twice this last fortnight had she been forced to
give up a night-school she held in a little lonely hamlet among the
fells, because even she had been too tired to walk there and back
after a day of physical exertion. Were not the world and the flesh
encroaching? She had been conscious of a strange inner restlessness
as they all stood waiting in the road for the vicar and Elsmere.
Agnes had thought her looking depressed and pale, and even dreamt
for a moment of suggesting to her to stay at home. And then ten
minutes after they had started it had all gone, her depression,
blown away by the winds--or charmed away by a happy voice, a manly
presence, a keen responsive eye?
Elsmere, indeed, was gayety itself. He kept up an incessant war
with Rose; he had a number of little jokes going at the vicar's
expense, which kept that good man in a half-protesting chuckle most
of the way; he cleared every gate that presented itself in first-rate
Oxford form, and climbed every point of rock with a cat-like agility
that set the girls scoffing at the pretence of invalidism under
which he had foisted himself on Whindale.
'How fine all this black purple is!' he cried, as they topped the
ridge, and the Shanmoor valley lay before them, bounded on the other
side by line after line of mountain, Wetherlam and the Pikes and
Fairfield in the far distance, piled sombrely under a sombre sky.
'I had grown quite tired of the sun. He had done his best to make
'Tired of the sun in Westmoreland?' said Catherine, with a little
mocking wonder. 'How wanton how prodigal!'
'Does it deserve a Nemesis?' he said laughing. 'Drowning from now
till I depart? No matter. I can bear a second deluge with an even
mind. On this enchanted soil all things are welcome!'
She looked up, smiling, at his vehemence, taking it all as a tribute
to the country, or to his own recovered health. He stood leaning
on his stick, gazing, however, not at the view but at her. The
others stood a little way off, laughing and chattering. As their
eyes met, a strange new pulse leapt up in Catherine.
'The wind is very boisterous here,' she said, with a shiver. 'I
think we ought to be going on.'
And she hurried up to the others, nor did she leave their shelter
till they were in sight of the little Shanmoor inn, where they were
to have tea. The pony carriage was already standing in front of
the inn, and Mrs. Thornburgh's gray curls shaking at the window.
'William!' she shouted, 'bring them in. Tea is just ready, and
Mr. Ruskin was here last week, and there are ever so many new names
in the visitors' book!'
While the girls went in, Elsmere stood looking a moment at the inn,
the bridge, and the village. It was a characteristic Westmoreland
scene. The low whitewashed inn, with its newly painted signboard,
was to his right, the pony at the door lazily flicking off the flies
and dropping its greedy nose in search of the grains of corn among
the cobbles; to his left a gray stone bridge over a broad light-filled
river; beyond, a little huddled village backed by and apparently
built out of the great slate quarry which represented the only
industry of the neighborhood, and a tiny towered church--the scene
on the Sabbath of Mr. Mayhew's ministrations. Beyond the village,
shoulders of purple fell, and behind the inn masses of broken crag
rising at the very head of the valley into a fine pike, along whose
jagged edges the rain-clouds were trailing. There was a little
lurid storm-light on the river, but, in general, the color was all
dark and rich, the white inn gleaming on a green and purple background.
He took it all into his heart, covetously, greedily, trying to fix
it there forever.
Presently he was called in by the vicar, and found a tempting tea
spread in a light-upper room, where Agnes and Rose were already
making fun of the chromo-lithographs and rummaging the visitors'
book. The scrambling, chattering meal passed like a flash. At the
beginning of it Mrs. Thornburgh's small gray eyes had travelled
restlessly from face to face, as though to say, 'What--_no_ news
yet? Nothing happened?' As for Elsmere, though it seemed to him
at the time one of the brightest moments of existence, he remembered
little afterward but the scene: the peculiar clean mustiness of the
room only just opened for the summer season, a print of the Princess
of Wales on the wall opposite him, a stuffed fox over the mantelpiece,
Rose's golden head, and heavy amber necklace, and the figure at the
vicar's right, in a gown of a little dark blue check, the broad hat
shading the white brow and luminous eyes.
When tea was over they lounged out onto the bridge. There was to
be no long lingering, however. The clouds were deepening, the rain
could not be far off. But if they started soon they could probably
reach home before it came down. Elsmere and Rose hung over the
gray stone parapet, mottled with the green and gold of innumerable
mosses, and looked down through a fringe of English maidenhair
growing along the coping, into the clear eddies of the stream.
Suddenly he raised himself on one elbow, and, shading his eyes,
looked to where the vicar and Catherine were standing in front of
the inn, touched for an instant by a beam of fitful light slipping
between two great rain-clouds.
'How well that hat and dress become your sister!' he said, the words
breaking, as it were, from his lips.
'Do you think Catherine pretty?' said Rose, with an excellent
pretence of innocence, detaching a little pebble and flinging it
harmlessly at a water-wagtail balancing on a stone below.
He flushed. 'Pretty! You might as well apply the word to your
mountains, to the exquisite river, to that great purple peak!'
'Yes,' thought Rose, 'she is not unlike that high cold peak!' But
her girlish sympathy conquered her; it was very exciting, and she
liked Elsmere. She turned back to him, her face overspread with a
quite irrepressible smile. He reddened still more, then they stared
into each other's eyes, and without a word more understood each
Rose held out her hand to him with a little brusque _bon camarade_
gesture. He pressed it warmly in his.
'That was nice of you!' he cried. 'Very nice of you! Friend,
She nodded and drew her hand away just as Agnes and the vicar
Meanwhile Catherine was standing by the side of the pony carriage,
watching Mrs. Thornburgh's preparations.
'You're sure you don't mind driving home alone?' said, in a troubled
voice. 'Mayn't I go with you?'
'My dear, certainly not! As if I wasn't accustomed to going about
alone at my time of life! No, no, my dear, you go and have your
walk; you'll get home before the rain. Ready, James.'
The old vicarage factotum could not imagine what made his charge
so anxious to be off. She actually took the whip out of his hand
and gave a flick to the pony, who swerved and started off in a way
which would have made his mistress clamorously nervous under any
other circumstances. Catherine stood looking after her.
'Now, then, right about face and quick march!' exclaimed the vicar.
'We've got to race that cloud over the Pike. It'll be up with us
in no time.'
Off they started and were soon climbing the slippery green slopes,
or crushing through the fern of the fell they had descended earlier
in the afternoon. Catherine for some little way walked last of the
party, the vicar in front of her. Then Elsmere picked a stonecrop,
quarrelled over its precise name with Rose, and waited for Catherine,
who had a very close and familiar knowledge of the botany of the
'You have crushed me,' he said, laughing, as he put the flower
carefully into his pocketbook; 'but it is worth while to be crushed
by anyone who can give so much ground for their knowledge. How you
do know your mountains--from their peasants to their plants!'
'I have had more than ten able-bodied years living and scrambling
among them,' she said, smiling.
'Do you keep up all your visits and teaching in the winter?'
'Oh, not so much, of course! But people must be helped and taught
in the winter. And our winter is often not as hard as yours down
'Do yon go on with that night school in Poll Ghyll, for instance?'
he said, with another note in his voice.
Catherine looked at him and colored. 'Rose has been telling tales,'
she said. 'I wish she would leave my proceedings alone. Poll Ghyll
is the family bone of contention at present. Yes, I go on with it.
I always take a lantern when the night is dark, and I know every
inch of the ground, and Bob is always with me--aren't you, Bob?'
And she stooped down to pat the collie beside her. Bob looked up
at her, blinking with a proudly confidential air, as though to
remind her that there were a good many such secrets between them.
'I like to fancy you with your lantern in the dark,' he cried, the
hidden emotion piercing through, 'the night wind blowing about you,
the black mountains to right and left of you, some little stream
perhaps running beside you for company, your dog guarding you, and
all good Angels going with you.'
She blushed still more deeply; the impetuous words affected her
'Don't fancy it at all,' she said, laughing. 'It is a very small
and very natural incident of one's life here. Look back, Mr.
Elemere; the rain has beaten us!'
He looked back and saw the great Pike over Shanmoor village blotted
out in a moving deluge of rain. The quarry opposite on the mountain
side gleamed green and livid against the ink-black fell; some clothes
hanging out in the field below the church flapped wildly hither and
thither in the sudden gale, the only spot of white in the prevailing
blackness; children with their petticoats over their heads ran
homeward along the road the walking party had just quitted; the
stream beneath, spreading broadly through the fields, shivered and
wrinkled under the blast. Up it came and the rain mists with it.
In another minute the storm was beating in their faces.
'Caught!' cried Elsmere, in a voice almost of jubilation. 'Let me
help you into your cloak, Miss Leyburn.'
He flung it around her and struggled into his own Mackintosh. The
vicar in front of them turned and waved his hand to them in laughing
despair, then hurried after the others, evidently with a view of
performing for them the same office Elsmere had just performed for
Robert and his companion struggled on for a while in a breathless
silence against the deluge, which seemed to beat on them from all
sides. He walked behind her, sheltering her by his tall form, and
his big umbrella, as much as he could. His pulses were all aglow
with the joy of the storm. It seemed to him that he rejoiced with
the thirsty grass over which the rain-streams were running, that
his heart filled with the shrunken becks as the flood leapt along
them. Let the elements thunder and rave as they pleased. Could
he not at a word bring the light of that face, those eyes, upon
him? Was she not his for a moment in the rain and the solitude,
as she had never been in the commonplace sunshine of their valley
Suddenly he heard an exclamation and saw her run on in front of
him. What was the matter? Then be noticed for the first time that
Rose far ahead was still walking in her cotton dress. The little
scatterbrain had, of course, forgotten her cloak. But, monstrous!
There was Catherine stripping off her own, Rose refusing it. In
vain. The sister's determined arms put it round her. Rose is
enwrapped, buttoned up before she knows where she is, and Catherine
falls back, pursued by same shaft from Rose, more sarcastic than
grateful to judge by the tone of it.
'Miss Leyburn, what have you been doing?'
'Rose had forgotten her cloak,' she said, briefly; 'she has a very
thin dress on, and she is the only one of us that takes cold easily.'
'You must take my mackintosh,' he said at once.
She laughed in his face.
'As if I should do anything of the sort!'
'You must,' he said, quietly stripping it off. 'Do you think that
you are always to be allowed to go through the world taking thought
of other people and allowing no one to take thought of you?'
He held it out to her.
'No, no! This is absurd, Mr. Elsmere. You are not strong yet.
And I have often told you that nothing hurts me.'
He hung it deliberately over his arm. 'Very well, then, there it
And they hurried on again, she biting her lip and on the point of
'Mr. Elsmere, be sensible!' she said presently, her look changing
to one of real distress. 'I should never forgive myself if you got
a chill after your illness!'
'You will not be called upon,' he said, in the most matter-of-fact
tone. 'Men's coats are made to keep out weather,' and he pointed
to his own, closely buttoned up. 'Your dress--I can't help being
disrespectful under the circumstances--will be wet through in ten
Another silence. Then he overtook her.
'Please, Miss Leyburn,' he said, stopping her.
There was an instant's mute contest between them. The rain splashed
on the umbrellas. She could not help it, she broke down into the
merriest, most musical laugh of a child that can hardly stop itself,
and he joined.
'Mr. Elsmere, you are ridiculous!'
But she submitted. He put the mackintosh round her, thinking, bold
man, as she turned her rosy rain-dewed face to him, of Wordsworth's
'Louisa,' and the poet's cry of longing.
And yet he was not so bold either. Even at this moment of exhilaration
he was conscious of a bar that checked and arrested. Something--what
was it?--drew invisible lines of defence about her. A sort of
divine fear of her mingled with his rising passion. Let him not
risk too much too soon.
They walked on briskly, and were soon on the Whindale side of the
pass. To the left of them the great hollow of High Fell unfolded,
storm-beaten and dark, the river issuing from the heart of it like
an angry voice.
What a change!' he said, coming up with her as the path widened.
'How impossible that it should have been only yesterday afternoon
I was lounging up here in the heat, by the pool where the stream
rises, watching the white butter-flies on the turf, and reading
'"Laodamia!"' she said, half sighing as she caught the name. 'Is
it one of those you like best?'
'Yes,' he said, bending forward that he might see her in spite of
the umbrella. How superb it is--the roll, the majesty of it; the
severe, chastened beauty of the main feeling, the individual lines!'
And he quoted line after line, lingering over the cadences.
'It was my father's favorite of all,' she said, in the low vibrating
voice of memory. 'He said the last verse to me the day before be
Robert recalled it--
'Yet tears to human suffering are due,
And mortal hopes defeated and o'erthrown
Are mourned by man, and not by man alone
As fondly we believe.
Poor Richard Leyburn! Yet where had the defeat lain?
'Was he happy in his school life?' he asked, gently. 'Was teaching
what he liked?'
Oh yes--only--', Catherine paused and then added hurriedly, as
though drawn on in spite of herself by the grave sympathy of his
look-'I never knew anybody so good who thought himself of so little
account. He always believed that he had missed everything, wasted
everything, and that anybody else would have made infinitely more
out of his life. He was always blaming, scourging himself. And
all the time he was the noblest, purest, most devoted--'
She stopped. Her voice had passed beyond her control. Elsmere was
startled by the feeling she showed. Evidently he had touched one
of the few sore places in this pure heart. It was as though her
memory of her father had in it elements of almost intolerable pathos,
as though the child's brooding love and loyalty were in perpetual
protest, even now after this lapse of years, against the verdict
which an over-scrupulous, despondent soul had pronounced upon itself.
Did she feel that he had gone uncomforted out of life--even by
her--even by religion?--was that the sting?
'Oh, I can understand!' he said, reverently--'I can understand. I
have come across it once or twice, that fierce self-judgment of the
good. It is the most stirring and humbling thing in life.' Then
his voice dropped.--'And after the last conflict--the last "quailing
breath,"--the last onslaughts of doubt or fear--think of the Vision
waiting--the Eternal Comfort--
"Oh, my only Light!
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night!"
The words fell from the softened voice like noble music.
There was a pause. Then Catherine raised her eye's to his. They
swam in tears, and yet the unspoken thanks in them were radiance
itself. It seemed to him as though she came closer to him, like a
child to an elder who has soothed and satisfied an inward smart.
They walked on in silence. They were just nearing the swollen river
which roared below them. On the opposite bank two umbrellas were
vanishing through the field gate into the road, but the vicar had
turned and was waiting for them. They could see his becloaked
figure leaning on his stick, through the light wreaths of mist that
floated above the tumbling stream. The abnormally heavy rain had
ceased, but the clouds seemed to be dragging along the very floor
of the valley.
The stepping-stones came into sight. He leaped on the first and
held out his hand to her. When they started she would have refused
his help with scorn. Now, after a moment's hesitation she yielded,
and he felt her dear weight on him as he guided her carefully from
stone to stone' In reality it is both difficult and risky to be
helped over stepping-stones. You had much better manage for yourself;
and half way through, Catherine had a mind to tell him so. But the
words died on her lips, which smiled instead. He could have wished
that passage from stone to stone could have lasted forever. She
was wrapped up grotesquely in his mackintosh; her hat was all
bedraggled; her gloves dripped in his; and in spite of all he could
have vowed that anything so lovely as that delicately cut, gravely
smiling face, swaying above the rushing brown water, was never seen
in Westmoreland wilds before.
'It is clearing,' he cried, with ready optimism, as they reached
the bank. 'We shall get our picnic to-morrow after all--we _must_
get it! Promise me it shall be fine--and you will be there!'
The vicar was only fifty yards away, waiting for them against the
field gate. But Robert held her eagerly, imperiously--and it seemed
to her, her hold was still dizzy with the water.
'Promise!' he repeated, his voice dropping.
She could not stop to think of the absurdity of promising for
Westmoreland weather. She could only say faintly 'Yes!' and so
release her hand.
'You _are_ pretty wet!' said the vicar, looking from one to the
other with a curiosity which Robert's quick sense divined at once
was directed to something else than the mere condition of their
garments. But Catherine noticed nothing; she walked on wrestling
blindly with she knew not what, till they reached the vicarage gate.
There stood Mrs. Thornburgh, the light drizzle into which the rain
had declined beating unheeded on her curls and ample shoulders.
She stared at Robert's drenched condition, but he gave her no time
to make remarks.
'Don't take it off,' he said, with a laughing wave of the hand to
Catherine; 'I will come for it to-morrow morning.'
And he ran up the drive, conscious at last that it might be prudent
to get himself into something less spongelike than his present
attire as quickly as possible.
The vicar followed him.
'Don't keep Catherine, my dear. There's nothing to tell. Nobody's
Mrs. Thornburgh took no heed. Opening the iron gate, she went
through it on to the deserted rain-beaten road, laid both her hands
on Catherine's shoulders, and looked her straight in the eyes. The
vicar's anxious hint was useless. She could contain herself no
longer. She had watched them from the vicarage come down the fell
together, had seen cross the stepping stones, lingeringly, hand in
'My dear Catherine!' she cried, effusively kissing Catherine's
glowing cheek under the shelter of the laurustinus that made a bower
of the gate. 'My _dear_ Catherine!'
Catherine gazed at her in astonishment Mrs. Thornburgh eyes were
all alive, and swarming with questions. If it had been Rose she
would have let them out in one fell flight. But Catherine's
personality kept her in awe. And after a second, as the two stood
together, a deep flush rose on Catherine's face, and an expression
of half-frightened apology dawned in Mrs. Thornburgh's.
Catherine drew herself away. 'Will you please give Mr. EIsmere his
mackintosh?' she said, taking it off; 'I shan't want it this little
And putting it on Mrs. Thornburgh's arm, she turned away, walking
quickly round the bend of the road.
Mrs. Thornburgh watched her open-mouthed, and moved slowly back to
the house in a state of complete collapse.
'I always knew'--she said with a groan-'I always knew it would never
go right if it was Catherine! _Why_ was it Catherine?'
And she went in, still hurling at Providence the same vindictive
Meanwhile Catherine, hurrying home, the receding flush leaving a
sudden pallor behind it, was twisting her hands before her in a
kind of agony.
'What have I been doing?' she said to herself. 'What have I been
At the gate of Burwood something made her look up. She saw the
girls in their own room--Agnes was standing behind, Rose had evidently
rushed forward to see Catherine come in, and now retreated as
suddenly when she saw her sister look up.
Catherine understood it all in an instant. 'They too are on the
watch,' she thought to herself, bitterly. The strong reticent
nature was outraged by the perception that she had been for days
the unconscious actor in a drama of which her sisters and Mrs.
Thornburgh had been the silent and intelligent spectators.
She came down presently from her room, very white and quiet; admitted
that she was tired, and said nothing to anybody. Agnes and Rose
noticed the change at once, whispered to each other when they found
an opportunity, and foreboded ill.
After their tea-supper, Catherine, unperceived, slipped out of the
little lane gate, and climbed the stony path above the house leading
on to the fell. The rain had ceased but the clouds hung low and
threatening, and the close air was saturated with moisture. As she
gained the bare fell, sounds of water met her on all sides. The
river cried hoarsely to her from below, the becks in the little
ghylls were full and thunderous; and beside her over the smooth
grass slid many a new-born rivulet, the child of the storm, and
destined to vanish with the night. Catherine's soul went out to
welcome the gray damp of the hills. She knew them best in this
mood. They were thus most her own.
She climbed on till at last she reached the crest of the ridge.
Behind her lay the valley, and on its further side the fells she
had crossed in the afternoon. Before her spread a long green vale,
compared to which Whindale with its white road, its church, and
parsonage, and scattered houses, was the great world itself.
Marrisdale had no road and not a single house. As Catherine descended
into it she saw not a sign of human life. There were sheep grazing
in the silence of the long June twilight; the blackish walls ran
down and up again, dividing the green hollow with melancholy
uniformity. Here and there was a sheepfold, suggesting the bleakness
of winter nights; and here and there a rough stone barn for storing
fodder. And beyond the vale, eastward and northward, Catherine
looked out upon a wild sea of moors wrapped in mists, sullen and
storm-beaten, while to the left the clouds hung deepest and inkiest
over the high points of the Ullswater mountains.
When she was once below the pass, man and his world were shut out.
The girl figure in the blue cloak and hood was absolutely alone.
She descended till she reached a point where a little stream had
been turned into a stone trough for cattle. Above it stood a gnarled
and solitary thorn. Catherine sank down on a rock at the foot of
the tree. It was a seat she knew well; she had lingered there with
her father; she had thought and prayed there as girl and woman; she
had wrestled there often with despondency or grief, or some of those
subtle spiritual temptations which were all her pure youth had
known, till the inner light had dawned again, and the humble
enraptured soul could almost have traced amid the shadows of that
dappled moorland world, between her and the clouds, the white stores
and 'sleeping wings' of ministering spirits.
But no wrestle had ever been so hard as this. And with what fierce
suddenness had it come upon her! She looked back over the day with
bewilderment. She could see dimly that the Catherine who had started
on that Shanmoor walk had been full of vague misgivings other than
those concerned with a few neglected duties. There had been an
undefined sense of unrest, of difference, of broken equilibrium.
She had shown it in the way in which at first she had tried to keep
herself and Robert Elsmere apart.
And then; beyond the departure from Shanmoor she seemed to lose the
thread of her own history. Memory was drowned in a feeling to which
the resisting soul as yet would have no name. She laid her head
on her knees trembling. She heard again the sweet imperious tones
with which he broke down her opposition about the cloak; she felt
again the grasp of his steadying hand on hers.
But it was only for a very few minutes that she drifted thus. She
raised her head again, scourging herself in shame and self-reproach,
recapturing the empire of the soul with a strong effort. She set
herself to a stern analysis of the whole situation. Clearly Mrs.
Thornburgh and her sisters had been aware for some indefinite time
that Mr. Elsmere had been showing a peculiar interest in her.
_Their_ eyes had been open. She realized now with hot cheeks how
many meetings and _tete-a-tetes_ had been managed for her and
Elsmere, and how complacently she had fallen into Mrs. Thornburgh's
'Have I encouraged him?' she asked herself, sternly.
'Yes,' cried the smarting conscience.
'Can I marry him?'
'No,' said conscience again; 'not without deserting your post, not
without betraying your trust.'
What post? What trust? Ah, conscience was ready enough with the
answer. Was it not just ten years since, as a girl of sixteen,
prematurely old and thoughtful, she had sat beside her father's
deathbed, while her delicate, hysterical mother in a state of utter
collapse was kept away from him by the doctors? She could see the
drawn face, the restless, melancholy eyes. 'Catherine, my darling,
you are the strong one. They will look to you. Support them.'
And she could see in imagination her own young face pressed against
the pillows. 'Yes, father, always--always!' 'Catherine, life is
harder, the narrow way narrower than ever. I die'--and memory
caught still the piteous, long-drawn breath by which the voice was
broken--'in much--much perplexity about many things. You have a
clear soul, an iron will. Strengthen the others. Bring them safe
to the Day of account.' 'Yes, father, with God's help. Oh, with
That long-past dialogue is clear and sharp to her now, as though
it were spoken afresh in her ears. And how has she kept her pledge?
She looks back humbly on her life of incessant devotion, on the
tie of long dependence which has bound to her her weak and widowed
mother, on her relations to her sisters, the efforts she has made
to train them in the spirit of her father's life and beliefs.
Have those efforts reached their term? Can it be said in any sense
that her work is done, her promise kept?
Oh, no--no--she cries to herself, with vehemence. Her mother depends
on her every day and hour for protection, comfort, enjoyment. The
girls are at the opening of life--Agnes twenty, Rose eighteen, with
all experience to come. And Rose--Ah! at the thought of Rose
Catherine's heart sinks deeper and deeper--she feels a culprit
before her father's memory. What is it has gone so desperately
wrong with her training of the child? Surely she has given love
enough, anxious thought enough, and here is Rose only fighting to
be free from the yoke of her father's wishes, from the galling
pressure of the family tradition!
No. Her task has just now reached its most difficult, its most
critical, moment. How can she leave it? Impossible.
What claim can she put against these supreme claims of her promise,
her mother's and sisters' need?
_His_ claim? Oh, no--no! She admits with soreness and humiliation
unspeakable that she has done him wrong. If he loves her she has
opened the way thereto; she confesses in her scrupulous honesty
that when the inevitable withdrawal comes she will have given him
cause to think of her hardly, slightingly. She flinches painfully
under the thought. But it does not alter the matter. This girl,
brought up in the austerest school of Christian self-government,
knows nothing of the divine rights of passion. Half modern literature
is based upon them, Catherine Leyburn knew of no supreme right but
the right of God to the obedience of man.
Oh, and besides--besides--it is impossible that he should care so
very much. The time is so short--there is so little in her,
comparatively, to attract a man of such resource, such attainments,
such access to the best things of life.
She cannot--in a kind of terror--she _will_ not, believe in her own
love-worthiness, in her own power to deal a lasting wound.
Then her _own_ claim? Has she any claim, has the poor bounding
heart that she cannot silence, do what she will, through all this
strenuous debate, no claim to satisfaction, to joy?
She locks here hands round her knees, conscious, poor soul, that
the worst struggle is _here_, the quickest agony _here_. But she
does not waver for an instant. And her weapons are all ready. The
inmost soul of her is a fortress well stored, whence at any moment
the mere personal craving of the natural man can be met, repulsed,
'_Man approacheth so much the nearer unto God the farther he departeth
from all earthly comfort._'
'_If thou couldst perfectly annihilate thyself and empty thyself
of all created love, then should I be constrained to flow into thee
with greater abundance of grace._'
'_When thou lookest unto the creature the sight of the Creator is
withdrawn from thee._'
'_Learn in all things to overcome thyself for the love of thy Creator
. . ._'
She presses the sentences she has so often meditated in her long
solitary walks about the mountains into her heart. And one fragment
of George Herbert especially rings in her ears, solemnly, funereally:
'_Thy Saviour sentenced joy!_'
Ah, sentenced it forever--the personal craving, the selfish need,
that must be filled at any cost. In the silence of the descending
night Catherine quietly, with tears, carried out that sentence, and
slew her young, new-born joy at the feet of the Master.
She stayed where she was for a while after this crisis in a kind
of bewilderment and stupor, but maintaining a perfect outward
tranquillity. Then there was a curious little epilogue.
'It is all over,' she said to herself, tenderly. 'But he has taught
me so much--he has been so good to me--he is so good! Let me take
to my heart some counsel--some word of his, and obey it
sacredly--silently--for these, days' sake.'
Then she fell thinking again, and she remembered their talk about
Rose. How often she had pondered it since! In this intense trance
of feeling it breaks upon her finally that he is right. May it not
be that he, with his clearer thought, his wider knowledge of life,
has laid his finger on the weak point in her guardianship of her
sisters? 'I have tried to stifle her passion,' she thought; 'to
push it out of the way as a hindrance. Ought I not rather to have
taught her to make of it a step in the ladder--to have moved her
to bring her gifts to the altar? Oh, let me take his word for
it--be ruled by him in this one thing, once!'
She bowed her face on her knees again. It seemed to her that she
had thrown herself at Elsmere's feet, that her cheek was pressed
against that young brown hand of his. How long the moment lasted
she never knew. When at last she rose, stiff and weary, darkness
was overtaking even the lingering northern twilight. The angry
clouds had dropped lower on the moors; a few sheep beside the
glimmering stone trough showed dimly white; the night wind was
sighing through the untenanted valley and the scanty branches of
the thorn. White mists lay along the hollow of the dale, they moved
weirdly under the breeze. She could have fancied them a troop of
wraiths to whom she had flung her warm crushed heart, and who were
bearing it away to burial.
As she came slowly over the pass and down the Whindale side of the
fell, a clear purpose was in her mind. Agnes had talked to her
only that morning of Rose and Rose's desire, and she had received
the news with her habitual silence.
The house was lit up when she returned. Her mother had gone
up-stairs. Catherine went to her, but even Mrs. Leyburn discovered
that she looked worn out, and she was sent off to bed. She went
along the passage quickly to Rose's room, listening a moment at the
door. Yes, Rose was inside, crooning some German song, and apparently
alone. She knocked and went in.
Rose was sitting on the edge of her bed, a white dressing-gown over
her shoulders, her hair in a glorious confusion all about her. She
was swaying backward and forward dreamily singing, and she started
up when she saw Catherine.
'Roeschen,' said the elder sister, going up to her with a tremor of
heart, and putting her motherly arms round the curly golden hair
and the half-covered shoulders, 'you never told me of that letter
from Manchester, but Agnes did. Did you think, Roeschen, I would
never let you have your way? Oh, I am not so hard! I may have
been wrong--I think I have been wrong; you shall do what you will,
Roeschen. If you want to go, I will ask mother.'
Rose, pushing herself away with one hand, stood staring. She was
struck dumb by this sudden breaking down of Catherine's long
resistance. And what a strange white Catherine! What did it mean?
Catherine withdrew her arms with a little sigh and moved away.
'I just came to tell you that, Roeschen,' she said, 'but I am very
tired and must not stay.'
Catherine 'very tired!' Rose thought the skies must be falling.
'Cathie!' she cried, leaping forward just as her sister gained the
door. 'Oh, Cathie, you are an angel, and I am a nasty odious little
wretch. But oh, tell me, what is the matter?'
And she flung her strong young arms round Catherine with a passionate
The elder sister struggled to release herself.
'Let me go, Rose,' she said, in a low voice. 'Oh, you must let me
And wrenching herself free, she drew her hand over her eyes as
though trying to drive away the mist from them.
'Good-night! Sleep well.'
And she disappeared, shutting the door noiselessly after her. Rose
stood staring a moment, and then swept off her feet by a flood of
many feelings--remorse, love, fear, sympathy--threw herself face
downward on her bed and burst into a passion of tears.
Catherine was much perplexed as to how she was to carry out her
resolution; she pondered over it through much of the night. She
was painfully anxious to make Elsmere understand without a scene,
without a definite proposal and a definite rejection. It was no
use letting things drift. Something brusque and marked there must
be. She quietly made her dispositions.
It was long after the gray vaporous morning stole on the hills
before she fell lightly, restlessly asleep. To her healthful youth
a sleepless night was almost unknown. She wondered through the
long hours of it, whether now, like other women, she had had her
story, passed through her one supreme moment, and she thought of
one or two worthy old maids she knew in the neighborhood with a new
and curious pity. Had any of them, too, gone down into Marrisdale
and come up widowed indeed?
All through, no doubt, there was a certain melancholy pride in her
own spiritual strength. 'It was not mine,' she would have said
with perfect sincerity, 'but God's.' Still, whatever its source,
it had been there at command, and the reflection carried with it a
sad sense of security. It was as though a soldier after his first
skirmish should congratulate himself on being bullet-proof.
To be sure, there was an intense trouble and disquiet in the thought
that she and Mr. Elsmere must meet again probably many times. The
period of his original invitation had been warmly extended by the
Thornburghs. She believed he meant to stay another week or ten
days in the valley. But in the spiritual exaltation of the night
she felt herself equal to any conflict, any endurance, and she fell
asleep, the hands clasped on her breast expressing a kind of resolute
patience, like those of some old sepulchral monument.
The following morning Elsmere examined the clouds and the barometer
with abnormal interest. The day was sunless and lowering, but not
raining, and he represented to Mrs. Thornburgh, with a hypocritical
assumption of the practical man, that with rugs and mackintoshes
it was possible to picnic on the dampest grass. But he could not
make out the vicar's wife. She was all sighs and flightiness. She
'supposed they could go,' and 'didn't, see what good it would do
them;' she had twenty different views, and all of them more or less
mixed up with pettishness, as to the best place for a picnic on a
gray day; and at last she grew so difficult that Robert suspected
something desperately wrong with the household, and withdrew lest
male guests might be in the way. T hen she pursued him into the
study and thrust a _Spectator_ into his hands, begging him to convey
it to Burwood. She asked it lugubriously, with many sighs, her cap
much askew. Robert could, have kissed her, curls and all, one
moment for suggesting the errand, and the next could almost have
signed her committal to the county lunatic asylum with a clear
conscience. What an extraordinary person it was!
Off he went, however, with his _Spectator_ under his arm, whistling.
Mrs. Thornburgh caught the sounds through an open window, and tore
the flannel across she was preparing for a mothers' meeting, with
a noise like the rattle of musketry. Whistling! She would like
to know what grounds he had for it, indeed! She always knew--she
always said--and she would go on saying--that Catherine Leyburn
would die an old maid.
Meanwhile Robert had strolled across to Burwood with the lightest
heart. By way of keeping all his anticipations within the bounds
of strict reason, he told himself that it was impossible he should
see 'her' in the morning. She was always busy in the morning.
He approached the house as a Catholic might approach a shrine.
That was her window, that upper casement with the little Banksia
rose twining round it. One night, when he and the vicar had been
out late on the hills, he had seen a light streaming from it across
the valley, and had thought how the mistress of the maiden solitude
within shone 'in a naughty world.'
In the drive he met Mrs. Leyburn, who was strolling about the garden.
She at once informed him, with much languid plaintiveness, that
Catherine had gone to Whinborough for the day, and would not be
able to join the picnic.
Elsmere stood still.
'_Gone!_' he cried. 'But it was all arranged with her yesterday!'
Mrs. Leyburn shrugged her shoulders. She too was evidently much
'So I told her. But you know, Mr. Elsmere'--and the gentle widow
dropped her voice as though communicating a secret--'when Catherine's
once made up her mind, you may as well try to dig away High Fell
as move her. She asked me to tell Mrs. Thornburgh--will you
please?--that she found it was her day for the orphan asylum, and
one or two other pieces of business, and she must go.'
'_Mrs. Thornburqh!_' And not a word for him, for him to whom she
had given her promise? She had gone to Whinborough to avoid him,
and she had gone in the brusquest way, that it might be unmistakable.
The young man stood with his hands thrust into the pockets of his
long coat, hearing with half an ear the remarks that Mrs. Leyburn
was making to him about the picnic. Was the wretched thing to come
off after all?
He was too proud and sore to suggest an alternative. But Mrs.
Thornburgh managed that for him. When he got back he told the vicar
in the hall of Miss Leyburn's flight in the fewest possible words,
and then his long legs vanished up the stairs in a twinkling, and
the door of his room shut behind him. A few minutes afterward Mrs.
Thornburgh's shrill voice was heard in the hall, calling to the
'Sarah, let the hamper alone. Take out the chickens.'
And a minute after the vicar came up to his door.
'Elsmere, Mrs. Thornburgh thinks the day is too uncertain; better
put it off.'
To which Elsmere from inside replied with a vigorous assent. The
vicar slowly descended to tackle his spouse, who seemed to have
established herself for the morning in his sanctum, though the
parish accounts were clamoring to be done, and this morning in the
week belonged to them by immemorial usage.
But Mrs. Thornburgh was unmanageable. She sat opposite to him with
one hand on each knee, solemnly demanding of him if _he_ knew what
was to be done with young women nowadays, because _she_ didn't.
The tormented vicar declined to be drawn into so illimitable a
subject, recommended patience, declared that it might all be a
mistake, and tried hard to absorb himself in the consideration of
_2s. 8d. plus 2s. 11d. minus 9d_.
'And I suppose, William,' said his wife to hint at last, with
withering sarcasm, 'that you'd sit by and see Catherine break that
young man's heart, and send him back to big mother no better than
he came here, in spite of all the beef-tea and jelly Sarah and I
have been putting into him, and never lift a finger; you'd see his
life _blasted_ and you'd do nothing--nothing, I suppose.'
And she fixed him with a fiercely interrogative eye.
'Of course,' cried the vicar, roused; 'I should think so. What
good did an outsider ever get by meddling in a love affair? Take
care of yourself, Emma. If the girl doesn't care for him, you can't
The vicar's wife rose the upturned corners of her mouth saying
'Doesn't care for him!' she echoed, in a tone which implied that
her husband's headpiece was past praying for.
'Yes, doesn't care for him!' said the vicar, nettled. 'What else
should make her give him a snub like this?'
Mrs. Thornburgh looked at him again with exasperation. Then a
curious expression stole into her eyes.
'Oh, the Lord only knows!' she said, with a hasty freedom of speech
which left the vicar feeling decidedly uncomfortable, as she shut
the door after her.
However, if the Higher Powers alone knew, Mrs. Thornburgh was
convinced that she could make a very shrewd guess at the causes of
Catherine's behavior. In her opinion it was all pure 'cussedness.'
Catherine Leyburn had always conducted her life on principles
entirely different from those of other people. Mrs. Thornburgh
wholly denied, as she sat bridling by herself, that it was a Christian
necessity to make yourself and other people uncomfortable. 'Yet
this was what this perverse young woman was always doing. Here was
a charming young man who had fallen in love with her at first sight,
and had done his best to make the fact plain to her in the most
chivalrous, devoted ways. Catherine encourages him, walks with
him, talks with him, is for a whole three weeks more gay and cheerful
and more like other girls than she has ever been known to be, and
then, at the end of it, just when everybody is breathlessly awaiting
the natural _denouement_, goes off to spend the day that should
have been the day of her betrothal in pottering about orphan
asylums;--leaving everybody, but especially the poor young man, to
look ridiculous! No, Mrs. Thornburgh had no patience with her--none
at all. It was all because she would not be happy like anybody
else, but must needs set herself up to be peculiar. Why not live
on a pillar, and go into hair-shirts at once? Then the rest of the
world would know what to be at.
Meanwhile Rose was in no small excitement. While her mother and
Elsmere had been talking in the garden, she had been discreetly
waiting in the back behind the angle of the house, and when she saw
Elsmere walk off she followed him with eager, sympathetic eyes.
'Poor fellow!' she said to herself, but this time with the little
tone of patronage which a girl of eighteen, conscious of graces and
good looks, never shrinks from assuming toward an elder male,
especially a male in love with someone else. 'I wonder whether he
thinks he knows anything about Catherine.'
But her own feeling, to-day was very soft and complex. Yesterday
it had been all hot rebellion. To-day it was all remorse and
wondering curiosity. What had brought Catherine into her room,
with that white face, and that bewildering change of policy? What
had made her do this brusque, discourteous thing to-day? Rose,
having been delayed by the loss of one of her goloshes in a bog,
had been once near her and Elsmere during that dripping descent
from Shanmoor. They had been so clearly absorbed in one another
that she had fled on guiltily to Agnes, golosh in hand, without
waiting to put it on; confident, however, that neither Elsmere nor
Catherine had been aware of her little adventure. And at the
Shanmoor tea Catherine herself had discussed the picnic, offering,
in fact, to guide the party to a particular ghyll in High Fell,
better known to her than anyone else.
'Oh, of course it's our salvation in this world and the next that's
in the way,' thought Rose, sitting crouched up in a grassy nook in
the garden, her shoulders up to her ears, her chin in her hands.
'I wish to goodness Catherine wouldn't think so much about mine,
at any rate. I hate,' added this incorrigible young person, 'I hate
being the third part of a "moral obstacle" against my will. I
declare I don't believe we should any of us go to perdition even
if Catherine did marry. And what a wretch I am to think so after
last night! Oh, dear, I wish she'd let me do something for her; I
wish she'd ask me to black her boots for her, or put in her tuckers,
or tidy her drawers for her, or anything worse still, and I'd do
it and welcome!'
It was getting uncomfortably serious all round, Rose admitted. But
there was one element of comedy besides Mrs. Thornburgh, and that
was Mrs. Leyburn's unconsciousness.
'Mamma, is too good,' thought the girl, with a little ripple of
laughter. 'She takes it as a matter of course that all the world
should admire us, and she'd scorn to believe that anybody did it
from interested motives.'
Which was perfectly true. Mrs. Leyburn was too devoted to her
daughters to feel any fidgety interest in their marrying. Of course
the most eligible persons would be only too thankful to marry them
when the moment came. Meanwhile her devotion was in no need of the
confirming testimony of lovers. It was sufficient in itself and
kept her mind gently occupied from morning till night. If it had
occurred to her to notice that Robert Elsmere had been paying special
attention to anyone in the family, she would have suggested with
perfect naivete that it was herself. For he had been to her the
very pink of courtesy and consideration, and she was of opinion
that 'poor Richard's views' of the degeneracy of Oxford men would
have been modified could he have seen this particular specimen.
Later on in the morning Rose had been out giving Bob a run, while
Agnes drove with her mother. On the way home she overtook Elsmere
returning from an errand for the vicar.
'It is not so bad,' she said to him, laughing, pointing to the sky;
'we really might have gone.'
'Oh, it would have been cheerless,' he said, simply. His look of
depression amazed her. She felt a quick movement of sympathy, a
wild wish to bid him cheer up and fight it out. If she could just
have shown him Catherine as she looked last night! Why couldn't
she talk it out with him? Absurd conventions! She had half a mind
But the grave look of the man beside her deterred even her young
'Catherine will have a good day for all her business,' she said,
He assented quietly. Oh, after that hand-shake on the bridge
yesterday she could not stand it--she must give him hint how the
'I suppose she will spend the afternoon with Aunt Ellen. Elsmere,
what do you think of Aunt Ellen?'
Elsmere started, and could not help smiling into the young girl's
beautiful eyes, which were radiant with fun.
'A most estimable person,' he said. 'Are you on good terms with
her, Miss Rose?'
'Oh dear, no!' she said, with a little face. 'I'm not a Leyburn; I
wear aesthetic dresses, and Aunt Ellen has "special leadings of the
spirit" to the effect that the violin is a soul-destroying instrument.
Oh, dear!'--and the girl's mouth twisted--'it's alarming to think,
if Catherine hadn't been Catherine, how like Aunt Ellen she might,
She flashed a mischievous look at him, and thrilled as she caught
the sudden change of expression in his face.
'Your sister has the Westmoreland strength in her--one can see
that,' he said, evidently speaking with some difficulty.
'Strength! Oh, yes. Catherine has plenty of strength,' cried Rose,
and then was silent a moment. 'You know, Mr. Elsmere,' she went
on at last, obeying some inward impulse--'or perhaps you don't
know--that at home we are all Catherine's creatures. She does
exactly what she likes with us. When my father died she was sixteen,
Agnes was ten, I was eight. We came here to live--we were not very
rich, of course, and mamma wasn't strong. Well, she did everything:
she taught us--we have scarcely had any teacher but her since then;
she did most of the housekeeping; and you can see for yourself what
she does for the neighbors and poor folk. She is never ill, she
is never idle, she always knows her own mind. We owe everything
we are, almost everything we have, to her. Her nursing has kept
mamma alive through one or two illnesses. Our lawyer says he never
knew any business affairs better managed than ours, and Catherine
manages them. The one thing she never takes any care or thought
for is herself. What we should do without her I can't imagine; and
yet sometimes I think if it goes on much longer none of us three
will have any character of our own left. After all, you know, it
may be good for the weak people to struggle on their own feet, if
the strong would only believe it, instead of always being carried.
The strong people _needn't_ be always trampling on themselves--if
they only knew----'
She stopped abruptly, flushing scarlet over her own daring. Her
eyes were feverishly bright, and her voice vibrated under a strange
mixture of feelings--sympathy, reverence, and a passionate inner
admiration struggling with rebellion and protest.
They had reached the gate of the Vicarage. Elsmere stopped and
looked at his companion with a singular lightening of expression.
He saw perfectly that the young impetuous creature understood him,
that she felt his cause was not prospering and that she wanted to
help him. He saw that what she meant by this picture of their
common life was, that no one need expect Catherine Leyburn to be
an easy prey; that she wanted to impress on him in her eager way
that such lives as her sister's were not to be gathered at a touch,
without difficulty, from the branch that bears them. She was
exhorting him to courage--nay he caught more than exhortation--a
sort of secret message from her bright, excited looks and incoherent
speech--that made his heart leap. But pride and delicacy forbade
him to put his feelings into words.
'You don't hope to persuade me that your sister reckons you among
the weak persons of the world?' he said, laughing, his hand on the
gate. Rose could have blessed him for thus turning the conversation.
What on earth could she have said next?
She stood bantering a little longer, and then ran off with Bob.
Elsmere passed the rest of the morning wandering meditatively over
the cloudy fells. After all he was only where he was before the
blessed madness, the upflooding hope, nay, almost certainty, of
yesterday. His attack had been for the moment repulsed. He gathered
from Rose's manner that Catherine's action with regard to the picnic
had not been unmeaning nor accidental, as on second thoughts he had
been half-trying to persuade himself. Evidently those about her
felt it to be ominous. Well, then, at worst, when they met they
would meet on a different footing, with a sense of something critical
between them. Oh, if he did but know a little more clearly how he
stood! He spent a noonday hour on a gray rock on the side of the
fell, between Whindale and Marrisdale, studying the path opposite,
the stepping-stones, the bit of white road. The minutes passed in
a kind of trance of memory. Oh, that soft, childlike movement to
him, after his speech about her father! that heavenly yielding and
self-forgetfulness which shone in her every look and movement as
she stood balancing on the stepping-stones! If after all she should
prove cruel to him, would he not have a legitimate grievance, a
heavy charge to fling against her maiden gentleness? He trampled
on the notion. Let her do with him as she would, she would be his
saint always, unquestioned, unarraigned.
But with such a memory in his mind it was impossible that any man,
least of all a man of Elsmere's temperament, could be very hopeless.
Oh, yes, he had been rash, foolhardy. Do such divine creatures
stoop to mortal men as easily as he had dreamt? He recognizes all
the difficulties, he enters into the force of all the ties that
bind her--or imagines that he does. But he is a man and her lover';
and if she loves him, in the end love will conquer--must conquer.
For his more modern sense, deeply Christianized as it is, assumes
almost without argument the sacredness of passion and its claim--wherein
a vast difference between himself and that solitary wrestler in
Meanwhile he kept all his hopes and fears to himself. Mrs. Thornburgh
was dying to talk to him; but though his mobile, boyish temperament
made it impossible for him to disguise his change of mood, there
was in him a certain natural Dignity which life greatly developed,
but which made it always possible for him to hold his own against
curiosity and indiscretion. Mrs. Thornburgh had to hold her peace.
As for the vicar, he developed what were for him a surprising
number of new topics of conversation, and in the late afternoon
took Elsmere a run up the fells to the nearest fragment of the Roman
road which runs, with such magnificent disregard of the humors of
Mother Earth, over the very top of High Street toward Penrith and
Next day it looked as though after many waverings, the characteristic
Westmoreland weather had descended upon them in good earnest. From
early morn till late evening the valley was wrapped in damp clouds
or moving rain, which swept down from the west through the great
basin of the hills, and rolled along the course of the river,
wrapping trees and fells and houses in the same misty, cheerless
drizzle. Under the outward pall of rain, indeed, the valley was
renewing its summer youth; the river was swelling with an impetuous
music through all its dwindled channels; the crags flung out white
waterfalls again, which the heat had almost dried away; and by noon
the whole green hollow was vocal with the sounds of water--water
flashing and foaming in the river, water leaping downward from the
rocks, water dripping steadily from the larches and sycamores and
the slate-eaves of the houses.
Elsmere sat indoors reading up the history of the parish system of
Surrey, or pretending to do so. He sat in a corner of the study,
where he and the vicar protected each other against Mrs. Thornburgh.
That good woman would open the door once and again in the morning
and put her head through in search of prey; but on being confronted
with two studious men instead of one, each buried up to the ears
in folios, she would give vent to an irritable cough and retire
discomfited. In reality Elsmere was thinking of nothing in the
world but what Catherine Leyburn might be doing that morning.
Judging a North countrywoman by the pusillanimous Southern standard,
be found himself glorying in the weather. She could not wander far
from him to-day.
After the early dinner he escaped, just as the vicar's wife was
devising an excuse on which to convey both him and herself to
Burwood, and sallied forth with a mackintosh for a rush down the
Whinborough road. It was still raining, but the clouds showed a
momentary lightening, and a few gleams of watery sunshine brought
out every now and then that sparkle on the trees, that iridescent
beauty of distance and atmosphere which goes so far to make a
sensitive spectator forget the petulant abundance of mountain rain.
Elsmere passed Burwood with a thrill. Should he or should he not
present himself? Let him push on a bit and think. So on he swung,
measuring his tall frame against the gusts, spirits and masculine
energy rising higher with every step. At last the passion of his
mood had wrestled itself out with the weather, and he turned back
once more determined to seek and find her, to face his fortunes
like a man. The warm rain beating from the west struck on his
uplifted face. He welcomed it as a friend. Rain and storm had
opened to him the gates of a spiritual citadel. What could ever
wholly close it against him any more? He felt so strong, so
confident! Patience and courage!
Before him the great hollow of High Fell was just coming out from
the white mists surging round it. A shaft of sunlight lay across
its upper end, and he caught a marvellous apparition of a sunlit
valley hung in air, a pale strip of blue above it, a white thread
of steam wavering through it, and all around it and below it the
Suddenly, between him and that enchanter's vision he saw a dark
slim figure against the mists, walking before him along the road.
It was Catherine--Catherine just emerged from a footpath across
the fields, battling with wind and rain, and quite unconscious of
any spectator. Oh, what a sudden thrill was that! What a leaping
together of joy and dread, which sent the blood to his heart!
Alone--they two alone again-in the wild Westmoreland mists--and
half a mile at least of winding road between them and Burwood. He
flew after her, dreading, and yet longing for the moment when he
should meet her eyes. Fortune had suddenly given this hour into
his hands; he felt it open upon him like that mystic valley in the
Catherine heard the hurrying steps behind her and turned. There
was an evident start when she caught sight of her pursuer--a quick
change of expression. She wore a close-fitting waterproof dress
and cap. Her hair was loosened, her cheek freshened by the storm.
He came up with her; he took her hand, his eyes dancing with the
joy he could not hide.
'What are you made of, I wonder?' he said, gayly. 'Nothing,
certainly, that minds weather.'
'No Westmoreland native thinks of staying at home for this,' she
said, with her quiet smile, moving on beside him as she spoke.
He looked down upon her with an indescribable mixture of feelings.
No stiffness, no coldness in her manner--only the even gentleness
which always marked her out from others. He felt as though yesterday
were blotted out, and would not for worlds have recalled it to her
or reproached her with it. Let it be as though they were but
carrying on the scene of the stepping-stones.
'Look,' he said, pointing to the west; 'have you been watching that
magical break in the clouds?'
Her eyes followed his to the delicate picture hung high among the
'Ah,' she exclaimed, her face kindling, 'that is one of our loveliest
effects, and one of the rarest. You are lucky to have seen it.'
'I am conceited enough,' he said, joyously, 'to feel as if some
enchanter were at work up there drawing pictures on the mists for
my special benefit. How welcome the rain is! As I am afraid you
have heard me say before, what new charm it gives to your valley!'
There was something in the buoyancy and force of his mood that
seemed to make Catherine shrink into herself. She would not pursue
the subject of Westmoreland. She asked with a little stiffness
whether he had good news from Mrs. Elsmere.
'Oh, yes. As usual, she is doing everything for me,' he said,
smiling. 'It is disgraceful that I should be idling here while she
is struggling with carpenters and paperers, and puzzling out the
decorations of the drawing-room. She writes to me in a fury about
the word "artistic." She declares even the little upholsterer at
Churton hurls it at her every other minute, and that if it weren't
for me she would select everything as frankly, primevally hideous
as she could find, just to spite him. As it is, he has so warped
her judgment that she has left the sitting-room papers till I arrive.