A great change came over the rector of Upton. He went about among his parishioners, no longer gladly taking the leadership among them, and claiming the pre-eminence as his by right. It had been one of his most pleasant thoughts in former days that he was the rector of the parish, chosen of God, and appointed by men, to teach them truths good for himself and them, and to go before them, seeking out the path in which they should walk. But his own feet were now stumbling upon dark mountains. He was quickly losing his popularity among them; for whereas, while he was himself happy and honored, he had not seen clearly all the evils, and wrongs, and excesses of his parish, now he was growing, as they said, more fanatical and ascetic than Mr. Warden had been, who had won the name of a puritan among them. Why could he not leave the Upton Arms and the numerous smaller taverns alone, so long as the landladies and their daughters attended church, as they had been need to do? His presence at the dinner-parties of his friends was a check upon all hilarity; and by and by they ceased to invite him, and then, half ashamed to see his face, ceased to go to his church, where his sermons had not the smooth and flowery eloquence of former days.
Probably Mr. Chantrey knew better now what was good for his people; he had clearer views of the snares and dangers that beset them, and the sorrows that lie lurking on every man's path. He saw more distinctly what Christ came to do; and how he did it by complete self-abnegation, and by descending to the level of the lowest. But he had no delight in standing up in his pulpit in full face of his dwindling congregation. Language seemed poor to him; and it had grown difficult to him to put his burning thoughts into words. As the bitter experience of daily life seared his very soul, he found that no smooth, fit expressions of his self-communing rose to his lips. It pained him to face his people, and speak to them in old, trite forms of speech, while his heart was burning within him; and they knew it, as they sat quiet in their pews, looking up to him with inquisitive or indifferent eyes.
Mrs, Bolton could not escape her share of these troubles; though she never accused herself for a moment as having had any part in causing them. It was the archdeacon who had obtained the living of Upton for her favorite nephew; and she had settled there to be the patroness of every good thing in the parish. Mr. Chantrey's popularity had been a source of great satisfaction and self-applause to her. She had foreseen how useful he would be; what a shining light in this somewhat dark corner of the church. The increasing congregations, and the number of carriages at the church-door, had given her much pleasure. She had delighted in taking the lead, side by side with her nephew, and in being looked up to in Upton, as one who set an example in every good thing. But this unfortunate failing in her nephew's wife, developed under her roof and during his absence, had been a severe blow. No one directly blamed her for it, except the late curate, Mr. Warden, and a few extravagant, visionary persons, who deemed it best to abstain totally from the source of so much misery and poverty among their fellow-beings, and to take care, as far as in them lay, to place no stumbling-block in the way of feeble feet. But, strange to say, all the estimable people in Upton regarded her with less veneration since her niece had gone astray. Even Ann Holland was plainly less impressed and swayed by the idea of her goodness; and there were many others like Ann Holland. As for her nephew, he was gradually falling away from her in his trouble. He would seldom go to dine with her without Sophy; and he had urgent reasons to decline every invitation for her. Their conversations upon religious subjects, which had always tended to make her comfortably assured of her own state of grace, had quite ceased. David never talked to her now about his sermons, past or future. He was in the "wasteful wilderness" himself, and could not walk with her through trim alleys of the vineyards. Now and then there fell from him, as from his friend, unpractical notions of a Christian's duty; as if Christianity consisted more in acts of self-denial than in an accurate creed concerning fundamental doctrines. It was an uneasy time for Mrs. Bolton; and her chief consolation was found in a volume of sermons, published by the archdeacon, which made her feel sure that all must be right with the widow of such a dignitary.
A SIN AND A SHAME
It was May again; a soft, sunny day, with spring showers falling, or gathering in glistening clouds in the blue sky. The bells chimed for morning service, as the people came up to church from the old-fashioned streets. They greeted one another as they met in the churchyard, whispering that it had been a very bad week for poor Mr. Chantrey. Every one knew how uncontrollable his wife had been for some time past, except a few strangers, who still drove in from a distance. The congregation, some curiously, some wistfully, gazed earnestly at him, as with a worn and weary face, and with bowed-down head already streaked with gray, he took his place in the reading-desk. Ann Holland wiped away her tears stealthily, lest he should see she was weeping, and guess the reason. In the rectory pew the young, fair-haired boy sat alone, as he had often done of late; for his mother was to unfit to appear in church.
Mr. Chantrey read the service in a clear, steady voice, but with a tone of trouble in it which only a very dull ear could have missed. When he ascended his pulpit, and looked down with sad and sunken eyes upon his people, every face was lifted up to him attentively, as he gave out the text, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Mrs. Bolton moved uneasily in her pew, for she knew he was going to preach a disagreeable sermon. It was not as eloquent as many of his old ones; but it had a hundredfold more power. His hearers had often been pleased and touched before; now they were stirred, and made uncomfortable. Their responsibilities, as each one the keeper of his brother's soul, were solemnly laid before them. The listless, contented indifference to the sins and sorrows of their fellow-men was rudely shaken. Their satisfaction in their own safety was attacked. As clearly as words could put it, they were told that not one of them could go to heaven alone; that there was no solitary path of salvation for any foot to tread. As long as any fell because of temptation, they were bound, as far as in them lay, to remove every kind of temptation. If each one was not careful to be his brother's keeper, then the voice of their brother's blood would cry unto God against them. There was scarcely a person present who could listen to their rector's sermon with feelings of self-satisfaction.
He left his pulpit at the close of it, troubled and exhausted. His little son followed him into the vestry to wait until the congregation, that loved to linger a little about the porch, should have dispersed. But hardly had he entered, than, looking out, as it was his wont to do, upon the grave of his other child, he saw a figure stretched across it, asleep. Could it possibly be his wife? Large drops of rain were beginning to fall upon her upturned face, but they did not rouse her from her heavy slumber; nor did the noise of many feet passing by along the churchyard path. It was a moment of unutterable shame and agony to him. His people saw her; they had heard of his trouble before, but now they saw it; and they were lingering to look at her. He must go out in the midst of them all, and they must see him take his miserable wife home.
Those who were there that day will never forget the sight. His people made way for him, as he passed among them, still in the gown he had worn while preaching, with a rigid and wan face, and eyes that seemed blind to every object except the unhappy woman he could not save. His little boy was pressing close behind him, but he bade him go back into the church, and wait until he came for him. Then he knelt down beside his wife in the falling rain, and lifted her gently, calling her by her name, "Sophy! Sophy!" But her heavy head fell back again upon the grave, and he was not strong enough to raise her from it. He burst into tears, a passion of tears; such as men only weep in hours of extreme anguish of mind. Slowly his people melted away, helpless to do anything for him; except two or three of his most familiar friends, who stayed to assist him in taking the wretched wife back to her home.
Ann Holland lingered unseen in the porch until all were out of sight. The child she loved so fondly was standing with the great door ajar, holding it with his small hand, and peeping out now and then. She called to him when all were gone, and he came out of the church gladly, yet with an air of concern on his round, rosy face.
"My mother is ill, very ill," he said, putting his hand into hers. "I saw her lying on baby's grave. Couldn't anything be done for her to make her well? Isn't there any doctor clever enough to cure her?"
"I don't know, dear," answered Ann Holland.
"My father never lets me go to see her when she's worst," he went on, "only Sarah goes into her room, and him. She talks and laughs often, and yet my father says she is ill. When I am a man I shall be a doctor, and learn how to make her well. But it will be a long time before I am clever enough for that, I'm afraid. My father says she's too ill for anybody to come to see us; isn't it a pity?"
"Yes, my dear," she answered.
"She can never hear me say my hymns now," he said; "and when she's not so ill that my father won't let me see her, she sits crying, crying ever so; and if I want to play with her, or read to her, she can't bear it, she says. I should think there ought to be somebody to cure her, if we could only find out. My father scarcely ever laughs now, because she's so ill; and when he plays with me he only looks sad, and he speaks in a quiet voice as if it would make her worse. Do try, Miss Holland, and ask everybody that comes to your house if they don't know of some very, very clever doctor for my mother."
"I will try," she said. "I'll do all I can. But you may run home now, Master Charlie, See! There's your father coming back for you,"
"I know I sha'n't see my mother again to-day," he answered; "good-by, and remember, please."
She watched him running across the little meadow to his father; and then she turned away, and walked slowly through the street homeward. Little knots of the towns-people lingered still about the doorways, discussing their rector's troubles. Though most of them greeted her, anxious to hear her opinion as one who was considered on friendly terms with the rector's family, she evaded their questionings, and passed on to the solitude of her own dwelling. It had been solitary now for some days, for her brother had disappeared early in the week; having stripped the house of money, and set off on one of his vagrant tramps, of which she knew nothing except that he always returned penniless, and generally with the good clothes she provided for him exchanged for worthless rags. How many years it was that her life had been embittered by his drunkenness she could hardly reckon, so many had they been. These strange absences of his had at first been a severe trial to her; but of late years they had been a holiday time of rest, except for the continual anxiety she felt on his behalf. Her quaint and quiet kitchen, as she unlocked the door and entered it, seemed a haven of refuge, where she could indulge in the tears she had kept under control till now. The love she felt for Mr. Chantrey was so deep and true, that any sorrow of his must have grieved her. But she knew so well what this sorrow was! She knew through what long years it might last; and how hopeless it might grow before the end came. Looking back upon her own blighted life, she could foresee for him only a weary, miserable, ever-deepening wretchedness. The Sunday afternoon passed by slowly, and the evening came, The soft sunshine and spring showers of the morning were gone; and a sullen sweep of rain, driven by the east wind, was beating through the streets. A neighbor looked in to say she had seen the curate from the next parish pass through the town toward the church; and she thought Mr. Chantrey would very likely not be there. But Ann Holland had already decided not to go. At any moment she might hear her brother's shambling step draw near the door, and his fingers fumbling at the latch. She could not bear the neighbors to see him when he came off one of his vagabond tramps, dirty and ragged as he usually was. She must stay at home again for him; again, as she had done hundreds of times, mourning pitifully over him, and ready to receive him patiently, impenitent as he was. She went up stairs to make his bed quite ready for him; and to put out of his way everything that could by any chance hurt him, if he should stumble and fall in his drunken weakness. When she returned to the kitchen, she lighted a candle, and opened the old family Bible, with its large type, which seemed to her a more sacred book than the little one she used daily. But she could not read; the words passed vaguely and without meaning beneath her eyes. Her mind was full of the thought of her unhappy brother, and Mr. Chantrey's miserable wife.
It was past her usual hour of going to bed before she made up the kitchen fire to be in readiness, lest her brother should knock her up at any hour during the night. At the last moment she opened the street-door, and stood listening for a little while, as she always did when he was not at home. The rain was still sweeping through the street, which was as silent as if the town had been deserted. The gas-lights in the lamps flickered with the wind, and lit up the pools and channels of water running down the pavements.
But just as she turned to go in, her quick ear caught the sound of distant footsteps, growing louder as they came in her direction. It was the tramp of several feet, marching slowly like those of persons bearing a heavy burden. She waited to see who and what it could be so late this Sunday night; and soon, under the flickering lamps, she caught sight of several men, carrying among them a hurdle, with a shapeless heap upon it. A sudden, vague panic seized her, and she hastily retreated inside her house, shutting and barring the door. She said to herself she did not wish to see what they were carrying past. But were they going past? She heard them still, tramping slowly on toward her house; would they pass by with their burden? She put down the light, for her hand trembled too much to hold it; and she stood listening, her ears quickened for every sound, and her white face turned toward the closed and fastened door.
A knock came upon it, which almost caused her to shriek aloud. Yet it was a quiet rap, and a neighbor's voice answered as she asked tremulously who was there. She hastened to open the door, so welcome was the sound of the well-known voice; but there, opposite to her, in the driving rain, rested the hurdle, with the confused mass lying huddled together upon it. The men who bore it were silent, standing with their faces turned toward her; all of them strangers, except the one neighbor, who was on her threshold.
"They found him lying out in the fields near the Woodhouse farm," said her neighbor, in a loud whisper; "he'd strayed there, we reckon."
"Is he dead?" she asked, mechanically.
"Not dead, bless your heart! no!" was the answer; "we'll carry him in. There now! Don't take on. There's a special providence over folks like him; they never come to much harm, you know. Show us where to lay him."
Ann Holland made way for the men to pass her, as they carried their burden into the quiet, pleasant kitchen. She followed with the light, and looked down upon him; her brother, who had played with her, and learned the same lessons, when they were innocent little children together. His gray hair was matted, and his bloated face smeared with dust and damp. He was barefooted and bareheaded. But as she gazed down upon him, and listened to his heavy struggle for breath, she cried in a tone of terror. "He is dying."
An hour later the house was comparatively quiet again. A doctor had been, and said nothing could be done for Richard Holland, except to let him die where he was undisturbed. The men who had carried him home had dispersed, or had adjourned to the Upton Arms, to drink, and to talk over this close of a drunkard's life. The news had in some way reached the Rectory; and now only Mr. Chantrey and Ann Holland watched beside him. They had laid him, as he was, on the little white-covered sofa in the parlor, never so soiled before. Mr. Chantrey sat gazing at the degraded, dying man. No deeper debasement could come to any human being; almost the likeness of a human being had been lost. The mire and slough of the ditch into which he had fallen still clung to him; for only his face had been hastily washed clean by his sister's hand; a face that had forfeited all intelligence and seemliness; a coarse, squalid, disfigured face. Yet Ann was not repulsed by it; her tears fell upon it; and once she had bent over it, and kissed it gently. Now and then she put her mouth close to the deafened ear, and spoke to him, calling him by fond names, and imploring him to give some sign that he heard, and knew her. But there was no sign. The heavy breathing grew more thick and labored, yet feebler as the time passed slowly on. David Chantrey marvelled at the poor sister's patience and tenderness.
"Don't trouble to stay with me, sir," she said, at last, "I thought perhaps he'd come to himself, and you'd say a word to him. But there's no hope of that now."
"No," he answered, "I will not go, Ann," and his-voice trembled with dread. "Do you think my wife could ever be as bad as this?"
"God forbid!" she cried, earnestly. "God keep her from it! Oh! if she could but see; if she could but know! But he wasn't always like this. He was a kind, good-natured, clever man once. It's drinking that's ruined him."
"I will stay with you to the end," said Mr. Chantrey; "it is fit for me. You are teaching me a lesson of patience, Ann. All this day I have been thinking if it would be possible for me to give up my wife, and send her away from me, to end her days apart from mine. I have been in despair; in the very deeps. But now; why! even if I knew she would die thus, I cannot forsake her."
"Ay! we must have patience," she answered. "I always hoped to win him back again, but it was too strong for him and me. God knows how he's been tempted on all hands; even those that call themselves religious, and go to church regular as can be. He used to cry to me sometimes, and promise to turn over a new leaf; and then somebody perhaps that he looked up to would treat him at the Upton Arms. He might have been a good man, if he'd been left alone."
"Let us pray together for him and ourselves," said Mr. Chantrey, kneeling down once again by the little couch, as he had knelt the night of his return home. Ann still held her brother's head upon her arm, and her bowed face nearly rested upon it. But all words failed David Chantrey. "Father!" he cried, "Father!" There was nothing more that he could say. It was the single, despairing call of a soul that was full of trouble; that was "laid in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps." But the bewildered brain of the dying man caught the cry, and he muttered it over to himself; "Father! father! where is he?"
"It's God, our Father who art in heaven," said Ann Holland, uttering the words very slowly and distinctly in his ear; "try to think of Him, and pray to Him. He'll hear you, even now."
"Father!" he muttered again, "why! he'd be ashamed of his boy."
"It's God," she said, keeping down her sobs, "you've no other father. Think of Him: God, who loves you."
"He'd be ashamed of me," repeated the dying man.
For a minute or two he kept on whispering to himself words they could not hear, except the one word "shame." Then all was still. The miserable end had come; and neither love nor patience could avail him anything on this side the grave. He had gone as a drunkard into the presence of his Judge.
A COLONIAL CURACY
The death of Richard Holland might have had a salutary effect upon Sophy Chantrey, if it had not been for the shock of learning how deeply she had disgraced herself and her husband in the sight of his people. She felt that she could never again face those who had seen her on that Sunday morning. She shut herself up in her room, refusing to admit any one, except the servant who waited upon her, and steadily set herself against any communication with the world outside. Even her husband she would hardly speak to; and her child she would not see. The strain and stress of her remorse was more than she could bear. Before the week was gone, she had fled for forgetfulness to the vice which bound her in so heavy a chain. All the cunning of her nature, so strangely perverted, was put into action to procure a supply of the stimulants she craved; and she escaped from her misery for a little while by losing herself in suicidal lethargy and stupefaction.
Mr. Chantrey himself felt it to be impossible to meet the gaze of his usual congregation; he shrank even from walking through the streets of his own town, while his shame was fresh upon him. He exchanged duties with fellow-clergymen, and so evaded the immediate difficulty. But he knew that this could not go on for long. He could not conscientiously retain a position such as he held, if he had not the moral and mental strength necessary for the discharge of its obligations. Strength of all kinds seemed to fail him. His physical vitality was low; the health he had gained in Madeira had been too severely taxed since his return. He had fought bravely against the mental feebleness that was creeping gradually over him with a paralyzing languor; but he knew he could not bear the conflict much longer. Everything was telling against him. He would fain have proved to his people that a man can live out a noble, useful, Christ-like life, under crushing sorrows, and shame that was worse than sorrow. But it was not in him to do it. He found himself feeble and crippled, in the very thick of life's battle; and it appeared to him that his position as rector of the parish rendered his feebleness tenfold disastrous.
But this decay of power came slowly, though surely. By the close of his second winter in England he felt within himself that he must quit his country again, if he wished to live only a few years longer. There had been no bright sunny spot of gladness for him, no gleam of hope throughout the whole winter. He had been compelled to send his boy away again to school, to shield him from seeing the disgrace of his mother. His friends had almost ceased to come to his house, and he had no heart to go to theirs. It was only now and then that he accepted his aunt's invitations to dine alone with her.
"Aunt," he said one evening, when they two were alone together in her fantastic drawing-room, "I have resigned my living."
"Resigned your living!" she repeated, in utter amazement, "resigned Upton Rectory!"
She could hardly pronounce the words; and she gazed at him with an air of bewilderment which brought a smile to his careworn face.
"Yes," he answered, "life has grown intolerable to me here."
"And what do you mean to do?" she asked.
"I am going out to my friend Warden," he replied, "who has a charge in New Zealand; he promises me a curacy under him, if I can get nothing better. But I am sure of a charge of my own very soon."
"A curate to Warden! a curate in New Zealand!" ejaculated Mrs. Bolton. "David, are you mad?"
"Not mad, but in most sober sadness," he said. "Life is impossible to me here, and under my circumstances; and I wish to live a few years longer for Sophy's sake, and my boy's. New Zealand is the very place for me."
"But you can go away again for a year or two," said his aunt, "and come back when your health is restored. The bishop will give you permission readily. You must not give up your living because your health fails."
"The bishop has my resignation, and my reasons for it," answered Mr. Chantrey, "and ho has accepted it kindly and regretfully, he says; but he fully approves of it. All there is to be done now is to sell our household goods, and sail for a new home, in a new world."
"And Sophy?" gasped Mrs. Bolton; "what do you mean to do with her? Where shall you leave her?"
"She must come with me," he said; "I shall never leave her again. It will be a new chance for her: and with God's help she may yet conquer. Even if she cannot, it will be easier for me to bear my burden among strangers than here, where every one knows all about us. A missionary curate in New Zealand will be a very different personage from the rector of Upton."
He looked at his aunt with a smile, and an expression of hope, such as had not lit up his gray face for many a month. This new life opening before him, with all its social disadvantages, and many privations, would give his wife such an opportunity for recovery as the conventionalities of society at home could not furnish. Hope had visited him again, and he cherished it as a most welcome visitant.
"Good Heavens!" cried Mrs. Bolton, lost in astonishment, "David, you must not throw yourself away in this manner! I will see the bishop myself, and recall to his memory his old friendship for the archdeacon. He cannot have promised the living yet to any one. What would become of me, here in Upton, settled as I am, with a stranger in the rectory? Why did you not ask my advice before taking such a rash step?"
"Because I should not have followed your advice," he answered. "I settled the whole matter in my own mind before I broached it even to Warden. It is the only chance for us both. I am a broken, defeated man."
"Oh, my boy!" she exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, "I cannot consent to your going away. You have always been my favorite nephew; and I could not endure to see a stranger in your place. It is all Sophy's fault. And why should you sacrifice your life, and Charlie's, for her? Let some place at a distance be found for her; no one will blame you, and you will not suffer so much from the disgrace, if you do not witness it. Only stay in Upton, and all I have shall be yours. It will be a happy place to you again, if you will only wait patiently for brighter days."
"No," he said, sorrowfully; "it has been a pleasant place to me, but it can never be so again. I must go for Sophy's sake. There is no hope for her here; there is hope for her among new scenes and fresh influences. I have spoken to her about it, and she is eager to go; she feels that there would be a chance for her. To turn away from my purpose now would be to doom her to her sin without hope of deliverance. It would be impossible for me to do that."
It was a terrible blow to Mrs. Bolton. She foresaw endless mortifications and heartburnings for herself in the presence, and under the rule, of a strange rector at Upton, over whom she would have no more authority or influence than any other parishioner. Besides, she was really fond of her nephew, and anxious to make his life smooth and agreeable to him. No one could be blind to the fact that his health was giving way again, and she thought with some apprehension of the life of hardship and poverty he was choosing. That he should throw away all that was desirable and advantageous for the sake of his wife, who was merely a trouble and dishonor to him, was an infatuation that she could not understand. He pointed out to her that he was also losing his influence over his people, and she maintained that even this was no reason why he should give up a suitable living and a pleasant rectory. At last, angry with him, and apprehensive for her future position in the parish, she refused to listen any longer to his representations, and spent the few weeks that intervened before their departure in a state of offended estrangement.
All Upton was thrown into a ferment by the unexpected news that their rector had resigned his living, and was about to emigrate to New Zealand. At first it was declared too strange to be true. Then in a few of the lower class taverns it was said to be too good to be true; but in the Upton Arms, where the landlady considered it her duty to be regular at church, and even the landlord thought it the thing to go there pretty often, a civil amount of regret was expressed. It was the fault of his wife, said most of the respectable parishioners, who unfortunately did not know when she had had enough of a good thing. Even those who were in the same plight with herself threw a stone at poor Sophy when they heard that their pleasant-spoken, affable, popular rector, as he used to be, was about to flee his country. Very few sympathized with him. He was taking an unheard-of, preposterous, fanatical course. How could a man in his senses give up a living of L400 a year, with a pretty rectory and glebe-land, for a colonial curacy?
But there was one person who heard the news, and brooded over it silently, with very different feelings. The last few months had been very tranquil ones for Ann Holland. The one anxiety of her quiet life had been removed, and after the first sorrow was passed she had found her home a very peaceful place without her brother. Her old neighbors could come in now to take tea with her without any dread of being rudely disturbed. The business did not suffer; it was rather increasing, and she had had some thoughts of employing a second journeyman. But to hear that Mr. Chantrey was going to leave Upton, and that very soon she should see neither him nor Charlie, who made her house so merry whenever he ran in, was as great a blow to her as to Mrs. Bolton.
Ann Holland had been born in the house she lived in, and had never dwelt anywhere else. All her world lay within the compass of a few miles from it, among the farm-houses where her business or her early friendships had made her acquainted with the inhabitants. The people of Upton only were her fellow-countrymen; all others were foreigners, and to her, lawful objects of mistrust. Every other land save her own seemed a strange and perilous place. Of New Zealand she had not even any vague ideas, for it was nothing but a name to her. She had far clearer views of heaven, of that other world into which she had seen so many of her childhood's friends pass away. To lie down upon her bed and die would have been a familiar journey to her compared with that strange voyage across boundless seas to a country of which she knew nothing but the name.
Yet they were going—Mr. Chantrey, with his failing health; Mrs. Chantrey, a victim to a miserable vice; and Charlie, the young, inexperienced boy. What a helpless set! She tried to picture them passing through the discomforts and dangers of a savage life, as she supposed it to be; Mr. Chantrey ill, poor, friendless, and homeless. Upon her screen were the announcements of his coming to the living, of his marriage, the birth of both children, and the death of one. She read them over word for word, with eyes fast filling and growing dim with tears. Very soon there would be another column in the newspaper telling of his resignation and departure—perhaps shortly afterward of his death. He would die in that far-off country, with no one to care for him or nurse him except his unhappy wife. She could not bear to think of it. She must go with them.
But how could she ever bear to quit Upton? All her own people were buried in the churchyard there, and she kept their graves green with turf, and their headstones free from moss. She had no memories or associations anywhere else, and she clung to all such memories and cherished them fondly. There was no one in Upton who knew the pedigrees of every family as she did. Even her household goods, old and quaint as they were, had a halo from the light of other days about them. How many persons, dead and gone now, had she seen sit opposite to her in that old arm-chair! How often had childish faces looked laughingly at themselves in her pewter plates? Her mother's chairs and sofa, worked in tent-stitch, which only saw the daylight twice a year—what would become of them, and what common uses would they be put to in any other house? Her heart failed her when she thought of leaving these things. It was not, moreover, simply leaving them, as she would have to do when she died, but she must see them sold and scattered before her eyes, and behold the vacant places empty and forlorn, without their old belongings. Could she bear to be so uprooted?
"Sir," she said one evening, when Mr. Chantrey, worn out with the conflict of his own parting with his people, was sitting depressed and silent by her fireside, "Mr. Chantrey, are you thinking of taking out a servant with you?"
"No," he answered; "the cost would be too much. You forget we are going to be poor folks out yonder, Ann. Don't you remember telling me it might have been better for my wife if she had had to work hard for Charlie and me?"
"That was long ago," she replied; "it's different now. Who's to mind you if you are ill? and who's to see Master Charlie kept nice, like a gentleman's son? I've been thinking it would break my heart to sit at home thinking of you all. There is nothing to keep me here, now my poor brother's gone. Take me with you, sir."
"No, no!" he exclaimed, vehemently—so vehemently that she knew how his heart leaped at the thought of it; "you must not sacrifice yourself for us. What! give up this pleasant home of yours, and all your old friends?! No; it cannot be."
"There'd be trouble in it," she said; "but it would be a harder trouble to think of you in foreign parts, with none but savages about you, and no roof over your head, and wild beasts marauding about."
"Not so bad as that," he interrupted, smiling so cheerfully that her own face brightened. "There are no wild beasts, and not many natives, and I shall have a home of my own somewhere."
"I could never sleep at nights," she went on, "or eat my bread in comfort, for wondering about you. I don't want to be a cost to you; and when I've sold all, I shall have a little sum of money in hand that will keep me a year or two after my passage is paid. I'm not too old for work yet. If it's too bad a place for me to go to, what must it be for you? And you're not as strong as you ought to be, sir. If anything should happen to you out there, you'd like to know I was with them you love, taking care of them."
"It would be a greater comfort than I can tell," said Mr. Chantrey, in a tremulous voice. "Now and then the thought crosses my mind that I might die yonder; and what would become of Sophy and Charlie, left so desolate? There's Warden; but he is too austere and harsh, good as he is. But, Ann, I ought not to let you come."
"There's no duty to keep me at home," she answered. "If my poor brother was alive, I could never forsake him, you know; but that is all over now. And I could have patience with her, poor lady! Aye, I'd have patience for her own sake as well as yours. She could never try me as I've been tried. And I've great hopes of her. Maybe if James, poor fellow, could have broken off all his old ways, and begun again fresh, turning over a new leaf where folks hadn't seen the old one, he might have been saved. I've great hopes of Mrs. Chantrey; and nobody could help her as I could. It seems almost as if our blessed Lord laid this thing before me, and asked me to do it for his sake. Sure if he asked me to go all round the world for him, I couldn't say no. To go to New Zealand with folks I love will be nothing to him leaving heaven, with his Father and the holy angels there, to live and work like a poor man in this world, and to die on the cross at the end of all."
Her voice fell into its lowest and tenderest key as she spoke these last words, and the tears stood in her eyes, as if the thought of Christ's life, so long familiar, had started into a new meaning for her. The opportunity for copying Him more literally than she had ever done before was granted to her, and her spirit sprang forward eagerly to seize it. Mr. Chantrey sat silent, yet with a lighter heart than he had had for months. He felt that if Ann Holland went out with them half his load would be gone. There was a brighter hope for Sophy, and there would be a sure friend for his boy, whatever his own fate might be. Yet he shrank from accepting such a sacrifice, and could only see the selfishness of doing so at the first moment.
"You must take another week to think of it," he said.
But when the week was ended Ann Holland was more confirmed in her wish than before. The news that she was going out with Mr. Chantrey's family caused as great a stir in the town as that of the rector's resignation. The Hollands had always been saddlers in Upton, and all the true old Upton people had faithfully adhered to them, never being tempted away by interlopers from London or other places, who professed to do better work at lower prices. To be sure the last male Holland was gone, but every one knew that his only share in the business for many years had been the spending of the money it brought in. That Ann Holland should give up her good trade and go out as servant to the Chantreys—for so it was represented by the news-bearers—was an unheard-of, incredible thing. Many were the remonstrances she had to listen to, and to answer as best she could.
It was a bitter day for Ann Holland when she saw her treasured household furniture sold by auction and scattered to the four winds. Many of her old neighbors bought for themselves some mementoes of the place they knew so well, but the bulk of the larger articles were sold without sentiment or feeling. It was a pang to part with each one of them, as they were carried off to some strange or hostile house to be put to common uses. The bare walls and empty rooms that were left, which she had never seen bare and empty before, seemed terribly new, yet familiar to her. She wandered through them for a few minutes, loitering in each one as she thought of all that had happened to her during her monotonous life; and then, with a sorrowful yet brave heart, she walked along the street to the rectory, which was already dismantled and bare like the home she had just left.
During these busy weeks Mrs. Bolton had looked on in almost sullen silence, except when now and then she had broken out into a passionate invective of her nephew's madness. He had never been indifferent to the luxuries and refinements that give a charm to life, and her nature could not comprehend how all these were poisoned at their source for him. He was eager to exchange them for a chance of a true home, however lowly that home might be. He would willingly have gone to the wilds of Siberia, if by so doing he could secure his wife's reformation An almost feverish haste possessed him. To carry her away from Upton, from England, and to enter upon a quite new career in a strange place, and to accomplish this plan quickly, absorbed him nearly to the exclusion of any other thought. Mrs. Bolton felt herself very much neglected and greatly aggrieved. Her plans were frustrated and her comforts threatened, yet her nephew hardly seemed to think of her—he for whom she had done so much, who would not have been even rector of Upton but for the late archdeacon.
Yet she relented a little from her displeasure as the day for parting came. She was as fond of him and his boy as her nature would allow. Sophy had never been otherwise than an object of her jealousy, and now she positively detested her. But when Mr. Chantrey came on the last evening to sit an hour or two with her, and she saw, as with newly-opened eyes, his care-worn face and wearied, feeble frame, her heart quite melted toward him.
"Remember," she said, eagerly, "you can come back again whenever yon choose, as soon as you grow sure how useless this mad scheme is. I wish I could have persuaded you to keep on your living, but yon are too wilful. You are welcome to draw upon me for funds to return at any time, and I shall supply them gladly, and give you a home here. If yon find your expectations fail, promise me to come back."
"And bring Sophy with me?" he asked, with almost a smile.
"No, no," she answered, shrinking involuntarily from the idea of having her in her house. "Oh, my poor boy! what can yon do?"
"I can only bear the burden sin lays upon me," he said. "It is not permitted to us to shake off the iniquities of others. All of us, more or less, must share in the sufferings of Christ, bearing our portion of the sins of the world, which he bore, even unto death. I am ready to die, if that will save my poor Sophy from her sin.
"But all that makes a Christian life so miserable!" exclaimed Mrs. Bolton.
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, then are we of all men most miserable," he answered.
"And you would teach that we must give up everything," she cried, "all advantages, and blessings, and innocent indulgences, and pleasures of every kind?"
"If the sins or temptations of those about call for such a sacrifice, we must give them up, every one," he replied; "they are no longer blessings or innocent indulgences. If God calls upon us to make some sacrifice, and we refuse to do it, do you think he will yield like some weak parent, who will suffer his child to run the risk of serious injury rather than give him present pain? The whole law of our life is sacrifice, as it was the law of Christ's life. It is possible that some small self-denial at the right moment may spare us some costly expiation later on. Christianity must perish if it loses sight of this law."
Mrs. Bolton did not answer him. Was he thinking of her own refusal to remove temptation out of the way of his wife when she first began to fall into her fatal habit? He was not in reality thinking of her at all, but her conscience pricked her, though her pride kept her silent. It was such an unheard-of course for a person in her station, that none but fanatics could expect her to take it. Quixotic, irrational, eccentric, visionary, were words that flitted incoherently through her brain; but her tongue refused to utter them. Was Christ then so prudent, so cautious, so anxious to secure innocent indulgences and to grasp worldly advantages? Could she think of Him making life easy and comfortable to Himself while hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of unhappy souls were hurrying each year into misery and ruin?
There was not much conversation between her and her nephew; for as a parting draws very near, our memories refuse to serve us, and we forget to say the many, many things we may perhaps never again have any season for saying. They bade one another farewell tenderly and sorrowfully; and he went out, under the tranquil, starry sky, to wander once more beside the grave of his little child, and under the old gray walls of his church. He had not known till now how hard the trial would be. Up to this time he had been kept incessantly occupied with the numberless arrangements necessary for so great a change; but these were all completed. He had said farewell to his people; but the aching of his own great personal grief and shame had prevented him from feeling that separation too forcibly. But the stir and excitement were over for the hour. Here there were no cold, curious eyes fastened upon him; no fear of any harsh voice putting into words of untimely lamentation the unacknowledged reason of his departure. The beloved familiar places, so quiet yet so full of associations to him, had full power over his spirit; and he could not resist them. The very ivy-leaves rustling against the tower, and the low, sleepy chirp of the little birds disturbed by his tread, were dear to him. What, then, was the church itself, every lineament of which he knew as well as if they were the features of a friend? It was a beautiful old church; but if it had been the homeliest and barest building ever erected, he must still have mourned over the pulpit, where he had taught his people; the pews, where their listening faces were lifted up to him; the little vestry, where he had spent so many peaceful hours. And the small mound, blooming with flowers, under which his child slept, how much power had that over him! He paced restlessly up and down beneath the solemn yew-trees, his heart breaking over them all. To-morrow by this time he would have left them far behind him; and never more would his eyes behold them, or his feet tread the path he had so often trod. They seemed to cry to him like living, sentient things. To and fro he wandered, while the silent stars and the waning moon, lying low in the sky above the church, looked down upon him with a pale and mournful light. At last the morning came; and he remembered that to-day he must quit them all, and sail for a far-off country.
The vessel Mr. Chantrey had chosen for the long voyage was a merchant ship, sailing for Melbourne, under a captain who had been an early friend of his own, and who knew the reason for his leaving England. No other cabin passengers had taken berths on board her, though there were a few emigrants in the steerage. Captain Scott, himself a water-drinker, had arranged that no intoxicating beverages, in any form, should appear in the saloon. The steward was strictly forbidden to supply them to any person except Mr. Chantrey himself. This enforced abstinence, the complete change of scene, and the fresh sea-breezes during the protracted voyage, he reckoned upon as the best means of restoring his wife to health of body and mind. Ann Holland, too, would watch over her as vigilantly and patiently as himself; and Charlie would be always at hand to amuse her with his boyish chatter. A bright hope was already dawning upon him.
It was early in June when they set sail; and as the vessel floated down the Channel somewhat slowly against the western wind Ann Holland spent most of her time on deck, watching, often with dim eyes, the coasts of England, as they glided past her. She could still hardly realize the change that had torn her so completely away from her old life. It made her brain swim to think of Upton, and the old neighbors going about the streets on their daily business, and the church-clock striking out the hours; and the sun rising and setting, and the days passing by, and she not there. It felt all a dream to her; an odd, inexplicable, endless dream, which never could become as real as the old days had been. Her thoughts were all busy with the past, recalling faces and events long ago forgotten; she scarcely ever looked on to the end of the voyage. The sea was calm, and the soft wind sang low among the rigging, while point after point along the shores stole by, and were lost to sight almost unheeded, though she could not turn her steadfast, sorrowful gaze from them till she could see them no more. Yet when Mr. Chantrey, reproaching himself for bringing her, asked her if she repented, she was always ready to say heartily that she would not go back, and leave them, for the world.
Charlie alone of them all was quite happy in the change. For the last nine months he had been constantly at school; seldom going home, and then but for a day or two, when his mother was at her best. The boy found himself all at once set free from school restraints, restored to his father and mother, who had no one else to interest them; and with all the delights of a ship and a voyage added to his other joys. He was wild with happiness. There was not one thing left him to wish for; for even his mother's nervous state of health could not cast any gloom upon his gladness. He had grown accustomed to think of her as a confirmed invalid; and when she came on deck he would sit quietly beside her for a little while, and lower his clear young voice in speaking to her, without feeling that his short-lived self-control damped his pleasure. But she was not often there long enough to test his devotion too greatly.
Sophy Chantrey was passing through a season of intense misery, both of mind and body; more bitter even than the wretchedness she had felt when she could indulge the craving that had taken so deep a hold upon her. There was nothing voluntary in her abstinence, and consequently neither pleasure nor pride in being able to exercise self-command. Her health was greatly enfeebled; and her mind had been weakened almost to childishness. She felt as if her husband was treating her cruelly; yet she could see keenly that it was she who had brought ruin upon his future prospects, as well as those of her boy. She had never been able to sink into utter indifference; and she could not forget, strive as she would, all the happy past, and the unutterably wretched present. Here, on board ship, there was no chance for her to procure the narcotics, with which she had lulled her self-reproaches formerly. Her longing for such stimulants amounted almost to delirium. She could not sleep for want of them; and all day long she thought of them, and cried for them, until her husband and Ann Holland could scarcely persevere in refusing them to her. It seemed to them at times as if she must lose her reason, the little that remained to her, and become insane, unless they yielded to her vehement entreaties. Even when, after the first week was gone, and the craving was in some measure deadened, her spirits did not rally. She would lie still on deck when her husband carried her there, or on the narrow berth in their cabin, with eyes closed, and hands listlessly folded, an image of despair.
"Sophy!" he cried one day, when she had not stirred, or raised her eyelids for hours; "Sophy, do you wish to kill me?"
"I have killed you," she muttered, still without moving, or looking at him.
"Sophy," he answered, "you are dreaming Look up, and see me here alive, beside you Life lies before us yet; for you and me together."
"No" she said, "don't I know it is death to you to be tied to me as you are? I am a curse to you, and you hate and loathe me, as I do myself. But we cannot get rid of each other, you and me. Oh! if I could but die, and set you free!"
"I do not hate you," he answered, tenderly; "you are still very dear to me. I do not wish to be free from you."
"Then you ought," she cried, with sudden passion; "you ought to hate that which degrades and shames you. I am dragging you down to ruin; you and Charlie. Do you think I do not know it? Oh! if I could but die. Perhaps I may live for many, many years yet; live to be an old woman, a drunken old wretch! Think what it will be to live for years and years with a lost creature like me. It is death, and worse than death, for you."
"But why should you be lost?" he asked; "have you never thought of One who came to seek and to save that which is lost?"
"Yes; He found me once," she said, in tones of despair, "He found me once; but I strayed away again, wilfully, in spite of His love, and all He had done for me. I knew what He had done, and how He loved me; yet I went away from Him wilfully. I chose ruin; and now He leaves me to my choice."
"This is the delusion of a sick brain," he answered; "you have no power to think rightly of our Lord. Listen to what I can tell you about Him, and His love for you."
"No," she interrupted; "none of you others know, you people who have never fallen like me. You do not know what it is to feel yourselves given up and sold to sin. You and Ann Holland think you can save me by keeping temptation out of my way; but I know that as soon as it comes again I shall be as weak as water against it."
"Have you no wish to be saved, then?" he asked, his heart sinking within him at her hopeless words.
"Wish to be saved!" she repeated; "did the rich man in torments wish to be saved? He only asked for one drop of water to cool his tongue but for a moment. He knew he could not be saved, and he did not pray for it."
"Do you think that I have no wish for your salvation?" he asked. "Am I leaving you in your sin? Have I done nothing, given up nothing, to secure it? Has Ann Holland given up nothing?"
"Oh! you have," she cried. "You are doing all you can for me, but it is useless."
"Christ has done more," he said. "His love for you passes ours infinitely. Then if you have not wearied out ours, can you possibly exhaust his? He can stoop to you in all your misery and sinfulness, if you will but stretch out your hand toward Him. There is no sin He will not forgive, and none He cannot conquer, if you will but rouse yourself to work with Him. Against your own will He cannot save you."
"I will try," she murmured.
Yet time after time the same subject, almost in the same words, was renewed. Sophy's enfeebled brain could not long retain the thought of a divine love and power, which was ceaselessly though secretly striving to reclaim her. There was no opportunity for her to exert her own will, for she could not be tempted in her present circumstances, and the strength gained by such an exertion was impossible to her. Again and again, with untiring patience, did Mr. Chantrey give ear to her despairing utterances, and meet them with soothing arguments. But often he felt himself on the verge of despair, doubtful of the truths he was trying so earnestly to implant again in her heart. In the smooth happy days of old, both of them had believed them. But now he asked himself, Does God indeed care? Does He see and know? Is He near at hand, and not afar off?
Their vessel had entered the tropical seas, and a profound unbroken monotony reigned around them. They had not sighted land since the shores of England had sunk below the horizon. A waste of waters encircled them, and a dead calm prevailed. Through the sultry and hazy atmosphere no rain fell in cooling showers. Day after day the sea was of perfect stillness, and an oppressive silence, as of death, brooded over the low, regular heaving of the waters. The dry torrid heat was exhausting, and the ship with its idle sails made but little way across the quiet sea. Mr. Chantrey's weakened frame suffered greatly, and even Ann Holland's brave and cheery spirit almost sank into despondency.
"If it hadn't been for Mrs. Chantrey," she thought mournfully, "we should all have been at Upton now, as happy as the day's long. The summer's at its height there, and the harvest is being gathered in. How cool it would be under the chestnut-trees, or under the church walls! Mr. Chantrey's sinking, plain enough, and what is to become of us if he should die before we get to that foreign land? Dear, dear! whoever would go to sea if they could get only a place to lay their heads on land?"
A LONG VOYAGE
It was a dreary and monotonous time. After the sun had gone down, red and sullen, through the haze, and when the ship left a long track of phosphorescent light sparkling behind it, Mr. Chantrey would pace up and down the deck, as he had often walked to and fro in the churchyard paths in the starlight. He had many things to think of. For his wife his hope was strengthening; a dim star shone before him in the future. Her brain was gradually regaining clearness, and her mind strength. Something of the old buoyancy and elasticity was returning to her, for she would play sometimes with her child merrily, and her laugh was like music to him. But how would it be in the hour of temptation, which must come? She said her craving for stimulants was passing away; but how would she bear being again able to procure them? He would watch over her and guard her as long as he lived, but what would become of her if he should die?
This last question was becoming every day more and more urgent. The exhausting oppressive heat and the protracted voyage were sapping his strength, and he knew it. The fresh sweet sea-breezes on which he had reckoned had failed him, and he was consciously nearer death than when he left England. He longed eagerly for life and health, that he might see his wife and child in happier circumstances before he died. To leave them thus seemed intolerable to him. What was he to do with his boy? He could not leave him in the care of a mother not yet delivered from the bondage of such a fatal sin. Yet to separate him harshly from her would almost certainly doom her to continue in it. If life might be spared to him only a few years longer, he would probably see her once more a fitting guardian for their child. The growing hope for her, the dim dread for himself—these two held alternate sway over him as he paced to and fro under the southern skies.
Captain Scott, his friend, urged upon him that there was one remedy open to him, and only one on board the ship. The long stress and strain upon his physical as well as his mental health had weakened him until his strength was slowly ebbing away; his heart beat feebly, and his whole system had fallen under a nervous depression. Now was the time when, as a medicine, the alcohol, which was poison and death to his wife, would prove restoration to him. Could he but keep up his vital powers until the voyage was ended, all would be well with him. His life might be prolonged for those few years he so ardently desired. He could still watch over his wife, and protect his child during boyhood, and die in peace—young perhaps, but having accomplished what he had set his mind upon. But Sophy? How could she bear this unexpected temptation? He did not suppose he could effectually conceal it from her, for of late she had clung to him like a child, following him about humbly and meekly, with a touching dependence upon him, striving to catch his eye and to smile faintly when he looked at her, as a child might do who was seeking to win forgiveness. She was very feeble and delicate still, her appetite was as dainty as his own, and the heat oppressed her almost as much as himself. Yet that which might save him would certainly destroy her.
Day after day the debate with Captain Scott was resumed. But there was no real debate in his own mind. He would gladly take the remedy if he could do so with safety to his wife, but not for a thousand lives would he endanger her soul. Not for the certainty of prolonging his own years would he take from her the merest chance of overcoming her sin. To do it for an uncertainty was impossible.
There was hope for him still, if the vessel could but get past these sultry seas into a cooler climate. One good fresh sea-breeze would do him more good than any stimulant, and they were slowly gliding to latitudes where they might meet them at any hour. Once out of the tropics, and around the Cape of Good Hope, there would be no fear of exhausting heat in the air they breathed. All his languor would be gone and the rest of the voyage would bring health and vigor to his fevered frame. Only let them double the Cape, and a new life in a new world lay before them.
His brain felt confused and delirious at times, but he knew it so well that he grew used to sit down silently in the bow of the ship, and let the dizzy dreams pass over him, careful not to alarm his wife or Ann Holland. Cool visions of the pleasant English home he had quitted for ever; the shadows and the calm of his church, where the sunshine slanted in through narrow windows made green with ivy-leaves; the rustling of leaves in the elm-trees on his lawn in the soft low wind of a summer's evening; the deep grassy glades of thick woods, where he had loved to walk; the murmuring and tinkling of hidden brooks—all these flitted across his clouded mind as he sat speechless, with his throbbing head resting upon his hands. Often his wife crouched beside him, herself silent, thinking sadly how he was brooding over all the wrong and injury she had done him, yet fearing in her humiliation to ask him if it were so. Her repentance was very deep and real, her love for him very true. Yet she dreaded the hour when she must face temptation again. She could not even bear to think of it.
But shortly after they had passed the southern tropic, as they neared the Cape, the climate changed suddenly, with so swift an alteration that from sultry heat of a torrid summer they plunged almost directly into the biting cold of winter. As they doubled the Cape a strong north-west gale met them, with icy cold in its blast. The ropes were frozen, and the sails grew stiff with hoar-frost. Rough seas rolled about them, tossing the vessel like a toy upon their waves. The change was too sudden and too great. All the passengers were ill, and David Chantrey lay down in his low, narrow berth, knowing well that no hope was left to him.
Sophy Chantrey was left alone to nurse her dying husband, for Ann Holland was lying ill in her own cabin, ignorant of his extremity. Captain Scott came down for a minute or two, but he could not stay beside him. His presence was sorely needed on deck, yet he lingered awhile, looking sorrowfully at his friend. Sophy watched him with a clearer and keener glance in her blue eyes than he had ever yet seen in them.
"What is the matter with him?" she asked, following him to the cabin door.
"As near dying as possible," he answered, gruffly. He believed that a good life had been sacrificed to a bad one, and he could not bring himself to speak softly to the woman who was the cause of it.
"Dying!" she cried. There was no color to fade from her face, but the light died from her eyes, and the word faltered on her lips.
"Yes," he answered, "dying."
"Sophy, come to me," called her husband, in feeble tones.
She left the captain, and returned at once to his side. The low berth was almost on the floor, and she had to kneel to bring her face nearer to his. It was night, and the only light was the dim glimmer of an oil-lamp, which the captain had hung to the ceiling, and which swung to and fro with the lurching of the ship. The wind was whistling shrilly among the rigging, and every plank and board in the vessel groaned and creaked under the beating of the waves. Now and then her feet were ankle-deep in water, and she dreaded to see it sweep over the low berth. In the rare intervals of the storm she could hear the hurried movements overhead, and the shouts of the sailors as they called to one another from the rigging. But vaguely she heard, and saw, and felt. Her husband's face, white and haggard and thin, with his gray hair and his eyes sunken with unshed tears, was all that she could distinctly realize.
"Sophy," he said, "do not leave me again."
He held out his hand, and she laid hers into it, shuddering as she felt its chilly grasp. Her head fell on to the pillow beside his, and her lips, close to his ear, spoke to him through sobs.
"Is there nothing that can be done?" she cried. "It is I who have killed you. Must you really die for my sin, and leave us?"
"I think I must die," he said, touching her head softly with his feeble hand. "I would live for you if I could—for you and my poor boy. Sophy, promise me while I can hear you, while you can speak to me, promise me you will never fall into this sin again."
"How can I?" she cried. "I have killed you, and now who will care?"
"God will care," he said, faintly, "and I shall care; wherever I may be I shall care. Promise me, my darling, my poor girl!"
"I promise you," she answered, with a deep sob.
"You will never let yourself enter into temptation?"
"Never!" she cried.
"Never taste it; never look at it; never think of it, if possible. Promise," he whispered again.
"Never!" she sobbed; "never! Oh, live, and you shall see me conquer. God will help me to conquer, and you will help me. Do not leave us. O God, do not let him die!"
But he did not hear her. A faintness and numbness that seemed like death, which had been creeping languidly through his veins for some time, darkened his eyes and sealed his lips. He could not see her, and her voice sounded far away. She called again and again upon him, but there was no answer. The deep roar of the storm on the other side of the frail wooden walls thundered continuously, and the groan of the straining planks grated upon her ear as she listened intently for one or more word from him. Was she then alone with him, dying? Was there no help, nothing that could be at least attempted for his help? Through the uproar and tumult she caught the sound of some one stirring in the saloon. She sprang to the door, and met Captain Scott on the point of opening it.
"Come," said she frantic with terror; "he is dead already."
The captain bent over the dying man, and with the promptitude of one to whom time was of the utmost value passed his hand rapidly over his benumbed and paralyzed body.
"No, not dead," he exclaimed; "but he's sinking fast, and there's only one remedy. You can leave him to die, or you can save him, Mrs. Chantrey. There is no one else to nurse him, and every moment is precious to me. Here's a brandy-flask. Give him some at once; force a few drops through his teeth, and watch the effect it has upon him. As he swallows it give him a little more every few minutes. Watch him carefully; it will be life or death with him. If I can get down again I'll come in to see you, but I am badly wanted on deck this moment. There's enough there, but not too much, remember. Get him warm, if possible. God bless you, Mrs. Chantrey."
He had been busily heaping rugs and blankets upon his friend's insensible form; and now, with a hearty grasp of the hand, and an earnest glance into her face, he hurried away, leaving Sophy alone once more.
A shudder of terror ran through her, and she called to him not to leave her; but he did not hear. She stood in the middle of the cabin, looking around as if for help, but there was none. The craving, which had been starved within her by the forced abstinence of the last few weeks, awoke again with insufferable fierceness. She was cold herself, chilled to the very heart; her misery of body and soul were extreme. The dim light and the ceaseless roar of the storm oppressed her. The very scent of the brandy seemed to intoxicate her, and steal away her resolution. If she took but a very little of it, she reasoned with herself, she would be better fitted for the long, exhausting task of watching her husband. How would she have strength to stand over him through the cold, dark hours of the night, feeble and worn out as she already felt herself? For his sake, then, she must taste it; she would take but a very little. The captain had said there was not more than enough; but surely he would give her more, to save her husband's life. Only a little, just to stay the intolerable craving.
Sophy poured out a small, portion into the little horn belonging to the flask. The strong spirituous scent excited her. How warm, and strong, and useful it would make her to her husband in his extremity! Yet still she hesitated. Suppose she could not resist the temptation to take more, and yet more, until she lost her consciousness, and left him to perish with cold and faintness? She knew how often she had resolved to take but a taste, enough to drive away the painful dejection of the passing hour; and how fatally her resolution had failed her, when once she had yielded. If she should fail now, if the temptation conquered her, there was no shadow of a hope for him. When she came to her senses again he would be dead.
Why did not somebody come to her help? Where was Ann Holland, that she should be away just at the very moment when her presence was most desirable and most necessary? How could Captain Scott think of trusting her with poison? How could she do battle with so close and subtle a tempter? So long a battle, too; though all the dreary hours of the storm! Only a little while ago she had made a solemn promise never to fall into this sin, never to enter into temptation. But she had been thrust into temptation unawares, in an instant, with no one to help her, and no time to gather strength for resistance. Even David himself could not blame her if she broke her promise. It should be only a taste; it could not be more than that, for the flask was not full; and now she came to think of it she could not get on deck to ask the captain for more, because the hatches were closed. That would save her from taking too much. She would keep the thought before her that every drop she swallowed was taken from her dying husband, for whom there was barely enough. She could only taste it, and she did it for his sake, not her own.
She lifted the little horn to her lips; but before tasting the stimulant, she glanced round, as she had often done before, to see if any one was looking at her; a stealthy cunning movement, born of the sense of shame she had never quite lost. Every nerve was quivering with excitement, and her heart was beating quickly. But her glance fell upon her husband's face turned toward her, yet with no watchful, reproachful eyes fastened upon her. The eyelids half closed; the pallid, hollow cheeks; the head fallen back upon the pillow, looked like death. Was he then gone from her already? Had she suffered his flickering life to die out altogether, while she had been dallying with temptation? With a wild and very bitter cry Sophy Chantrey sprang to his side, and forced a few drops of the eau-de-vie between his clenched teeth. Again and again, patiently, she repeated her efforts, watching eagerly for the least sign of returning animation. Every thought of herself was gone now; she became absorbed between alternate hope and dread. He was alive still; slowly the death-like pallor was passing away, faint tokens of returning circulation tingled through his benumbed veins. The beating of his heart was stronger, and his hands seemed less icily cold. But so slowly, and with so many intermissions, did the change creep on, that she did not dare to assure herself that he was reviving. Now and then the scent made her feel sick with terror; for she knew that his life depended upon her unceasing attention, and the tempter was still beside her, though thrust back for the time by her newly-awakened will. "I will not let him die!" she cried to herself; yet she was inwardly fearful of failing in her resolution, and leaving him to die. Would the daylight never come? Would the storm never cease?
It was raging more wildly than ever; and Captain Scott found it impossible to go below, even though his friend was probably dying. Sophy was left absolutely alone. It seemed to her like an eternity, as she knelt beside her husband, desperately, fighting against sin, and intently watching for some sure sign of life in him. He was not dead, that was almost all she knew. The night was dark still, and very lonely. There was no one who saw her, none to care for her; and her misery was very great.
Was there none who cared? A still small voice in her own soul, long unheard, but speaking clearly through the din of the storm around and within her, asked, "Does not Christ care? He who came to seek and to save that which was lost? He whom God sent into the world to be the Captain of salvation, and to suffer being tempted, that He might be able to succor all those who are tempted?" For a moment she listened breathlessly as if some new thing had been said to her. Christ really cared for her; really knew her extremity in this dire temptation; was ready with His help, if she would but have it. Could it be true? If He were beside her, witnessing her temptation and her struggling, seeing and entering into all the bitterness of the passing hours, why! then such a presence and such a sympathy were a thousand times greater and better than if all the world beside had been by to cheer her. Why had she never realized this before? He knew; God knew; she was not alone, because the Father Himself was with her.
She had no time to pray consciously, in so many words of set speech; but her whole heart was full of prayer and hope. The terror of temptation was gone; nay, for the time, the temptation itself was gone, for she was lifted up far above it. She could use the powerful remedy on which her husband's life depended with no danger to herself. Her thoughts ran busily forward into a blissful future. How happy they would all be again! How diligently she would guard herself! Her life henceforth should be spent as under the eye of God.
At last the morning dawned, and a gray light stole even through the darkened portholes—a faint light, but sufficient for her to see her husband's face more clearly. His heart beat under her hand with more vigor, and the color had come back to his lips. She could see now how every drop he swallowed brought, a more healthy hue to his face. He had attempted to speak more than once, but she laid her hand on his mouth to enforce silence until his strength was more equal to the effort. At last he whispered earnestly that she could not refuse to listen.
"Sophy," he said, "is it safe for you?"
"Yes," she answered; "God has made it safe for me."
The gale off the Cape of Good Hope was weathered at last, and the vessel sailed into smoother seas. The bitterness of the cold was over, and only fresh invigorating breezes swept across the water. Nothing could have been more helpful toward Mr. Chantrey's recovery, except his new freedom from sorrow. His trouble had passed away like the storm. He could not but trust that the same strength which had been given to his wife in her hour of fiercest temptation would be still granted to her in ordinary trials, from which he could not always shield her. Sophy herself was full of hope. She felt her will, so long enslaved, regaining its former freedom, and her brain recovering its old clearness. The pleasures and duties of life had once more a charm for her. It was as though some madness and delusion had passed away, and she was once more in her right mind.
The voyage between Australia and New Zealand, taken in a crowded and comfortless steamer, was a severe testing time for her. It lasted for several days, and she could not be kept from the influence of the drinking customs of those on board. But she never quitted the side either of her husband or Ann Holland. In New Zealand, where no one knew the story of her past life, except Mr. Warden, it was more easy to face the future, and to carry out the reformation begun in her. They were poor, far poorer than she had ever expected to be, and she had harder work than she had been accustomed to do; but such exertions were beneficial to her. Ann Holland, as a matter of course, lived with them in their little home, from which Mr. Chantrey was often absent while visiting the distant portions of his large parish, which extended over many miles. But Ann was not left to do all the drudgery of the household unaided. Sophy Chantrey would take her share in her every duty, and seldom sat down to sew or write unless Ann was ready to rest also. The old want of something to do could never revisit her; the old sense of loneliness could not come back. There was her boy to teach, and her simple, homely neighbors to associate with. The customs and conventionalities of English life had no force here, and she was free to act as she pleased. As the years passed by, David Chantrey lost forever a secret lurking dread lest his wife's sin should be only biding its time. He could go away in peace, and return home gladly, having almost forgotten the reason of his exchanging the pleasant rectory of Upton for the hard work of a colonial living.
From time to time letters reached them from Mrs. Bolton, complaining bitterly of the changes introduced by the new rector, whose customs and opinions constantly clashed with her own. She found herself put on one side, and quietly neglected in all questions concerning the parish; while her influence gradually died away. Again and again she urged her nephew to return to England, promising that she would make him her heir, and procure for him a living as valuable as the one he had resigned. She could not understand that to a man like David Chantrey the calm happy consciousness of days well spent, and the grateful remembrance of a terrible sorrow having been removed, were better than anything earth could give. The old pride he had once felt in his social position and personal popularity could never lift up its crest again. He had gone down to the Valley of Humiliation, and there, to his surprise, he found "that the air was pleasant, and that here a man shall be free from the noise and hurryings of this life, and shall not be let and hindered in his contemplation, as in other places he is apt to be." His laborious simple life suited him, and no entreaties or promises of Mrs. Bolton could recall him to England.
Eight tranquil years had passed by when Sophy Chantrey detected in her husband a degree of preoccupation and reticence that had long been unusual to him. For a few days he kept the secret; but at last, just as she began to feel she could bear his reserve no longer he spoke out.
"Sophy," he said, "I have had some letters from England."
"From Aunt Bolton?" she asked, with a faint undertone of vexation in her voice, for Mrs. Bolton's letters always revived bitter memories in her mind.
"No," he answered, holding out to her a large bulky packet; "they are from the bishop—our English bishop, you know—just a few lines; and from the Upton people. It seems that the living is about to be vacant again, for Seymour has had a very good one presented to him in the north; and the parishioners have petitioned the bishop, and petitioned me to accept the charge again. See, here are hundreds of signatures, and the churchwardens tell me every man and woman in the parish would have signed if there had been room. The bishop speaks very kindly about it, too, and they want my answer by the mail going out next week."
"And what will you say?" asked Sophy breathlessly.
"It is for you to say," he answered; "you must decide. Could you go back happily, Sophy? As for me, I never loved, or shall love, any place like Upton. I dream of it often. Yet I could not return to it at any great cost to you, be sure of that. You must answer the question. We have been very happy together here, all of us; and you and I have been truer Christians than perhaps we could ever have been if we had stayed at home. If you decide to settle here, I for one will never regret it."
"Would it be safe for me to go back?" she faltered.
"As safe for you as for me," he answered emphatically; "do not be afraid of that. A sin conquered and uprooted, as yours has been, is less likely to overcome us than some new temptation. I have no fear of that."
For the next few days Sophy Chantrey went through her daily work as in a dream. There were many things to weigh and consider, and her husband left her to herself, acting as if he had dismissed the subject altogether from his mind. For herself she shrank from returning among the people who had known her in her worst days, and whose curious suspicious eyes would be always watching her, and bringing to her mind sad recollections. She knew well that all her life long there would be the memory of her sin kept alive in the hearts of her husband's parishioners if he went back as rector of Upton. Yet she could not resolve to banish him from the place he loved so well, and the people who were so eager to have him with them again as their pastor. There was nothing to be dreaded on account of his health, which was fully reestablished. There was her boy, too, who was growing old enough to require better teaching than they could secure for him in the colony. Ann Holland would be overjoyed to think of seeing Upton again, and to return to her old friends and townsfolk. No; they must not be doomed to continual exile for her sake. She must take up the cross that lay before her, from which she had so long escaped, and be willing to bear the penalty of her transgressions, learning that no sins, though forgiven, can be blotted out as far as their consequences are concerned—can never be, through endless years, as though they had never been.
"We must go home to Upton," she said to her husband the evening before the mail left for England. "I have considered everything, and we must go."
"Willingly, Sophy? Gladly?" he asked, looking keenly into her face, so changed from when he had seen it first. What lines there were upon it which ought not to have been there so early, he knew well. How different it was from the fair fresh face of his young wife when they first went home to Upton Rectory. Yet he loved her better now than then.
"Willingly, though not gladly yet," she answered; "but do not argue with me. Do not try to persuade me against my own decision. You all came out for my sake, and I am bent upon returning for yours. In time I shall be as glad that I returned as you are that you came out, though I am not glad now. I shall be a standing lesson to the people of Upton."
"But I do not wish my wife to be a lesson," he said fondly. Yet he could not urge her to alter her decision. The old home and the old church, which he had diligently tried to forget, thrust themselves as freshly and imperiously upon his memory as if he had left them but yesterday. He had not known how great his sacrifice had been when he had given them up in his misery. Ann Holland and his boy shared his delight, and before they sailed for home Sophy herself found that she could take very real pleasure in their new prospects.
Mrs. Bolton did not live to welcome them back to Upton. The last few years had been years of vexation and loneliness to her, and there had been no one to care for her and to help her to bear her troubles. She had been ailing for some time, and the trying changes of the spring hastened her death before her favorite nephew could reach England. The hired nurses who attended her through her last illness heard her often muttering to herself, as if her enfeebled brain was possessed by one idea, "If any will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." The words haunted her, and once she said, in an awed voice and with a look of pain, "He that taketh not up his cross and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me." "Not worthy of me!" she repeated, mournfully, "not worthy of me!"
The rector of Upton and his wife have dwelt among their own people again for some years. Though the story is still sometimes told of Mrs. Chantrey's sin, the life she leads among them is a better lesson than perhaps it could have been had she never fallen. They see in her one who has not merely been tempted, but who has conquered and escaped from the tyranny of a vice shamefully common among us. There is hope for the feeblest and the most degraded when they hear of her, or when they learn the story from her own lips. For if by the sorrowful confession she can help any one, she does not shrink from making it, with tears often, but with a profound thankfulness for the deliverance wrought out for her by those who made themselves "fellow-workers with God."
Ann Holland found her shop and pleasant kitchen transformed into a fashionable draper's establishment, with plate glass windows down to the pavement. But she did not need a home. David and Sophy Chantrey would not have parted from her if the old house had not been gone. A few of her old-fashioned goods she managed to gather together again, to furnish her own room at the rectory, and among them was the screen containing the newspaper records of events at Upton. One long column gives a high-flown description of the rector's return to his old parish, and Ann feels a glow of pleasant pride at seeing her own name there in print.