Part 7 out of 9
was in love with her. It annoyed her extremely; it made her
reproach herself that she ever should think such a thing
possible. She tried to strangle the notion, to drown it, to
starve it out by neglect--its existence caused her such pain and
The worst was, he had won Leonard's heart, who was constantly
seeking him out; or, when absent, talking about him. The best was
some journey connected with business, which would take him to the
Continent for several weeks; and, during that time, surely this
disagreeable fancy of his would die away, if untrue; and if true,
some way would be opened by which she might put a stop to all
increase of predilection on his part, and yet retain him as a
friend for Leonard--that darling for whom she was far-seeing and
covetous, and miserly of every scrap of love and kindly regard.
Mr. Farquhar would not have been flattered, if he had known how
much his departure contributed to Ruth's rest of mind on the
Saturday afternoon on which he set out on his journey. It was a
beautiful day; the sky of that intense quivering blue, which
seemed as though you could look through it for ever, yet not
reach the black, infinite space which is suggested as lying
beyond. Now and then, a thin, torn, vaporous cloud floated slowly
within the vaulted depth; but the soft air that gently wafted it
was not perceptible among the leaves on the trees, which did not
even tremble. Ruth sat at her work in the shadow formed by the
old grey garden wall; Miss Benson and Sally--the one in the
parlour window-seat mending stockings, the other hard at work in
her kitchen--were both within talking distance, for it was
weather for open doors and windows; but none of the three kept up
any continued conversation; and in the intervals Ruth sang low a
brooding song, such as she remembered her mother singing long
ago. Now and then she stopped to look at Leonard, who was
labouring away with vehement energy at digging over a small plot
of ground, where he meant to prick out some celery plants that
had been given to him. Ruth's heart warmed at the earnest,
spirited way in which he thrust his large spade deep down into
the brown soil his ruddy face glowing, his curly hair wet with
the exertion; and yet she sighed to think that the days were over
when her deeds of skill could give him pleasure. Now, his delight
was in acting himself; last year, not fourteen months ago, he had
watched her making a daisy-chain for him, as if he could not
admire her cleverness enough; this year, this week, when she had
been devoting every spare hour to the simple tailoring which she
performed for her boy (she had always made every article he wore,
and felt almost jealous of the employment), he had come to her
with a wistful look, and asked when he might begin to have
clothes made by a man?
Ever since the Wednesday when she had accompanied Mary and
Elizabeth, at Mrs. Bradshaw's desire, to be measured for spring
clothes by the new Eccleston dress-maker, she had been looking
forward to this Saturday afternoon's pleasure of making summer
trousers for Leonard; but the satisfaction of the employment was
a little taken away by Leonard's speech. It was a sign, however,
that her life was very quiet and peaceful, that she had leisure
to think upon the thing at all; and often she forgot it entirely
in her low, chanting song, or in listening to the thrush warbling
out his afternoon ditty to his patient mate in the holly-bush
The distant rumble of carts through the busy streets (it was
market-day) not only formed a low rolling bass to the nearer and
pleasanter sounds, but enhanced the sense of peace by the
suggestion of the contrast afforded to the repose of the garden
by the bustle not far off.
But, besides physical din and bustle, there is mental strife and
turmoil. That afternoon, as Jemima was restlessly wandering about
the house, her mother desired her to go on an errand to Mrs.
Pearson's, the new dressmaker, in order to give some directions
about her sisters' new frocks. Jemima went, rather than have the
trouble of resisting; or else she would have preferred staying at
home, moving or being outwardly quiet according to her own fitful
will. Mrs. Bradshaw, who, as I have said, had been aware for some
time that something was wrong with her daughter, and was very
anxious to set it to rights if she only knew how, had rather
planned this errand with a view to dispel Jemima's melancholy.
"And, Mimie dear," said her mother, "when you are there, look out
for a new bonnet for yourself; she has got some very pretty ones,
and your old one is so shabby."
"It does for me, mother," said Jemima heavily. "I don't want a
"But I want you to have one, my lassie. I want my girl to look
well and nice." There was something of homely tenderness in Mrs.
Bradshaw's tone that touched Jemima's heart. She went to her
mother, and kissed her with more of affection than she had shown
to any one for weeks before; and the kiss was returned with warm
"I think you love me, mother," said Jemima.
"We all love you, dear, if you would but think so. And if you
want anything, or wish for anything, only tell me, and with a
little patience, I can get your father to give it you, I know.
Only be happy, there's a good girl."
"Be happy! as if one could by an effort of will!" thought Jemima
as she went along the street, too absorbed in herself to notice
the bows of acquaintances and friends, but instinctively guiding
herself right among the throng and press of carts, and gigs, and
market people in High Street.
But her mother's tones and looks, with their comforting power,
remained longer in her recollection than the inconsistency of any
words spoken. When she had completed her errand about the frocks,
she asked to look at some bonnets, in order to show her
recognition of her mother's kind thought.
Mrs. Pearson was a smart, clever-looking woman of five or six and
thirty. She had all the variety of small-talk at her finger-ends,
that was formerly needed by barbers to amuse the people who came
to be shaved. She had admired the town till Jemima was weary of
its praises, sick and oppressed by its sameness, as she had been
these many weeks.
"Here are some bonnets, ma'am, that will be just the thing for
you--elegant and tasty, yet quite of the simple style, suitable
to young ladies. Oblige me by trying on this white silk!"
Jemima looked at herself in the glass; she was obliged to own it
was very becoming, and perhaps not the less so for the flush of
modest shame which came into her cheeks, as she heard Mrs.
Pearson's open praises of the "rich, beautiful hair," and the
"Oriental eyes" of the wearer.
"I induced the young lady who accompanied your sisters the other
day--the governess, is she, ma'am?"
"Yes--Mrs. Denbigh is her name," said Jemima, clouding over.
"Thank you, ma'am. Well, I persuaded Mrs. Denbigh to try on that
bonnet, and you can't think how charming she looked in it; and
yet I don't think it became her as much as it does you."
"Mrs. Denbigh is very beautiful," said Jemima, taking off the
bonnet, and not much inclined to try on any other.
"Very, ma'am. Quite a peculiar style of beauty. If I might be
allowed, I should say that hers was a Grecian style of
loveliness, while yours was Oriental. She reminded me of a young
person I once knew in Fordham." Mrs. Pearson sighed an audible
"In Fordham!" said Jemima, remembering that Ruth had once spoken
of the place as one in which she had spent some time, while the
county in which it was situated was the same in which Ruth was
born. "In Fordham! Why, I think Mrs. Denbigh comes from that
"Oh, ma'am! she cannot be the young person I mean--I am sure,
ma'am--holding the position she does in your establishment. I
should hardly say I knew her myself; for I only saw her two or
three times at my sister's house; but she was so remarked for her
beauty, that I remember her face quite well--the more so, on
account of her vicious conduct afterwards."
"Her vicious conduct!" repeated Jemima, convinced by these words
that there could be no identity between Ruth and "young person"
alluded to. "Then it could not have been our Mrs. Denbigh."
"Oh no, ma'am! I am sure I should be sorry to be understood to
have suggested anything of the kind. I beg your pardon if I did
so. All I meant to say--and perhaps that was a liberty I ought
not to have taken, considering what Ruth Hilton was----"
"Ruth Hilton!" said Jemima, turning suddenly round, and facing
"Yes, ma'am, that was the name of the young person I allude to."
"Tell me about her--what did she do?" asked Jemima, subduing her
eagerness of tone and look as best she might, but trembling as on
the verge of some strange discovery.
"I don't know whether I ought to tell you, ma'am--it is hardly a
fit story for a young lady; but this Ruth Hilton was an
apprentice to my sister-in-law, who had a first-rate business in
Fordham, which brought her a good deal of patronage from the
county families; and this young creature was very artful and
bold, and thought sadly too much of her beauty; and, somehow, she
beguiled a young gentleman, who took her into keeping (I am sure,
ma'am, I ought to apologise for polluting your ears)----"
"Go on," said Jemima breathlessly.
"I don't know much more. His mother followed him into Wales. She
was a lady of a great deal of religion, and a very old family,
and was much shocked at her son's misfortune in being captivated
by such a person; but she led him to repentance, and took him to
Paris, where, I think, she died; but I am not sure, for, owing to
family differences, I have not been on terms for some years with
my sister-in-law, who was my informant."
"Who died?" interrupted Jemima--"the young man's mother, or--or
"Oh dear, ma'am! pray don't confuse the two. It was the mother,
Mrs. ---- I forget the name--something like Billington. It was
the lady who died."
"And what became of the other?" asked Jemima, unable, as her dark
suspicion seemed thickening, to speak the name.
"The girl? Why, ma'am, what could become of her? Not that I know
exactly--only one knows they can but go from bad to worse, poor
creatures! God forgive me, if I am speaking too transiently of
such degraded women, who, after all, are a disgrace to our sex."
"Then you know nothing more about her?" asked Jemima.
"I did hear that she had gone off with another gentleman that she
met with in Wales, but I'm sure I can't tell who told me."
There was a little pause. Jemima was pondering on all she had
heard. Suddenly she felt that Mrs. Pearson's eyes were upon her,
watching her; not with curiosity, but with a newly-awakened
intelligence;--and yet she must ask one more question; but she
tried to ask it in an indifferent, careless tone, handling the
bonnet while she spoke.
"How long is it since all this--all you have been telling me
about--happened!" (Leonard was eight years old.)
"Why--let me see. It was before I was married, and I was married
three years, and poor dear Pearson has been deceased five--I
should say going on for nine years this summer. Blush roses would
become your complexion, perhaps, better than these lilacs," said
she, as with superficial observation she watched Jemima turning
the bonnet round and round on her hand--the bonnet that her dizzy
eyes did not see.
"Thank you. It is very pretty. But I don't want a bonnet. I beg
your pardon for taking up your time." And with an abrupt bow to
the discomfited Mrs. Pearson, she was out and away in the open
air, threading her way with instinctive energy along the crowded
street. Suddenly she turned round, and went back to Mrs.
Pearson's with even more rapidity than she had been walking away
from the house.
"I have changed my mind," said she, as she came, breathless, up
into the show-room. "I will take the bonnet. How much is it?"
"Allow me to change the flowers; it can be done in an instant,
and then you can see if you would not prefer the roses; but with
either foliage it is a lovely little bonnet," said Mrs. Pearson,
holding it up admiringly on her hand.
"Oh! never mind the flowers--yes! change them to the roses." And
she stood by, agitated (Mrs. Pearson thought with impatience),
all the time the milliner was making the alteration with skilful,
"By the way," said Jemima, when she saw the last touches were
being given, and that she must not delay executing the purpose
which was the real cause of her return--"Papa, I am sure, would
not like your connecting Mrs. Denbigh's name with such a--story
as you have been telling me."
"Oh dear! ma'am, I have too much respect for you all to think of
doing such a thing! Of course I know, ma'am, that it is not to be
cast up to any lady that she is like any-body disreputable."
"But I would rather you did not name the likeness to any one,"
said Jemima; "not to any one. Don't tell any one the story you
have told me this morning."
"Indeed, ma'am, I should never think of such a thing! My poor
husband could have borne witness that I am as close as the grave
where there is anything to conceal."
"Oh dear!" said Jemima, "Mrs. Pearson, there is nothing to
conceal; only you must not speak about it."
"I certainly shall not do it, ma'am; you may rest assured of me."
This time Jemima did not go towards home, but in the direction of
the outskirts of the town, on the hilly side. She had some dim
recollection of hearing her sisters ask if they might not go and
invite Leonard and his mother to tea; and how could she face
Ruth, after the conviction had taken possession of her heart that
she, and the sinful creature she bad just heard of, were one and
the same? It was yet only the middle of the afternoon; the hours
were early in the old-fashioned town of Eccleston. Soft white
clouds had come slowly sailing up out of the west; the plain was
flecked with thin floating shadows, gently borne along by the
westerly wind that was waving the long grass in the hay-fields
into alternate light and shade. Jemima went into one of these
fields, lying by the side of the upland road. She was stunned by
the shock she had received. The diver leaving the green sward,
smooth and known, where his friends stand with their familiar
smiling faces, admiring his glad bravery--the diver, down in an
instant in the horrid depths of the sea, close to some strange,
ghastly, lidless-eyed monster, can hardly more feel his blood
curdle at the near terror than did Jemima now. Two hours ago--but
a point of time on her mind's dial--she had never Imagined that
she should ever come in contact with any one who had committed
open sin; she had never shaped her conviction into words and
sentences, but still it was there, that all the respectable, all
the family and religious circumstances of her life, would hedge
her in, and guard her from ever encountering the great shock of
coming face to face with Vice. Without being pharisaical in her
estimation of herself, she had all a Pharisee's dread of
publicans and sinners, and all a child's cowardliness--that
cowardliness which prompts it to shut its eyes against the object
of terror, rather than acknowledge its existence with brave
faith. Her father's often reiterated speeches had not been
without their effect. He drew a clear line of partition, which
separated mankind into two great groups, to one of which, by the
grace of God, he and his belonged; while the other was composed
of those whom it was his duty to try and reform, and bring the
whole force of his morality to bear upon, with lectures,
admonitions, and exhortations--a duty to be performed, because it
was a duty--but with very little of that Hope and Faith which is
the Spirit that maketh alive. Jemima had rebelled against these
hard doctrines of her father's, but their frequent repetition had
had its effect, and led her to look upon those who had gone
astray with shrinking, shuddering recoil, instead of with a pity
so Christ-like as to have both wisdom and tenderness in it.
And now she saw among her own familiar associates one, almost her
house-fellow, who had been stained with that evil most repugnant
to her womanly modesty, that would fain have ignored its
existence altogether. She loathed the thought of meeting Ruth
again. She wished that she could take her up, and put her down at
a distance somewhere--anywhere--where she might never see or hear
of her more; never be reminded, as she must be whenever she saw
her, that such things were in this sunny, bright, lark-singing
earth, over which the blue dome of heaven bent softly down as
Jemima sat in the hay-field that June afternoon; her cheeks
flushed and red, but her lips pale and compressed, and her eyes
full of a heavy, angry sorrow. It was Saturday, and the people in
that part of the country left their work an hour earlier on that
day. By this, Jemima knew it must be growing time for her to be
at home. She had had so much of conflict in her own mind of late,
that she had grown to dislike struggle, or speech, or
explanation; and so strove to conform to times and hours much
more than she had done in happier days. But oh! how full of hate
her heart was growing against the world! And oh! how she sickened
at the thought of seeing Ruth! Who was to be trusted more, if
Ruth--calm, modest, delicate, dignified Ruth--had a memory
blackened by sin? As she went heavily along, the thought of Mr.
Farquhar came into her mind. It showed how terrible had been the
stun, that he had been forgotten until now. With the thought of
him came in her first merciful feeling towards Ruth. This would
never have been, had there been the least latent suspicion in
Jemima's jealous mind that Ruth had purposely done aught--looked
a look--uttered a word--modulated a tone--for the sake of
attracting. As Jemima recalled all the passages of their
intercourse, she slowly confessed to herself how pure and simple
had been all Ruth's ways in relation to Mr. Farquhar. It was not
merely that there had been no coquetting, but there had been
simple unconsciousness on Ruth's part, for so long a time after
Jemima bad discovered Mr. Farquhar's inclination for her; and,
when at length she had slowly awakened to some perception of the
state of his feelings, there had been a modest, shrinking dignity
of manner, not startled, or emotional, or even timid, but pure,
grave, and quiet; and this conduct of Ruth's Jemima instinctively
acknowledged to be of necessity transparent and sincere. Now, and
here, there was no hypocrisy; but some time, somewhere, on the
part of somebody, what hypocrisy, what lies must have been acted,
if not absolutely spoken, before Ruth could have been received by
them all as the sweet, gentle, girlish widow, which she
remembered they had all believed Mrs. Denbigh to be when first
she came among them! Could Mr. and Miss Benson know? Could they
be a party to the deceit? Not sufficiently acquainted with the
world to understand how strong had been the temptation to play
the part they did, if they wished to give Ruth a chance, Jemima
could not believe them guilty of such deceit as the knowledge of
Mrs. Denbigh's previous conduct would imply; and yet how it
darkened the latter into a treacherous hypocrite, with a black
secret shut up in her soul for years--living in apparent
confidence, and daily household familiarity with the Bensons for
years, yet never telling the remorse that ought to be corroding
her heart! Who was true? Who was not? Who was good and pure? Who
was not? The very foundations of Jemima's belief in her mind were
Could it be false? Could there be two Ruth Hiltons? She went over
every morsel of evidence. It could not be. She knew that Mrs.
Denbigh's former name had been Hilton. She had heard her speak
casually, but charily, of having lived in Fordham. She knew she
had been in Wales but a short time before she made her appearance
in Eccleston. There was no doubt of the identity. Into the middle
of Jemima's pain and horror at the afternoon's discovery, there
came a sense of the power which the knowledge of this secret gave
her over Ruth; but this was no relief, only an aggravation of the
regret with which Jemima looked back on her state of ignorance.
It was no wonder that when she arrived at home, she was so
oppressed with headache that she had to go to bed directly.
"Quiet, mother! quiet, dear, dear mother" (for she clung to the
known and tried goodness of her mother more than ever now), "that
is all I want." And she was left to the stillness of her darkened
room, the blinds idly flapping to and fro in the soft evening
breeze, and letting in the rustling sound of the branches which
waved close to her window, and the thrush's gurgling warble, and
the distant hum of the busy town.
Her jealousy was gone--she knew not how or where. She might shun
and recoil from Ruth, but she now thought that she could never
more be jealous of her. In her pride of innocence, she felt
almost ashamed that such a feeling could have had existence.
Could Mr. Farquhar hesitate between her own self and one who----
No! she could not name what Ruth had been, even in thought. And
yet he might never know, so fair a seeming did her rival wear.
Oh! for one ray of God's holy light to know what was seeming, and
what was truth, in this traitorous hollow earth! It might be--she
used to think such things possible, before sorrow had embittered
her--that Ruth had worked her way through the deep purgatory of
repentance up to something like purity again; God only knew! If
her present goodness was real--if, after having striven back thus
far on the heights, a fellow-woman was to throw her down into
some terrible depth with her unkind, incontinent tongue, that
would be too cruel! And yet, if--there was such woeful
uncertainty and deceit somewhere--if Ruth----No! that, Jemima
with noble candour admitted, was impossible. Whatever Ruth had
been, she was good, and to be respected as such, now. It did not
follow that Jemima was to preserve the secret always; she doubted
her own power to do so, if Mr. Farquhar came home again, and were
still constant in his admiration of Mrs. Denbigh, and if Mrs.
Denbigh gave him any--the least encouragement. But this last she
thought, from what she knew of Ruth's character, was impossible.
Only, what was impossible after this afternoon's discovery? At
any rate, she would watch and wait. Come what might, Ruth was in
her power. And, strange to say, this last certainty gave Jemima a
kind of protecting, almost pitying, feeling for Ruth. Her horror
at the wrong was not diminished; but, the more she thought of the
struggles that the wrong-doer must have made to extricate
herself, the more she felt how cruel it would be to baffle all by
revealing what had been. But for her sisters' sake she had a duty
to perform; she must watch Ruth. For her lover's sake she could
not have helped watching; but she was too much stunned to
recognise the force of her love, while duty seemed the only
stable thing to cling to. For the present she would neither
meddle nor mar in Ruth's course of life.
MR. BRADSHAW'S VIRTUOUS INDIGNATION
So it was that Jemima no longer avoided Ruth, nor manifested by
word or look the dislike which for a long time she had been
scarce concealing. Ruth could not help noticing that Jemima
always sought to be in her presence while she was at Mr.
Bradshaw's house; either when daily teaching Mary and Elizabeth,
or when she came as an occasional visitor with Mr. and Miss
Benson, or by herself. Up to this time Jemima had used no gentle
skill to conceal the abruptness with which she would leave the
room rather than that Ruth and she should be brought into
contact--rather than that it should fall to her lot to entertain
Ruth during any part of the evening. It was months since Jemima
had left off sitting in the schoolroom, as had been her wont
during the first few years of Ruth's governess-ship. Now, each
morning Miss Bradshaw seated herself at a little round table in
the window, at her work, or at her writing; but, whether she
sewed, or wrote, or read, Ruth felt that she was always
watching--watching. At first Ruth had welcomed all these changes
in habit and behaviour, as giving her a chance, she thought, by
some patient waiting or some opportune show of enduring, constant
love, to regain her lost friend's regard; but by-and-by the icy
chillness, immovable and grey, struck more to her heart than many
sudden words of unkindness could have done. They might be
attributed to the hot impulses of a hasty temper--to the vehement
anger of an accuser; but this measured manner was the conscious
result of some deep-seated feeling; this cold sternness befitted
the calm implacability of some severe judge. The watching, which
Ruth felt was ever upon her, made her unconsciously shiver, as
you would if you saw that the passionless eyes of the dead were
visibly gazing upon you. Her very being shrivelled and parched up
in Jemima's presence, as if blown upon by a bitter, keen east
Jemima bent every power she possessed upon the one object of
ascertaining what Ruth really was. Sometimes the strain was very
painful; the constant tension made her soul weary; and she moaned
aloud, and upbraided circumstance (she dared not go higher--to
the Maker of circumstance) for having deprived her of her
unsuspicious, happy ignorance.
Things were in this state when Mr. Richard Bradshaw came on his
annual home visit. He was to remain another year in London, and
then to return and be admitted into the firm. After he had been a
week at home he grew tired of the monotonous regularity of his
father's household, and began to complain of it to Jemima.
"I wish Farquhar were at home. Though he is such a stiff, quiet
old fellow, his coming in in the evenings makes a change. What
has become of the Millses? They used to drink tea with us
"Oh! papa and Mr. Mills took opposite sides at the election, and
we have never visited since. I don't think they are any great
loss." Anybody is a loss--the stupidest bore that ever was would
be a blessing, if he only would come in sometimes."
"Mr. and Miss Benson have drunk tea here twice since you came."
"Come, that's capital! Apropos of stupid bores, you talk of the
Bensons. I did not think you had so much discrimination, my
Jemima looked up in surprise; and then reddened angrily.
"I never meant to say a word against Mr. or Miss Benson, and that
you know quite well, Dick."
"Never mind! I won't tell tales. They are stupid old fogeys, but
they are better than nobody, especially as that handsome
governess of the girls always comes with them to be looked at."
There was a little pause; Richard broke it by saying--
"Do you know, Mimie, I've a notion, if she plays her cards well,
she may hook Farquhar!"
"Who?" asked Jemima shortly, though she knew quite well.
"Mrs. Denbigh, to be sure. We were talking of her, you know.
Farquhar asked me to dine with him at his hotel as he passed
through town, and--I'd my own reasons for going and trying to
creep up his sleeve--I wanted him to tip me, as he used to do."
"For shame! Dick," burst in Jemima.
"Well, well! not tip me exactly, but lend me some money. The
governor keeps me deucedly short."
"Why! it was only yesterday, when my father was speaking about
your expenses, and your allowance, I heard you say that you'd
more than you knew how to spend."
"Don't you see that was the perfection of art? If my father had
thought me extravagant, he would have kept me in with a tight
rein; as it is, I'm in great hopes of a handsome addition, and I
can tell you it's needed. If my father had given me what I ought
to have had at first, I should not have been driven to the
speculations and messes I've got into."
"What speculations? What messes?" asked Jemima, with anxious
"Oh! messes was not the right word. Speculations hardly was; for
they are sure to turn out well, and then I shall surprise my
father with my riches." He saw that he had gone a little too far
in his confidence, and was trying to draw in. "But what do you
mean? Do explain it to me."
"Never you trouble your head about my business, my dear. Women
can't understand the share-market, and such things. Don't think
I've forgotten the awful blunders you made when you tried to read
the state of the money-market aloud to my father that night when
he had lost his spectacles. What were we talking of? Oh! of
Farquhar and pretty Mrs. Denbigh. Yes! I soon found out that was
the subject my gentleman liked me to dwell on. He did not talk
about her much himself, but his eyes sparkled when I told him
what enthusiastic letters Polly and Elizabeth wrote about her.
How old do you think she is?"
"I know!" said Jemima. "At least I heard her age spoken about,
amongst other things, when first she came. She will be
five-and-twenty this autumn."
"And Farquhar is forty, if he is a day. She's young, too, to have
such a boy as Leonard; younger-looking, or full as young-looking
as she is! I tell you what, Mimie, she looks younger than you.
How old are you? Three-and-twenty, ain't it?"
"Last March," replied Jemima.
"You'll have to make haste and pick up somebody, if you're losing
your good looks at this rate. Why, Jemima, I thought you had a
good chance of Farquhar a year or two ago. How come you to have
lost him? I'd far rather you'd had him than that proud, haughty
Mrs. Denbigh, who flashes her great grey eyes upon me if ever I
dare to pay her a compliment. She ought to think it an honour
that I take that much notice of her. Besides, Farquhar is rich,
and it's keeping the business of the firm in one's own family;
and if he marries Mrs. Denbigh she will be sure to be wanting
Leonard in when he's of age, and I won't have that. Have a try
for Farquhar, Mimie! Ten to one it's not too late. I wish I'd
brought you a pink bonnet down. You go about 'so dowdy--so
careless of how you look."
"If Mr. Farquhar has not liked me as I am," said Jemima, choking,
"I don't want to owe him to a pink bonnet."
"Nonsense! I don't like to have my sisters' governess stealing a
march on my sister. I tell you Farquhar is worth trying for. If
you'll wear the pink bonnet I'll give it to you, and I'll back
you against Mrs. Denbigh. I think you might have done something
with 'our member,' as my father calls him, when you had him so
long in the house. But, altogether, I should like Farquhar best
for a brother-in-law. By the way, have you heard down here that
Donne is going to be married? I heard of it in town, just before
I left, from a man that was good authority. Some Sir Thomas
Campbell's seventh daughter: a girl without a penny; father
ruined himself by gambling, and obliged to live abroad. But Donne
is not a man to care for any obstacle, from all accounts, when
once he has taken a fancy. It was love at first sight, they say.
I believe he did not know of her existence a month ago."
"No! we have not heard of it," replied Jemima. "My father will
like to know; tell it him;" continued she, as she was leaving the
room, to be alone, in order to still her habitual agitation
whenever she heard Mr. Farquhar and Ruth coupled together.
Mr. Farquhar came home the day before Richard Bradshaw left for
town. He dropped in after tea at the Bradshaws'; he was evidently
disappointed to see none but the family there, and looked round
whenever the door opened.
"Look! look!" said Dick to his sister. "I wanted to make sure of
his coming in to-night, to save me my father's parting
exhortations against the temptations of the world (as if I did
not know much more of the world than he does!), so I used a spell
I thought would prove efficacious; I told him that we should be
by ourselves, with the exception of Mrs. Denbigh, and look how he
is expecting her to come in!"
Jemima did see; did understand. She understood, too, why certain
packets were put carefully on one side, apart from the rest of
the purchases of Swiss toys and jewellery, by which Mr. Farquhar
proved that none of Mr. Bradshaw's family had been forgotten by
him during his absence. Before the end of the evening, she was
very conscious that her sore heart had not forgotten how to be
jealous. Her brother did not allow a word, a look, or an
incident, which might be supposed on Mr. Farquhar's side to
refer to Ruth to pass unnoticed; he pointed out all to his
sister, never dreaming of the torture he was inflicting, only
anxious to prove his own extreme penetration. At length Jemima
could stand it no longer, and left the room. She went into the
schoolroom, where the shutters were not closed, as it only looked
into the garden. She opened the window, to let the cool night air
blow in on her hot cheeks. The clouds were hurrying over the
moon's face in a tempestuous and unstable manner, making all
things seem unreal; now clear out in its bright light, now
trembling and quivering in shadow. The pain at her heart seemed
to make Jemima's brain grow dull; she laid her head on her arms,
which rested on the window-sill, and grew dizzy with the sick
weary notion that the earth was wandering lawless and aimless
through the heavens, where all seemed one tossed and whirling
wrack of clouds. It was a waking nightmare, from the uneasy
heaviness of which she was thankful to be roused by Dick's
"What, you are here, are you? I have been looking everywhere for
you. I wanted to ask you if you have any spare money you could
lend me for a few weeks?"
"How much do you want?" asked Jemima, in a dull, hopeless voice.
"Oh! the more the better. But I should be glad of any trifle, I
am kept so confoundedly short."
When Jemima returned with her little store, even her careless,
selfish brother was struck by the wanness of her face, lighted by
the bed-candle she carried.
"Come, Mimie, don't give it up. If I were you, I would have a
good try against Mrs. Denbigh. I'll send you the bonnet as soon
as ever I get back to town, and you pluck up a spirit, and I'll
back you against her even yet."
It seemed to Jemima strange--and yet only a fitting part of this
strange, chaotic world--to find that her brother, who was the
last person to whom she could have given her confidence in her
own family, and almost the last person of her acquaintance to
whom she could look for real help and sympathy, should have been
the only one to hit upon the secret of her love. And the idea
passed away from his mind as quickly as all ideas not bearing
upon his own self-interests did.
The night, the sleepless night, was so crowded and haunted by
miserable images, that she longed for day; and when day came,
with its stinging realities, she wearied and grew sick for the
solitude of night. For the next week, she seemed to see and hear
nothing but what confirmed the idea of Mr. Farquhar's decided
attachment to Ruth. Even her mother spoke of it as a thing which
was impending, and which she wondered how Mr. Bradshaw would
like; for his approval or disapproval was the standard by which
she measured all things.
"Oh! merciful God," prayed Jemima, in the dead silence of the
night, "the strain is too great--I cannot bear it longer--my
life--my love--the very essence of me, which is myself through
time and eternity; and on the other side there is all-pitying
Charity. If she had not been what she is--if she had shown any
sign of triumph--any knowledge of her prize--if she had made any
effort to gain his dear heart, I must have given way long ago,
and taunted her, even if I did not tell others--taunted her, even
though I sank down to the pit the next moment.
"The temptation is too strong for me. O Lord! where is Thy peace
that I believed in, in my childhood?--that I hear people speaking
of now as if it hushed up the troubles of life, and had not to be
sought for--sought for, as with tears of blood!"
There was no sound nor answer to this wild imploring cry, which
Jemima half thought must force out a sign from Heaven. But there
was a dawn stealing on through the darkness of her night.
It was glorious weather for the end of August. The nights were as
full of light as the days--everywhere, save in the low dusky
meadows by the river-side, where the mists rose and blended the
pale sky with the lands below. Unknowing of the care and trouble
around them, Mary and Elizabeth exulted in the weather, and saw
some new glory in every touch of the year's decay. They were
clamorous for an expedition to the hills, before the calm
stillness of the autumn should be disturbed by storms. They
gained permission to go on the next Wednesday--the next
half-holiday. They had won their mother over to consent to a full
holiday, but their father would not hear of it. Mrs. Bradshaw had
proposed an early dinner, but the idea was scouted at by the
girls. What would the expedition be worth if they did not carry
their dinners with them in baskets? Anything out of a basket, and
eaten in the open air, was worth twenty times as much as the most
sumptuous meal in the house. So the baskets were packed up, while
Mrs. Bradshaw wailed over probable colds to be caught from
sitting on the damp ground. Ruth and Leonard were to go, they
four. Jemima had refused all invitations to make one of the
party; and yet she had a half-sympathy with her sisters' joy--a
sort of longing, lingering look back to the time when she too
would have revelled in the prospect that lay before them. They,
too, would grow up, and suffer; though now they played,
regardless of their doom.
The morning was bright and glorious; just cloud enough, as some
one said, to make the distant plain look beautiful from the
hills, with its floating shadows passing over the golden
corn-fields. Leonard was to join them at twelve, when his lessons
with Mr. Benson, and the girls' with their masters, should be
over. Ruth took off her bonnet, and folded her shawl with her
usual dainty, careful neatness, and laid them aside in a corner
of the room to be in readiness. She tried to forget the pleasure
she always anticipated from a long walk towards the hills while
the morning's work went on; but she showed enough of sympathy to
make the girls cling round her with many a caress of joyous love.
Everything was beautiful in their eyes; from the shadows of the
quivering leaves on the wall to the glittering beads of dew, not
yet absorbed by the sun, which decked the gossamer web in the
vine outside the window. Eleven o'clock struck. The Latin master
went away, wondering much at the radiant faces of his pupils, and
thinking that it was only very young people who could take such
pleasure in the "Delectus." Ruth said, "Now do let us try to be
very steady this next hour," and Mary pulled back Ruth's head,
and gave the pretty budding mouth a kiss. They sat down to work,
while Mrs. Denbigh read aloud. A fresh sun-gleam burst into the
room, and they looked at each other with glad, anticipating eyes.
Jemima came in, ostensibly to seek for a book, but really from
that sort of restless weariness of any one place or employment
which had taken possession of her since Mr. Farquhar's return.
She stood before the bookcase in the recess, languidly passing
over the titles in search of the one she wanted. Ruth's voice
lost a tone or two of its peacefulness, and her eyes looked more
dim and anxious at Jemima's presence. She wondered in her heart
if she dared to ask Miss Bradshaw to accompanying them in their
expedition. Eighteen months ago she would have urged it on her
friend with soft, loving entreaty; now she was afraid even to
propose it as a hard possibility; everything she did or said was
taken so wrongly--seemed to add to the old dislike, or the later
stony contempt with which Miss Bradshaw had regarded her. While
they were in this way Mr. Bradshaw came into the room. His
entrance--his being at home at all at this time--was so unusual a
thing, that the reading was instantly stopped; and all four
involuntarily looked at him, as if expecting some explanation of
his unusual proceeding.
His face was almost purple with suppressed agitation.
"Mary and Elizabeth, leave the room. Don't stay to pack up your
books. Leave the room, I say!" He spoke with trembling anger, and
the frightened girls obeyed without a won A cloud passing over
the sun cast a cold gloom into the room which was late so bright
and beaming; but, by equalising the light, it took away the dark
shadow from the place where Jemima had been standing, and her
figure caught her father's eye.
"Leave the room, Jemima," said he.
"Why, father?" replied she, in an opposition that was strange
even to herself, but which was prompted by the sullen passion
which seethed below the stagnant surface of her life, and which
sought a vent in defiance. She maintained her ground, facing
round upon her father, and Ruth--Ruth, who had risen, and stood
trembling, shaking, a lightning-fear having shown her the
precipice on which she stood. It was of no use; no quiet,
innocent life--no profound silence, even to her own heart, as to
the Past; the old offence could never be drowned in the Deep; but
thus, when all was calm on the great, broad, sunny sea, it rose
to the surface, and faced her with its unclosed eyes and its
ghastly countenance. The blood bubbled up to her brain, and made
such a sound there, as of boiling waters, that she did not hear
the words which Mr. Bradshaw first spoke; indeed, his speech was
broken and disjointed by intense passion. But she needed not to
hear; she knew. As she rose up at first, so she stood now--numb
and helpless. When her ears heard again (as if the sounds were
drawing nearer, and becoming more distinct, from some faint,
vague distance of space), Mr. Bradshaw was saying, "If there be
one sin I hate--I utterly loathe--more than all others, it is
wantonness. It includes all other sins. It is but of a piece that
you should have come with your sickly, hypocritical face imposing
upon us all. I trust Benson did not know of it--for his own sake,
I trust not. Before God, if he got you into my house on false
pretences, he shall find his charity at other men's expense shall
cost him dear--you--the common talk of Eccleston for your
profligacy----" He was absolutely choked by his boiling
indignation. Ruth stood speechless, motionless. Her head drooped
a little forward; her eyes were more than half veiled by the
large quivering lids; her arms hung down straight and heavy. At
last she heaved the weight off her heart enough to say, in a
faint, moaning voice, speaking with infinite difficulty--
"I was so young."
"The more depraved, the more disgusting you," Mr. Bradshaw
exclaimed, almost glad that the woman, unresisting so long,
should now begin to resist. But, to his surprise (for in his
anger he had forgotten her presence), Jemima moved forwards and
"You hold your tongue, Jemima. You have grown more and more
insolent--more and more disobedient every day. I now know who to
thank for it. When such a woman came into my family there is no
wonder at any corruption--any evil--any defilement----"
"Not a word! If, in your disobedience, you choose to stay and
hear what no modest young woman would put herself in the way of
hearing, you shall be silent when I bid you. The only good you
can gain is in the way of warning. Look at that woman"
(indicating Ruth, who moved her drooping head a little on one
side, as if by such motion she could avert the pitiless
pointing--her face growing whiter and whiter still every
instant)--"Look at that woman, I say--corrupt long before she was
your age--hypocrite for years! If ever you, or any child of mine,
cared for her, shake her off from you, as St. Paul shook off the
viper--even into the fire." He stopped for very want of breath.
Jemima, all flushed and panting, went up and stood side by side
with wan Ruth. She took the cold, dead hand which hung next to
her in her warm convulsive grasp, and, holding it so tight that
it was blue and discoloured for days, she spoke out beyond all
power of restraint from her father.
"Father! I will speak. I will not keep silence. I will bear
witness to Ruth. I have hated her--so keenly, may God forgive
me--but you may know, from that, that my witness is true. I have
hated her, and my hatred was only quenched into contempt--not
contempt now, dear Ruth--dear Ruth"--(this was spoken with
infinite softness and tenderness, and in spite of her father's
fierce eyes and passionate gesture)--"I heard what you have
learnt now, father, weeks and weeks ago--a year it may be, all
time of late has been so long; and I shuddered up from her and
from her sin; and I might have spoken of it, and told it there
and then, if I had not been afraid that it was from no good
motive I should act in so doing, but to gain a way to the desire
of my own jealous heart. Yes, father, to show you what a witness
I am for Ruth, I will own that I was stabbed to the heart with
jealousy; some one--some one cared for Ruth that--oh father!
spare me saying all." Her face was double-dyed with crimson
blushes, and she paused for one moment--no more.
"I watched her, and I watched her with my wild-beast eyes. If I
had seen one paltering with duty--if I had witnessed one
flickering shadow of untruth in word or action--if, more than all
things, my woman's instinct had ever been conscious of the
faintest speck of impurity in thought, or word, or look, my old
hate would have flamed out with the flame of hell! my contempt
would have turned to loathing disgust, instead of my being full
of pity, and the stirrings of new-awakened love, and most true
respect. Father, I have borne my witness!"
"And I will tell you how much your witness is worth," said her
father, beginning low, that his pent-up wrath might have room to
swell out. "It only convinces me more and more how deep is the
corruption this wanton has spread in my family. She has come
amongst us with her innocent seeming, and spread her nets well
and skilfully. She has turned right into wrong, and wrong into
right, and taught you all to be uncertain whether there be any
such thing as Vice in the world, or whether it ought not to be
looked upon as Virtue. She has led you to the brink of the deep
pit, ready for the first chance circumstance to push you in. And
I trusted--I trusted her--I welcomed her."
"I have done very wrong," murmured Ruth, but so low, that perhaps
he did not hear her, for he went on lashing himself up.
"I welcomed her. I was duped into allowing her bastard--(I sicken
at the thought of it)----"
At the mention of Leonard, Ruth lifted up her eyes for the first
time since the conversation began, the pupils dilating, as if she
were just becoming aware of some new agony in store for her. I
have seen such a look of terror on a poor dumb animal's
countenance, and once or twice on human faces; I pray I may never
see it again on either! Jemima felt the hand she held in her
strong grasp writhe itself free. Ruth spread her arms before her,
clasping and lacing her fingers together, her head thrown a
little back as if in intensest suffering.
Mr. Bradshaw went on--
"That very child and heir of shame to associate with my own
innocent children! I trust they are not contaminated."
"I cannot bear it--I cannot bear it!" were the words wrung out of
"Cannot bear it! cannot bear it!" he repeated. "You must bear it,
madam. Do you suppose your child is to be exempt from the
penalties of his birth? Do you suppose that he alone is to be
saved from the upbraiding scoff? Do you suppose that he is ever
to rank with other boys, who are not stained and marked with sin
from their birth? Every creature in Eccleston may know what he
is; do you think they will spare him their scorn? 'Cannot bear
it,' indeed! Before you went into your sin, you should have
thought whether you could bear the consequences or not--have had
some idea how far your offspring would be degraded and scouted,
till the best thing that could happen to him would be for him to
be lost to all sense of shame, dead to all knowledge of guilt,
for his mother's sake."
Ruth spoke out. She stood like a wild creature at bay, past fear
now. "I appeal to God against such a doom for my child. I appeal
to God to help me. I am a mother, and as such I cry to God for
help--for help to keep my boy in His pitying sight, and to bring
him up in His holy fear. Let the shame fall on me! I have
deserved it, but he--he is so innocent and good."
Ruth had caught up her shawl, and was tying on her bonnet with
her trembling hands. What if Leonard was hearing of her shame
from common report? What would be the mysterious shock of the
intelligence? She must face him, and see the look in his eyes,
before she knew whether he recoiled from her; he might have his
heart turned to hate her, by their cruel jeers.
Jemima stood by, dumb and pitying. Her sorrow was past her power.
She helped in arranging the dress, with one or two gentle
touches, which were hardly felt by Ruth, but which called out all
Mr. Bradshaw's ire afresh; he absolutely took her by the
shoulders and turned her by force out of the room. In the hall,
and along the stairs, her passionate woeful crying was heard. The
sound only concentrated Mr. Bradshaw's anger on Ruth. He held the
street-door open wide, and said, between his teeth, "If ever you,
or your bastard, darken this door again, I will have you both
turned out by the police!"
He needed not have added this if he had seen Ruth's face.
PREPARING TO STAND ON THE TRUTH
As Ruth went along the accustomed streets, every sight and every
sound seemed to hear a new meaning, and each and all to have some
reference to her boy's disgrace. She held her head down, and
scudded along dizzy with fear, lest some word should have told
him what she had been, and what he was, before she could reach
him. It was a wild, unreasoning fear, but it took hold of her as
strongly as if it had been well founded. And, indeed, the secret
whispered by Mrs. Pearson, whose curiosity and suspicion had been
excited by Jemima's manner, and confirmed since by many a little
corroborating circumstance, had spread abroad, and was known to
most of the gossips in Eccleston before it reached Mr. Bradshaw's
As Ruth came up to the door of the Chapel-house, it was opened,
and Leonard came out, bright and hopeful as the morning, his face
radiant at the prospect of the happy day before him. He was
dressed in the clothes it had been such a pleasant pride to her
to make for him. He had the dark-blue ribbon tied round his neck
that she had left out for him that very morning, with a smiling
thought of how it would set off his brown, handsome face. She
caught him by the hand as they met, and turned him, with his face
homewards, without a word. Her looks, her rushing movement, her
silence, awed him; and although he wondered, he did not stay to
ask why she did so. The door was on the latch; she opened it, and
only said, "Upstairs," in a hoarse whisper. Up they went into her
own room. She drew him in, and bolted the door; and then, sitting
down, she placed him (she had never let go of him) before her,
holding him with her hands on each of his shoulders, and gazing
into his face with a woeful look of the agony that could not find
vent in words. At last she tried to speak: she tried with strong
bodily effort, almost amounting to convulsion. But the words
would not come; it was not till she saw the absolute terror
depicted on his face that she found utterance; and then the sight
of that terror changed the words from what she meant them to have
been. She drew him to her, and laid her head upon his shoulder;
hiding her face even there.
"My poor, poor boy! my poor, poor darling! Oh! would that I had
died--I had died, in my innocent girlhood!"
"Mother! mother!" sobbed Leonard. "What is the matter? Why do you
look so wild and ill? Why do you call me your 'poor boy'? Are we
not going to Scaurside Hill? I don't much mind it, mother; only
please don't gasp and quiver so. Dearest mother, are you ill? Let
me call Aunt Faith!"
Ruth lifted herself up, and put away the hair that had fallen
over and was blinding her eyes. She looked at him with intense
"Kiss me, Leonard!" said she--"kiss me, my darling, once more in
the old way!" Leonard threw himself into her arms and hugged her
with all his force, and their lips clung together as in the kiss
given to the dying.
"Leonard!" said she at length, holding him away from her, and
nerving herself up to tell him all by one spasmodic
effort--"listen to me." The boy stood breathless and still,
gazing at her. On her impetuous transit from Mr. Bradshaw's to
the Chapel-house her wild, desperate thought had been that she
would call herself by every violent, coarse name which the world
might give her--that Leonard should hear those words applied to
his mother first from her own lips; but the influence of his
presence--for he was a holy and sacred creature in her eyes, and
this point remained steadfast, though all the rest were
upheaved--subdued her; and now it seemed as if she could not find
words fine enough, and pure enough, to convey the truth that he
must learn, and should learn from no tongue but hers.
"Leonard! when I was very young I did very wrong. I think God,
who knows all, will judge me more tenderly than men--but I did
wrong in a way which you cannot understand yet" (she saw the red
flush come into his cheek, and it stung her as the first token of
that shame which was to be his portion through life)--"in a way
people never forget, never forgive. You will hear me called the
hardest names that ever can be thrown at women--I have been
to-day; and, my child, you must bear it patiently, because they
will be partly true. Never get confused, by your love for me,
into thinking that what I did was right.--Where was I?" said she,
suddenly faltering, and forgetting all she had said and all she
had got to say; and then, seeing Leonard's face of wonder, and
burning shame and indignation, she went on more rapidly, as
fearing lest her strength should fail before she had ended.
"And, Leonard," continued she, in a trembling, sad voice, "this
is not all. The punishment of punishments lies awaiting me still.
It is to see you suffer from my wrongdoing. Yes, darling! they
will speak shameful things of you, poor innocent child! as well
as of me, who am guilty. They will throw it in your teeth through
life, that your mother was never married--was not married when
you were born----"
"Were not you married? Are not you a widow?" asked he abruptly,
for the first time getting anything like a clear idea of the real
state of the case.
"No! May God forgive me, and help me!" exclaimed she, as she saw
a strange look of repugnance cloud over the boy's face, and felt
a slight motion on his part to extricate himself from her hold.
It was as slight, as transient as it could be--over in an
instant. But she had taken her hands away, and covered up her
face with them as quickly--covered up her face in shame before
her child; and in the bitterness of her heart she was wailing
out, "Oh! would to God I had died--that I had died as a
baby--that I had died as a little baby hanging at my mother's
"Mother," said Leonard, timidly putting his hand on her arm; but
she shrank from him, and continued her low, passionate wailing.
"Mother," said he, after a pause coming nearer, though she saw it
not--"mammy darling," said he, using the caressing name, which he
had been trying to drop as not sufficiently manly, "mammy, my
own, own dear, dear darling mother, I don't believe them; I
don't, I don't, I don't, I don't!" He broke out into a wild burst
of crying as he said this. In a moment her arms were round the
boy, and she was hushing him up like a baby on her bosom. "Hush,
Leonard! Leonard, be still, my child! I have been too sudden with
you!--I have done you harm--oh! I have done you nothing but
harm," cried she, in a tone of bitter self-reproach.
"No, mother," said he, stopping his tears, and his eyes blazing
out with earnestness; "there never was such a mother as you have
been to me, and I won't believe any one who says it. I won't; and
I'll knock them down if they say it again, I will!" He clenched
his fist, with a fierce, defiant look on his face.
"You forget, my child," said Ruth, in the sweetest, saddest tone
that ever was heard, "I said it of myself; I said it because it
was true." Leonard threw his arms tight round her and hid his
face against her bosom. She felt him pant there like some hunted
creature. She had no soothing comfort to give him. "Oh, that she
and he lay dead!"
At last, exhausted, he lay so still and motionless, that she
feared to look. She wanted him to speak, yet dreaded his first
words. She kissed his hair, his head, his very clothes; murmuring
low, inarticulate, and moaning sounds.
"Leonard," said she, "Leonard, look up at me! Leonard, look up!"
But he only clung the closer, and hid his face the more.
"My boy!" said she, "what can I do or say? If I tell you never to
mind it--that it is nothing--I tell you false. It is a bitter
shame and a sorrow that I have drawn down upon you. A shame,
Leonard, because of me, your mother; but, Leonard, it is no
disgrace or lowering of you in the eyes of God." She spoke now as
if she had found the clue which might lead him to rest and
strength at last.
"Remember that, always. Remember that, when the time of trial
comes--and it seems a hard and cruel thing that you should be
called reproachful names by men, and all for what was no fault of
yours--remember God's pity and God's justice; and, though my sin
shall have made you an outcast in the world--oh, my child, my
child"--(she felt him kiss her, as if mutually trying to comfort
her--it gave her strength to go on)--"remember, darling of my
heart, it is only your own sin that can make you an outcast from
She grew so faint that her hold of him relaxed. He looked up
affrighted. He brought her water--he threw it over her; in his
terror at the notion that she was going to die and leave him, he
called her by every fond name, imploring her to open her eyes.
When she partially recovered he helped her to the bed, on which
she lay still, wan, and death-like. She almost hoped the swoon
that hung around her might be Death, and in that imagination she
opened her eyes to take a last look at her boy. She saw him pale
and terror-stricken; and pity for his affright roused her, and
made her forget herself in the wish that he should not see her
death, if she were indeed dying.
"Go to Aunt Faith!" whispered she; "I am weary, and want sleep."
Leonard arose slowly and reluctantly. She tried to smile upon
him, that what she thought would be her last look might dwell in
his remembrance as tender and strong; she watched him to the
door; she saw him hesitate, and return to her. He came back to
her, and said in a timid, apprehensive tone,
"Mother--will they speak to me about----it?"
Ruth closed her eyes, that they might not express the agony she
felt, like a sharp knife, at this question. Leonard had asked it
with a child's desire of avoiding painful and mysterious
topics,--for no personal sense of shame as she understood it,
shame beginning thus early, thus instantaneously.
"No," she replied. "You may be sure they will not."
So he went. But now she would have been thankful for the
unconsciousness of fainting; that one little speech bore so much
meaning to her hot, irritable brain. Mr. and Miss Benson, all in
their house, would never speak to the boy--but in his home alone
would he be safe from what he had already learned to dread. Every
form in which shame and opprobrium could overwhelm her darling
haunted her. She had been exercising strong self-control for his
sake ever since she had met him at the house-door; there was now
a reaction. His presence had kept her mind on its perfect
balance. When that was withdrawn the effect of the strain of
power was felt. And athwart the fever-mists that arose to obscure
her judgment, all sorts of will-o'-the-wisp plans flittered
before her; tempting her to this and that course of action--to
anything rather than patient endurance--to relieve her present
state of misery by some sudden spasmodic effort, that took the
semblance of being wise and right. Gradually all her desires, all
her longing, settled themselves on one point. What had she
done--what could she do, to Leonard but evil? If she were away,
and gone no one knew where--lost in mystery, as if she were
dead--perhaps the cruel hearts might relent, and show pity on
Leonard; while her perpetual presence would but call up the
remembrance of his birth. Thus she reasoned in her hot, dull
brain; and shaped her plans in accordance.
Leonard stole downstairs noiselessly. He listened to find some
quiet place where he could hide himself. The house was very
still. Miss Benson thought the purposed expedition had taken
place, and never dreamed but that Ruth and Leonard were on
distant, sunny Scaurside Hill; and, after a very early dinner,
she had set out to drink tea with a farmer's wife, who lived in
the country two or three miles off. Mr. Benson meant to have gone
with her; but, while they were at dinner, he had received an
unusually authoritative note from Mr. Bradshaw desiring to speak
with him, so he went to that gentleman's house instead. Sally was
busy in her kitchen, making a great noise (not unlike a groom
rubbing down a horse) over her cleaning. Leonard stole into the
sitting-room, and crouched behind the large old-fashioned sofa to
ease his sore, aching heart, by crying with all the prodigal
waste and abandonment of childhood.
Mr. Benson was shown into Mr. Bradshaw's own particular room. The
latter gentleman was walking up and down, and it was easy to
perceive that something had occurred to chafe him to great anger.
"Sit down, sir!" said he to Mr. Benson, nodding to a chair.
Mr. Benson sat down. But Mr. Bradshaw continued his walk for a
few minutes longer without speaking. Then he stopped abruptly,
right in front of Mr. Benson; and in a voice which he tried to
render calm, but which trembled with passion--with a face glowing
purple as he thought of his wrongs (and real wrongs they were),
"Mr. Benson, I have sent for you to ask--I am almost too
indignant at the bare suspicion to speak as becomes me--but did
you----I really shall be obliged to beg your pardon, if you are
as much in the dark as I was yesterday as to the character of the
woman who lives under your roof?"
There was no answer from Mr. Benson. Mr. Bradshaw looked at him
very earnestly. His eyes were fixed on the ground--he made no
inquiry--he uttered no expression of wonder or dismay. Mr.
Bradshaw ground his foot on the floor with gathering rage; but
just as he was about to speak Mr. Benson rose up--a poor deformed
old man--before the stern and portly figure that was swelling and
panting with passion.
"Hear me, sir!" (stretching out his hand as if to avert the words
which were impending). "Nothing you can say can upbraid me like
my own conscience; no degradation you can inflict, by word or
deed, can come up to the degradation I have suffered for years,
at being a party to a deceit, even for a good end----"
"For a good end!--Nay! what next?"
The taunting contempt with which Mr. Bradshaw spoke these words
almost surprised himself by what he imagined must be its
successful power of withering; but in spite of it Mr. Benson
lifted his grave eyes to Mr. Bradshaw's countenance, and
"For a good end. The end was not, as perhaps you consider it to
have been, to obtain her admission into your family--nor yet to
put her in the way of gaining her livelihood; my sister and I
would willingly have shared what we have with her; it was our
intention to do so at first, if not for any length of time, at
least as long as her health might require it. Why I advised
(perhaps I only yielded to advice) a change of name--an
assumption of a false state of widowhood--was because I earnestly
desired to place her in circumstances in which she might work out
her self-redemption; and you, sir, know how terribly the world
goes against all such as have sinned as Ruth did. She was so
"You mistake, sir; my acquaintance has not lain so much among
that class of sinners as to give me much experience of the way in
which they are treated. But, judging from what I have seen, I
should say they meet with full as much leniency as they deserve;
and supposing they do not--I know there are plenty of sickly
sentimentalists just now who reserve all their interest and
regard for criminals--why not pick out one of these to help you
in your task of washing the blackamoor white? Why choose me to be
imposed upon--my household into which to intrude your protegee?
Why were my innocent children to be exposed to corruption? I
say," said Mr. Bradshaw, stamping his foot, "how dared you come
into this house, where you were looked upon as a minister of
religion, with a lie in your mouth? How dared you single me out,
of all people, to be gulled, and deceived, and pointed at through
the town as the person who had taken an abandoned woman into his
house to teach his daughters?"
"I own my deceit was wrong and faithless."
"Yes! you can own it, now it is found out! There is small merit
in that, I think!"
"Sir! I claim no merit. I take shame to myself. I did not single
you out. You applied to me with your proposal that Ruth should be
your children's governess."
"And the temptation was too great--no! I will not say that--but
the temptation was greater than I could stand--it seemed to open
out a path of usefulness."
"Now, don't let me hear you speak so," said Mr. Bradshaw, blazing
up. "I can't stand it. It is too much to talk in that way when
the usefulness was to consist in contaminating my innocent
"God knows that if I had believed there had been any danger of
such contamination--God knows how I would have died sooner than
have allowed her to enter your family. Mr. Bradshaw, you believe
me, don't you?" asked Mr. Benson earnestly.
"I really must be allowed the privilege of doubting what you say
in future," said Mr. Bradshaw, in a cold, contemptuous manner.
"I have deserved this," Mr. Benson replied. "But," continued he,
after a moment's pause, "I will not speak of myself, but of Ruth.
Surely, sir, the end I aimed at (the means I took to obtain it
were wrong; you cannot feel that more than I do) was a right one;
and you will not--you cannot say that your children have suffered
from associating with her. I had her in my family, under the
watchful eyes of three anxious persons for a year or more; we saw
faults--no human being is without them--and poor Ruth's were but
slight venial errors; but we saw no sign of a corrupt mind--no
glimpse of boldness or forwardness--no token of want of
conscientiousness; she seemed, and was, a young and gentle girl,
who had been led astray before she fairly knew what life was."
"I suppose most depraved women have been innocent in their time,"
said Mr. Bradshaw, with bitter contempt.
"Oh, Mr. Bradshaw! Ruth was not depraved, and you know it. You
cannot have seen her--have known her daily, all these years,
without acknowledging that!" Mr. Benson was almost breathless,
awaiting Mr. Bradshaw's answer. The quiet self-control which he
had maintained so long was gone now.
"I saw her daily--I did not know her. If I had known her, I
should have known she was fallen and depraved, and consequently
not fit to come into my house, nor to associate with my pure
"Now I wish God would give me power to speak out convincingly
what I believe to be His truth, that not every woman who has
fallen is depraved; that many--how many the Great Judgment Day
will reveal to those who have shaken off the poor, sore, penitent
hearts on earth--many, many crave and hunger after a chance of
virtue--the help which no man gives to them--help--that gentle,
tender help which Jesus gave once to Mary Magdalen." Mr. Benson
was almost choked by his own feelings.
"Come, come, Mr. Benson, let us have no more of this morbid way
of talking. The world has decided how such women are to be
treated; and, you may depend upon it, there is so much practical
wisdom in the world, that its way of acting is right in the
long-run, and that no one can fly in its face with impunity,
unless, indeed, they stoop to deceit and imposition."
"I take my stand with Christ against the world," said Mr. Benson
solemnly, disregarding the covert allusion to himself. "What have
the world's ways ended in? Can we be much worse than we are?"
"Speak for yourself, if you please."
"Is it not time to change some of our ways of thinking and
acting? I declare before God, that if I believe in any one human
truth, it is this--that to every woman who, like Ruth, has sinned
should be given a chance of self-redemption--and that such a
chance should be given in no supercilious or contemptuous manner,
but in the spirit of the holy Christ."
"Such as getting her into a friend's house under false colours."
"I do not argue on Ruth's case. In that I have acknowledged my
error. I do not argue on any case. I state my firm belief, that
it is God's will that we should not dare to trample any of His
creatures down to the hopeless dust; that it is God's will that
the women who have fallen should be numbered among those who have
broken hearts to be bound up, not cast aside as lost beyond
recall. If this be God's will, as a thing of God it will stand;
and He will open a way."
"I should have attached much more importance to all your
exhortation on this point if I could have respected your conduct
in other matters. As it is, when I see a man who has deluded
himself into considering falsehood right, I am disinclined to
take his opinion on subjects connected with morality; and I can
no longer regard him as a fitting exponent of the will of God.
You perhaps understand what I mean, Mr. Benson. I can no longer
attend your chapel."
If Mr. Benson had felt any hope of making Mr. Bradshaw's
obstinate mind receive the truth, that he acknowledged and
repented of his connivance at the falsehood by means of which
Ruth had been received into the Bradshaw family, this last
sentence prevented his making the attempt. He simply bowed and
took his leave--Mr. Bradshaw attending him to the door with
He felt acutely the severance of the tie which Mr. Bradshaw had
just announced to him. He had experienced many mortifications in
his intercourse with that gentleman, but they had fallen off from
his meek spirit like drops of water from a bird's plumage; and
now he only remembered the acts of substantial kindness rendered
(the ostentation all forgotten)--many happy hours and pleasant
evenings--the children whom he had loved dearer than he thought
till now--the young people about whom he had cared, and whom he
had striven to lead aright. He was but a young man when Mr.
Bradshaw first came to his chapel; they had grown old together;
he had never recognised Mr. Bradshaw as an old familiar friend so
completely as now when they were severed.
It was with a heavy heart that he opened his own door. He went to
his study immediately; he sat down to steady himself into his
How long he was there--silent and alone--reviewing his
life--confessing his sins--he did not know; but he heard some
unusual sound in the house that disturbed him--roused him to
present life. A slow, languid step came along the passage to the
front door--the breathing was broken by many sighs.
Ruth's hand was on the latch when Mr. Benson came out. Her face
was very white, except two red spots on each cheek--her eyes were
deep-sunk and hollow, but glittered with feverish lustre. "Ruth!"
exclaimed he. She moved her lips, but her throat and mouth were
too dry for her to speak.
"Where are you going?" asked he; for she had all her walking
things on, yet trembled so even as she stood, that it was evident
she could not walk far without falling.
She hesitated--she looked up at him, still with the same dry
glittering eyes. At last she whispered (for she could only speak
in a whisper), "To Helmsby--I am going to Helmsby."
"Helmsby! my poor girl--may God have mercy upon you!" for he saw
she hardly knew what she was saying. "Where is Helmsby?"
"I don't know. In Lincolnshire, I think."
"But why are you going there?"
"Hush! he's asleep," said she, as Mr. Benson had unconsciously
raised his voice.
"Who is asleep?" asked Mr. Benson.
"That poor little boy," said she, beginning to quiver and cry.
"Come here!" said he authoritatively, drawing her into the study.
"Sit down in that chair. I will come back directly."
He went in search of his sister, but she had not returned. Then
he had recourse to Sally, who was as busy as ever about her
"How long has Ruth been at home?" asked he.
"Ruth! She has never been at home sin' morning. She and Leonard
were to be off for the day somewhere or other with them Bradshaw
"Then she has had no dinner?"
"Not here, any rate. I can't answer for what she may have done at
"And Leonard--where is he?"
"How should I know? With his mother, I suppose. Leastways, that
was what was fixed on. I've enough to do of my own, without
routing after other folks."
She went on scouring in no very good temper. Mr. Benson stood
silent for a moment.
"Sally," he said, "I want a cup of tea. Will you make it as soon
as you can; and some dry toast too? I'll come for it in ten
Struck by something in his voice, she looked up at him for the
"What ha' ye been doing to yourself, to look so grim and grey?
Tiring yourself all to tatters, looking after some naught, I'll
be bound! Well! well! I mun make ye your tea, I reckon; but I did
hope as you grew older you'd ha' grown wiser."
Mr. Benson made no reply, but went to look for Leonard, hoping
that the child's presence might bring back to his mother the
power of self-control. He opened the parlour-door, and looked in,
but saw no one. Just as he was shutting it, however, he heard a
deep, broken, sobbing sigh; and, guided by the sound, he found
the boy lying on the floor, fast asleep, but with his features
all swollen and disfigured by passionate crying.
"Poor child! This was what she meant, then," thought Mr. Benson.
"He has begun his share of the sorrows too" he continued
pitifully. "No! I will not waken him back to consciousness." So
he returned alone into the study. Ruth sat where he had placed
her, her head bent back, and her eyes shut. But when he came in
she started up.
"I must be going," she said in a hurried way.
"Nay, Ruth, you must not go. You must not leave us. We cannot do
without you. We love you too much."
"Love me!" said she, looking at him wistfully. As she looked, her
eyes filled slowly with tears. It was a good sign, and Mr. Benson
took heart to go on.
"Yes! Ruth. You know we do. You may have other things to fill up
your mind just now, but you know we love you; and nothing can
alter our love for you. You ought not to have thought of leaving
us. You would not, if you had been quite well."
"Do you know what has happened?" she asked, in a low, hoarse
"Yes. I know all," he answered. "It makes no difference to us.
Why should it?"
"Oh! Mr. Benson, don't you know that my shame is discovered?" she
replied, bursting into tears--"and I must leave you, and leave
Leonard, that you may not share in my disgrace."
"You must do no such thing. Leave Leonard! You have no right to
leave Leonard. Where could you go to?"
"To Helmsby," she said humbly. "It would break my heart to go,
but I think I ought, for Leonard's sake. I know I ought." She was
crying sadly by this time, but Mr. Benson knew the flow of tears
would ease her brain. "It will break my heart to go, but I know I
"Sit still here at present," said he, in a decided tone of
command. He went for the cup of tea. He brought it to her without
Sally's being aware for whom it was intended.
"Drink this!" He spoke as you would do to a child, if desiring it
to take medicine. "Eat some toast." She took the tea, and drank
it feverishly; but when she tried to eat, the food seemed to
choke her. Still she was docile, and she tried.
"I cannot," said she at last, putting down the piece of toast.
There was a return of something of her usual tone in the words.
She spoke gently and softly; no longer in the shrill, hoarse
voice she had used at first. Mr. Benson sat down by her.
"Now, Ruth, we must talk a little together. I want to understand
what your plan was. Where is Helmsby? Why did you fix to go
"It is where my mother lived," she answered. "Before she was
married she lived there; and wherever she lived, the people all
loved her dearly; and I thought--I think, that for her sake, some
one would give me work. I meant to tell them the truth," said
she, dropping her eyes; "but still they would, perhaps, give me
some employment--I don't care what--for her sake. I could do many
things," said she, suddenly looking up. "I am sure I could
weed--I could in gardens--if they did not like to have me in
their houses. But perhaps some one, for my mother's sake--oh! my
dear, dear mother!--do you know where and what I am?" she cried
out, sobbing afresh.
Mr. Benson's heart was very sore, though he spoke
authoritatively, and almost sternly--
"Ruth! you must be still and quiet. I cannot have this. I want
you to listen to me. Your thought of Helmsby would be a good one,
if it was right for you to leave Eccleston; but I do not think it
is. I am certain of this, that it would be a great sin in you to
separate yourself from Leonard. You have no right to sever the
tie by which God has bound you together."
"But if I am here they will all know and remember the shame of
his birth; and if I go away they may forget----"
"And they may not. And if you go away, he may be unhappy or ill;
and you, who above all others have--and have from God--remember
that, Ruth!--the power to comfort him, the tender patience to
nurse him, have left him to the care of strangers. Yes; I know!
But we ourselves are as strangers, dearly as we love him,
compared to a mother. He may turn to sin, and want the long
forbearance, the serene authority of a parent and where are you?
No dread of shame, either for yourself, or even for him, can ever
make it right for you to shake off your responsibility." All this
time he was watching her narrowly, and saw her slowly yield
herself up to the force of what he was saying.
"Besides, Ruth," he continued, "we have gone on falsely,
hitherto. It has been my doing, my mistake, my sin. I ought to
have known better. Now, let us stand firm on the truth. You have
no new fault to repent of. Be brave and faithful. It is to God
you answer, not to men. The shame of having your sin known to the
world, should be as nothing to the shame you felt at having
sinned. We have dreaded men too much, and God too little, in the
course we have taken. But now be of good cheer. Perhaps you will
have to find your work in the world very low--not quite working
in the fields," said he, with a gentle smile, to which she,
downcast and miserable, could give no response. "Nay, perhaps,
Ruth," he went on, "you may have to stand and wait for some time;
no one may be willing to use the services you would gladly
render; all may turn aside from you, and may speak very harshly
of you. Can you accept all this treatment meekly, as but the
reasonable and just penance God has laid upon you--feeling no
anger against those who slight you, no impatience for the time to
come (and come it surely will--I speak as having the word of God
for what I say), when He, having purified you, even as by fire,
will make a straight path for your feet? My child, it is Christ
the Lord who has told us of this infinite mercy of God. Have you
faith enough in it to be brave, and bear on, and do rightly in
patience and in tribulation?"
Ruth had been hushed and very still until now, when the pleading
earnestness of his question urged her to answer.
"Yes!" said she. "I hope--I believe I can be faithful for myself,
for I have sinned and done wrong. But Leonard----" She looked up
"But Leonard," he echoed. "Ah! there it is hard, Ruth. I own the
world is hard and persecuting to such as he." He paused to think
of the true comfort for this sting. He went on. "The world is not
everything, Ruth; nor is the want of men's good opinion and
esteem the highest need which man has. Teach Leonard this. You
would not wish his life to be one summer's day. You dared not
make it so, if you had the power. Teach him to bid a noble,
Christian welcome to the trials which God sends--and this is one
of them. Teach him not to look on a life of struggle, and perhaps
of disappointment and incompleteness, as a sad and mournful end,
but as the means permitted to the heroes and warriors in the army
of Christ, by which to show their faithful following. Tell him of
the hard and thorny path which was trodden once by the bleeding
feet of One--Ruth! think of the Saviour's life and cruel death,
and of His divine faithfulness. Oh, Ruth!" exclaimed he, "when I
look and see what you may be--what you must be to that boy, I
cannot think how you could be coward enough, for a moment, to
shrink from your work! But we have all been cowards hitherto," he
added, in bitter self-accusation.
"God help us to be so no longer!"
Ruth sat very quiet. Her eyes were fixed on the ground, and she
seemed lost in thought. At length she rose up.
"Mr. Benson!" said she, standing before him, and propping herself
by the table, as she was trembling sadly from weakness, "I mean
to try very, very hard, to do my duty to Leonard--and to God,"
she added reverently. "I am only afraid my faith may sometimes
fail about Leonard----"
"Ask, and it shall be given unto you. That is no vain or untried
She sat down again, unable longer to stand. There was another
"I must never go to Mr. Bradshaw's again," she said at last, as
if thinking aloud.
"No, Ruth, you shall not," he answered.
"But I shall earn no money!" added she quickly, for she thought
that he did not perceive the difficulty that was troubling her.
"You surely know, Ruth, that, while Faith and I have a roof to
shelter us, or bread to eat, you and Leonard share it with us."
"I know--I know your most tender goodness," said she, "but it
ought not to be."
"It must be at present," he said, in a decided manner. "Perhaps,
before long you may have some employment; perhaps it may be some
time before an opportunity occurs."
"Hush," said Ruth; "Leonard is moving about in the parlour. I
must go to him." But when she stood up, she turned so dizzy, and
tottered so much, that she was glad to sit down again
"You must rest here. I will go to him," said Mr. Benson. He left
her; and when he was gone, she leaned her head on the back of the
chair, and cried quietly and incessantly; but there was a more
patient, hopeful, resolved feeling in the heart, which all along,
through all the tears she shed, bore her onwards to higher
thoughts, until at last she rose to prayers.
Mr. Benson caught the new look of shrinking shame in Leonard's
eye, as it first sought, then shunned, meeting his. He was
pained, too, by the sight of the little sorrowful, anxious face,
on which, until now, hope and joy had been predominant. The
constrained voice, the few words the boy spoke, when formerly
there would have been a glad and free utterance--all this grieved
Mr. Benson inexpressibly, as but the beginning of an unwonted
mortification, which must last for years. He himself made no
allusion to any unusual occurrence; he spoke of Ruth as sitting,
overcome by headache, in the study for quietness: he hurried on
the preparations for tea, while Leonard sat by in the great
arm-chair, and looked on with sad, dreamy eyes. He strove to
lessen the shock which he knew Leonard had received, by every
mixture of tenderness and cheerfulness that Mr. Benson's gentle
heart prompted; and now and then a languid smile stole over the
boy's face. When his bedtime came, Mr. Benson told him of the
hour, although he feared that Leonard would have but another
sorrowful crying of himself to sleep; but he was anxious to
accustom the boy to cheerful movement within the limits of
domestic law, and by no disobedience to it to weaken the power of
glad submission to the Supreme; to begin the new life that lay
before him, where strength to look up to God as the Law-giver and
Ruler of events would be pre-eminently required. When Leonard had
gone upstairs, Mr. Benson went immediately to Ruth, and said--
"Ruth! Leonard is just gone up to bed," secure in the instinct
which made her silently rise, and go up to the boy--certain, too,
that they would each be the other's best comforter, and that God
would strengthen each through the other. Now, for the first time,
he had leisure to think of himself; and to go over all the events
of the day. The half-hour of solitude in his study, that he had
before his sister's return, was of inestimable value; he had
leisure to put events in their true places, as to importance and
eternal significance. Miss Faith came in laden with farm produce.
Her kind entertainers had brought her in their shandry to the
opening of the court in which the Chapel-house stood; but she was
so heavily burdened with eggs, mushrooms, and plums, that, when
her brother opened the door, she was almost breathless.
"Oh, Thurstan! take this basket--it is such a weight? Oh, Sally,
is that you? Here are some magnum-bonums which we must preserve
to-morrow. There are guinea-fowl eggs in that basket."
Mr. Benson let her unburden her body, and her mind too, by giving
charges to Sally respecting her housekeeping treasures, before he
said a word; but when she returned into the study, to tell him
the small pieces of intelligence respecting her day at the farm,
she stood aghast.
"Why, Thurstan, dear! What's the matter? Is your back hurting
He smiled to reassure her; but it was a sickly and forced smile.
"No, Faith! I am quite well, only rather out of spirits, and
wanting to talk to you to cheer me."
Miss Faith sat down, straight, sitting bolt-upright to listen the
"I don't know how, but the real story about Ruth is found out."
"Oh, Thurstan!" exclaimed Miss Benson, turning quite white.
For a moment, neither of them said another word. Then she went
"Does Mr. Bradshaw know?"
"Yes! He sent for me, and told me."
"Does Ruth know that it has all come out?"
"Yes. And Leonard knows."
"How? Who told him?"
"I do not know. I have asked no questions. But of course it was
"She was very foolish and cruel, then," said Miss Benson, her
eyes blazing, and her lips trembling, at the thought of the
suffering her darling boy must have gone through.
"I think she was wise. I am sure it was not cruel. He must have
soon known that there was some mystery, and it was better that it
should be told him openly and quietly by his mother than by a
"How could she tell him quietly?" asked Miss Benson still
"Well! perhaps I used the wrong word--of course no one was
by--and I don't suppose even they themselves could now tell how
it was told, or in what spirit it was borne."
Miss Benson was silent again.
"Was Mr. Bradshaw very angry?"
"Yes, very; and justly so. I did very wrong in making that false
statement at first."
"No! I am sure you did not," said Miss Faith. "Ruth has had some
years of peace, in which to grow stronger and wiser, so that she
can bear her shame now in a way she never could have done at
"All the same it was wrong in me to do what I did."
"I did it too, as much or more than you. And I don't think it
wrong. I'm certain it was quite right, and I would do just the
"Perhaps it has not done you the harm it has done me."
"Nonsense! Thurstan. Don't be morbid. I'm sure you are as
good--and better than ever you were."
"No, I am not. I have got what you call morbid, just in
consequence of the sophistry by which I persuaded myself that
wrong could be right. I torment myself. I have lost my clear
instincts of conscience. Formerly, if I believed that such or
such an action was according to the will of God, I went and did
it, or at least I tried to do it, without thinking of
consequences. Now, I reason and weigh what will happen if I do so
and so--I grope where formerly I saw. Oh, Faith! it is such a
relief to me to have the truth known, that I am afraid I have not
been sufficiently sympathising with Ruth."
"Poor Ruth!" said Miss Benson. "But at any rate our telling a lie
has been the saving of her. There is no fear of her going wrong
"God's omnipotence did not need our sin."
They did not speak for some time.
"You have not told me what Mr. Bradshaw said."
"One can't remember the exact words that are spoken on either
side in moments of such strong excitement. He was very angry, and
said some things about me that were very just, and some about
Ruth that were very hard. His last words were that he should give
up coming to chapel."
"Oh, Thurstan! did it come to that?"
"Does Ruth know all he said?"
"No! Why should she? I don't know if she knows he has spoken to
me at all. Poor creature! she had enough to craze her almost
without that! She was for going away and leaving us, that we
might not share in her disgrace. I was afraid of her being quite
delirious. I did so want you, Faith! However, I did the best I
could; I spoke to her very coldly, and almost sternly, all the
while my heart was bleeding for her. I dared not give her
sympathy; I tried to give her strength. But I did so want you,
"And I was so full of enjoyment, I am ashamed to think of it. But
the Dawsons are so kind--and the day was so fine----Where is
"With Leonard. He is her great earthly motive--I thought that
being with him would be best. But he must be in bed and asleep
"I will go up to her," said Miss Faith.
She found Ruth keeping watch by Leonard's troubled sleep; but
when she saw Miss Faith she rose up, and threw herself on her
neck and clung to her, without speaking. After a while Miss
"You must go to bed, Ruth!" So, after she had kissed the sleeping
boy, Miss Benson led her away, and helped to undress her, and
brought her up a cup of soothing violet-tea--not so soothing as
tender actions and soft, loving tones.
AN UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN LOVERS
It was well they had so early and so truly strengthened the
spirit to bear, for the events which had to be endured soon came
thick and threefold.
Every evening Mr. and Miss Benson thought the worst must be over;
and every day brought some fresh occurrence to touch upon the raw
place. They could not be certain, until they had seen all their
acquaintances, what difference it would make in the cordiality of
their reception: in some cases it made much; and Miss Benson was
proportionably indignant. She felt this change in behaviour more
than her brother. His great pain arose from the coolness of the
Bradshaws. With all the faults which had at times grated on his
sensitive nature (but which he now forgot, and remembered only their
kindness), they were his old familiar friends--his kind, if
ostentatious, patrons--his great personal interest, out of his own
family; and he could not get over the suffering he experienced from
seeing their large square pew empty on Sundays--from perceiving how
Mr. Bradshaw, though he bowed in a distant manner when he and Mr.
Benson met face to face, shunned him as often as he possibly could.
All that happened in the household, which once was as patent to him
as his own, was now a sealed book; he heard of its doings by chance,
if he heard at all. Just at the time when he was feeling the most
depressed from this cause, he met Jemima at a sudden turn of the
street. He was uncertain for a moment how to accost her, but she
saved him all doubt; in an instant she had his hand in both of hers,
her face flushed with honest delight.
"Oh, Mr. Benson, I am so glad to see you! I have so wanted to
know all about you. How is poor Ruth? dear Ruth! I wonder if she
has forgiven me my cruelty to her? And I may not go to her now,
when I should be so glad and thankful to make up for it."
"I never heard you had been cruel to her. I am sure she does not
"She ought; she must. What is she doing? Oh! I have so much to
ask, I can never hear enough; and papa says"--she hesitated a
moment, afraid of giving pain, and then, believing that they
would understand the state of affairs, and the reason for her
behaviour better if she told the truth, she went on--"Papa says I
must not go to your house--I suppose it's right to obey him?"
"Certainly, my dear. It is your clear duty. We know how you feel
"Oh! but if I could do any good--if I could be of any use or
comfort to any of you--especially to Ruth, I should come, duty or
not. I believe it would be my duty," said she, hurrying on to try
and stop any decided prohibition from Mr. Benson. "No! don't be
afraid; I won't come till I know I can do some good. I hear bits
about you through Sally every now and then, or I could not have
waited so long. Mr. Benson," continued she, reddening very much,
"I think you did quite right about poor Ruth."
"Not in the falsehood, my dear."
"No! not perhaps in that. I was not thinking of that. But I have
been thinking a great deal about poor Ruth's----you know I could
not help it when everybody was talking about it--and it made me
think of myself, and what I am. With a father and mother, and
home and careful friends, I am not likely to be tempted like
Ruth; but oh! Mr. Benson," said she, lifting her eyes, which were
full of tears, to his face, for the first time since she began to
speak, "if you knew all I have been thinking and feeling this
last year, you would see how I have yielded to every temptation
that was able to come to me; and, seeing how I have no goodness
or strength in me, and how I might just have been like Ruth, or
rather worse than she ever was, because I am more headstrong and
passionate by nature, I do so thank you and love you for what you
did for her! And will you tell me really and truly now if I can
ever do anything for Ruth? If you'll promise me that, I won't
rebel unnecessarily against papa; but if you don't, I will, and
come and see you all this very afternoon. Remember! I trust you!"
said she, breaking away. Then turning back, she came to ask after
"He must know something of it," said she. "Does he feel it much?"
"Very much," said Mr. Benson. Jemima shook her head sadly.
"It is hard upon him," said she.
"It is," Mr. Benson replied.
For in truth, Leonard was their greatest anxiety indoors. His
health seemed shaken, he spoke half sentences in his sleep, which
showed that in his dreams he was battling on his mother's behalf
against an unkind and angry world. And then he would wail to
himself, and utter sad words of shame, which they never thought
had reached his ears. By day, he was in general grave and quiet;
but his appetite varied, and he was evidently afraid of going
into the streets, dreading to be pointed at as an object of
remark. Each separately in their hearts longed to give him change
of scene; but they were all silent, for where was the requisite
money to come from?
His temper became fitful and variable. At times he would be most
sullen against his mother; and then give way to a passionate
remorse. When Mr. Benson caught Ruth's look of agony at her
child's rebuffs, his patience failed; or rather, I should say, he
believed that a stronger, severer hand than hers was required for
the management of the lad. But, when she heard Mr. Benson say so,
she pleaded with him.
"Have patience with Leonard," she said. "I have deserved the
anger that is fretting in his heart. It is only I who can
reinstate myself in his love and respect. I have no fear. When he
sees me really striving hard and long to do what is right, he
must love me. I am not afraid."
Even while she spoke, her lips quivered, and her colour went and
came with eager anxiety. So Mr. Benson held his peace, and let
her take her course. It was beautiful to see the intuition by
which she divined what was passing in every fold of her child's
heart, so as to be always ready with the right words to soothe or
to strengthen him. Her watchfulness was unwearied, and with no
thought of self-tainting in it, or else she might have often
paused to turn aside and weep at the clouds of shame which came
over Leonard's love for her, and hid it from all but her faithful
heart; she believed and knew that he was yet her own affectionate
boy, although he might be gloomily silent, or apparently hard and
cold. And in all this, Mr. Benson could not choose but admire the
way in which she was insensibly teaching Leonard to conform to
the law of right, to recognise duty in the mode in which every
action was performed. When Mr. Benson saw this, he knew that all
goodness would follow, and that the claims which his mother's
infinite love had on the boy's heart would be acknowledged at
last, and all the more fully because she herself never urged
them, but silently admitted the force of the reason that caused
them to be for a time forgotten. By and-by Leonard's remorse at
his ungracious and sullen ways to his mother--ways that
alternated with passionate, fitful bursts of clinging
love--assumed more the character of repentance, he tried to do so
no more. But still his health was delicate; he was averse to
going out-of-doors; he was much graver and sadder than became his
age. It was what must be an inevitable consequence of what had
been; and Ruth had to be patient, and pray in secret, and with
many tears, for the strength she needed.
She knew what it was to dread the going out into the streets
after her story had become known. For days and days she had
silently shrunk from this effort. But, one evening towards dusk,
Miss Benson was busy, and asked her to go an errand for her; and
Ruth, got up and silently obeyed her. That silence as to inward
suffering was only one part of her peculiar and exquisite