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reason, that is–and expect all the world to call on her, and treat her as she deserves. Why, madam, you will have all London at your feet after a season or two, and all the more if they know your story: or if you don’t like that, or if fools did talk at first, why we’d go and live quietly at Kilanbaggan, or at Penalva, and you’d have all the tenants looking up to you as a goddess, as I do, madam.–Oh, madam, I would go anywhere, live anywhere, only to be with you!”

Marie was deeply affected. Making all allowances for the wilfulness of youth, she could not but see that her origin formed no bar whatever to her marrying a nobleman; and that he honestly believed that it would form none in the opinion of his compeers, if she proved herself worthy of his choice; and, full of new emotions, she burst into tears.

“There, now, you are melting: I knew you would! Madam! Signora?” and Scoutbush advanced to take her hand.

“Never less,” cried she, drawing back. “Do not;–you only make me miserable! I tell you it is impossible. I cannot tell you all.–You must not do yourself and yours such an injustice! Go, I tell you!”

Scoutbush still tried to take her hand.

“Go, I entreat you,” cried she, at her wits’ end, “or I will really ring the bell for Mrs. Mellot!”

“You need not do that, madam,” said he, drawing himself up; “I am not in the habit of being troublesome to ladies, or being turned out of drawing-rooms. I see how it is–” and his tone softened; “you despise me, and think me a vain, frivolous puppy.–Well; I’ll do something yet that you shall not despise!” And he turned to go.

“I do not despise you; I think you a generous, high-hearted gentleman–nobleman in all senses.”

Scoutbush turned again.

“But, again, impossible! I shall always respect you; but we must never meet again.”

She held out her hand. Little Freddy caught and kissed it till he was breathless, and then rushed out, and blundered over Sabina in the next room.

“No hope?”

“None.” And though he tried to squeeze his eyes together very tight, the great tears would come dropping down.

Sabina took him to a sofa, and sat him down while he made his little moan.

“I told you that she was in love with the American.”

“Then why don’t he come back and marry her! Hang him, I’ll go after him and make him!” cried Scoutbush, glad of any object on which to vent his wrath.

“You can’t, for nobody knows where he is. Now do be good and patient; you will forget all this.”

“I shan’t!”

“You will; not at first, but gradually; and marry some one really more fit for you.”

“Ah, but if I marry her I shan’t love her; and then, you know, Mrs. Mellot, I shall go to the bad again, just as much as ever. Oh, I was trying to be steady for her sake!”

“You can be that still.”

“Yes, but it’s so hard, with nothing to hope for. I’m not fit to take care of myself. I’m fit for nothing, I believe, but to go out and be shot by those Russians; and I’ll do it!”

“You must not; you are not strong enough. The doctors would not let you go as you are.”

“Then I’ll get strong; I’ll–“

“You’ll go home, and be good.”

“Ain’t I good now?”

“Yes, you are a good, sensible fellow, and have behaved nobly, and I honour you for it, and Claude shall come and see you every day.”

That evening a note came from Scoutbush.

“DEAR MRS. MELLOT–Whom should I find when I went home, but Campbell? I told him all; and he says that you and everybody have done quite right, so I suppose you have; and that I am quite right in trying to get out to the East, so I shall do it. But the doctor says I must rest for six weeks at least. So Campbell has persuaded me to take the yacht, which is at Southampton, and go down to Aberalva, and then round to Snowdon, where I have a little slate-quarry, and get some fishing. Campbell is coming with me, and I wish Claude would come too. He knows that brother-in-law of mine, Vavasour, I think, and I shall go and make friends with him. I’ve got very merciful to foolish lovers lately, and Claude can help me to face him; for I am a little afraid of genuises, you know. So there we’ll pick up my sister (she goes down by land this week), and then go on to Snowdon; and Claude can visit his old quarters at the Royal Oak at Bettws, where he and I had that jolly week among the painters. Do let him come, and beg La Signora not to be angry with me. That’s all I’ll ever ask of her again.”

“Poor fellow! But I can’t part with you, Claude.”

“Let him,” said La Cordifiamma. “He will comfort his lordship; and do you come with me.”

“Come with you! Where!”

“I will tell you when Claude is gone.”

“Claude, go and smoke in the garden. Now?”

“Come with me to Germany, Sabina.”

“To Germany? Why on earth to Germany?”

“I–I only said Germany because it came first into my mind. Anywhere for rest; anywhere to be out of that poor man’s way.”

“He will not trouble you any more; and you will not surely throw up your engagement?”

“Of course not!” said she, half peevishly. “It will be over in a fortnight; and then I must have rest. Don’t you see how I want rest?”

Sabina had seen it for some time past. That white cheek had been fading more and more to a wax-like paleness; those black eyes glittered with fierce unhealthy light; and dark rings round them told, not merely of late hours and excitement, but of wild passion and midnight tears. Sabina had seen all, and could not but give way, as Marie went on.

“I must have rest, I tell you! I am beginning–I can confess all to you–to want stimulants. I am beginning to long for brandy and water–pah!–to nerve me up to the excitement of acting, and then for morphine to make me sleep after it. The very eau de Cologne flask tempts me! They say that the fine ladies use it, before a ball, for other purposes than scent. You would not like to see me commence that practice, would you?”

“There is no fear, dear.”

“There is fear! You do not know the craving for exhilaration, the capability of self-indulgence, in our wild Tropic blood. Oh, Sabina, I feel at times that I could sink so low–that I could be so wicked, so utterly wicked, if I once began! Take me away, dearest creature, take me away, and let me have fresh air, and fair quiet scenes, and rest–rest–oh, save me, Sabina!” and she put her hands over her face, and burst into tears.

“We will go, then: to the Rhine, shall it be? I have not been there now for these three years, and it will be such fun running about the world by myself once more, and knowing all the while that–” and Sabina stopped; she did not like to remind Marie of the painful contrast between them.

“To the Rhine? Yes. And I shall see the beautiful old world, the old vineyards, and castles, and hills, which he used to tell me of–taught me to read of in those sweet, sweet books of Longfellow’s! So gentle, and pure, and calm–so unlike me!”

“Yes, we will see them; and perhaps–“

Marie looked up at her, guessing her thoughts, and blushed scarlet.

“You, too, think then, that–that–” she could not finish her sentence.

Sabina stooped over her, and the two beautiful mouths met.

“There, darling, we need say nothing. We are both women, and can talk without words.”

“Then you think there is hope!”

“Hope? Do you fancy that he is gone so very far? or that if he were, I could not hunt him out? Have I wandered half round the world alone for nothing?”

“No, but hope–hope that–“

“Not hope, but certainty; if some one I know had but courage.”

“Courage–to do what!”

“To trust him utterly.”

Marie covered her face with her hands, and shuddered in every limb.

“You know my story. Did I gain or lose by telling my Claude all?”

“I will!” she cried, looking up pale but firm. “I will!” and she looked steadfastly into the mirror over the chimney-piece, as if trying to court the reappearance of that ugly vision which haunted it, and so to nerve herself to the utmost, and face the whole truth.

In little more than a fortnight, Sabina and Marie, with maid and courier (for Marie was rich now), were away in the old Antwerpen. And Claude was rolling down to Southampton by rail, with Campbell, Scoutbush, and last, but not least, the faithful Bowie; who had under his charge what he described to the puzzled railway-guard as “goads and cleiks, and pirns and creels, and beuks and heuks, enough for a’ the cods o’ Neufundland.”

CHAPTER XIII.

L’HOMME INCOMPRIS.

Elsley went on, between improved health and the fear of Tom Thurnall, a good deal better for the next month. He began to look forward to Valencia’s visit with equanimity, and, at last, with interest; and was rather pleased than otherwise when, in the last week of July, a fly drove up to the gate of old Penalva Court, and he handed out therefrom Valencia, and Valencia’s maid.

Lucia had discovered that the wind was east, and that she was afraid to go to the gate for fear of catching cold; her real purpose being, that Valencia should meet Elsley first.

“She is so impulsive,” thought the good little creature, always plotting about her husband, “that she will rush upon me, and never see him for the first five minutes; and Elsley is so sensitive–how can he be otherwise, in his position, poor dear?” So she refrained herself, like Joseph, and stood at the door till Valencia was half-way down the garden-walk, having taken Elsley’s somewhat shyly-offered arm; and then she could refrain herself no longer, and the two women ran upon each other, and kissed, and sobbed, and talked, till Lucia was out of breath; but Valencia was not so easily silenced.

“My darling! and you are looking so much better than I expected; but not quite yourself yet. That naughty baby is killing you, I am sure! And Mr. Vavasour too, I shall begin to call him Elsley to-morrow, if I like him as much as I do now–but he is looking quite thin–wearing himself out with writing so many beautiful books,–that Wreck was perfect! And where are the children?–I must rush upstairs and devour them!–and what a delicious old garden! and clipt yews, too, so dark and romantic, and such dear old-fashioned flowers!–Mr. Vavasour must show me all over it, and over that hanging wood, too. What a duck of a place!–And oh, my dear, I am quite out of breath!”

And so she swept in, with her arm round Lucia’s waist; while Elsley stood looking after her, well enough satisfied with her reception of him, and only hoping that the stream of words would slaken after a while.

“What a magnificent creature!” said he to himself. “Who could believe that the three years would make such a change!”

And he was right. The tall lithe girl had bloomed into full glory’ and Valencia St. Just, though not delicately beautiful, was as splendid an Irish damsel as man need look upon, with a grand masque, aquiline features, luxuriant black hair, and–though it was the fag-end of the London season–the unrivalled Irish complexion, as of the fair dame of Kilkenny, whose

“Lips were like roses, her cheeks were the same, Like a dish of fresh strawberries smother’d in crame.”

Her figure was perhaps too tall, and somewhat too stout also; but its size was relieved by the delicacy of those hands and feet of which Miss Valencia was most pardonably proud, and by that indescribable lissomeness and lazy grace which Irishwomen inherit, perhaps, with their tinge of southern blood; and when, in half an hour, she reappeared, with broad straw-hat, and gown tucked up _a la bergere_ over the striped Welsh petticoat, perhaps to show off the ankles, which only looked the finer for a pair of heavy laced boots, Elsley honestly felt it a pleasure to look at her, and a still greater pleasure to talk to her, and to be talked to by her; while she, bent on making herself agreeable, partly from real good taste, partly from natural good-nature, and partly, too, because she saw in his eyes that he admired her, chatted sentiment about all heaven and earth.

For to Miss Valencia–it is sad to have to say it–admiration had been now, for three years, her daily bread. She had lived in the thickest whirl of the world, and, as most do for a while, found it a very pleasant place.

She had flirted–with how many must not be told; and perhaps with more than one with whom she had no business to flirt. Little Scoutbush had remonstrated with her on some such affair, but she had silenced him with an Irish jest,–“You’re a fisherman, Freddy; and when you can’t catch salmon, you catch trout; and when you can’t catch trout, you’ll whip on the shallow for poor little gubbahawns, and say that it is all to keep your hand in–and so do I.”

The old ladies said that this was the reason why she had not married; the men, however, asserted that no one dare marry her; and one club-oracle had given it as his opinion that no man in his rational senses was to be allowed to have anything to do with her, till she had been well jilted two or three times, to take the spirit out of her: but that catastrophe had not yet occurred, and Miss Valencia still reigned “triumphant and alone,” though her aunt, old Lady Knockdown, moved all the earth, and some dirty places, too, below the earth, to get the wild Irish girl off her hands; “for,” quoth she, “I feel with Valencia, indeed, just like one of those men who carry about little dogs in the Quadrant. I always pity the poor men so, and think how happy they must be when they have sold one. It is one chance less, you know, of having it bite them horribly, and then run away after all.”

There was, however, no more real harm in Valencia, than there is in every child of Adam. Town frivolity had not corrupted her. She was giddy, given up to enjoyment of the present: but there was not a touch, of meanness about her: and if she was selfish, as every one must needs be whose thoughts are of pleasure, admiration, and success, she was so unintentionally; and she would have been shocked and pained at being told that she was anything but the most kind-hearted and generous creature on earth. Major Campbell, who was her Mentor as well as her brother’s, had certainly told her so more than once; at which she had pouted a good deal, and cried a little, and promised to amend; then packed up a heap of cast-off things to send to Lucia–half of it much too fine to be of any use to the quiet little woman; and lastly, gone out and bought fresh finery for herself, and forgot all her good resolutions. Whereby it befell that she was tolerably deep in debt at the end of every season, and had to torment and kiss Scoutbush into paying her bills, which he did, like a good brother, and often before he had paid his own.

But, howsoever full Valencia’s head may have been of fine garments and London flirtations, she had too much tact and good feeling to talk that evening of a world of which even Elsley knew more than her sister. For poor Lucia had been but eighteen at the time of her escapade, and had not been presented twelve months; so that she was as “inexperienced” as any one can be, who has only a husband, three children, and a household to manage on less than three hundred a year. Therefore Valencia talked only of things which would interest Elsley; asked him to read his last new poem–which, I need not say, he did; told him how she devoured everything he wrote; planned walks with him in the country; seemed to consult his pleasure in every way.

“To-morrow morning I shall sit with you and the children, Lucia; of course I must not interrupt Mr. Vavasour: but really in the afternoon I must ask him to spare a couple of hours from the Muses.”

Vavasour was delighted to do anything–“Where would she walk?”

“Where? of course to see the beautiful schoolmistress who saved the man from drowning; and then to see the chasm across which he was swept. I shall understand your poem so much better, you know, if I can but realise the people and the place. And you must take me to see Captain Willis, too, and even the Lieutenant–if he does not smell too much of brandy. I will be so gracious and civil, quite the lady of the castle.”

“You will make quite a royal progress,” said Lucia, looking at her with sisterly admiration.

“Yes, I intend to usurp as many of Scoutbush’s honours as I can till he comes. I must lay down the sceptre in a fortnight, you know, so I shall make as much use of it as I can meanwhile.”

And so on, and so on; meaning all the while to put Elsley quite at his ease, and let him understand that bygones were bygones, and that with her any reconciliation at all was meant to be a complete one; which was wise and right enough. But Valencia had not counted on the excitable and vain nature with which she was dealing; and Lucia, who had her own fears from the first evening, was the last person in the world to tell her of it; first from pride in herself, and then from pride in her husband. For even if a woman has made a foolish match, it is hard to expect her to confess as much: and, after all, a husband is a husband, and let his faults be what they might, he was still her Elsley; her idol once; and perhaps (so she hoped) her idol again hereafter, and if not, still he was her husband, and that was enough.

“By which you mean, sir, that she considers herself bound to endure everything and anything from him, simply because she had been married to him in church?”

Yes, and a great deal more. Not merely being married in church; but what being married in church means, and what every woman who is a woman understands; and lives up to without flinching, though she die a martyr for it, or a confessor; a far higher saint, if the truth was known, as it will be some day, than all the holy virgins who ever fasted and prayed in a convent since the days when Macarius first turned fakeer. For to a true woman, the mere fact of a man’s being her husband, put it on the lowest ground that you choose, is utterly sacred, divine, all-powerful; in the might of which she can conquer self in a way which is an everyday miracle; and the man who does not feel about the mere fact of a woman’s having given herself utterly to him, just what she herself feels about it, ought to be despised by all his fellows;–were it not that, in that case, it would be necessary to despise more human beings than is safe for the soul of any man.

That fortnight was the sunniest which Elsley had passed, since he made secret love to Lucia in Eaton Square. Romantic walks, the company of a beautiful woman as ready to listen as she was to talk, free licence to pour out all his fancies, sure of admiration, if not of flattery, and pardonably satisfied vanity–all these are comfortable things for most men, who have nothing better to comfort them. But, on the whole, this feast did not make Elsley a better or a wiser man at home. Why should it? Is a boy’s digestion improved by turning him loose into a confectioner’s shop? And thus the contrast between what he chose to call Valencia’s sympathy, and Lucia’s want of sympathy, made him, unfortunately, all the more cross to her when they were alone; and who could blame the poor little woman for saying one night, angrily enough:

“Ah, yes! Valencia,–Valencia is imaginative–Valencia understands you–Valencia sympathises–Valencia thinks … Valencia has no children to wash and dress, no accounts to keep, no linen to mend–Valencia’s back does not ache all day long, so that she would be glad enough to lie on the sofa from morning till night, if she was not forced to work whether she can work or not. No, no; don’t kiss me, for kisses will not make up for injustice, Elsley. I only trust that you will not tempt me to hate my own sister. No: don’t talk to me now, let me sleep if I can sleep; and go and walk and talk sentiment with Valencia to-morrow, and leave the poor little brood hen to sit on her nest, and be despised.” And refusing all Elsley’s entreaties for pardon, she sulked herself to sleep.

Who can blame her? If there is one thing more provoking than another to a woman, it is to see her husband Strass-engel, Haus-teufel, an angel of courtesy to every woman but herself; to see him in society all smiles and good stories, the most amiable and self-restraining of men; perhaps to be complimented on his agreeableness: and to know all the while that he is penning up all the accumulated ill-temper of the day, to let it out on her when they get home; perhaps in the very carriage as soon as it leaves the door. Hypocrites that you are, some of you gentlemen! Why cannot the act against cruelty to women, corporal punishment included, be brought to bear on such as you? And yet, after all, you are not most to blame in the matter: Eve herself tempts you, as at the beginning; for who does not know that the man is a thousand times vainer than the woman? He does but follow the analogy of all nature. Look at the Red Indian, in that blissful state of nature from which (so philosophers inform those who choose to believe them) we all sprang. Which is the boaster, the strutter, the bedizener of his sinful carcase with feathers and beads, fox-tails and bears’ claws,–the brave, or his poor little squaw? An Australian settler’s wife bestows on some poor slaving gin a cast-off French bonnet; before she has gone a hundred yards, her husband snatches it off, puts it on his own mop, quiets her for its loss with a tap of the waddie, and struts on in glory. Why not? Has he not the analogy of all nature on his side? Have not the male birds and the male moths, the fine feathers, while the females go soberly about in drab and brown? Does the lioness, or the lion, rejoice in the grandeur of a mane; the hind, or the stag, in antlered pride? How know we but that, in some more perfect and natural state of society, the women will dress like so many quakeresses; while the frippery shops will become the haunts of men alone, and “browches, pearls and owches be consecrate to the nobler sex?” There are signs already, in the dress of our young gentlemen, of such a return to the law of nature from the present absurd state of things, in which the human peahens carry about the gaudy trains which are the peacocks’ right.

For there is a secret feeling in woman’s heart that she is in her wrong place; that it is she who ought to worship the man, and not the man her; and when she becomes properly conscious of her destiny, has not he a right to be conscious of his? If the grey hens will stand round in the mire clucking humble admiration, who can blame the old blackcock for dancing and drumming on the top of a moss hag, with outspread wings and flirting tail, glorious and self-glorifying. He is a splendid fellow; and he was made splendid for some purpose surely? Why did Nature give him his steel-blue coat, and his crimson crest, but for the very same purpose that she gave Mr. A—- his intellect–to be admired by the other sex? And if young damsels, overflowing with sentiment and Ruskinism, will crowd round him, ask his opinion of this book and that picture, treasure his bon-mots, beg for his autograph, looking all the while the praise which they do not speak (though they speak a good deal of it), and when they go home write letters to him on matters about which in old times girls used to ask only their mothers;–who can blame him if he finds the little wife at home a very uninteresting body, whose head is so full of petty cares and gossip, that he and all his talents are quite unappreciated? _Les femmes incomprises_ of France used to (perhaps do now) form a class of married ladies, whose sorrows were especially dear to the novelists, male or female; but what are their woes compared to those of _l’homme incompris?_ What higher vocation for a young maiden than to comfort the martyr during his agonies? And, most of all, where the sufferer is not merely a genius, but a saint; persecuted, perhaps, abroad by vulgar tradesmen and Philistine bishops, and snubbed at home by a stupid wife, who is quite unable to appreciate his magnificent projects for regenerating all heaven and earth; and only, humdrum, practical creature that she is, tries to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with her God? Fly to his help, all pious maidens, and pour into the wounded heart of the holy man the healing balm of self-conceit; cover his table with confidential letters, choose him as your father-confessor, and lock yourself up alone with him for an hour or two every week, while the wife is mending his shirts upstairs.–True, you may break the stupid wife’s heart by year-long misery, as she slaves on, bearing the burden and heat of the day, of which you never dream; keeping the wretched man, by her unassuming good example, from making a fool of himself three times a week; and sowing the seed of which you steal the fruit. What matter? If your immortal soul requires it, what matter what it costs her carnal heart? She will suffer in silence; at least, she will not tell you. You think she does not understand you. Well;–and she thinks in return that you do not understand her, and her married joys and sorrows, and her five children, and her butcher’s bills, and her long agony of fear for the husband of whom she is ten times more proud than you could be; for whom she has slaved for years; whose defects she has tried to cure, while she cured her own; for whom she would die to-morrow, did he fall into disgrace, when you had flounced off to find some new idol: and so she will not tell you: and what the ear heareth not, that the heart grieveth not.–Go on and prosper! You may, too, ruin the man’s spiritual state by vanity: you may pamper his discontent with the place where God has put him, till he ends by flying off to “some purer Communion,” and taking you with him. Never mind. He is a most delightful person, and his intercourse is so improving. Why were sweet things made, but to be eaten? Go on and prosper.

Ah, young ladies, if some people had (as it is perhaps well for them that they have not) the ordering of this same British nation, they would certainly follow your example, and try to restore various ancient institutions. And first among them would be that very ancient institution of the cucking-stool; to be employed however, not as of old, against married scolds (for whom those who have been behind the scenes have all respect and sympathy), but against unmarried prophetesses, who, under whatsoever high pretence of art or religion, flirt with their neighbours’ husbands, be they parson or poet.

Not, be it understood, that Valencia had the least suspicion that Elsley considered himself “incompris.” If he had hinted the notion to her, she would have resented it as an insult to the St. Justs in general, and to her sister in particular; and would have said something to him in her off-hand way, the like whereof he had seldom heard, even from adverse reviewers.

Elsley himself soon divined enough of her character to see that he must keep his sorrows to himself, if he wished for Valencia’s good opinion; and soon,–so easily does a vain man lend himself to meanness–he found himself trying to please Valencia, by praising to her the very woman with whom he was discontented. He felt shocked and ashamed when first his own baseness flashed across him: but the bait was too pleasant to be left easily: and, after all, he was trying to say to his guest what he knew his guest would like; and what was that but following those very rules of good society, for breaking which Lucia was always calling him gauche and morose? So he actually quieted his own conscience by the fancy that he was bound to be civil, and to keep up appearances, “even for Lucia’s sake,” said the self-deceiver to himself. And thus the mischief was done; and the breach between Lucia and her husband, which had been somewhat bridged over during the last month or two, opened more wide than ever, without a suspicion on Valencia’s part that she was doing all she could to break her sister’s heart.

She, meanwhile, had plenty of reasons which justified her new intimacy to herself. How could she better please Lucia? How better show that bygones were to be bygones, and that Elsley was henceforth to be considered as one of the family, than by being as intimate as possible with him? What matter how intimate? For, after all, he was only a brother, and she his sister.

She had law on her side in that last argument, as well as love of amusement. Whether she had either common sense or Scripture, is a very different question.

Poor Lucia, too, tried to make the best of the matter; and to take the new intimacy as Valencia would have had her take it, in the light of a compliment to herself; and so, in her pride, she said to Valencia, and told her that she should love her for ever for her kindness to Elsley, while her heart was ready to burst.

But ere the fortnight was over the Nemesis had come, and Lucia, woman as she was, could not repress a thrill of malicious joy, even though Elsley became more intolerable than ever at the change.

What was the Nemesis, then?

Simply that this naughty Miss St. Just began to smile upon Frank Headley the curate, even as she had smiled upon Elsley Vavasour.

It was very naughty; but she had her excuses. She had found Elsley out; and it was well for both of them that she had done so. Already, upon the strength of their supposed relationship, she had allowed him to talk a great deal more nonsense to her,–harmless perhaps, but nonsense still,–than she would have listened to from any other man; and it was well for both of them that Elsley was a man without self-control who began to show the weak side of his character freely enough, as soon as he became at ease with his companion, and excited by conversation. Valencia quickly saw that he was vain as a peacock, and weak enough to be led by her in any and every direction, when she chose to work on his vanity. And she despised him accordingly, and suspected, too, that her sister could not be very happy with such a man.

None are more quick than sisters-in-law to see faults in the brother-in-law, when once they have begun to look for them; and Valencia soon remarked that Elsley showed Lucia no _petits soins_, while he was ready enough to show them to her; that he took no real trouble about his children, or about anything else; and twenty more faults, which she might have perceived in the first two days of her visit, if she had not been in such a hurry to amuse herself. But she was too delicate to ask Lucia the truth, and contented herself with watching all parties closely, and in amusing herself meanwhile–for amusement she must have–in

“Breaking a country heart
For pastime, ere she went to town.”

She had met Frank several times about the parish and in the schools, and had been struck at once with his grace and high breeding, and with that air of melancholy which is always interesting in a true woman’s eyes. She had seen, too, that Elsley tried to avoid him, naturally enough not wishing an intrusion on their pleasant _tetes-a-tete._ Whereon, half to spite Elsley, and half to show her own right to chat with whom she chose, she made Lucia ask Frank to tea; and next contrived to go to the school when he was teaching there, and to make Elsley ask him to walk with them; and all the more, because she had discovered that Elsley had discontinued his walks with Frank, as soon as she had appeared at Penalva.

Lucia was not sorry to countenance her in her naughtiness; it was a comfort to her to have a fourth person in the room at times, and thus to compel Elsley and Valencia to think of something beside each other; and when she saw her sister gradually transferring her favours from the married to the unmarried victim, she would have been more than woman if she had not rejoiced thereat. Only, she began soon to be afraid for Frank, and at last told Valencia so.

“Do take care that you do not break his heart!”

“My dear! You forget that I sit under Mr. O’Blareaway, and am to him as a heathen and a publican. Fresh from St. Nepomuc’s as he is, he would as soon think of falling in love with an ‘Oirish Prodestant,’ as with a malignant and a turbaned Turk. Besides, my dear, if the mischief is going to be done, it’s done already.”

“I dare say it is, you naughty beautiful thing. If anybody is goose enough to fall in love with you, he’ll be also goose enough, I don’t doubt, to do so at first sight. There, don’t look perpetually in that glass: but take care!”

“What use? If it is going to happen at all, I say, it has happened already; so I shall just please myself, as usual.”

And it had happened: and poor Frank had been, ever since the first day he saw Valencia, over head and ears in love. His time had come, and there was no escaping his fate.

But to escape he tried. Convinced, with many good men of all ages and creeds, that a celibate life was the fittest one for a clergyman, he had fled from St. Nepomuc’s into the wilderness to avoid temptation, and beheld at his cell-door a fairer fiend than ever came to St. Dunstan. A fairer fiend, no doubt; for St. Dunstan’s imagination created his temptress for him, but Valencia was a reality: and fact and nature may be safely backed to produce something more charming than any monk’s brain can do. One questions whether St. Dunstan’s apparition was not something as coarse as his own mind, clever though that mind was. At least, he would never have had the heart to apply the hot tongs to such a nose as Valencia’s, but at most have bowed her out pityingly, as Frank tried to bow out Valencia from the sacred place of his heart, but failed.

Hard he tried, and humbly too. He had no proud contempt for married parsons. He was ready enough to confess, that he, too, might be weak in that respect, as in a hundred others. He conceived that he had no reason, from his own inner life, to believe himself worthy of any higher vocation–proving his own real nobleness of soul by that very humility. He had rather not marry. He might do so some day: but he would sacrifice much to avoid the necessity. If he was weak, he would use what strength he had to the uttermost ere he yielded. And all the more, because he felt, and reasonably enough, that Valencia was the last woman in the world to make a parson’s wife. He had his ideal of what such a wife should be, if she were to be allowed to exist at all–the same ideal which Mr. Paget has drawn in his charming little book (would that all parsons’ wives would read and perpend), the “Owlet of Owlstone Edge.” But Valencia would surely not make a Beatrice. Beautiful she was, glorious, lovable, but not the helpmeet whom he needed. And he fought against the new dream like a brave man. He fasted, he wept, he prayed: but his prayers seemed not to be heard. Valencia seemed to have enthroned herself, a true Venus victrix, in the centre of his heart, and would not be dispossessed. He tried to avoid seeing her: but even for that he had not strength: more miserable each time, as fierce against himself and his own weakness as if he had given way to wine or to oaths. In vain, too, he represented to himself the ridiculous hopelessness of his passion; the impossibility of the London beauty ever stooping to marry the poor country curate. Fancies would come in, how such things, strange as they might seem, had happened already; might happen again. It was a class of marriages for which he had always felt a strong dislike, even suspicion and contempt; and though he was far more fitted, in family as well as personal excellence, for such a match, than three out of four who make them, yet he shrank with disgust from the notion of being himself classed at last among the match-making parsons. Whether there was “carnal pride” or not in that last thought, his soul so loathed it, that he would gladly have thrown up his cure at Aberalva; and would have done so actually, but for one word which Tom Thurnall had spoken to him, and that was–Cholera.

That the cholera might come; that it probably would come, in the course of the next two months, was news to him which was enough to keep him at his post, let what would be the consequence. And gradually he began to see a way out of his difficulty–and a very simple one; and that was to die.

“That is the solution after all,” said he. “I am not strong enough for God’s work: but I will not shrink from it, if I can help. If I cannot master it, let it kill me; so at least I may have peace. I have failed utterly here: all my grand plans have crumbled to ashes between my fingers. I find myself a cumberer of the ground, where I fancied that I was going forth like a very Michael–fool that I was!–leader of the armies of heaven. And now, in the one remaining point on which I thought myself strong, I find myself weakest of all. Useless and helpless! I have one chance left, one chance to show these poor souls that I really love them, really wish their good–Selfish that I am! What matter whether I do show it or not? What need to justify myself to them? Self, self, creeping in everywhere! I shall begin next, I suppose, longing for the cholera to come, that I may show off myself in it, and make spiritual capital out of their dying agonies! Ah me! that it were all over!–That this cholera, if it is to come, would wipe out of this head what I verily believe nothing but death will do!” And therewith Frank laid his head on the table, and cried till he could cry no more.

It was not over manly: but he was weakened with overwork and sorrow: and, on the whole, it was perhaps the best thing he could do; for he fell asleep there, with his head on the table, and did not wake till the dawn blazed through his open window.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE DOCTOR AT BAY.

Did you ever, in a feverish dream, climb a mountain which grew higher and higher as you climbed; and scramble through passages which changed perpetually before you, and up and down break-neck stairs which broke off perpetually behind you? Did you ever spend the whole night, foot in stirrup, mounting that phantom hunter which never gets mounted, or, if he does, turns into a pen between your knees; or in going to fish that phantom stream which never gets fished? Did you ever, late for that mysterious dinner-party in some enchanted castle, wander disconsolately, in unaccountable rags and dirt, in search of that phantom carpet-bag which never gets found? Did you ever “realise” to yourself the sieve of the Danaides, the stone of Sisyphus, the wheel of Ixion; the pleasure of shearing that domestic animal who (according to the experience of a very ancient observer of nature) produces more cry than wool; the perambulation of that Irishman’s model bog, where you slip two steps backward for one forward, and must, therefore, in order to progress at all, turn your face homeward, and progress as a pig does into a steamer, by going the opposite way? Were you ever condemned to spin ropes of sand to all eternity, like Tregeagle the wrecker; or to extract the cube roots of a million or two of hopeless surds, like the mad mathematician; or last, and worst of all, to work the Nuisances Removal Act? Then you can enter, as a man and a brother, into the sorrows of Tom Thurnall, in the months of June and July, 1854.

He had made up his mind, for certain good reasons of his own, that the cholera ought to visit Aberalva in the course of the summer; and, of course, tried his best to persuade people to get ready for their ugly visitor: but in vain. The cholera come there? Why, it never had come yet, which signified, when he inquired a little more closely, that there had been only one or two doubtful cases in 1837, and five or six in 1849. In vain he answered, “Very well; and is not that a proof that the causes of cholera are increasing here? If you had one case the first time, and five times as many the next, by the same rule you will have five times as many more if it comes this summer.”

“Nonsense! Aberalva was the healthiest town on the coast.”

“Well but,” would Tom say, “in the census before last, you had a population of 1300 in 112 houses, and that was close packing enough, in all conscience: and in the last census I find you had a population of over 1400, which must have increased since; and there are eight or nine old houses in the town pulled down, or turned into stores; so you are more closely packed than ever. And mind, it may seem no very great difference; but it is the last drop that fills the cup.”

What had that to do with cholera? And more than one gave him to understand that he must be either a very silly or a very impertinent person, to go poking into how many houses there were in the town, and how many people lived in each. Tardrew, the steward, indeed, said openly, that Mr. Thurnall was making disturbance enough in people’s property up at Pentremochyn, without bothering himself with Aberalva too. He had no opinion of people who had a finger in everybody’s pie. Whom Tom tried to soothe with honeyed words, knowing him to be of the original British bulldog breed, which, once stroked against the hair, shows his teeth at you for ever afterwards.

But staunch was Tardrew, unfortunately on the wrong side; and backed by the collective ignorance, pride, laziness, and superstition of Aberalva, showed to his new assailant that terrible front of stupidity, against which, says Schiller, “the gods themselves fight in vain.”

“Does he think we was all fools afore he came here?”

That was the rallying cry of the Conservative party, worshippers of Baalzebub, god of flies, and of that (so say Syrian scholars) from which flies are bred. And, indeed, there were excuses for them, on the Yankee ground, that “there’s a deal of human natur’ in man.” It is hard to human nature to make all the humiliating confessions which must precede sanitary repentance; to say, “I have been a very nasty, dirty fellow. I have lived contented in evil smells, till I care for them no more than my pig does. I have refused to understand Nature’s broadest hints, that anything which is so disagreeable is not meant to be left about. I have probably been more or less the cause of half my own illnesses, and of three-fourths of the illness of my children; for aught I know, it is very much my fault that my own baby has died of scarlatina, and two or three of my tenants of typhus. No, hang it! that’s too much to make any man confess to! I’ll prove my innocence by not reforming!” So sanitary reform is thrust out of sight, simply because its necessity is too humiliating to the pride of all, too frightful to the consciences of many.

Tom went to Trebooze.

“Mr. Trebooze, you are a man of position in the county, and own some houses in Aberalva. Don’t you think you could use your influence in this matter?”

“Own some houses? Yes,”–and Mr. Trebooze consigned the said cottages to a variety of unmentionable places; “cost me more in rates than they bring in in rent, even if I get the rent paid. I should like to get a six-pounder, and blow the whole lot into the sea. Cholera coming, eh? D’ye think it will he there before Michaelmas?”

“I do.”

“Pity I can’t clear ’em out before Michaelmas. Else I’d have ejected the lot, and pulled the houses down.”

“I think something should be done meanwhile, though, towards cleansing them.”

“—- Let ’em cleanse them themselves! Soap’s cheap enough with your —- free trade, ain’t it! No, sir! That sort of talk will do well enough for my Lord Minchampstead, sir, the old money-lending Jew! —- but gentlemen, sir, gentlemen, that are half-ruined with free trade, and your Whig policy, sir, you must give ’em back their rights before they can afford to throw away their money on cottages. Cottages, indeed! —- upstart of a cotton-spinner, coming down here, buying the lands over our heads, and pretends to show us how to manage our estates; old families that have been in the county this four hundred years, with the finest peasantry in the world ready to die for them, sir, till these new revolutionary doctrines came in–Pride and purse-proud conceit, just to show off his money! What do they want with better cottages than their fathers had? Only put notions into their heads, raise ’em above their station; more they have, more they’ll want. —- sir, make chartists of ’em all before he’s done! I’ll tell you what, sir,”–and Mr. Trebooze attempted a dignified and dogmatic tone–“I never told it you before, because you were my very good friend, sir: but my opinion is, sir, that by what you’re doing up at Pentremochyn, you’re just spreading chartism–chartism, sir! Of course I know nothing. Of course I’m nobody, in these days: but that’s my opinion, sir, and you’ve got it!”

By which motion Tom took little. Mighty is envy always, and mighty ignorance: but you become aware of their truly Titanic grandeur only when you attempt to touch their owner’s pocket.

Tom tried old Heale: but took as little in that quarter. Heale had heard of sanitary reform, of course; but he knew nothing about it, and gave a general assent to Tom’s doctrines, for fear of exposing his own ignorance: acting on them was a very different matter. It is always hard for an old medical man to confess that anything has been discovered since the days of his youth; and beside, there were other reasons behind, which Heale tried to avoid giving; and therefore fenced off, and fenced off, till, pressed hard by Tom, wrath came forth, and truth with it.

“And what be you thinking of, sir, to expect me to offend all my best patients? and not one of ’em but rents some two cottages, some a dozen. And what’ll they say to me if I go a routing and rookling in their drains, like an old sow by the wayside, beside putting ’em to all manner of expense? And all on the chance of this cholera coming, which I have no faith in, nor in this new-fangled sanitary reform neither, which is all a dodge for a lot of young Government puppies to fill their pockets, and rule and ride over us: and my opinion always was with the Bible, that ’tis jidgment, sir, a jidgment of God, and we can’t escape His holy will, and that’s the plain truth of it.”

Tom made no answer to that latter argument. He had heard that “’tis jidgment” from every mouth during the last few days; and had mortally offended the Brianite preacher that very morning, by answering his “’tis jidgment” with–

“But, my good sir! the Bible, I thought, says that Aaron stayed the plague among the Israelites, and David the one at Jerusalem.”

“Sir, those was miracles, sir! and they was under the Law, sir, and we’m under the Gospel, you’ll be pleased to remember.”

“Humph!” said Tom, “then, by your showing, they were better off under the Law than we are now, if they could have their plagues stopped by miracles; and we cannot have ours stopped at all.”

“Sir, be you an infidel?”

To which there was no answer to be made.

In this case, Tom answered Heale with–

“But, my dear sir, if you don’t like (as is reasonable enough) to take the responsibility on yourself, why not go to the Board of Guardians, and get them to put the Act in force?”

“Boord, sir? and do you know so little of Boords as that? Why, there ain’t one of them but owns cottages themselves, and it’s as much as my place is worth–“

“Your place as medical officer is just worth nothing, as you know; you’ll have been out of pocket by it seven or eight pounds this year, even if no cholera comes.”

Tom knew the whole state of the case; but he liked tormenting Heale now and then.

“Well, sir! but if I get turned out next year, in steps that Drew over at Carcarrow Churchtown into my district, and into the best of my practice, too. I wonder what sort of a Poor Law district you were medical officer of, if you don’t know yet that that’s why we take to the poor.”

“My dear sir, I know it, and a good deal more beside.”

“Then why go bothering me this way?”

“Why,” said Tom, “it’s pleasant to have old notions confirmed as often as possible–

“‘Life is a jest, and all things show it; I thought so once, but now I know it.’

What an ass the fellow must have been who had that put on his tombstone, not to have found it out many a year before he died!”

He went next to Headley the curate, and took little by that move; though more than by any other.

For Frank already believed his doctrines, as an educated London parson of course would; was shocked to hear that they were likely to become fact so soon and so fearfully; offered to do all he could: but confessed that he could do nothing.

“I have been hinting to them, ever since I came, improvements in cleanliness, in ventilation, and so forth: but I have been utterly unheeded: and bully me as you will, Doctor, about my cramming doctrines down their throats, and roaring like a Pope’s bull, I assure you that, on sanitary reform, my roaring was as of a sucking dove, and ought to have prevailed, if soft persuasion can.”

“You were a dove where you ought to have been a bull, and a bull where you ought to have been a dove. But roar now, if ever you roared, in the pulpit and out. Why not preach to them on it next Sunday?”

“Well, I’d give a lecture gladly, if I could get any one to come and hear it; but that you could do better than me.”

“I’ll lecture them myself, and show them bogies, if my quarter-inch will do its work. If they want seeing to believe, see they shall; I have half-a-dozen specimens of water already which will astonish them. Let me lecture, you must preach.”

“You must know, that there is a feeling,–you would call it a prejudice,–against introducing such purely secular subjects into the pulpit.”

Tom gave a long whistle.

“Pardon me, Mr. Headley; you are a man of sense; and I can speak to you as one human being to another, which I have seldom been able to do with your respected cloth.”

“Say on; I shall not be frightened.”

“Well, don’t you put up the Ten Commandments in your Church?”

“Yes.”

“And don’t one of them run: ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”

“Well?”

“And is not murder a moral offence–what you call a sin?”

“_Sans doute_.”

“If you saw your parishioners in the habit of cutting each other’s throats, or their own, shouldn’t you think that a matter spiritual enough to be a fit subject for a little of the drum ecclesiastic?”

“Well?”

“Well? Ill! There are your parishioners about to commit wholesale murder and suicide, and is that a secular question? If they don’t know the fact, is not that all the more reason for your telling them of it? You pound away, as I warned you once, at the sins of which they are just as well aware as you; why on earth do you hold your tongue about the sins of which they are not aware? You tell us every Sunday that we do Heaven only knows how many more wrong things than we dream of. Tell it us again now. Don’t strain at gnats like want of faith and resignation, and swallow such a camel as twenty or thirty deaths. It’s no concern of mine; I’ve seen plenty of people murdered, and may again: I am accustomed to it; but if it’s not your concern, what on earth you are here for is more than I can tell.”

“You are right–you are right; but how to put it on religious grounds–“

Tom whistled again.

“If your doctrines cannot be made to fit such plain matters as twenty deaths, _tant pis pour eux_. If they have nothing to say on such scientific facts, why the facts must take care of themselves, and the doctrines may, for aught I care, go and–. But I won’t be really rude. Only think over the matter. If you are God’s minister, you ought to have something to say about God’s view of a fact which certainly involves the lives of his creatures, not by twos and threes, but by tens of thousands.”

So Frank went home, and thought it through; and went once and again to Thurnall, and condescended to ask his opinion of what he had said, and whether he said ill or well. What Thurnall answered was–“Whether that’s sound Church doctrine is your business; but if it be, I’ll say with the man there in the Acts–what was his name?–‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.'”

“Would God that you were one! for you would make a right good one.”

“Humph! at least you see what you can do, if you’ll only face fact as it stands, and talk about the realities of life. I’ll puff your sermon beforehand, I assure you, and bring all I can to hear it.”

So Frank preached a noble sermon, most rational, and most spiritual withal; but he, too, like his tutor, took little by his motion.

All the present fruit upon which he had to congratulate himself was, that the Brianite preacher denounced him in chapel next Sunday as a German Rationalist, who impiously pretended to explain away the Lord’s visitation into a carnal matter of drains, and pipes, and gases, and such like; and that his rival of another denomination, who was a fanatic on the teetotal question, denounced him as bitterly for supporting the cause of drunkenness, by attributing cholera to want of cleanliness, while all rational people knew that its true source was intemperance. Poor Frank! he had preached against drunkenness many a time and oft: but because he would not add a Mohammedan eleventh commandment to those ten which men already find difficulty enough in keeping, he was set upon at once by a fanatic whose game it was–as it is that of too many–to snub sanitary reform, and hinder the spread of plain scientific truth, for the sake of pushing their own nostrum for all human ills.

In despair, Tom went off to Elsley Vavasour. Would he help? Would he join, as one of two householders, in making a representation to the proper authorities?

Elsley had never mixed in local matters: and if he had, he knew nothing of how to manage men, or to read an Act of Parliament; so, angry as Tom was inclined to be with him, he found it useless to quarrel with a man so utterly unpractical, who would, probably, had he been stirred into exertion, have done more harm than good.

“Only come with me, and satisfy yourself as to the existence of one of these nuisances, and then you will have grounds on which to go,” said Tom, who had still hopes of making a cat’s-paw of Elsley, and by his power over him, pulling the strings from behind.

Sorely against his will, Elsley went, saw, and smelt; came home again; was very unwell; and was visited nightly for a week after that by that most disgusting of all phantoms, sanitary nightmare; which some who have worked in the foul places of the earth know but too well. Evidently his health could not stand it. There was no work to be got out of him in that direction.

“Would he write, then, and represent matters to Lord Scoutbush?”

How could he? He did not know the man; not a line had ever been exchanged between them. Their relations were so very peculiar. It would seem sheer impertinence on his part to interfere with the management of Lord Scoutbush’s property. Really there was a great deal to be said, Tom felt, for poor Elsley’s dislike of meddling in that quarter.

“Would Mrs. Vavasour write, then?”

“For Heaven’s sake do not mention it to her. She would be so terrified about the children; she is worn out with anxiety already,”–and so forth.

Tom went back to Frank Headley.

“You see a good deal of Miss St. Just.”

“I?–No–why?–what?” said poor Frank, blushing.

“Only that you must make her write to her brother about this cholera.”

“My dear fellow, it is such a subject for a lady to meddle with.”

“It has no scruple in meddling with ladies; so ladies ought to have none in meddling with it. You must do it as delicately as you will: but done it must be: it is our only chance. Tell her of Tardrew’s obstinacy, or Scoutbush will go by his opinion; and tell her to keep the secret from her sister.”

Frank did it, and well. Valencia was horror-struck, and wrote.

Scoutbush was away at sea, nobody knew where; and a full fortnight elapsed before an answer came.

“My dear, you are quite mistaken if you think I can do anything. Nine-tenths of the houses in Aberalva are not in my hands; but copyholds and long leases, over which I have no power. If the people will complain to me of any given nuisance, I’ll right it if I can; and if the doctor wants money, and sees any ways of laying it out well, he shall have what he wants, though I am very high in Queer Street just now, ma’am, having paid your bills before I left town, like a good brother: but I tell you again, I have no more power than you have, except over a few cottages, and Tardrew assured me, three weeks ago, that they were as comfortable as they ever had been.”

So Tardrew had forestalled Thurnall in writing to the Viscount. Well, there was one more chance to be tried.

Tom gave his lecture in the school-room. He showed them magnified abominations enough to frighten all the children into fits, and dilated on horrors enough to spoil all appetites: he proved to them that, though they had the finest water in the world all over the town, they had contrived to poison almost every drop of it; he waxed eloquent, witty, sarcastic; and the net result was a general grumble.

“How did he get hold of all the specimens, as he calls them? What business has he poking his nose down people’s wells and waterbutts?”

But an unexpected ally arose at this juncture, in the coast-guard lieutenant, who, being valiant after his evening’s brandy-and-water, rose and declared, “that Dr. Thurnall was a very clever man; that by what he’d seen himself in the West Indies, it was all as true as gospel; that the parish might have the cholera if it liked,”–and here a few expletives occurred,–“but that he’d see that the coast-guard houses were put to rights at once; for he would not have the lives of Her Majesty’s servants endangered by such dirty tricks, not fit for heathen savages,” etc. etc.

Tom struck while the iron was hot. He saw that the great man’s speech had produced an impression.

“Would he” (so he asked the lieutenant privately) “get some one to join him, and present a few of these nuisances?”

He would do anything in his contempt for “a lot of long-shore merchant-skippers and herringers, who went about calling themselves captains, and fancy themselves, sir, as good as if they wore the Queen’s uniform!”

“Well, then, can’t we find another householder–some cantankerous dog who don’t mind a row?”

Yes, the cantankerous dog was found, in the person of Mr. John Penruddock, coal-merchant, who had quarrelled with Tardrew, because Tardrew said he gave short weight–which he very probably did–and had quarrelled also with Thomas Beer, senior, shipbuilder, about right of passage through a back-yard.

Mr. Penruddock suddenly discovered that Mr. Beer kept up a dirt-heap in the said back-yard, and with virtuous indignation vowed “he’d sarve the old beggar out at last.”

So far so good. The weapons of reason and righteousness having failed, Tom felt at liberty to borrow the devil’s tools. Now to pack a vestry, and to nominate a local committee.

The vestry was packed; the committee nominated: of course half of them refused to act–they “didn’t want to go quarrelling with their neighbours.”

Tom explained to them cunningly and delicately that they would have nothing to do; that one or two (he did not say that he was the one, and the two also) would do all the work, and bear all the odium; whereon the malcontents subsided, considering it likely that, after all, nothing would be done.

Some may fancy that matters were now getting somewhat settled. Those who do so know little of the charming machinery of local governments. One man has “summat to say,”–utterly irrelevant. Another must needs answer him with something equally irrelevant; a long chatter ensues, in spite of all cries to order and question. Soon one and another gets personal, and temper shows here and there. You would fancy that the go-ahead party try to restore order, and help business on. Not in the least. They have begun to cool a little. They are a little afraid that they have committed themselves. If people quarrel with each other, perhaps they may quarrel with them too. And they begin to be wonderfully patient and impartial, in the hope of staving off the evil day, and finding some excuse for doing nothing after all. “Hear ‘mun out!” … “Vair and zoft, let ev’ry man ha’ his zay!” … “There’s vary gude rason in it!” … “I didn’t think of that avore;”–and so forth; till in a quarter of an hour the whole question has to be discussed over again, through the fog of a dozen fresh fallacies, and the miserable earnest man finds himself considerably worse off than when he began. Happy for him if some chance word is not let drop, which will afford the whole assembly an excuse for falling on him open-mouthed, as the cause of all their woes!

That chance word came. Mr. Penruddock gave a spiteful hit, being, as he said, of a cantankerous turn, to Mr. Treluddra, principal “jowder,” _i.e._ fish salesman, of Aberalva. Whereon Treluddra, whose conscience told him that there was at present in his back-yard a cartload and more of fish in every stage of putrefaction, which he had kept rotting there rather than lower the market-price, rose in wrath.

“An’ if any committee puts its noz into my back-yard, if it doant get the biggest cod’s innards as I can collar hold on, about its ears, my name is not Treluddra! A man’s house is his castle, says I, and them as takes up with any o’ this open-day burglary, for it’s nothing less, has to do wi’ me, that’s all, and them as knows their interest, knows me!”

Terrible were these words; for old Treluddra, like most jowders, combined the profession of money-lender with that of salesman; and there were dozens in the place who were in debt to him for money advanced to buy boats and nets, after wreck and loss. Besides, to offend one jowder was to offend all. They combined to buy the fish at any price they chose: if angered, they would combine now and then not to buy it at all.

“You old twenty per cent rascal,” roared the Lieutenant, “after making a fortune out of these poor fellows’ mishaps, do you want to poison ’em all with your stinking fish?”

“I say, Lieutenant,” says old Beer, whose son owed Treluddra fifty pounds at that moment, “fair’s fair. You mind your Coastguard, and we’m mind our trade. We’m free fishermen, by charter and right; you’m not our master, and you shall know it.”

“Know it?” says the Lieutenant, foaming.

“Iss; you put your head inside my presences, and I’ll split mun open, if I be hanged for it.”

“You split my head open?”

“Iss, by–.” And the old grey-bearded sea-king set his arms akimbo.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake!” cries poor Headley, “this is really going too far. Gentlemen, the vestry is adjourned!”

“Best thing too! oughtn’t never to have been called,” says one and another.

And some one, as he went out, muttered something about “interloping strange doctors, colloquies with popish curates,” which was answered by a–“Put ‘mun in the quay pule,” from Treluddra.

Tom stepped up to Treluddra instantly, “What were you so kind as to say, sir?”

Treluddra turned very pale. “I didn’t say nought.”

“Oh, but I assure you I heard; and I shall be most happy to jump into the quay pule this afternoon, if it will afford you the slightest amusement. Say the word, and I’ll borrow a flute, and play you the Rogue’s March all the while with my right hand, swimming with my left. Now, gentlemen, one word before we part!”

“Who be you?” cries some one.

“A man at least, and ought to have a fair hearing. Now, I ask you, what possible interest can I have in this matter? I knew when I began that I should give myself a frightful quantity of trouble, and get only what I have got.”

“Why did you begin at all, then?”

“Because I was a very foolish, meddlesome ass, who fancied that I ought to do my duty once in a way by my neighbours. Now, I have only to say, that if you will but forgive and forget, and let bygones be bygones, I promise you solemnly I’ll never do my duty by you again as long as I live, nor interfere with the sacred privilege of every free-born Englishman, to do that which is right in the sight of his own eyes, and wrong too!”

“You’m making fun at us,” said old Beer dubiously.

“Well, Mr. Beer, and isn’t that better than quarrelling with you? Come along, we’ll all go home and forget it, like good Christians. Perhaps the cholera won’t come; and if it does, what’s the odds so long as you’re happy, eh?”

And to the intense astonishment both of the Lieutenant and Frank, Tom walked home with the malcontents, making himself so agreeable, that he was forgiven freely on the spot.

“What does the fellow mean? He’s deserted us, sir, after bringing us here to make fools of us!”

Frank could give no answer; but Thurnall gave one himself that evening, both to Frank and the Lieutenant.

“The cholera will come; and these fellows are just mad; but I mustn’t quarrel with them, mad or not.”

“Why, then?”

“For the same reason that you must not. If we keep our influence, we may be able to do some good at the last, which means, in plain English, saving a few human lives. As for you Lieutenant, you have behaved like a hero, and have been served as heroes generally are. What you must do is this. On the first hint of disease, pack up your traps and your good lady, and go and live in the watch-house across the river. As for the men’s houses, I’ll set them to rights in a day, if you’ll get the commander of the district to allow you a little chloride of lime and whitewash.”

And so the matter ended.

“You are a greater puzzle than ever to me, Thurnall,” said Frank. “You are always pretending to care for nothing but your own interest, and yet here you have gone out of your way to incur odium, knowing, you say, that your cause was all but hopeless.”

“Well, I do it because I like it. It’s a sort of sporting with your true doctor. He blazes away at a disease where he sees one, as he would at a bear or a lion; the very sight of it excites his organ of destructiveness. Don’t you understand me? You hate sin, you know. Well, I hate disease. Moral evil is your devil, and physical evil is mine. I hate it, little or big; I hate to see a fellow sick; I hate to see a child rickety and pale; I hate to see a speck of dirt in the street; I hate to see a woman’s gown torn; I hate to see her stockings down at heel; I hate to see anything wasted, anything awry, anything going wrong; I hate to see water-power wasted, manure wasted, land wasted, muscle wasted, pluck wasted, brains wasted; I hate neglect, incapacity, idleness, ignorance, and all the disease and misery which spring out of that. There’s my devil; and I can’t help it for the life of me, going right at his throat, wheresoever I meet him!”

Lastly, rather to clear his reputation than in the hope of doing good, Tom wrote up to London, and detailed the case to that much-calummated body, the General Board of Health, informing them civilly, that the Nuisances Removal Act was simply waste paper; that he could not get it to bear at all on Aberalva; and that if he had done so, it would have been equally useless, for the simple reason that it constituted the offenders themselves judge and jury in their own case.

To which the Board returned for answer, that they were perfectly aware of the fact, and deeply deplored the same: but that as soon as cholera broke out in Aberalva, they should be most happy to send down an inspector.

To which Tom replied courteously, that he would not give them the trouble, being able, he trusted, to perform without assistance the not uncommon feat of shutting the stable-door after the horse was stolen.

And so was Aberalva left “a virgin city,” undefiled by Government interference, to the blessings of that “local government,” which signifies, in plain English, the leaving the few to destroy themselves and the many, by the unchecked exercise of the virtues of pride and ignorance, stupidity and stinginess.

But to Tom, in his sorest need, arose a new and most unexpected coadjutor; and this was the way in which it came to pass.

For it befell in that pleasant summer time, “when small birds sing and shaughs are green,” that Thurnall started, one bright Sunday eve, to see a sick child at an upland farm, some few miles from the town. And partly because he liked the walk, and partly because he could no other, having neither horse nor gig, he went on foot; and whistled as he went like any throstle-cock, along the pleasant vale, by flowery banks and ferny walls, by oak and ash and thorn, while Alva flashed and swirled, between green boughs below, clear coffee-brown from last night’s rain. Some miles up the turnpike road he went, and then away to the right, through the ash-woods of Trebooze, up by the rill which drips from pool to pool over the ledges of grey slate, deep-bedded in dark sedge, and broad bright burdock leaves, and tall angelica, and ell-broad rings and tufts of king, and crown, and lady-fern, and all the semi-tropic luxuriance of the fat western soil, and steaming western woods; out into the boggy moor at the glen head, all fragrant with the gold-tipped gale, where the turf is enamelled with the hectic marsh violet, and the pink pimpernel, and the pale yellow leaf-stars of the butterwort, and the blue bells and green threads of the ivy-leaved campanula; out upon the steep smooth down above, and away over the broad cattle-pastures; and then to pause a moment, and look far and wide over land and sea.

It was a “day of God.” The earth lay like one great emerald, ringed and roofed with sapphire; blue sea, blue mountain, blue sky overhead. There she lay, not sleeping, but basking in her quiet Sabbath joy, as though her two great sisters, of the sea and air, had washed her weary limbs with holy tears, and purged away the stains of last week’s sin and toil, and cooled her hot worn forehead with their pure incense-breath, and folded her within their azure robes, and brooded over her with smiles of pitying love, till she smiled back in answer, and took heart and hope for next week’s weary work.

Heart and hope for next week’s work.–That was the sermon which it preached to Tom Thurnall, as he stood there alone, a stranger and a wanderer, like Ulysses of old; but, like him, self-helpful, cheerful, fate-defiant. In one respect indeed, he knew less than Ulysses, and was more of a heathen than he; for he knew not what Ulysses knew, that a heavenly guide was with him in his wanderings; still less what Ulysses knew not, that what he called the malicious sport of fortune was, in truth, the earnest education of a father; but who will blame him for getting strength and comfort from such merely natural founts, or say that the impulse came from below, and not from above, which made him say–

“Brave old world she is, after all, and right well made; and looks right well to-day, in her go-to-meeting clothes; and plenty of room and chance in her for a brave man to earn his bread, if he will but go right on about his business, as the birds and the flowers do, instead of peaking and pining over what people think of him, like that miserable Briggs. Hark to that jolly old missel-thrush below! he’s had his nest to build, and his supper to earn, and his young ones to feed, and all the crows and kites in the wood to drive away, the sturdy John Bull that he is; and yet he can find time to sing as merrily as an abbot, morning and evening, since he sang the new year in last January. And why should not I?”

Let him be a while; there are sounds of deeper meaning in the air, if his heart had ears to hear them; far off church-bells chiming to even-song; hymn-tunes floating up the glen from the little chapel in the vale. He may learn what they, too, mean some day. Honour to him, at least, that he has learnt what the missel-thrush below can tell him. If he accept cheerfully and manfully the things which he does see, he will be all the more able to enter hereafter into the deeper mystery of things unseen. The road toward true faith and reverence for God’s kingdom of heaven does not lie through Manichaean contempt and slander of God’s kingdom of earth.

So let him stride over the down, enjoying the mere fact of life, and health, and strength, and whistling shrilly to the bird below, who trumpets out a few grand ringing notes, and repeats them again and again, in saucy self-satisfaction; and then stops to listen for the answer to this challenge; and then rattles on again with a fresh passage, more saucily than ever, in a tone which seems to ask,–“You could sing that, eh? but can you sing this, my fine fellow on the down above?” So he seems to Tom to say; and, tickled with the fancy, Tom laughs, and whistles, and laughs, and has just time to compose his features as he steps up to the farm-yard gate.

Let him be, I say again. He might have better Sunday thoughts; perhaps he will have some day. At least he is a man, and a brave one; and as the greater contains the less, surely before a man can be a good man, he must be a brave one first, much more a man at all. Cowards, old Odin held, inevitably went to the very bottom of Hela-pool, and by no possibility, unless of course they became brave at last, could rise out of that everlasting bog, but sank whining lower and lower, like mired cattle, to all eternity in the unfathomable peat-slime. And if the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation, and the eighth verse, is to be taken as it stands, their doom has not altered since Odin’s time, unless to become still worse.

Tom came up, over the home-close and through the barton-gate, through the farm-yard, and stopped at last at the porch. The front door was open, and the door beyond it; and ere he knocked, he stopped, looking in silence at a picture which held him spellbound for a moment by its rich and yet quiet beauty.

Tom was no artist, and knew no more of painting, in spite of his old friendship with Claude, than was to be expected of a keen and observant naturalist who had seen half the globe. Indeed, he had been in the habit of snubbing Claude’s profession; and of arriving, on pre-Raphaelite grounds, at a by no means pre-Raphaelite conclusion. “A picture, you say, is worth nothing unless you copy Nature. But you can’t copy her. She is ten times more gorgeous than any man can dare represent her. Ergo, every picture is a failure; and the nearest hedge-bush is worth all your galleries together”–a syllogism of sharp edge, which he would back up by Byron’s–

“I’ve seen much finer women, ripe and real, Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal.”

But here was one of Nature’s own pictures, drawn and coloured by more than mortal hand, and framed over and above, ready to his eye, by the square of the dark doorway, beyond which all was flooded with the full glory, of the low north-western sun.

A dark oak-ribbed ceiling; walls of pale fawn-yellow; an open window, showing a corner of rich olive-stone wall, enamelled with golden lichens, orange and green combs of polypody, pink and grey tufts of pellitory, all glowing in the sunlight.

Above the window-sill rose a bush of maiden-blush roses; a tall spire of blue monkshood; and one head of scarlet lychnis, like a spark of fire; and behind all, the dark blue sea, which faded into the pale-blue sky.

At the window stood a sofa of old maroon leather, its dark hue throwing out in strong relief two figures who sat upon it. And when Tom had once looked at them, he looked at nothing else.

There sat the sick girl, her head nestling upon the shoulder of Grace Harvey; a tall, delicate thing of seventeen, with thin white cheeks, the hectic spot aflame on each, and long fair curls, which mingled lovingly with Grace’s dark tresses, as they sat cheek against cheek, and hand in hand. Her eyes were closed; Tom thought at first that she was asleep: but there was a quiet smile about her pale lips; and every now and then her left hand left Grace’s, to move toward a leaf full of strawberries which lay on Grace’s lap; and Tom could see that she was listening intently to Grace, who told and told, in that sweet, measured voice of hers, her head erect, her face in the full blaze of sunshine, her great eyes looking out far away beyond the sea, beyond the sky, into some infinite which only she beheld.

Tom had approached unheard, across the farm-yard straw. He stood and looked his fill. The attitude of the two girls was so graceful, that he was loth to disturb it; and loth, too, to disturb a certain sunny calm which warmed at once and softened his stout heart.

He wished, too–he scarce knew why–to hear what Grace was saying; and as he listened, her voice was so distinct and delicate in its modulations, that every word came clearly to his ear.

It was the beautiful old legend of St. Dorothea:–

“So they did all sorts of dreadful things to her, and then led her away to die; and they stood laughing there. But after a little time there came a boy, the prettiest boy that ever was seen on earth, and in his hand a basket full of fruits and flowers, more beautiful than tongue can tell. And he said, ‘Dorothea sends you these, out of the heavenly garden which she told you of–will you believe her now?’ And then, before they could reply, he vanished away. And Theophilus looked at the flowers, and tasted the fruit–and a new heart grew up within him; and he said, ‘Dorothea’s God shall be my God, and I will die for him like her.’

“So you see, darling, there are sweeter fruits than these, and gayer flowers, in the place to which you go; and all the lovely things in this world here will seem quite poor and worthless beside the glory of that better land which He will show you: and yet you will not care to look at them; for the sight of Him will be enough, and you will care to think of nothing else.”

“And you are sure He will accept me, after all?” asked the sick girl, opening her eyes, and looking up at Grace. She saw Thurnall standing in the doorway, and gave a little scream.

Tom came forward, bowing. “I am very sorry to have disturbed you. I suspect Miss Harvey was giving you better medicine than I can give.”

Now why did Tom say that, to whom the legend of St. Dorothea, and, indeed, that whole belief in a better land, was as a dream fit only for girls?

Not altogether because he must need say something civil. True, he felt, on the whole, about the future state as Goethe did–“To the able man this world is not dumb: why should he ramble off into eternity? Such incomprehensible subjects lie too far off, and only disturb our thoughts, if made the subject of daily meditation.” That there was a future state he had no doubt. Our having been born once, he used to say, is the strongest possible presumption in favour of our being born again; and probably, as nature always works upward and develops higher forms, in some higher state. Indeed, for aught he knew, the old ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs might be alive now, as lions–or as men. He himself, indeed, he had said, ere now, had been probably a pterodactyle of the Lias, neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring, but crocodile and bat in one, able alike to swim, or run, or fly, eat anything, and live in any element. Still it was no concern of his. He was here; and here was his business. He had not thought of this life before he came into it; and it would be time enough to think of the next life when he got into it. Besides, he had all a doctor’s dislike of those terrors of the unseen world, with which some men are wont to oppress still more failing nature, and break the bruised reed. His business was to cure his patients’ bodies; and if he could not do that, at least to see that life was not shortened in them by nervous depression and anxiety. Accustomed to see men of every character die under every possible circumstance, he had come to the conclusion that the “safety of a man’s soul” could by no possibility be inferred from his death-bed temper. The vast majority, good or bad, died in peace: why not let them die so? If nature kindly took off the edge of sorrow, by blunting the nervous system, what right had man to interfere with so merciful an arrangement? Every man, he held in his easy optimism, would go where he ought to go: and it could be no possible good to him–indeed, it might be a very bad thing for him, as in this life–to go where he ought not to go. So he used to argue, with three-fourths of mankind, mingling truth and falsehood: and would, on these grounds, have done his best to turn the dissenting preacher out of that house, had he found him in it. But to-day he was in a more lenient, perhaps in a more human, and therefore more spiritual mood. It was all very well for him, full of life, and power, and hope, to look on death in that cold, careless way; but for that poor young thing, cut off just as life opened from all that made life lovely–was not death for her a painful, ugly anomaly? Could she be blamed, if she shuddered at going forth into the unknown blank, she knew not whither? All very well for the old emperor of Rome, who had lived his life and done his work, to play with the dreary question–

“Animula, vagula, blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis,
Quae nunc abibis in loca,
Rigidula, nudula, pallida?–“

But she, who had lived no life, and done no work–only had pined through weary years of hideous suffering; crippled and ulcerated with scrofula, now dying of consumption: was it not a merciful dream, a beautiful dream, a just dream–so beautiful and just, that perhaps it might be true,–that in some fairer world, all this, and more, might be made up to her? If not, was it not a mistake and an injustice, that she should ever have come into the world at all? And was not Grace doing a rational as well as a loving work, in telling her, under whatsoever symbols, that such a home of rest and beauty awaited her? It was not the sort of place to which he expected, perhaps even wished, to go: but it fitted well enough with a young girl’s hopes, a young girl’s powers of enjoyment. Let it be; perhaps there was such a place,–why not?–fitted for St. Dorothea, and those cut off in youth like her; and other places fit for such as he. And he spoke more tenderly than usual (though he was never untender), as he said,–

“And you feel better to-day? I am sure you must, with such a kind friend, to tell you such sweet tales.”

“I do not feel better, thank you. And why should I wish to do so? You all take too much trouble about me; why do you want to keep me here?”

“We are loth to lose you; and besides, while you can be kept here, it is a sign that you ought to be here.”

“So Grace tells me. Yes, I will be patient, and wait till He has done His work. I am more patient now; am I not, Grace?” And she fondled Grace’s hand, and looked up in her face.

“Yes,” said Grace, who was standing near, with downcast face, trying to avoid Tom’s eye. “Yes, you are very good; but you must not talk:” but the girl went on, with kindling eye,–

“Ah–I was very fretful at first, because I could not go to heaven at once: but Grace showed me how it was good to be here, as well as there, as long as He thought that I might be made perfect by sufferings. And since then, my pain has become quite pleasant to me, and I am ready to wait and bear–wait and bear.”

“You must not talk,–see, you are beginning to cough,” said Tom, who wished somehow to stop a form of thought which so utterly puzzled him. Not that he had not heard it before; commonplace enough indeed it is, thank God: but that day the words came home to him with spirit and power, all the more solemnly from their contrast with the scene around–without, all sunshine, joy, and glory: all which could tempt a human being to linger here: and within, that young girl longing to leave it all, and yet content to stay and suffer. What mysteries there were in the human spirit–mysteries to which that knowledge of mankind on which he prided himself gave him no key!

“What if I were laid on my back to-morrow for life, by a fall, a blow, as I have seen many a better man than me;–should I not wish to have one to talk to me, as she was talking to that child?” And for a moment a yearning after Grace came over him, as it had done before, and swept from his mind the dark cloud of suspicion.

“Now I must talk with your mother,” said he; “for you have better company than mine; and I hear her just coming in.”

He settled little matters for his patient’s comfort with the farmer’s wife. When he returned to bid her good-bye Grace was gone.

“I hope I have not driven her away.”

“Oh no; she had been here an hour, and she must go back now, to get her mother’s supper.”

“That is a good girl,” said Tom, looking after her as she went down the field.

“She’s an angel from heaven, sir. Not a three days go over without her walking up here all this way after her work, to comfort my poor maid–and all of us as well. It’s like the dew of heaven upon us. Pity, sir, you didn’t see her home.”

“I should have liked it well enough; but folks might talk, if two young people were seen walking together Sunday evening.”

“Oh, sir, they know her too well by now, for miles round: and you too, sir, I’ll make bold to say.”

“Well, at least I’ll go after her.”

So Tom went, and kept Grace in sight, till she had crossed the little moor, and disappeared in the wood below.

He had gone about a hundred yards into the wood, when he heard voices and laughter–then a loud shriek. He hurried forward. In another minute, Grace rushed up to him, her eyes wide with terror and indignation.

“What is it?” cried he, trying to stop her: but, not seeming to see him, she dashed past him, and ran on. Another moment, and a man appeared in full pursuit.

It was Trebooze of Trebooze, an evil laugh upon his face.

Tom planted himself across the narrow path in an attitude which there was no mistaking.

Not a word passed between them. Silently and instinctively, like two fierce dogs, the two men flew upon each other; Tom full of righteous wrath, and Trebooze of half-drunken passion, turned to fury by the interruption.

He was a far taller and heavier man than Thurnall, and, as the bully of the neighbourhood, counted on an easy victory. But he was mistaken. After the first rush was over, he found it impossible to close with his foe, and saw in the doctor’s face, now grown cool and business-like as usual, the wily smile of superior science and expected triumph.

“Brandy-and-water in the morning ought not to improve the wind,” said Tom to himself, as his left hand countered provokingly, while his right rattled again and again upon Trebooze’s watch-chain. “Justice will overtake you in the offending part, which I take to be the epigastric region.”

In a few minutes more the scuffle ended shamefully enough for the sottish squireen.

Tom stood over him for a minute, as he sat grovelling and groaning among the long grass. “I may as well see that I have not killed him. No, he will do as well as ever–which is not saying much…. Now, sir! Go home quietly, and ask Mrs. Trebooze for a little rhubarb and salvolatile. I’ll call up in the course of to-morrow to see how you are.”

“I’ll kill you, if I catch you!”

“As a man, I am open of course to be killed by any fair means; but as a doctor, I am still bound to see after my patient’s health.” And Tom bowed civilly, and walked back up the path to find Grace, after washing face and hands in the brook.

He found her up at Tolchard’s farm, trembling and thankful.

“I cannot do less than see Miss Harvey safe home.”

Grace hesitated.

“Mrs. Tolchard, I am sure, will walk with us; it would be safer, in case you felt faint again.”

But Mrs. Tolchard would not come to save Grace’s notions of propriety; so Tom passed Grace’s arm through his own. She offered to withdraw it.

“No; you will require it. You do not know yet how much you have gone through. My fear is, that you will feel it all the more painfully when the excitement is past. I shall send you up a cordial; and you must promise me to take it. You owe me a little debt you know, to-day; you must pay it by taking my medicines.”

Grace looked up at him sidelong; for there was a playful tenderness in his voice which was new to her, and which thrilled her through and through.

“I will indeed, I promise you. But I am so much better now. Really, I can walk alone!” And she withdrew her arm from his, but not hastily.

After that they walked on awhile in silence. Grace kept her veil down, for her eyes were full of tears. She loved that man intensely, utterly. She did not seek to deny it to herself. God had given him to her, and hers he was. The very sea, the devourer whom she hated, who hungered to swallow up all young fair life, the very sea had yielded him up to her, alive from the dead. And yet that man, she knew, suspected her of a base and hateful crime. It was too dreadful! She could not exculpate herself, save by blank denial–and what would that avail? The large hot drops ran down her cheeks. She had need of all her strength to prevent sobbing.

She looked round. In the bright summer evening, all things were full of joy and love. The hedge-banks were gay as flower gardens; the swifts chased each other, screaming harsh delight; the ring-dove murmured in the wood beneath his world-old song, which she had taught the children a hundred times–

“Curuckity coo, curuck coo;
You love me, and I love you!”

The woods slept golden in the evening sunlight; and over head brooded, like one great smile of God, the everlasting blue.

“He will right me!” she said. “‘Hold thee still in the Lord, and abide patiently, and He will make thy righteousness clear as the light, and thy just dealing as the noon-day!'” And after that thought she wept no more.

Was it as a reward for her faith that Tom began to talk to her? He had paced on by her side, serious, but not sad. True, he had suspected her; he suspected her still. But that scene with the dying child had been no sham. There, at least, there was nothing to suspect, nothing to sneer at. The calm purity, self-sacrifice, hope, which was contained in it, had softened his world-hardened spirit, and woke up in him feelings which were always pleasant, feelings which the sight of his father, or the writing to his father, could only awaken. Quaintly enough, the thought of Grace and of his father seemed intertwined, inextricable. If the old man had but such a nurse as she! And for a moment he felt a glow of tenderness toward her, because he thought she would be tender to his father. She had stolen his money, certainly; or if not, she knew where it was, and would not tell him. Well, what matter just then? He did not want the money at that minute. How much pleasanter and wiser to take things as they came, and enjoy himself while he could; and fancy that she was always what he had seen her that day. After all, it was much more pleasant to trust people than to suspect them: “Handsome is who handsome does! And besides, she did me the kindness of saving my life; so it would but be civil to talk to her a little.”

He began to talk to her about the lovely scene around; and found, to his surprise, that she saw as much of it as he, and saw a great deal more in it than he. Her answers were short, modest, faltering; but each one of them suggestive; and Tom soon found that he had met with a mind which contained all the elements of poetry, and needed only education to develop them.

“What a blue stocking, pre-Raphaelite seventh-heavenarian she would have been, if she had had the misfortune to be born in that station of life!” But where a clever man is talking to a beautiful woman, talk he will, and must, for the mere sake of showing off, though she be but a village schoolmistress; and Tom soon found himself, with a secret sneer at his own vanity, displaying before her all the much finer things that he had seen in his travels; and as he talked, she answered, with quiet expressions of wonder, sympathy, regret at her own narrow sphere of experience, till, as if the truth was not enough, he found himself running to the very edge of exaggeration, and a little over it, in the enjoyment of calling out her passion for the marvellous, especially when called out in honour of himself.

And she, simple creature, drank it all in as sparkling wine, and only dreaded lest the stream should cease. Adventures with noble savages in palm-fringed coral-islands, with greedy robbers amid the fragrant hills of Greece, with fierce Indians beneath the snow-peaks of the Far West, with coward Mexicans among tunals of cactus and agave, beneath the burning tropic sun–What a man he was! Where had he not been? and what had he not seen? And how he had been preserved–for her? And his image seemed to her utterly beautiful and glorious, clothed as it was in the beauty and glory of all that he had seen, and done, and suffered. Oh Love, Love, Love, the same in peasant and in peer! The more honour to you, then, old Love, to be the same thing in this world which is common to peasant and to peer. They say that you are blind; a dreamer, an exaggerator–a liar, in short. They know just nothing about you, then. You will not see people as they seem, and as they have become, no doubt: but why? because you see them as they ought to be, and are, in some deep way, eternally, in the sight of Him who conceived and created them.

At last she started, as if waking from a pleasant dream, and spoke, half to herself–

“Oh, how foolish of me–to be idling away this opportunity; the only one, perhaps, which I may have! Oh, Mr. Thurnall, tell me about this cholera!”

“What about it?”

“Everything. Ever since I heard of what you have been saying to the people, ever since Mr. Headley’s sermon, it has been like fire in my ears!”

“I am truly glad to hear it. If all parsons had preached about it for the last fifteen years as Mr. Headley did last Sunday, if they had told people plainly that, if the cholera was God’s judgment at all, it was His judgment of the sin of dirt, and that the repentance which He required was to wash and be clean in literal earnest, the cholera would be impossible in England by now.”

“Oh, Mr. Thurnall: but is it not God’s doing? and can we stop His hand?”

“I know nothing about that, Miss Harvey. I only know that wheresoever cholera breaks out, it is some one’s fault; and if deaths occur, some one ought to be tried for manslaughter–I had almost said murder, and transported for life.”

“Someone? Who?”

“That will be settled in the next generation, when men have common sense enough to make laws for the preservation of their own lives, against the dirt, and covetousness, and idleness, of a set of human hogs.”

Grace was silent for awhile.

“But can nothing be done to keep it off now? Must it come?”

“I believe it must. Still one may do enough to save many lives in the meanwhile.”

“Enough to save many lives–lives?–immortal souls, too! Oh, what could I do?”

“A great deal, Miss Harvey,” said Tom, across whom the recollection of Grace’s influence flashed for the first time. What a help she might be to him!

And he talked on and on to her, and found that she entered into his plans with all her wild enthusiasm, but also with sound practical common sense; and Tom began to respect her intellect as well as her heart.

At last, however, she faltered–

“Oh, if I could but believe all this! Is it not fighting against God?”

“I do not know what sort of God yours is, Miss Harvey. I believe in some One who made all that!” and he pointed round him to the glorious woods and glorious sky; “I should have fancied from your speech to that poor girl, that you believed in Him also. You may, however, only believe in the same being in whom the Methodist parson believes, one who intends to hurl into endless agony every human being who has not had a chance of hearing the said preacher’s nostrum for delivering men out of the hands of Him who made them!”

“What do you mean?” asked Grace, startled alike by Tom’s words, and the intense scorn and bitterness of his tone.

“That matters little. What do you mean in turn? What did you mean by saying, that saving lives is saving immortal souls?”

“Oh, is it not giving them time to repent? What will become of them, if they are cut off in the midst of their sins?”

“If you had a son whom it was not convenient to you to keep at home, would his being a bad fellow–the greatest scoundrel on the earth–be a reason for your turning him into the streets to live by thieving, and end by going to the dogs for ever and a day?”

“No; but what do you mean?”

“That I do not think that God, when He sends a human being out of this world, is more cruel than you or I would be. If we transport a man because he is too bad to be in England, and he shows any signs of mending, we give him a fresh chance in the colonies, and let him start again, to try if he cannot do better next time. And do you fancy that God, when He transports a man out of this world, never gives him a fresh chance in another–especially when nine out of ten poor rascals have never had a fair chance yet?”

Grace looked up in his face astonished.

“Oh, if I could but believe that! Oh! it would give me some gleam of hope for my two!–But no–it’s not in Scripture. Where the tree falls there it lies.”

“And as the fool dies, so dies the wise man; and there is one account to the righteous and to the wicked. And a man has no pre-eminence over a beast, for both turn alike to dust; and Solomon does not know, he says, or any one else, anything about the whole matter, or even whether there be any life after death at all; and so, he says, the only wise thing is to leave such deep questions alone, for Him who made us to settle in His own way, and just to fear God and keep His commandments, and do the work which lies nearest us with all our might.”

Grace was silent.

“You are surprised to hear me quote Scripture, and well you may be: but that same book of Ecclesiastes is a very old favourite with me; for I am no Christian, but a worlding, if ever there was one. But it does puzzle me why you, who are a Christian, should talk one half-hour as you have been talking to that poor girl, and the next go for information about the next life to poor old disappointed, broken-hearted Solomon, with his three hundred and odd idolatrous wives, who confesses fairly that this life is a failure, and that he does not know whether there is any next life at all.”

Whether Tom was altogether right or not, is not the question here; the novelist’s business is to represent the real thoughts of mankind, when they are not absolutely unfit to be told; and certainly Tom spoke the doubts of thousands when he spoke his own.

Grace was silent still.

“Well,” he said, “beyond that I can’t go, being no theologian. But when a preacher tells people in one breath of a God who so loves men that He gave His own Son to save them, and in the next, that the same God so hates men that He will cast nine-tenths of them into hopeless torture for ever,–(and if that is not hating, I don’t know what is),–unless he, the preacher, gets a chance of talking to them for a few minutes–Why, I should like, Miss Harvey, to put that gentleman upon a real fire for ten minutes, instead of his comfortable Sunday’s dinner, which stands ready frying for him, and which he was going home to eat, as jolly as if all the world was not going to destruction; and there let him feel what fire was like, and reconsider his statements.”

Grace looked up at him no more; but walked on in silence, pondering many things.

“Howsoever that may be, sir, tell me what to do in this cholera, and I will do it, if I kill myself with work or infection!”

“You shan’t do that. We cannot spare you from Aberalva, Grace,” said Tom; “you must save a few more poor creatures ere you die, out of the hands of that Good Being who made little children, and love, and happiness, and the flowers, and the sunshine, and the fruitful earth; and who, you say, redeemed them all again, when they were lost, by an act of love which passes all human dreams.”

“Do not talk so!” cried Grace. “It frightens me; it puzzles me, and makes me miserable. Oh, if you would but become a Christian!”

“And listen to the Gospel?”

“Yes–oh yes!”

“A gospel means good news, I thought. When you have any to tell me, I will listen. Meanwhile, the news that three out of four of those poor fellows down town are going to a certain place, seems to me such terribly bad news, that I can’t help fancying that it is not the Gospel at all; and so get on the best way I can, listening to the good news about God which this grand old world, and my microscope, and my books, tell me. No, Grace, I have more good news than that, and I’ll confess it to you.”