Without the slightest hesitancy Bessie took the watch, and examining it carefully, said, as she fitted the key attached to the old-fashioned fob to the key-hole:
"Do you think it would go if I were to wind it up?" Then, giving the key a turn or two, she continued: "It does. It ticks. Look, Grey," and she held it to his ear.
But he started away from it, as if it had been the heart beat of the dead man himself, and rising quickly began to pace up and down the room, while Bessie next took the picture to which she bore so striking a likeness.
"It is grandmother! It is!" she exclaimed. "He must have had two taken, one for himself and one for her. Is she not lovely?"
"She is like you," Hannah replied, "and it was this resemblance which started me so when I first saw you this morning. Oh, Bessie, my child, your coming to me has cleared away all the clouds, and I can make restitution at last, for you are the rightful heir of the money I have saved so carefully—heir of that and everything."
"I do not think I understand you," Bessie said, and then Hannah handed her the will, executed in Wales, about a year before Joel Rogers' death, and in which he gave all he had to his sister Elizabeth and her heirs forever.
"Still I do not quite see it. Explain it to me, Grey," Bessie said, with a perplexed look on her face.
Thus importuned, Grey sat down beside her, and, as well as he could, explained everything, and told her of the gold, to which his aunt had added interest every year, so that the heirs, when found, should have their own, and of the shares in the slate quarries in Wales, dividends on which must have amounted to quite a fortune by this time, and all of which was hers, when she was proven to be the lawful heir of Elizabeth Baldwin, sister of Joel Rogers.
"Yes, I understand now," she said, with a quivering lip, and the great tears rolling down her cheeks. "There is money for me somewhere, but, oh, I wish it had come in father's life-time. We were so poor then; but," she added, as a bright smile broke over her face, "I am glad for you, Grey, that I shall not be a penniless bride."
Did she not then appreciate the position, or see the gulf which her relationship to the dead man had built between them? If not, he must tell her, and rising again to his feet, and standing over her, Grey began with a choking voice:
"Bessie, you do not seem even to suspect that, in the eyes of the world, the fact that you are Joel Rogers' grand-niece ought to separate you from me. Don't you know that the blood of your kinsman is on my grandfather's hands, and does that make no difference with you?"
"Difference!" she repeated. "No, why should it? Oh, Grey, you are not going to give me up because of that? I was not to blame;" and in Bessie's voice there was such a pleading pathos, that when she stretched her hands toward him, Grey took her in his arms, feeling that all his doubts and fears were removed, and that Bessie might be his in spite of everything.
For a long time they talked together of the course to be pursued, deciding finally that the matter should be kept to themselves until Grey and Bessie were married, and with Hannah had been to Wales and proved the validity of Bessie's claim to the effects of Joel Rogers.
There was no longer any talk of waiting until Christmas Eve, for the marriage was to take place as soon as possible, and when Grey took Bessie home to Miss McPherson he startled that good woman with the announcement that he was to be married the last week in November and sail at once for Europe, taking his Aunt Hannah with him.
They rang first for Lord Hardy and Augusta Browne, who had intended to be married in October, but whose wedding was deferred until the second week in November, because, as Mrs. Rossiter-Browne expressed it, "Gusty's bridal trouses could not arrive in time from Paris." Everything pertaining to the young lady's wardrobe was ordered either from London or Paris, and could Mrs. Browne have done it she would have bought the Arch of Triumph, and, transporting it to Allington, would have set it up in front of her house and illuminated it for the occasion. She should never have another daughter marry an Irish lord, she said, and she meant "to make a splurge and astonish the natives," and she did.
She had a temporary ball-room built at one side of the house, and lighted it with a thousand wax candles. She had a brass band from Springfield and a string band from Worcester. She had a caterer from Boston, whom with her usual happy form of expression she called a "canterer." She had colored waiters in white gloves in such profusion that they stumbled over and against each other. She had an awning stretched from the front door to the gate, with yards and yards of carpeting under it.
"She had not been abroad for nothing, and she guessed she knew what was what," she said to Lord Hardy when he hinted that a plainer wedding would suit him quite as well, and that the money she was expending could be put to better purpose.
"I guess we can stand it, and still have a nice little sum for Gusty," she added, and patting her future son-in-law upon the back she bade him "keep cool and let her run the machine."
After that, Lord Hardy kept quiet, though he was never so near a fever as during the week which preceded his nuptials. For Augusta herself he did not care at all, as men are supposed to care for the girl they are about to marry. He did not dislike her, and he thought her rather pretty and lady-like, with a far better education than his own; but, strangely enough in these last days of his bachelorhood, he often found himself living over again those far-off times in Monte Carlo, when, as Cousin Sue from Bangor, he had laughed and talked and flirted with poor little Daisy, as he called her to himself, now that she was dead, and the grave had closed over all her faults and misdemeanors. She had been the cause of his ruin, and he had, at times, hated her for it, but she had been jolly company for all that, and he wondered what she would say if she could know that Mrs. Rossiter-Browne was to be his mother-in-law and Augusta Lady Hardy.
"She would turn over in her coffin, I do believe," he thought, and then he wondered how much Augusta's wedding portion would be, and how far it would go toward restoring his Irish home to something like its former condition. But on this point, pere Browne maintained a rigid silence, and he was obliged to be content with the hints which mere Browne dropped from time to time. She had made minute inquiries with regard to Hardy Manor, her daughter's future home, and at her request he had made a drawing of it, so that she knew just how many rooms there were, and how they were furnished.
"I shall h'ist them feather beds out double quick," she said, "and them high four-posters, with tops like a buggy. I'd as soon sleep in a hearse, and I shall put in some brass bedsteads and hair mattresses, and mabby I shall furnish Gusty's room with willer work. I'll show 'em what Uncle Sam can do."
Was she then going with him to Hardy Manor, and must he present her to his aristocratic friends as the mother of his bride? The very possibility of such a calamity made the perspiration ooze from the tips of Lord Hardy's fingers to the roots of his hair, and once he contemplated running away and taking the first ship which sailed for Liverpool. But when he remembered his debts he concluded to swallow everything, even the mother-in-law, if necessary. He was to sail the last week in November, and as, when he engaged his state-room, nothing had been said about a second one for Mrs. Browne, he comforted himself with the hope that she did not meditate going with him. She would, perhaps, come in the spring, by which time he might be glad for the brass bedsteads and hair mattresses which abounded at the Ridge House, and which were really more in accordance with his luxurious tastes than the feather beds and high four-posters which had done duty at Hardy Manor for more years than he could remember.
Over four hundred invitations were given to the wedding, as Mrs. Browne said she "didn't mean to make nobody mad." But she did offend more people than if her party had been more select, for when Mrs. Peter Stokes, the truckman's wife, heard that her next door neighbor, Mrs. Asa Noaks, the hackman's wife, had received an invitation and she had not, her indignation knew no bounds, and she wondered who Miss Ike Browne thought she was, and if she had forgotten that she once went out to work like any other hired girl; and when Susan Slocum, whose mother took in washing, heard that her friend Lucy Smith, who worked in the mill, was invited and she was not, she persuaded her mother to roll up the four dozen pieces which had been sent from the Ridge to be washed, and return them with the message that if she wa'n't good enough to go to the wedding she wa'n't good enough to wash the weddin' finery. This so disturbed poor Mrs. Browne, who really wished to please every body, that but for the interference of Allen and Augusta she would have gone immediately to the offended washerwoman with an apology, and an earliest request to be present at the wedding.
"Don't for pity's sake, ask any more of the scum," Allen said, adding, that if she had not invited any of them no one would have been slighted.
"Well, I don't know," Mrs. Browne rejoined, with a sigh; "I can't quite forget when I was scum myself, and knew how it felt."
On the whole, however, everything went smoothly, and the grand affair came off one November night when the air was as soft and balmy as in early summer, and the full moon was sailing through a cloudless sky as carriage after carriage made its way to the brilliantly lighted house through the dense crowd of curious people which filled the road in front, and even stretched to the left along the garden fence. All the factory hands were there, and all the boys in town, with most of the young girls, and many of the women whose rank in life was in what Allen called the scum, forgetting that but for his father's money he might have been there too.
There were four bridemaids in all, and their dresses and trains were something wonderful to behold, as they swept down the stairs and through the long drawing-room to the bay-window where, amid a wilderness of roses, and azalias, and lilies, they were to stand. This was the part the most distasteful to Lord Hardy, who would greatly have preferred being married in church according to the English form—and, in fact, Augusta would have liked that, too; but Mrs. Browne was a stanch Baptist, and opposed any deviation from the good old rule, and so Lord Hardy was compelled to submit, though his face wore the look of anything but a happy man as he went through the ordeal which made him Augusta's husband, and then received the congratulations of the guests, most of whom addressed the bride as Lady Hardy.
When Augusta heard of Bessie's engagement with Grey she went at once to congratulate her, and insisted upon her being one of her bridemaids. But Bessie declined; she was too much a stranger to take so conspicuous a place, she said, and would rather be a quiet looker-on.
But she was there with Grey, to whose arm she clung as she looked wonderingly on at the gorgeous display, unlike anything which was ever seen in Allington before, or ever would be again.
Altogether it was a most brilliant and successful affair, and the reporters, who had been hired to be present, did it ample justice in the next day's papers. "Festivities in High Life" headed the column, in which the beauty and accomplishments of the bride were dwelt upon at large, while free scope was given to the imagination and the pen when it came to the elegant manners of the hostess, the air of refinement and cultivation perceptible among the guests, and the signs of wealth and perfect taste everywhere visible. The great popularity of the family was also dwelt upon as proven by the immense crowd thronging the streets, and Lord Hardy was congratulated upon his rare good luck, and hints were thrown out that England and Ireland ought to feel complimented that so many of America's fair daughters were willing to wear a foreign title and grace a foreign home.
"What fools those reporters are, to be sure, and the Brownes are bigger fools to allow such stuff to be printed," was Miss McPherson's comment upon the articles which appeared in the Spy and the Gazette, and the Springfield Republican, and her opinion was pretty generally shared by the citizens of Allington, who immediately raked up the ashes of the Brownes' past history, and recalled with great zest the times when Mrs. Browne had worked in the kitchen at Grey's Park, while poor Mr. Browne was charged with every possible second-class occupation, from mending brass kettles down to peddling clothes-pins.
Fortunately, however, Mrs. Browne was in happy ignorance of all this. She only knew that she had "killed a bear," as she expressed it, and that she had been described as an elegant and accomplished lady, who led the ton in Allington.
"I guess I've whipped 'em all, though I'll wait and see what Miss McPherson does," she said; but Miss McPherson did nothing.
It was the wish of both Bessie and Grey that the wedding should be as quiet as possible. Any one was free to go to the church where the ceremony took place one morning the last week in November, and which was filled with plain, respectable people. But only Hannah and Lucy Grey, Mr. and Mrs. Burton Jerrold, and the clergyman, Mr. Sanford, went to the house, where the wedding-breakfast was served, and where Miss Betsey broke down more than once, as she thought how soon she had lost the girl whom she had learned to love so much. Grey and Bessie were going to New York that afternoon, for they were to sail the next day, and Hannah was going with them. No good reason had been assigned for this sudden trip across the ocean at this season of the year, and only Mr. Sanford knew why it was taken. Hannah had told him everything, and while he expressed his pleasure that the long search and waiting had at last been rewarded in so satisfactory a manner, he added, sadly:
"I hope you will not stay there long. I shall be very lonely without you, Hanny."
It was the first time he had given her the pet name of old, since Martha had been laid to rest in the church-yard, and as a penance for doing so, he went the same day to Martha's grave and stood there at least fifteen minutes, with the November rain falling upon him until his clothes were nearly wet through.
"Poor Martha," he sighed, as he turned away, "she would be fidgeted to death if she knew how wet I am. I guess I had better drink some boneset when I get home. I believe that is what she used to give me."
He went with the party to New York, and so did Miss Grey and Miss McPherson, and the loungers at the Allington station made some joking remarks about one widower going off with three old maids, but each of the old maids knew her business, and cared little what the rabble said. The Brownes, too, were in New York with Lord and Lady Hardy, who sailed in the same ship with Grey and Bessie. Just how much Augusta's wedding portion was, was never known, but that it was satisfactory was proven by the felicitous expression of Lord Hardy's face, which beamed with delight as he said good-by to his mother-in-law, whom he kissed in the exuberance of his joy. But his countenance fell a little when he heard her tell Augusta not to be so down in the mouth, for she should be over there herself early in the spring, in time to see to house-cleaning!
The day was bright and warm, as the days in Indian summer often are, and the McPherson party stood upon the wharf waving their good-bys as long as Grey and Bessie were discernible among the passengers; then they returned to their Hotel, and Miss Betsey sent the following cablegram to Neil in London:
"Bessie was married yesterday to Grey Jerrold, and sails to-day for Liverpool."
At last there came a day when Hannah Jerrold sat in the yew-shaded garden at Stoneleigh, on the same bench where Archie once lay sleeping, with Daisy at his side keeping the flies from him. Archie and Daisy were dead, and Hannah Jerrold, whose life had reached out and laid hold upon theirs, was there in the old home to make restitution, and coming to her down the walk were Grey and Bessie, whose face was wonderfully beautiful as she lifted it to her husband, and said something which made him stoop down and kiss the sweet mouth from which the old, tired look had nearly vanished.
She was so happy now, this little Welsh girl, who had borne so much, and suffered so much, and it seemed to Hannah as she drew near as if a halo of joy shone in her deep blue eyes and irradiated every feature of her lovely countenance.
"Oh, it is so nice to be home again, and the old place is so dear to me," she said, as she sat down by Hannah upon the bench, "I half wish we were going to stay here, though I like America very much, and shall in time, become as genuine a Yankee as Grey himself. You know he is in a way a cosmopolitan."
They had taken Anthony and Dorothy completely by surprise, for although Bessie had written to them of her engagement, she had said nothing of coming home, as she did not then expect to do so. But circumstances had changed, and the old couple were just sitting down to their frugal breakfast of bread and tea when a carriage from the station drove into the park, and in a moment Bessie was in Dorothy's arms, laughing and crying and talking in the same breath, presenting Hannah as her husband and her husband as her Aunt Hannah, in her joy and excitement at being home once more.
It did not take long to explain why they had come, to the old people, who entered heart and soul into the matter Anthony offering to go at once to Carnavon and hunt up some one who could swear to the hand-writing of Joel Rogers and help to prove the will, while Dorothy said she had no doubt that among some papers, bills and receipts which had belonged to Bessie's grandmother and which were still lying in an old writing-desk where Daisy had put them when her mother died, there were letters from Joel to his sister, which proved to be a fact.
"I remember him well, though he was a good bit older than I am," Anthony said. "A little sandy-haired man, very kind-hearted and honest, though rather touchy and quarrelsome if he had too much beer in him, I shouldn't wonder but he died in some spree brought on by drink."
"Yes, he died in a spree brought on by drink," Hannah answered, sadly, and that was the only time she was ever called upon to speak of the manner of Joel Rogers' death.
Indeed, the whole matter was managed far more easily than she had feared. No troublesome questions whatever were asked, for there was no one enough interested in Joel Rogers to ask them, and when the will was proven and Bessie's claim as his rightful heir established, Grey found no difficulty whatever in obtaining from the company where the deceased had owned shares so many years ago, a full and correct account of all moneys invested and the dividends which had been accruing since, the whole of which was at once made over to Bessie, who found herself an heiress to so large an amount that it fairly took her breath away at first.
"Why, I am rich!" she exclaimed, and then, as the tears gathered in her eyes, she continued: "Oh, if this had come to me while poor father was alive, it would have made him so comfortable, and we were so poor."
Then she began to wonder what she should do with it all, and how dispose of it to the best advantage.
"If you were only poor and wanted it, I should be so glad," she said to Grey; "but you do not, and so I must do the best I can."
It never occurred to her to use any part of it for herself. She meant to give it away, and make a great many people happy. And within a day or two she had decided what to do with a part of it at least. She was sitting alone with Grey around the bright fire in the drawing-room one evening after their late dinner, and Grey was saying to her, as she sat on a low stool at his side, leaning her head on his knee and holding his hand in hers:
"It will soon be two years since I first saw you, with your face against the window, looking out into the darkness at the big American. I dare say you wished me in Guinea."
"That I did," Bessie answered laughingly, as she deepened her clasp of his hand, "for I did not at all know what to do with you."
"But I remember well that you gave up your own cozy bedroom, like the dear, unselfish little girl you are," Grey said, and Bessie rejoined.
"Yes, but I hope you remember, too, that you would not take it, and, pretending to have the asthma, said you preferred the north chamber, with the storm and the cold and the rats. Oh, Grey, honestly I did not want you here one bit. I thought you would be in the way but I am so glad now, for if you had not come I might never have been your wife," and Bessie nestled closer to the arm which was her rightful resting-place, and which encircled her fondly, as Grey replied a little teasingly:
"No, not my wife perhaps, but you might have been Neil's, eh?"
"No, Grey, if I had not met you, I could not have married Neil. I once thought I loved him, it is true, but I know now I did not. We were so unlike we could never have been happy. But I like him very much and am sorry for him, if he really cared for me. I wonder what he will say when he hears I am married and am here in Wales. He did not even know I was engaged. I think you ought to write and tell him, and perhaps invite him here for the holidays. Do you think he would care to come?"
"No, Bessie. Neither would I care to have him," Grey replied. "I would rather spend the first Christmas alone with you in the place where I first saw you; but I am willing to write to Neil, and when we go to London I will find him of course, and you shall see him."
"Thank you, Grey," Bessie said, just as Dorothy came in with a letter for her mistress, who took it in her hand and bending to the firelight recognized Neil's hand-writing, while her cheeks flushed as she saw her new name, Mrs. Grey Jerrold, and thought that Neil was the first to address her thus.
Breaking the seal, she read as follows:
"LONDON, December ——, 18—.
"My Dear Cousin: You may think it strange that I have not written before this and congratulated you upon your marriage. But I did not know of it until a week ago, when I came home from the Continent, summoned by the news that my mother was very ill. Then I found a telegram from my Aunt Betsey, which said, 'Bessie was married yesterday to Grey Jerrold and sails to-day for Liverpool.' I was not greatly surprised, and I am glad that it is Grey, I know he is worthy of you and I hope you will both be happy, even if I am wretched and forlorn, for I am more so than I ever was in my life before. Mother is dead and we have just returned from burying her at the old home in Middlesex. She died of typhoid-pneumonia the day after my return. I did not send for you to attend her funeral, for fear it would seem like an insult, she had taken such a stand against you during her life. But she changed very much in that respect, and a few hours before she died she talked of you, and said she withdrew all her opposition, and that, if I loved you still and you loved me she hoped we would marry and be happy. I did not tell her of the telegram, and so she did not know that you were already married. But, strangest of all, she advised me to go to America, and if I could find anything to do, which would not compromise me as a gentleman, to do it. Think of that, Bessie. My mother advising me to work, after all her training to the contrary. But she knew there was no other way. It is work or starve with me now. A few weeks before mother's death she lost nearly everything which she had in her own right, and which would have naturally come to me, so that most of her income died with her. Neither Trevellian House, nor the one in the country, is ours any longer, and father must go into lodgings when the new heir takes possession. This, at his age, is very hard, and I am sorry for him. If we only had the house in Middlesex it would not be so bad, for he likes the country and would be happy there. What he will do here alone in London I am sure I don't know, for I am going out to India on a salary of three hundred pounds a year; small enough for a chap of my habits, but better than nothing.
"I'd like awfully to see you once more before I go, and if you come to London I hope you will let me call upon you. Don't think I am breaking my heart because you belong to Grey. I am not that kind, and it would do no good. But I loved you as I can never love any one again, and there is always a thought of you in my mind, and I see your face as it looked at me that day in Liverpool, when I acted the part of a cowardly knave.
"I would kick myself for that if I could. You were too good for me, Bessie, and I should have been a drag upon your life always. But Heaven knows how much I miss you, and how at times, when the thought comes over me that you are lost to me forever, and that another man is enjoying the sweetness I once thought would be mine, I half wish I were dead and out of the way of everything. Then I put that feeling aside as unworthy of me, and say to myself that I am glad you are happy, and that Grey is the noblest and best fellow in the world, and the one of all others who ought to have you for his wife. I shall never marry; that is settled. First, there is no woman in the world I can ever look at after loving you; and, second, I am too poor, and always shall be.
"And now I suppose you are thinking of Blanche, and wondering where she is. She and mother had a jolly row, of which I fancy I was the cause. Blanche told mother that all either she or I cared for was to get her ten thousand a year, and by Jove, I believe she was right, but I did not suppose she had sense enough to know it; trust a fool sometimes to see through a stone wall.
"Well, mother told Blanche that I did not even care for the ten thousand pounds, that I loved you, and had been engaged to you, and that you had discarded me. That was the straw too many, and forthwith, Miss Blanche departed from Trevellian House, bag and baggage, and I hear she is about to marry the eldest son of Lord Haxton, a brainless idiot, not half as good-looking as I am. There is conceit for you! But you know I was always rather vain of my looks, and I do believe that the greatest terror poverty holds for me is the knowing that I must wear seedy hats and threadbare coats, and trousers a year behind. Maybe Grey will sometime send me a box of his cast-off clothes.
"But what nonsense I am writing, and it is time I closed. I hear father in his room, and guess it must be time for his tea, so I will go in and join him. I hope either you, or Grey, or both, will write to me and tell me your plans.
"Forever and ever yours,
"P.S.—I saw Jack Trevellian the other day, and told him you were married. For a minute he was as white as a piece of paper; then he rallied, and asked a great many questions about you. It seems be thought that you died in Rome when you were so sick there, and he says Grey thought so, too. Jack did not know to the contrary until one day last summer, when Flossie Meredith met him in the streets in Paris and told him you were in America. Jack is growing stout, and looks quite the landed proprietor. He keeps a lot of hounds, and has invited me to visit him. But I am done with things of that sort. Again good-by.
"P.S. No. 2.—I have had my tea with father, and when I told him I had been writing to you, he bade me give you his love, and say, that he should very much like to see you and your husband, and that if you are not coming to London, he will go to Stoneleigh, where he has never been since your grandfather died. This, I take it, is right shabby in him. But father is greatly changed. Between you and me, he was awfully afraid of mother. Poor mother, she meant well, and she was fond of me.
"By the way, Flossie is in London, with her grandmother, stopping at Langham's, and Jack is there, too, and has asked the old lady to spend some weeks at Trevellian Castle. It is frightfully lonesome there, he says, and he wants Flossie to brighten it up. Can you read between the lines? I think I can. Flossie is bright as a button.
"Again yours, forever,
Bessie read the letter, and then, passing it to her husband, said:
"It is from Neil. Would you like to see it?"
Taking it from her, Grey read it through, and then, leaning back in his chair, watched Bessie, as, with her elbows on her knees, and her face resting on her hands, she sat gazing intently into the fire with a wistful, earnest look which puzzled him a little. Was she thinking of the two men who had loved her so much and one of whom loved her still? And was she sending a regret after the title she had lost? He did not believe so; and, after a moment, he reached out his hand, and laying it caressingly upon her soft, wavy hair, said to her:
"What is it, petite? Are you thinking how you might have been Lady Bessie Trevellian?"
Then she turned her clear, truthful blue eyes upon him and answered:
"No, Grey. I would rather be your wife than the grandest duchess in the world, but I am thinking of Neil and his father, and how hard it is for them to be so poor. Grey"—and rising from her stool, Bessie seated herself on her husband's lap, and, winding her arms around his neck, and laying her soft, warm check against his bearded one, said again; "Grey, I want to ask you something—want to do something. Can I?"
"Yes, do what you like. Ask me what you like. What is it, darling?" Grey answered her, and Bessie replied:
"I want to give a thousand pounds of my money to Neil and a thousand to his father. That is not much, I know, but the interest upon it will put Uncle John in better lodgings than he can now afford, and it will help Neil, too. Only think of three hundred pounds a year after all he has been accustomed to spend. What do you think, Grey?"
Grey's arm tightened its clasp around the girlish figure, and his lips touched Bessie's white forehead as he said:
"I think you the most generous, unselfish little woman in all the world. And so I am sure would Neil, if he knew what you proposed; but, Bessie, I do not believe he would like it, or like you to offer it to him. He has more manhood than that. Poverty is hard to bear, but it will not hurt him. On the contrary, having to work for his living will bring out the very best there is in him, and make him a man. He will not starve or even suffer want on three hundred pounds a year; it is more than many a working man has with a large family to support. So do not waste your sympathy on Neil, who can take care of himself; but his father is old, and the change will be hard upon him. Was he not born at Stoneleigh?"
"I think so. Yes," Bessie answered, and Grey continued:
"Neil says he likes the country and laments the loss of Elm Park. Now, this is my suggestion; Anthony and Dorothy ought to have some one with them in their old age. How would you like taking a part of that two thousand pounds you are so anxious to dispose of, and with it repair and fit up this place into a comfortable and pleasant home for Mr. McPherson, whenever he chooses to stay here? The rest of the two thousand you can invest for his use as long as he lives, and the interest of it will add to his present moderate income. What do you think of my plan?"
"I think it the very best that could be adopted, and I shall write to Neil to-night, so it will go in the first mail to-morrow," Bessie said, and before she slept she wrote a long letter to Neil, telling him first of the fortune which had come to her so unexpectedly, but not explaining how it had come.
She was simply the sole heiress of a certain Joel Rogers, who left shares in the quarries and mines, and these she was now possessed of, and felt herself a rich woman.
"Quite an heiress, it seems to me," she wrote, "although the sum is really not so very large, but it is more than I ever dreamed of having, and as money burns in my fingers, I am dying to be rid of some of it, and this is a plan which Grey and I have talked over together, and which I hope will meet your approval and that of your father."
Then, as briefly as possible she made her offer, which she begged him to persuade his father to accept.
"It will make me very happy," she wrote, "to know that his old age is made more comfortable by me. I should be glad to give you a part of my little fortune, but Grey says you would not like it, and perhaps he is right. I am glad that you are going to do something; I think you will be happier if occupied with business, and I wish you to be happy, as I am sure you will be some day, and always remember that you have two sincere friends, Grey and your Cousin Bessie."
She was going to add "Jerrold" to the Bessie, but refrained from doing so, thinking to herself that she would not be the first to flaunt her new name in Neil's face. Grey, however, had no such scruples. Looking over Bessie's shoulder, as she finished her letter, he saw her start to make the "J," and when she changed her mind, and put down her pen, he took it up and himself wrote the "Jerrold" with a flourish, saying, as he did so:
"Don't be afraid to show your colors, petite. I think 'Bessie Jerrold' the sweetest name in all the world."
"So do I; but I doubt if Neil holds the same opinion," Bessie answered, with a laugh, as she leaned her head upon her husband's bosom, while he kissed her lips and forehead, and said the fond, foolish things which no loving wife, however old she may be, is ever tired of hearing—fond, foolish words, which, if oftener spoken, would keep alive the love in hearts which should never grow cold to each other.
It was three days before an answer came to Bessie's letter, and in that time she developed a most astonishing talent for architecture, or rather for devising and planning how to repair and improve a house. At least twenty sheets of paper were wasted with the plans she drew of what she meant to do. There were to be bow-windows here, and balconies there, and porticoes in another place; chimneys were to be moved as readily and easily as if they had been pieces of furniture; partitions thrown down, doors taken away, and portieres substituted. All the solid, old-fashioned furniture was to be discarded, and light, airy articles to take its place, like the willow work and brass bedsteads then on their way to Hardy Manor as a gift from Mrs. Browne. Indeed, it was not until Grey told Bessie that she was outdoing the Yankees in her desire for change, and asked if she were copying Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, that she stopped to rest, and concluded to wait for a letter from Neil before she commenced the work of knocking down and hauling out, as Dorothy expressed it.
At last the letter came, not from Neil, but from his father, who, after thanking Bessie most cordially for her generous offer, which he was glad to accept, wrote as follows:
"I hope you will not be disappointed because I answer your letter in place of Neil, who said he could not possibly do it. He is greatly changed, and does not seem like himself at all. After reading your letter and passing it to me, he sat for a long time staring blankly at nothing, with a look on his face which I could not understand, and when I asked him what was the matter, he put his head upon the table and cried as young men never cry except they are greatly moved, and I cried, too; though why I cannot tell, unless it was for all the trouble which has come upon us at once, the loss of my wife, the loss of our home, and the fact that Neil must now, from necessity, do something to earn his bread. But I do not think he minds that as much as one might suppose, and when I began to cry he stopped at once and tried to comfort me, and said our lot was not a hard one by any means, when compared with what many had to endure; that it was a good thing to have to bestir himself; that he had been a lazy, conceited, selfish puppy long enough, and that if it were possible he meant to be a man. And then he spoke of you as his good angel, and said you were the truest, purest, and sweetest woman in all the world, and that neither of us could ever repay you and your husband for your generosity to us. I am sure I cannot, nor can I tell you how happy I shall be at Stoneleigh. I am afraid you will have a steady incumbent, for once there, I do not believe I shall care to leave it. I have seen all of the world I wish to, and the quiet and peace of Stoneleigh will be very grateful to me. I think, however, that for the winter I shall remain in London, where I hope to see you and Mr. Jerrold, whose father and mother I met years ago at Penrhyn Park. I do not yet know when Neil will start for India; probably within a few weeks, and then I shall be very lonely. That God may bless you, my dear Bessie, and give you all the happiness you deserve, is the prayer of your affectionate uncle,
Over this letter Bessie had a good cry, with her face on Grey's shoulder and Grey's arms around her, and when he asked why she cried she said she did not know, only the world seemed a very dreary world with no one perfectly happy in it except themselves. But Bessie's tears in those days were like April showers, and she was soon as joyous and gay as ever, and entered heart and soul into the improvements and repairs which were to make Stoneleigh habitable for the Hon. John, who, greatly to their astonishment, came suddenly upon them one day when they were ankle deep in brick and mortar and lath and plaster, and all the other paraphernalia attendant upon repairing an old house.
Neil was away so much, he said, and he was so lonely in his lodgings, with no one to speak to but his landlady, that he had decided to come to Stoneleigh, though he did not mean to make the least trouble, or be at all in the way.
But a fine gentleman, unaccustomed to wait upon himself, is always in the way, and even Bessie's patience was taxed to its utmost during the weeks which followed. Fortunately for her, Grey knew what was needed better than she did herself, for while she would have torn down one day what had been done the day before, he moved more cautiously and judiciously, so that the work really progressed rapidly, and some time in March John McPherson took possession of the two rooms which had been expressly designed for him, and which, as they were fitted up and furnished with a reference to comfort rather than elegance, were exceedingly homelike and pleasant, and suited the London gentleman perfectly.
"Here I shall live and die, blessing you with my last breath," he said to Bessie, as he moved into his new quarters and seated himself in an arm-chair by a window which overlooked the park and the Menai Bridge not very far away.
He was very fond of Bessie, whom he always called "dear child," and once, when she stood by him, he put his arm about her and kissing her fondly said, "I wish you could have been my daughter; it would have been the making of Neil."
"No, no, oh, no, I couldn't, for there is Grey, whom I love a great deal the best," Bessie answered hurriedly, as she drew herself from him, half feeling as if a wrong had been done her husband by even a hint that she could ever have been the wife of another.
Some time in April the Jerrolds went to London and met Neil at the Grand Hotel, where he was staying a few days before leaving for India.
Owing to Grey's tact, the interview was tolerably free from embarrassment, though in Neil's heart there was a wild tumult of conflicting emotions, as he stood with Bessie again face to face, and heard her well remembered voice.
How lovely she was in her young, happy wifehood, with the tired, care-worn look gone from her sweet face, where only the light of perfect joy and peace was shining.
Grey, who, without being in the least a prig, was something of a connoisseur in the details of dress, had delighted to adorn his bride with everything which could enhance her beauty, and Bessie wore her plumage well, and there was a most striking contrast between the girl of fifteen, who, in her washed linen gown and faded ribbons, had once stood up in the park waving her handkerchief to Neil, and the young matron of twenty, who, clad in a faultless dinner dress, with diamonds in her ears and on her fingers, went forward to meet her cousin. And Neil recognized the difference, and felt himself growing both hot and cold by turns as he took the hand extended to him, and looked down upon the little lady, whom, but for her bright face and clear, innocent blue eyes, he would scarcely have known, so complete was the transformation. For a moment Neil felt as if he preferred the old linen, with its puffed sleeves and antiquated appearance, to the shimmer of the fawn-colored satin, with its facings of delicate blue, and the flush of the solitaires; but, as he watched her moving about the elegant rooms and discharging her duties as hostess just as kindly and thoughtfully as she had done at Stoneleigh, where the china was cracked and the silver was old, he said to himself, that the transformation was such as it should be, and that satins and diamonds, though out of place on little Bessie McPherson, of Stoneleigh, were fitting adornments for Mrs. Grey Jerrold, of Boston. He had called her Bessie, as of old, and the repeating the dear name to her, and seeing the quick, responsive smile and questioning glance he knew so well, nearly unmanned him, and raised within him such a tempest of love, and remorse, and regret for what he had lost, that it required all his fortitude and will not to break down entirely, and to seem natural and at ease during the dinner, to which Grey had invited him, and which was served in the private parlor.
Half an hour or more after dinner a servant brought in a card with Jack Trevellian's name upon it, and in a moment Jack was with them, shaking hands cordially with both Grey and Bessie, and appearing as much at his ease as he did in the park when he first saw the latter and told her who the people were, while she, a shy country girl, looked on wonderingly and made her quaint remarks. She did not look like a country girl now, and Jack's eyes followed her admiringly as she moved around the room, with a faint flush on her cheeks and a very little shyness perceptible in her manner. Once, when standing near her, he put a hand on either shoulder, and looking down into her face said to her:
"Do you know, Mrs. Jerrold how nearly my heart was broken when I thought you were dead, and that for months the brightness of my life seemed blotted out. But it is all right now, and I am glad for you that you are Grey Jerrold's wife. You will be very happy with him."
"Yes, yes, very happy," Bessie answered, and then, scarcely knowing why she did so, she asked him abruptly for Flossie, and where she was.
"At Trevellian Castle," Jack replied, taking his hands from her shoulders and stepping back from her. "She is there with her grandmother, a cantankerous old woman, who leads Flossie a sorry life, or would if she were not so light-hearted that trouble slips from her easily."
"No one could be happy with Mrs. Meredith," Bessie said, "She is so cross and unreasonable, and I pity poor Flossie, who is made for sunshine. I wish she would go to America with us. I should be so glad to have her, and I mean to write and ask her. Do you think she would like to go?"
"Ye-es—no—I don't know," Jack answered, thoughtfully, while it seemed to Bessie that a shadow passed over his face, and he sat for a few moments in a brown study as if revolving something in his mind. Then rousing up he said he must leave them, as he was due at a party at the West End, and it was time he was making his toilet. "I shall be very glad to see you at Trevellian Castle," he said to Grey, "and if you will come I will treat Mistress Bessie to the biggest fox-hunt she ever saw. I have no end of hounds and horses, and Flossie is an admirable horsewoman. Why, she can take the highest fence and clear the widest ditch in the county. Come and see her do it. Good-by."
The next day Bessie wrote to Flossie, urging her to go with her to her new home, and saying that she knew she would like America, and be very happy there.
A week later and Neil started for India. He said good-by, at the hotel, to his father, who had come from Wales to see him; but Grey and Bessie went with him to Southampton, where he was to embark. It was hard for Neil to seem cheerful and natural, but he succeeded very well until the last, when he said good-by to Bessie. Then he broke down entirely, and, taking her in his arms, cried over her as a mother cries over the child she is losing.
"You have always been my good angel, Bessie," he said, "and if I ever make anything of myself, it will all be owing to you. Good-by, and may God bless you and make you the happiest woman in the world, as you deserve to be. I may never see you again, and I may. If I succeed, and really think I am a man, and not a sneak as you have always known me, I shall come to you sometime, and show you that there was something in Neil McPherson besides selfishness and conceit. Good-by."
Releasing her, he turned to Grey, who, during this little scene, had considerately turned his back upon them, and stood looking from the window as unconcernedly as if no tall, handsome cousin were kissing his wife and crying over her. He had perfect faith in Bessie, and he pitied Neil, and when the latter offered him his hand he took it, and pressing it warmly, said:
"Good by, and God bless you. As long as I live you will have a friend in me. I think you will succeed in India, but if you fail, try America. You are sure to succeed there, if you only have the will, and I can help you some, perhaps. Good-by."
Neil made no answer, except to wring Grey's hand, and then he passed out from the old life to the new, with a pretty equal chance for failure or success.
This was in April, and the latter part of May the Jerrolds sailed for America, but before they did so Bessie received a letter from Flossie, who was at her grandmother's home near Portrush, in Ireland, and who wrote as follows:
"DEAR BESSIE: I ought to have written you long ago, and thanked you for your kind invitation to go with you to your American home. I should have liked it of all things in the world, for to see America and know what it is like, has been the dream of my life. You knew it is the paradise of my countrymen, the land into which Pat and Bridget entered when Johnny Bull came out. For various reasons, however, I must decline your invitation, and I am going to tell you all about it, but the beginning and the end lie so far apart that I must go way back to the time when, owing to some mistake, Jack Trevellian thought you died in Rome, and, because he thought so, he made a hermit of himself and wandered off into the Tyrol and the Bavarian Alps, where nobody spoke English, and where all he knew of the civilized world was what he gleaned from German papers. Nobody could communicate with him, for when he wrote to his steward, as he did sometimes, he never said where a letter could reach him, or where he was going next.
"At last, however, he concluded to go home, and got as far as Paris, where grandma and I happened to be staying. This was last August, and I was in the Rue de Rivoli one day, near Place Vendome, when, who should turn from a side street a few rods in advance of me but Jack himself, looking very rough and queer, with a long beard and a shocking hat. He did not see me, and was walking so fast that I had to run to overtake him, and even then I might not have captured him if I had not taken the handle of my umbrella and hooked it into his coat collar behind. This brought him to a stand-still and nearly threw him down. You ought to have seen the expression of his face, when he turned to see who was garroting him in broad daylight, for he thought it was that.
"'Flossie!' he exclaimed; 'what are you about, and what is this you have hitched to me?'
"You see the umbrella was still hooked to his coat collar and flopping itself open.
"'If you will stand still I will show you what it is,' I said, laughing till I cried at the comical appearance he presented, with the passers-by looking on wonderingly.
"I do not think he liked it very well. No one likes to be made ridiculous; but we were soon walking together very amicably, and he was telling me where he had been, and that he was now on his way to Trevellian Castle.
"'I have not seen you, Flossie,' he said—and I wish you could have heard how sadly and low he spoke—'I have not seen you since Bessie died in Rome. You were with her, I believe?'
"'Bessie died in Rome!' I exclaimed. 'What do you mean? Bessie did not die in Rome. She is not dead at all. She has gone to America in the same ship with Grey Jerrold.'
"He stopped more suddenly than he did when I hooked him with the umbrella, and turning toward me, asked me if I was telling him the truth. Then we walked on as far as the Champs d'Elysees, where we sat down, and I told him everything which had happened at Rome, and after we left there, as far as I knew. But I doubt if he heard half I was saying. The only point he did seem to understand was that you were not dead, and that you had gone to America in the same ship with Mr. Jerrold. It was Neil who had told me that, and to him I referred Jack for any further information concerning you. But I do not think he stopped to get it, for he went straight through London to Trevellian Castle, where his presence was needed. And then, after a time he invited grandma and me to visit him there, because he was lonely without any ladies in the house. And we went, and I was perfectly happy; for, you know, it was once my home, and it is going to be—But wait till I tell you how Jack is changed, and how he used to go away by himself, and stay for hours alone, and come back with such a tired look on his face, and ask me to tell him again of Mr. Jerrold's kindness to you in Rome. Grandma said he was in love with you, and I think so, too. But wait till I tell you how he came home from London after seeing you there as Mrs. Jerrold, and how he raved about your beauty, and grace, and elegance, and the lovely dress you wore the night he called, blue he said he believed it was, and he wanted me to have one like it, as if what became your lilies and roses would suit my black face and turned-up Irish nose. But men know nothing of color, or anything else, at least Jack does not, as you will see when I tell you, if I ever come to that.
"Well, it was like this: You were married to Mr. Jerrold, and now I am going to tell you how your letter came, and Jack brought it to me, and stood staring at me while I read it, and then he said:
"'She has asked you to go to America?'
"'Yes,' I answered, without looking up; and he continued:
"'And you are going?
"'I'd like to,' I said, 'I would rather go to America than to any other place in all the world.'
"'Rather than stay here with me?' he asked.
"Something in his voice made me look up, and then—and then—I do not believe I can tell you, except that I suddenly found out that I had been caring a great deal for Sir Jack Trevellian. Yes, a great deal; while he—well, I may as well tell you, for Sir Jack is not the man to say he loves a girl if he does not, and he told me he loved me, and wanted me for his wife; and I, well, I just covered up my face so he could not see it, and cried with all my might, I was so happy and glad.
"I know what transpired at Stoneleigh, and that I am not his first choice, but I am satisfied. How could he help loving you. I am sure I could not if I were a man, and so we are to be married in June, here, in grandma's house, where she brought me the minute she heard of the engagement.
"'It is highly improper for you to stay at Trevellian Castle a day, under the circumstances,' she said, as if Sir Jack, as my promised husband, had been suddenly transformed into a monster, who would work me harm.
"I wish you could come to the wedding, and so does Jack. He is here, and has been for a week, and when I finish this letter we are going out to sit upon the rocks and see the tide come in and the moon rise, and shall naturally sentimentalize a little, and he will tell me how much he loves me, and call me his Irish lassie; he has done that a hundred times, but when he gets too spooney and demonstrative, I ask him if he loves me better than he did you, and that quiets him, for like your president, or king, George Somebody or other, he cannot tell a lie, and says:
"'Not better, perhaps, but differently, just as you are different from her. She is fair, you know, and you are dark—' and so I infer that his love for you was white, and his love for me black. 'Ah, bien; je suis contente.'
"And now I must close, for Jack has come in, hat in hand, and bids me hurry, as there is the funniest specimen of an American down on the Rocks that he ever saw. Her name is Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, and her daughter married an Irish lord who lives near Dublin. I have met so few Americans that I must really see this one. Jack says it is better than a play to hear her talk. So, good-by. From your loving FLOSSIE."
"P.S.—I have seen Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, who knows you, and Grey, and all his relations back to the flood. Is she a fair specimen of Americans? But of course not; even I know better than that. Mr. Jerrold is not at all like her—neither, I fancy, are his people. Mrs. Browne has recently arrived, and is to spend the summer with her daughter. Lady Hardy, who is not with her. She talks so funny, and her slang is so original, and her grammar so droll, that I find her charming, and if many of the Americans are like her, you are to be congratulated, as you can never lack variety. Once more, good-by, FLORENCE MEREDITH."
Great were the rejoicings both in Boston and Allington over the return of the travelers, and great the surprise of all, when it was known that Bessie had come back an heiress to no mean fortune. But just who the great uncle was from whom her money had come to her, none, except Grey's father and Mr. Sanford ever knew, and if they had, few would have remembered the peddler of more than forty years ago whose disappearance had caused no remark, and awakened no suspicion. Could Bessie have had her way she would have told the story fearlessly and moved the bones of her kinsman to another resting-place, but Grey and Mr. Sanford overruled her, both for Hannah's sake and for the sake of Grey's father, who could not have borne the talk it would have created.
Mr. Jerrold had never been the same since that night when he heard his father's confession, and he was fast growing into a morbid, misanthropic man, whom his wife, not without reason, feared would one day be crazy.
Every year he shrank more and more from meeting his fellowmen, and at last he abandoned business altogether, and remained mostly at home in a room which he called his office, and where he saw only those he was obliged to see. The money lying in his bank in Hannah's name, but which he knew was intended for some one else, and the shares in the mines and quarries of Wales, troubled him greatly, for somewhere in the world there were people to whom they belonged, and he sometimes felt that if he and his sister were guiltless of their father's crime, they were, at least, thieves and robbers, because of the silence upon which he himself had insisted. More than once recently he had resolved to tell Grey, and let him decide the matter, and it was upon this very thing he was brooding, on the morning when his son was announced. Grey had reached Allington the previous day, and found his mother there waiting to receive him.
"I wanted your father to come with me, but he would not. He dislikes Allington worse than I do, and mopes all day in his room just as his father did. I wonder if there is any insanity in the family," she said to Grey, who answered, cheerily:
"Not a bit of it, mother; and if there is Bessie's advent among us will exorcise the demon. I am going to Boston to-morrow to see father, and shall bring him back with me a different man entirely."
He found his father in his room, moping, as his mother had said, and was struck with the change in him, even during the few months he had been away. He stooped more than ever, and there was in his whole appearance an air of weakness and brokenness of spirit pitiable to see in a man who had once been so proud and strong.
"Grey, my boy, how are you? I am glad to see you, very glad," he said, as his son entered the room; and when Grey sat down by him, and taking his thin, white hand, pressed it gently and said, "Poor father, you are not well, are you?" he did a most astonishing thing. He laid his head on his son's arm and sobbed aloud:
"No, Grey, I am sick—in mind, not in body—and I have been sick these—how old are you, Grey?"
"Twenty-six, my next birthday," Grey replied, and he continued:
"Yes, you were fourteen when your grandfather died. Twelve years ago, and for twelve years I have been sick—very sick. Oh, Grey, if I dared to tell you, and ask you what to do!"
"You need not tell me," Grey said to him. "I know what you mean, and have known it ever since grandpa died, for I was there that night, unknown to you or any one; was in the kitchen by the stove, and heard what grandpa told you. Don't you remember how sick I was after it? Well, that was what ailed me. Aunt Hannah knows. I told her, and together we have tried to find his heirs, and, father, we have found them, or her, for there is but one direct heir of his sister Elizabeth, and that—and that—is Bessie, my wife. Oh, father, look up, bear up; you must not faint," Grey continued in alarm, as he felt his father press heavily against him, and saw the ghastly pallor on his face.
"Bessie—your wife—the heir! And does she know what we do?" Mr. Jerrold gasped, and Grey replied:
"Yes, everything—and knew it before I married her. Listen, and I will tell you all."
Ringing the bell, Grey bade the servant who appeared bring a glass of wine, which he made his father swallow, and then, supporting him with his arm, he told him everything, from the night when he had knelt upon the snow in the woods and asked to be forgiven for his grandfather's sin, down to the present time.
"And you knew it all these years when I was trying to hide it from you," Mr. Jerrold said; "and you have worked while I have only sat still and brooded; and you have found the heir in Bessie. Are you sure it is Bessie? Oh, Grey! God bless you, my boy! You do not know what a load of care you have taken from me, for, though my father's sin is none the less, it does not hurt me as much, and I feel as if I could forgive him all. I do not believe he was so much in fault. The peddler struck him first, you know. I must see Hannah, and hear the story again. What time do you return to Allington?"
Grey told him, and he continued:
"I shall go with you—first to see Hannah, and then to Grey's Park in the evening. Poor Hannah! she has had such a lonely life!"
Three hours later and Mr. Jerrold was driven to the house in the pasture-land, in the phaeton which Lucy had sent to the station to meet Grey, who walked to Grey's Park, where Bessie greeted him as rapturously as if weeks instead of hours had passed since she saw him.
Mr. Jerrold had expected to find his sister alone, and was a little disappointed to see the Rev. Mr. Sanford there, cozily taking tea in the pleasant south room, where the morning-glories were trained across the windows, and the early June roses were looking in.
"Oh, Burton, how glad I am to see you! and how well you are looking!" Hannah cried, as she went forward to meet her brother, in whom she saw a change, as if he had suddenly grown young.
And he did feel younger and happier than he had in years; and as soon as Mr. Sanford took his leave, which he did immediately after tea, Burton plunged at once into the principal object of his visit.
"I have come," he said, "to open the doors and windows of that ghostly room, and let in the light and air of Heaven. Grey has told me everything, and I feel like a new man. Even the—the—the thing father did, does not seem to me quite as it did. Would you mind telling me again the particulars of the quarrel?—how it commenced, I mean—nothing more."
He had risen as he was talking, and going into the bedroom, threw back the heavy curtains, and opening the windows and blinds, sat down in his father's chair, while Hannah stood beside him and told him how both men had drank until their reason was clouded, and how the peddler had called her father a cheat and a liar, and struck him first, and how—But here her brother stopped her, and said:
"That will do. I am satisfied that what father did was done in self-defense, and so the world would have said, and acquitted him, too, I am sure. I almost wish you had told at the time. We should have lived it down, though I might never have married Geraldine and never have had Grey. No, sister, you did right, and having kept it so long, we must keep it still. No use to unearth it now, though I would give half my life and every dollar I own—yes, I'd give everything except my boy Grey, to know it had never been there," and he pointed to the corner of the room, where the bed was still standing, and under which was the hidden grave.
"Bessie is willing we should tell, and if I thought we ought, I should be willing, too," Hannah said, but her brother shook his head.
"It can do no good to any one, so let the poor man rest in peace. You have found his heirs and restitution can be made; the money is safe in the bank."
"And now I must go, for Geraldine is waiting for me," Burton said, adding, as be stood a moment by the door: "I feel twenty years younger than I did, and you, Hannah—why, you look thirty years younger, and are really a handsome woman for your age. By the way, shall you live here, or with Grey?"
"I don't know yet where I shall live," Hannah replied, and her cheeks were scarlet as she said good-by and watched him as he drove away.
JOEL ROGERS' MONUMENT.
It was a very merry party which met next day at the farm-house, and Mr. Jerrold was the merriest of them all, though he could not understand exactly why he was so light-hearted and glad. The fact that Joel Rogers died by his father's hand remained the same, but it did not now affect him as it once had done. Bessie seemed to have taken all the shame and pain away. He was very fond of her, always calling her daughter when he addressed her, and when, after dinner was over, she came and sat at his side, and laying her hand on his, said to him, "Father, there is something I very much wish to do, and I want your consent," he answered, unhesitatingly: "You shall have it, no matter what you ask."
"Thanks," Bessie said, with a triumphant look at Grey, who was standing near. "I thought you would not oppose me, even if Grey did. You see, I have so much money that it burns my fingers, and I think I must have lived in America long enough to have caught your fever for change, or else the smell of plaster and paint at Stoneleigh awakened in me a desire for more, for, what I wish to do is to tear down this old house and build another one, where we can spend our summers. This house, though very nice and comfortable, is falling to pieces, and will tumble down in some high wind. The plastering is off in two of the rooms up stairs, and a part of the roof has fallen in over the bedroom and wood-shed. Aunt Hannah says the snow was suffered to lie there last winter while she was with us in Wales. So you see we must do something, and I have the plan of such a pretty place, which I want to call Stoneleigh Cottage after my old home. Your room and Aunt Hannah's are to be the pleasantest of all, with a bow-window and fire-place in both, and there is to be a fire-place in the hall, which is to be finished in oak, with a wide staircase and a tall clock on the landing, and the windows are to have little colored panes of glass at the top, and the floors are to be inlaid and waxed, with rugs of matting instead of carpets, as we want everything cool for summer, and we will have a big piazza where we can have tea or breakfast, or even a dance, if we like. Won't that be nice?"
Bessie had talked very rapidly, with a feeling that she did not have the sympathy of her hearers. She had conceived the idea of pulling down the old house and building a new one while she was in Wales, alleging to herself as one reason that both Hannah and Grey would enjoy themselves better under a roof which did not cover a grave, while the other reason was not then quite clear enough in her own mind to be put into words, but she had said nothing to any one until the morning of the day when she broached the subject to his father. Together with Grey, she had gone over the old house, which, from having been shut up so long, seemed more dilapidated than ever. But Grey opposed her plan, and Hannah opposed it, while Mr. Jerrold grew hot and cold by turns, as he thought what might possibly be brought to light if the house were removed and any excavations made, as there might be. As if divining what was in his mind, Bessie continued:
"I do not mean to have the new house just where this one stands, but farther to the right. We can fill up the cellar with the debris, and have loads of earth brought in and make a kind of plateau, with it terrace all around it. We can make that plateau so lovely with shrubs, and flowers, and grass. I once saw one like what I have in mind, at a country place in England, and in one corner, under a willow tree, was a little grave; the only son of the house had been buried there, and I thought it so lovely to have a monument of flowers, and trees and singing birds."
Locking into the blue eyes fixed so earnestly upon him, Mr. Jerrold read what she meant, and said to her:
"You shall do as you like; if Hannah does not object."
Hannah, too, began to get a glimpse of the truth, and so did Grey, and when she said, "You are all willing—it is settled?" they answered yes, and Grey went with her to choose the site for the new house, which in her impetuosity, she declared should be commenced at once saying she would remain in Allington during the summer and superintend it herself.
It was Bessie who choose the site, to the right of the old building and near a great flat rock which she said she meant to have in a corner of the yard, as it would be such a nice play-house for children.
"Yes, a very nice play-house for children," Grey said, winding his arms around her and kissing her blushing cheek, and then they sat down upon the rock and talked of and planned the house, and Bessie told him all that was in her mind in regard to the plateau, which she meant to make as beautiful as a garden, so that no one would ever dream it held a grave.
"I ought to do something for him," she said; "and as my grandmother was fond of flowers, and grass, and singing birds, so I am sure was he, and he shall have them in abundance, and maybe he will know that his sister's granddaughter is doing it for him, and be glad."
In the light of this new idea, Mr. Jerrold, Hannah and Grey entered heart and soul into Bessie's project, and within a week a plan for the cottage had been drawn, and a contract made with the builders who were to commence work at once. Neither Hannah nor Bessie were present when the walls of the main building went crashing down into the cellar they were to fill, but when it came to the bed-room and wood-shed, Hannah, Bessie, Grey and his father sat under a tree at a little distance, watching nervously while the men took down timber after timber, until the spot was clear, and the ground as smooth as it usually is under a floor where there is no cellar.
"Oh," Bessie said, with a sigh of relief, as she turned to Grey, who was sitting next to her, but her eye went past him to Hannah, who, with her hands clasped tightly together, sat as rigid as a block of marble, gazing so intently at the spot which held so much horror for her that she did not at first know when Bessie stole softly to her side; but when the young girl wound her arm around her neck, and kissing her softly, said: "They have let him into the light, and I am so glad; it does not seem now like a hidden grave," the tension on her nerves gave way, and she burst into a paroxysm of tears, the very last she ever shed over that hidden grave. For, like Bessie, she felt better, now that the sunlight was falling upon it, and by and by, when everything was accomplished, and Bessie had carried out her idea, she felt that the dead man's monument would be worthy of a far nobler personage than he who slept beneath it.
Yielding to Bessie's earnest solicitations Grey decided to remain with her in Allington during the summer and superintend in person the work, which, owing to good management and the great number of men employed, went on so rapidly that by the last of October everything was done except the furnishing, which was to be put off until Spring, for before the autumn came it was known that Hannah would never occupy the house save as she went there a visitor. The words spoken to her many years before by the Rev. Charles Sanford had been repeated, and this time her answer had been:
"Yes, Charlie, if you do not think it too ridiculous for people as old as we are to marry. Why, I am almost sixty."
"But just as dear and young to me as if you were sixteen," was the reply of the Rev. Charles, who was quite as much in love as he had been nearly forty years before, when he asked Hannah Jerrold to be his wife.
Of course after it was settled he went straight to Martha's grave and staid there all the afternoon, and did a little gardening around it, and trained the rose-bush around the head-stone, and picking a half open blossom, put it in his button-hole and silently apostrophized the dead woman at his feet, telling her that though he was about to bring a new mistress to the home where she had reigned supreme, he should not forget her, and should so far as was consistent, see that all her ideas were carried out, especially as far as his health was concerned. Then be walked thoughtfully away, whispering to himself;
"Martha was a very good and excellent woman, but I loved Hanny first, and God forgive me if it is wrong to say it, I think I love her the best."
Then he went and told Miss McPherson, who called him and Hannah fools, to think of marrying at their time of life, but said she was satisfied if they were. Then he told Lucy Grey, who congratulated him warmly and was sure he would be happy. Then he told Bessie, who cried at first because her Aunt Hannah was not to live with her, and then entered heart and soul into the affair and became as much interested in the wedding and the wedding outfit as if the bride-elect had been a young girl in her teens instead or an elderly woman in her fifties. Then he told his senior warden, who, having himself been married three times, had nothing to say, but hurried home with the news, which was all over Allington by the next day, and was received differently, according to the different natures of the receivers. Some were very glad, and predicted that the rector would be far happier with Hannah than he had been with Martha, while others wondered what that worthy woman would say if she knew that another was to fill her place, and all calculated the ages of the respective parties, making him out younger than he was and her a great deal older. But neither he nor she ever knew what was said, and they would not have cared if they had, for both were supremely happy and thankful for the peace and blessedness which had crowned their later life. Fifty and even sixty is not so very old, at least to those who have reached it, and Hannah neither looked nor felt old when in her becoming traveling dress of seal brown she stood up in the parlors of her brother's house on Beacon street and was made Mrs. Charles Sanford.
This was early in February, and six weeks before, on Christmas Eve, there had come to that same house on Beacon street a little black-eyed, black-haired boy, as unlike either Bessie or Grey as a baby well could be.
"He is not like any one I have ever seen of your family," the old nurse said, when she brought the sturdy fellow to Bessie, who, the moment she looked at him exclaimed:
"Why, Grey, he is exactly like Neil; his eyes, his hair, his expression, and Neil will be so glad. We must have his picture taken at once and sent to Neil, with a lock of his hair."
Grey thought it doubtful if Neil would be quite as enthusiastic over Bessie's baby as she seemed to think, but when a few hours later she drew his face down to hers and whispered to him:
"We will call baby Neil McPherson, won't we?" he fondly kissed the little mother, and answered hesitatingly:
"Yes, darling, we will call our baby Neil McPherson, if you like."
And so with a birth, a christening, and a wedding the winter passed rapidly at No. —— Beacon street, and by the first of May Bessie was again in Allington, armed and equipped for settling Stoneleigh Cottage, and giving the finishing touches to the plateau, which with the advance of summer, began to show marks of great beauty, and to attract general attention. Bessie's idea of raising it two feet above the level of the ground had been carried out, and the sods which had been placed upon it, and the terrace around it in the autumn, were fresh and green as velvet in the early spring, while of the roses, and lilies, and flowering shrubs which had been planted with so much care, not one had died, and many of them blossomed as freely as plants of older growth. The plateau was Bessie's especial pride and care, particularly that corner of it over which the bedroom once stood. Here she had an immense bed of pansies, heart-shaped and perfect in outline, and in the center a cross, where only white daisies were growing.
"Grandmother liked pansies and daisies the best, and I thought, perhaps, he did, too; and then mother's name was Daisy, you know," she said to Hannah, who rightly guessed that this bank of flowers was Bessie's In Memoriam, not only to her uncle, but to her mother as well.
And very beautiful the heart-shaped bed of human-faced pansies, with the daisy cross in the center, looked all the summer long, and many admired and commented upon it, but only five persons ever knew that the white cross marked a grave.
After Five Years.
"Noiselessly as I be spring-time Her crown of verdure weaves, And all the trees on all the hills Open their thousand leaves,"
So noiselessly and quickly have the years come and gone since we first saw our heroine, Bessie, a little girl on the sands of Aberystwyth, and now we present her to our readers for the last time, a sweet-faced, lovely matron of twenty-six, who, with her husband, was waiting at the Allington station, one bright June afternoon, for the incoming train from New York. Just behind the station, where the horses would not be startled by the engine, stood the family carriage, a large, roomy vehicle, bought for comfort rather than show, and which seemed to be full of children, though in reality there were only three. First, Neil, the boy of five years and a half, who, with his dark eyes and hair, and bright olive complexion, was the very image of the Neil for whom he was named, and who was a most lovable and affectionate child.
Next to Neil was the three-year old Robin, with blue eyes and golden hair, like the blind Robin for whom he was named, and next was the girl baby, who came nearly a year and a half ago, and to whom Grey said, when he first took her in his arms:
"I thank God for giving you to me my little daughter, and I am sure you look just as your mother did when she first opened her eyes at Stoneleigh. Yes, I am very glad for you, little Bessie McPherson."
And so that was the name they gave the baby with lustrous blue eyes and wavy hair, and the same sweet, patient expression about the mouth as there was about the mouth of the young girl-mother, whom Neil and Robin called "Bessie mamma," while to their sister they gave the name of "Baby Bessie."
And Baby Bessie was in the roomy carriage, sitting on Jenny's lap, and playing peek-a-boo with Robin, while Neil stood on the opposite seat engaged in a hot altercation with another boy about his own age, who, dressed in deep black, which gave him a peculiar look, was seated at a little distance in a most elegant carriage, with servants in livery, and who, when asked by some one standing near what his name was, had answered:
"I am Lord Rossiter Hardy, and I am waiting for my mother, who is coming from New York, and who is going to bring me a bicycle."
Something in the boy's tone of superiority irritated Neil, who was thoroughly democratic, and he called out:
"Phoo!—a lord—why you are nobody but Ross Hardy! and your grandmother—"
"Hush, Neil, or I'll tell your father; and look where you are standin', with your dirthy fate on the cushions. Come down directly, or I'll be afther helpin' ye!" said Jennie; whereupon Neil turned his attention to her, and a spirited battle ensued, in which Robin also took part, and which was only brought to an end by the sound of the train in the distance.
"There's the whistle! Out with ye, or ye'll not be in time to grate yer uncle!" Jennie cried; and with a bound Neil was upon the ground, and rushing through the station, joined his mother, who with Grey was looking anxiously at the few passengers alighting from the train.
First came Lady Augusta Hardy, habited in the deepest of crape. Poor Teddie had died a few months before, and with her little son Rossiter, who was now the heir of Hardy Manor, she was spending the summer at home, and with her foreign airs and liveried servants brought from Dublin was creating quite a sensation to Allington. With a bow to the Jerrolds, who were among the few she condescended to notice, she passed on to where her coachman and footman waited for her, while Bessie ran hastily down the platform towards a tall, sickly looking man, who almost tottered as he walked, while a sudden pallor about his lips told how weak he was.
"Oh, Neil, I am so glad—and so sorry, too. I did not think you were like this," Bessie cried, as she took both his hands in hers, and, standing on tiptoe, kissed the quivering lips, which could not for a moment speak to her "You are very tired," she continued, as Grey came up and, after greeting the stranger cordially, offered him his arm.
"You are very tired from the voyage and the journey here, it is so hot and dusty; but you will rest now, our house is so cool and the air here so pure. There, let me help you, too."
And in her eagerness, Bessie passed her arm through Neil's, or rather put it around him, and thus supported, the sick man went slowly to the open carriage, where Jennie had the children with the exception of little Neil, who, finding himself overlooked, was cultivating the station master and telling him that the dark-looking man was his Uncle Neil from India, and that they were to have ice cream for dinner in honor of his arrival, and he was to go to the table and have two saucers full.
In her anxiety for her cousin, Bessie had forgotten her children, but at the sight of them she exclaimed:
"Oh, Neil, look! Here are two of my babies, Robin and Bessie, and the boy over there throwing stones, is your namesake. I hope they will not trouble you—Robin and Bessie, I mean—for you and I are to go in the carriage with them, and Grey will take little Neil in the phaeton."
"Yes, thank you," Neil replied, too sick and tired to care for anything just then; and leaning back in the carriage, he closed his eyes wearily, and did not open them again until they were more than half way to Stoneleigh Cottage.
Then Robin, who had been regarding the stranger curiously, laid his little dimpled hand on the thin, wasted one, and said:
"Is you s'eep?"
With a start Neil's eyes unclosed, and he looked for the first time on Bessie's children, with such a pain in his heart as he had hoped he might never feel again. Over and over he had said to himself that she should never know how the very thought of them hurt and almost maddened him, and how, in his foolish anger, he had burned the lock of hair which she had sent to him from the head of her first-born. And he said it to himself again, now that he was face to face with the little ones, and though every nerve in his body thrilled at the touch of the soft hand on his, he tried to smile, and said:
"No, I am not asleep; I am only tired. What is your name, my little man?"
"Wobin; tree years old. And this is Baby Bessie, and this is Bessie mamma," was the prompt reply; and Neil rejoined:
"Yes, I knew your mamma when she was a little girl no bigger than you, and her hands felt just as yours feel."
"I p'ays for you every night when mamma puts me to bed. I say, 'God bless Uncle Neil,'" the child continued.
Then two great tears gathered in the sick man's eyes, but he brushed them away quickly, while Bessie took the boy in her lap and kept him from talking any more.
By this time they were in the road which led from the highway to the house. This had formerly been little more than a lane, but under Bessie's supervision it had been transformed into a broad avenue, bordered with trees and footpaths on either side, and seats beneath the trees, which, though young, had grown rapidly, and already cast cool shadows upon the grass.
"This is the place; that is Stoneleigh Cottage," Bessie said, pointing to the house where Grey was waiting for them, with the boy Neil at his side.
"And this is Neil, my eldest; we think he is like you," Bessie continued, as she alighted from the carriage and presented the child to her cousin.
"Phoo! I ain't a bit like him," was the boy's mental comment, while Neil, the elder said, quickly:
"Heaven forbid that he should be like me."
They took him to his room at once—the pleasant south room, whose windows overlooked the plateau, now all ablaze with flowers.
"You must lie down and rest till dinner. I ordered it at seven to-night, I will send you up some tea at once. I hope you will be comfortable and ask for what you want," Bessie said, as she flitted about the room, anxious to make her guest feel at home.
He was very tired, and sank down upon the inviting looking lounge, saying as he did so:
"Oh, Bessie, you do not know how glad I am to be here with you and Grey; nor yet how it affects me. I am not always as bad as this. I shall be better by and by. God bless you."
He drew her face down to his and kissed it fervently; then she went softly out and left him there alone.
Poor Neil! he was greatly to be pitied. His life in India had been a failure from first to last. He had no talent for business, and as he thoroughly disliked the business he was in, it was not strange that he was dismissed by his employers within six months after his arrival in Calcutta. Then he tried something else, and still something else, and was just beginning to feel some interest in his work and to hope for success, when a malarial fever seized upon him and reduced him to a mere wreck of his former self.
Then it was that his father died suddenly at Stoneleigh, and as it seemed desirable that some one should attend to what little there was left to him, Neil returned to England, going first to Wales and then to London, where he took the very lodgings which Bessie had occupied years before, and at which he had rebelled as dingy and second-class. How sorry he was now that he had wounded Bessie so unnecessarily, and how well he understood from actual experience the poverty which could only afford such apartments as Mrs. Buncher's! Except the little his father had left him he had scarcely a shilling in the world, and the future looked very dreary and desolate on that first evening in April, when the once fashionable and fastidious Neil McPherson took possession of his cheerless rooms on Abingdon Road, and threw himself down upon the hair-cloth sofa with an ache in his head and an ache in his heart as he thought of all the past, and remembered the sweet-faced girl who had once been there, and who had left there an atmosphere of peace and quiet, which reconciled him at last to his surroundings.
Of all his large circle of acquaintance in London, there was not one whom he cared to meet, and so he staid mostly in his room, only going out at unfashionable hours for a stroll in Kensington Gardens, and occasionally to the park, where he always sat down in the place where Bessie had sat in her faded linen when he drove by with Blanche. Once only he joined the crowd on Saturday afternoon, and saw the elite go by, the princess with her children, the dukes and duchesses, the lords and ladies, and lastly Lady Blanche Paxton, who rode alone in her glory.
The man, who was almost an imbecile when she married him, was an idiot now, and had a keeper to look after him, and on Blanche's face there was an expression of ennui and discontent which told Neil that she was scarcely happier than himself, even with her hundreds of thousands and her home on Grosvenor Square.
It was about this time that Neil received a most cordial letter from Grey and Bessie, urging him to spend the summer with them in Allington, and to stay as much longer as he pleased.
"Always, if you will, for our home is yours," Bessie wrote; and after a severe conflict with his love and his pride, Neil accepted the invitation, and left England with a feeling that he might never see it again.
The voyage was a rough one, and as he was sick all the way, he had scarcely strength to stand when he reached Allington, and only excitement and sheer will kept him up until he found himself in the cool, pretty room which had been prepared for him, and which it seemed to him he could never leave again.
Just as the twilight was beginning to fall, Miss Betsey drove up the avenue, stiff, straight, and severe, in her best black silk and white India shawl, which she only wore on rare occasions. Why she wore them now, she hardly knew, and she had hesitated a little before deciding to do so.
"I do not want the dude to think me a scarecrow," she said to herself; "though who cares what he thinks? I did not favor his coming, and they know it. I told them they would have him on their hands for life, and Bessie actually said they might have a worse thing. I don't know about that, but I do know he will not sit down upon me."
From this it will be seen that Miss Betsey's attitude toward the young man was anything but friendly, as she started to make her first call upon him.
"Didn't come down to dinner? I don't like that. He will be having all his meals in his room, first you will know. Better begin as you can hold out," she said, sharply, and Bessie replied, with tears in her eyes:
"Oh, auntie, don't be so hard upon poor Neil. You do not know how weak, and sick, and changed he is. Just think of his lodging with Mrs. Buncher in London, and coming out as a second-class passenger."
"Did he do that?" Miss Betsey asked, quickly, while the lines about her mouth softened as she went up stairs to meet the dude, who looked like anything but a dude as he rose to greet her, in his shabby clothes, which, nevertheless, were worn with a certain grace which made you forget their shabbiness, while his manner, though a little constrained, had in it that air of good breeding and courtesy inseparable from Neil.