Part 6 out of 7
"Lucia Vavasour!--your Lucia!"
Elsley slowly raised himself upon his elbow, and looked into her face
with a sad inquiring gaze.
"Elsley--darling Elsley!--don't you know me?"
"Yes, very well indeed; better than you know me. I am not Vavasour at
all. My name is Briggs--John Briggs, the apothecary's son, come home to
Whitbury to die."
She did not hear, or did not care for those last words.
"Elsley! I am your wife!--your own wife!--who never loved any one but
you--never, never, never!"
"Yes, my wife, at least!--Curse them, that they cannot deny!" said he,
in the same abstracted voice.
"Oh God! is he mad?" thought she. "Elsley, speak to me!--I am your
And she tore off her bonnet, and threw herself beside him on the bed,
and clasped him in her arms, murmuring,--"Your wife! who never loved any
one but you!"
Slowly his frozen heart and frozen brain melted beneath the warmth of
her great love: but he did not speak: only he passed his weak arm round
her neck; and she felt that his cheek was wet with tears, while she
murmured on, like a cooing dove, the same sweet words again--
"Call me your love once more, and I shall know that all is past."
"Then call me no more Elsley, love!" whispered he. "Call me John Briggs,
and let us have done with shams for ever."
"No; you are my Elsley--my Vavasour! and I am your wife once more!" and
the poor thing fondled his head as it lay upon the pillow. "My own
Elsley, to whom I gave myself, body and soul; for whom I would die now,
--oh, such a death!--any death!"
"How could I doubt you?--fool that I was!"
"No, it was all my fault. It was all my odious temper! But we will be
happy now, will we not?"
Elsley smiled sadly, and began babbling--Yes, they would take a farm,
and he would plough, and sow, and be of some use before he died; "But
promise me one thing!" cried he, with sudden strength.
"That you will go home and burn all the poetry--all the manuscripts,
and never let the children write a verse--a verse--when I am dead?" And
his head sank back, and his jaw dropped.
"He is dead!" cried the poor impulsive creature, with a shriek which
brought in Tom and Valencia.
"He is not dead, madam: but you must be very gentle with him, if we are
Tom saw that there was little hope.
"I will do anything,--only save him!--save him! Mr. Thurnall, till I
have atoned for all."
"You have little enough to atone for, madam," said Tom, as he busied
himself about the sufferer. He saw that all would soon be over, and
would have had Mrs. Vavasour withdraw: but she was so really good a
nurse as long as she could control herself, that he could hardly spare
So they sat together by the sick-bed side, as the short hours passed
into the long, and the long hours into the short again, and the October
dawn began to shine through the shutterless window.
A weary eventless night it was, a night as of many years, as worse and
worse grew the weak frame; and Tom looked alternately at the heaving
chest, and shortening breath, and rattling throat, and then at the pale
still face of the lady.
"Better she should sit by (thought he), and watch him till she is tired
out. It will come on her the more gently, after all. He will die at
sunrise, as so many die."
At last be began gently feeling for Elsley's pulse.
Her eye caught his movement, and she half sprang up; but at a gesture
from him she sank quietly on her knees, holding her husband's hand in
Elsley turned toward her once, ere the film of death had fallen, and
looked her full in the face, with his beautiful eyes full of love. Then
the eyes paled and faded; but still they sought for her painfully long
after she had buried her head in the coverlet, unable to bear the sight.
And so vanished away Elsley Vavasour, poet and genius, into his own
"Let us pray," said a deep voice from behind the curtain: it was Mark
Armsworth's. He had come over with the first dawn, to bring the ladies
food; had slipped upstairs to ask what news, found the door open, and
entered in time to see the last gasp.
Lucia kept her head still buried: and Tom, for the first time for many a
year, knelt, as the old banker commended to God the soul of our dear
brother just departing this life. Then Mark glided quietly downstairs,
and Valencia, rising, tried to lead Mrs. Vavasour away.
But then broke out in all its wild passion the Irish temperament. Let us
pass it over; why try to earn a little credit by depicting the agony and
the weakness of a sister?
At last Thurnall got her downstairs. Mark was there still, having sent
off for his carriage. He quietly put her arm through his, led her off,
worn out and unresisting, drove her home, delivered her and Valencia
into Mary's keeping, and then asked Tom to stay and sit with him.
"I hope I've no very bad conscience, boy; but Mary's busy with the poor
young thing, mere child she is, too, to go through such a night; and,
somehow, I don't like to be left alone after such a sight as that!"
* * * * *
"Tom!" said Mark, as they sat smoking in silence, after breakfast, in
the study. "Tom!"
"That was an awful death-bed, Tom!"
Tom was silent.
"I don't mean that he died hard, as we say; but so young, Tom. And I
suppose poets' souls are worth something, like other people's--perhaps
more. I can't understand 'em; but my Mary seems to, and people, like
her, who think a poet the finest thing in the world. I laugh at it all
when I am jolly, and call it sentiment and cant: but I believe that they
are nearer heaven than I am: though I think they don't quite know where
heaven is, nor where" (with a wicked wink, in spite of the sadness of
his tone)--"where they themselves are either."
"I'll tell you, sir. I have seen men enough die--we doctors are hardened
to it: but I have seen unprofessional deaths--men we didn't kill
ourselves; I have seen men drowned, shot, hanged, run over, and worse
deaths than that, sir, too;--and, somehow, I never felt any death like
that man's. Granted, he began by trying to set the world right, when he
hadn't yet set himself right; but wasn't it some credit to see that the
world was wrong?"
"I don't know that. The world's a very good world."
"To you and me; but there are men who have higher notions than I of
what this world ought to be; and, for aught I know, they are right.
That Aberalva curate, Headley, had; and so had Briggs, in his own way.
I thought him once only a poor discontented devil, who quarrelled with
his bread and butter because he hadn't teeth to eat it with: but there
was more in the fellow, coxcomb as he was. 'Tisn't often that I let
that croaking old bogy, Madam might have been, trouble me; but I cannot
help thinking that if, fifteen years ago, I had listened to his
vapourings more, and bullied him about them less, he might have been
"You wouldn't have been then. Well for you that you didn't catch his
"And write verses too? Don't make me laugh, sir, on such a day as this;
I always comfort myself with--'it's no business of mine:' but, somehow,
I can't do so just now." And Tom sat silent, more softened than he had
been for years.
"Let's talk of something else," said Mark at last. "You had the cholera
very bad down there, I hear?"
"Oh, sharp, but short," said Tom, who disliked any subject which brought
Grace to his mind.
"Any on my lord's estate with the queer name?"
"Not a case. We stopped the devil out there, thanks to his lordship."
"So did we here. We were very near in for it, though, I fancy.--At
least, I chose to fancy so--thought it a good opportunity to clean
Whitbury once for all."
"It's just like you. Well?"
"Well, I offered the Town-council to drain the whole town at my own
expense, if they'd let me have the sewage. And that only made things
worse; for as soon as the beggars found out the sewage was worth
anything, they were down on me, as if I wanted to do them--I, Mark
Armsworth!--and would sooner let half the town rot with an epidemic,
than have reason to fancy I'd made any money out of them. So a pretty
fight I had, for half-a-dozen meetings, till I called in my lord; and,
sir, he came down by the next express, like a trump, all the way from
town, and gave them such a piece of his mind--was going to have the
Board of Health down, and turn on the Government tap, commissioners and
all, and cost 'em hundreds: till the fellows shook in their shoes;--and
so I conquered, and here we are, as clean as a nut,--and a fig for the
cholera!--except down in Water-lane, which I don't know what to do with;
for if tradesmen will run up houses on spec in a water-meadow, who can
stop them? There ought to be a law for it, say I; but I say a good many
things in the twelve months that nobody minds. But, my dear boy, if one
man in a town has pluck and money, he may do it. It'll cost him a few:
I've had to pay the main part myself, after all: but I suppose God will
make it up to a man somehow. That's old Mark's faith, at least. Now I
want to talk to you about yourself. My lord comes into town to-day, and
you must see him."
"Why, then? He can't help me with the Bashi-bazouks, can he?"
"Bashi-fiddles! I say, Tom, the more I think over it, the more it won't
do. It's throwing yourself away. They say that Turkish contingent is
getting on terribly ill."
"More need of me to make them well."
"Hang it--I mean--hasn't justice done it, and so on. The papers are full
"Well," quoth Tom, "and why should it?"
"Why, man alive, if England spends all this money on the men, she ought
to do her duty by them."
"I don't see that. As Pecksniff says, 'if England expects every man to
do his duty, she's very sanguine, and will be much disappointed.' They
don't intend to do their duty by her, any more than I do; so why should
she do her duty by them?"
"Don't intend to do your duty?"
"I'm going out because England's money is necessary to me; and England
hires me because my skill is necessary to her. I didn't think of duty
when I settled to go, and why should she? I'll get all out of her I can
in the way of pay and practice, and she may get all she can out of me in
the way of work. As for being ill-used, I never expect to be anything
else in this life. I'm sure I don't care; and I'm sure she don't; so
live and let live; talk plain truth, and leave Bunkum for right
honourables who keep their places thereby. Give me another weed."
"Queer old philosopher you are; but go you shan't!"
"Go I will, sir; don't stop me. I've my reasons, and they're good ones
The conversation was interrupted by the servant;--Lord Minchampstead was
waiting at Mr. Armsworth's office.
"Early bird, his lordship, and gets the worm accordingly," says Mark, as
he hurries off to attend on his ideal hero. "You come over to the shop
in half-an-hour, mind."
"Confound you, sir! you talk of having your reasons: I have mine!"
Mark looked quite cross; so Tom gave way, and went in due time to the
Standing with his back to the fire in Mark's inner room, he saw the old
"And a prince he looks like," quoth Tom to himself, as he waited in the
bank outside, and looked through the glass screen. "How well the old man
wears! I wonder how many fresh thousands he has made since I saw him
last, seven years ago."
And a very noble person Lord Minchampstead did look; one to whom hats
went off almost without their owners' will; tall and portly, with a
soldier-like air of dignity and command, which was relieved by the
good-nature of the countenance. Yet it was a good-nature which would
stand no trifling. The jaw was deep and broad, though finely shaped; the
mouth firm set; the nose slightly aquiline; the brow of great depth and
height, though narrow;--altogether a Julius Caesar's type of head; that
of a man born to rule self, and therefore to rule all he met.
Tom looked over his dress, not forgetting, like a true Englishman, to
mark what sort of boots he wore. They were boots not quite fashionable,
but carefully cleaned on trees; trousers strapped tightly over them,
which had adopted the military stripe, but retained the slit at the
ankle which was in vogue forty years ago; frock coat with a velvet
collar, buttoned up, but not too far; high and tight blue cravat below
an immense shirt collar; a certain care and richness of dress
throughout, but soberly behind the fashion: while the hat was a very
shabby and broken one, and the whip still more shabby and broken; all
which indicated to Tom that his lordship let his tailor and his valet
dress him; and though not unaware that it behoved him to set out his
person as it deserved, was far too fine a gentleman to trouble himself
about looking fine.
Mark looks round, sees Tom, and calls him in.
"Mr. Thurnall, I am glad to meet you, sir. You did me good service at
Pentremochyn, and did it cheaply. I was agreeably surprised, I confess,
at receiving a bill for four pounds seven shillings and sixpence, where
I expected one of twenty or thirty."
"I charged according to what my time was really worth there, my lord. I
heartily wish it had been worth more."
"No doubt," says my lord, in the blandest, but the driest tone.
Some men would have, under a sense of Tom's merits, sent him a cheque
off-hand for five-and-twenty pounds: but that is not Lord
Minchampstead's way of doing business. He had paid simply the sum asked:
but he had set Tom down in his memory as a man whom he could trust to do
good work, and to do it cheaply; and now--
"You are going to join the Turkish contingent?"
"You know that part of the world well, I believe?"
"And the languages spoken there?"
"By no means all. Russian and Tartar well; Turkish tolerably; with a
smattering of two or three Circassian dialects."
"Humph! A fair list. Any Persian?"
"Only a few words."
"Humph! If you can learn one language I presume you can learn another.
Now, Mr. Thurnall, I have no doubt that you will do your duty in the
"But I must ask you if your resolution to join it is fixed?"
"I only join it because I can get no other employment at the seat of
"Humph! You wish to go then, in any case, to the seat of war?"
"No doubt you have sufficient reasons.... Armsworth, this puts the
question in a new light."
Tom looked round at Mark, and, behold, his face bore a ludicrous mixture
of anger and disappointment, and perplexity. He seemed to be trying to
make signals to Tom, and to be afraid of doing so openly before the
"He is as wilful and as foolish as a girl, my lord; and I've told him
"Everybody knows his own business best, Armsworth; Mr. Thurnall, have
you any fancy for the post of Queen's messenger?"
"I should esteem myself only too happy as one."
"They are not to be obtained now as easily as they were fifty years ago;
and are given, as you may know, to a far higher class of men than they
were formerly. But I shall do my best to obtain you one, when an
Tom was beginning his profusest thanks: for was not his fortune made?
but Lord Minchampstead stopped him with an uplifted finger.
"And, meanwhile, there are foreign employments of which neither those
who bestow them, nor those who accept them, are expected to talk much:
but for which you, if I am rightly informed, would be especially
Tom bowed; and his face spoke a hundred assents.
"Very well; if you will come over to Minchampstead to-morrow, I will
give you letters to friends of mine in town. I trust that they may give
you a better opportunity than the Bashi-bazouks will, of displaying that
courage, address, and self-command, which, I understand, you possess in
so uncommon a degree. Good morning!" And forth the great man went.
Most opposite were the actions of the two whom he had left behind him.
Tom dances about the room, hurrahing in a whisper--
"My fortune's made! The secret service! Oh, what bliss! The thing I've
always longed for!"
Mark dashes himself desperately back in his chair, and shoots his angry
legs straight out, almost tripping up Tom.
"You abominable ass! You have done it with a vengeance! Why, he has been
pumping me about you this month! One word from you to say you'd have
stayed, and he was going to make you agent for all his Cornish
"Don't he wish he may get it? Catch a fish climbing trees! Catch me
staying at home when I can serve my Queen and my country, and find a
sphere for the full development of my talents! Oh, won't I be as wise as
a serpent? Won't I be complimented by ---- himself as his best lurcher,
worth any ten needy Poles, greedy Armenians, traitors, renegades,
rag-tag and bob-tail! I'll shave my head to-morrow, and buy me an
assortment of wigs of every hue!"
Take care, Tom Thurnall. After pride comes a fall; and he who digs a pit
may fall into it himself. Has this morning's death-bed given you no
lesson that it is as well not to cast ourselves down from where God has
put us, for whatsoever seemingly fine ends of ours, lest, doing so, we
tempt God once too often?
Your father quoted that text to John Briggs, here, many years ago. Might
he not quote it now to you? True, not one word of murmuring, not even of
regret, or fear, has passed his good old lips about your self-willed
plan. He has such utter confidence in you, such utter carelessness about
himself, such utter faith in God, that he can let you go without a sigh.
But will you make his courage an excuse for your own rashness? Again,
beware; after pride may come a fall.
* * * * *
On the fourth day Elsley was buried. Mark and Tom were the only
mourners; Lucy and Valencia stayed at Mark's house, to return next day
under Tom's care to Eaton Square.
The two mourners walked back sadly from the churchyard. "I shall put a
stone over him, Tom. He ought to rest quietly now; for he had little
rest enough in this life....
"Now, I want to talk to you about something; when I've taken off my
hatband, that is; for it would be hardly lucky to mention such matters
with a hatband on."
Tom looked up, wondering.
"Tell me about his wife, meanwhile. What made him marry her? Was she a
"Pretty enough, I believe, before she married: but I hardly think he
married her for her face."
"Of course not!" said the old man with emphasis; "of course not!
Whatever faults he had, he'd be too sensible for that. Don't you marry
for a face, Tom! I didn't."
Tom opened his eyes at this last assertion; but humbly expressed his
intention of not falling into that snare.
"Ah? you don't believe me: well, she was a beautiful woman.--I'd like to
see her fellow now in the county!--and I won't deny I was proud of her.
But she had ten thousand pounds, Tom. And as for her looks, why, if
you'll believe me, after we'd been married three months, I didn't know
whether she had any looks or not. What are you smiling at, you young
"Report did say that one look of Mrs. Armsworth's, to the last, would do
more to manage Mr. Armsworth than the opinions of the whole bench of
"Report's a liar, and you're a puppy! You don't know yet whether it was
a pleasant look, or a cross one, lad. But still--well, she was an angel,
and kept old Mark straighter than he's ever been since: not that he's so
very bad, now. Though I sometimes think Mary's better even than her
mother. That girl's a good girl, Tom."
"Report agrees with you in that, at least."
"Fool if it didn't. And as for looks--I can speak to you as to my own
son--Why, handsome is that handsome does."
"And that handsome has; for you must honestly put that into the
"You think so? So do I! Well, then, Tom,"--and here Mark was seized
with a tendency to St. Vitus's dance, and began overhauling every button
on his coat, twitching up his black gloves, till (as undertakers' gloves
are generally meant to do) they burst in half-a-dozen places; taking off
his hat, wiping his head fiercely, and putting the hat on again behind
before; till at last he snatched his arm from Tom's, and gripping him by
the shoulder, recommenced--
"You think so, eh? Well, I must say it, so I'd better have it out now,
hatband or none! What do you think of the man who married my daughter,
face and all?"
"I should think," quoth Tom, wondering who the happy man could be, "that
he would be so lucky in possessing such a heart, that he would be a fool
to care about the face."
"Then be as good as your word, and take her yourself. I've watched you
this last week, and you'll make her a good husband. There, I have
spoken; let me hear no more about it."
And Mark half pushed Tom from him, and puffed on by his side, highly
If Mark had knocked the young Doctor down, he would have been far less
astonished and far less puzzled too. "Well," thought he, "I fancied
nothing could throw my steady old engine off the rails; but I am off
them now, with a vengeance." What to say he knew not; at last--
"It is just like your generosity, sir; you have been a brother to my
father; and now--"
"And now I'll be a father to you! Old Mark does nothing by halves."
"But, sir, however lucky I should be in possessing Miss Armsworth's
heart, what reason have I to suppose that I do so? I never spoke a word
to her. I needn't say that she never did to me--which--"
"Of course she didn't, and of course you didn't. Should like to have
seen you making love to my daughter, indeed! No, sir; it's my will and
pleasure. I've settled it, and done it shall be! I shall go home and
tell Mary, and she'll obey me--I should like to see her do anything
else! Hoity, toity, fathers must be masters, sir! even in these fly-away
new times, when young ones choose their own husbands, and their own
politics, and their own hounds, and their own religion too, and be
hanged to them!"
What did this unaccustomed bit of bluster mean? for unaccustomed it was;
and Tom knew well that Mary Armsworth had her own way, and managed her
father as completely as he managed Whitbury.
"Humph! It is impossible; and yet it must be. This explains his being so
anxious that Lord Minchampstead should approve of me. I have found
favour in the poor dear thing's eyes, I suppose: and the good old fellow
knows it, and won't betray her, and so shams tyrant. Just like him!"
But--that Mary Armsworth should care for him! Vain fellow that he was to
fancy it! And yet, when he began to put things together, little
silences, little looks, little nothings, which all together might make
something. He would not slander her to himself by supposing that her
attentions to his father were paid for his sake: but he could not forget
that it was she, always, who read his letters aloud to the old man: or
that she had taken home and copied out the story of his shipwreck.
Beside, it was the only method of explaining Mark's conduct, save on the
supposition that he had suddenly been "changed by the fairies" in his
old age, instead of in the cradle, as usual.
It was a terrible temptation; and to no man more than to Thomas
Thurnall. He was no boy, to hanker after mere animal beauty; he had no
delicate visions or lofty aspirations; and he knew (no man better) the
plain English of fifty thousand pounds, and Mark Armsworth's daughter--a
good house, a good consulting practice (for he would take his M.D. of
course), a good station in the county, a good clarence with a good pair
of horses, good plate, a good dinner with good company thereat; and,
over and above all, his father to live with him; and with Mary, whom he
loved as a daughter, in luxury and peace to his life's end.--Why, it was
all that he had ever dreamed of, three times more than he ever hoped to
gain!--Not to mention (for how oddly little dreams of selfish pleasure
slip in at such moments!)--that he would buy such a Ross's microscope!
and keep such a horse for a sly by-day with the Whitford Priors! Oh, to
see once again a fox break from Coldharbour gorse!
And then rose up before his imagination those drooping steadfast eyes;
and Grace Harvey, the suspected, the despised, seemed to look through
and through his inmost soul, as through a home which belonged of right
to her, and where no other woman must dwell, or could dwell; for she was
there; and he knew it; and knew that, even if he never married till his
dying day, he should sell his soul by marrying any one but her. "And why
should I not sell my soul?" asked he, almost fiercely. "I sell my
talents, my time, my strength; I'd sell my life to-morrow, and go to be
shot for a shilling a day, if it would make the old man comfortable for
life; and why not my soul too? Don't that belong to me as much as any
other part of me? Why am I to be condemned to sacrifice my prospects in
life to a girl of whose honesty I am not even sure? What is this
intolerable fascination? Witch! I almost believe in mesmerism now!--
Again, I say, why should I not sell my soul, as I'd sell my coat, if the
bargain's but a good one?"
And if he did, who would ever know?--Not even Grace herself. The secret
was his, and no one else's.
Or if they did know, what matter? Dozens of men sell their souls every
year, and thrive thereon; tradesmen, lawyers, squires, popular
preachers, great noblemen, kings and princes. He would be in good
company, at all events: and while so many live in glass houses, who dare
But then, curiously enough, there came over him a vague dread of
possible evil, such as he had never felt before. He had been trying for
years to raise himself above the power of fortune; and he had succeeded
ill enough: but he had never lost heart. Robbed, shipwrecked, lost in
deserts, cheated at cards, shot in revolutions, begging his bread, he
had always been the same unconquerable light-hearted Tom, whose motto
was, "Fall light, and don't whimper: better luck next round." But now,
what if he played his last court-card, and Fortune, out of her
close-hidden hand, laid down a trump thereon with quiet sneering smile?
And she would! He knew, somehow, that he should not thrive. His children
would die of the measles, his horses break their knees, his plate be
stolen, his house catch fire, and Mark Armsworth die insolvent. What a
fool he was, to fancy such nonsense! Here he had been slaving all his
life to keep his father: and now he could keep him; why, he would be
justified, right, a good son, in doing the thing. How hard, how unjust
of those upper Powers in which he believed so vaguely, to forbid his
And how did he know that they forbid him? That is too deep a question to
be analysed here: but this thing is noteworthy, that there came next
over Tom's mind a stranger feeling still--a fancy that if he did this
thing, and sold his soul, he could not answer for himself thenceforth on
the score of merest respectability; could not answer for himself not to
drink, gamble, squander his money, neglect his father, prove unfaithful
to his wife; that the innate capacity for blackguardism, which was as
strong in him as in any man, might, and probably would, run utterly riot
thenceforth. He felt as if he should cast away his last anchor, and
drift helplessly down into utter shame and ruin. It may have been very
fanciful: but so he felt; and felt it so strongly too, that in less time
than I have taken to write this he had turned to Mark Armsworth:--
"Sir, you are what I have always found you. Do you wish me to be what
you have always found me?"
"I'd be sorry to see you anything else, boy."
"Then, sir, I can't do this. In honour, I can't."
"Are you married already?" thundered Mark.
"Not quite as bad as that;" and in spite of his agitation Tom laughed,
but hysterically, at the notion. "But fool I am; for I am in love with
another woman. I am, sir," went he on hurriedly. "Boy that I am! and she
don't even know it: but if you be the man I take you for, you may be
angry with me, but you'll understand me. Anything but be a rogue to you
and to Mary, and to my own self too. Fool I'll be, but rogue I won't!"
Mark strode on in silence, frightfully red in the face for full five
minutes. Then he turned sharply on Tom, and catching him by the
shoulder, thrust him from him.
"There,--go! and don't let me see or hear of you; that is, till I tell
you! Go along, I say! Hum-hum!" (in a tone half of wrath, and half of
triumph), "his father's child! If you will ruin yourself, I can't help
"Nor I, sir," said Tom, in a really piteous tone, bemoaning the day he
ever saw Aberalva, as he watched Mark stride into his own gate. "If I
had but had common luck! If I had but brought my L1500 safe home here,
and never seen Grace, and married this girl out of hand! Common luck is
all I ask, and I never get it!"
And Tom went home sulkier than a bear: but he did not let his father
find out his trouble. It was his last evening with the old man.
To-morrow he must go to London, and then--to scramble and twist about
the world again till he died! "Well, why not? A man must die somehow:
but it's hard on the poor old father," said Tom.
As Tom was packing his scanty carpet-bag next morning, there was a knock
at the door. He looked out, and saw Armsworth's clerk. What could that
mean? Had the old man determined to avenge the slight, and to do so on
his father, by claiming some old debt? There might be many between him
and the doctor. And Tom's heart beat fast, as Jane put a letter into his
"No answer, sir, the clerk says."
Tom opened it, and turned over the contents more than once ere he could
believe his own eyes.
It was neither more nor less than a cheque on Mark's London banker for
just five hundred pounds.
A half-sheet was wrapped round it, on which were written these words:--
"To Thomas Thurnall, Esq., for behaving like a gentleman. The cheque
will be duly honoured at Messrs. Smith, Brown, and Jones, Lombard
Street. No acknowledgment is to be sent. Don't tell your father. MARK
"Queer old world it is!" said Tom, when the first burst of childish
delight was over. "And jolly old flirt, Dame Fortune, after all! If I
had written this in a book now, who'd have believed it?"
"Father," said he, as he kissed the old man farewell, "I've a little
money come in. I'll send you fifty from London in a day or two, and
lodge a hundred and fifty more with Smith and Co. So you'll be quite in
clover while I am poisoning the Turkeys, or at some better work."
The old man thanked God for his good son, and only hoped that he was not
straitening himself to buy luxuries for a useless old fellow.
Another sacred kiss on that white head, and Tom was away for London,
with a fuller purse, and a more self-contented heart too, than he had
known for many a year.
And Elsley was left behind, under the grey church spire, sleeping with
his fathers, and vexing his soul with poetry no more. Mark has covered
him now with a fair Portland slab. He took Claude Mellot to it this
winter before church time, and stood over it long with a puzzled look,
as if dimly discovering that there were more things in heaven and earth
than were dreamed of in his philosophy.
"Wonderful fellow he was, after all! Mary shall read us out some of his
verses to-night. But, I say, why should people be born clever, only to
make them all the more miserable?"
"Perhaps they learn the more, papa, by their sorrows," said quiet little
Mary; "and so they are the gainers after all."
And none of them having any better answer to give, they all three went
into the church, to see if one could be found there.
And so Tom Thurnall, too, went Eastward-Ho, to take, like all the rest,
what God might send.
And how was poor Grace Harvey prospering the while? While comfortable
folks were praising her, at their leisure, as a heroine, Grace Harvey
was learning, so she opined, by fearful lessons, how much of the
unheroic element was still left in her. The first lesson had come just a
week after the yacht sailed for Port Madoc, when the cholera had all but
subsided; and it came in this wise. Before breakfast one morning she had
to go up to Heale's shop for some cordial. Her mother had passed, so she
said, a sleepless night, and come downstairs nervous and without
appetite, oppressed with melancholy, both in the spiritual and the
physical sense of the word. It was not often so with her now. She had
escaped the cholera. The remoteness of her house; her care never to
enter the town; the purity of the water, which trickled always fresh
from the cliff close by; and last, but not least, the scrupulous
cleanliness which (to do her justice) she had always observed, and in
which she had trained up Grace,--all these had kept her safe.
But Grace could see that her dread of the cholera was intense. She even
tried at first to prevent Grace from entering an infected house; but
that proposal was answered by a look of horror which shamed her into
silence, and she contented herself with all but tabooing Grace; making
her change her clothes whenever she came in; refusing to sit with her,
almost to eat with her. But, over and above all this, she had grown
moody, peevish, subject to violent bursts of crying, fits of
superstitious depression; spent, sometimes, whole days in reading
experimental books, arguing with the preachers, gadding to and fro to
every sermon, Arminian or Calvinist; and at last even to Church--walking
in dry places, poor soul; seeking rest, and finding none.
All this betokened some malady of the mind, rather than of the body; but
what that malady was, Grace dare not even try to guess. Perhaps it was
one of the fits of religious melancholy so common in the West country--
like her own, in fact: perhaps it was all "nerves." Her mother was
growing old, and had a great deal of business to worry her; and so Grace
thrust away the horrible suspicion by little self-deceptions.
She went into the shop. Tom was busy upon his knees behind the counter.
She made her request.
"Ah, Miss Harvey!" and he sprang up. "It will be a pleasure to serve you
once more in one's life. I am just going."
"To Turkey. I find this place too pleasant and too poor. Not work
enough, and certainly not pay enough. So I have got an appointment as
surgeon in the Turkish contingent, and shall be off in an hour."
"To Turkey! to the war?"
"Yes. It's a long time since I have seen any fighting. I am quite out of
practice in gunshot wounds. There is the medicine. Good-bye! You will
shake hands once, for the sake of our late cholera work together."
Grace held out her hand mechanically across the counter, and he took it.
But she did not look into his face. Only she said, half to herself,--
"Well, better so. I have no doubt you will be very useful among them."
"Confound the icicle!" thought Tom. "I really believe that she wants to
get rid of me." And he would have withdrawn his hand in a pet: but she
held it still.
Quaint it was; those two strong natures, each loving the other better
than anything else on earth, and yet parted by the thinnest pane of ice,
which a single look would have melted. She longing to follow that man
over the wide world, slave for him, die for him; he longing for the
least excuse for making a fool of himself, and crying, "Take me, as I
take you, without a penny, for better, for worse!" If their eyes had but
met! But they did not meet; and the pane of ice kept them asunder as
surely as a wall of iron.
Was it that Tom was piqued at her seeming coldness: or did he expect,
before he made any advances, that she should show that she wished at
least for his respect, by saying something to clear up the ugly question
which lay between them? Or was he, as I suspect, so ready to melt, and
make a fool of himself, that he must needs harden his own heart by help
of the devil himself? And yet there are excuses for him. It would have
been a sore trial to any man's temper to quit Aberalva in the belief
that he left fifteen hundred pounds behind him. Be that as it may, he
said carelessly, after a moment's pause,--
"Well, farewell! And, by the bye, about that little money matter. The
month of which you spoke once was up yesterday. I suppose I am not
worthy yet; so I shall be humble, and wait patiently. Don't hurry
yourself, I beg of you, on my account."
She snatched her hand from his without a word, and rushed out of the
He returned to his packing, whistling away as shrill as any blackbird.
Little did he think that Grace's heart was bursting, as she hurried down
the street, covering her face in her veil, as if every one would espy
her dark secret in her countenance.
But she did not go home to hysterics and vain tears. An awful purpose
had arisen in her mind, under the pressure of that great agony. Heavens,
how she loved that man! To be suspected by him was torture. But she
could bear that. It was her cross; she could carry it, lie down on it,
and endure: but wrong him she could not--would not! It was sinful enough
while he was there; but doubly, unbearably sinful, when he was going to
a foreign country, when he would need every farthing he had. So not for
her own sake, but for his, she spoke to her mother when she went home,
and found her sitting over her Bible in the little parlour, vainly
trying to find a text which suited her distemper.
"Mother, you have the Bible before you there."
"Yes, child! Why? What?" asked she, looking up uneasily.
Grace fixed her eyes on the ground. She could not look her mother in the
"Do you ever read the thirty-second Psalm, mother?"
"Which? Why not, child?"
"Let us read it together then, now."
And Grace, taking up her own Bible, sat quietly down and read, as none
in that parish save she could read:
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is
"Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in
whose spirit there is no guile.
"When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my groaning all the
"For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned to
the drought of summer.
"I acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.
"I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou
forgavest the iniquity of my sin."
Grace stopped, choked with tears which the pathos of her own voice had
called up. She looked at her mother. There were no tears in her eyes:
only a dull thwart look of terror and suspicion. The shaft, however
bravely and cunningly sped, had missed its mark.
Poor Grace! Her usual eloquence utterly failed her, as most things do in
which one is wont to trust, before the pressure of a real and horrible
evil. She had no heart to make fine sentences, to preach a brilliant
sermon of commonplaces. What could she say that her mother had not known
long before she was born? And throwing herself on her knees at her
mother's feet, she grasped both her hands and looked into her face
imploringly,--"Mother! mother! mother!" was all that she could say: but
their tone meant more than all words.--Reproof, counsel, comfort, utter
tenderness, and under-current of clear deep trust, bubbling up from
beneath all passing suspicions, however dark and foul, were in it: but
they were vain.
Baser terror, the parent of baser suspicion, had hardened that woman's
heart for the while; and all she answered was,--
"Get up! what is this foolery?"
"I will not! I will not rise till you have told me."
"Whether"--and she forced the words slowly out in a low whisper,
"whether you know--anything of--of--Mr. Thurnall's money--his belt?"
"Is the girl mad! Belt! Money? Do you take me for a thief, wench!"
"No! no! no! Only say you--you know nothing of it!"
"Psha! girl! Go to your school:" and the old woman tried to rise.
"Only say that! only let me know that it is a dream--a hideous dream
which the devil put into my wicked, wicked heart--and let me know that I
am the basest, meanest of daughters for harbouring such a thought a
moment! It will be comfort, bliss, to what I endure! Only say that, and
I will crawl to your feet, and beg for your forgiveness,--ask you to
beat me, like a child, as I shall deserve! Drive me out, if you will,
and let me die, as I shall deserve! Only say the word, and take this
fire from before my eyes, which burns day and night,--till my brain is
dried up with misery and shame! Mother, mother, speak!"
But then burst out the horrible suspicion, which falsehood, suspecting
all others of being false as itself, had engendered in that mother's
"Yes, viper! I see your plan! Do you think I do not know that you are in
love with that fellow?"
Grace started as if she had been shot, and covered her face with her
"Yes! and want me to betray myself--to tell a lie about myself, that you
may curry favour with him--a penniless, unbelieving--"
"Mother!" almost shrieked Grace, "I can bear no more! Say that it is a
lie, and then kill me if you will!"
"It is a lie, from beginning to end! What else should it be?" And the
woman, in the hurry of her passion, confirmed the equivocation with an
oath; and then ran on, as if to turn her own thoughts, as well as
Grace's, into commonplaces about "a poor old mother, who cares for
nothing but you; who has worked her fingers to the bone for years to
leave you a little money when she is gone! I wish I were gone! I wish I
were out of this wretched ungrateful world, I do! To have my own child
turn against me in my old age!"
Grace lifted her hands from her face, and looked steadfastly at her
mother. And behold, she knew not how or why, she felt that her mother
had forsworn herself. A strong shudder passed through her; she rose and
was leaving the room in silence.
"Where are you going, hussy? Stop!" screamed her mother between her
teeth, her rage and cruelty rising, as it will with weak natures, in the
very act of triumph,--"to your young man?"
"To pray," said Grace, quietly; and locking herself into the empty
schoolroom, gave vent to all her feelings, but not in tears.
How she upbraided herself!--She had not used her strength; she had not
told her mother all her heart. And yet how could she tell her heart? How
face her mother with such vague suspicions, hardly supported by a single
fact? How argue it out against her like a lawyer, and convict her to her
face? What daughter could do that, who had human love and reverence left
in her? No! to touch her inward witness, as the Quakers well and truly
term it, was the only method: and it had failed. "God help me!" was her
only cry: but the help did not come yet; there came over her instead a
feeling of utter loneliness. Willis dead; Thurnall gone; her mother
estranged; and, like a child lost upon a great moor, she looked round
all heaven and earth, and there was none to counsel, none to guide--
perhaps not even God. For would He help her as long as she lived in sin?
And was she not living in sin, deadly sin, as long as she knew what she
was sure she knew, and left the wrong unrighted?
It is sometimes true, the popular saying, that sunshine comes after
storm. Sometimes true, or who could live? but not always: not even
often. Equally true is the popular antithet, that misfortunes never come
single; that in most human lives there are periods of trouble, blow
following blow, wave following wave, from opposite and unexpected
quarters, with no natural or logical sequence, till all God's billows
have gone over the soul.
How paltry and helpless, in such dark times, are all theories of mere
self-education; all proud attempts, like that of Goethe's Wilhelm
Meister, to hang self-poised in the centre of the abyss, and there
organise for oneself a character by means of circumstances! Easy enough,
and graceful enough does that dream look, while all the circumstances
themselves--all which stands around--are easy and graceful, obliging and
commonplace, like the sphere of petty experiences with which Goethe
surrounds his insipid hero. Easy enough it seems for a man to educate
himself without God, as long as he lies comfortably on a sofa, with a
cup of coffee and a review: but what if that "daemonic element of the
universe," which Goethe confessed, and yet in his luxuriousness tried to
ignore, because he could not explain--what if that broke forth over the
graceful and prosperous student, as it may any moment! What if some
thing, or some person, or many things, or many persons, one after the
other (questions which he must get answered then, or die), took him up
and dashed him down, again, and again, and again, till he was ready to
cry, "I reckoned till morning that like a lion he will break all my
bones; from morning till evening he will make an end of me"? What if he
thus found himself hurled perforce amid the real universal experiences
of humanity; and made free, in spite of himself, by doubt and fear and
horror of great darkness, of the brotherhood of woe, common alike to the
simplest peasant-woman, and to every great soul perhaps, who has left
his impress and sign manual upon the hearts of after generations? Jew,
Heathen, or Christian; men of the most opposite creeds and aims; whether
it be Moses or Socrates, Isaiah or Epictetus, Augustine or Mohammed,
Dante or Bernard, Shakspeare or Bacon, or Goethe's self, no doubt, though
in his tremendous pride he would not confess it even to himself,--each
and all of them have this one fact in common--that once in their lives,
at least, they have gone down into the bottomless pit, and "stato all'
inferno"--as the children used truly to say of Dante; and there, out of
the utter darkness, have asked the question of all questions--"Is there
a God? And if there be, what is he doing with me?"
What refuge then in self-education; when a man feels himself powerless
in the gripe of some unseen and inevitable power, and knows not whether
it be chance, or necessity, or a devouring fiend? To wrap himself
sternly in himself, and cry, "I will endure, though all the universe be
against me;"--how fine it sounds!--But who has done it? Could a man do
it perfectly but for one moment,--could he absolutely and utterly for
one moment isolate himself, and accept his own isolation as a fact, he
were then and there a madman or a suicide. As it is, his nature, happily
too weak for that desperate self-assertion, falls back recklessly on
some form, more or less graceful according to the temperament, of the
ancient panacea, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Why
should a man educate self, when he knows not whither he goes, what will
befall him to-night? No. There is but one escape, one chink through
which we may see light; one rock on which our feet may find
standing-place, even in the abyss: and that is the belief, intuitive,
inspired, due neither to reasoning nor to study, that the billows are
God's billows; and that though we go down to hell, He is there also;--
the belief that not we, but He, is educating us; that these seemingly
fantastic and incoherent miseries, storm following earthquake, and
earthquake fire, as if the caprice of all the demons were let loose
against us, have in His Mind a spiritual coherence, an organic unity and
purpose (though we see it not); that sorrows do not come singly, only
because He is making short work with our spirits; and because the more
effect He sees produced by one blow, the more swiftly He follows it up
by another; till, in one great and varied crisis, seemingly long to us,
but short enough compared with immortality, our spirits may be--
"Heated hot with burning fears,
And bathed in baths of hissing tears,
And battered with the strokes of doom,
To shape and use."
And thus, perhaps, it was with poor Grace Harvey. At least, happily for
her, she began after a while to think that it was so. Only after a
while, though. There was at first a phase of repining, of doubt, almost
of indignation against high heaven. Who shall judge her? What blame if
the crucified one writhe when the first nail is driven? What blame if
the stoutest turn sick and giddy at the first home-thrust of that sword
which pierces the joints and marrow, and lays bare to self the secrets
of the heart? God gives poor souls time to recover their breaths, ere He
strikes again; and if He be not angry, why should we condemn?
Poor Grace! Her sorrows had been thickening fast during the last few
months. She was schoolmistress again, true; but where were her children?
Those of them whom she loved best, were swept away by the cholera; and
could she face the remnant, each in mourning for a parent or a brother?
That alone was grief enough for her; and yet that was the lightest of
all her griefs. She loved Tom Thurnall--how much, she dared not tell
herself; she longed to "save" him. She had thought, and not untruly,
during the past cholera weeks, that he was softened, opened to new
impressions: but he had avoided her more than ever--perhaps suspected
her again more than ever--and now he was gone, gone for ever. That, too,
was grief enough alone. But darkest and deepest of all, darker and
deeper than the past shame of being suspected by him she loved, was the
shame of suspecting her own mother--of believing herself, as she did,
privy to that shameful theft, and yet unable to make restitution. There
was the horror of all horrors, the close prison which seemed to stifle
her whole soul. The only chink through which a breath of air seemed to
come, and keep her heart alive, was the hope that somehow, somewhere,
she might find that belt, and restore it without her mother's knowledge.
But more--the first of September was come and gone; the bill for
five-and-twenty pounds was due, and was not met. Grace, choking down her
honest pride, went off to the grocer, and, with tears which he could not
resist, persuaded him to renew the bill for one month more; and now that
month was all but past, and yet there was no money. Eight or ten people
who owed Mrs. Harvey money had died of the cholera. Some, of course, had
left no effects; and all hope of their working out their debts was gone.
Some had left money behind them: but it was still in the lawyer's hands,
some of it at sea, some on mortgage, some in houses which must be sold;
till their affairs were wound up--(a sadly slow affair when a country
attorney has a poor man's unprofitable business to transact)--nothing
could come in to Mrs. Harvey. To and fro she went with knitted brow and
heavy heart; and brought home again only promises, as she had done a
hundred times before. One day she went up to Mrs. Heale. Old Heale owed
her thirteen pounds and more: but that was not the least reason for
paying. His cholera patients had not paid him; and whether Heale had the
money by him or not, he was not going to pay his debts till other people
paid theirs. Mrs. Harvey stormed; Mrs. Heale gave her as good as she
brought; and Mrs. Harvey threatened to County Court her husband; whereon
Mrs. Heale, _en revanche_ dragged out the books, and displayed to the
poor widow's horror-struck eyes an account for medicine and attendance,
on her and Grace, which nearly swallowed up the debt. Poor Grace was
overwhelmed when her mother came home and upbraided her, in her despair,
with being a burden. Was she not a burden? Must she not be one
henceforth? No, she would take in needlework, labour in the fields,
heave ballast among the coarse pauper-girls on the quay-pool, anything
rather: but how to meet the present difficulty?
"We must sell our furniture, mother!"
"For a quarter of what it's worth? Never, girl! No! The Lord will
provide," said she, between her clenched teeth, with a sort of hysteric
chuckle. "The Lord will provide!"
"I believe it; I believe it," said poor Grace; "but faith is weak, and
the day is very dark, mother."
"Dark, ay? And may be darker, yet; but the Lord will provide. He
prepares a table in the wilderness for his saints that the world don't
"Oh, mother! and do you think there is any door of hope?"
"Go to bed, girl; go to bed, and leave me to see to that. Find my
spectacles. Wherever have you laid them to, now? I'll look over the
"Do let me go over them for you."
"No, you sha'n't! I suppose you'll be wanting to make out your poor old
mother's been cheating somebody. Why not, if I'm a thief, Miss, eh?"
"Oh, mother! mother! don't say that again."
And Grace glided out meekly to her own chamber, which was on the
ground-floor adjoining the parlour, and there spent more than one hour
in prayer, from which no present comfort seemed to come; yet who shall
say that it was all unanswered?
At last her mother came upstairs, and put her head in angrily:--"Why
ben't you in bed, girl? sitting up this way?"
"I was praying, mother," says Grace, looking up as she knelt.
"Praying! What's the use of praying? and who'll hear you if you pray?
What you want's a husband, to keep you out of the workhouse; and you
won't get that by kneeling here. Get to bed, I say, or I'll pull you
Grace obeyed uncomplaining, but utterly shocked; though she was not
unacquainted with those frightful fits of morose unbelief, even of
fierce blasphemy, to which the excitable West-country mind is liable,
after having been over-strained by superstitious self-inspection, and by
the desperate attempt to prove itself right and safe from frames and
feelings, while fact and conscience proclaim it wrong.
The West-country people are apt to attribute these paroxysms to the
possession of a devil; and so did Grace that night.
Trembling with terror and loving pity, she lay down, and began to pray
afresh for that poor wild mother.
At last the fear crossed her that her mother might make away with
herself. But a few years before, another class-leader in Aberalva had
attempted to do so, and had all but succeeded. The thought was
intolerable. She must go to her; face reproaches, blows, anything. She
rose from her bed, and went to the door. It was fastened on the outside.
A cold perspiration stood on her forehead. She opened her lips to shriek
to her mother: but checked herself when she heard her stirring gently in
the outer room. Her pulses throbbed too loudly at first for her to hear
distinctly: but she felt that it was no moment for giving way to
emotion; by a strong effort of will, she conquered herself; and then,
with that preternatural acuteness of sense which some women possess, she
could hear everything her mother was doing. She heard her put on her
shawl, her bonnet; she heard her open the front door gently. It was now
long past midnight. Whither could she be going at that hour?
She heard her go gently to the left, past the window; and yet her
footfall was all but inaudible. No rain had fallen, and her shoes ought
to have sounded on the hard earth. She must have taken them off. There,
she was stopping, just by the school-door. Now she moved again. She must
have stopped to put on her shoes; for now Grace could hear her steps
distinctly, down the earth bank, and over the rattling shingle of the
beach. Where was she going? Grace must follow!
The door was fast: but in a moment she had removed the table, opened the
shutter and the window.
"Thank God that I stayed here on the ground floor, instead of going back
to my own room when Major Campbell left. It is a providence! The Lord
has not forsaken me yet!" said the sweet saint, as, catching up her
shawl, she wrapped it round her, and slipping through the window,
crouched under the shadow of the house, and looked for her mother.
She was hurrying over the rocks, a hundred yards off. Whither? To drown
herself in the sea? No; she held on along the mid-beach, right across
the cove, toward Arthur's Nose. But why? Grace must know.
She felt, she knew not why, that this strange journey, that wild "The
Lord will provide," had to do with the subject of her suspicion. Perhaps
this was the crisis; perhaps all will he cleared up to-night, for joy or
for utter shame.
The tide was low; the beach was bright in the western moonlight: only
along the cliff foot lay a strip of shadow a quarter of a mile long,
till the Nose, like a great black wall, buried the corner of the cove in
Along that strip of shadow she ran, crouching; now stumbling over a
boulder, now crushing her bare feet between the sharp pebbles, as,
heedless where she stepped, she kept her eye fixed on her mother. As if
fascinated, she could see nothing else in heaven or earth but that dark
figure, hurrying along with a dogged determination, and then stopping a
moment to look round, as if in fear of a pursuer. And then Grace lay
down on the cold stones, and pressed herself into the very earth; and
the moment her mother turned to go forward, sprang up and followed.
And then a true woman's thought flashed across her, and shaped itself
into a prayer. For herself she never thought: but if the Coast Guardsman
above should see her mother, stop her, question her? God grant that he
might be on the other side of the point! And she hurried on again.
Near the Nose the rocks ran high and jagged; her mother held on to them,
passed through a narrow chasm, and disappeared.
Grace now, not fifty yards from her, darted out of the shadow into the
moonlight, and ran breathlessly toward the spot where she had seen her
mother last. Like Anderssen's little sea-maiden she went, every step on
sharp knives, across the rough beds of barnacles; but she felt no pain,
in the greatness of her terror and her love.
She crouched between the rocks a moment; heard her mother slipping and
splashing among the pools; and glided after her like a ghost--a guardian
angel rather--till she saw her emerge again for a moment into the
moonlight, upon a strip of beach beneath the Nose.
It was a weird and lonely spot; and a dangerous spot withal. For only at
low spring-tide could it be reached from the land, and then the flood
rose far up the cliff, covering all the shingle, and filling the mouth
of a dark cavern. Had her mother gone to that cavern? It was impossible
to see, so utterly was the cliff shrouded in shadow.
Shivering with cold and excitement, Grace crouched down, and gazed into
the gloom, till her eyes swam, and a hundred fantastic figures, and
sparks of fire, seemed to dance between her and the rock. Sparks of
fire!--yes; but that last one was no fancy. An actual flash; the crackle
and sputter of a match! What could it mean? Another match was lighted;
and a moment after, the glare of a lanthorn showed her mother entering
beneath the polished arch of rock which glared lurid overhead, like the
gateway of the pit of fire.
The light vanished into the windings of the cave. And then Grace, hardly
knowing what she did, rushed up the beach, and crouched down once more
at the cave's mouth. There she sat, she knew not how long, listening,
listening, like a hunted hare; her whole faculties concentrated in the
one sense of hearing; her eyes wandering vacantly over the black saws of
rock, and glistening oar-weed beds, and bright phosphoric sea. Thank
Heaven, there was not a ripple to break the silence. Ah, what was that
sound within? She pressed her ear against the rock, to hear more surely.
A rumbling as of stones rolled down. And then,--was it a fancy, or were
her powers of hearing, intensified by excitement, actually equal to
discern the chink of coin? Who knows? but in another moment she had
glided in, silently, swiftly, holding her very breath; and saw her
mother kneeling on the ground, the lanthorn by her side, and in her hand
the long-lost belt.
She did not speak, she did not move. She always knew, in her heart of
hearts, that so it was: but when the sin took bodily shape, and was
there before her very eyes, it was too dreadful to speak of, to act upon
yet. And amid the most torturing horror and disgust of that great sin,
rose up in her the divinest love for the sinner; she felt--strange
paradox--that she had never loved her mother as she did at that moment.
"Oh, that it had been I who had done it, and not she!" And her mother's
sin was to her her own sin, her mother's shame her shame, till all sense
of her mother's guilt vanished in the light of her divine love. "Oh,
that I could take her up tenderly, tell her that all is forgiven and
forgotten by man and God!--serve her as I have never served her yet!--
nurse her to sleep on my bosom, and then go forth and bear her
punishment, even if need be on the gallows-tree!" And there she stood,
in a silent agony of tender pity, drinking her portion of the cup of Him
who bore the sins of all the world.
Silently she stood; and silently she turned to go, to go home and pray
for guidance in that dark labyrinth of confused duties. Her mother heard
the rustle; looked up; and sprang to her feet with a scream, dropping
gold pieces on the ground.
Her first impulse was wild terror. She was discovered; by whom, she knew
not. She clasped her evil treasure to her bosom, and thrusting Grace
against the rock, fled wildly out.
"Mother! Mother!" shrieked Grace, rushing after her. The shawl fell from
her shoulders. Her mother looked back, and saw the white figure.
"God's angel! God's angel, come to destroy me! as he came to Balaam!"
and in the madness of her guilty fancy she saw in Grace's hand the fiery
sword which was to smite her.
Another step, looking backward still, and she had tripped over a stone.
She fell, and striking the back of her head against the rock, lay
Tenderly Grace lifted her up: went for water to a pool near by; bathed
her face, calling on her by every term of endearment. Slowly the old
woman recovered her consciousness, but showed it only in moans. Her head
was cut and bleeding. Grace bound it up, and then taking that fatal
belt, bound it next to her own heart, never to be moved from thence till
she should put it into the hands of him to whom it belonged.
And then she lifted up her mother.
"Come home, darling mother;" and she tried to make her stand and walk.
The old woman only moaned, and waved her away impatiently. Grace put her
on her feet; but she fell again. The lower limbs seemed all but
Slowly that sweet saint lifted her, and laid her on her own back; and
slowly she bore her homeward, with aching knees and bleeding feet; while
before her eyes hung the picture of Him who bore his cross up Calvary,
till a solemn joy and pride in that sacred burden seemed to intertwine
itself with her deep misery. And fainting every moment with pain and
weakness, she still went on, as if by supernatural strength: and
"Thou didst bear more for me, and shall not I bear even this for Thee?"
Surely, if blest spirits can weep and smile over the woes and heroisms
of us mortal men, faces brighter than the stars looked down on that fair
girl that night, and in loving sympathy called her, too, blest.
At last it was over. Undiscovered she reached home, laid her mother on
the bed, and tended her till morning; but long ere morning dawned stupor
had changed into delirium, and Grace's ears were all on fire with words
--which those who have ever heard will have no heart to write.
And now, by one of those strange vagaries, in which epidemics so often
indulge, appeared other symptoms; and by day-dawn cholera itself.
Heale, though recovering, was still too weak to be of use: but, happily,
the medical man sent down by the Board of Health was still in the town.
Grace sent for him; but he shook his head after the first look. The
wretched woman's ravings at once explained the case, and made it, in his
eyes, all but hopeless.
The sudden shock to body and mind, the sudden prostration of strength,
had brought out the disease which she had dreaded so intensely, and
against which she had taken so many precautions, and which yet lay, all
the while, lurking unfelt in her system.
A hideous eight-and-forty hours followed. The preachers and
class-leaders came to pray over the dying woman: but she screamed to
Grace to send them away. She had just sense enough left to dread that
she might betray her own shame. Would she have the new clergyman then?
No; she would have no one;--no one could help her! Let her only die
And Grace closed the door upon all but the doctor, who treated the wild
sufferer's wild words as the mere fancies of delirium; and then Grace
watched and prayed, till she found herself alone with the dead.
She wrote a letter to Thurnall--
"Sir--I have found your belt, and all the money, I believe and trust,
which it contained. If you will be so kind as to tell me where and how I
shall send it to you, you will take a heavy burden off the mind of
"Your obedient humble Servant, who trusts that you will forgive her
having been unable to fulfil her promise."
She addressed the letter to Whitbury; for thither Tom had ordered his
letters to be sent; but she received no answer.
The day after Mrs. Harvey was buried, the sale of all her effects was
announced in Aberalva.
Grace received the proceeds, went round to all the creditors, and paid
them all which was due. She had a few pounds left. What to do with that
she knew full well.
She showed no sign of sorrow: but she spoke rarely to any one. A dead
dull weight seemed to hang over her. To preachers, class-leaders,
gossips, who upbraided her for not letting them see her mother, she
replied by silence. People thought her becoming idiotic.
The day after the last creditor was paid she packed up her little box:
hired a cart to take her to the nearest coach; and vanished from
Aberalva, without bidding farewell to a human being, even to her
* * * * *
Vavasour had been buried more than a week. Mark and Mary were sitting in
the dining-room, Mark at his port and Mary at her work, when the footboy
"Sir, there's a young woman wants to speak with you."
"Show her in, if she looks respectable," said Mark, who had slippers on,
and his feet on the fender, and was, therefore, loth to move.
"Oh, quite respectable, sir, as ever I see;" and the lad ushered in a
figure, dressed and veiled in deep black.
"Well, ma'am, sit down, pray; and what can I do for you!"
"Can you tell me, sir," answered a voice of extraordinary sweetness and
gentleness, very firm, and composed withal, "if Mr. Thomas Thurnall is
"Thurnall? He has sailed for the East a week ago. May I ask your
business with him? Can I help you in it?"
The black damsel paused so long, that both Mary and her father felt
uneasy, and a cloud passed over Mark's brow.
"Can the boy have been playing tricks?" said he to himself.
"Then, sir, as I hear that you have influence, can you get me a
situation as one of the nurses who are going out thither, so I hear?"
"Get you a situation? Yes, of course, if you are competent."
"Thank you, sir. Perhaps, if you could be so very kind as to tell me to
whom I am to apply in town; for I shall go thither to-night."
"My goodness!" cried Mark. "Old Mark don't do things in this off-hand,
cold-blooded way. Let us know who you are, my dear, and about Mr.
Thurnall. Have you anything against him?"
She was silent.
"Mary, just step into the next room."
"If you please, sir," said the same gentle voice, "I had sooner that the
lady should stay. I have nothing against Mr. Thurnall, God knows. He has
rather something against me."
Mary rose, and went up to her and took her hand.
"Do tell us who you are, and if we can do anything for you."
And she looked winningly up into her face.
The stranger drew a long breath and lifted her veil. Mary and Mark both
started at the beauty of the countenance which she revealed--but in a
different way. Mark gave a grunt of approbation: Mary turned pale as
"I suppose that it is but right and reasonable that I should tell you,
at least give proof of my being an honest person. For my capabilities as
a nurse--I believe you know Mrs. Vavasour? I heard that she has been
"Of course. Do you know her?"
A sad smile passed over her face.
"Yes, well enough, at least for her to speak for me. I should have asked
her or Miss St. Just to help me to a nurse's place: but I did not like
to trouble them in their distress. How is the poor lady now, sir?"
"I know who she is!" cried Mary by a sudden inspiration. "Is not your
name Harvey! Are you not the schoolmistress who saved Mr. Thurnall's
life? who behaved so nobly in the cholera? Yes! I knew you were! Come
and sit down, and tell me all! I have so longed to know you! Dear
creature, I have felt as if you were my own sister. He--Mr. Thurnall--
wrote often about all your heroism."
Grace seemed to choke down somewhat: and then answered steadfastly--
"I did not come here, my dear lady, to hear such kind words, but to do
an errand to Mr. Thurnall. You have heard, perhaps, that when he was
wrecked last spring he lost some money. Yes! Then it was stolen.
Stolen!" she repeated with a great gasp: "never mind by whom. Not by
"You need not tell us that, my dear," interrupted Mark.
"God kept it. And I have it; here!" and she pressed her hands tight over
her bosom. "And here I must keep it till I give it into his hands, if I
follow him round the world!" And as she spoke her eyes shone in the
lamplight, with an unearthly brilliance which made Mary shudder.
Mark Armsworth poured a libation to the goddess of Puzzledom, in the
shape of a glass of port, which first choked him, and then descended
over his clean shirt front. But after he had coughed himself black in
the face, he began:--
"My good girl, if you are Grace Harvey, you're welcome to my roof and an
honour to it, say I: but as for taking all that money with you across
the seas, and such a pretty helpless young thing as you are, God help
you, it mustn't be, and shan't be, and that's flat."
"But I must go to him!" said she in so naive half-wild a fashion, that
Mary, comprehending all, looked imploringly at her father, and putting
her arm round Grace, forced her into a seat.
"I must go, sir, and tell him--tell him myself. No one knows what I know
Mark shook his head.
"Could I not write to him? He knows me as well as he knows his own
Grace shook her head, and pressed her hand upon her heart, where Tom's
"Do you think, madam, that after having had the dream of this belt, the
shape of this belt, and of the money which is in it, branded into my
brain for months--years it seems like--by God's fire of shame and
suspicion;--and seen him poor, miserable, fretful, unbelieving, for the
want of it--O God! I can't tell even your sweet face all.--Do you think
that now I have it in my hands, I can part with it, or rest, till it is
in his? No, not though I walk barefoot after him to the ends of the
"Let his father have the money, then, and do you take him the belt as a
token, if you must--"
"That's it, Mary!" shouted Mark Armsworth, "you always come in with the
right hint, girl!" and the two, combining their forces, at last talked
poor Grace over. But upon going out herself she was bent. To ask his
forgiveness in her mother's name, was her one fixed idea. He might die,
and not know all, not have forgiven all, and go she must.
"But it is a thousand to one against your seeing him. We, even, don't
know exactly where he is gone."
Grace shuddered a moment; and then recovered her calmness.
"I did not expect this: but be it so. I shall meet him if God wills; and
if not, I can still work--work."
"I think, Mary, you'd better take the young woman upstairs, and make her
sleep here to-night," said Mark, glad of an excuse to get rid of them;
which, when he had done, he pulled his chair round in front of the fire,
put a foot on each hob, and began rubbing his eyes vigorously.
"Dear me! Dear me! What a lot of good people there are in this old
world, to be sure! Ten times better than me, at least--make one ashamed
of oneself:--and if one isn't even good enough for this world, how's one
to be good enough for heaven?"
And Mary carried Grace upstairs, and into her own bed-room. A bed should
be made up there for her. It would do her good just to have anything so
pretty sleeping in the same room. And then she got Grace supper, and
tried to make her talk: but she was distrait, reserved; for a new and
sudden dread had seized her, at the sight of that fine house, fine
plate, fine friends. These were his acquaintances, then: no wonder that
he would not look on such as her. And as she cast her eye round the
really luxurious chamber, and (after falteringly asking Mary whether she
had any brothers and sisters) guessed that she must be the heiress of
all that wealth, she settled in her heart that Tom was to marry Mary;
and the intimate tone in which Mary spoke of him to her, and her
innumerable inquiries about him, made her more certain that it was a
settled thing. Handsome she was not, certainly; but so sweet and good;
and that her own beauty (if she was aware that she possessed any) could
have any weight with Tom, she would have considered as an insult to his
sense; so she made up her mind slowly, but steadily, that thus it was to
be; and every fresh proof of Mary's sweetness and goodness was a fresh
pang to her, for it showed the more how probable it was that Tom loved
Therefore she answered all Mary's questions carefully and honestly, as
to a person who had a right to ask; and at last went to her bed, and,
worn out in body and mind, was asleep in a moment. She had not remarked
the sigh which escaped Mary, as she glanced at that beautiful head, and
the long black tresses which streamed down for a moment over the white
shoulders ere they were knotted back for the night, and then at her own
poor countenance in the glass opposite.
* * * * *
It was long past midnight when Grace woke, she knew not how, and looking
up, saw a light in the room, and Mary sitting still over a book, her
head resting on her hands. She lay quiet and thought she heard a sob.
She was sure she heard tears drop on the paper. She stirred, and Mary
was at her side in a moment.
"Did you want anything?"
"Only to--to remind you, ma'am, it is not wise to sit up so late."
"Only that?" said Mary, laughing. "I do that every night, alone with
God; and I do not think He will be the farther off for your being here!"
"One thing I had to ask," said Grace. "It would lesson my labour so, if
you could give me any hint of where he might be."
"We know, as we told you, as little as you. His letters are to be sent
to Constantinople. Some from Aberalva are gone thither already."
"And mine among them!" thought Grace. "It is God's will!... Madam, if it
would not seem forward on my part--if you could tell him the truth, and
what I have for him, and where I am, in case he might wish--wish to see
me--when you were writing."
"Of course I will, or my father will," said Mary, who did not like to
confess either to herself or to Grace, that it was very improbable that
she would ever write again to Tom Thurnall.
And so the two sweet maidens, so near that moment to an explanation,
which might have cleared up all, went on each in her ignorance; for so
it was to be.
The next morning Grace came down to breakfast, modest, cheerful,
charming. Mark made her breakfast with them; gave her endless letters of
recommendation; wanted to take her to see old Doctor Thurnall, which she
declined, and then sent her to the station in his own carriage, paid her
fare first-class to town, and somehow or other contrived, with Mary's
help, that she should find in her bag two ten-pound notes, which she had
never seen before. After which he went out to his counting-house, only
remarking to Mary--
"Very extraordinary young woman, and very handsome, too. Will make some
man a jewel of a wife, if she don't go mad, or die of the hospital
To which Mary fully assented. Little she guessed, and little did her
father, that it was for Grace's sake that Tom had refused her hand.
A few days more, and Grace Harvey also had gone Eastward Ho.
A RECENT EXPLOSION IN AN ANCIENT CRATER.
It is, perhaps, a pity for the human race in general, that some
enterprising company cannot buy up the Moselle (not the wine, but the
river), cut it into five-mile lengths, and distribute them over Europe,
wherever there is a demand for lovely scenery. For lovely is its proper
epithet; it is not grand, not exciting--so much the better; it is
scenery to live and die in; scenery to settle in, and study a single
landscape, till you know every rock, and walnut-tree, and vine-leaf by
heart: not merely to run through in one hasty steam-trip, as you now do,
in a long burning day, which makes you not "drunk"--but weary--"with
excess of beauty." Besides, there are two or three points so superior to
the rest, that having seen them, one cares to see nothing more. That
paradise of emerald, purple, and azure, which opens behind Treis; and
that strange heap of old-world houses at Berncastle, which have
scrambled up to the top of a rock to stare at the steamer, and have
never been able to get down again--between them, and after them, one
feels like a child who, after a great mouthful of pine-apple jam, is
condemned to have poured down its throat an everlasting stream of
So thought Stangrave on board the steamer, as he smoked his way up the
shallows, and wondered which turn of the river would bring him to his
destination. When would it all be over? And he never leaped on shore
more joyfully than he did at Alf that afternoon, to jump into a
carriage, and trundle up the gorge of the Issbach some six lonely weary
miles, till he turned at last into the wooded caldron of the
Romer-kessel, and saw the little chapel crowning the central knoll, with
the white high-roofed houses of Bertrich nestling at its foot.
He drives up to the handsome old Kurhaus, nestling close beneath
heather-clad rocks, upon its lawn shaded with huge horse-chestnuts, and
set round with dahlias, and geraniums, and delicate tinted German
stocks, which fill the air with fragrance; a place made only for young
lovers:--certainly not for those black, petticoated worthies, each with
that sham of a sham, the modern tonsure, pared down to a poor florin's
breadth among their bushy, well-oiled curls, who sit at little tables,
passing the lazy day "a muguetter les bourgeoises" of Sarrebruck and
Treves, and sipping the fragrant Josephshofer--perhaps at the good
Past them Stangrave slips angrily; for that "development of humanity"
can find no favour in his eyes; being not human at all, but professedly
superhuman, and therefore, practically, sometimes inhuman.
He hurries into the public room; seizes on the visitor's book.
The names are there, in their own handwriting: but where are they?
Waiters are seized and questioned. The English ladies came back last
night, and are gone this afternoon.
"Where are they gone?"
Nobody recollects: not even the man from whom they hired the carriage.
But they are not gone far. Their servants and their luggage are still
here. Perhaps the Herr Ober-Badmeister, Lieutenant D---- will know. "Oh,
it will not trouble him. An English gentleman? Der Herr Lieutenant will
be only too happy;" and in ten minutes der Herr Lieutenant appears,
really only too happy; and Stangrave finds himself at once in the
company of a soldier and a gentleman. Had their acquaintance been a
longer one, he would have recognised likewise the man of taste and of
"I can well appreciate, sir," says he, in return to Stangrave's anxious
inquiries, "your impatience to rejoin your lovely countrywomen, who have
been for the last three weeks the wonder and admiration of our little
paradise; and whose four days' absence was regarded, believe me, as a
"I can well believe it; but they are not countrywomen of mine. The one
lady is an Englishwoman; the other--I believe--an Italian."
"And der Herr?"
"Ah! A still greater pleasure, sir. I trust that you will carry back
across the Atlantic a good report of a spot all but unknown, I fear, to
your compatriots. You will meet one, I think, on the return of the
"Yes. A gentleman who arrived here this morning, and who seemed, from
his conversation with them, to belong to your noble fatherland. He went
out driving with them this afternoon, whither I unfortunately know not.
Ah! good Saint Nicholas!--For though I am a Lutheran, I must invoke him
now--Look out yonder!"
Stangrave looked, and joined in the general laugh of lieutenant,
waiters, priests, and bourgeoises.
For under the chestnuts strutted, like him in Struwelpeter, as though he
were a very king of Ashantee, Sabina's black boy, who had taken to
himself a scarlet umbrella, and a great cigar; while after him came,
also like them in Struwelpeter, Caspar, bretzel in hand, and Ludwig with
his hoop, and all the naughty boys of Bertrich town, hooting and singing
in chorus, after the fashion of German children.
The resemblance to the well-known scene in the German child's book was
perfect, and as the children shouted,--
"Ein kohlpechrabenschwarzer Mohr,
Die Sonne schien ihm ins gehirn,
Da nahm er seinen Sonnenschirm"--
more than one grown person joined therein.
Stangrave longed to catch hold of the boy, and extract from him all
news; but the blackamoor was not quite in respectable company enough at
that moment; and Stangrave had to wait till he strutted proudly up to
the door, and entered the hall with a bland smile, evidently having
taken the hooting as a homage to his personal appearance.
"Ah? Mas' Stangrave? glad see you, sir! Quite a party of us, now, 'mong
dese 'barian heathen foreigners. Mas' Thurnall he come dis mornin'; gone
up picken' bush wid de ladies. He! he! Not seen him dis tree year
"Thurnall!" Stangrave's heart sank within him. His first impulse was to
order a carriage, and return whence he came; but it would look so odd,
and, moreover, be so foolish, that he made up his mind to stay and face
the worst. So he swallowed a hasty dinner, and then wandered up the
narrow valley, with all his suspicions of Thurnall and Marie seething
more fiercely than ever in his heart.
Some half-mile up, a path led out of the main road to a wooden bridge
across the stream. He followed it, careless whither he went; and in five
minutes found himself in the quaintest little woodland cavern he ever
It was simply a great block of black lava, crowned with brushwood, and
supported on walls and pillars of Dutch cheeses, or what should have
been Dutch cheeses by all laws of shape and colour, had not his fingers
proved to them that they were stone. How they got there, and what they
were, puzzled him; for he was no geologist; and finding a bench inside,
he sat down and speculated thereon.
There was more than one doorway to the "Cheese Cellar." It stood beneath
a jutting knoll, and the path ran right through; so that, as he sat, he
could see up a narrow gorge to his left, roofed in with trees; and down
into the main valley on his right, where the Issbach glittered clear and
smooth beneath red-berried mountain-ash and yellow leaves.
There he sat, and tried to forget Marie in the tinkling of the streams,
and the sighing of the autumn leaves, and the cooing of the sleepy
doves; while the ice-bird, as the Germans call the water-ouzel, sat on a
rock in the river below, and warbled his low sweet song, and then
flitted up the grassy reach to perch and sing again on the next rock
And, whether, it was that he did forget Marie awhile; or whether he were
tired, as he well might have been; or whether he had too rapidly
consumed his bottle of red Walporzheimer, forgetful that it alone of
German wines combines the delicacy of the Rhine sun with the potency of
its Burgundian vinestock, transplanted to the Ahr by Charlemagne;--
whether it were any of these causes, or whether it were not, Stangrave
fell fast asleep in the Kaise-kellar, and slept till it was dark, at the
risk of catching a great cold.
How long he slept he knew not: but what wakened him he knew full well.
Voices of people approaching; and voices which he recognised in a
Sabina? Yes; and Marie too, laughing merrily; and among their shriller
tones the voice of Thurnall. He had not heard it for years; but,
considering the circumstances under which he had last heard it, there
was no fear of his forgetting it again.
They came down the side-glen; and before he could rise, they had turned
the sharp corner of the rock, and were in the Kaise-kellar, close to
him, almost touching him. He felt the awkwardness of his position. To
keep still was, perhaps, to overhear, and that too much. To discover
himself was to produce a scene; and he could not trust his temper that
the scene would not be an ugly one, and such as women must not witness.
He was relieved to find that they did not stop. They were laughing about
the gloom; about being out so late.
"How jealous some one whom I know would be," said Sabina, "if he found
you and Tom together in this darksome den!"
"I don't care," said Tom; "I have made up my mind to shoot him out of
hand, and marry Marie myself. Sha'n't I now, my--" and they passed on;
and down to their carriage, which had been waiting for them in the road
What Marie's answer was, or by what name Thurnall was about to address
her, Stangrave did not hear: but he had heard quite enough.
He rose quietly after a while, and followed them.
He was a dupe, an ass! The dupe of those bad women, and of his ancient
enemy! It was maddening! Yet, how could Sabina be in fault? She had not
known Marie till he himself had introduced her; and he could not believe
her capable of such baseness. The crime must lie between the other two.
However that might be mattered little to him now. He would return, order
his carriage once more, and depart, shaking off the dust of his feet
against them! "Pah! There were other women in the world; and women, too,
who would not demand of him to become a hero."
He reached the Kurhaus, and went in; but not into the public room, for
fear of meeting people whom he had no heart to face.
He was in the passage, in the act of settling his account with the
waiter, when Thurnall came hastily out, and ran against him.
Stangrave stood by the passage lamp, so that he saw Tom's face at once.
Tom drew back; begged a thousand pardons; and saw Stangrave's face in
The two men looked at each other for a few seconds. Stangrave longed to
say, "You intend to shoot me? Then try at once;" but he was ashamed, of
course, to make use of words which he had so accidentally overheard.
Tom looked carefully at Stangrave, to divine his temper from his
countenance. It was quite angry enough to give Tom excuse for saying to
"The fellow is mad at being caught at last. Very well."
"I think, sir," said he, quietly enough, "that you and I had better walk
outside for a few minutes. Allow me to retract the apology I just made,
till we have had some very explicit conversation on other matters."
"Curse his impudence!" thought Stangrave. "Does he actually mean to
bully me into marrying her?" and he replied haughtily enough,--
"I am aware of no matters on which I am inclined to be explicit with Mr.
Thurnall, or on which Mr. Thurnall has a right to be explicit with me."
"I am, then," quoth Tom, his suspicion increasing in turn. "Do you wish,
sir, to have a scene before this waiter and the whole house, or will you
be so kind as to walk outside with me?"
"I must decline, sir; not being in the habit of holding intercourse with
an actress's bully."
Tom did not knock him down: but replied smilingly enough--
"I am far too much in earnest in this matter, sir, to be stopped by any
coarse expressions. Waiter, you may go. Now, will you fight me to-morrow
morning, or will you not?"
"I may fight a gentleman: but not you."
"Well, I shall not call you a coward, because I know that you are none;
and I shall not make a row here, for a gentleman's reasons, which you,
calling yourself a gentleman, seem to have forgotten. But this I will
do; I will follow you till you do fight me, if I have to throw up my own
prospects in life for it. I will proclaim you, wherever we meet, for
what you are--a mean and base intriguer; I will insult you in Kursaals,
and cane you on public places; I will be Frankenstein's man to you day
and night, till I have avenged the wrongs of this poor girl, the dust of
whose feet you are not worthy to kiss off."
Stangrave was surprised at his tone. It was certainly not that of a
conscious villain: but he only replied sneeringly,--
"And pray what may give Mr. Thurnall the right to consider himself the
destined avenger of this frail beauty's wrongs?"
"I will tell you that after we have fought; and somewhat more.
Meanwhile, that expression, 'frail beauty,' is a fresh offence, for
which I should certainly cane you, if she were not in the house."
"Well," drawled Stangrave, feigning an ostentatious yawn, "I believe the
wise method of ridding oneself of impertinents is to grant their
requests. Have you pistols? I have none."
"I have both duellers and revolvers at your service."
"Ah? I think we'll try the revolvers then," said Stangrave, savage from
despair, and disbelief in all human goodness. "After what has passed,
five or six shots apiece will be hardly _outre_."
"Hardly, I think," said Tom. "Will you name your second'?"
"I know no one. I have not been here two hours; but I suppose they do
not matter much."
"Humph! it is as well to have witnesses in case of accident. There are a
couple of roystering Burschen in the public room, who, I think, would
enjoy the office. Both have scars on their faces, so they will be _au
fait_ at the thing. Shall I have the honour of sending one of them to
"As you will, sir; my number is 34." And the two fools turned on their
respective heels, and walked off.
At sunrise next morning Tom and his second are standing on the
Falkenhohe, at the edge of the vast circular pit, blasted out by some
explosion which has torn the slate into mere dust and shivers, now
covered with a thin coat of turf.
"Schoene aussicht!" says the Bursch, waving his hand round, in a tone
which is benevolently meant to withdraw Tom's mind from painful
"Very pretty prospect indeed. You're sure you understand that revolver
The Bursch mutters to himself something about English nonchalance, and
assures Thurnall that he is competently acquainted with the weapon; as
indeed he ought to be; for having never seen one before, he has been
talking and thinking of nothing else since they left Bertrich.
And why does not Tom care to look at the prospect? Certainly not because
he is afraid. He slept as soundly as ever last night; and knows not what
fear means. But somehow, the glorious view reminds him of another
glorious view, which he saw last summer walking by Grace Harvey's side
from Tolchard's farm. And that subject he will sternly put away. He is
not sure but what it might unman even him.
The likeness certainly exists; for the rock, being the same in both
places, has taken the same general form; and the wanderer in
Rhine-Prussia and Nassau might often fancy himself in Devon or Cornwall.
True, here there is no sea: and there no Moselkopf raises its huge
crater-cone far above the uplands, all golden in the level sun. But that
brown Tannus far away, or that brown Hundsruck opposite, with its
deep-wooded gorges barred with level gleams of light across black gulfs of
shade, might well be Dartmoor, or Carcarrow moor itself, high over
Aberalva town, which he will see no more. True, in Cornwall there would
be no slag-cliffs of the Falkenley beneath his feet, as black and
blasted at this day as when yon orchard meadow was the mouth of hell,
and the south-west wind dashed the great flame against the cinder cliff
behind, and forged it into walls of time-defying glass. But that might
well be Alva stream, that Issbach in its green gulf far below, winding
along toward the green gulf of the Moselle--he will look at it no more,
lest he see Grace herself come to him across the down, to chide him,
with sacred horror, for the dark deed which he has come to do.
And yet he does not wish to kill Stangrave. He would like to "wing him."
He must punish him for his conduct to Marie; punish him for last night's
insult. It is a necessity, but a disagreeable one; he would be sorry to
go to the war with that man's blood upon his hand. He is sorry that he
is out of practice.
"A year ago I could have counted on hitting him where I liked. I trust I
shall not blunder against his vitals now. However, if I do, he has
himself to blame!"
The thought that Stangrave may kill him never crosses his mind. Of
course, out of six shots, fired at all distances from forty paces to
fifteen, one may hit him: but as for being killed!...
Tom's heart is hardened; melted again and again this summer for a
moment, only to freeze again. He all but believes that he bears a
charmed life. All the miraculous escapes of his past years, instead of
making him believe in a living, guiding, protecting Father, have become
to that proud hard heart the excuse for a deliberate, though
unconscious, atheism. His fall is surely near.
At last Stangrave and his second appear. Stangrave is haggard, not from
fear, but from misery, and rage, and self-condemnation. This is the end
of all his fine resolves! Pah! what use in them? What use in being a
martyr in this world? All men are liars, and all women too!
Tom and Stangrave stand a little apart from each other, while one of the
seconds paced the distance. He steps out away from them, across the
crater floor, carrying Tom's revolver in his hand, till he reaches the
required point, and turns.
He turns: but not to come back. Without a gesture or an exclamation
which could explain his proceedings, he faces about once more, and
rushes up the slope as hard as legs and wind permitted.
Tom is confounded with astonishment: either the Bursch is seized with
terror at the whole business, or he covets the much-admired revolver; in
either case, he is making off with it before the owner's eyes.
"Stop! Hillo! Stop thief! He's got my pistol!" and away goes Thurnall in
chase after the Bursch, who, never looking behind, never sees that he is
followed: while Stangrave and the second Bursch look on with wide eyes.
Now the Bursch is a "gymnast," and a capital runner; and so is Tom
likewise; and brilliant is the race upon the Falkenhohe. But the
victory, after a while, becomes altogether a question of wind; for it
was all up-hill. The crater, being one of "explosion, and not of
elevation," as the geologists would say, does not slope downward again,
save on one side, from its outer lip: and Tom and the Bursch were
breasting a fair hill, after they had emerged from the "kessel" below.
Now, the Bursch had had too much Thronerhofberger the night before; and
possibly, as Burschen will in their vacations, the night before that
also; whereby his diaphragm surrendered at discretion, while his heels
were yet unconquered; and he suddenly felt a strong gripe, and a
stronger kick, which rolled him over on the turf.
The hapless youth, who fancied himself alone upon the mountain tops,
roared mere incoherences; and Tom, too angry to listen, and too hurried
to punish, tore the revolver out of his grasp; whereon one barrel