"Yes indeed!" said Diana earnestly. "There isn't anybody else I would half as lieve stay with."
"Apparently you have some confidence in me," he said in the same tone.
"I have confidence in nobody else," said Diana sadly. "I know you would help me if you could."
They were silent a few minutes after that, and when Mr. Masters began to speak again, it was in a different tone; a gentle, grave tone of business.
"I have been doing some hard thinking," he said, "while I have been walking yonder; and I have come to the conclusion that the present is an exceptional case and an exceptional time. Ordinarily I do not let business—private business—come into Sunday. But we are brought here together, and detained here, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the business I ought to do. I have only one parishioner on my hands to-day," he went on with a slight smile, "and I may as well attend to her. I am going to tell you my plan. I shall not startle you? Just now you allowed that you had confidence in me?"
"Yes. I will try to do whatever you say I ought to do."
"That I cannot tell," said he gravely, "but I will unfold to you my plan. You have trust in me. So have I in you, Diana; but I have more. So much more, that it would make me happy to go through my life with you. I know,"—he said as he met her startled look up to him,—"I know you do not love me, I know that; but you trust me; and I have love enough for two. That has been true a great while. Suppose you come to me and let me take care of you. Can you trust me to that extent?"
Diana's lips had grown white with fear and astonishment. "You do not know!"—she gasped. But his answer was steady and sweet.
"I think I do."
"All I need to know."
"It would be very, very wrong to you, Mr. Masters!" said Diana, hiding her face.
"No," he answered in the same gentle way. "To give me what I long for?"
"But—but—I have nothing to give in return," she said, answering not the form of his words, but the reality under them.
"I will take my risk of that. I told you, I have enough for both. And I might add, to last out our lives. I only want to have the privilege of taking care of you."
"My heart is dead!"—cried Diana piteously.
"Mine isn't. And yours is not. It is only sick, but not unto death; and I want to shelter and nurse it to health again. May I?"
"You cannot," said Diana. "I am not worth anybody's looking at any more. There is no life left in me. I am not good enough for you, Mr. Masters. You ought to have a whole heart—and a large one—in return for your own."
"I do not want any return," said he. "Not at present, beyond that trust which you so kindly have given me. And if I never have any more, I will be content, Diana, to be allowed to do all the giving myself. You must spend your life somewhere. Can you spend it anywhere better than at my side?"
"No,"—Diana breathed rather than spoke.
"'Then it's a bargain?" said he, taking her hand. Diana did not withdraw it, and stooping down he touched his lips gently to hers. This was so unlike one of Evan's kisses, that it did not even remind Diana of them. She sat dazed and stunned, hardly knowing how she felt, only bewildered; yet dimly conscious that she was offered a shelter, and a lot which, if she had never known Evan, she would have esteemed the highest possible. An empty lot now, as any one must be; an unequal exchange for Mr. Masters; an unfair transaction; at the same time, for her, a hiding-place from the world's buffetings. She would escape so from her mother's exactions and rule; from young Flandin's following and pretensions; from the pointed finger of gossip. True, that finger had never been levelled at her, not yet; but every one who has a secret sore spot knows the dread of its being discovered and touched. And Diana had never been wont to mind her mother's exactions, or to rebel against her rule; but lately, for a year past, without knowing or guessing the wrong of which her mother had been guilty, Diana had been conscious of an underlying want of harmony somewhere. She did not know where it was; it was in the air; for nature's subtle sympathies find their way and know their ground far beyond the sphere of sense or reason. Something adverse and something sinister she had vaguely felt in her mother's manner, without having the least clue to any possible cause or motive. Suspicion was the last thing to occur to Diana's nature; so she suspected nothing; nevertheless felt the grating and now and then the jar of their two spirits one against the other. It was dimly connected with Evan, too, in her mind, without knowing why; she thought, blaming herself for the thought, that Mrs. Starling would not have been so determinately eager to get her married to Will Flandin if Evan Knowlton had never been thought to fancy her. This was a perfectly unreasoning conclusion in Diana's mind; she could give no account of it; but as little could she get rid of it; and it made her mother's ways lately hard to bear. The minister, she knew instinctively, would not let a rough wind blow on her face; at his side neither criticism nor any sort of human annoyance could reach her; she would have only her own deep heart-sorrow to bear on to the end. But what sort of justice was this towards him? Diana lifted her head, which had been sunk in musing, and looked round. She had heard nothing for a while; now the swirl and rush of the storm were the first thing that struck her senses; and the first thought, that no getting away was possible yet; then she glanced at Mr. Masters. He was there near her, just as usual, looking at her quietly.
"Mr. Masters," she burst forth, "you are very good!"
"That is right," he said, with a sort of dry comicality which belonged to him, "I hope you will never change your opinion."
"But," said Diana, withdrawing her eyes in some confusion, "I think I am not. I think I am doing wrong."
"In letting you say what you said a little while ago. You have a heart, and a big one. I have not any heart at all. I can't give you what you would give me; I haven't got it to give. I never shall have anything to give."
"The case being so as you put it," said the minister quite quietly, "what then? You cannot change the facts. I cannot take back what I have given; it was given long ago, Diana, and remains yours. The least you can do, is to let me have what is left of you and take care of it. While I live I will do that, and ask no reward."
"You will get tired of it," said Diana, with her lip trembling.
"Will I?" said he, taking her hand. And he added no more, but through the gentle, almost careless intonation, Diana felt and knew the very truth, that he never would. She left her hand in his clasp; that too was gentle and firm, like the man; he seemed a tower of strength to Diana. If only she could have loved him! Yet she thought she was glad that he loved her. He was something to lean upon; some one who would be able to give help. They sat so, hand in hand, for a while, the storm roaring against the windows and howling round the building.
"Don't you think," the minister began again with a tender, light accent, "it will be part of my permanent duty to preach to you?"
"I dare say; I am sure I want it enough," said Diana.
"Is not this a good opportunity?"
"I suppose it is. We cannot get away."
"Never mind; the wind will go down by and by. It has been blowing on purpose to keep us here. Diana, do you think a good God made any of his creatures to be unhappy?"
"I don't know, Mr. Masters. He lets them be unhappy."
"It is not his will."
"But he takes away what would make them happy?"
"What do you think would do that?"
"I suppose it is one thing with one person, and another with another."
"True; but take an instance."
"It is mother's happiness to have her farm and her dairy and her house go just right."
"Is she happy if it does?"
"She is very uncomfortable if it don't."
"That is not my question," said the minister, smiling. "Happiness is not a thing that comes and goes with the weather, or the crops, or the state of the market;—nor even with the life and death and affection of those we love."
"I thought it did"—said Diana rather faintly.
"In that case it would be a changeable, insecure thing; and being that, it would cease to be happiness."
"Yes. I thought human happiness was changeable and uncertain."
"Do you not feel that such conditions would spoil it? No; God loves us better than that."
"But, Mr. Masters," said Diana in some surprise, "nobody in this world can be sure of keeping what he likes?"
"Except one thing."
"What can that be?"
"Did you never see anybody who was happy independent of circumstances?"
Diana reflected. "I think Mother Bartlett is."
"I think so too."
"But she is the only person of whom that is true in all Pleasant Valley."
"How comes she to be an exception?"
Diana reflected again, but this time without finding an answer.
"Isn't it, that she has set her heart on what cannot fail her nor be insufficient for her?"
"Religion, you mean."
"I do not mean religion."
"What then?" Diana asked in new surprise.
"But—isn't that the same thing?"
"Not exactly. Christ is a person."
"And he it is that can make happy those who know him. Do you remember he said, 'He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst'?"
Looking up at the speaker and following his words, they somehow struck Diana rather hard. Her lip suddenly trembled, and she looked down.
"You do not understand it," said the minister, "but you must believe it. Poor hungry lamb, seeking pasture where there is none,—where it is withered,—come to Christ!"
"Do you mean," said Diana, struggling for voice and self-command, but unable to look up, for the minister's hand was on her shoulder and his words had been very tenderly spoken,—"do you mean, that when everything is withered, he can make it green again?"
The minister answered in the words of David, which were the words of the Lord: "'He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springeth out of the earth by clear shining after rain.'"
Diana bent her head lower. Could such refreshment and renewal of her own wasted nature ever come to pass? She did not believe it; yet perhaps there was life yet at the roots of the grass which scented the rain. The words swept over as the breath of the south wind.
"'The light of a morning without clouds'"—she repeated when she could speak.
"Christ is all that, to those who know him," the minister said.
"Then I do not know him," said Diana.
"Did you think you did?"
"But how can one know him, Mr. Masters?"
"There is only one way. It is said, 'God, who created the light out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the glory of the knowledge of Christ.'"
"I cannot tell. As the sun rises over the hills, and suddenly the gold of it is upon everything, and the warmth of it."
"I don't know that either," said Mr. Masters, gently touching Diana's brow, as one touches a child's, with caressing fingers. "He says: 'Ye shall find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart.'—'If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.'"
Diana sat still awhile and neither of them spoke; then she said, speaking more lightly:
"I think you have preached a beautiful sermon, Mr. Masters."
"It's a beautiful sermon," assented the minister; "but how much effect will it have?"
"I don't know," said Diana. "I don't seem to have energy enough to take hold of anything." Then after a little she added—"But if anybody can help me I am sure it is you."
"We will stand by one another, then," said he, "and do the best we can."
Diana did not make any denial of this conclusion; and they sat still without more words, for some time, each busied with his own separate train of musings. Then Diana felt a little shiver of cold beginning to creep over her; and Mr. Masters roused himself.
"This is getting serious!" said he, looking at his watch. "What o'clock do you think it is? One, and after. Am I to make up the fires again? We cannot stir at present."
Neither, it was found, could he make up the fires. For the coal bin was in the cellar or underground vault, to which the entrance was from the outside; and looking from the window, Mr. Masters saw that the snow had drifted on that side to the height of a man, covering the low door entirely. Hours of labour would be required to clear away the snow enough to give access to the coal; and the minister had not even a shovel. At the same time, the fires were going down, and the room was beginning to get chilly under the power of the searching wind, which found its way in by many entrances. The only resource was to walk. Mr. Masters gave Diana his arm, and she accepted it, and together they paced up and down the aisle. It was a strange walk to Diana; her companion was rather silent, speaking only a few words now and then; and it occurred to her to wonder whether this, her first walk with him, was to be a likeness of the whole; a progress through chilly and empty space. Diana was not what may be called an imaginative person, but a thought of this kind came over her. It did not make her change her mind at all respecting the agreement she had entered into; if it were to be so, better she should find herself at his side, she thought, than anywhere else. She was even glad, in a dull sort of way, that Mr. Masters should be pleased; pleasure for her was gone out of the world. Honour him she could, and did, from the bottom of her heart; but that was all. It was well, perhaps, for her composure that whatever pleasure her companion might feel in their new relations, he did not make the feeling obtrusively prominent. He was just his usual self, with a slight confidence in his manner to her which had not appeared before.
So they walked.
"Diana," said Mr. Masters suddenly, "have you brought no lunch with you?"
"I forgot it. At least,—I was in such a hurry to get out of the house without being seen, I didn't care about anything else. If I had gone to the pantry, they would have found out what I was doing."
"And I brought nothing to-day, of all days. I am sorry, for your sake."
"I don't mind it," said Diana. "I don't feel it."
"Nor I,—but that proves nothing. This won't do. It is two o'clock. We must get away. It will be growing dark in a little while more. The days are just at the shortest."
"I think the storm isn't quite so bad as it was," said Diana.
They stood still and listened. It beat and blew, and the snow came thick; still the exceeding fury of the blast seemed to be lessened.
"We'll give it a quarter of an hour more," said the minister. "Diana—we have had preaching, but we have had no praying."
She assented submissively, to his look as well as his words, and they knelt down together in the chancel. Mr. Masters prayed, not very long, but a prayer full of the sweetness and the confidence and the strength, of a child of God who is at home in his Father's presence; full of tenderness and sympathy for her. Diana's mind went through a series of experiences in the course of that short prayer. The sweetness and the confidence of it touched her first with the sense of contrast, and wrung tears from her that were bitter; then the speaker got beyond her depth, into regions of feeling where she could not follow him nor quite understand, but that, she knew, was only because he was at home where she was so much a stranger; and her thoughts made a leap to the admiration of him, and then to the useless consideration, how happy she might have been with this man had not Evan come between. Why had he come, just to win her and prove himself unworthy of her? But it was done, and not to be undone. Evan had her heart, worthy or unworthy; she could not take it back; there was nothing left for her but to be a cold shadow walking beside this good man who was so full of all gentle and noble affections. Well, she was glad, since he wanted her, that she might lead her colourless existence by his side. That was the last feeling with which she rose from her knees.
It was a very wild storm yet through which Mr. Masters drove Diana home. Still the wind blew hard, and the snow came driving and beating down upon their shoulders and faces in thick white masses; and the drifts had piled up in some places very high. More than once the sleigh, Prince and all, was near being lodged in a snow-bank, from which the getting free would have been a work of time; Mr. Masters had to get out and do some rather complicated engineering; and withal, through the thick and heavy snowfall it was difficult to see what they were coming to. Patience and coolness and good driving got the better of dangers however, and slowly the way was put behind them. They met nobody.
"Mr. Masters," said Diana suddenly, "you will have to stay at our house to-night. You can never get back."
"I don't believe Mrs. Starling will let me go," said the minister.
Diana did not know exactly how to understand this. It struck a sort of chill to her, that he was intending at once to proclaim their new relations to each other; yet she could find nothing to object, and indeed she did not wish to object.
"Mother will not be pleased," she ventured after a pause.
"No, I do not expect it. We have got to face that. But she is a wise woman, and will know how to accommodate herself to things when she knows she can't help it. I will put Prince up and give him some supper, and then we will see."
Diana accordingly went in alone. But, as it happened, Mrs. Starling was busied with some affairs in the outer kitchen; and Diana passed through and got up to her own room without any encounter. She was glad. Encounters were not in her line. She was somewhat leisurely, therefore, in taking off her wrappings and changing her dress. And as the minister was on the other hand as soon done with his ministrations to Prince as circumstances and the snow permitted, it fell out that they re-entered the kitchen almost at the same moment, though by different doors. It was the lean-to kitchen, the only place where fire was kept on Sunday: and indeed that was the usual winter dwelling-room, a little outer kitchen serving for all the dirty work. It was in what I should call dreary Sunday order; which means, order without life. The very chairs and tables seemed to say forlornly that they had nothing to do. Not so much as an open book proclaimed that the mistress of the place was any better off. However, she had other resources; for even as the minister came in from the snow, and Diana from up-stairs, Mrs. Starling herself made her appearance from the outer kitchen with a pan of potatoes in her hand.
Mrs. Starling liked neither to be surprised, nor to seem so. Moreover, from the outer kitchen door she had seen Prince and the sleigh going to the barn, and seen, too, who was driving him. With the cunning of an Indian, she had made a sudden tremendous leap to conclusions; how arrived at, I cannot say; there is a faculty in some natures that is very like a power of intuition. So she came in now with a manner that was undeclarative of anything but grimness; gave no sign of either surprise or curiosity; vouchsafed the minister only a scant little nod of welcome, and to Diana scarce a look; and set her pan of potatoes on the table, while she went into the pantry for a knife.
"Do you want those peeled, mother?" Diana asked.
"Must have something for supper, I suppose."
"Shall I do it?"
"No. I guess you've done enough for one day."
"I have," said Mr. Masters. "And if you had driven these three miles in the snow, you would know it. May I have some supper, Mrs. Starling?"
"There'll be enough, I guess," said the mistress of the house, with her knife flying round the potato in hand in a way that showed both practice and energy. Then presently, with a scarce perceptible glance up at her daughter, she added,
"Where have you been?"
"To church, mother."
"To church!"—scornfully. "What did you do there?"
"She heard preaching," said the minister, in that very quiet and composed way of his, which it was difficult to fight against. Few people ever tried; if any one could, it was Mrs. Starling.
"I guess there warn't many that had the privilege?" she said inquiringly.
"Not many," said the minister. "I never had a smaller audience—in church—to preach to."
"Folks had better be at home such a day, and preach to themselves."
"I quite agree with you. So I brought Diana back as soon as I could. But we have been two hours on the way."
Mrs. Starling's knife flew round the potatoes; her tongue was silent. Diana began to set the table. Sitting by the corner of the fire to dry the wet spots on his clothes, the minister watched her. And Mrs. Starling, without looking, watched them both; and at last, having finished her potatoes, seized the dish and went off with it; no doubt to cook the supper, for savoury fumes soon came stealing in. Diana made coffee, not without a strange back look to a certain stormy September night when she had made it for some one else. It was December now—a December which no spring would follow; so what mattered anything, coffee or the rest? If there were any blessing left for her in the world, she believed it would be under Mr. Masters' protection and in his goodness. She felt dull and in a dream, but she believed that.
The three had supper alone. Conversation, as far as Mrs. Starling was concerned, went on the pattern that has been given. Mr. Masters was at the whole expense of the entertainment, mentally; and he talked with the ease and pleasantness that seemed natural to him, of things that could not help interesting the others; even Diana in her deadness of heart, even Mrs. Starling in her perversity, pricked up their ears and listened. I don't believe, either, he even found it a difficult effort; nothing ever seemed difficult to Mr. Masters that he had to do; it was always done so graciously, and as if he were enjoying it himself. So no doubt he was. Certainly this evening; though Mrs. Starling did not speak many words, and Diana spoke none. So supper was finished, and the mistress and her guest moved their chairs to the fire, while Diana busied herself in putting up the things, going in and out from the pantry.
"You'll have to keep me to-night, Mrs. Starling," said the minister.
"I knew that when I saw you come in," responded the lady, not over graciously.
"I am not going to receive hospitality under false pretences, though," said the minister. "If I rob, I won't steal. Mrs. Starling, Diana and I have come to an agreement."
"I knew that too," returned the lady defiantly.
"According to which agreement," pursued the other, without change of a hair, "I am coming again, some other time, to take her away, out of your care into mine."
"There go two words to that bargain," said Mrs. Starling after a half-minute's pause.
"Two words have been spoken; mine and hers. Now we want yours."
"Diana's got to take care of me."
"Does that mean that she is never to marry?"
"It don't mean anything ridiculous," said Mrs. Starling; "so it don't mean that."
"I should not like to say anything ridiculous. Then, if she may marry, it only remains that she and you should be suited. Do you object to me as a son-in-law?"
It is impossible to convey the impression of the manner, winning, half humourous, half dry, supremely careless and confident, in which all this was said on the minister's part. It was something almost impossible at the moment to withstand, and it fidgetted Mrs. Starling to be under the power of it. Her grudge against the minister was even increased by it, and yet she could not give vent to the feeling.
"I'm not called upon to make objections against you in any way," she answered rather vaguely.
"That means, of course, that you have no objections to make?"
"I don't make any," said Mrs. Starling shortly.
"I must be content with that," said Mr. Masters, smiling. "Diana, your mother makes no objections." And rising, he went and gravely kissed her.
I do not know what tied Mrs. Starling's tongue. She sat before the fire with her hands in her lap, in an inward fury of dull displeasure; she had untold objections to this arrangement; and yet, though she knew she must speak now or never, she could not speak. Whether it were the spell of the minister's manner, which, as I said, worked its charm upon her as it did upon others; whether it were the prick of conscience, warning her that she had interfered once too often already in her daughter's life affairs; or whether, finally, she had an instinctive sense that things were gone too far for her hindering hand, she fumed in secret, and did nothing. She was a woman of sense; she knew that if a man like Mr. Masters loved her daughter, and had got her daughter's good-will, it would be an ill waste of strength on her part to try to break the arrangement. It might be done; but it would not be worth the scandal and the confusion. And she was not sure that it could be done.
So she sat chewing the cud of her mortification and ire, giving little heed to what words passed between the others. It had come to this! She had schemed, she had put a violent hand upon Diana's fate, to turn it her own way, and now this was the way it had gone! All her wrong deeds for nothing! She had purposed, as she said, that Diana should take care of her; therefore Diana should not marry any poor and proud young officer, nor any officer at all, to carry her away beyond reach and into a sphere beyond and above the sphere of her mother. No, Diana must marry a rich young farmer; Will Flandin would just do; a man who would not dislike or be anywise averse to receive such a mother-in-law into his house, but reckon it an added advantage. Then her home would be secure, and her continued rule; and ruling was as necessary to Mrs. Starling as eating. She would have a larger house and business to manage, and withal need not do herself more than she chose; having Diana, she would be sure of everything else she wanted. Now she had lost Diana. And only to a poor parson when all was done! Would it have been better to let her marry the officer? For Mrs. Starling had a shrewd guess that such would have been the issue of things if she had let them alone. Diana could not so have been more out of her power or out of her sphere; for Mrs. Starling had a certain assured consciousness that she would not "fit" in the minister's family, and that, gentle as he was, he would rule his house and his wife himself. She sat brooding, hardly hearing what was said by either of the others: and indeed, the discourse was not very lively; till Mr. Masters rose and bade them good night. And then Mrs. Starling still went on musing. Why had she not interfered at the right moment, to put a stop to this affair? She had let the moment go, and the thought vexed her; and her mood was not at all sweetened by the lurking doubt whether she could have stopped it if she had tried. Mrs. Starling could not abide to meet with her match, and sorely hated her match when she found it. What if she were to tell Diana of those letters of Evan? But then Diana would be off to the ends of the earth with him. Better keep her in the village, perhaps. Mrs. Starling grew more and more impatient.
"Diana, you are a big fool!" she burst out.
Diana at that moment thought not. She did not answer. Both were sitting before the wide fireplace, and Diana had not moved since Mr. Masters left them.
"What sort of a life do you expect you are going to have?"
"I don't know, mother."
"You, who might marry the richest man in town!—And live in plenty, and have just your own way, and everything you want! You are a fool I Do you know what it means to be a poor minister's wife?"
"I shall know, I suppose. That is, if Mr. Masters is poor. I don't know whether he is or not."
"He is of course! They all are."
"Well, mother. You have taught me how to keep house on a little."
"Yes, you and me; that's one thing. It's another thing when you have a shiftless man hanging round, and a dozen children or so, and expected to be civil to all the world. They always have a house full of children, and they are all shiftless."
"Father hadn't—and wasn't."
"He was as shiftless a man as ever wore shoe-leather; he wasn't a bit of help to a woman. All he cared for was to lose his time in his books; and that's the way this man'll do, and leave you to take the brunt of everything. Your time'll go in cookin' and mendin' and washin' up; and you'll have to be at everybody's beck and call at the end o' that. If there's anything I hate, it's to be in the kitchen and parlour both at the same time."
Diana was silent.
"You might have lived like a queen."
"I don't want to live like a queen."
"You might have had your own way, Diana."
"I don't care about having my own way."
"I wish you would care, then, or had a speck of spirit. What's life good for?"
"I wish I knew"—said Diana wearily, as she rose and set back her chair.
"You never will know, in that man's house. I do think, ministers are the meanest lot o' folks there is; and that you should go and take one of them!"—
"It is the other way, mother; he has taken me," said Diana, half laughing at what seemed to her the disproportion between her mother's passion and the occasion for it.
"You were a fool to let him."
"I don't think so."
"You'll be sorry yet."
"They're a shiftless lot," said Mrs. Starling rather evasively, "the whole of 'em. And this one has a way of holding his own in other folks' houses, that is intolerable to me! I never liked him, not from the very first."
"I always liked him," said Diana simply; and she went off to her room. She had not expected that her mother would favour the arrangement; on the contrary; and it had all been settled much more easily than she had looked for.
So things were settled, and Mrs. Starling made no attempt to unsettle them; on the other hand, she fell into a condition of permanent unrest which I do not know how to characterize. It was not ill-humour exactly; it was not displeasure; or if, it was displeasure at herself, but it was contrary to all Mrs. Starling's principles to admit that, and she never admitted it. Her farm servant, Josh, described her as being always now in an "aggravated" state; and Diana found her society very uncomfortable. There was never a word spoken pleasantly, by any chance, about anything; good was not commended, and ill was not deplored; but both, good and ill, were taken up in the same sharp, acrid, cynical tone, or treated with the like restless mockery. Mrs. Starling found no fault with Diana, other than by this bitter manner of handling every subject that came up; at the same time she made the little house where they lived together a place of thunderous atmosphere, where it was impossible to draw breath freely and peacefully. They were very much shut up to one another, too. That Sunday storm in December had been followed by successive falls of snow, so deep that the ways were encumbered, and travelling more difficult than usual in Pleasant Valley even in winter. There was very little getting about between the neighbours' houses; and the people let their social qualities wait for spring and summer to develope themselves. Diana and her mother scarcely saw anybody. Nick Boddington at rare intervals looked in. Joe Bartlett once or twice came with a message from his mother; once Diana had gone down to see her. Even Mr. Masters made his appearance at the little brown farm-house less frequently than might have been supposed; for, in truth, Mrs. Starling's presence made his visits rather unsatisfactory; and besides the two kitchen fires, there was none other in the house to which Diana and he could withdraw and see each other alone. So he came only now and then, and generally did not stay very long.
To Diana, all this while, the coming or the going, the solitude or the company, even the good or ill humours of her mother, seemed to be of little importance. She lived her own shut-up, deadened, secret life through it all, and had no nerves of sensation near enough to the surface to be affected much by what went on outside of her. What though her mother was all the while in a rasped sort of state? it could not rasp Diana; she seemed to wear a coat of mail. Neighbours? no neighbours were anything to her one way or another; if she could be said to like anything, it was to be quite alone and see and hear nobody. Her marriage she looked at in the same dull way; with a thought, so far as she gave it a thought, that in the minister's house her life would be more quiet, and peace and good-will would replace the eager disquiet around her which, without minding it, Diana yet perceived. More quiet and better, she hoped her life would be; her life and herself; she thought the minister was getting a bad bargain of it, but since it was his pleasure, she thought it was a good thing for her; every time she met the gentle kind eyes and felt the warm clasp of his hand, Diana repeated the assurance to herself. The girl had sunk again into mental torpor; she did not see nor hear nor feel; she lived along a mechanical sort of life, having relapsed into her former stunned condition. Not crushed—there was too much of Diana's nature for one blow or perhaps many blows to effect that; not beaten down, like some other characters; she went on her way upright, alert, and strong, doing and expecting to do the work of life to its utmost measure; all the same, walking as a ghost might walk through the scenes of his former existence; with no longer any natural conditions to put her at one with them, and only conscious of her dead heart. This state of things had given way in the fall to a few months of incessant and very live pain; with her betrothal to the minister Diana had sunk again into the dulness of apathy. But with a constitution mental and physical like hers, so full of sound life-blood, so true and strong, in the nature of things this state of apathetic sleep could not last for ever. And the time of final waking came.
The winter had dragged its length away. Spring had come, with its renewal of all the farm and household activities. Diana stood up to her work and did it, day by day, with faultless accuracy, with blameless diligence. She was too useful a helper not to be missed unwillingly from any household that had once known her; and Mrs. Starling's temper did not improve. It had been arranged that Diana's marriage should take place about the first of June. Spring work over, and summer going on its orderly way, she could be easiest spared then, she thought; and Mrs. Starling, seeing it must be, made no particular objection. Beyond the time, nothing had been talked of yet concerning the occasion. So it was a hitherto untouched question, when Mrs. Starling asked her daughter one day,—"What sort of a wedding are you calculatin' to have?"
"What sort of a wedding? I don't know," said Diana. "What do you mean by a wedding?"
"The thing is, what you mean by it. Don't be a baby, Diana Starling! Do you mean to ask your friends to see you married?"
"I don't want anybody, I am sure," said Diana. "And I am sure Mr. Masters does not care."
"Are you going to be married in a black gown?"
"Black! No; but I do not care what kind of a gown it is, further than that."
"I don't think you care much about the whole thing," said Mrs. Starling, looking at her. "If I was you, I wouldn't be married just to please somebody else, without it pleased myself too. That's what I think."
Poor Diana thought of Mr. Masters' face as she had seen it the last time; and it seemed to her good to give somebody else pleasure, even if pleasure were gone and out of the question for her. This view of the question, naturally, she did not make public.
"What are you going to marry this man for?" said Mrs. Starling, standing straight up (she had been bending over some work) and looking hard at her daughter.
"I hope he'll make a good woman of me," Diana said soberly.
"If you had a little more spunk, you might make a good man of him; but you aren't the woman to do it. He wants his pride taken down a bit."
"But what about the day, mother?" said Diana, who preferred not to discuss this subject.
"Well, if you haven't thought of it, I have; and I'm going to ask all the folks there are; and we've got to make a spread for 'em, Diana Starling, so we may as well be about it."
"Already!" said Diana. "It's weeks yet."
"They'll run away, you'll find; and the cake'll be better for keepin'. You may go about stonin' the fruit as soon as you're a mind to."
Diana said no more, but stoned her raisins and picked over her currants and sliced her citron, with the same apathetic want of realization which lately she had brought to everything. It might have been cake for anybody else's wedding that she was getting ready, so little did her fingers recognise the relation of the things with herself. The cake was made and baked and iced and ornamented. And then Mrs. Starling's activities went on to other items of preparation. Seeing Diana would be married, she meant it should be done in a way the country-side would not forget; neither should Mrs. Flandin make mental comparisons, pityingly, of the wedding that was, with the wedding that would have been with her son for the bridegroom. Baking and boiling and roasting and jellying went on in quantity, for Mrs. Starling was a great cook, and could do things in style when she chose. The house was put in order; fresh curtains hung up, and the handsomest linen laid out, and greens and flowers employed to cover and deck the severely plain walls and furniture. One thing more Mrs. Starling wished for which she was not likely to have, the presence of one of the Elmfield family on the occasion. She would have liked some one of them to be there, in order that sure news of the whole might go to Evan and beyond possibility of doubt; for a lurking fear of his sudden appearing some time had long hidden in Mrs. Starling's mind. I do not know what she feared in such a case. Of the two, Evan was hardly more distasteful to her as a son-in-law than the minister was; though it is true that her action in the matter of burning the letters had made her hate the man she had injured. This feeling was counterbalanced, I confess, by another feeling of the delight it would be to see Mr. Masters nonplussed; but on the whole, she preferred that Evan should keep at a distance.
All the work and confusion of these last few weeks claimed Diana's full time and strength, as well as her mother's; she had scarcely a minute to think; and that was one reason, no doubt, why she went through them with such unchanged composure. They were all behind her at last. Everything was in order and readiness, down to the smallest particular; and it was with a dull sense of this that Diana went up to her room the last night before her wedding day. It was all done, and the time was all gone.
She went in slowly, went to the window, opened it and sat down before it. June had come again; one day of June was passed, and to-morrow would be the second. Through the bustle of May, Diana had hardly given a look to the weather or a thought to the time of year; it greeted her now at her window like a dear old friend that she had been forgetting. The moon, about an hour high, gave a gentle illumination through the dewy air, revealing plainly enough the level meadows, and the hills which made their distant bordering. The scent of roses and honeysuckles was abroad; just under Diana's window there was a honeysuckle vine in full blossom, and the rich, peculiar fragrance came in heavily-laden puffs of air; the softest of breezes brought them, stirring the little leaves lazily, and just touched Diana's face, sweet and tender, reminding, caressing. Reminding of what? For it began to stir vaguely and uneasily in Diana's heart. Things not thought of before put in a claim to be looked at. This her home and sanctuary for so many years, it was to be hers no longer. This was the last night at her window, by her honeysuckle vine. She would not have another evening the enjoyment of her wonted favourite view over the fields and hills; she had done with all that. Other scenes, another home, would claim her; and then slowly rose the thought that her freedom was gone; this was the last time she would belong to herself. Oddly enough, nothing of all this had come under consideration before. Diana had been stunned; she had believed for a long time that she was dead, mentally; she had been, as it were, in a slumber, partly of hopelessness, partly of preoccupation; now the time of waking had come; and the hidden life in her stirred and rose and shivered with the consciousness that it was alive and in its full strength, and what it meant for it to be alive now. As I said, Diana's nature was too sound and well-balanced and strong for anything to crush it, or even any part of it; and now she knew that the nerves of feeling she thought Evan had killed for ever, were all astir and quivering, and would never be fooled into slumbering again. I cannot tell how all this dawned and broke to her consciousness. She had sat down at her window a calm, weary-hearted girl, placid, and with even a dull sort of content upon her; so she had sat and dreamed awhile; and then June and moonlight, and her honeysuckle, and the roses, and the memory of her free childish days, and the image of her lost lover, and the thought of where she was standing, by degrees—how gently they did it, too—roused her and pricked her up to the consciousness of what she going to do. What was she going to do? Marry a man who had no real place in her heart. She had thought it did not matter; she had thought she was dead; now all at once she knew that she was alive in every fibre, and that it mattered fearfully. The idea of Mr. Masters stung her, not as novel-writers say "almost to madness,"—for there was no such irregularity in Diana's round, sound, healthy nature,—but to pain that seemed unbearable. No confusion in her brain, and no dulness now; on the contrary, an intense consciousness of all that her position involved. She had made a mistake, like many another; unlike many, she had found it out early. She was going to marry a man to whom she had no love to give; and she knew now that the life she must thenceforth lead would be daily torture. Almost the worse because she had for Mr. Masters so deep a respect and so true an appreciation. And he loved her; of that there was no question; the whole affection of the best man she had ever known was bestowed upon her, and in his hopes he saw doubtless a future when she would have learnt to return his love. "And I never shall," thought Diana. "Never, as long as I live. I wonder if I shall get to hate him because I am obliged to live with him? All the heart I have is Evan's, and will be Evan's; it don't make any difference that he was not worthy of me, as I suppose he wasn't; I have given, and I cannot take back. And now I must live with this other man!"—Diana shuddered already.
She shed no tears. Happy are they whose grief can flow; part of the oppression, at least, flows off with tears, if not part of the pain. Eyes wide open, staring out into the moonlight; a rigid face, from which the colour gradually ebbed and ebbed away, more and more; so Diana kept the watch of her bridal eve. As the moon got higher, and the world lay clearer revealed under its light, shadows grew more defined, and objects more recognisable, it seemed as if in due proportion the life before Diana's mental vision opened and displayed itself, plainer and clearer; as she saw one, she saw the other. If Diana had been a woman of the world, her strength of character would have availed to do what many a woman of the world has not the force for; she would have drawn back at the last minute and declined to fulfil her engagement. But in the sphere of Diana's experience, such a thing was unheard of. All the proprieties, all the conditions of the social life that was known to her, forbade even the thought; and the thought never came to her. She felt just as much bound, that is, as irrecoverably, as she would be twenty-four hours later. But she was like a caged wild animal. The view of the sweet moonlit country became unbearable at last, and she walked up and down her floor; she had a vague idea of tiring herself so that she could sleep. She did get tired of walking, but no sleep came; and at last she sat down again before her window to watch another change that was coming over the landscape. The moon was down, and a cool grey light, very unlike her soft glamour, was stealing into the sky and upon the world. Yes, the day was coming; the clear light of a matter-of-fact, work-a-day creation. It was coming, and she must meet it, and march on in the procession of life, which would leave no one out. If she could go alone! But she must walk by another's side now. And to that other, the light of this grey dawn, if he saw it, brought only thoughts of joy. Could she help his being disappointed? Would she be able to help his finding out what a dreadful mistake he had made, and she? "I must," thought Diana, and set her teeth mentally; "he must not know how I feel; he does not deserve that. He deserves nothing but good, of me or of anybody. I will give him all I can, and he shall not know how I do it."
With a recoil in every fibre of her nature, Diana turned to take up her life burden. She felt as if she had had none till now.
The first week of Diana's marriage was always a blank in her memory. The one continual, intense strain of effort to hide from her husband what she was thinking and feeling swallowed up everything else. Mr. Masters had procured a comfortable little light rockaway, and avoiding all public thoroughfares and conveyances, had driven off with Diana among the leafy wildernesses of the White Mountains; going where they liked and stopping where they liked. It was more endurable to Diana than any other way of spending those days could have been; the constant change and activity, and the variety of new things always claiming attention and admiration, gave her all the help circumstances could give. They offered abundance of subjects for Mr. Masters to talk about; and Diana could listen, and with a word or two now and then get along quite passably. But of all the beauty they went through, of all the glory of those June days, of all the hours of conversation that went on, Diana kept in her memory but the one fact of continual striving to hinder Mr. Masters from seeing her heart. She supposed she succeeded; she never could tell. For one other thing forced itself upon her consciousness as the days went on—a growing appreciation of this man whom she did not love. His gentleness of manner, his tender care and consideration for her, the even sweetness of temper which nothing disturbed and which would let nothing disturb her, playing with inconveniences which he could not remove; and then, beneath all that, a strength of character and steady force of will which commanded her utmost respect and drew forth her fullest confidence. It hurt Diana's conscience terribly that she had given this man a wife who, as she said to herself, was utterly unworthy of him; to make this loss good, so far as any possible service or life-work could, she would have done anything or submitted to anything. It was the one wish left her.
"What do you think of going home?" Mr. Masters asked suddenly one evening. They had come back from a glorious ramble over the nearest mountain, and were sitting after supper in front of the small farm-house where they had found lodging, looking out upon the view. Twilight was settling down upon the green hills. Diana started and repeated his word.
"Yes. I mean Pleasant Valley," said the minister, smiling. "Not the house where I first saw you. There are one or two sick people, from whom I do not feel that I can be long away."
"You always think of other people first!" said Diana, almost with a sigh.
"So do you."
"No, I do not. I do not think I do. It seems to me I have always thought most of myself."
"You can begin now, then, to do better."
"In thinking of you first, you mean? O yes, I do. I will. But you think of people you do not care for."
"No, I don't. Never. You cannot think of people you do not care for, in the way you mean. They will not come into your head."
"How can one do then, Basil? How do you do?"
"Obviously, the only way is to care for them."
"Who is sick in Pleasant Valley?"
"Nobody you know. One is an old man who lives back on the mountain; the other is a woman near Blackberry hill."
"Blackberry hill? do you go there?"
"Now and then."
"But those are dreadful people there."
"Well," said the minister, "they want help so much the more."
"Help to live, do you mean? They do stealing enough for that."
"Nobody lives by stealing," said the minister. "It is one of the ways of death; and help to live is just what they want. But 'how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher'?"
"And do you preach to them in that place?"
"But there is no church there?"
"When you have got anything to do," said the minister, with a dry sort of humourousness which belonged to him, "it is best not be stopped by trifles."
"Where do you preach, then, Basil?"
"Wherever I can find a man or a woman to listen to me."
"In the houses?" exclaimed Diana.
"Well, we never had a minister in Pleasant Valley like you before."
"I don't believe anybody ever went to those people to preach to them, until you went."
"They had a good deal of that appearance," Mr. Masters assented.
"But," Diana began again after a short pause, "to go back; Basil, you do not care for those people?"
"I think I do," said the minister very quietly.
"I suppose you do!" said Diana, in a sort of admiration. "But how can you?"
"Easy to tell," was the answer. "God made them, and God loves them; I love all that my Father loves. And Christ died for them; and I seek the lost whom my Master came to save. And there is not one of them but has in him the possibility of glory; and I see that possibility, and when I see it, Diana, it seems to me a small thing to give my life, if need be, that it may be realized."
"I am not good enough to be your wife!" said Diana, sinking her head. And her secret self-abasement was very deep.
"Does that mean, that you object to the cutting short of our holiday?" the minister asked, in his former tone of dry humourous suggestion.
"I?" said Diana, looking up and meeting his eyes. "No, certainly. I am ready for whatever you wish, and whenever you wish."
"I don't wish it at all," said the minister, giving a somewhat longing look at the green wilderness before them, of which the lovely hilly outlines were all that the gathering twilight left distinct. "But the thing is, Di, I cannot play when I ought to be working."
It made little difference to Diana. Indeed, she had a hope that in her new home she would find, as she always had found in her old home, engrossing duties that would make her part easier to get through, and in some measure put a check to the rush of thought and feeling. So with her full consent the very next day they set out upon their journey home. It was not a great journey, indeed; a long day's drive would do it; their horse was fresh, and they had time for a comfortable rest and dinner at mid-day. The afternoon was very fair, and as they began to get among the hills overlooking Pleasant Valley, something in air or light reminded Diana of the time, two years ago, when she had gone up the brook with Evan. She began to talk to get rid of her thoughts.
"What a nice, comfortable little carriage this is, Basil! Where did it come from?"
"From Boston! I thought there was nothing like it in Pleasant Valley, that ever I saw. But how did you get it from Boston?"
"Where's the difficulty?" said the minister, sitting at ease sideways on the front seat and looking in at her. He had put Diana on the back seat, that she might take a more resting position than there was room for beside him.
"Why, it's so far."
"Railway comes to Manchester. I received it there, and that is only ten miles. I rode Saladin over a few days ago, and drove him back. I had ordered the set of harness sent with the rockaway. Ecco!"
"Echo?" said Diana. "Where?"
"A very sweet echo," said the minister, smiling. "Didn't you hear it?"
"No. But Basil, do you mean that this carriage is yours?"
"No; it is yours."
"Mine! then you have bought it! Didn't it cost a great deal?"
"I thought not. If you like it, certainly not."
"O, Basil, you are very good!" said Diana humbly. "But indeed I do not want you to go to any expense, ever, for me."
"I am not a poor man, Diana."
"Aren't you? I thought you were."
"What right had you to think anything about it?"
"I thought ministers were always poor."
"I am an exception, then."
"And—Basil—you never acted like a rich man."
"I am not going to, Di. Do you want to act like a rich woman?"
Spite of her desperate downheartedness, Diana could not help laughing a little at his manner.
"I do not wish anything different from you," she answered.
"It is best for every reason, if you would use money to advantage in a place like this, not to make a show of it. And in other places, if you would use it to advantage, you cannot make a show of it. So it comes to the same thing. But short of that, Di, we can do what we like."
"I know what you like,"—she said.
"I shall find out what you like. In the first place, where do you think you are going?"
"Where? I never thought about it. I suppose to Mrs. Persimmon's."
"I don't think you would like that. The place was not exactly pleasant; and the house accommodations did very well for me, but would not have been comfortable for you. So I have set up housekeeping in another locality. Do you know where a woman named Cophetua lives?"
"I never heard of her."
"Out of your beat. She lives a little off the road to the Blackberry Hill. I have taken her house, and put a woman in it to do whatever you want done."
"I? But we never kept help, since I can remember, Basil; not house help."
"Well? That proves nothing."
"But I don't need anybody—I can do all that we want."
"You will find enough to do."
Mr. Masters quickened the pace of his horse, and Diana sat back in the carriage, half dismayed. She longed to lose herself in work, and she wished for nothing less than eyes to watch her.
It was almost evening when they got home. The place was, as Mr. Masters had said, out of what had been Diana's way hitherto; in a part of Pleasant Valley which was at one side of the high road. The situation was very pretty, overlooking a wide sweep of the valley bottom, with its rich cultivation and its encircling border of green wooded hills. As to the house, it was not distinguished in any way beyond its compeers. It was rather low; it was as brown as Mrs. Starling's house; it had no giant elms to hang over it and veil its uncomelinesses. But just behind it rose a green hill; the house, indeed, stood on the lower slope of the hill, which fell off more gently towards the bottom; behind the house it lifted up a very steep, rocky wall, yet not so steep but that it was grown with beautiful forest trees. Set off against its background of wood and hill, the house looked rather cosy. It had been put in nice order, and even the little plot of ground in front had been cleared of thistles and hollyhocks, which had held a divided reign, and trimmed into neatness, though there had not been time yet for grass or flowers to grow.
Within the house about this time, at one of the two lower front windows, a little woman stood looking out and speculating on the extreme solitariness of the situation. She had nobody to communicate her sentiments to, or she could have been eloquent on the subject. The golden glow and shimmer of the setting sun all over the wide landscape, it may be said with truth, she did not see; to her it was nothing but "sunshine," a natural and necessary accessory of the sun's presence, when clouds did not happen to come over the sky. I think she really saw nothing but the extreme emptiness of the picture before her; just that one fact, that there was nothing to see. Therefore it was on various accounts an event when the rockaway hove in sight, and the grey horse stopped before the gate. It did not occur to Miss Collins then to go out to the carriage to receive bundles or baskets or render help generally; she had got something to look at, and she looked. Only when the minister, having tied Saladin's head, came leading the way through the little courtyard to the front door, did it occur to his "help" to open the same. There she stood, smiling the blankest of smiles, which made Diana want to get rid of her on the instant.
"Well, of all things!" was her salutation uttered in a high key. "If it ain't you! I never was so beat. Why, I didn't look for ye this long spell yet."
"Won't you let us come in, Miss Collins, seeing we are here?"
"La! I'm glad to see ye, fust-rate," was the answer as she stepped back; and stepping further back as Mr. Masters advanced, at last she pushed open the door of her kitchen, which was the front room on that side, and backed in, followed by the minister and, at a little interval, by his wife. Miss Collins went on talking. "How do, Mis' Masters? I speck I can't be under no mistake as to the personality, though I hain't had the pleasure o' a introduction. But I thought honeymoon folks allays make it last as long as they could?" she went on, turning her eyes from Diana to the minister again; "and you hain't been no time at all."
"What have you got in the house, Miss Collins? anything for supper? I am hungry," said the latter.
"Wall—happiness makes some folks hungry,—and some, they say, it feeds 'em," Miss Collins returned. "Folks is so unlike! But if you're hungry, Mr. Masters, you'll have to have sun'thin."
Leaving her to prepare it, with a laughing twinkle in his eye the minister led Diana out of that room and along a short passage to another door. The passage was very narrow, the ceiling was low, the walls whitewashed, the wainscotting blue; and yet the room which they entered, though sharing in all the items of this description, was homely and comfortable. It was furnished in a way that made it seem elegant to Diana. A warm-coloured dark carpet on the floor, two or three easy-chairs, a wide lounge covered with chintz, and chintz curtains at the windows. On the walls here and there single shelves of dark wood put up for books, and filled with them; a pretty lamp on the little leaf table, and a wide fireplace with bright brass andirons. The windows looked out upon the wooded mountain-side. Diana uttered an exclamation of surprise and admiration.
"This is your room, Di," said the minister. "The kitchen has the view: I did think of changing about and making the kitchen here: but the other room has so long been used in that way, I was afraid it would be a bad exchange. However, we will do it yet, if you like."
"Change? why, this room is beautiful!" cried Diana.
"Looks out into the hill."
"O, I like that."
"Don't make it a principle to like everything I do," said he, smiling.
"But I do like it, Basil; I like it better than the other side," said Diana. "I just love the trees and the rocks. And you can hear the birds sing. And the room is most beautiful."
Mr. Masters had opened the windows, and there came in a spicy breath from the woods, together with the wild warble of a wood-thrush. It was so wild and sweet, they both were still to listen. The notes almost broke Diana's heart, but she would not show that.
"What do you think that bird is saying?" she asked.
"I don't know what it may be to his mind; I know what it to mine. Pray, what does it say to yours?"
"It is too plaintive for the bird to know what it means," said Diana.
"Probably. I have no doubt the ancients were right when they felt certain animals to be types of good and others of evil. I think it is true, in detail and variety. I have the same feeling. And in like manner, carrying out the principle, I hear one bird say one thing and another another, in their countless varieties of song."
"Did the ancients think that?"
"Don't you remember the distinction between clean beasts and unclean?"
"I thought that was ordered."
"It was ordered to be observed. The distinction was felt before."
They were again silent a moment, while the thrush's song filled the air with liquid rejoicing.
"That bird," said Diana slowly, "sings as if he had got somewhere above all the sins and troubles and fights of life; I mean, as if he were a human being who had got there."
"That will do," said the minister.
"But that's impossible; so why should he sing it?"
"Take it the other way," said the minister, smiling.
"You mean"—said Diana, looking up, for she had sat down before the open window, and he stood by her side;—"you mean, he would not sing a false note?"
"Nor God make a promise he would not fulfil. Come up-stairs."
"But, Basil!—how could the bird's song be a promise from God?"
"Think;—he gave the song, Diana. As has been said of visible things in nature, so it may be said of audible things,—every one of them is the expression of a thought of God."
He did not wait for an answer, and Diana's mind was too full to give one. Up-stairs they went. The room over Diana's was arranged to be Mr. Masters' study; the other, above the kitchen, looked out upon a glorious view of the rich valley and its encompassing hills; both were exceedingly neat and pretty in their furniture and arrangements, in all of which Diana's comfort had been sedulously cared for. Her husband showed her the closet for her boxes, and opened the huge press prepared for her clothes; and taking off her bonnet, welcomed her tenderly home. But it seemed to Diana as if everything stifled her, and she would have liked to flee to the hills, like the wild creatures that had their home there. Her outward demeanour, for all that, was dignified and sweet. Whatever she felt, she would not give pain.
"You are too good to me," she murmured. "I will be as good as I can, Basil, to you."
"I know it," said he.
"And I think I had better begin," she presently added more lightly, "by going down and seeing how Miss Collins and supper are getting on."
"I daresay they will get on to some sort of consummation."
"It will be a better consummation, if you let me go."
Perhaps he divined something of her feeling, for he made no objection, and Diana escaped; with a sense that her only refuge was in action. To do something, no matter what, and stop thinking. Yet, when she went down-stairs, she went first to the back room and to the open window, to see if she could catch the note of the thrush once more. It came to her like a voice from the other world. He was still singing; somewhere up amid the cool shades of the hemlocks and oaks on the hill, from out the dusky twilight of their tops; sending his tremulous trills of triumph down the hillside, he was undoubtedly having a good time. Diana listened a minute, and then went to the kitchen. Miss Collins was standing in front of the fire contemplating it, or the kettle she had hung over it.
"Where is Mr. Masters' supper?" Diana began.
"Don't you take none?" was the rejoinder.
"I mean, what can we have?"
"You can have all there is. And there ain't nothin' in the house but what's no 'count. If I'd ha' knowed—honeymoon folks wants sun'thin' tip-top, been livin' on the fat o' the land, I expect; and now ye're come home to pork; and that's the hull on't."
"Pork will do," said Diana, "if it is good. Have you no ham?"
"Lots. That's pork, ain't it?"
"Yes, there's eggs."
"La, I didn't expect ye'd want potatoes at this time o' day."
Diana informed herself of the places of things, and set herself and Miss Collins vigorously to work. The handmaid looked on somewhat ungraciously at the quiet, competent energy of her superior, the smile on her broad mouth gradually fading.
"Reckon you don't know me," she remarked presently.
"Yes, I do," said Diana; "you are Jemima Collins, that used to live at the post office. How came you here?"
"Wall, there's nothin' but changes in the world, I expect; that's my life. Mis' Reems, to the post office, had her mother come home to live with her; owin' to her father gettin' his arm took off in some 'chinery, which was the death o' him; so the mother come home to her daughter, and then they made it out as they two was equal to all there was to do; and I don't say they warn't; but that was reason enough why they didn't want me no longer. And then I stayed with Miss Gunn a spell, helpin' her get her house cleaned; and then the minister made out as he wanted a real 'sponsible person for to take care o' his house, and Miss Gunn she told him what she knowed about me; and so I moved in. La, it's a change from the post office! It was sort o' lively there; allays comin' and goin', and lots o' news."
Diana made no answer. The very mention of the post office gave her a sort of pang; about that spot her hopes had hovered for so long, and with such bitter disillusionising. She sent Miss Collins to set the table in the other room, and presently, having finished her cookery, followed with it herself.
SUPPER AT HOME.
The windows were open still, and the dusky air without was full of cool freshness. In the wide fireplace the minister had kindled a fire; and in a little blue teapot he was just making the tea; the kettle stood on the hearth. It was as pretty and cheerful a home view as any bride need wish to see for the first evening in her new house. Diana knew it, and took the effect, which possibly was only heightened by the consciousness that she wished herself five hundred miles away. What the picture was to her husband she had no idea, nor that the crowning feature of it was her own beautiful, sweet presence. Miss Collins brought in the prepared dishes, and left the two alone.
"I see I have fallen into new hands," the minister remarked presently. "Mrs. Persimmon never cooked these eggs."
"You must have been tired of living in that way, I should think."
"No,—I never get tired of anything."
"Not of bad things?"
"No. I get rid of them."
"But how can you?"
"Can you do everything you want to, Basil?" his wife asked, with an incredulous sort of admiration.
"I'll do everything you want me to do."
"You have already,—and more," she said with a sigh.
"How will your helpmeet in the other room answer the purpose?"
"I have never been used to have anybody, you know, Basil; and I do not need any one. I can do all easily myself."
"I know you can. I do not wish you should."
"Then what will you give me to do?"
"I don't care what—if I can only be busy. I cannot bear to be idle. What shall I do, Basil?"
"Is there nothing you would like to study, that you have never had a chance to learn?"
"Learn?" said Diana, a whole vista of possible new activities opening all at once before her mind's eye;—"O yes! I would like to learn—to study. What, Basil?"
"What would you like to take hold of?"
"I would like—Latin."
"Latin!" cried the minister. "That's an excellent choice. Greek too?"
"I would like to learn Greek, very much. But I suppose I must begin with one at once."
"How about modern languages?"
"You know," said Diana shyly,—"I can have no teacher but you."
"And you stand in doubt as to my qualifications? Prudent!"
"I will learn anything you like to teach me," said Diana; and her look was both very sweet and very humble; withal had something of an anxious strain in it.
"Then there's another thing; don't you want to help me?"
"In my work."
"How can I?"
"I don't believe you know what my work is," said the minister dryly. "Do you, now?"
"I thought I did," said Diana.
"Preaching sermons, to wit!" said the minister. "But that is only one item. My business is to work in my Master's vineyard."
"Yes, and I thought that was how you did it."
"But a man may preach many sermons, and do never a bit of work,—of the sort I mentioned."
"What is the sort, then, Basil?"
"I'll show you when we get away from the table. It is time you knew."
So, when the supper tray and Miss Collins were gone, the minister took his Bible and made Diana sit down beside him where they could both look over it.
"Your notion of a minister is, that he is a sort of machine to make sermons?"
"I never thought you were a machine, of any sort," said Diana gently.
"No, of course not; but you thought that was my special business, didn't you? Now look here.—'Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me.'"
"A watchman"—Diana repeated.
"It is a responsible post, too, for see over here,—'If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.'"
"Do you mean, Basil"—
"Yes, I mean all that. You can understand now what was in Paul's mind, and what a great word it was, when he said to the Ephesian elders, 'I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.' He had done his whole duty in that place!"
"I never felt that old Mr. Hardenburgh warned us against anything," Diana remarked.
"You began to make me uncomfortable almost as soon as you came."
"That's good," said the minister quietly. "Now see these words, Diana,—'Go ye into all the world, and tell the good news to everybody.'"
"'Preach the gospel'"—said Diana.
"That is simply, telling the good news."
"But, Basil, it never seemed so."
"There was a reason for that. 'As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.' You were not thirsty, that is all."
"Basil," said Diana, almost tremulously, "I think I am now."
"Well," said her husband tenderly, "you know who could say, and did say, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink.' 'I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.'"
That bringing together of need and supply, while yet Need does not see how it is to stretch out its hand to take the supply—how sharp and how pitiful it makes the sense of longing! Diana drooped her head till it touched Basil's arm; it seemed to her that her heart would fairly break.
"But that doesn't mean"—she said, bringing out her words with hesitation and difficulty,—"that does not mean hunger of every sort?"
"Of earthly sorts, Basil? how can it? people's desires for so many things?"
"Is there any limit or qualification to the promise?"
"N-o; not there."
"Is there anywhere else?"
Diana was silent.
"There is none anywhere, except the limit put by the faith of the applicant. I have known a person starving to death, relieved for the time even from the pangs of bodily hunger by the food which Christ gave her. There is no condition of human extremity for which he is not sufficient."
"But," said Diana, still speaking with difficulty, "that is for some people."
"For some people—and for everybody else."
"But—he would not like to have anybody go to him just for such a reason."
"He will never ask why you came, if you come. He was in this world to relieve misery, and to save from it. 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,' is his own word. He will help you if you will let him, Diana."
Diana's head pressed more heavily against Basil's arm; the temptation was to break out into wild weeping at this contact of sympathy, but she would not. Did her husband guess how much she was in want of help? That thought half frightened her. Presently she raised her head and sat up.
"Here is another verse," said her husband, "which tells of a part of my work. 'Go ye into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.'"
"I don't understand"—
"'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son,'—it means rather a wedding entertainment."
"The Bridegroom is Christ. The bride is the whole company of his redeemed. The time is by and by, when they shall be all gathered together, all washed from defilement, all dressed in the white robes of the king's court which are given them, and delivered from the last shadow of mortal sorrow and infirmity. Then in glory begins their perfected, everlasting union with Christ; then the wedding is celebrated; and the supper signifies the fulness and communion of his joy in them and their joy in him."
Basil's voice was a little subdued as he spoke the last words, and he paused a few minutes.
"It is my business to bid people to that supper," he said then; "and I bid you, Di."
"I will go, Basil."
But the words were low and the tears burst forth, and Diana hurried away.
THE MINISTER'S WIFE.
Diana plunged herself now into business. She was quite in earnest in the promise she had made at the end of the conversation last recorded; but to set about a work is one thing and to carry it through is another; and Diana did not immediately see light. In the meanwhile, the pressure of the bonds of her new existence was only to be borne by forgetting it in intense occupation. Her husband wanted her to study many things; for her own sake and for his own sake he wished it, knowing that her education had been exceedingly one-sided and imperfect; he wanted all sources of growth and pleasure to be open to her, and he wanted full communion with his wife in his own life and life-work. So he took her hands from the frying-pan and the preserving kettle, and put dictionaries and philosophies into them. On her part, besides the negative incitement of losing herself and her troubles in books, Diana's mental nature was too sound and rich not to take kindly the new seeds dropped into the soil. She had gone just far enough in her own private reading and thinking to be all ready to spring forward in the wider sphere to which she was invited, and in which a hand took hers to help her along. The consciousness of awakening power, too, and of enlarging the bounds of her world, drew her on. Sometimes in Basil's study, where he had arranged a place for her, sometimes down-stairs in her own little parlour, Diana pored over books and turned the leaves of dictionaries; and felt her way along the mazes of Latin stateliness, or wondered and thrilled at the beauty of the Greek words of the New Testament as her husband explained them to her. Or she wrought out problems; or she wrote abstracts; or she dived into depths of philosophical speculation. Then Diana began to learn French, and very soon was delighting herself in one or other of a fine collection of French classics which filled certain shelves in the library. There was, besides all the motives above mentioned which quickened and stimulated her zeal for learning, another very subtle underlying cause which had not a little to do with her unflagging energy in pursuit of her objects. Nay, there were two. Diana did earnestly wish to please her husband, and for his sake to become, so far as cultivation would do it, a fit companion for him. That she knew. But she scarcely knew, how beneath all that, and mightier than all that, was the impulse to make herself worthy of the other man whose companion now she would never be. Subtle, as so many of our springs of action are, unrecognised, it drove her with an incessant impulse. To be such a woman as Evan would have been proud of; such a one as he would have liked to stand by his side anywhere; one that he need not have feared to present in any society. Diana strove for it, and that although Evan would never know it, and it did not in the least concern him. And as she felt from time to time that she was attaining her end and coming nearer and nearer to what she wished to be, Diana was glad with a secret joy, which was not the love of knowledge, nor the pride of personal ambition, nor the duty of an affectionate wife. As I said, she did not recognise it; if she had, I think she would have tried to banish it.
One afternoon she was sitting by her table at the study window, where she had been very busy, but was not busy now. The window was open; the warm summer air came in, and over the hills and the lowland the brilliance and glow of the evening sunlight was just at its brightest. Diana sat gazing out, while her thoughts went wandering. Suddenly she pulled them up; and her question was rather a departure, though standing in a certain negative connection with them.
"Basil, I can't make out just what faith is."
"No. Can you help me? The Bible says, 'believe,' 'believe.' I believe. I believe everything it tells me, and you tell me; but I have not faith."
"How do you know that?"
"If I had, I should be a Christian."
"And you think you are not?"
"I am sure I am not."
"Are you willing?"
"I think—I am willing," Diana answered slowly, looking out into the sunlight.
"If you are right, then faith must be something more than mere belief."
"What more is it?" she said eagerly, turning her face towards him now.
"I think the heart has its part in it as well as the head, and it is with the heart that the difficulty lies. In true Bible faith, the heart gives its confidence where the intellect has given its assent. 'With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.' That is what the Lord wants;—our personal trust in him; unreserved and limitless trust."
"Trust?" said Diana. "Then why cannot I give it? why don't I?"
"That is the question to be answered. But, Di, the heart cannot yield that confident trust, so long as there is any point in dispute between it and God; so long as there is any consciousness of holding back something from him or refusing something to him. Disobedience and trust cannot go together. It is not the child who is standing out in rebellion who can stretch out his hand for his father's gifts, and know that they will be given."
"Do you think I am rebelling, Basil?"
"I cannot see into your heart, Di."
"What could I be 'holding back' from God?"
"Surrender of what?"
"Yourself—your will. When you have made that surrender, there will be no difficulty about trusting. There never is."
Diana turned to the window again, and leaning her head on her hand, sat motionless for a long time. Sunlight left the bottom lands and crept up the hills and faded out of the sky. Dusk and dews of twilight fell all around, and the dusk deepened till the stars began to shine out here and there. Sweet summer scents came in on the dew-freshened air; sweet chirrup of insects made their gentle running commentary on the silence; Miss Collins had long ago caused the little bell with which she was wont to notify her employers that their meals were ready, to sound its tinkling call to supper; but Diana had not heard it, and the minister would not disturb her. It was after a very long time of this silence that she rose, came to the table where he was sitting, and knelt down beside it.
"I believe," she said. "And I trust, Basil."
He took her hand, but said nothing otherwise. He could not see her face, for she had laid it down upon some books, and besides the room was very dusky now. But when he expected some further words which should tell of relief or joy, to his surprise he felt that Diana was weeping, and then that her tears had grown into a storm. Most strange for her, who very rarely let him or anyone see the outbursts of such feeling; indeed, even by herself she was very slow to come to the indulgence of tears. It was not her way. Now, before she was aware, they were flowing; and as it is with some natures, if you open the sluice-gates at all, a flood pours forth which makes it impossible to shut them again for a while. And this time I think she forgot that anybody was by. He was puzzled. Was it joy or sorrow? Hard for herself to tell, there was so much of both in it. For, with the very first finding of a sufficient refuge and help for her trouble, Diana had brought her burden to his feet, and there was weeping convulsively; partly from the sense of the burden, partly with the sense of laying it down, and with the might of that infinite sympathy the apprehension of which was beginning to dawn upon her now for the first time. What is it like? O, what is it like! It is the "Dayspring from on high." Basil could not read all she was feeling and spell it out. But I think he had a sort of instinct of it, and felt that his wife was very far from him, in this her agony of joy and sorrow; for he kept motionless, and his broad brow, which never was wrinkled, was very grave. One hand he laid lightly upon Diana's shoulder, as if so to remind her of his presence and close participation in all that concerned her; otherwise he did not interrupt her nor make any claim upon her attention.
Gradually Diana's sobs ceased; and then she grew utterly still; and the two sat so together, for neither of them knew how long. At last Diana raised her head.
"You have had no supper all this while!" she said.
"I have had something much better," said he, gently kissing her cheek.
"To see me cry?" said Diana. "I don't know why I cried."
"I think I do. Don't you feel better for it?"
"Yes. Or else, for that which made me do so. Come down, Basil."
At tea she was perfectly herself and quite as usual, except for the different expression in her face. It was hardly less grave than before, but something dark had gone out and something light had come in.
"I can face the Sewing Society now," she remarked towards the end of the meal.
"The Sewing Society!" her husband echoed. "Is that much to face?"
"I have not been once since I was married. And they make so much fuss about it, I must go now. They meet to-morrow at mother's."
"What do they sew?"
"They pretend to be making up a box for some missionary out west."
"I guess there is no pretence about it."
"Yes, there is. They have been eight months at work upon a box to go to Iowa somewhere, to a family very much in want of everything; and the children and mother are almost, or quite, I guess, in rags, and the ladies here are comfortably doing a little once a week, and don't even expect to have the box made up till Christmas time. Think of the people in Iowa waiting and waiting, with hardly anything to put on, while we meet once a week and sew a little, and talk, and have supper."
"How would you manage it?"
"I would send off the box next week, Basil."
"So would I. Suppose now we do?"
"Send off a box?"
"Yes. I will give you the money;—you can go—I will drive you—down to Gunn's, and you can get there whatever you think would be suitable, and we will have the fun to ourselves."
The colour flushed into Diana's face; it was the first flush of pleasure that had come there in a long while.
"You are very good, Basil!" she said. "Don't you think I could drive Saladin?"
"Anywhere. I mean, that I could go to places then without troubling you to drive me."
"I can stand so much trouble. It is not good for a man to live too easy."
"But it might be convenient for you sometimes."
"So it might, and pleasant for you. No, I should not like to trust you to Saladin. I wonder if your mother would let me have Prince, if I offer her a better horse in exchange. Perhaps I can do better than that. We will see."
"O, Basil, you must not get another horse for me!"
"I will get anything I like for you."
"But do you mean, and keep Saladin too?"
"I mean that. Saladin is necessary to me."
"Then don't, Basil. I can tell you, people will say you are extravagant if you have two horses."
"I cannot help people talking scandal."
"No; but it will hurt your influence."
"Well, we will feel the pulse of the public to-morrow. But I think they would stand it."
They drove down to Mrs. Starling's the next day. Mr. Masters had other business, and must go farther. Diana went in alone. She was early, for she had come to help her mother make the preparations; and at first these engrossed them both.