Part 10 out of 11
coming too in the full bloom of her beauty and prosperity, when he
was conscious of having dealt severely with her foibles. All was at
an end--that double thread of brilliant good-nature and worldly
selfishness, with the one strand of sound principle sometimes coming
into sight. The life was gone from the earth in its incompleteness,
without an unravelling of its complicated texture, and the wandering
utterances that revealed how entirely the brother stood first with
her, added poignancy to his regret for having been harsh with her.
It could hardly be otherwise than that his censures, however just,
should now recoil upon him, and in vain did Rachel try to point out
that every word of his sister's had proved that her better sense had
all along acquiesced--he only felt what it might have been if he had
been more indulgent and less ironical, and gave himself infinitely
harder measure than he ever could have shown to her. It was long
before the suffering, either mental or bodily, by any means abated,
and Rachel felt extremely lonely, deserted, and doubtful whether she
were in any way ministering to his relief, but at last a gleam of
satisfaction came upon her. He evidently did like her attendance on
him, and he began to say something about Bessie's real love and
esteem for her--softer grief was setting in, and the ailment was
The summer morning was advancing, and the knell rung out its two deep
notes from the church tower. Rachel had been dreading the effect on
him, but he lay still, as if he had been waiting for it, and was
evidently counting the twenty-three strokes that told the age of the
deceased. Then he said he was mending, and that he should fall
asleep if Rachel would leave him, see after the poor child, and if
his uncle should not come home within the next quarter of an hour
take measures to silence the bell for the morning service; after
which, he laid his injunctions on her to rest, or what should he say
to her mother? And the approach to a smile with which these last
words were spoken, enabled Rachel to obey in some comfort.
After satisfying herself that the child was doing well, Rachel was
obliged to go into her former room, and there to stand face to face
with the white, still countenance so lately beaming with life. She
was glad to be alone. The marble calm above all counteracted and
drove aside the painful phantom left by Lovedy's agony, and yet the
words of that poor, persecuted, suffering child came surging into her
mind full of peace and hope. Perhaps it was the first time she had
entered into what it is for weak things to confound the wise, or how
things hidden from the intellectual can be revealed to babes; and she
hid her face in her hands, and was thankful for the familiar words of
old, "That we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of
The continued clang of the bell warned her. She looked round at the
still uncleared room, poor Bessie's rings and bracelets lying mingled
with her own on the toilet table, and her little clock, Bessie's own
gift, standing ticking on as it had done at her peaceful rising only
She took out her hat, and was on her way to silence the bell-ringer,
when Mr. Clare was driven up to the churchyard gate.
Lord Keith had been greatly shocked, but not overpowered, he had
spoken calmly, and made minute inquiries, and Mr. Clare was evidently
a little disappointed, repeating that age and health made a
difference, and that people showed their feelings in various ways.
Colonel Keith had been met at the station, and was with his brother,
but would come to make arrangements in the course of the day. Rachel
begged to stop the bell, representing that the assembled congregation
included no male person capable of reading the lessons; but Mr. Clare
answered, "No, my dear, this is not a day to do without such a
beginning. We must do what we can. Or stay, it is the last chapter
of St. John. I could hardly fail in that. Sit near me, and give me
the word if I do, unless you want to be with Alick."
As Rachel knelt that day, the scales of self-conceit seemed to have
gone. She had her childhood's heart again. Her bitter remorse, her
afterthoughts of perplexity had been lulled in the long calm of the
respite, and when roused again, even by this sudden sorrow, she woke
to her old trust and hope. And when she listened to the expressive
though calm rehearsal of that solemn sunrise-greeting to the weary
darkling fishers on the shore of the mountain lake, it was to her as
if the form so long hidden from her by mists of her own raising, once
more shone forth, smoothing the vexed waters of her soul, and she
could say with a new thrill of recognition, "It is the Lord."
Once Mr. Clare missed a word, and paused for aid. She was crying too
much to be ready, and, through her tears, could not recover the
passage so as to prompt him before he had himself recalled the verse.
Perhaps a sense of failure was always good for Rachel, but she was
much concerned, and her apologies quite distressed Mr. Clare.
"Dear child, no one could be expected to keep the place when there
was so much to dwell on in the very comfort of the chapter. And now
if you are not in haste, would you take me to the place that dear
Bessie spoke of, by the willow-tree. I am almost afraid little Mary
Lawrence's grave may have left too little space."
Rachel guided him to a lovely spot, almost overhanging the stream,
with the dark calm pools beneath the high bank, and the willow
casting a long morning shadow over it. Her mind went back to the
merry drive from Avoncester, when she had first seen Elizabeth Keith,
and had little dreamt that in one short year she should be choosing
the spot for her grave. Mr. Clare paced the green nook and was
satisfied, asking if it were not a very pretty place.
"Yes," said Rachel, "there is such a quiet freshness, and the willow-
tree seems to guard it."
"Is there not a white foxglove on the bank?"
"Yes, but with only a bell or two left at the top of the side
"Your aunt sowed the seed. It is strange that I was very near
choosing this place nine years ago, but it could not be seen from my
window, which was an object with me then."
Just then his quick ear detected that some one was at the parsonage
door, and Rachel, turning round, exclaimed with horror, "It is that
unhappy Mr. Carleton."
"Poor young fellow," said Mr. Clare, with more of pity than of anger,
"I had better speak to him."
But they were far from the path, and it was not possible to guide the
blind steps rapidly between the graves and head stones, so that
before the pathway was reached young Carleton must have received the
sad reply to his inquiries, for hurrying from the door he threw
himself on his horse, and rode off at full speed.
By the afternoon, when Colonel Keith came to Bishopsworthy, Alick was
lying on the sofa with such a headache that he could neither see nor
spell, and Rachel was writing letters for him, both in the frame of
mind in which the Colonel's genuine warm affection and admiration for
Bessie was very comforting, assisting them in putting all past
misgivings out of sight. He had induced his brother to see Mr.
Harvey, and the result had been that Lord Keith had consented to a
consultation the next day with an eminent London surgeon, since it
was clear that the blow, not the sciatica, was answerable for the
suffering which was evidently becoming severe. The Colonel of course
intended to remain with his brother, at least till after the funeral.
"Can you?" exclaimed Alick. "Ought you not to be at Avoncester?"
"I am not a witness, and the case is in excellent hands."
"Could you not run down? I shall be available tomorrow, and I could
be with Lord Keith."
"Thank you, Alick, it is impossible for me to leave him," said Colin,
so quietly that no one could have guessed how keenly he felt the
being deprived of bringing her brother to Ermine, and being present
at the crisis to which all his thoughts and endeavours had so long
That assize day had long been a dream of dread to Rachel, and perhaps
even more so to her husband. Yet how remote its interest actually
seemed! They scarcely thought of it for the chief part of the day.
Alick looking very pale, though calling himself well, went early to
Timber End, and he had not long been gone before a card was brought
in, with an urgent entreaty that Mrs. Keith would see Mrs. Carleton.
Rachel longed to consult Mr. Clare, but he had gone out to a sick
person, and she was obliged to decide that Alick could scarcely wish
her to refuse, reluctant and indignant as she felt. But her wrath
lessened as she saw the lady's tears and agitation, so great that for
a moment no words were possible, and the first were broken apologies
for intruding, "Nothing should have induced her, but her poor son was
in such a dreadful state."
Rachel again became cold and stern, and did not relent at the
description of Charlie's horror and agony; for she was wondering at
the audacity of mentioning his grief to the wife of Lady Keith's
brother, and thinking that this weak, indulgent mother was the very
person to make a foolish, mischievous son, and it was on her tongue's
end that she did not see to what she was indebted for the favour of
such a visit. Perhaps Mrs. Carleton perceived her resentment, for
she broke off, and urgently asked if poor dear Lady Keith had alluded
to anything that had passed. "Yes," Rachel was is forced to say; and
when again pressed as to the manner of alluding, replied, that "she
was exceedingly distressed and displeased," with difficulty
refraining from saying who had done all the mischief. Mrs. Carleton
was in no need of hearing it. "Ah!" she said, "it was right, quite
right. It was very wrong of my poor boy. Indeed I am not excusing
him, but if you only knew how he blames himself."
"I am sure he ought," Rachel could not help saying. Mrs. Carleton
here entreated her to listen, and seized her hand, so that there was
no escape. The tale was broken and confused, but there could be
little doubt of its correctness. Poor Bessie had been the bane of
young Carleton's life. She had never either decidedly accepted or
repelled his affection, but, as she had truly said, let him follow
her like a little dog, and amused herself with him in the absence of
better game. He was in his father's office, but her charms disturbed
his application to business and kept him trifling among the croquet
lawns of Littleworthy, whence his mother never had the resolution to
banish her spoilt child. At last Miss Keith's refusal of him
softened by a half-implied hope, sent him forth to his uncle at Rio,
on the promise that if he did his utmost there, he should in three
years be enabled to offer Miss Keith more than a competence. With
this hope he had for the first time applied himself to business in
earnest, when he received the tidings of her marriage, and like a
true spoilt child broke down at once in resolution, capacity, and
health, so that his uncle was only too glad to ship him off for
England. And when Lady Keith made her temporary home in her old
neighbourhood, the companionship began again, permitted by her in
good nature, and almost contempt, and allowed by his family in
confidence of the rectitude of both parties; and indeed nothing could
be more true than that no harm had been intended. But it was
perilous ground; ladies, however highly principled, cannot leave off
self-pleasing habits all at once, and the old terms returned
sufficiently to render the barrier but slightly felt. "When Lady
Keith had spoken of her intention of leaving Timber End, the reply
had been the old complaint of her brother's harshness and jealousy of
his ardent and lasting affection, and reproof had not at once
silenced him. This it was that had so startled her as to make her
hurry to her brother's side, unheeding of her steps.
As far as Rachel could make out, the poor young man's grief and
despair had been poured out to his mother, and she, unable to soothe,
had come to try to extract some assurance that the catastrophe had
been unconnected with his folly. A very slight foundation would have
served her, but this Rachel would not give, honestly believing him
the cause of the accident, and also that the shock to the sense of
duty higher than he could understand had occasioned the excitement
which had destroyed the slender possibility of recovery. She pitied
the unhappy man more than she had done at first, and she was much
pained by his mother's endeavours to obtain a palliative for him, but
she could not be untrue. "Indeed," she said, "I fear no one can say
it was not so; I don't think anything is made better by blinking the
"Oh, Mrs. Keith, it is so dreadful. I cannot tell my poor son. I
don't know what might be the consequence."
Tears came into Rachel's eyes. "Indeed," she said, "I am very sorry
for you. I believe every one knows that I have felt what it is to be
guilty of fatal mischief, but, indeed, indeed I am sure that to
realize it all is the only way to endure it, so as to be the better
for it. Believe me, I am very sorry, but I don't think it would be
any real comfort to your son to hear that poor Bessie had never been
careful, or that I was inexperienced, or the nurse ignorant. It is
better to look at it fairly. I hear Mr. Clare coming in. Will you
see him?" she added suddenly, much relieved.
But Mrs. Carleton did not wish to see him, and departed, thinking
Alick Keith's wife as bad as had ever been reported, and preparing an
account of her mismanagement wherewith to remove her son's remorse.
She was scarcely gone, and Rachel had not had time to speak to Mr.
Clare, before another visitor was upon her, no other than Lord
Keith's daughter, Mrs. Comyn Menteith; or, as she introduced herself,
"I'm Isabel. I came down from London to-day because it was so very
shocking and deplorable, and I am dying to see my poor little brother
and uncle Colin. I must keep away from poor papa till the doctors
are gone, so I came here."
She was a little woman in the delicately featured style of sandy
prettiness, and exceedingly talkative and good-natured. The rapid
tongue, though low and modulated, jarred painfully on Rachel's
feelings in the shaded staircase, and she was glad to shut the door
of the temporary nursery, when Mrs. Menteith pounced upon the poor
little baby, pitying him with all her might, comparing him with her
own children, and asking authoritative questions, coupled with
demonstrations of her intention of carrying him off to her own
nursery establishment, which had been left in Scotland with a head
nurse, whose name came in with every fourth word--that is, if he
lived at all, which she seemed to think a hopeless matter.
She spoke of "poor dear Bessie," with such affection as was implied
in "Oh, she was such a darling! I got on with her immensely. Why
didn't you send to me, though I don't know that Donald would have let
me come," and she insisted on learning the whole history,
illustrating it profusely with personal experiences. Rachel was
constantly hoping to be released from a subject so intensely painful;
but curiosity prevailed through the chatter, and kept hold of the
thread of the story. Mrs. Menteith decidedly thought herself
defrauded of a summons. "It was very odd of them all not to
telegraph for me. Those telegrams are such a dreadful shock. There
came one just as I set out from Timber End, and I made sure little
Sandie was ill at home, for you know the child is very delicate, and
there are so many things going about, and what with all this dreadful
business, I was ready to faint, and after all it was only a stupid
thing for Uncle Colin from those people at Avoncester."
"You do not know what it was?"
"Somebody was convicted or acquitted, I forget which, but I know it
had something to do with Uncle Colin's journey to Russia; so
ridiculous of him at his age, when hs ought to know better, and so
unlucky for all the family, his engagement to that swindler's sister.
By-the-bye, did he not cheat you out of ever so much money?"
"Oh, that had nothing to do with it--it was not Miss Williams's
brother--it was not he that was tried."
"Wasn't he? I thought he was found guilty or something; but it is
very unfortunate for the family, for Uncle Colin won't give her up,
though she is a terrible cripple, too. And to tell you a secret, it
was his obstinacy that made papa marry again; and now it is of no
use, this poor little fellow will never live, and this sharper's
sister will be Lady Keith after all! So unlucky! Papa says she is
very handsome, and poor Bessie declares she is quite ladylike."
"The most superior person I ever knew," said Rachel, indignantly.
"Ah, yes, of course she must be very clever and artful if her brother
is a swindler."
"But indeed he is not, he was cheated; the swindler was Maddox."
"Oh, but he was a glass-blower, or something, I know, and her sister
is a governess. I am sure it is no fault of mine! The parties I
gave to get him and Jessie Douglas together! Donald was quite savage
about the bills. And after all Uncle Colin went and caught cold, and
would not come! I would not have minded half so much if it had been
Jessie Douglas; but to have her at Gowanbrae--a glass-blower's
daughter--isn't it too bad?"
"Her father was a clergyman of a good Welsh family."
"Was he? Then her brother or somebody had something to do with
Attempts at explanation were vain, the good lady had an incapacity of
attention, and was resolved on her grievance. She went away at last
because "those horrid doctors will be gone now, and I will be able to
see poor papa, and tell him when I will take home the baby, though I
don't believe he will live to be taken anywhere, poor dear little
She handled him go much more scientifically than Rachel could do,
that it was quite humiliating, and yet to listen to her talk, and
think of committing any child to her charge was sickening, and Rachel
already felt a love and pity for her little charge that made her
wretched at the thoughts of the prognostic about him.
"You are tired with your visitors my dear," said Mr. Clare, holding
out his hand towards her, when she returned to him.
"How do you know?" she asked.
"By the sound of your move across the room, and the stream of talk I
heard above must be enough to exhaust any one."
"She thinks badly of that poor child," said Rachel, her voice
"My dear, it would take a good deal to make me uneasy about anything
I heard in that voice."
"And if he lives, she is to have the charge of him," added Rachel.
"That is another matter on which I would suspend my fears," said Mr.
Clare. "Come out, and take a turn in the peacock path. You want air
more than rest. So you have been talked to death."
"And I am afraid she is gone to talk Alick to death! I wonder when
Alick will come home," she proceeded, as they entered on the path.
"She says Colonel Keith had a telegram about the result of the trial,
but she does not know what it was, nor indeed who was tried."
"Alick will not keep you in doubt longer than he can help," said Mr.
"You know all about it;" said Rachel. "The facts every one must
know, but I mean that which led to them."
"Alick told me you had suffered very much."
"I don't know whether it is a right question, but if it is, I should
much like to know what Alick did say. I begged him to tell you all,
or it would not have been fair towards you to bring me here."
"He told me that he knew you had been blind and wilful, but that your
confidence had been cruelly abused, and you had been most unselfish
"I did not mean so much what I had done as what I am--what I was."
"The first time he mentioned you, it was as one of the reasons that
he wished to take our dear Bessie to Avonmouth. He said there was a
girl there of a strong spirit, independent and thorough-going, and
thinking for herself. He said, 'to be sure, she generally thinks
wrong, but there's a candour and simplicity about her that make her
wildest blunders better than parrot commonplace,' and he thought your
reality might impress his sister. Even then I gathered what was
"And how wrong and foolish you must have thought it."
"I hoped I might trust my boy's judgment."
"Indeed, you could not think it worse for him than I did; but I was
ill and weak, and could not help letting Alick do what he would; but
I have never understood it. I told him how unsettled my views were,
and he did not seem to mind--"
"My dear, may I ask if this sense of being unsettled is with you
"I don't know! I had no power to read or think for a long time, and
now, since I have been here, I hope it has not been hypocrisy, for
going on in your way and his has been very sweet to me, and made me
feel as I used when I was a young girl, with only an ugly dream
between. I don't like to look at it, and yet that dream was my real
life that I made for myself."
"Dear child, I have little doubt that Alick knew it would come to
Rachel paused. "What, you and he think a woman's doubts so vague and
shallow as to be always mastered by a husband's influence?"
Mr. Clare was embarrassed. If he had thought so he had not expected
her to make the inference. He asked her if she could venture to look
back on her dream so as to mention what had chiefly distressed her.
He could not see her frowning effort at recollection, but after a
pause, she said, "Things will seem to you like trifles, indeed,
individual criticisms appear so to me; but the difficulty to my mind
is that I don't see these objections fairly grappled with. There is
either denunciation or weak argument; but I can better recollect the
impression on my own mind than what made it."
"Yes, I know that feeling; but are you sure you have seen all the
"I cannot tell--perhaps not. Whenever I get a book with anything in
it, somebody says it is not sound."
"And you therefore conclude that a sound book can have nothing in
it?" he asked, smiling.
"Well, most of the new 'sound' books that I have met are just what my
mother and sister like--either dull, or sentimental and trashy."
"Perhaps those that get into popular circulation do deserve some of
your terms for them. Illogical replies break down and carry off some
who have pinned their faith to them; but are you sure that though you
have read much, you have read deep?"
"I have read more deeply than any one I know--women, I mean--or than
any man ever showed me he had read. Indeed, I am trying not to say
it in conceit, but Ermine Williams does not read argumentative books,
and gentlemen almost always make as if they knew nothing about them."
"I think you may be of great use to me, my dear, if you will help me.
The bishop has desired me to preach the next visitation sermon, and
he wishes it to be on some of these subjects. Now, if you will help
me with the book work, it will be very kind in you, and might serve
to clear your mind about some of the details, though you must be
prepared for some questions being unanswered."
"Best so," replied Rachel, "I don't like small answers to great
"Nor I. Only let us take care not to get absorbed in admiring the
boldness that picks out stones to be stumbled over."
"Do you object to my having read, and thought, and tried?"
"Certainly not. Those who have the capability should, if they feel
disturbed, work out the argument. Nothing is gained while it is felt
that both sides have not been heard. I do not myself believe that a
humble, patient, earnest spirit can go far wrong, though it may for a
time be tried, and people often cry out at the first stumbling block,
and then feel committed to the exclamations they have made."
The conversation was here ended by the sight of Alick coming slowly
and wearily in from the churchyard, looking as if some fresh weight
were upon him, and he soon told them that the doctors had pronounced
that Lord Keith was in a critical state, and would probably have much
to suffer from the formation that had begun where he had received the
neglected bruise in the side. No word of censure of poor Bessie had
been breathed, nor did Alick mention her name, but he deeply suffered
under the fulfilment of his own predictions, and his subdued,
dejected manner expressed far more than did his words. Rachel asked
how Lord Keith seemed.
"Oh, there's no getting at his feelings. He was very civil to me--
asked after you, Rachel--told me to give you his thanks, but not a
single word about anything nearer. Then I had to read the paper to
him--all that dinner at Liverpool, and he made remarks, and expected
me to know what it was about. I suppose he does feel; the Colonel
says he is exceedingly cut up, and he looks like a man of eighty,
infinitely worse than last time I saw him, but I don't know what to
make of him."
"And, Alick, did you hear the verdict?"
"That man at Avoncester. Mrs. Menteith said there had been a
Alick looked startled. "This has put everything out of my head!" he
said. "What was the verdict?"
"That was just what she could not tell. She did not quite know who
"And she came here and harassed you with it," he said, looking at her
anxiously. "As if you had not gone through enouqh already."
"Never mind that now. It seems so long ago now that I can hardly
think much about it, and I have had another visitor," she added, as
Mr. Clare left them to themselves, "Mrs. Carleton--that poor son of
hers is in such distress."
"She has been palavering you over," he said, in a tone more like
displeasure than he had ever used towards her.
"Indeed, Alick, if you would listen, you would find him very much to
"I only wish never to hear of any of them again." He did not speak
like himself, and Rachel was aghast.
"I thought you would not object to my letting her in," she began.
"I never said I did," he answered; "I can never think of him but as
having caused her death, and it was no thanks to him that there was
The sternness of his manner would have silenced Rachel but for her
strong sense of truth and justice, which made her persevere in
saying, "There may have been more excuse than you believe."
"Do you suppose that is any satisfaction to me?" He walked decidedly
away, and entered by the library window, and she stood grieved and
wondering whether she had been wrong in pitying, or whether he were
too harsh in his indignation. It was a sign that her tone and spirit
had recovered, that she did not succumb in judgment, though she felt
utterly puzzled and miserable till she recollected how unwell, weary,
and unhappy he was, and that every fresh perception of his sister's
errors was like a poisoned arrow to him; and then she felt shocked at
having obtruded the subject on him at all, and when she found him
leaning back in his chair, spent and worn out, she waited on him in
the quietest, gentlest way she could accomplish, and tried to show
that she had put the subject entirely aside. However, when they were
next alone together, he turned his face away and muttered, "What did
that woman say to you?"
"Oh, Alick, I am sorry I began! It only gives you pain."
She did go on till she had told all, and he uttered no word of
comment. She longed to ask whether he disapproved of her having
permitted the interview; but as he did not again recur to the topic,
it was making a real and legitimate use of strength of mind to
abstain from tearing him on the matter. Yet when she recollected
what worldly honour would once have exacted of a military man, and
the conflicts between religion and public opinion, she felt thankful
indeed that half a century lay between her and that terrible code,
and even as it was, perceiving the strong hold that just resentment
had taken on her husband's silently determined nature, she could not
think of the neighbourhood of the Carleton family without dread.
THE POST BAG.
"Thefts, like ivy on a ruin, make the rifts they seem to shade."--
C. G. DUFFY.
"August 3d, 7 A. M.
"My Dear Colonel Keith,--Papa is come, and I have got up so early in
the morning that I have nothing to do but to write to you before we
go in to Avoncester. Papa and Mr. Beechum came by the six o'clock
train, and Lady Temple sent me in the waggonette to meet them. Aunt
Ailie would not go, because she was afraid Aunt Ermine would get
anxious whilst she was waiting. I saw papa directly, and yet I did
not think it could be papa, because you were not there, and he looked
quite past me, and I do not think he would have found me or the
carriage at all if Mr. Beechum had not known me. And then, I am
afraid I was very naughty, but I could not help crying just a little
when I found you had not come; but perhaps Lady Keith may be better,
and you may come before I go into court to-day, and then I shall tear
up this letter. I am afraid papa thought I was unkind to cry when he
was just come home, for he did not talk to me near so much as Mr.
Beechum did, and his eyes kept looking out as if he did not see
anything near, only quite far away. And I suppose Russian coats must
be made of some sort of sheep that eats tobacco."
"August 3d, 10 A. M.
"Dearest Colin,--I have just lighted on poor little Rosie's before-
breakfast composition, and I can't refrain from sending you her first
impressions, poor child, though no doubt they will alter, as she sees
more of her father. All are gone to Avoncester now, though with some
doubts whether this be indeed the critical day; I hope it may be, the
sooner this is over the better, but I am full of hope. I cannot
believe but that the Providence that has done so much to discover
Edward's innocence to the world, will finish the work! I have little
expectation though of your coming down in time to see it, the copy of
the telegraphic message, which you sent by Harry, looks as bad as
possible, and even allowing something for inexperience and fright,
things must be in a state in which you could hardly leave your
brother, so unwell as he seems.
"2 p.m. I was interrupted by Lady Temple, who was soon followed by
Mrs. Curtis, burning to know whether I had any more intelligence than
had floated to them. Pray, if you can say anything to exonerate poor
Rachel from mismanagement, say it strongly; her best friends are so
engaged in wishing themselves there, and pitying poor Bessie for
being in her charge, that I long to confute them, for I fully believe
in her sense and spirit in any real emergency that she had not ridden
out to encounter.
"And I have written so far without a word on the great subject of
all, the joy untold for which our hearts had ached so long, and which
we owe entirely to you, for Edward owns that nothing but your
personal representations would have brought him, and, as I suppose
you already know--he so much hated the whole subject of Maddox's
treachery that he had flung aside, unread, all that he saw related to
it. Dear Colin, whatever else you have done, you have filled a
famished heart. Could you but have seen Ailie's face all last
evening as she sat by his side, you would have felt your reward--it
was as if the worn, anxious, almost stern mask had been taken away,
and our Ailie's face was beaming out as of old when she was the
family pet, before Julia took her away to be finished. She sees no
change; she is in an ecstasy of glamour that makes her constantly
repeat her rejoicings that Edward is so much himself, so unchanged,
till I almost feel unsisterly for seeing in him the traces that these
sad years have left, and that poor little Rose herself has detected.
No, he is not so much changed as exaggerated. The living to himself,
and with so cruel a past, has greatly increased the old dreaminess
that we always tried to combat, and he seems less able than before to
turn his mind into any channel but the one immediately before him.
He is most loving when roused, but infinitely more inclined to fall
off into a muse. I am afraid you must have had a troublesome charge
in him, judging by the uproar Harry makes about the difficulty of
getting him safe from Paddington. It is good to see him and Harry
together--the old schoolboy ways are so renewed, all bitterness so
entirely forgotten, only Harry rages a little that he is not more
wrapped up in Rose. To say the truth, so do I; but if it were not
for Harry's feeling the same, I should believe that you had taught me
to be exacting about my rosebud. Partly, it is that he is
disappointed that she is not like her mother; he had made up his mind
to another Lucy, and her Williams face took him by surprise, and,
partly, he is not a man to adapt himself to a child. She must be
trained to help unobtrusively in his occupations; the unknowing
little plaything her mother was, she never can be. I am afraid he
will never adapt himself to English life again--his soul seems to be
in his mines, and if as you say he is happy and valued there--though
it is folly to look forward to the wrench again, instead of rejoicing
in the present, gladness; but often as I had fashioned that arrival
in my fancy, it was never that Harry's voice, not yours, should say
the 'Here he is.'
"They all went this morning in the waggonette, and the two boys with
Miss Curtis in the carriage. Lady Temple is very kind in coming in
and out to enliven me. I am afraid I must close and send this before
their return. What a day it is! And how are you passing it? I
fear, even at the best, in much anxiety. Lady Temple asks to put in
a line.--Yours ever,
"August 3d, 5 P. M.
"My Dear Colonel,--This is just to tell you that dear Ermine is very
well, and bearing the excitement and suspense wonderfully. We were
all dreadfully shocked to hear about poor dear Bessie; it is so sad
her having no mother nor any one but Rachel to take care of her,
though Rachel would do her best, I know. If she would like to have
me, or if you think I could do any good, pray telegraph for me the
instant you get this letter. I would have come this morning, only I
thought, perhaps, she had her aunt. That stupid telegram never said
whether her baby was alive, or what it was, I do hope it is all
right. I should like to send nurse up at once--I always thought she
saved little Cyril when he was so ill. Pray send for nurse or me, or
anything I can send: anyway, I know nobody can be such a comfort as
you; but the only thing there is to wish about you is, that you could
be in two places at once.
"The two boys are gone in to the trial, they were very eager about
it; and dear Grace promises to take care of Conrade's throat. Poor
boys! they had got up a triumphal arch for your return, but I am
afraid I am telling secrets. Dear Ermine is so good and resolutely
composed--quite an example.--Yours affectionately,
"F. G. Temple."
August 3d, 2 P. M.
"My Dear Colonel Keith,--I am just come out of court, and I am to
wait at the inn, for Aunt Ailie does not like for me to hear the
trial, but she says I may write to you to pass away the time. I am
sorry I left my letter out to go this morning, for Aunt Ailie says it
is very undutiful to say anything about the sheep's wool in Russia
smelling of tobacco. Conrade says it is all smoking, and that every
one does it who has seen the world. Papa never stops smoking but
when he is with Aunt Ermine, he sat on the box and did it all the way
to Avoncester, and Mr. Beechum said it was to compose his mind.
After we got to Avoncester we had a long, long time to wait, and
first one was called, and then another, and then they wanted me. I
was not nearly so frightened as I was that time when you sent for me,
though there were so many more people; but it was daylight, and the
judge looked so kind, and the lawyer spoke so gently to me, and Mr.
Maddox did not look horrid like that first time. I think he must he
sorry now he has seen how much he has hurt papa. The lawyer asked me
all about the noises, and the lions, and the letters of light, just
as Mr. Grey did; and they showed me papa's old seal ring, and asked
if I knew it, and a seal that was made with the new one that he got
when the other was lost! and I knew them because I used to make
impressions on my arms with them when I was a little girl. There was
another lawyer that asked how old I was, and why I had not told
before; and I thought he was going to laugh at me for a silly little
girl, but the judge would not let him, and said I was a clear-headed
little maiden; and Mr. Beechum came with Aunt Ailie, and took me out
of court, and told me to choose anything in the whole world he should
give me, so I chose the little writing case I am writing with now,
and 'The Heroes' besides, so I shall be able to read till the others
come back, and we go home.--Your affectionate little friend,
"Rose Ermine Williams."
August 3d, 9 P. M.
"My Dear Alexander,--You made me promise to send you the full account
of this day's proceedings, or I do not think I should attempt it,
when you may be so sadly engaged. Indeed, I should hardly have gone
to Avoncester had the sad intelligence reached me before I had set
out, when I thought my sudden return would be a greater alarm to my
mother, and I knew that dear Fanny would do all she could for her.
Still she has had a very nervous day, thinking constantly of your
dear sister, and of Rachel's alarm and inexperience; but her
unlimited confidence in your care of Rachel is some comfort, and I am
hoping that the alarm may have subsided, and you may be all
rejoicing. I have always thought that, with dear Rachel, some new
event or sensation would most efface the terrible memories of last
spring. My mother is now taking her evening nap, and I am using the
time for telling you of the day's doings. I took with me Fanny's two
eldest, who were very good and manageable, and we met Mr. Grey, who
put us in very good places, and told us the case was just coming on.
You will see the report in detail in the paper, so I will only try to
give you what you would not find there. I should tell you that
Maddox has entirely dropped his alias. Mr. Grey is convinced that
was only a bold stroke to gain time and prevent the committal, so as
to be able to escape, and that he 'reckoned upon bullying a dense old
country magistrate;' but that he knew it was quite untenable before a
body of unexceptionable witnesses. Altogether the man looked greatly
altered and crest-fallen, and there was a meanness and vulgarity in
his appearance that made me wonder at our ever having credited his
account of himself. He had an abject look, very unlike his confident
manner at the sessions, nor did he attempt his own defence. Mr. Grey
kept on saying he must know that he had not a leg to stand upon.
"The counsel for the prosecution told the whole story, and it was
very touching. I had never known the whole before; the sisters are
so resolute and uncomplaining: but how they must have suffered when
every one thought them ruined by their brother's fraud! I grieve to
think how we neglected them, and only noticed them when it suited our
convenience. Then he called Mr. Beechum, and you will understand
better than I can all about the concern in which they were embarked,
and Maddox coming to him for an advance of £300, giving him a note
from Mr. Williams, asking for it to carry out an invention. The
order for the sum was put into Maddox's hands, and the banker proved
the paying it to him by an order on a German bank.
"Then came Mr. Williams. I had seen him for a moment in setting out,
and was struck with his strange, lost, dreamy look. There is
something very haggard and mournful in his countenance; and, though
he has naturally the same fine features as his eldest sister, his
cheeks are hollow, his eyes almost glassy, and his beard, which is
longer than the Colonel's, very grey. He gave me the notion of the
wreck of a man, stunned and crushed, and never thoroughly alive
again; but when he stood in the witness-box, face to face with the
traitor, he was very different; he lifted up his head, his eyes
brightened, his voice became clear, and his language terse and
concentrated, so that I could believe in his having been the very
able man he was described to be. I am sure Maddox must have quailed
under his glance, there was something so loftily innocent in it, yet
so wistful, as much as to say, 'how could you abuse my perfect
confidence?' Mr. Williams denied having received the money, written
the letter, or even thought of making the request. They showed him
the impression of two seals. He said one was made with a seal-ring
given him by Colonel Keith, and lost some time before he went abroad;
the other, with one with which he had replaced it, and which he
produced,--he had always worn it on his finger. They matched exactly
with the impressions; and there was a little difference in the hair
of the head upon the seal that was evident to every one. It amused
the boys extremely to see some of the old jurymen peering at them
with their glasses. He was asked where he was on the 7th of
September (the date of the letter), and he referred to some notes of
his own, which enabled him to state that on the 6th he had come back
to Prague from a village with a horrible Bohemian name--all cs and
zs--which I will not attempt to write, though much depended on the
number of the said letters.
"The rest of the examination must have been very distressing, for
Maddox's counsel pushed him hard about his reasons for not returning
to defend himself, and he was obliged to tell how ill his wife was,
and how terrified; and they endeavoured to make that into an
admission that he thought himself liable. They tried him with bits
of the handwriting, and he could not always tell which were his own;-
-but I think every one must have been struck with his honourable
scrupulosity in explaining every doubt he had.
"Other people were called in about the writing, but Alison Williams
was the clearest of all. She was never puzzled by any scrap they
showed her, and, moreover, she told of Maddox having sent for her
brother's address, and her having copied it from a letter of Mrs.
Williams's, which she produced, with the wrong spelling, just as it
was in the forgery. The next day had come a letter from the brother,
which she showed, saying that they were going to leave the place
sooner than they had intended, and spelling it right. She gave the
same account of the seals, and nothing ever seemed to disconcert her.
My boys were so much excited about their 'own Miss Williams,' that I
was quite afraid they would explode into a cheer.
"That poor woman whom we used to call Mrs. Rawlins told her sad story
next. She is much worn and subdued, and Mr. Grey was struck with the
change from the fierce excitement she showed when she was first
confronted with Maddox, after her own trial; but she held fast to the
same evidence, giving it not resentfully, but sadly and firmly, as if
she felt it to be her duty. She, as you know, explained how Maddox
had obtained access to Mr. Williams's private papers, and how she
had, afterwards, found in his possession the seal ring, and the
scraps of paper in his patron's writing. A policeman produced them,
and the seal perfectly filled the wax upon the forged letter. The
bits of paper showed that Maddox had been practising imitating Mr.
Williams's writing. It all seemed most distinct, but still there was
some sharp cross-examination of her on her own part in the matter,
and Mr. Grey said it was well that little Rose could so exactly
confirm the facts she mentioned.
"Poor, dear little Rose looked very sweet and innocent, and not so
much frightened as at her first examination. She told her story of
the savage way in which she had been frightened into silence. Half
the people in the court were crying, and I am sure it was a mercy
that she was not driven out of her senses, or even murdered that
night. It seems that she was sent to bed early, but the wretches
knowing that she always woke and talked while her mother was going to
bed, the phosphoric letters were prepared to frighten her, and detain
her in her room, and then Maddox growled at her when she tried to
pass the door. She was asked how she knew the growl to be Maddox's,
and she answered that she heard him cough. Rachel will, I am sure,
remember the sound of that little dry cough. Nothing could make it
clearer than that the woman had spoken the truth. The child
identified the two seals with great readiness, and then was sent back
to the inn that she might not be perplexed with hearing the defence.
This, of course, was very trying to us all, since the best the
counsel could do for his client was to try to pick holes in the
evidence, and make the most of the general acquiescence in Mr.
Williams's guilt for all these years. He brought forward letters
that showed that Mr. Williams had been very sanguine about the
project, and had written about the possibility that an advance might
be needed. Some of the letters, which both Mr. Williams and his
sister owned to be in his own writing, spoke in most flourishing
terms of his plans; and it was proved by documents and witnesses that
the affairs were in such a state that bankruptcy was inevitable, so
that there was every motive for securing a sum to live upon. It was
very miserable all the time this was going on, the whole
interpretation, of Mr. Williams's conduct seemed to be so cruelly
twisted aside, and it was what every one had all along believed, his
absence was made so much of, and all these little circumstances that
had seemed so important were held so cheap--one knew it was only the
counsel's representation, and yet Alison grew whiter and whiter under
it. I wish you could have heard the reply: drawing the picture of
the student's absorption and generous confidence, and his agent's
treachery, creeping into his household, and brutally playing on the
terrors of his child.
"Well, I cannot tell you all, but the judge summed up strongly for a
conviction, though he said a good deal about culpable negligence
almost inviting fraud, and I fear it must have been very distressing
to the Williamses, but the end was that Maddox was found guilty, and
sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude, though I am afraid they
will not follow Conrade's suggestion, and chain up a lion by his bed
every night of his life.
"We were very happy when we met at the inn, and all shook hands.
Dr. Long was, I think, the least at ease. He had come in case this
indictment had in any way failed, to bring his own matter forward, so
that Maddox should not get off. I do not like him very much, he
seemed unable to be really hearty, and I think he must have once been
harsh and now ashamed of it. Then he was displeased at Colonel
Keith's absence, and could hardly conceal how much he was put out by
the cause, as if he thought the Colonel had imposed himself on the
family as next heir. I hardly know how to send all this in the
present state of things, but I believe you will wish to have it, and
will judge how much Rachel will bear to hear. Good night.--Your
August 3d, 11 P. M.
"Dear Keith,--Before this day has ended you must have a few lines
from the man whom your exertions have relieved from a stigma, the
full misery of which I only know by the comfort of its removal. I
told you there was much that could never be restored. I feel this
all the more in the presence of all that now remains to me, but I did
not know how much could still be given back. The oppression of the
load of suspicion under which I laboured now seems to me to have been
intolerable since I have been freed from it. I cannot describe how
changed a man I have felt, since Beechum shook hands with me. The
full blackness of Maddox's treachery I had not known, far less his
cruelty to my child. Had I been aware of all I could not have
refrained from trying to bring him to justice; but there is no need
to enter into the past. It is enough that I owe to you a freed
spirit, and new life, and that my gratitude is not lessened by the
knowledge that something besides friendship urged you. Ermine is
indeed as attractive as ever, and has improved in health far more
than I durst expect. I suppose it is your all-powerful influence.
You are first with all here, as you well deserve, even my child, who
is as lovely and intelligent as you told me, has every thought
pervaded with 'the Colonel.' She is a sweet creature; but there was
one who will never be retraced, and forgive me, Keith, without her,
even triumph must be bitterness.--Still ever most gratefully yours,
"August 3d, 11 P. M.
"Dearest Colin,--The one sound in my ears, the one song in my heart
is, 'Let them give thanks.' It is as if we had passed from a dungeon
into sunshine. I suppose it would be too much if you were here to
share it. They sent Rose in first to tell me, but I knew in the
sound of their wheels that all was well. What an evening we have
had, but I must not write more. Ailie is watching me like a dragon,
and will not rest till I am in bed; but I can't tell how to lose one
minute of gladness in sleep. Oh, Colin, Colin, truest of all true
knights, what an achievement yours has been!"
"That was a crazy bit that I wrote last night, but I will not make
away with it. I don't care how crazy you think me. It would have
been a pity not to have slept to wake to the knowledge that all was
not a dream, but then came the contrast with the sorrow you are
watching. And I have just had your letter. What a sudden close to
that joyous life! She was one of the most winning beings, as you
truly say, that ever flashed across one's course, and if she had
faults, they were those of her day and her training. I suppose, by
what you say, that she was too girlish to be all the companion your
brother required, and that this may account for his being more
shocked than sorrow-stricken, and his child, since he can dwell on
the thought, is such a new beginning of hope, that I wonder less than
you do at his bearing up so well. Besides, pain dulls the feelings,
and is a great occupation. I wish you could have seen that dear
Bessie, but I gather that the end came on much more rapidly than had
been expected. It seemed as if she were one of those to whom even
suffering was strangely lightened and shortened, as if she had met
only the flowers of life, and even the thorns and stings were almost
lost in their bright blossoms. And she could hardly have lived on
without much either of temptation or sorrow. I am glad of your
testimony to Rachel's effectiveness, I wrote it out and sent it up to
the Homestead. There was a note this morning requesting Edward to
come in to see Maddox, and Ailie is gone with him, thinking she may
get leave to see poor Maria. Think of writing 'Edward and Ailie
again! Dr. Long and Harry are gone with them. The broken thread is
better pieced by Harry than by the Doctor; but he wants Ailie and me
to go and stay at Belfast. Now I must hear Rose read, in order to
bring both her and myself to our reasonable senses."
"5 P. M.
"They have been returned about an hour, and I must try to give you
Edward's account of his interview. Maddox has quite dropped his
mask, and seems to have been really touched by being brought into
contact with Edward again, and, now it is all up with him, seemed to
take a kind of pleasure in explaining the whole web, almost, Edward
said, with vanity at his own ingenuity. His earlier history was as
he used to represent it to Edward. He was a respectable ironmonger's
son, with a taste for art; he was not allowed to indulge it, and then
came rebellion, and breaking away from home. He studied at the
Academy for a few years, but wanted application, and fancied he had
begun too late, tried many things and spent a shifty life, but never
was consciously dishonest till after he had fallen in with Edward;
and the large sums left uninquired for in his hands became a
temptation to one already inclined to gambling. His own difficulties
drove him on, and before he ventured on the grand stroke, he had been
in a course of using the sums in his hands for his own purposes. The
finding poor Maria open to the admiration he gave her beauty, put it
into his head to make a tool of her; and this was not the first time
he had used Edward's seal, or imitated his writing. No wonder there
was such a confusion in the accounts as told so much against Edward.
He told the particulars, Edward says, with the strangest mixture of
remorse and exultation. At last came the journey to Bohemia, and his
frauds became the more easy, until he saw there must be a bankruptcy,
and made the last bold stroke, investing the money abroad in his own
name, so that he would have been ready to escape if Edward had come
home again. He never expected but that Edward would have returned,
and finding the affairs hopeless, did this deed in order to have a
resource. As to regret, he seemed to feel some when he said the
effects had gone farther than he anticipated; but 'I could not let
him get into that subject,' Edward said, and he soon came back to his
amused complacency in his complete hoodwinking of all concerned at
home, almost thanking Edward for the facilities his absence had given
him. After this, he went abroad, taking Maria lest she should betray
him on being cast off; and they lived in such style at German
gambling places that destitution brought them back again to England,
where he could better play the lecturer, and the artist in search of
subscriptions. Edward could not help smiling over some of his good
stories, rather as 'the lord' may have 'commended the wisdom of his
unjust steward.' Well, here he came, and, as he said, he really
could hardly have helped himself; he had only to stand still and let
poor Rachel deceive herself, and the whole concern was in a manner
thrust upon him. He was always expecting to be able to get the main
sum into his hands, as he obtained more confidence from Rachel, and
the woodcuts were an over-bold stroke for the purpose; he had not
intended her to keep or show them, but her ready credulity tempted
him too far; and I cannot help laughing now at poor Edward's reproofs
to us for having been all so easily cheated, now that he has been
admitted behind the scenes. Maddox never suspected our
neighbourhood, he had imagined us to be still in London, and though
he heard Alison's name, he did not connect it with us. After all,
what you thought would have been fatal to your hopes of tracing him,
was really what gave him into our hands--Lady Temple's sudden descent
upon their F. U. E. E. If he had not been so hurried and distressed
as to be forced to leave Maria and the poor child to her fate, Maria
would have held by him to the last and without her testimony where
should we have been? But with a summons out against him, and hearing
that Maria had been recognised, he could only fly to the place at
Bristol that he thought unknown to Maria. Even when seized by the
police, he did not know it was she who directed them, and had not
expected her evidence till he actually saw and heard her on the night
of the sessions. It was all Colonel Keith's doing, he said, every
other adversary he would have despised, but your array of forces met
him at every corner where he hoped to escape, and the dear little
Rosie gave him check-mate, like a gallant little knight's pawn as she
is. 'Who could have guessed that child would have such a confounded
memory?' he said, for Edward had listened with a sort of interest
that had made him quite forget that he was Rose's father, and that
this wicked cunning Colonel was working in his cause. So off he goes
to penal servitude, and Edward is so much impressed and touched with
his sharpness as to predict that he will be the model prisoner before
long, if he do not make his escape. As to poor Maria, that was a
much more sad meeting, though perhaps less really melancholy, for
there can be no doubt that she repents entirely, she speaks of every
one as being very good to her, and indeed the old influences only
needed revival, they had never quite died out. Even that poor
child's name was given for love of Ailie, and the perception of
having been used to bring about her master's ruin had always preyed
upon her, and further embittered her temper. The barbarity seemed
like a dream in connexion with her, but, as she told Ailie, when she
once began something came over her, and she could not help striking
harder. It reminded me of horrible stories of the Hathertons' usage
of animals. Enough of this. I believe the Sisterhood will find a
safe shelter for her when her imprisonment is over, and that
temptation will not again be put in her way. We should never have
trusted her in poor dear Lucy's household. Rose calls for the
letters. Good bye, dearest Colin and conqueror. I know all this
will cheer you, for it is your own doing. I can't stop saying so,
it is such a pleasant sound--Your own,
VANITY OF VANITIES.
"Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all."
The funeral was very quiet. By Colonel Keith's considerate
arrangement the attendants met at Timber End, so that the stillness
of the Parsonage was not invaded, a measure the more expedient, as
Alick was suffering from a return of his old enemy, intermitting
fever, and only was able to leave his room in time to join the
Many were present, for poor Bessie had been a general favourite, and
her untimely fate had stirred up feelings that had created her into a
saint upon earth; but there was no one whose token of respect she
would have more esteemed than Colonel Hammond's, who in all the
bustle of the remove to Edinburgh had found time to come to
Bishopsworthy to do honour to the daughter of his old commanding
officer. A flush of gratitude came over Alick's pale face when he
became aware of his colonel's presence, and when the choristers' hymn
had pealed low and sweetly over the tranquil meadows, and the
mourners had turned away, Alick paused at the Parsonage gate to hold
out his hand, and bring in this one guest to hear how near to
Bessie's heart the father's Highland regiment had been in all the
wanderings of her last moments.
The visit was prolonged for nearly an hour, while recollections of
Alick's parents were talked over, and Rachel thought him more cheered
and gratified than by any other tribute that had been paid to his
sister. He was promised an extension of leave, if it were required
on account of Lord Keith's state, though under protest that he would
have the aguish fever as long as he remained overlooking the water
meadows, and did not put himself under Dr. M'Vicar. Through these
meadows Colonel Hammond meant to walk back to the station, and Alick
and Rachel conducted him far enough to put him into the right path,
and in going back again, they could not but go towards the stile
leading to that corner of the churchyard where the sexton had
finished his work, and smoothed the sods over that new grave.
Some one was standing at the foot--not the sexton--but a young man
bending as with an intolerable load of grief. Rachel saw him first,
when Alick was helping her down the step, and her start of dismay
made him turn and look round. His brow contracted, and she clutched
his arm with an involuntary cry of, "Oh, don't," but he, with a
gesture that at once awed and tranquillized her, unclasped her hold
and put her back, while he stepped forward.
She could hear every word, though his voice was low and deep with
emotion. "Carleton, if I have ever been harsh or unjust in my
dealings towards you, I am sorry for it. We have both had the
saddest of all lessons. May we both take it as we ought."
He wrung the surprised and unwilling hand, and before the youth,
startled and overcome, had recovered enough to attempt a reply, he
had come back to Rachel, resumed her arm, and crossed the churchyard,
still shivering and trembling with the agitation, and the force he
had put on himself. Rachel neither could nor durst speak; she only
squeezed his hand, and when he had shut himself up in his own room,
she could not help repairing to his uncle, and telling him the whole.
Mr. Clare's "God bless you, my boy," had double meaning in it that
Not long after, Alick told Rachel of his having met poor young
Carleton in the meadows, pretending to occupy himself with his
fishing-rod, but too wretched to do anything. And in a short time
Mrs. Carleton again called to pour out to Mrs. Keith her warm thanks
to the Captain, for having roused her son from his moody,
unmanageable despair, and made him consent to accept a situation in a
new field of labour, in a spirit of manful duty that he had never
This was a grave and subdued, but not wholly mournful, period at
Bishopsworthy--a time very precious to Rachel in the retrospect--
though there was much to render it anxious. Alick continued to
suffer from recurrences of the fever, not very severe in themselves
after the first two or three, but laying him prostrate with shivering
and headache every third day, and telling heavily on his strength and
looks when he called himself well. On these good days he was always
at Timber End, where his services were much needed. Lord Keith liked
and esteemed him as a sensible prudent young man, and his qualities
as a first-rate nurse were of great assistance to the Colonel. Lord
Keith's illness was tedious and painful, the necessity of a dangerous
operation became increasingly manifest, but the progress towards such
a crisis was slow and the pain and discomfort great; the patient
never moved beyond his dressing-room, and needed incessant attention
to support his spirits and assist his endeavours to occupy himself.
It was impossible to leave him for long together, and Colonel Keith
was never set at liberty for exercise or rest except when Alick came
to his assistance, and fortunately this young brother-in-law was an
especial favourite, partly from Lord Keith's esteem for his prudence
partly from his experience in this especial species of suffering. At
any rate the days of Alick's enforced absence were always times of
greater restlessness and uneasiness at Timber End.
Meantime Rachel was constantly thrown with Mr. Clare, supplying
Alick's place to him, and living in a round of duties that suited her
well, details of parish work, walking with, writing for, and reading
to Mr Clare, and reaping much benefit from intercourse with such a
mind. Many of her errors had chiefly arisen from the want of some
one whose superiority she could feel, and her old presumptions
withered up to nothing when she measured her own powers with those of
a highly educated man, while all the time he gave her thanks and
credit for all she had effected, but such as taught her humility by
very force of infection.
Working in earnest at his visitation sermon, she was drawn up into
the real principles and bearings of the controversy, and Mr. Clare
failed not to give full time and patience to pick out all her
difficulties, removing scruples at troubling him, by declaring that
it was good for his own purpose to unwind every tangle even if he did
not use every thread. It was wonderful how many puzzles were
absolutely intangible, not even tangled threads, but a sort of
nebulous matter that dispersed itself on investigation. And after
all, unwilling as she would have been to own it, a woman's tone of
thought is commonly moulded by the masculine intellect, which, under
one form or another, becomes the master of her soul. Those opinions,
once made her own, may be acted and improved upon, often carried to
lengths never thought of by their inspirer, or held with noble
constancy and perseverance even when he himself may have fallen from
them, but from some living medium they are almost always adopted, and
thus, happily for herself, a woman's efforts at scepticism are but
blind faith in her chosen leader, or, at the utmost, in the spirit of
the age. And Rachel having been more than usually removed from the
immediate influence of superior man, had been affected by the more
feeble and distant power, a leading that appeared to her the light of
her independent mind; but it was not in the nature of things that,
from her husband and his uncle, her character should not receive that
tincture for which it had so long waited, strong and thorough in
proportion to her nature, not rapid in receiving impressions, but
steadfast and uncompromising in retaining and working on them when
once accepted, a nature that Alick Keith had discerned and valued
amid its worst errors far more than mere attractiveness, of which his
sister had perhaps made him weary and distrustful. Nor, indeed,
under the force of the present influences, was attractiveness
wanting, and she suited Alick's peculiarities far better than many a
more charming person would have done, and his uncle, knowing her only
by her clear mellow voice, her consideration, helpfulness, and desire
to think and do rightly, never understood the doubtful amazement now
and then expressed in talking of Alick's choice. One great bond
between Rachel and Mr. Clare was affection for the little babe, who
continued to be Rachel's special charge, and was a great deal dearer
to her already than all the seven Temples put together. She studied
all the books on infant management that she could obtain, constantly
listened for his voice, and filled her letters to her mother with
questions and details on his health, and descriptions of his small
person. Alick was amused whenever he glanced at his strong-minded
woman's correspondence, and now and then used to divert himself with
rousing her into emphatic declarations of her preference of this
delicate little being to "great, stout, coarse creatures that people
call fine children." In fact, Alick's sensitive tenderness towards
his sister's motherless child took the form of avoiding the sight of
it, and being ironical when it was discussed; but with Mr. Clare,
Rachel was sure of sympathy, ever since the afternoon when he had
said how the sounds upstairs reminded him of his own little daughter;
and sitting under the yew-tree, he had told Rachel all the long
stored-up memories of the little life that had been closed a few days
after he had first heard himself called papa by the baby lips. He
had described all these events calmly, and not without smiles, and
had said how his own blindness had made him feel thankful that he had
safely laid his little Una on her mother's bosom under the church's
shade; but when Rachel spoke of this conversation to her husband, she
learnt that it was the first time that he had ever talked of those
buried hopes. He had often spoken of his wife, but though always
fond of children, few who had not read little Una's name beneath her
mother's cross, knew that he was a childless father. And yet it was
beautiful to see the pleasure he took in the touch of Bessie's
infant, and how skilfully and tenderly he would hold it, so that
Rachel in full faith averred that the little Alexander was never so
happy as with him. The chief alarms came from Mrs Comyn Menteith,
who used to descend on the Rectory like a whirlwind, when the Colonel
had politely expelled her from her father's room at Timber End.
Possessed with the idea of Rachel's being very dull at Bishopsworthy,
she sedulously enlivened her with melancholy prognostics as to the
life, limbs, and senses of the young heir, who would never live, poor
little darling, even with the utmost care of herself and her nurse,
and it was very perverse of papa and the doctors still to keep him
from her--poor little darling--not that it mattered, for he was
certain not to thrive, wherever he was, and the Gowanbrae family
would end with Uncle Colin and the glassblower's daughter; a disaster
on which she met with such condolence from Alick (N. B. the next
heir) that Rachel was once reduced to the depths of genuine despair
by the conviction that his opinion of his nephew's life was equally
desponding; and another time was very angry with him for not
defending Ermine's gentility. She had not entirely learnt what
Alick's assent might mean.
Once, when Mrs. Menteith had been besetting her father with
entreaties for the keys of Lady Keith's private possessions, she was
decisively silenced, and the next day these same keys were given to
Alick, with a request that his wife would as soon as possible look
over and take to herself all that had belonged to his sister, except
a few heirloom jewels that must return to Scotland. Alick demurred
greatly, but the old man would not brook contradiction, and Rachel
was very unwillingly despatched upon the mission on one of Alick's
days of prostration at home. His absence was the most consoling part
of this sad day's work. Any way it could not be otherwise than
piteous to dismantle what had been lately so bright and luxurious,
and the contrast of the present state of things with that in which
these dainty new wedding presents had been brought together, could
not but give many a pang; but beside this, there was a more than
ordinary impression of "vanity of vanities, all is vanity," very
painful to affection that was striving to lose the conviction that it
had been a self-indulgent, plausible life. The accumulation of
expensive trinkets and small luxuries, was as surprising as
perplexing to a person of Rachel's severely simple and practical
tastes. It was not only since the marriage; for Bessie had always
had at her disposal means rather ample, and had used them not exactly
foolishly, but evidently for her own gratification. Everything had
some intrinsic worth, and was tasteful or useful, but the multitude
was perfectly amazing, and the constant echo in Rachel's ears was,
"he heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them." Lord
Keith could hardly have found an executrix for his poor young wife,
to whom her properties would have done so little harm. Rachel set
many aside for the cousins, and for Mrs. Menteith, others she tried
to persuade the Colonel to call Gowanbrae belongings, and failing in
this, she hoped through Grace, to smuggle some of them into his
Gowanbrae; but when all was done, there was a mass of things that
Lord Keith never wished to see again, and that seemed to Rachel to
consist of more ornaments than she could ever wear, and more knick-
knacks than a captain's wife could ever carry about with her.
She was putting aside the various packets of letters and papers to be
looked over more at leisure, when the Colonel knocked at the morning-
room door, and told her that his brother would like to see her, when
her work was done. "But first," he said, "I must ask you to be kind
enough to look over some of these papers, and try to find receipts
for some of those bills."
"Here they are," said Rachel, "I was going to look them over at
"If you have time to examine them here with me," said Colonel Keith,
gently, "I think it might save Alick some pain and vexation."
Rachel was entirely unaware of his meaning, and supposed he only
thought of the mere thrilling of the recent wound; but when he sat
down and took a long account out of a tradesman's envelope, a chill
of dismay came over her, followed by a glow of hope as she
recollected a possible explanation: "Have these wretched tradesmen
been sending in bills over again at such a time as this?" she
"I should be very glad to find their receipts," returned the Colonel.
They opened the most business-like looking bundles, all of them,
though neatly kept, really in hopeless confusion. In vain was the
search, and notes came forth which rendered it but too plain that
there had been a considerable amount of debt even before the
marriage, and that she had made partial payments and promises of
clearing all off gradually, but that her new expenses were still
growing upon her, and the few payments "on account," since she had
been Lady Keith, by no means tallied with the amount of new purchases
and orders. No one had suspected her money matters of being in
disorder, and Rachel was very slow to comprehend; her simple, country
life had made her utterly unaware of the difficulties and ways and
means of a young lady of fashion. Even the direct evidence before
her eyes would not at first persuade her that it was not "all those
wicked tradesmen;" she had always heard that fashionable shops were
not to be trusted.
"I am afraid," said Colonel Keith, "that the whole can scarcely be
shifted on the tradesmen. I fear poor Bessie was scarcely free from
blame in this matter."
"Not paying! Going on in debt! Oh she could not have meant it;"
said Rachel, still too much astonished to understand. "Of course one
hears of gay, thoughtless people doing such things, but Bessie--who
had so much thought and sense. It must be a mistake! Can't you go
and speak to the people?"
"It is very sad and painful to make such discoveries," said Colonel
Keith; "but I am afraid such things are not uncommon in the set she
was too much thrown amongst."
"But she knew so well--she was so superior; and with Alick and her
uncle to keep her above them," said Rachel; "I cannot think she could
have done such things."
"I could not think, but I see it was so," said Colonel Keith,
gravely. "As I am obliged to understand these things, she must have
greatly exceeded her means, and have used much cleverness and
ingenuity in keeping the tradesmen quiet, and preventing all from
coming to light."
"How miserable! I can't fancy living in such a predicament."
"I am much afraid," added the Colonel, looking over the papers, "that
it explains the marriage--and then Keith did not allow her as much as
"Oh, Colonel Keith, don't!" cried Rachel; "it is just the one thing
where I could not bear to believe Alick. She was so dear and
beautiful, and spoke so rightly."
"To believe Alick!" repeated the Colonel, as Rachel's voice broke
"I thought--I ought not to have thought--he was hard upon her--but he
knew better," said Rachel, "of course he did not know of all this
"Assuredly not," said the Colonel, "that is self-evident, but as you
say, I am afraid he did know his poor sister's character better than
we did, when he came to warn me against the marriage."
"Did he? Oh how much it must have cost him."
"I am afraid I did not make it cost him less. I thought he judged
her harshly, and that his illness had made him magnify trifles, but
though our interference would have been perfectly useless, he was
quite right in his warning. Now that, poor thing, she is no longer
here to enchant us with her witcheries, I see that my brother greatly
suffered from being kept away from home, and detained in this place,
and that she left him far more alone than she ought to have done."
"Yes, Alick thought so, but she had such good reasons, I am sure she
believed them herself."
"If she had not believed them, she could not have had such perfect
sincerity of manner," said the Colonel; "she must have persuaded at
least one half of herself that she was acting for every one's good
except her own."
"And Mr. Clare, whom Alick always thought she neglected, never felt
it. Alick says he was too unselfish to claim attention."
"I never doubted her for one moment till I came home, on that unhappy
day, and found how ill Keith was. I did think then, that considering
how much she had seen of Alick while the splinters were working out,
she ought to have known better than to talk of sciatica; but she made
me quite believe in her extreme anxiety, and that she was only going
out because it was necessary for her to take care of you on your
first appearance. How bright she looked, and how little I thought I
should never see her again!"
"Oh, she meant what she said! She always was kind to me! Most
kind!" repeated Rachel; "so considerate about all the dreadful
spring--not one word did she say to vex me about the past! I am sure
she did go out on that day as much to shelter me as for anything
else. I can't bear to think all this--here in this pretty room that
she had such pleasure in; where she made me so welcome, after all my
disagreeableness and foolishness."
The Colonel could almost have said, "Better such foolishness than
such wisdom, such repulsion than such attraction." He was much
struck by Rachel's distress, and the absence of all female spite and
triumph, made him understand Ermine's defence of her as really large-
minded and generous.
"It is a very sad moment to be undeceived," he said; "one would
rather have one's faults come to light in one's life than
They were simple words, so simple that the terrible truth with which
they were connected, did not come upon Rachel at the first moment;
but as if to veil her agitation, she drew towards her a book, an
ivory-bound Prayer-book, full of illuminations, of Bessie's own
doing, and her eye fell upon the awful verse, "So long as thou doest
well unto thyself, men will speak good of thee." It was almost more
than Rachel could bear, sitting in the midst of the hoards, for which
poor Bessie had sold herself. She rose up, with a sob of oppressive
grief, and broke out, "Oh! at least it is a comfort that Alick was
really the kindest and rightest! Only too right! but you can settle
all this without him," she added imploringly; "need he know of this?
I can't bear that he should."
"Nor I," said Colonel Keith, "it was the reason that I am glad you
are here alone."
"Oh, thank you! No one need ever know," added Rachel.
"I fear my brother must see the accounts, as they have to be paid,
but that need not be immediately."
"Is there anything else that is dreadful?" said Rachel, looking at
the remaining papers, as if they were a nest of adders. "I don't
like to take them home now, if they will grieve Alick."
"You need not be afraid of that packet," said the Colonel; "I see his
father's handwriting. They look like his letters from India."
Rachel looked into one or two, and her face lighted up. "Oh!" she
exclaimed, "this is enough to make up for all. This is his letter to
tell about Alick's wound. Oh how beautifully he speaks of him," and
Rachel, with no voice to read, handed the thin paper to her
companion, that he might see the full commendation, that had been
wrung from the reserved father's heart by his son's extremity.
"You must be prepared to hear that all is over," wrote the father to
his daughter; "in fact, I doubt whether he can live till morning,
though M'Vicar declares that nothing vital has been touched. Be it
as it may, the boy has been in all respects, even more than I dared
to wish, and the comfort he has been ever since he came out to me has
been unspeakable. We must not grudge him such a soldier's death
after his joyous life. But for you, my poor girl, I could only wish
the same for myself to-morrow. You will, at least, if you lose a
brother's care, have a memory of him, to which to live up. The
thought of such a dead brother will be more to you than many a living
one can ever be to a sister."
Rachel's heart beat high, and her eyes were full of tears of
exultation. And the Colonel was well pleased to compensate for all
the pain he had inflicted by giving her all the details he could
recollect of her husband's short campaign. They had become excellent
friends over their mournful work, and were sorry to have their tete-
a-tete interrupted when a message was brought that his Lordship was
ready, if Mrs. Keith would be so good as to come into his sitting-
She wiped away the tears, and awe-struck and grave, followed the
Colonel; a great contrast to Lord Keith's more frequent lady-visitor,
as she silently received the polished greeting, its peculiar
stateliness of courtesy, enhanced by the feeble state of the
shattered old man, unable to rise from his pillowed chair, and his
face deeply lined by suffering. He would not let her give him any
account of her labours, nor refer any question to him, he only
entreated that everything might be taken away, and that he might hear
nothing about it. He spoke warmly of Alick's kindness and attention,
and showed much solicitude about his indisposition, and at last he
inquired for Rachel's "little charge," hoping he was not clamorous or
obnoxious to her, or to Mr. Clare's household. Her eager description
of his charms provoked a look of interest and a sad smile, followed
by a request, that weather and doctor permitting, she would bring the
child to be seen for a few minutes. The next day there was an
appointment, at which both the Colonel and Alick were wanted, but on
the following one, the carriage should be sent to bring her and the
little one to Timber End.
The effect of this invitation amused Alick. The first thing he heard
in the morning was a decided announcement from Rachel that she must
go up to London to procure equipments for the baby to be presented
"You know I can't go with you to-day."
"Of course, but I must make him fit to be seen. You know he has been
wearing little Una's things all this time, and that will not do out
of the nursery."
"A superior woman ought to know that his Lordship will never find out
what his son has on."
"Then it is all the more reason that I should not let the poor dear
little fellow go about wrapped up in somebody's old shawl!"
"What will you do then--take your maid?"
"Certainly not. I can't have him left."
"Then take him with you?"
"What, Alick, a little unvaccinated baby! Where have you ever lived!
I don't see the least reason why I should not go alone."
"You need not begin beating about the world yet, Rachel. How many
times did you say you had been in London?"
"Three; once with my father when I was a child, once in the time of
the Great Exhibition, and passing through it now with you. But any
one of common sense can manage."
"If you will wait till tive o'clock I will come with you," said
"No, indeed, I had rather not go, than that you should, you are quite
tired out enough at the end of the day."
"Then do not go."
"Alick, why will you have no proper feeling for that poor dear
child!" said Rachel with tears in her eyes.
If he winced he did not show it. "My proper feeling takes the
direction of my wife," he said.
"You don't really mean to forbid me to go," she exclaimed.
"I don't mean it, for I do so, unless you find some one to go with
It was the first real collision that had taken place, but Alick's
quiet, almost languid tone had an absolute determination in it from
the very absence of argument, and Rachel, though extremely annoyed,
felt the uselessness of battling the point. She paused for a few
moments, then said with an effort, "May I take the housekeeper?"
"Yes, certainly," and then he added some advice about taking a
brougham, and thus lightened her heart; so that she presently said
"Have I been self-willed and overbearing, Alick?"
He laughed. "Not at all; you have persevered just where you ought.
I dare say this is all more essential than shows on the surface.
And," he added, with a shaken voice, "if you were not myself, Rachel,
you know how I should thank you for caring for my poor Bessie's
child." He was gone almost as he spoke the words, but Rachel still
felt the kiss and the hot tears that had fallen on her face.
Mr. Clare readily consented to spare his housekeeper, but the
housekeeper was untoward, she was "busied in her housewife skep," and
would not stir. Alick was gone to Timber End, and Rachel was just
talking of getting the schoolmaster's wife as an escort, when Mr.
"Pray are you above accepting my services?"
"You! Oh, uncle; thank you, but--"
"What were your orders? Anybody with you, was it not? I flatter
myself that I have some body, at least."
"If Alick will not think I ought not!"
"The boy will not presume to object to what I do with you."
"I do wish it very much," said candid Rachel.
"Of course you do, my dear. Alick is not cured of a young man's
notion that babies are a sort of puppies. He is quite right not to
let you run about London by yourself, but he will be quite satisfied
if you find eyes and I find discretion."
"But is it not very troublesome to you?"
"It is a capital lark!" said Mr. Clare, with a zest that only the
slang word could imply, removing all Rachel's scruples, and in effect
Mr. Clare did enjoy the spice of adventure in a most amusing way. He
knew perfectly well how to manage, laid out the plan of operations,
gave orders to the driver, went into all the shops, and was an
effective assistant in the choice of material and even of embroidery.
His touch and ear seemed to do more for him than many men's eyes do
for them; he heard odd scraps of conversation and retailed them with
so much character; he had such pleasant colloquies with all in whose
way he fell, and so thoroughly enjoyed the flow and babble of the
full stream of life, that Rachel marvelled that the seclusion of his
parsonage was bearable to him. He took her to lunch with an old
friend, a lady who had devoted herself to the care of poor girls to
be trained as servants, and Rachel had the first real sight of one of
the many great and good works set on foot by personal and direct
"If I had been sensible, I might have come to something like this!"
"Do you wish to undo these last three months?"
"No; I am not fit to be anything but an ordinary married woman, with
an Alick to take care of me; but I am glad some people can be what I
meant to be."
"And you need not regret not being useful now," said Mr. Clare.
"Where should any of us be without you?"
It had not occurred to Rachel, but she was certainly of far more
positive use in the world at the present moment than ever she had
bean in her most assuming maiden days.
Little Alexander was arrayed in all that could enhance his baby
dignity, and Rachel was more than ever resolved to assert his
superiority over "great frightful fine children," resenting
vehemently an innocent observation from Alick, that the small
features and white skin promised sandiness of hair. Perhaps Alick
delighted in saying such things for the sake of proving the "very
womanhood" of his Clever Woman. Rachel hung back, afraid of the
presentation, and would have sent her maid into the room with the
child if Colonel Keith had not taken her in himself. Even yet she
was not dexterous in handling the baby, her hands were both occupied,
and her attention absorbed, and she could not speak, she felt it so
mournful to show this frail motherless creature to a father more like
its grandfather, and already almost on the verge of the grave. She
came up to Lord Keith, and held the child to him in silence. He
said, "Thank you," and kissed not only the little one, but her own
brow, and she kept the tears back with difficulty.
Colonel Keith gave her a chair and footstool, and she sat with the
baby on her lap, while very few words were spoken. It was the
Colonel who asked her to take off the hood that hid the head and
brow, and who chiefly hazarded opinions as to likeness and colour of
eyes. Lord Keith looked earnestly and sadly, but hardly made any
observation, except that it looked healthier than he had been led to
expect. He was sure it owed much to Mrs. Keith's great care and
Rachel feared he would not be able to part with his little son, and
began to mention the arrangements she had contemplated in case he
wished to keep the child at Timber End. On this, Lord Keith asked
with some anxiety, if its presence were inconvenient to Mr. Clare;
and being assured of the contrary, said, "Then while you are so kind
as to watch over him, I much prefer that things should remain in
their present state, than to bring him to a house like this. You do
"Oh, no; I am so glad. I was only dreading the losing him. I
thought Mrs. Menteith wished for him when he is old enough to
"Colin!" said Lord Keith, looking up sharply, "will nothing make the
Menteiths understand that I would rather put out the child to nurse
in a Highland hut than in that Babel of a nursery of theirs?"
Colin smiled and said, "Isabel does not easily accept an answer she
"But remember, both of you," continued Lord Keith, "that happen what
may, this poor child is not to be in her charge. I've seen enough of
her children left alone in perambulators in the sun. You will be in
Edinburgh?" he added, turning to Rachel.
"Yes, when Alick's leave ends."
"I shall return thither when this matter is over, I know I shall be
better at home in Scotland, and if I winter in Edinburgh, may be we
could make some arrangement for his being still under your eye."
Rachel went home more elevated than she had been for months past.
"I bid thee hail, not as in former days,
Not as my chosen only, but my bride,
My very bride, coming to make my house
A glorious temple." A. H. HALLAM.
"Dear Miss Williams,--I must begin by entreating your forgiveness for
addressing you in a manner for which perhaps you may be unprepared;
but I trust you have always been aware, that any objections that I
may have offered to my brother Colin's attachment to yourself have
never been personal, or owing to anything but an unfortunate
complication of circumstances. These difficulties are, as no doubt
he will explain to you, in great measure removed by the present
condition of my family, which will enable me to make such settlements
as I could wish in the ease of one so nearly connected with me; so
that I am enabled to entreat of you at length to reward the
persevering constancy so well deserved. I have a further, and a
personal cause for wishing that the event should not be deferred, as
regard for my feelings might have led you to propose. You are aware
of the present state of my health, and that it has become expedient
to make immediate arrangements for the future guardianship of my
little boy. His uncles are of course his natural guardians, and I
have unbounded confidence in both; but Alexander Keith's profession
renders it probable that he may not always be at hand, and I am
therefore desirous of being able to nominate yourself, together with
my brother, among the personal guardians. Indeed, I understand from
Alexander Keith, that such was the express wish of his sister. I
mention this as an additional motive to induce you to consent. For
my own part, even without so stringent a cause, all that I have ever
seen or known of yourself would inspire me with the desire that you
should take a mother's place towards my son. But you must be aware
that such an appointment could only be made when you are already one
of the family, and this it is that leads me to entreat you to
overlook any appearance of precipitancy on my brother's part, and
return a favourable reply to the request, which with my complete
sanction, he is about to address to you.
"Yes, Ermine Williams, forgive all that is past, and feel for an old,
it may be, a dying man, and for a motherless infant. There is much
to forget, but I trust to your overcoming any scruples, and giving me
all the comfort in your power, in thinking of the poor child who has
come into the world under such melancholy circumstances.
"Yours most truly,
"Keith of Gowanbrae"
"Poor Keith, he has given me his letter open, his real anxiety has
been too much at last for his dignity; and now, my Ermine, what do
you say to his entreaty? The state of the case is this. How soon
this abscess may be ready for the operation is still uncertain, the
surgeons think it will be in about three weeks, and in this interval
he wishes to complete all his arrangements. In plain English, his
strongest desire is to secure the poor little boy from falling into
Menteith's hands. Now, mine is a precarious life, and Alick and
Rachel may of course be at the ends of the earth, so the point is
that you shall be 'one of the family,' before the will is signed.
Alick's leave has been extended to the 1st of October, no more is
possible, and he undertakes to nurse poor Keith for a fortnight from
to-morrow, if you will consent to fulfil this same request within
that time. After the 1st, I should have to leave you, but as soon as
Keith is well enough to bear the journey, he wishes to return to
Edinburgh, where he would be kindly attended to by Alick and Rachel
all the winter. There, Ermine, your victory is come, your consent
has been entreated at last by my brother, not for my sake, but as a
personal favour to himself, because there is no woman in the world of
whom he thinks so highly. For myself I say little. I grieve that
you should be thus hurried and fluttered, and if Ailie thinks it
would harm you, she must telegraph back to me not to come down, and
I will try to teach myself patience by preaching it to Keith, but
otherwise you will see me by four o'clock to-morrow. Every time I
hear Rachel's name, I think it ought to have been yours, and surely
in this fourteenth year, lesser objections may give way. But
persuasions are out of the question, you must be entirely led by your
own feeling. If I could have seen you in July, this should not have
come so suddenly at last. "Yours, more than ever, decide as you may,
"Colin A Keith.
"P. S.--I am afraid Rose would hardly answer this purpose equally
Colonel Keith followed his letter at four o'clock, and entering his
own study, found it in a cloud of smoke, in the midst of which he
dimly discerned a long beard and thin visage absorbed in calculation.
"Edward! How is Ermine?"
"Oh?" (inquiringly) "Keith!" (as taken by surprise) "ah! you were to
come home to-day. How are you?"
"How is she? Has she had my letter?"
"What letter? You write every day, I thought."
"The letter of yesterday. Have you heard nothing of it?"
"Not that I know of. Look here, Keith, I told you I was sure the
"Your brain is becoming platinum. I must go," and the chemist
remained with merely a general impression of having been interrupted.
Next the Colonel met Rose, watching at his own gate, and this time
his answer was more explicit.
"Yes, Aunt Ermine said you were coming, and that I might meet you,
but that I must let you come in alone, for she had not seen you so
long, that she wanted you all to herself."
"And how is she; how has she been?"
"She is well now," said Rose, in the grave, grown-up way she always
assumed when speaking of her aunt's health; "but she has been having
a good deal of her nervous headache this summer, and Lady Temple
wanted her to see Mr. Frampton, but Aunt Ailie said it was only
excitement and wear of spirits. Oh, I am glad you have come back!
We have so wearied after you."
Nevertheless Rose duteously loosed the hand to which she had been
clinging till they came to the door; and as Colin Keith opened it,
again he was met by the welcoming glances of the bright eyes. This
time he did not pause till he was close to her, and kneeling on one
knee beside her, he put his arm round her, and held her hands in his.
The first words that passed were, "You had the letters?"
"Colin, Colin, my one prayer has been, 'Make Thy way plain before my
"And now it is?"
"The suspicion is gone; the displeasure is gone; the doubts are gone;
and now there is nothing--nothing but the lameness and the poverty;
and if you like the old cinder, Colin, that is your concern;" and she
hid her face, with a sort of sobbing laugh.
"And even the haste; you consent to that?"
"I don't feel it like haste," she said, looking up with a smile, and
"And Ailie gives leave, and thinks the hurry will not harm you?"
"Ailie! 0 Colin, did you think I could tell any one of your letter,
before you had had your answer?"
"Then Edward is not so moonstruck as I thought him! And when shall
it be, dearest? Give me as much time as you can. I must go back
this day fortnight."
"I suppose your expectations are not high in the matter of finery,"
said Ermine, with a certain archness of voice.
"Those eyes are all the finery I ever see."
"Then if you will not be scandalized at my natural Sunday dress, I
don't see why this day week should not do as well as any other time."
"Ermine, you are the only woman I ever met totally free from
"Take care, it is very unfeminine and disagreeable to be devoid of
"Very, and therefore you are talking it now! Ermine, how shall I
thank you? Not only for the sake of the ease of mind to my poor
brother; but in the scenes we are going through, a drop of happiness
is wanted as a stimulant. When I looked at the young couple at
Bishopsworthy, I often felt as if another half-year of suspense was
more than I could bear, and that I must ask you to help me through
with at least a definite hope."
"Ah! you have gone through a great deal I am sure it has been a time
of great trouble."
"Indeed it has. The suffering has become unceasing and often most
severe, and there is grievous depression of spirits; I could not have
left him even for a day, if he had not been so fervently bent on
"Is he feeling his loss more acutely than at first?"
"Not so much that, as for the poor little boy, who is a heavy burthen
on his mind. He has lived in such a state of shrewd distrust that he
has no power of confidence, and his complications for making all the
boy's guardians check one another till we come to a dead lock, and to
make provision for Isabel out of Menteith's reach, are enough to
distract the brain of a man in health."
"Is he fond of the child?"
"It is an oppressive care to him, and he only once has made up his
mind to see it, though it is never off his mind, and it is very
curious how from the first he has been resolved on your taking charge
of it. It is the most real testimony he could give you."
"It is very comfortable not to be brought in like an enemy in spite
of him, as even a year ago I could have been proud to do."
"And I to have brought you," he answered, "but it is far better as it
is. He is very cordial, and wants to give up the Auchinvar estate to
me; indeed, he told me that he always meant me to have it as soon as
I had washed my hands of you--you wicked syren--but I think you will
agree with me that he had better leave it to his daughter Mary, who
has nothing. We never reckoned on it."
"Nor on anything else," said Ermine, smiling.
"You have never heard my ways and means," he said, "and as a prudent
woman you ought, you know. See," taking out his tablets, "here is my
"On the staff in India there were good opportunities of saving; then
out of that sum I bought the house, and with my half-pay, our income
will be very fair, and there would be a pension afterwards for you.
This seems to me all we can reasonably want."
"Unless I became like "die Ilsebill" in the German tale. After four
years of living from hand to mouth, this will be like untold gold.
To wish to be above strict economy in wheeled chairs has seemed like
perilous discontent in Rose and me."
"I have ventured on the extravagance of taking the ponies and little
carriage off my brother's hands, it is low enough for you, and I
shall teach Rose to ride one of the ponies with me."
"The dear little Rose! But, Colin, there is a dreadful whisper about
her going with her father, and Ailie too! You see now his character
is cleared, he has been offered a really lucrative post, so that he
could have them with him."
"Does he wish it?"
"I dare not ask. I must be passive or I shall be selfish. You are
all my world, and Edward has no one. Make them settle it without me.
Talk of something else! Tell me how your brother is to be taken care
"There cannot be a better nurse than Alick Keith; and Ferguson, the
agent, is there, getting directions from Keith whenever he can bear
it. I am best out of the way of all that. I have said once for all
that I will do anything for them except live at Gowanbrae, and I am
sick of demonstrating that the poor child's existence is the greatest
possible relief to me; and I hope now not to go back till the whole
is settled and done with."
"You look regularly worn out with the discussions!"
"It was an endless business! The only refreshment was in now and
then getting over to Bishopsworthy."
"What? to Rachel?" said Ermine archly.
"Rachel is showing to great advantage. I did not think it was in her
to be so devoted to the child, and it is beautiful to see her and Mr.
"There's a triumph," said Ermine, smiling. "Do you grant that the
happy medium is reached, that Alick should learn to open his eyes and
Rachel to shut hers?"
"Well! Her eyes are better, but he, poor lad, has been in no spirits
to open his very wide. The loss of his sister went very deep, and
those aguish attacks, though they become much slighter, make him look
wretchedly ill. I should have doubted about leaving him in charge in
his present state, but that he was urgent on me, and he is spared all
the night nursing. Any way, I must not leave him longer than I can
help. I may have one week with you at home--at our home, Ermine."
"And let us make the most of that," said Ermine, quickly.
Meanwhile Alison, sore and sick at heart, wandered on the esplanade,
foreboding that the blow was coming that she ought to rejoice at, if
her love could only be more unselfish. At last the Colonel joined
her, and, as usual, his tone of consideration cheered and supported
her when in actual conference with him, and as he explained his
plans, he added that he hoped there would be scarcely any
interruption to her intercourse with her sister.
"You know," she said abruptly, "that we could go to Ekaterinburg."
"And what is your feeling about it? Remember, Ailie, that I am your
brother too." And as she hesitated, "your feelings--no doubt you are
in many minds!"
"Ah, yes; I never settled anything without Ermine, and she will not
help me now. And she has been so worn with the excitement and