Page images

something strange in his manner, and I beard dark whispers concerning him. So I asked him to tell me all about it. And he did not omit one shadow from the gloomy picture. I believe he is as innocent as you or I."

"Then I feel as if I could go and beg his pardon directly," said the rector.

"That's right," said Ruth; "we shan't make mistakes in the next world, so this is our time to practise penitence."

"He was with his sister at last evening's service," remarked Mr. Marten. "I dare say he came because his heart was touched by your kindness. He sat in a lonely corner in the shadow. And when I noticed him, I thought, That reprobate has come to God's house because it is too damp to wander in the fields.'"

"And if it had been so, what did it matter?" observed Ruth. "If God drives a man into church by wet weather or a snowstorm, all you've got to do is to say something which will make him come again."

"Oh, dear, I am so sorry!" bewailed the young man ; I feel as if I should never be uncharitable again."

Ruth, That's cradle

"Oh, yes, you will," answered "and be sorry afterwards, I hope. about the best we can do, from the to the grave." "It is always safe to hope for the best, Mr. Marten," said. I.

"So long as you prepare for the worst," put in Ruth.

"I dare say I have often done harm where I have tried to do good," said the rector, ruefully. "I am so lonely in this dull country-parish, that my mind gets sour and jaundiced. I am inclined to envy my brethren whose lots are cast in London. They have earnest work to keep their souls healthy. If they wear out, that is better than rusting out."

[ocr errors]

"Whoever can't work here, couldn't work in London," answered Ruth, decisively. If a man is not strong enough to walk to his own gate, he needn't wish to climb mountains."

"Now, for my part," I said, "I think a country clergyman is a very happily placed man. His work is ready for him, and it is not more than he can do, if he go about it honestly and heartily. He is surrounded by means of healthy relaxation, in the proper use of which he can set a good example. He is known and honoured everywhere, and he knows and cares for everybody. His education and knowledge of mankind enable him to widen the nar

row village life, and connect it with the busy world beyond. Sometimes he can help his city brother, for the restless tide of labour often throws a few wanderers on his quiet shore, and he has it in his power to link some holy memory with their recollections of his fields and farms. That is my portrait of your life, Mr. Marten."

"It is so flattering that I do not recognise it," said he, with a smile- rather a melancholy one.

There was a pause, for Ruth sat lost in thought. Suddenly she roused herself, and asked, "Have you a refuge in the village, sir?

"No, ma'am," answered the rector. "If belated travellers cannot pay for a bed, we inhospitably refer them to the workhouse at Hopleigh. If they die on the roadthey have done so once or twice there is an inquest, and the Union buries them. That is our English version of the Good Samaritan. It is useless to disguise the truth."

"Then let us try to make it truth no longer," I said. "I know you will have an earnest helper in Ruth, for refuges are her favourite form of charity."

"Because, if they be well managed, they do so much good at so little cost, and in such a kindly way," she remarked. "If we give hungry men a tract on the goodness of God, need we wonder if they throw it away with a curse. A meal and a bed would preach a far better sermon." Certainly, if their hearts were sufficiently open to receive it," said Mr. Marten, dubiously.


"There must be something to put them in mind," replied my sister, "but I don't believe many people are so hardened as you think. Any thing roughly knocked about gets battered and black outside, but the tough rind may keep something very soft within."

"I shall be only too happy if you will help me to try the experiment," said the rector; "my heart has often ached to see the poor creatures starting on their long journey to the tender mercies of the Casual Ward."

"Aye, you may well say tender mercies'!" responded Ruth; "I am quite astonished to find, that, as a rule, workhouse chaplains think they have no duty to discharge towards these strays. They don't want preaching. But surely they might go in and commend the great family to Him who remembers every one of them. That would comfort some, and a good word can't harm the worst. And in the morning I

think the chaplain might go again, and see | rapidly, but the rector turned and watched if any one wanted advice. A little coun- his form as it swiftly receded into total

sel is sometimes worth more than a fortune. If the chaplains can't do it, I wish some one else could get permission."

"It will take us some time to get a refuge organized," remarked Mr. Marten, presently.

"We only want a six-roomed cottage, no matter how rough or old-fashioned the more so the better; it will be more like home," replied my sister; "and then we must get a nice, comfortable couple to live in it, and act host and hostess. And of course, you must persuade all the village to help us, Mr. Marten."

"Oh dear, dear!" said the rector, despairingly.

"Never venture, never have," I observed. "I will help you. I believe I am a good beggar."

"You have let them lose the habit of giving," said Ruth. "Like everything else, it grows easier by practice, sir."

"Well, Miss Garrett," he said, rising, “I must thank you for originating so excellent a plan. I shall mark to-day with a red letter, in commemoration of this visit, and in a few days, I dare say, I shall bring you word of suitable premises."



Surely that is young Herbert," said Mr. Marten, half aloud; "and what can he be doing here?"

I remembered the name of the family at the Farm, and concluding this individual to be one of them, nothing seemed more natural than his presence close to his own home. And so I silently wondered at my companion's wonder.

We parted at the rector's gate, and he detained me a moment to congratulate me on having such a sister as Ruth.

"Her society is like a draught of quinine," he said.


Ah," I replied, "her words have bristles on their backs, but we all want brushing up sometimes!"

"I hope she won't spare me," he said; and I think he was sincere. "Good

"Never fear," I answered.


But as I walked back, I wondered what made my sister so terribly earnest about Chatterton.

He would not stay to supper: so, after a little more talk about the best ways and means to further our plan, Ruth and I escorted him to the door. The ground was still damp, but there was a pleasant drying breeze, which made me long for a little ramble under the starry sky. So I proposed to walk home with our guest. Ruth expostu-it lated, but I put on my great-coat, and had my own way.

The clergyman lived down the road, past the Great Farm, and as we walked we chatted cheerfully about divers things, and it gratified me to believe that the young man was in better spirits for his visit to us old people. I know some of Ruth's words were very sharp, but so are mountain breezes, and yet they do us good. They make us turn about and look at things under different aspects, and that is a healthier proceeding than standing still, peering through our own little glasses, which perhaps are yellow! We turned the corner occupied by the Great Farm, and presently the sound of hurried footsteps warned us of a wayfarer advancing towards us. In a moment he came


There were no lamps on the road, and I could only distinguish a tall figure, muffled in a cloak, and a face which looked very pale in the moonlight. He was walking



ON Thursday, there came to me a letter bearing the London postmark. I saw Alice look at it as she took it from the postman, and she brought it into the parlour and laid

on the breakfast-table with its superscription upwards. I recognised the writing of the kindest man in my old firm, and I had little fear about its contents, so I bade my servant wait a moment.


The epistle was short enough. "house" regretted that my first recommendation was not a case which they could take up with more zeal. But they would stretch a point to oblige me. So, if the young man liked, he could take a subordinate place in their counting-house at a salary of eighteen shillings a week.

Now, I did not read the letter to Alice. I knew it was very kind, but to her it would seem cruel. I only told her the result of my application. She took it very quietly, with a few grave thanks, spoken slowly and laboriously, like words in a half-known tongue, ending with the request that she might go and tell Ewen.

I reflected for a moment, and then said, "No, I should like to speak with Mr. Herbert first; he has been kind to your brother,

and I should not wish to entice him from his service without his knowledge. I will make everything right, and your brother shall have the offer before the afternoon."

And Alice thanked me again, and went away to the kitchen.

I wanted Ruth to accompany me to the Great Farm, but she refused, saying I suited strangers better than she did, and she hated morning calls. I learned afterwards that she and Alice passed the time in consulting over the outfit necessary for the lad's decent appearance in his new situation.

I saw neither Ewen nor his grandfather on the way to the farm. I proceeded to the dwelling-house, and found the garden-gate open. The bad weather had made sad havoc among the shapely flower-beds, but a few chrysanthemums smiled from the withered leaves, like country faces in a London crowd. So I reached the broad old-fashioned porch, and pulled a bell whose handle I found among the ivy leaves.

The " parlour" was reached by a short passage leading from the arched doorway. This passage was very dark, and as my guide opened the door at the end, I was almost dazzled by the sunlight in the white ceiled and delicately-papered room beyond. The servant made way for my entrance, but did not retire.

Miss Herbert advanced to meet me. As I expected, she was the lady whom I had seen on the previous Sunday, but in her indoor apparel she looked much younger. She met me close to the door, and her face seemed anxious and fearful. There was a dog at her feet, a curly honest-eyed fellow, but not such an one as usually frequents feminine boudoirs.

"I apologise for disturbing you," I said; "but I wish a little conversation with Mr. Herbert. I must introduce myself as Mr. Edward Garrett, your new neighbour."

[ocr errors]

Oh, indeed!" she responded, in a relieved tone," will you please take a chair? The door was opened by a middle-aged I expect Mr. Herbert will return in half an woman, tall and gaunt, clad in a dark cling-hour. If you can wait, he will be very ing gown, and thick white cap and apron. happy to see you." She might have been portress at a nunnery. "Is Mr. Herbert within?" I inquired. "Mr. Herbert has just gone out among his fields," she answered, in a sour tone, eyeing me like one who has reason to suspect a stranger.

"Can you tell me where I may overtake him?" I asked.

"I'm-ye see he's moving about; and as you went in at one gate, he might go out at the other. I don't know whether he'll be long. If ye'll step inside I'll just inquire."

She admitted me into a square wainscotted hall, pushed forward a heavy oaken chair, and retreated with noisy steps through an arched doorway.

The place reminded me of dear old Meadow Farm, only on a grander scale. There was the same wide fireplace, surmounted by hunting trophies and blunderbusses, the same bare walls and floor, only these were of oak instead of deal. But it was very silent, and there was no cheerful family litter on the hall table -no whips, or dog-collars, or battered gardening-hats. I had scarcely time to notice all this, when the tall servant returned.

"Will ye just step into the parlour to Miss Herbert?" she said, and turned about and led the way. She had never asked my name. It seemed that unexpected visits were so rare in that house, that she had forgotten the customary etiquette of such oc



Then she resumed her seat, and the attendant, who had remained till now, closed the door and left us together. Like all English people, we entered into a conversation about the weather, from which we passed to the scenery in the neighbourhood, and similar topics. On Sunday, my companion's face had awakened my interest, and as we talked this interest deepened. Her manner was refined and kindly, and her smile was that beautiful smile which suggests a burst of sunshine on a rainy day. Yet there was a pre-occupation about her, as if her thoughts perpetually slipped away elsewhere, and had to be forcibly recalled and kept at their duty. As we talked, there came upon her face the anxious, laborious expression sometimes seen in deaf people, and then she spoke with a fitful, forced vivacity, as if she feared she was failing in her part, and threw out all her energy to succeed. Altogether she was exactly the reverse of the calm healthy woman one expects to meet in a farm-house parlour.

"I hope your papa is not so busy this morning that I shall be troublesome," I remarked, after one of our very natural

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"Which do you prefer, town or country?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I cannot say one may be happy in both, or miserable in either."

"Then, at least you do not dislike rural solitude?" I remarked.

"I was always accustomed to solitude," she answered. "Mamma died years ago, and I was an only child, and my father was generally much engaged."

"Ah, then you may be less lonely in a family house among the fields, than in rooms overlooking London streets," I ob


She smiled faintly, and did not reply. Presently she rose and said we had best find our way to the dining-room, as her uncle sometimes came in by a side-door, and sat there looking over his papers, long before any one knew he had returned from his rambles.

"I am sorry to give so much trouble," I apologised as I followed her guidance; "my business is only a little matter about one of the farm people. If I could see young Mr. Herbert

We were crossing the hall when I said this. She stopped short, looked up at me, and repeated my last words. Surely it must have been the effect of some stained glass above the door, but her face looked scared and white.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]


The room into which she ushered me was long, low, wainscotted chamber, with a window at either end, one opening into the garden and the other into the conservatory. The furniture consisted of high-backed, red-cushioned chairs, two or three carved chests, and a table spread with a white cloth, and sundry preparations for lunch. The walls were enlivened by a few heavilyframed portraits in oils. Now, I always take interest in family pictures, but as I glanced over these, I saw something which gave me a sudden chill.

It was nothing dreadful. Household skeletons are generally shut in very commonplace cupboards. There is no unpleasantness in the back of a canvas when we scan it in hopes of finding some clue to its pedigree. But it brings an awful revelation of domestic agony when, in a pleasant family room, we come upon a picture TURNED TO THE WALL.

Miss Herbert made no effort to renew our conversation. She drew a chair towards the fireplace, in mute invitation for me to be seated, and then went to the conservatory and began gathering dead leaves into a little basket. It occurred to me that she had brought me to that room expressly that I might understand there was delicate ground in her uncle's dwelling, and so be warned to tread warily.

In a few minutes the master of the house came in, and greeted me very cordially. Now he knew me as a respectable neighbour not as an unknown lounger peering over his hedges. But it's an ill compliment to be suspected till one's credentials are shown.

"Come, Agnes," he called to his niece, "come and take your place at the table, and do the honours. Rather a young housekeeper, you see, Mr. Garrett, but as discreet as if she were fifty," he added, as the young lady obeyed, with a pale ghost of a smile flitting over her face.

I would have excused myself from his bluff hospitality, pleading "that I would not detain him five minutes, I only wished to speak about a little business "

"And what business on earth is not better for being discussed over ale and ham?" he answered. So I had no alternative but to accept a chair and a plate.

"You have in your service a young man named Ewen M'Callum," I began very primly.



Ay, that I have," said the farmer. "And there isn't a better workman in the place can turn his hand to anything. Good job for me that he's rather under a cloud, else he would not be hired for my price."

"Then, Mr. Herbert," I responded, "I fear you will not thank me for asking you to give him up?"

"What! do you want him yourself?" he asked. 66 Upon my word, you city gentlemen are keen in detecting the value of a good article."


No, I don't want him myself," I answered; "but I dare say you know the youth has capabilities rather above farmwork."


Certainly I do," said he, "that's just the reason why he's so good at it. Everything's the better when done with brains. I only wish they would get so cheap as to be included in engagements."

"I have succeeded in getting him a place in the city-something of the kind he had before he before he passed under the cloud, as you say," I explained.


Mr. Herbert's face clouded, and he asked very shortly," Does the young fellow know this?"

"Not yet," I replied. "I would not name the subject to him, until I had conferred with you."

"That's right," he said, clearing up. "Pastors and masters,' and all that, you know. We must stand up for it, sir. The young ones are always ready to throw us over. Well, let 'em if they can. If they won't have our rule, they can't want our belp."

that it lost him a good place. But anything else might have done that. Suspicion can't hang a man, and so far as I can see, it doesn't hinder his enjoying any comforts he can get."

"But a man does not live only to eat and to escape the gallows," I remarked.. "That's a dog's life, Mr. Herbert."

[ocr errors]

"Let who can live for better things," he said, recklessly. Let 'em have fine hopes and visions, they'll find 'em less substantial than this," and he slapped the ham with his carving-knife.

"Certainly, sir," I answered, "just as the perishing body is, to our gross senses, more substantial than the immortal soul."

Mr. Herbert made no reply, but helped himself to some ale, and told his niece she ate no more than a chicken, and there was a silence, until I inquired if Miss Herbert's London training permitted her to be a good walker.

"Oh yes,” she answered, with that same aroused manner. "I think nothing of what many women call long distances."

"But you hardly ever go out now, Aggie," said the farmer, in a softened, kindly tone.

"I wonder at that," I remarked, "for I know there are beautiful walks about here, and I am sure you must have plenty of leisure."

"Yes, plenty of leisure," she repeated absently.

"Can you sketch?" I inquired.

"I used to do so," she answered. "Now, how interesting that would be," I said, "for you might bring all the beauties of the neighbourhood into your uncle's house to brighten a rainy day."

Now, I felt that Mr. Herbert spoke truth, and yet I could not assent. It pains me to She laughed a little, and then answered, hear truth spoken dogmatically or mali-"There was nobody to see them. Uncle ciously, or selfishly, and though the farmer's would not care," and I thought she glanced seemed only a coarse, good-humoured, give- towards that picture with its face turned and-take selfishness, nevertheless it profaned away. what it touched. But he did not notice my silence."

"I'll not stand in the lad's light," he went on. "We'll go out together, and we shall find him somewhere about, and then you can tell him, and he shall have his wages, and a bit over, may be. He's been worth double the money he's cost, but, of course, I shan't say so. He's a civil lad, too, though he's short-spoken, and doesn't say two words, if one will do."

"He will be all the better when he is out of the way of suspicion," I said.

"I don't see why he need care for suspiion," responded Mr. Herbert, with a contemptuous emphasis on the word, "except

"But anyhow it would occupy your time very pleasantly," I went on. "Don't the days seem long to you, in this house among the fields?"

"Oh, the days pass somehow," she replied, with such a short, sad laugh.

"I wish she would not shut herself up," said Mr. Herbert, uneasily. "She's always willing to go out if I ask her, but she never proposes it of her own accord."


Then, sir," I said, "I wish you would now ask her to accompany me to see my sis


Ruth will be very glad to have a young thing about her as often as the young thing likes." But even as I uttered the words I felt that my sister, with her white hair, was

« PreviousContinue »