Part 8 out of 11
wanted to beg you to do me a service. You were so kind the other
His reply was to lean earnestly forward, awaiting her words, and she
told him briefly of her grievous perplexity about the title-deeds.
"Then," he said, "you would wish for me to see the man and ascertain
how he has disposed of them."
"I should be most grateful!"
"I will do my utmost. Perhaps I may not succeed immediately, as I
believe visitors are not admitted every day, and he is said to be
busy preparing his defence, but I will try, and let you know."
"Thanks, thanks! The doubt is terrible, for I know worry about it
would distract my mother."
"I do not imagine," he said, "that much worse consequences than worry
could ensue. But there are none more trying."
"Oh not none!"
"Do not let worry about this increase other ills," he said, kindly,
"do not think about this again till you hear from me."
"Is that possible?"
"I should not have thought so, if I had not watched my uncle cast off
troubles about his eye-sight and the keeping his living."
"Ah! but those were not of his own making."
"'There is a sparkle even in the darkest water.' That was a saying
of his," said Alick, looking anxiously at her pale cheek and down-
"Not when they are turbid."
"They will clear," he said, and smiled with a look of encouraging
hope that again cheered her in spite of herself. "Meantime remember
that in any way I can help you, it will be the greatest favour--" he
checked himself as he observed the exceeding languor and lassitude
apparent in her whole person, and only said, "My sister is too much
at the bottom of it for me not to feel it the greatest kindness to me
to let me try to be of the slightest use. I believe I had better go
now," as he rose and looked at her wistfully; "you are too much tired
"I believe I am," she said, almost reluctantly, " but thank you, this
has done me good."
"And you are really getting better?"
"Yes, I believe so. Perhaps I may feel it when this terrible day is
What a comfort it would be, she said to herself, when he was gone, if
we had but a near relation like him, who would act for the mother,
instead of our being delivered up, bound hand and foot, to Mr. Cox.
It would have been refreshing to have kept him now, if I could have
done it without talking; it really seemed to keep the horrible
thoughts in abeyance, to hear that wonderfully gentle tone! And how
kind and soft the look was! I do feel stronger for it! Will it
really be better after next week? Alas! that will have undone
Yet even this perception of a possibility of hope that there would be
relief after the ordeal, was new to Rachel; and it soon gave way to
that trying feature of illness, the insurmountable dread of the mere
physical fatigue. The Dean of Avoncester, a kind old friend of Mrs.
Curtis, had insisted on the mother and daughters coming to sleep at
the Deanery, on the Tuesday night, and remaining till the day after
the trial; but Rachel's imagination was not even as yet equal to the
endurance of the long drive, far less of the formality of a visit.
Lady Temple was likewise asked to the Deanery, but Conrade was still
too ill for her to think of leaving him for more than the few needful
hours of the trial; nor had Alison been able to do more than pay an
occasional visit at her sister's window to exchange reports, and so
absorbed was she in her boys and their mother, that it was quite an
effort of recollection to keep up to Ermine's accounts of Colonel
It was on the Monday afternoon, the first time she had ventured into
the room, taking advantage of Rose having condescended to go out with
the Temple nursery establishment, when she found Ermine's transparent
face all alive with expectation. "He may come any time now," she
said; "his coming to-day or to-morrow was to depend on his getting
his business done on Saturday or not."
And in a few minutes' time the well-known knock was heard, and
Ermine, with a look half arch half gay, surprised her sister by
rising with the aid of the arm of her chair, and adjusting a crutch
that had been leaning against it.
"Why Ermine! you could not bear the jarring of that crutch--"
"Five or six years ago, Ailie, when I was a much poorer creature,"
then as the door opened, "I would make you a curtsey, Colonel Keith,
but I am afraid I can't quite do that," though still she moved nearer
to meet him, but perhaps there was a look of helplessness which made
her exultation piteous, for he responded with an exclamation of
alarm, put out his arm to support her, and did not relax a frown of
anxiety till he had placed her safe in her chair again, while she
laughed perhaps a little less freely, and said, "See what it is to
have had to shift for oneself!"
"You met me with your eyes the first time, Ermine, and I never missed
"Well, I think it is hard not to have been more congratulated on my
great achievement! I thought I should have had at least as much
credit as Widdrington, my favourite hero and model."
"When you have an arm to support you it may be all very well, and I
shall never stand it without." Then, as Ermine subsided, unprepared
with a reply, "Well, Ailie, how are your boys?"
"Both much better, Francis nearly well."
"You have had a terrible time! And their mother?"
"Dearer and sweeter than ever," said Alison, with her voice
trembling; "no one who has not seen her now can guess half what
"I hope she has not missed me. If this matter had not been so
pressing, I could not have stayed away."
"The one message she always gave me was, that you were not to think
of coming home; and, indeed, those dear boys were so good, that we
managed very well without you."
"Yes, I had faith in your discipline, and I think that matters are in
train against Edward comes. Of course there is no letter, or you
would have told me."
"He will be coming himself," said Ermine, resolved against again
expressing a doubt; while Alison added that he hated letter-writing.
"Nothing could he more satisfactory than Beauchamp's letter," added
Colin. "He was so thoroughly convinced, that he immediately began to
believe that he had trusted Edward all along, and had only been
"I dare say," said Ermine, laughing; "I can quite fancy honest Harry
completely persuaded that he was Edward's champion, while Maddox was
turning him round his finger."
"And such is his good faith, that I hope he will make Edward believe
the same! I told you of his sending his love to you, and of his
hopes that you would some day come and see the old place. He made
his wife quite cordial."
Alison did not feel herself obliged to accept the message, and Ermine
could freely say, "Poor Harry! I should like to see him again! He
would be exactly the same, I dare say. And how does the old place
"Just what I do not want you to see. They have found out that the
Rectory is unhealthy, and stuck up a new bald house on the top of the
hill; and the Hall is new furnished in colours that set one's teeth
on edge. Nothing is like itself but Harry, and he only when you get
him off duty--without his wife! I was glad to get away to Belfast."
"And there, judging from Julia's letter, they must have nearly
"They were very hospitable. Your sister is not so very unlike you,
"Oh, Colin!" exclaimed Alison, with an indignation of which she
became ashamed, and added, by way of making it better, "Perhaps not
"She was very gracious to me," said Colin, smiling, "and we had much
pleasant talk of you."
"Yes," said Ermine, "it will be a great pleasure to poor Julia to be
allowed to take us up again, and you thought the doctor sufficiently
"More satisfactorily so than Harry, for he reasoned out the matter,
and seems to me to have gone more by his impression that a man could
not be so imprudent as Edward in good faith than by Maddox's
"That is true," said Alison, "he held out till Edward refused to come
home, and then nothing would make him listen to a word on his behalf"
"And it will be so again," thought Ermine, with a throb at her heart.
Then she asked, "Did you see whether there was a letter for you at
"Yes, I looked in, and found only this, which I have only glanced at,
"Yes, they come home immediately after Easter. 'Your brother is
resolved I should be presented, and submit to the whole season in
style; after which he says I may judge for myself.' What people will
do for pretty young wives! Poor Mary's most brilliant season was a
winter at Edinburgh; and it must be his doing more than hers, for she
goes on: 'Is it not very hard to be precluded all this time from
playing the chieftainess in the halls of my forefathers? I shall
have to run down to your Gowanbrae to refresh myself, and see what
you are all about, for I cannot get the fragment of a letter from
Alick; and I met an Avoncestrian the other day, who told me that the
whole county was in a state of excitement about the F. U. etc.; that
every one believed that the fascinating landscape-painter was on the
high road to winning one of the joint-heiresses; but that Lady
Temple--the most incredible part of the story--had blown up the whole
affair, made her way into the penetralia of the asylum, and rescued
two female 'prentices, so nearly whipped to death that it took an
infinitesimal quantity of Rachel's homoeopathy to demolish one
entirely, and that the virtuous public was highly indignant that
there was no inquest nor trial for manslaughter; but that it was
certain that Rachel had been extremely ill ever since. Poor Rachel,
there must he some grain of truth in all this, but one would like to
be able to contradict it. I wrote to ask Alick the rights of the
story, but he has not vouchsafed me a line of reply; and I should
take it as very kind in you to let me know whether he is in the land
of the living or gone to Edinburgh--as I hear is to be the lot of the
Highlanders--or pining for the uncroquetable lawn, to which I always
told him he had an eye.'"
"She may think herself lucky he has not answered," said Ermine; "he
has always been rather unreasonably angry with her for making the
"That is the reason he has not," added Alison, "for he is certainly
not far off. He has been over almost every day to inquire, and
played German tactics all Saturday afternoon with Francis to our
great relief. But I have stayed away long enough."
"I will walk back with you, Ailie. I must see the good little
heroine of the most incredible part of the story."
Lady Temple looked a good deal paler than when he had last seen her,
and her eyelids still showed that they had long arrears of sleep to
make up; but she came down with outstretched hands and a sunny smile.
"They are so much better, and I am so glad you were not at home in
the worst of it."
"And I am sorry to have deserted you."
"Oh, no, no, it was much better that you should be away. We should
all have wanted you, and that would have been dangerous, and dear,
dear Miss Williams did all that could be done. Do you know, it
taught me that you were right when you told me I ought never to rest
till the boys learnt to obey, for obedience' sake, at a word. It
showed what a bad mother I am, for I am sure if dear Conrade had been
like what he was last year, even she could not have saved him," said
Fanny, her eyes full of tears.
Then came her details, to which he listened, as ever, like the
brotherly friend he was, and there was a good deal said about
restoring the little ones, who were still at Gowanbrae, to which he
would by no means as yet consent, though Fanny owned herself to have
time now to pine for her Stephana, and to "hear how dismal it is to
have a silent nursery."
"Yes, it has been a fearful time. We little guessed how much risk
you ran when you went to the rescue."
"Dear Con, when he thought--when we thought he could not get better,
said I was not to mind that, and I don't," said Fanny. "I thought it
was right, and though I did not know this would come of it, yet you
see God has been very merciful, and brought both of my boys out of
this dreadful illness, and I dare say it will do them good all their
lives now it is over. I am sure it will to me, for I shall always be
"Everything does you good," he said.
"And another thing," she added, eagerly, "it has made me know that
dear Miss Williams so much better. She was so good, so wonderfully
good, to come away from her sister to us. I thought she was quite
gone the first day, and that I was alone with my poor Francie, and
presently there she was by my side, giving me strength and hope by
her very look. I want to have her for good, I want to make her my
sister! She would teach the boys still, for nobody else could make
them good, but if ever her sister could spare her, she must never go
"You had better see what she says," replied the Colonel, with
That night, when Conrade and Francis were both fast asleep, their
mother and their governess sat over the fire together, languid but
happy, and told out their hearts to one another--told out more than
Alison had ever put into words even to Ermine, for her heart was
softer and more unreserved now than ever it had been since her
sister's accident had crushed her youth. There was thenceforth a
bond between her and Lady Temple that gave the young widow the
strong-hearted, sympathizing, sisterly friend she had looked for in
Rachel, and that filled up those yearnings of the affection that had
at first made Alison feel that Colin's return made the world dreary
to her. Her life had a purpose, though that purpose was not Ermine!
But where were Edward and his letter?
THE QUARTER SESSIONS.
"Is it so nominated in the bond?"--Merchant of Venice.
Malgre her disinclination, Rachel had reached the point of recovery
in which the fresh air and change of scene of the drive to Avoncester
could not fail to act as restoratives, and the first evening with the
Dean and his gentle old sister was refreshing and comfortable to her
It was in the afternoon of the ensuing day that Mr. Grey came to tell
her that her presence would soon be required, and both her mother and
sister drove to the court with her. Poor Mrs. Curtis, too anxious to
go away, yet too nervous to go into court, chose, in spite of all Mr.
Grey's advice, to remain in the carriage with the blinds closed, far
too miserable for Grace to leave her.
Rachel, though very white, called up a heroic smile, and declared
that she should get on very well. Her spirit had risen to the
occasion, so as to brace her nerves to go becomingly through what was
inevitable; and she replied with a ready "yes," to Mr. Grey's
repetition of the advice for ever dinned into her ears, not to say a
word more than needful, feeling indeed little disposed to utter
anything that she could avoid.
She emerged from the dark passage into full view of faces which were
far more familiar than she could have wished. She would have greatly
preferred appearing before a judge, robed, wigged, and a stranger, to
coming thus before a country gentleman, slightly known to herself,
but an old friend of her father, and looking only like his ordinary
All the world indeed was curious to see the encounter between Rachel
Curtis and her impostor, and every one who had contributed so much as
a dozen stamps to the F. U. E. E. felt as if under a personal wrong
and grievance, while many hoped to detect other elements of
excitement, so that though all did not overtly stare at the witness,
not even the most considerate could resist the impulse to glance at
her reception of the bow with which he greeted her entrance.
She bent her head instinctively, but there was no change of colour on
her cheek. Her faculties were concentrated, and her resolute will
had closed all avenues to sensations that might impair her powers;
she would not give way either to shame and remorse for herself, or to
pity or indignation against the prisoner; she would attend only to
the accuracy of the testimony that was required of her as an
expiation of her credulous incaution; but such was the tension of her
nerves, that, impassive as she looked, she heard every cough, every
rustle of paper; each voice that addressed her seemed to cut her ears
like a knife; and the chair that was given to her after the
administration of the oath was indeed much needed.
She was examined upon her arrangement that the prisoner should
provide for the asylum at St. Herbert's, and on her monthly payment
to him of the sums entered in the account-book. In some cases she
knew he had shown her the bills unreceipted; in others, he had simply
made the charge in the book, and she had given to him the amount that
he estimated as requisite for the materials for wood-engraving. So
far she felt satisfied that she was making herself distinctly
understood, but the prisoner, acting as his own counsel, now turned
to her and asked the question she had expected and was prepared for,
whether she could refer to any written agreement.
"No; it was a viva voce agreement."
Could she mention what passed at the time of making the arrangement
that she had stated as existing between himself and her?
"I described my plans, and you consented."
An answer at which some of the audience could have smiled, so well
did it accord with her habits. The prisoner again insisted on her
defining the mode of his becoming bound to the agreement. Rachel
took time for consideration, and Alison Williams, sitting between
Lady Temple and Colonel Keith, felt dizzy with anxiety for the
answer. It came at last.
"I do not remember the exact words; but you acquiesced in the
appearance of your name as secretary and treasurer."
The prospectus was here brought forward, and Mauleverer asked her to
define the duties he had been supposed to undertake in the character
in which he had there figured. It of course came out that she had
been her own treasurer, only entrusting the nominal one with the
amount required for current expenses, and again, in reply to his
deferential questions, she was obliged to acknowledge that he had
never in so many words declared the sums entered in the book to have
been actually paid, and not merely estimates for monthly expenditure
to be paid to the tradesmen at the usual seasons.
"I understood that they were paid," said Rachel, with some
"Will you oblige me by mentioning on what that understanding was
founded?" said the prisoner, blandly.
There was a pause. Rachel knew she must say something; but memory
utterly failed to recall any definite assurance that these debts had
been discharged. Time passed, all eyes were upon her, there was a
dire necessity of reply, and though perfectly conscious of the
weakness and folly of her utterance, she could only falter forth, "I
thought so." The being the Clever Woman of the family, only rendered
her the more sensible both of the utter futility of her answer, and
of the effect it must be producing.
Alison hung her head, and frowned in absolute shame and despair,
already perceiving how matters must go, and feeling as if the hope of
her brother's vindication were slipping away--reft from her by
Rachel's folly. Colin gave an indignant sigh, and whispering to
her, "Come out when Lady Temple does, I will meet you," he made his
way out of court.
There had been a moment's pause after Rachel's "I thought so," and
then the chairman spoke to the counsel for the prosecution. "Mr.
Murray, can you carry the case any further by other witnesses? At
present I see no case to go to the jury. You will see that the
witness not only does not set up any case of embezzlement, but rather
loads to an inference in the contrary direction."
"No, sir," was the answer; "I am afraid that I can add nothing to the
case already presented to you."
Upon this, the chairman said,
"Gentlemen of the Jury,--The case for the prosecution does not
sustain the indictment or require me to call on the prisoner for his
defence, and it is your duty to find him not guilty. You will
observe that we are not trying a civil action, in respect of the
large sum which he has received from the young lady, and for which he
is still accountable to her; nor by acquitting him are you
pronouncing that he has not shown himself a man of very questionable
honesty, but only that the evidence will not bring him within the
grasp of the criminal law, as guilty of embezzlement under the
statute, and this because of the looseness of the arrange ments, that
had been implied instead of expressed. It is exceedingly to be
regretted that with the best intentions and kindest purposes, want of
caution and experience on her part should have enabled the prisoner
thus to secure himself from the possibility of a conviction; but
there can be no doubt that the evidence before us is such as to leave
no alternative but a verdict of not guilty."
The very tenderness and consideration of the grey-haired Sir Edward
Morden's tone were more crushing to Rachel than severe animadversions
on her folly would have been from a stranger. Here was she, the
Clever Woman of the family, shown in open court to have been so
egregious a dupe that the deceiver could not even be punished, but
must go scot-free, leaving all her wrongs unredressed! To her
excited, morbid apprehension, magnified by past self-sufficiency, it
was as though all eyes were looking in triumph at that object of
general scorn and aversion, a woman who had stepped out of her place.
She turned with a longing to rush into darkness and retirement when
she was called to return to her mother, and even had she still been
present, little would she have recked that when the jury had, without
many moments' delay, returned a verdict of "Not Guilty," the prisoner
received a strong, stem reprimand from Sir Edward, to whom he replied
with a bow that had in it more of triumph than of acceptance.
Burning tears of disappointment were upon Alison's cheek, the old
hopeless blank was returning, and her brother might come back in
vain, to find his enemy beyond his reach. Here was an end alike of
his restoration and of Ermine's happiness!
"Oh!" whispered Lady Temple, "is it not horrid? Is nothing to be
done to that dreadful man? I always thought people came here to do
justice. I shall never like Sir Edward Morden again! But, oh! what
can that be? Where is the Colonel?"
It was a loud, frightful roar and yell, a sound of concentrated fury
that, once heard, could never be forgotten. It was from the crowd
outside, many of them from Avonmouth, and all frantic with
indignation at the cruelty that had been perpetrated upon the
helpless children. Their groans and execrations were pursuing the
prison van, from which Maria Hatherton was at that moment making her
exit, and so fearful was the outcry that penetrated the court, that
Fanny trembled with recollections of Indian horrors, looked wistfully
for her protector the Colonel, and murmured fears that her aunt must
have been very much terrified.
At that moment, however, a summons came for Lady Temple, as this was
the case in which she was to bear witness. Alison followed, and was
no sooner past the spectators, who gladly made way, than she found
her arm drawn into Colonel Keith's. "Is he come?" she asked. "No,"
was rather signed than spoken. "Oh, Colin!" she sighed, but still
there was no reply, only she was dragged on, downstairs and along
dark passages, into a room furnished with a table, chairs, pens, ink,
and paper, and lighted with gas, which revealed to her not only Mr.
Grey, but one who, though eight years had made him stouter, redder,
and rougher, had one of the moat familiar faces of her youthful days.
Her senses almost reeled with her as he held out his hand, saying
heartily, "Well, Ailie, how are you? and how is Ermine? Where can
this brother of yours be?"
"Harry! Mr. Beauchamp! You here!" she exclaimed, in the extremity
"Here is Colin seeming to think that something may be done towards
nailing this scoundrel for the present, so I am come at his call.
We shall have the fellow in a moment." And then, by way of getting
rid of embarrassment, he began talking to Mr. Grey about the County
Hall, and the room, which Mr. Grey explained to be that of the clerk
of the peace, lent for this occasion while the usual justice room was
occupied, Alison heard all as in a dream, and presently Mauleverer
entered, as usual spruce, artist-like, and self-possessed, and was
accosted by Harry Beauchamp, "Good evening, Mr. Maddox, I am sorry
to trouble you."
"I hope there is no misunderstanding, sir," was the reply. "I have
not the pleasure of knowing for whom you take me."
Without regarding this reply, however, Mr. Beauchamp requested Mr.
Grey to take his deposition, stating his own belief in the identity
of the person before him with Richard Maddox, whom he charged with
having delivered to him a letter falsely purporting to come from
Edward Williams, demanding three hundred pounds, which upon this he
had delivered to the accused, to be forwarded to the said Mr.
Alison's heart beat violently at the ordeal before her of speaking to
the genuineness of the letter. She had seen and suspected that to
her brother-in-law, but she could not guess whether the flaws in that
to Mr. Beauchamp would be equally palpable, and doubt and anxiety
made her scarcely able to look at it steadily. To her great relief,
however, she was able to detect sufficient variations to justify her
assertion that it was not authentic, and she was able to confirm her
statement by comparison of the writing with that of a short,
indignant denial of all knowledge of the transaction, which Harry
Beauchamp had happily preserved, though little regarding it at the
time. She also showed the wrong direction, with the name of the
place misspelt, according to her own copy of her sister-in-law's
address, at the request of Maddox himself, and pointed out that a
letter to Ermine from her brother bore the right form. The seal upon
that to Mr. Beauchamp she likewise asserted to be the impression of
one which her brother had lost more than a year before the date of
"Indeed, sir," said the accused, fuming to Mr. Grey, "this is an
exceedingly hard case. Here am I, newly acquitted, after nearly six
weeks' imprisonment, on so frivolous a charge that it has been
dismissed without my even having occasion to defend myself, or to
call my own most respectable witnesses as to character, when another
charge is brought forward against me in a name that there has been an
unaccountable desire to impose on me. Even if I were the person that
this gentleman supposes, there is nothing proved. He may very
possibly have received a forged letter, but I perceive nothing to fix
the charge upon the party he calls Maddox. Let me call in my own
witnesses, who had volunteered to come down from Bristol, and you
will be convinced how completely mistaken the gentleman is."
To this Mr. Grey replied that the case against him was not yet
closed, and cautioning him to keep his own witnesses back; but he was
urgent to be allowed to call them at once, as it was already late,
and they were to go by the six o'clock train. Mr. Grey consented,
and a messenger was sent in search of them. Mr. Beauchamp looked
disturbed. "What say you to this, Colin?" he asked, uneasily. "That
man's audacity is enough to stagger one, and I only saw him three
times at the utmost."
"Never fear," said Colin, "delay is all in our favour." At the same
time Colin left them, and with him went some hope and confidence,
leaving all to feel awkward and distressed during the delay that
ensued, the accused expatiating all the time on the unreasonableness
of bringing up an offence committed so many years ago, in the absence
of the only witness who could prove the whole story, insisting,
moreover, on his entire ignorance of the names of either Maddox or
The sight of his witnesses was almost welcome. They were a
dissenting minister, and a neat, portly, respectable widow, the owner
of a fancy shop, and both knew Mr. Mauleverer as a popular lecturer
upon philanthropical subjects, who came periodically to Bristol, and
made himself very acceptable. Their faith in him was genuine, and he
had even interested them in the F. U. E. E. and the ladies that
patronized it. The widow was tearfully indignant about the
persecution that had been got up against him, and evidently intended
to return with him in triumph, and endow him with the fancy shop if
he would condescend so far. The minister too, spoke highly of his
gifts and graces, but neither of them could carry back their
testimony to his character for more than three years.
Mr. Grey looked at his watch, Harry Beauchamp was restless, and
Alison felt almost faint with suspense; but at last the tramp of feet
was heard in the passage. Colonel Keith came first, and leaning over
Alison's chair, said, "Lady Temple will wait for me at the inn. It
will soon be all right."
At that moment a tall figure in mourning entered, attended by a
policeman. For the first time, Mauleverer's coolness gave way,
though not his readiness, and, turning to Mr. Grey, he exclaimed,
"Sir, you do not intend to be misled by the malignity of a person of
"Worse than a murderess!" gasped the scandalized widow Dench. "Well,
Mr. Grey was obliged to be peremptory, in order to obtain silence,
and enforce that, let the new witness be what she might, her evidence
must be heard.
She had come in with the habitual village curtsey to Mr. Beauchamp,
and putting back her veil, disclosed to Alison the piteous sight of
the well-remembered features, once so bright with intelligence and
innocence, and now sunk and haggard with the worst sorrows of
womanhood. Her large glittering eyes did not seem to recognise
Alison, but they glared upon Mauleverer with a strange terrible
fixedness, as if unable to see any one else. To Alison the sight was
inexpressibly painful, and she shrank back, as it were, in dread of
meeting the eyes once so responsive to her own.
Mr. Grey asked the woman the name of the person before her, and
looking at him with the same fearful steadiness, she pronounced it to
be Richard Maddox, though he had of late called himself Mauleverer.
The man quailed for a moment, then collecting himself, said, "I now
understand the incredible ingratitude and malignity that have pointed
out against me these hitherto unaccountable slanders. It is a
punishment for insufficient inqury into character. But you, sir, in
common justice, will protect me from the aspersions of one who wishes
to drag me down in her justly merited fall.
"Sentenced for three years! To take her examination!" muttered Mrs.
Dench, and with some difficulty these exclamations were silenced, and
Maria Hatherton called on for her evidence.
Concise, but terrible in its clear brevity, was the story of the
agent tampering with her, the nursemaid, until she had given him
access to the private rooms, where he had turned over the papers.
On the following day, Mr. Williams had been inquiring for his seal-
ring, but she herself had not seen it again till some months after,
when she had left her place, and was living in lodgings provided for
her by Maddox, when she had found the ring in the drawer of his desk;
her suspicion had then been first excited by his displeasure at her
proposing to him to return it, thinking it merely there by accident,
and she had afterwards observed him endeavouring to copy fragments of
Mr. Williams's writing. These he had crushed up and thrown aside,
but she had preserved them, owning that she did not know what might
come of them, and the family had been very kind to her.
The seal and the scraps of paper were here produced by the policeman
who had them in charge. The seal perfectly coincided with that which
had closed the letter to Harry Beauchamp, and was, moreover,
identified by both Alison and Colonel Keith. It was noticeable, too,
that one of these fragments was the beginning of a note to Mr.
Beauchamp, as "Dear H." and this, though not Edward's most usual
style of addressing his friend, was repeated in the demand for the
"Sir," said the accused, "of course I have no intention of intimating
that a gentleman like the Honourable Colonel Keith has been in any
collusion with this unhappy woman, but it must be obvious to you that
his wish to exonerate his friend has induced him to give too easy
credence to this person's malignant attempts to fasten upon one whom
she might have had reason to regard as a benefactor the odium of the
transactions that she acknowledges to have taken place between
herself and this Maddox, thereto incited, no doubt, by some
resemblance which must be strong, since it has likewise deceived Mr.
Mr. Grey looked perplexed and vexed, and asked Mr. Beanchamp if he
could suggest any other person able to identify Maddox. He frowned,
said there must have been workmen at the factory, but knew not where
they were, looked at Colin Keith, asked Alison if she or her sister
had ever seen Maddox, then declared he could lay his hands on no one
but Dr. Long at Belfast.
Mauleverer vehemently exclaimed against the injustice of detaining
him till a witness could be summoned from that distance. Mr. Grey
evidently had his doubts, and began to think of calling in some fresh
opinion whether he had sufficient grounds for committal, and Alison's
hopes were only unstained by Colin's undaunted looks, when there came
a knock at the door, and, as much to the surprise of Alison as of
every one else, there entered an elderly maid-servant, leading a
little girl by the hand, and Colonel Keith going to meet the latter,
said, "Do not be frightened, my dear, you have only to answer a few
questions as plainly and clearly as you can."
Awed, silent, and dazzled by the sudden gas-light, she clung to his
hand, but evidently distinguished no one else; and he placed her
close to the magistrate saying, "This is Mr. Grey, Rose, tell him
And Mr. Grey taking her hand and repeating the question, the clear
little silvery voice answered,
"I am Rose Ermine Williams."
"And how old are you, my dear?"
"I was eight on the last of June."
"She knows the nature of an oath?" asked Mr. Grey of the Colonel.
"Certainly, yon can soon satisfy yourself of that."
"My dear," then said Mr. Grey, taking her by the hand again, and
looking into the brown intelligent eyes, "I am sure you have been
well taught. Can you tell me what is meant by taking an oath before
"Yes," said Rose, colour flushing into her face, "it is calling upon
Almighty God to hear one speak the truth." She spoke so low that she
could hardly be heard, and she looked full of startled fear and
distress, turning her face up to Colonel Keith with a terrified
"Oh please, why am I here, what am I to say?"
He was sorry for her; but her manifest want of preparation was all in
favour of the cause, and he soothed her by saying, "Only answer just
what you are asked as clearly as you can, and Mr. Grey will soon let
you go. He knows you would try any way to speak the truth, but as he
is going to examine you as a magistrate, he must ask you to take the
Rose repeated the oath in her innocent tones, and perhaps their
solemnity or the fatherly gentleness of Mr. Grey reassured her, for
her voice trembled much less when she answered his next inquiry, who
her parents were.
"My mother is dead," she said; "my father is Mr Williams, he is away
"Do you remember any time before he was at Ekaterinburg?"
"Oh yes; when we lived at Kensington, and he had the patent glass
"Now, turn round and say if there is any one here whom you know?"
Rose, who had hitherto stood facing Mr. Grey, with her back to the
rest of the room, obeyed, and at once exclaimed, "Aunt Alison," then
suddenly recoiled, and grasped at the Colonel.
"What is it, my dear?"
"It is--it is Mr. Maddox," and with another gasp of fright, "and
Maria! Oh, let me go."
But Mr. Grey put his arm round her, and assured her that no one could
harm her, Colonel Keith let his fingers be very hard pinched, and her
aunt came nearer, all telling her that she had only to make her
answers distinctly; and though still shrinking, she could reply to
Mr. Grey's question whom she meant by Mr. Maddox.
"The agent for the glass--my father's agent."
"And who is Maria?"
"She was my nurse."
"When did you last see the person you call Mr. Maddox?"
"Last time, I was sure of it, was when I was walking on the esplanade
at Avoncester with Colonel Keith," said Rose, very anxious to turn
aside and render her words inaudible.
"I suppose you can hardly tell when that was?"
"Yes, it was the day before you went away to Lord Keith's wedding,"
said Rose, looking to the Colonel.
"Had you seen him before?"
"Twice when I was out by myself, but it frightened me so that I never
"Can you give me any guide to the time?"
She was clear that it had been after Colonel Keith's first stay at
Avonmouth, but that was all, and being asked if she had ever
mentioned these meetings, "Only when Colonel Keith saw how frightened
I was, and asked me."
"Why were you frightened?" asked Mr. Grey, on a hint from the
"Because I could not quite leave off believing the dreadful things
Mr. Maddox and Maria said they would do to me if I told."
"About Mr. Maddox coming and walking with Maria when she was out with
me," gasped Rose, trying to avert her head, and not comforted by
hearing Mr. Grey repeat her words to those tormentors of her infancy.
A little encouragement, however, brought out the story of the
phosphoric letters, the lions, and the vision of Maddox growling in
the dressing-room. The date of the apparition could hardly be hoped
for, but fortunately Rose remembered that it was two days before her
mamma's birthday, because she had felt it so bard to be eaten up
before the fete, and this date tallied with that given by Maria of
her admitting her treacherous admirer into the private rooms.
"The young lady may be precocious, no doubt, sir," here said the
accused, "but I hardly see why she has been brought here. You can
attach no weight to the confused recollections of so young a child,
of matters that took place so long ago."
"The question will be what weight the jury will attach to them at the
assizes," said Mr. Grey.
"You will permit me to make one inquiry of the young lady, sir. Who
told her whom she might expect to see here?"
Mr. Grey repeated the query, and Rose answered, "Nobody; I knew my
aunt and the Colonel and Lady Temple were gone in to Avoncester, and
Aunt Ermine got a note from the Colonel to say that I was to come in
to him with Tibbie in a fly."
"Did you know what you were wanted for?"
"No, I could not think. I only knew they came to get the woman
punished for being so cruel to the poor little girls."
"Do you know who that person was?"
"Mrs. Rawlins," was the ready answer.
"I think," said Mr. Grey to the accused, "that you must perceive
that, with such coincidence of testimony as I have here, I have no
alternative but to commit you for the summer assizes."
Mauleverer murmured something about an action for false imprisonment,
but he did not make it clear, and he was evidently greatly
crestfallen. He had no doubt hoped to brazen out his assumed
character sufficiently to disconcert Mr. Beauchamp's faith in his own
memory, and though he had carried on the same game after being
confronted with Maria, it was already becoming desperate. He had not
reckoned upon her deserting his cause even for her own sake, and the
last chance of employing her antecedents to discredit her testimony,
had been overthrown by Rose's innocent witness to their mutual
relations, a remembrance which had been burnt in on her childish
memory by the very means taken to secure her silence. When the
depositions were read over, their remarkable and independent
accordance was most striking; Mrs. Dench had already been led away by
the minister, in time to catch her train, just when her sobs of
indignation at the deception were growing too demonstrative, and the
policeman resumed the charge of Maria Hatherton.
Little Rose looked up to her, saying, "Please, Aunt Ailie, may I
speak to her?"
Alison had been sitting restless and perplexed between impulses of
pity and repulsion, and doubts about the etiquette of the justice
room; but her heart yearned over the girl she had cherished, and she
signed permission to Rose, whose timidity had given way amid
excitement and encouragement.
"Please, Maria," she said, "don't be angry with me for telling;
I never did till Colonel Keith asked me, and I could not help it.
Will you kiss me and forgive me as you used?"
The hard fierce eyes, that had not wept over the child's coffin,
filled with tears.
"Oh, Miss Rose, Miss Rose, do not come near me. Oh, if I had minded
you--and your aunts--" And the pent-up misery of the life that had
fallen lower and lower since the first step in evil, found its course
in a convulsive sob and shriek, so grievous that Alison was thankful
for Colin's promptitude in laying hold of Rose, and leading her out
of the room before him. Alison felt obliged to follow, yet could not
bear to leave Maria to policemen and prison warders.
"Maria, poor Maria, I am so sorry for you, I will try to come and see
But her hand was seized with an imperative, "Ailie, you must come,
they are all waiting for you."
How little had she thought her arm would ever be drawn into that arm,
so unheeded by both.
"So that is Edward's little girl! Why, she is the sweetest little
clear-headed thing I have seen a long time. She was the saving of
"It was well thought of by Colin."
"Colin is a lawyer spoilt--that's a fact. A first-rate get-up of a
"And you think it safe now?"
"Nothing safer, so Edward turns up. How he can keep away from such a
child as that, I can't imagine. Where is she? Oh, here--" as they
came into the porch in fuller light, where the Colonel and Rose
waited for them. "Ha, my little Ailie, I must make better friends
"My name is Rose, not Ailie," replied the little girl.
"Oh, aye! Well, it ought to have been, what d'ye call her--that was
a Daniel come to judgment?"
"Portia," returned Rose; "but I don't think that is pretty at all."
"And where is Lady Temple?" anxiously asked Alison. "She must be
grieved to be detained so long."
"Oh! Lady Temple is well provided for," said the Colonel, "all the
magistrates and half the bar are at her feet. They say the grace and
simplicity of her manner of giving her evidence were the greatest
contrast to poor Rachel's."
"But where is she?" still persisted Alison.
"At the hotel; Maria's was the last case of the day, and she went
away directly after it, with such a choice of escorts that I only
just spoke to her."
And at the hotel they found the waggonette at the gateway, and Lady
Temple in the parlour with Sir Edward Morden, who, late as it was,
would not leave her till he had seen her with the rest of the party.
She sprang up to meet them, and was much relieved to hear that
Mauleverer was again secured. "Otherwise," she said, "it would have
been all my fault for having acted without asking advice. I hope I
shall never do so again."
She insisted that all should go home together in the waggonette, and
Rose found herself upon Mr. Beauchamp's knee, serving as usual as a
safety valve for the feelings of her aunt's admirers. There was no
inconstancy on her part, she would much have preferred falling to the
lot of her own Colonel, but the open carriage drive was rather a risk
for him in the night air, and though he had undertaken it in the
excitement, he soon found it requisite to muffle himself up, and
speak as little as possible. Harry Beauchamp talked enough for both.
He was in high spirits, partly, as Colin suspected, with the escape
from a dull formal home, and partly with the undoing of a wrong that
had rankled in his conscience more than he had allowed to himself.
Lady Temple, her heart light at the convalescence of her sons, was
pleased with everything, liked him extremely, and answered gaily; and
Alison enjoyed the resumption of pleasant habits of days gone by.
Yet, delightful as it all was, there was a sense of disenchantment:
she was marvelling all the time how she could have suffered so much
on Harry Beauchamp's account. The rejection of him had weighed like
a stone upon her heart, but now it seemed like freedom to have
escaped his companionship for a lifetime.
Presently a horse's feet were heard on the road before them; there
was a meeting and a halt, and Alick Keith's voice called out--"How
has it gone?"
"Why, were you not in court?"
"What! I go to hear my friends baited!"
"Where were you then?"
"Oh, then you have seen the boys," cried Lady Temple. "How is
"Quite himself. Up to a prodigious amount of indoor croquet. But
how has it gone?"
"Such a shame!" returned Lady Temple. "They acquitted the dreadful
man, and the poor woman, whom he drove to it, has a year's
imprisonment and hard labour!"
"Acquitted! What, is he off?"
"Oh, no, no! he is safe, and waiting for the Assizes, all owing to
the Colonel and little Rose."
"He is committed for the former offence," said Colonel Keith; "the
"That's right! Good night! And how," he added, reining back his
horse, "did your cousin get through it?"
"Oh, they were so hard on her!" cried Lady Temple. "I could hardly
bring myself to speak to Sir Edward after it! It was as if he
thought it all her fault!"
"Her evidence broke down completely," said Colonel Keith. "Sir
Edward spared her as much as he could; but the absurdity of her whole
conduct was palpable. I hope she has had a lesson."
Alick's impatient horse flew on with him, and Colin muttered to
Alison under his mufflers,--"I never could make out whether that is
the coolest or the most sensitive fellow living!"
THE AFTER CLAP
"I have read in the marvellous heart of man,
That strange and mystic scroll,
That an army of phantoms vast and wan
Beleaguer the human soul.
"Encamped beside life's rushing stream,
In Fancy's misty light,
Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam
Portentous through the night."
The Beleaguered City, LONGFELLOW.
A dinner party at the Deanery in the sessions week was an
institution, but Rachel, lying on the sofa in a cool room, had
thought herself exempt from it, and was conscious for the time of but
one wish, namely, to be let alone, and to be able to shut her eyes,
without finding the lids, as it were, lined with tiers of gazing
faces, and curious looks turned on her, and her ears from the echo of
the roar of fury that had dreadfully terrified both her and her
mother, and she felt herself to have merited! The crush of public
censure was not at the moment so overwhelming as the strange morbid
effect of having been the focus of those many, many glances, and if
she reflected at all, it was with a weary speculating wonder whether
one pair of dark grey eyes had been among those levelled at her. She
thought that if they had, she could not have missed either their
ironical sting, or perchance some kindly gleam of sympathy, such as
had sometimes surprised her from under the flaxen lashes.
There she had lain, unmolested and conscious of a certain relief in
the exceeding calm; the grey pinnacle of the cathedral, and a few
branches of an elm-tree alone meeting her eye through the open
window, and the sole sound the cawing of the rooks, whose sailing
flight amused and attracted her glance from time to time with dreamy
interest. Grace had gone into court to hear Maria Hatherton's trial,
and all was still.
The first break was when her mother and Miss Wellwood came in, after
having wandered gently together round the warm, walled Deanery
garden, comparing notes about their myrtles and geraniums. Then it
was that amid all their tender inquiries after her headache, and
their administration of afternoon tea, it first broke upon Rachel
that they expected her to go down to dinner.
"Pray excuse me," she said imploringly, looking at her mother for
support, "indeed, I don't know that I could sit out a dinner! A
number of people together make me so dizzy and confused."
"Poor child!" said Miss Wellwood, kindly, but looking to Mrs. Curtis
in her turn. "Perhaps, as she has been so ill, the evening might be
"Oh," exclaimed Rachel, "I hope to be in bed before you have finished
dinner. Indeed I am not good company for any one."
"Don't say that, my dear," and Miss Wellwood looked puzzled.
"Indeed, my dear," said Mrs. Curtis, evidently distressed, "I think
the exertion would be good for you, if you could only think so."
"Yes, indeed, said Miss Wellwood, catching at the notion; "it is your
mind that needs the distraction, my dear."
"I am distracted enough already," poor Rachel said, putting her hand
up. "Indeed, I do not want to be disobliging," she said,
interpreting her mother's anxious gestures to mean that she was
wanting in civility; "it is very kind in you, Miss Wellwood, but this
has been a very trying day, and I am sure I can give no pleasure to
anybody, so if I might only be let off."
"It is not so much--" began Miss Wellwood, getting into a puzzle, and
starting afresh. "Indeed, my dear, my brother and I could not bear
that you should do anything you did not like, only you see it would
never do for you to seem to want to shut yourself up."
"I should think all the world must feel as if I ought to be shut up
for life," said Rachel, dejectedly.
"Ah! but that is the very thing. If you do not show yourself it will
make such a talk."
Rachel had nearly said, "Let them talk;" but though she felt
tormented to death, habitual respect to these two gentle, nervous,
elderly women made her try to be courteous, and she said, "Indeed,
I cannot much care, provided I don't hear them."
"Ah! but you don't know, my dear," said Mrs. Curtis, seeing her
friend looked dismayed at this indifference. "Indeed, dear Miss
Wellwood, she does not know; we thought it would be so awkward for
her in court."
"Know what?" exclaimed Rachel, sitting upright, and putting down her
feet. "What have you been keeping from me?"
"Only--only, my dear, people will say such things, and nobody could
think it that knew you."
"What?" demanded Rachel.
"Yes," said Mrs. Curtis, perhaps, since her daughter was to have the
shock, rather glad to have a witness to the surprise it caused her:
"you know people will gossip, and some one has put it about that--
that this horrid man was--"
Mrs. Curtis paused, Miss Wellwood was as pink as her cap strings.
Rachel grasped the meaning at last. "Oh!" she said, with less
reticence than her elders, "there must needs be a spice of flirtation
to give piquancy to the mess of gossip! I don't wonder, there are
plenty of people who judge others by themselves, and think that
motive must underlie everything! I wonder who imagines that I am
fallen so low?"
"There, I knew she would take it in that way," said Mrs. Curtis.
"And so you understand us, my dear, we could not bear to ask you to
do anything so distressing except for your own sake."
"I am far past caring for my own sake," said Rachel, "but for yours
and Grace's, mother, I will give as much ocular demonstration as I
can, that I am not pining for this hero with a Norman name. I own I
should have thought none of the Dean's friends would have needed to
"Oh, no! no! but--" Miss Wellwood made a great confusion of noes,
buts, and my dears, and Mrs. Curtis came to the rescue. "After all,
my love, one can't so much wonder! You have always been very
peculiar, you know, and so clever, and you took up this so eagerly.
And then the Greys saw you so unwilling to prosecute. And--and I
have always allowed you too much liberty--ever since your poor dear
papa was taken--and now it has come upon you, my poor child! Oh, I
hope dear Fanny will take warning by me," and off went poor Mrs.
Curtis into a fit of sobs.
"Mother--mother! this is worse than anything," exclaimed Rachel in an
agony, springing to her feet, and flying after sal volatile, but
feeling frightfully helpless without Grace, the manager of all Mrs.
Curtis's ailments and troubles. Grace would have let her quietly cry
it out. Rachel's remedies and incoherent protestations of all being
her own fault only made things worse, and perhaps those ten minutes
were the most overwhelming of all the griefs that Rachel had brought
on herself. However, what with Miss Wellwood's soothing, and her own
sense of the becoming, Mrs. Curtis struggled herself into composure
again by the time the maid came to dress them for dinner; Rachel all
the while longing for Grace's return, not so much for the sake of
hearing the verdict, as of knowing whether the mother ought to be
allowed to go down to dinner, so shaken did she look; for indeed,
besides her distress for her daughter, no small ingredient in her
agitation was this recurrence to a stated custom of her husband's
Persuasion was unavailing. At any cost the Curtis family must
present an unassailable front to the public eye, and if Mrs. Curtis
had forced forward her much tried and suffering daughter, far more
would she persist in devoting herself to gaiety and indifference, but
her nervousness was exceeding, and betrayed itself in a continual
wearying for Grace, without whom neither her own dress nor Rachel's
could be arranged to her satisfaction, and she was absolutely
incapable of not worrying Rachel about every fold, every plait, every
bow, in a manner that from any one else would have been unbearable;
but those tears had frightened Rachel into a penitent submission that
endured with an absolute semblance of cheerfulness each of these
torments. The languor and exhaustion had been driven away, and
feverish excitement had set in, not so much from the spirit of
defiance that the two elder ladies had expected to excite, as from
the having been goaded into a reckless determination to sustain her
part. No matter for the rest.
It often happened in these parties that the ladies would come in from
the country in reasonable time, while their lords would be detained
much later in court, so when the cathedral clock had given notice of
the half-hour, Mrs. Curtis began to pick up fan and handkerchief, and
prepare to descend. Rachel suggested there would be no occasion so
to do till Grace's return, since it was plain that no one could yet
"Yes, my dear, but perhaps--don't you think it might be remarked as
if you chose to keep out of sight?"
"Oh, very well."
Rachel followed her mother down, sustained by one hope, that Captain
Keith would be there. No; the Deanery did not greatly patronize the
barracks; there was not much chance of any gentleman under forty,
except, perhaps, in the evening. And at present the dean himself and
one canon were the entire gentleman element among some dozen ladies.
Everybody knew that the cause of delay was the trial of the cruel
matron, and added to the account of Rachel's iniquities their
famished and weary state of expectation, the good Dean gyrating among
the groups, trying to make conversation, which every one felt too
fretful and too hungry to sustain with spirit. Rachel sat it out,
trying to talk whenever she saw her mother's anxious eyes upon her,
but failing in finding anything to say, and much doubting whether her
neighbours liked talking to her.
At last gentlemen began to appear in twos and threes, and each made
some confidence to the womankind that first absorbed him, but no one
came in Rachel's way, and the girl beside her became too unfeignedly
curious to support even the semblance of conversation, but listened
for scraps of intelligence. Something was flying about respecting
"a gentleman who came down by the train," and something about "Lady
Temple" and "admirable," and the young lady seized the first
opportunity of deserting Rachel, and plunging into the melee. Rachel
sat on, sick with suspense, feeling utterly unable to quit her seat.
Still they waited, the whole of the party were not arrived, and here
was the curfew ringing, and that at the Deanery, which always felt
injured if it were seven o'clock before people were in the dining-
room! Grace must be upstairs dressing, but to reach her was
At last Mr. Grey was announced, and he had mercy upon Rachel; he came
up to her as soon as he could without making her remarkable, and told
her the cause of his delay had been the necessity of committing
Mauleverer upon an accusation by a relation of Colonel Keith, of very
extensive frauds upon Miss Williams's brother. Rachel's illness and
the caution of the Williamses had prevented her from being fully
aware of the complication of their affairs with her own, and she
became paler and paler, as she listened to the partial explanation,
though she was hardly able as yet to understand it.
"The woman?" she asked.
"Sentenced to a year's imprisonment with hard labour, and let me tell
you, Rachel, you had a most narrow escape there! If that army doctor
had not come in time to see the child alive, they could not have
chosen but have an inquest, and no mortal can tell what might have
been the decision about your homoeopathy. You might have been
looking forward to a worse business than this at the next assizes."
Mr. Grey had done his work at last! The long waiting, the weary
constraint, and at last the recurrence of Lovedy's sufferings and her
own share in them, entirely overcame her. Mists danced before her
eyes, and the very sensation that had been so studiously avoided was
produced by her fainting helplessly away in her chair, while Mr. Grey
was talking to her.
To be sure it brought deliverance from the multitude, and she awoke
in the quiet of her room, upon her bed, in the midst of the
despairing compunction of the mother, and the tender cares of Grace,
but she was too utterly overdone for even this to be much relief to
her; and downstairs poor Miss Wellwood's one desire was to hinder the
spread of the report that her swoon had been caused by the tidings of
Mauleverer's apprehension. It seemed as if nothing else had been
wanting to make the humiliation and exposure complete. Rachel had
despised fainting ladies, and had really hitherto been so
superabundant in strength that she had no experience of the symptoms,
or she might have escaped in time. But there she lay, publicly
censured before the dignitaries of her county for moral folly, and
entirely conquered before the rest of the world by the physical
weakness she had most contemned.
Then the mother was so terrified and distressed that all sorts of
comforting reassurances were required, and the chief object soon
became to persuade her to go downstairs and leave Rachel to her bed.
And at last the thought of civility and of the many Mrs. Grundys
prevailed, and sent her downstairs, but there was little more comfort
for Rachel even in being left to herself--that for which she had a
few minutes before most ardently longed.
That night was perhaps the most painful one of her whole life. The
earnest desire to keep her mother from uneasiness, and the longing to
be unmolested, made her play her part well when the mother and Grace
came up to see her before going to bed, and they thought she would
sleep off her over-fatigue and excitement, and yielded to her desire
that they should bid her good night, and leave her to rest.
But what sort of rest was it? Sometimes even her own personal
identity was gone, and she would live over again in the poor
children, the hunger and the blows, or she would become Mrs. Rawlins,
and hear herself sentenced for the savage cruelty, or she would
actually stand in court under sentence for manslaughter. Her pulses
throbbed up to fever pitch, head and cheeks burnt, the very power to
lie still was gone, and whether she commanded her thoughts or lapsed
into the land of dreams, they worked her equal woe.
Now it was the world of gazing faces, feverishly magnified,
multiplied, and pressing closer and closer on her, till she could
have screamed to dispel them; now it was her mother weeping over the
reports to which she had given occasion, and accusing herself of her
daughter's errors; and now it was Lovedy Kelland's mortal agony, now
the mob, thirsting for vengeance, were shouting for justice on her,
as the child's murderer, and she was shrieking to Alick Keith to
leave her to her fate, and only save her mother.
It would hardly be too much to say that the positive wretchedness of
actually witnessing the child's death was doubled in these its
imaginary repetitions on that still more suffering night of waking
dreams, when every solemn note of the cathedral clock, every resolute
proclamation from its fellow in the town hall, every sharp reply from
the domestic timepiece in the Deanery fell on her ears, generally
recalling her at least to full consciousness of her identity and
whereabouts, and dispelling the delusion.
But, then, what comfort was there? Veritably she had caused
suffering and death; she had led to the peril of Fanny's children;
she had covered her mother with shame and grief! Nay, in her
exaggerated tone of feeling, she imagined that distress and poverty
might have been entailed on that beloved mother. Those title deeds--
no intelligence. Captain Keith had taken no notice. Perhaps he
heard and believed those degrading reports! He had soul enough to
pity and sympathize with the failure of extended views of
beneficence; he despised the hypocrisy that had made charity a cloak
for a credulous debasing attachment, and to such an object! He might
well avoid her! His sister had always bantered her on what had
seemed too absurd to be rebutted, and, at any rate, this fainting fit
would clench his belief. No doubt he believed it. And if he did,
why should not every one else whose opinion she cared for: Ermine,
her Colonel, even gentle Fanny--no, she would never believe any harm,
she had suffered too much in her cause.
Oh, for simple genuine charity like Fanny's, with eyes clear with
innocence and humility! And now what was before her? should she ever
be allowed to hide her head, or should she be forced again to brave
that many-eyed world? Perhaps the title-deed business would prove
utter ruin. It would have been acceptable to herself, but her mother
Chastisement! Yes, it was just chastisement for headstrong folly and
conceit. She had heard of bending to the rod and finding it a cross,
but here came the dreadful confusion of unreality, and of the broken
habit of religious meditation except as matter of debate. She did
not know till her time of need how deeply sneers had eaten into her
heart. The only text that would come to her mind was, "And in that
day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if
one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is
darkened in the heavens thereof." Every effort at prayer or at calm
recall of old thoughts still ended in that desolate verse. The first
relief to these miserable dreams was the cool clear morning light,
and by-and-by the early cathedral bells, then Grace's kind greeting
made her quite herself; no longer feverish, but full of lassitude and
depression. She would not listen to Grace's entreaties that she
would remain in bed. No place was so hateful to her," she said, and
she came down apparently not more unwell than had been the case for
many days past, so that after breakfast her mother saw no reason
against leaving her on the sofa, while going out to perform some
commissions in the town, attended, of course, by Grace. Miss
Wellwood promised that she should not be disturbed, and she found
that she must have been asleep, for she was taken by surprise by the
opening of the door, and the apologetic face of the butler, who told
her that a gentleman had asked if she would see him, and presented
the card of "Captain Alexander Keith."
Eagerly she desired that he should be admitted, tremulously she
awaited his sentence upon her mother's peace, and, as she thought of
all he must have heard, all he must believe, she felt as if she must
flee; or, if that were impossible, cower in shrinking dread of the
glance of his satirical eye!
Here he was, and she could not look or speak, nor did he; she only
felt that his clasp of greeting was kind, was anxious, and he put
forward the easy-chair, into which she sank, unable to stand. He
said, "I saw your mother and sister going into the town. I thought
you would like to hear of this business at once."
"Oh yes, thank you."
"I could not see the man till the day before yesterday," he said,
"and I could get nothing satisfactory from him. He said he had taken
the papers to a legal friend, but was not authorized to give his
name. Perhaps his views may be changed by his present condition.
I will try him again if you like."
"Thank you, thank you! Do you think this is true!"
"He is too cunning a scoundrel to tell unnecessary lies, and very
likely he may have disposed of them to some Jew attorney; but I think
nothing is to be feared but some annoyance."
"And annoyance to my mother is the one thing I most fear," sighed
"There might be a mode of much lessening it to her," he said.
"Oh, what? Tell me, and I would do it at any cost."
"Will you?" and he came nearer. "At the cost of yourself?"
She thrilled all over, and convulsively grasped the arm of her chair.
"Would not a son be the best person to shield her from annoyance," he
added, trying for his usual tone, but failing, he exclaimed, "Rachel,
Rachel, let me!"
She put her hands over her face, and cried, "Oh! oh! I never thought
"No," he said, "and I know what you do think of it, but indeed you
need not be wasted. Our women and children want so much done for
them, and none of our ladies are able or willing. Will you not come
and help me?"
"Don't talk to me of helping! I do nothing but spoil and ruin."
"Not now! That is all gone and past. Come and begin afresh."
"No, no, I am too disagreeable."
"May not I judge for myself?" he said, drawing nearer, and his voice
falling into tremulous tenderness.
"Try," and his smile overbore her.
"Oh no, no, nobody can bear me! This is more than you--you ought to
do--than any one should," she faltered, not knowing what she said.
"Than any one to whom you were not most dear!" was the answer, and he
was now standing over her, with the dew upon his eyelashes.
"Oh, that can't be. Bessie said you always took up whatever other
people hated, and I know it is only that--"
"Don't let Bessie's sayings come between us now, Rachel. This goes
too deep," and he had almost taken her hand, when with a start she
drew it back, saying, "But you know what they say!"
"Have they been stupid enough to tell you?" he exclaimed. "Confute
them then, Rachel--dolts that can't believe in self-devotion! Laugh
at their beards. This is the way to put an end to it!"
"Oh no, they would only detest you for my sake. I can't," she said
again, bowed down again with shame and dejection.
"I'll take care of that!" he said with the dry tone that perhaps was
above all reassurance, and conquered her far enough to enable him to
take possession of the thin and still listless hand.
"Then," he said, "you will let me take this whole matter in hand; and
if the worst comes to the worst, we will make up to the charity out
of the Indian money, without vexing the mother."
"I can't let you suffer for my miserable folly."
"Too late to say that!" he answered; and as her eyes were raised to
him in startled inquiry, he said gravely, "These last weeks have
shown me that your troubles must be mine."
A hand was on the door, and Rachel fled, in time to screen her flight
from Miss Wellwood, whom Alick met with his usual undisturbed front,
and inquiries for Mrs. Curtis.
That good lady was in the town more worried than flattered by the
numerous inquiries after Rachel's health, and conscious of having
gone rather near the wind in making the best of it. She had begun to
dread being accosted by any acquaintance, and Captain Keith,
sauntering near the archway of the close, was no welcome spectacle.
She would have passed him with a curt salutation, but he grasped her
hand, saying, "May I have a few words with you?"
"Not Fanny--not the children!" cried Mrs. Curtis in dismay.
"No indeed. Only myself," and a gleam of intelligence under his
eyelashes and judicious pressure of his hand conveyed volumes to
Grace, who had seen him often during Rachel's illness, and was not
unprepared. She merely said that she would see how her sister was,
substituted Captain Keith's arm for her own as her mother's support,
and hurried away, to encounter Miss Wellwood's regrets that, in spite
of all her precautions, dear Rachel had been disturbed by "a young
officer, I believe. We see him often at the cathedral, and somebody
said it was his sister whom Lord Keith married."
"Yes, we know him well, and he is a Victoria Cross man," said Grace,
beginning to assume his reflected glory.
"So some one said, but the Dean never calls on the officers unless
there is some introduction, or there would be no end to it. It was a
mistake letting him in to disturb Rachel. Is your mother gone up to
her, my dear?"
"No, I think she is in the cathedral yard. I just came in to see
about Rachel," said Grace, escaping.
Miss Wellwood intended going out to join her old friend; but, on
going to put on her bonnet, she saw from the window Mrs. Curtis,
leaning on the intruder's arm, conversing so confidentially that the
Dean's sister flushed with amazement, and only hoped she had
mentioned him with due respect. And under that southern cathedral
wall good Mrs. Curtis took the longest walk she had indulged in for
the last twenty years, so that Grace, and even Rachel, beholding from
the window, began to fear that the mother would be walked to death.
But then she had that supporting arm, and the moral support, that was
infinitely more! That daughter, the spoilt pet of her husband, the
subject of her pride, even when an enigma and an anxiety, whom she
had lately been forced to think of as
"A maid whom there were few to praise
And very few to love,"
she now found loved by one at least, and praised in terms that
thrilled through and through the mother's heart in their truth and
simplicity, for that sincerity, generosity, and unselfishness. It
was her own daughter, her real Rachel, no illusion, that she heard
described in those grave earnest words, only while the whole world
saw the errors and exaggerated them, here was one who sank them all
in the sterling worth that so few would recognise. The dear old lady
forgot all her prudence, and would hardly let him speak of his means;
but she soon saw that Rachel's present portion would be more than met
on his side, and that no one could find fault with her on the score
of inequality of fortune. He would have been quite able to retire,
and live at ease, but this he said at once and with decision he did
not intend. His regiment was his hereditary home, and his father had
expressed such strong wishes that he should not lightly desert his
profession, that he felt bound to it by filial duty as well as by
other motives. Moreover, he thought the change of life and
occupation would be the best thing for Rachel, and Mrs. Curtis could
not but acquiesce, little as she had even dreamt that a daughter of
hers would marry into a marching regiment! Her surrender of judgment
was curiously complete. "Dear Alexinder," as thenceforth she called
him had assumed the mastery over her from the first turn they took
under the cathedral, and when at length he reminded her that the
clock was on the stroke of one, she accepted it on his infallible
judgment, for her own sensations would have made her believe it not
a quarter of an hour since the interview had begun.
Not a word had been granted on either side to the conventional vows
of secrecy, always made to be broken, and perhaps each tacitly felt
that the less secrecy the better for Rachel. Certain it is that Mrs.
Curtis went into the Deanery with her head considerably higher,
kissed Rachel vehemently, and, assuring her she knew all about it,
and was happier than she had ever thought to be again, excused her
from appearing at luncheon, and hurried down thereto, without giving
any attention to a feeble entreaty that she would not go so fast.
And when at three o'clock Rachel crept downstairs to get into the
carriage for her return home, the good old Dean lay in wait for her,
told her she must allow him an old friend's privilege, kissed her,
congratulated her, and said he would beg to perform the ceremony.
"Oh, Mr. Dean, it is nothing like that."
He laughed, and handed her in.
"Mother, mother, how could you?" sighed Rachel, as they drove on.
"My dear, they were so kind; they could not help knowing!"
"But it can't be."
"Rachel, my child, you like him!"
"He does not know half about me yet. Mother, don't tell Fanny or any
one till I have seen him again."
And the voice was so imperious with the wayward vehemence of illness
that Mrs. Curtis durst not gainsay it. She did not know how Alick
Keith was already silencing those who asked if he had heard of the
great event at the Dean's party. Still less did she guess at the
letter at that moment in writing:--
"My Dear Bessie,--Wish me joy. I have gone in for the uncroquetable
lawn, and won it.--Your affectionate brother',
"A. C. Keith."
"I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first
fall in love with me?"--Much Ado about Nothing.
"Alick, is this all chivalry?" inquired Colonel Keith, sitting by his
fire, suffering considerably from his late drive, and hearing reports
that troubled him.
"Very chivalrous, indeed! when there's an old county property to the
"For that matter, you have all been canny enough to have means enough
to balance all that barren moorland. You are a richer man than I
shall ever be."
"Without heiress-hunting?" said Alick, as though weighing his words.
"Come, Alick, you need not put on a mask that does not fit you! If
it is not too late, take the risk into consideration, for I own I
think the price of your championship somewhat severe."
"Ask Miss Williams."
"Ermine is grateful for much kindness, and is--yes--really fond of
"Then, Colonel, you ought to know that a sensible woman's favourable
estimate of one of her own sex outweighs the opinion men can form of
"I grant that there are fine qualities; but, Alick, regarding you, as
I must necessarily do, from our former relations, you must let me
speak if there is still time to warn you, lest your pity and sense of
injustice should be entangling you in a connexion that would hardly
conduce to make you happy or popular."
"Popularity is not my line," said Alick, looking composedly into the
"Tell me first," said the puzzled Colonel, "are you committed?"
"No one can be more so."
"I thought you would have known it from themselves; but I find she
has forbidden her mother to mention it till she has seen me again.
And they talk of quiet, and shut me out!" gloomily added Alick.
The Colonel conceived a hope that the lady would abjure matrimony,
and release this devoted knight, but in a few moments Alick burst
"Absurd! She cannot mend with anything on her mind! If I could have
seen Mrs. Curtis or Grace alone, they might have heard reason, but
that old woman of a doctor was prosing about quiet and strain on the
nerves. I know that sort of quiet, the best receipt for
"Well, Alick," said his friend, smiling, "you have at least convinced
me that your heart is in the matter."
"How should it not be " returned Alick.
"I was afraid it was only with the object of unjust vituperation."
"No such thing. Let me tell you, Colonel, my heart has been in it
ever since I felt the relief of meeting real truth and unselfishness!
I liked her that first evening, when she was manfully chasing us off
for frivolous danglers round her cousin! I liked her for having no
conventionalities, fast or slow, and especially for hating heroes!
And when my sister had helped to let her get into this intolerable
web, how could I look on without feeling the nobleness that has never
shifted blame from herself, but bowed, owned all, suffered--suffered-
-oh, how grievously!"
The Colonel was moved. "With such genuine affection you should
surely lead her and work upon her! I trust you will be able."
"It is less that," said Alick, rather resentfully, "than sympathy
that she wants. Nobody ever gave her that except your Ermine!
By-the-bye, is there any news of the brother?"
Colonel Keith shook his head. "I believe I shall have to go to
Russia," he said with some dejection.
"After that, reproach one with chivalry," said Alick, lightly. "Nay,
I beg your pardon. Shall I take any message down to Mackarel Lane?"
"Are you going?"
"Well, yes, though I hardly ought to venture there till this embargo
is taken off; for she is the one person there will be some pleasure
in talking to. Perhaps I may reckon you as the same in effect."
The Colonel responded with a less cheerful look than usual, adding,
"I don't know whether to congratulate you, Alick, on having to ask no
one's consent but your own at your age."
"Especially not my guardian's!" said Alick, with the desired effect
of making him laugh.
"No, if you were my son, I would not interfere," he added gravely.
"I only feared your not knowing what you were about. I see you do
know it, and it merely becomes a question of every man to his taste--
except for one point, Alick. I am afraid there may have been much
disturbance of her opinions."
"Surface work," said Alick, "some of the effects of the literature
that paints contradiction as truth. It is only skin deep, and makes
me wish all the more to have her with my uncle for a time. I wonder
whether Grace would let me in if I went back again!"
No, Grace was obdurate. Mr. Frampton had spoken of a nervous fever,
and commanded perfect quiescence; and Grace was the less tempted to
transgress the order, because she really thought her mother was more
in love with "dear Alexander" than Rachel was. Rachel was
exceedingly depressed, restless, and feverish, and shrank from her
mother's rejoicing, declaring that she was mistaken, and that nothing
more must be said. She had never consented, and he must not make
such a sacrifice; he would not when he knew better. Nay, in some
moods, Rachel seemed to think even the undefined result of the
interview an additional humiliation, and to feel herself falling, if
not fallen, from her supreme contempt of love and marriage. The
hurry, and the consent taken for granted, had certainly been no small
elements in her present disturbed and overwhelmed state; and Grace,
though understanding the motive, was disposed to resent the over-
haste. Calm and time to think were promised to Rachel, but the more
she had of both the more they hurt her. She tossed restlessly all
night, and was depressed to the lowest ebb by day; but on the second
day, ill as she evidently was, she insisted on seeing Captain Keith,
declaring that she should never be better till she had made him
understand her. Her nurses saw that she was right; and, besides,
Mrs. Curtis's pity was greatly touched by dear Alexander's
entreaties. So, as a desperate experiment, he was at last allowed to
go into the dressing-room, where she was lying on the sofa. He begged
to enter alone, only announced by a soft knock, to which she replied
with a listless "Come in," and did not look up till she suddenly
became conscious of a footfall firmer though softer than those she
was used to. She turned, and saw who it was who stood at a window
opposite to her feet, drawing up the Venetian blind, from whose
teasing divisions of glare and shade she had been hiding her eyes
from the time she had come in, fretted by the low continuous tap of
its laths upon the shutters. Her first involuntary exclamation was a
sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank you. I did not know what it was that was such a
"This is too much glare. Let me turn your sofa a little way round
And as he did so, and she raised herself, he shook out her cushions,
and substituted a cool chintz covered one for the hot crimson damask
on which her head had been resting. "Thank you! How do you know so
well?" she said with a long breath of satisfaction.
"By long trial," he said, very quietly seating himself beside her
couch, with a stillness of manner that strangely hushed all her
throbbings; and the very pleasure of lying really still was such that
she did not at once break it. The lull of these few moments was
inexpressibly sweet, but the pang that had crossed her so many times
in the last two days and nights could not but return. She moved
restlessly, and he leant towards her with a soft-toned inquiry what
it was she wanted.
"Don't," she said, raising herself. "No, don't! I have thought more
over what you said," she continued, as if repeating the sentence she
had conned over to herself. "You have been most generous, most
noble; but--but," with an effort of memory, "it would be wrong in me
to accept such--oh! such a sacrifice; and when I tell you all, you
will think it a duty to turn from me," she added, pressing her hands
to her temples. "And mind, you are not committed--you are free."
"Tell me," he said, bending towards her.
"I know you cannot overlook it! My faith--it is all confusion," she
said in a low awe-struck voice. "I do believe--I do wish to believe;
but my grasp seems gone. I cannot rest or trust for thinking of the
questions that have been raised! There," she added in a strange
"It is a cruel thing to represent doubt as the sign of intellect,"
Alick said sadly; "but you will shake off the tormentors when the
power of thinking and reasoning is come back."
"Oh, if I could think so! The misery of darkness here--there--
everywhere--the old implicit reliance gone, and all observance
seeming like hypocrisy and unreality. There is no thinking, no
enduring the intolerable maze."
"Do not try to think now. You cannot bear it. We will try to face
what difficulties remain when you are stronger."
She turned her eyes full on him. "You do not turn away! You know
you are free."
"Turn from the sincerity that I prize?"
"You don't? I thought your views were exactly what would make you
hate and loathe such bewilderment, and call it wilful;" there was
something piteous in the way her eye sought his face.
"It was not wilful," he said; "it came of honest truth-seeking. And,
Rachel, I think the one thing is now gone that kept that honesty from
finding its way."
"Self-sufficiency!" she said with a groan; but with a sudden turn she
exclaimed, "You don't trust to my surrendering my judgment. I don't
think I am that kind of woman."
"Nor I that kind of man," he answered in his natural tone; then
affectionately, "No, indeed I want you to aid mine."
She lay back, wearied with the effort, and disinclined to break the
stillness. There was a move at the door; Mrs. Curtis, in an agony of
restless anxiety, could not help coming to see that the interview was
doing no harm.
"Don't go!" exclaimed Rachel, holding out her hand as he turned at
the opening of the door. "Oh, mother!" and there was an evident
sound of disappointment.
Mrs. Curtis was infinitely rejoiced to find her entrance thus
inopportune. "I only wished just to be sure it was not too much,"
"Oh, mother, it is the first peace I have known for weeks! Can't you
stay?" looking up to him, as her mother retreated to tell Grace that
it was indeed all right.
This brought him to a footstool close beside her. "Thank you," he
murmured. "I was wondering just then if it would hurt you or agitate
you to give me some little satisfaction in going on with this. I
know you are too true not to have told me at once if your objections
were more personal than those you have made; but, Rachel, it is true,
as you say, that you have never consented!"
The tone of these words made Rachel raise herself, turn towards him,
and hold out both her hands. "Oh," she said, as he took them into his
own, "it was--it could be only that I cannot bear so much more than I
"What! such an infliction?" in his own dry way.
"Such rest, such kindness, such generosity!"
"No, Rachel, there is something that makes it neither kindness nor
generosity. You know what I mean."
"And that is what overpowers me more than all," she sighed, in the
full surrender of herself. "I ought not to be so very happy."
"That is all I want to hear," he said, as he replaced her on her
cushions, and sat by her, holding her hand, but not speaking till the
next interruption, by one of the numerous convalescent meals, brought
in by Grace, who looked doubtful whether she would be allowed to come
in, and then was edified by the little arrangements he made, quietly
taking all into his own hands, and wonderfully lessening a sort of
fidget that Mrs. Curtis's anxiety had attached to all that was done
for Rachel. It was not for nothing that he had spent a year upon the
sofa in the irritably sensitive state of nerves that Bessie had
described; and when he could speak to Grace alone, he gave her a
lecture on those little refinements of unobtrusive care, that more
demonstrative ailments had not availed to inculcate, and which Mrs.
Curtis's present restless anxiety rendered almost impossible. To
hinder her from constantly aggravating the fever on the nerves by her
fidgeting solicitude was beyond all power save his own, and that when
he was actually in the house.
Morning after morning he rode to the Homestead to hear that Rachel
had had a very bad night, and was very low, then was admitted to find
Mrs. Curtis's fluttering, flurried attentions exasperating every
wearied fibre with the very effort to force down fretfulness and
impatience, till, when she was left to him, a long space of the lull
impressed on her by his presence was needful before he could attempt
any of the quiet talk, or brief readings of poetry, by which he tried
further to soothe and rest her spirits. He would leave her so calm
and full of repose as to make him augur well for the next day; but
the moment his back was turned, something would always happen that
set all the pulses in agitation again, and consigned her to a fresh
night of feverish phantoms of the past. He even grew distracted
enough to scold Grace fraternally as the only person he could scold.
"You seem to nurse her on the principle of old Morris, the biggest
officer among us, who kindly insisted on sitting up with me, and
began by taking his seat upon my hand as it was lying spread out upon
"Indeed, Alick," said Grace, with tears in her eyes, "I hardly know
what to do. When you are not in the house the mother is almost as
much in a nervous fever as Rachel, and it is hardly in her power to
keep from fretting her. It is all well when you are here."
"Then, Grace, there is only one thing to be done. The sooner I take
Rachel away the better for both her and the mother."
"Oh, Alick, you will drive them both wild if you hurry it on."
"Look here. I believe I can get leave from Saturday till Tuesday.
If I can get a hearing in those two days, I shall try; and depend
upon it, Grace, this place is the worst that Rachel can be in."
"Can you come out here for three whole days? Oh, what a comfort!"
And 'what a comfort' was re-echoed by Mrs. Curtis, who had erected
dear Alexander to a pedestal of infallibility, and was always treated
by him with a considerate kindness that made her pity Fanny for the
number of years that must pass before Stephana could give her the
supreme blessing of a son-in-law. Fanny, on her side, had sufficient
present blessing in collecting her brood around her, after the long
famine she had suffered, and regretted only that this month had
rendered Stephana's babyhood more perceptibly a matter of the past;
and that, in the distance, school days were advancing towards
Conrade, though it was at least a comfort that his diphtheria had
secured him at home for another half year, and the Colonel had so
much to think about that he had not begun his promised researches
The long-looked-for letters came after a weary interval of
expectation, the more trying to Ermine because the weather had been
so bitter that Colin could not shake off his cold, nor venture beyond
his own fireside, where Rose daily visited him, and brought home
accounts that did not cheer her aunt.
Edward wrote shortly to his sister, as if almost annoyed at the
shower of letters that had by every post begun to recall his
attention from some new invention on the means of assaying metals:--
"I am sorry you have stirred up Keith to the renewal of this painful
subject. You know I considered that page in my life as closed for
ever, and I see nothing that would compensate for what it costs me
even to think of it. To redeem my name before the world would be of
no avail to me now, for all my English habits are broken, and all
that made life valuable to me is gone. If Long and Beauchamp could
reject my solemn affirmation three years ago, what would a
retractation slowly wrung from them be worth to me now? It might
once have been, but that is all over now. Even the desire to take
care of you would no longer actuate me since you have Keith again;
and in a few years I hope to make my child independent in money
matters--independent of your love and care you would not wish her to
be. Forget the troubles of your life, Ermine, and be happy with your
faithful Keith, without further efforts on behalf of one whom they
only harass and grieve."
Ermine shed some bitter tears over this letter, the more sorrowful
because the refusal was a shock to her own reliance on his honour,
and she felt like a traitress to his cause. And Colin would give him
up after this ungrateful indifference, if nothing worse. Surely it
betrayed a consciousness that the whole of his conduct would not bear
inquiry, and she thought of the representations that she had so
indignantly rejected, that the accounts, even without the last fatal
demand, were in a state that it required an excess of charity to
ascribe to mere carelessness on the part of the principal.
She was glad that Alison was absent, and Rose in the garden. She
laid her head on her little table, and drew long sobs of keen
suffering, the reaction from the enjoyment and hope of the last few
months. And so little knew she what she ought to ask, that she could
only strive to say, "Thy will be done."
"Ermine! my Ermine, this is not a thing to be so much taken to heart.
This foolish philosopher has not even read his letters. I never saw
any one more consistently like himself."
Ermine looked up, and Colin was standing over her, muffled up to the
eyes, and a letter of his own in his hand. Her first impulse was to
cry out against his imprudence, glad as she was to see him. "My
cough is nearly gone," he said, unwinding his wrappings, "and I could
not stay at home after this wonderful letter--three pages about
chemical analysis, which he does me the honour to think I can
understand, two of commissions for villainous compounds, and one of
protestations that 'I will be drowned; nobody shall help me.'"
Ermine's laugh had come, even amid her tears, his tone was so great a
relief to her. She did not know that he had spent some minutes in
cooling down his vexation, lest he should speak ungently of her
brother's indifference. "Poor Edward," she said, "you don't mean
that this is all the reply you have?"
"See for yourself," and he pointed to the divisions of the letter he
had described. "There is all he vouchsafes to his own proper
affairs. You see he misapprehends the whole; indeed, I don't believe
he has even read our letters."
"We often thought he did not attend to all we wrote," said Ermine.
"It is very disheartening!"
"Nay, Ermine, you disheartened with the end in view!"
"There are certainly the letters about Maddox's committal still to
reach him, but who knows if they will have more effect! Oh, Colin,
this was such a hope that--perhaps I have dwelt too much upon it!"
"It is such a hope," he repeated. "There is no reason for laying it
aside, because Edward is his old self."
"Colin! you still think so?"
"I think so more than ever. If he will not read reason, he must hear
it, and if he takes no notice of the letters we sent after the
sessions, I shall go and bring him back in time for the assizes."
"Oh, Colin! it cannot be. Think of the risk! You who are still
looking so thin and ill. I cannot let you."
"It will be warm enough by the time I get there."
"The distance! You are doing too much for us."
"No, Ermine," with a smile, "that I will never do."
She tried to answer his smile, but leant back and shed tears, not
like the first, full of pain, but of affectionate gratitude, and yet
of reluctance at his going. She had ever been the strength and stay
of the family, but there seemed to be a source of weakness in his
nearness, and this period of his indisposition and of suspense had
been a strain on her spirits that told in this gentle weeping. "This
is a poor welcome after you have been laid up so long," she said when
she could speak again. "If I behave so ill, you will only want to
run from the sight of me."
"It will be July when I come back."
"I do not think you ought to go."
"Nor I, if Edward deigns to read the account of Rose's examination."
In that calm smiling resolution Ermine read the needlessness of