"IF I WERE ONLY LIKE YOU!"
Who, seeking for himself alone, ever entered heaven? In blessing we are blest. —C. SEYMOUR.
There is no separation—no Past; Eternity, the Now is continuous.... The continuity of Now is for ever. —RICHARD JEFFERIES.
The party from the Crow's Nest were somewhat late in arriving the following evening. Verity made her excuses very prettily.
"It was all darling Babs's fault," she said to Miss Templeton; "she would play instead of going to sleep. Mr. Herrick lost patience at last, and declared he would go on alone."
"I must take my god-daughter in hand, or she will be ruined body and soul," observed Malcolm severely. "Babs is already a domestic tyrant, and screams the house down if any of her fads and fancies are resisted. I am thinking of writing a series of essays on degenerate and irresponsible parents, and the cruelty of modern education in the nursery, which out-Herods Herod." Of course they all laughed at this idea, and then David Carlyon crossed the room to shake hands with Malcolm and to introduce his father.
The two men were curiously alike. The Rev. Rupert Carlyon was an older, shabbier, and more careworn David; but there was the same broad, intellectual brow, the same bright intelligence of expression, and their voices were so strangely similar that if Malcolm had closed his eyes he could not have distinguished between them; they both spoke with the same quickness, and in the same clipping fashion.
Malcolm noticed before the evening was over that David Carlyon looked unusually pale and tired, though he seemed in excellent spirits. Dinah made the same remark to his father.
"Oh, I have been giving that boy of mine a lecture," he said quickly; "he is a perfect spendthrift and prodigal with regard to the midnight oil, and burns both ends of his candle in the most reckless fashion."
"I should not have thought a sleepy little place like Rotherwood would have overtaxed his energies," observed Malcolm in rather a surprised tone.
The elder man shook his head.
"There is always work enough if one looks for it. My son is a sort of medical missionary in his way, and concerns himself with the bodies as well as the souls of his people. The last two nights he has been up until nearly dawn with a stranger—a sort of commercial traveller who has been taken ill at 'The Plough.' It is a sad case: he is quite a young man, and our doctor fears that he will not pull through." But Mr. Carlyon forbore to state the fact that each night he had relieved his son, rising from his bed in the gray pearly dawn, before the first bird-twitter was heard, to take his watch beside the fever-stricken stranger. The Carlyons were men whose left hand did not know what their right hand did, and the Rev. Rupert Carlyon's ministry had been a record of humble, unobtrusive acts of good-will and kindness to man, woman, and child; nay, the very dumb animals knew their friend, and would come to him for protection.
The Carlyons took their leave soon after this. Elizabeth walked down to the gate with them. Malcolm thought she looked rather grave when she returned, as though something troubled her, but she would not hear of the party breaking up, and promised Malcolm that she would sing all his favourite songs to his friends, and she kept her word. Malcolm sat in a trance of beatitude while the beautiful voice floated out into the darkness, startling some night-bird in the copse; and Verity's eyes were wet, and she stole closer to her husband, for it seemed to her as though the shadows from the old life were creeping round her; and unseen by any one but Dinah, she leant her cheek against Amias's hand.
"Oh, how can you sing like that!" exclaimed Verity in her naive way, when Elizabeth joined them on the terrace. "You sing right down into people's hearts. Oh, I felt so sad, and then so happy, and the world did not seem wide enough to contain me."
"You must not flatter me," returned Elizabeth, but she was evidently gratified. Then she turned her head to Malcolm, who was behind her, and said in an undertone, "You were quite right, the Jacobis are coming to our party. I have sent them a card this afternoon."
"I hope Miss Templeton approved of my suggestion?"
"Yes, she thought with you that it would be an excellent opportunity of taking stock of the enemy. And Cedric was so pleased. Mr. Herrick," she continued, as they walked down the terrace, "I must tell you that we are charmed with Mrs. Keston. She is a dear little thing, and so fascinating and original, and she looks really pretty to-night."
"No, she is not pretty," returned Malcolm, "but her dress becomes her. We call it Keston's chef d'oeuvre. He always designs her gowns. He is very aesthetic in his tastes, and he knows exactly what suits her. If Verity were left to her own devices, she would be very crude and unfinished."
"He is very proud of her," observed Elizabeth. "It is good to see two such happy people. We like them immensely, and shall hope to see a great deal of them;" and Malcolm was so elated by these encomiums on his friends, and by Elizabeth's gracious friendliness, that he actually suggested that she should walk down the drive with them; but to his secret chagrin she made some excuse.
Half an hour later she entered her sister's room. Dinah was reading as usual, with her little green lamp beside her; but she closed her book and looked up at her inquiringly.
"What is it, Betty?" she said gently. "Something has been troubling you to-night." Then Elizabeth turned aside her face for a moment, but she was not regarding herself in the great mirror. "It concerns David," continued Dinah calmly. Then Elizabeth gave vent to a heavy sigh.
"Yes, it concerns David," she returned. "I have been talking to him, oh so seriously, and to his father too; but it is no use. They will let me do nothing to help them. I wanted to send in a night nurse, but they will have it that it is not necessary. Old Mrs. Roper takes care of the patient by day, and it is only the night."
"But, Betty dear, surely David Carlyon is not going there again to-night?"
"Indeed he is," very sadly. "I heard them arranging it this afternoon. Mr. Carlyon is to relieve him at three. He was so tired that he could scarcely eat his dinner, and he told me that he dared not stay for the music, as I should certainly sing him to sleep. Die," in rather a choked voice, "it is not right. He will kill himself if he goes on like this."
It was evident that Elizabeth was in a depressed mood; perhaps she was tired too. Dinah, who knew her well, quite understood her.
"Don't worry, Betty," she said kindly. "David Carlyon is young enough and strong enough to bear the loss of a few nights' rest, and the fever is not infectious. By all accounts the poor fellow cannot last many days. Tomorrow I will go over to the White Cottage and talk to them both. I shall tell David that he has no right to let his father work so hard during his holiday."
"Tell him we know such a nice woman, Die," and Dinah promised that she would do her very best. But Elizabeth had not wholly eased her mind; she stood looking at her sister rather doubtfully, and then she said abruptly—
"Die, there is something I want to ask you. You heard from Douglas Fraser this morning, did you not?" Then a faint colour came to Dinah's pale cheeks.
"Were you afraid to ask me that before, my dear?" she said with a smile. "But it was my fault; I ought to have told you—this sort of question is not easy even for a sister to ask. Yes, Douglas wrote and Agnes too. Dear little Lettice is so much better. He thinks she will pull through now, thank God! but they nearly lost her."
"Was it so bad as that, Die?" in an awed tone.
"Yes, it has been a terrible illness. They have nurses, of course, but poor Agnes is almost worn out. She is their only girl, and Douglas does so doat on her. He has suffered so—one can read it in every word," and Dinah's voice shook a little.
Perhaps it needed only that to bring Elizabeth's emotion to a culminating point, for to Dinah's surprise she suddenly knelt down and put her arms round her and the tears were running down her face.
"Oh, Die, stop! I cannot bear to hear you—it pains me so—it pains me all over!"
"My darling Bet! Oh, you foolish, foolish Betty!" But Elizabeth was not to be soothed so easily.
"That is why I never mention his name. I try to pretend sometimes that I do not see his handwriting. Oh, Die," caressing her, "how can any woman be such an angel! It is not natural. In your place, under your circumstances, I would never have seen him again."
"Dear Elizabeth," returned Dinah quietly, but her face had grown very white, "you must surely remember that we never met—never thought of meeting—until dear Agnes herself brought us together. Don't you recollect how sweetly she wrote and begged me to be their friend. She said that it would make him happier, and herself too—that she never wished him to forget me; that it was through my influence that he had been brought right and that they were no longer divided in faith. Oh, Betty, I was a happy woman the day I got that letter, and I have been a happy woman since. 'Through pain to peace,'" she went on softly, "I should like those words to be inscribed on my tombstone. To think of the terror and the struggle, the buffeting of all those cruel waves and billows, and then to see land at last! Dearest, how you cry! You will make me cry too, and I have been singing a Te Deum in my heart all day for dear Lettice's sake." Then Elizabeth tried to control her sobs.
"Die, I am quite ashamed of myself. I cannot think what has come to me. Think of a woman of thirty blubbering like a little school-girl! It is not like me, is it, dear? but my heart feels as heavy as lead to-night. Things are going wrong somehow, or is it my fancy?" And then she said a little wildly, "Oh, my darling, if I were only like you!"
"Like me! Oh no, Elizabeth," for Dinah's humility could ill brook this speech.
"But it is no use—I could never reach you. I am so human—a passionate, self-willed woman, who wants her own way in everything; and you, oh, Die, you are miles above me. That is why I love you so—I love you so!"
"Not more than I love you," returned her sister tenderly. "Dear Elizabeth, it is only your generosity that makes you say this, but it is not true. I wish I knew what has upset you so to-night." But Elizabeth made no reply to this; the friendship between the sisters was so perfect that speech did not always seem necessary. When Elizabeth remained silent, Dinah did not repeat her question.
Elizabeth had seated herself on the cushioned window-seat close to Dinah's chair. The little green lamp had been extinguished, and the room was bathed in moon-light. Down below were the dark woodlands. "Let me stay for a little while," Elizabeth had whispered, and then they had both remained silent.
Dinah felt perplexed and troubled by her sister's unusual emotion. Elizabeth's strong, healthy nature was never morbid; her temperament was even and sunshiny, and a depressed mood was a rare thing with her.
Dinah's sweet serenity was vaguely disturbed, and the quiet tears gathered in her eyes. Silence was good for both of them, she thought. When one has lived through a great pain, and by God's grace has conquered, it is better to bury the dead past. Elizabeth's passionate incredulity, the difficulty she felt in understanding her sister's motives, her exaggerated praise, made Dinah wince in positive pain. How could human love misjudge her so! Did not even her nearest and dearest—her own sister-friend—know how often she had striven and failed and fainted under that hard cross that had been laid upon her?
And in truth few women had suffered as Dinah had in the sweet blossom of her early womanhood, and more than once she had been very near the gates of the dark valley whose shadow is the shadow of death.
How she had gloried in her lover—her "Douglas—Douglas, tender and true," as she had called him to herself—in his great intellect and his strong man's heart, in the plan and purpose of his life, with its scientific research and its passionate love of truth!
And then that awful struggle between her affection and her sense of right, the doubts and terrors, the wakeful nights and joyless days, the vast blank of life that stretched before her poor eyes, half-blind with their woman's weeping.
"O Galilaean, Thou hast conquered," were the words that came to her when the crucial test had been passed, and she had parted with her beloved.
Those were sad days at the Wood House, and there were sadder days still at Rome; but she lived through them, and Elizabeth helped her; and so by and bye the light of a new dawn—a little gray and misty perhaps, but still dawn—opened before Dinah's tired eyes.
"I loved much and I prayed much, and God answered my prayers," she said long afterwards.
But the wound was wide and deep and healed slowly, and it was not until Douglas Fraser had married a noble-hearted and beautiful woman, whom he called his Lady of Consolation, that Dinah recovered a measure of her former cheerfulness. But the day she heard that he was no longer an agnostic was always kept by her as a festival. Then indeed the cup of her pure joy seemed full to the very brim.
He had come right, and now all was well with him and with her too. Pain and loss had been his teachers, and great indeed was her reward.
"It was your renunciation and sacrifice that first opened my eyes," he wrote. "I know now how rightly you acted. If I had married you then—if my entreaties had prevailed—I should never have made you happy. My dear Agnes has taught me this." And this cherished letter was Dinah's treasure.
She and Dr. Fraser seldom met—not more than once a year—but from time to time he wrote to her, and his wife and children were very dear to her.
"I cannot understand it," Elizabeth had more than once said. But Dinah could furnish no explanation: she only knew that it was so—that her life was a happy one, and that she asked for nothing more.
Douglas and his wife were her dearest friends, and Lettice, her sweet god-daughter, ranked next to Cedric in her heart.
With so many to love, how could life fail to satisfy her! "And it so short—so short," she would say to herself. "One sees so little of one's friends here; but one will have plenty of time to enjoy them in Paradise."
Continuity of life—continuity of love, this was Dinah's simple creed, but it kept her young and happy.
"Dinah has the secret of perpetual youth," Elizabeth would say to her friend Mrs. Godfrey; but she generally ended with a sigh, "If only I were like her!"
"TWO MAIDEN LADIES OF UNCERTAIN AGE"
How poor a thing is man! Alas, 'tis true; I'd half forget it when I chanced on you! —SCHILLER.
Thy clothes are all the soul thou hast. —BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
The day of the Templeton's garden fete was as bright and cloudless as the heart of man or woman could desire. Verity, who had dressed herself at an unconscionably early hour, sat at an upper window with Babs in her arms, watching brakes and carriages drive past, filled with gaily attired people. Malcolm had issued his sovereign mandate that they must not be amongst the earliest arrivals, and Verity panted with impatience long before she could induce her household tyrants to lay aside pipe and cigarette.
Malcolm was not in a festive mood. He had spent his morning restlessly, pacing up and down the woodlands, with an unread book under his arm. He was secretly chafed and even a little hurt that neither of the sisters had needed his help. He had dropped more than one hint on the previous day, when some errand took him to the Wood House, and he found Elizabeth looking heated and tired, superintending the removal of some furniture.
"You might make use of an idle man," he had said half-jestingly. "I assure you that I am a complete Jack-of-all-trades, and I don't mind 'a scrow,' as old Nurse Dawson calls it." But though Elizabeth smiled, she did not avail herself of this friendly offer; but it was Dinah who gave him the real explanation.
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Herrick," she had returned gratefully; "we should have been so glad of your help, only David Carlyon and his father are doing all we want. Mr. Carlyon is so useful, and David spends all his spare time with us."
"David"—in a pondering voice. And Dinah blushed as if she had been guilty of an indiscretion.
"Oh, we only call him that in order to distinguish him from his father—the two Carlyons are so puzzling; but he is an old and a very dear friend, and at my age it does not matter," finished Dinah with her charming smile.
Malcolm had to content himself with this explanation. They were old friends. Yes, of course, and he was a comparatively new one. He expected too much; his demands were unreasonable. Nevertheless Malcolm felt a pang of envy when he saw David Carlyon tearing breathlessly through the woodlands with his arms full of greenery from the vicarage garden, and whistling like a schoolboy.
When at last Malcolm and his friends turned in at the gates of the Wood House that afternoon, they could hear the band playing in the distance. A group of village children were gathered in the road; empty carriages passed them; a smart dog-cart, with four young men, rattled down the drive; and through the openings in the trees the gleam of white dresses looked silvery in the sunlight.
Miss Templeton was standing in the porch to receive her guests. Elizabeth had only just left her, she said, to arrange the tennis tournament. And then, as more guests were arriving, Malcolm left her. The next moment he came upon Cedric; he was looking rather bored and disconsolate. He lighted up, however, at the sight of his friend.
"Here you are at last," he grumbled. "I have been looking all over the place for you. I came down with a lot of our fellows, but Betty has paired them all off for tennis. There are the Kestons, I must go and speak to them." But Malcolm had him by the arm.
"Wait a moment; '"no hurry!" said the Carpenter.' I suppose you brought the Jacobis with you." Then Cedric's face clouded again.
"Oh, Jacobi came right enough—there he is, talking to David—but Miss Jacobi had a bad sick headache, and he would not let her come."
"I am sorry to hear that," returned Malcolm; and he was sorry, for his cleverly-devised plan had been frustrated.
"She was sorry too, poor girl," went on Cedric in a vexed voice. "She had been so looking forward to the Bean-feast ever since Betty's invitation arrived. It is my belief that Jacobi is to blame for the whole thing, for he was rowing her in her room like anything last night. I could hear them through the ceiling going it like hammer and tongs."
"Do you mean to tell me that Miss Jacobi and her brother quarrel?" asked Malcolm in a disgusted voice. Then Cedric looked as if he had said more than he intended.
"No, not quarrel," rather hesitatingly. "It takes two to do that, you know, and Leah—Miss Jacobi, I mean," biting his lip—"is much too fond of her brother to quarrel with him; but Jacobi has a temper, you see."
"Oh, he has a temper, has he?"
"Well, lots of people have, if you come to that," returned Cedric, who evidently repented his frankness. "Jacobi is a decent fellow, but he is hot and peppery, and when things go crooked he lashes out a bit. Something must have vexed him last night, for he came into the drawing-room looking very much put out. Miss Jacobi had just gone upstairs, and he went after her at once."
"And then they quarrelled?"
"Well, not quarrelled exactly; but there was a good deal of talking, don't you know. He kept her up late, and bothered her, and then she got a headache. "But Cedric forbore to tell his friend that he had been so perturbed by the sound of Saul Jacobi's angry voice that he had stolen down the stairs to the passage below. How long he stood there transfixed with fear and pity it was impossible to say. No words reached him—only the harsh, vibrant tones of Saul Jacobi's voice and Leah's low, piteous sobbing.
He might have stood there until morning, but the door suddenly unlatched, and he had only just time to steal away; but before he could enter his room a few words did reach him.
"Oh, Saul, please do not leave me like this. Don't I always do as you wish; only—only I thought you approved; that—that—" but here sobs choked her voice.
"What is the use of turning on the waterworks like this?" muttered her brother angrily. "What fools you women are! A boy like that too!"
"But, Saul, Saul—"
"Yes, I know," sulkily. "I have not changed my mind, but I mean to have my way about to-morrow all the same. If you had been sensible I would have told you my reasons; but you chose to aggravate me, and I said a precious lot more than I meant. There, go to sleep and forget it"—evidently a rough attempt to be conciliatory; but Leah's sad and weary face told its own tale the next morning.
Malcolm did not ask any more questions, and after a few more casual remarks Cedric went off in search of the Kestons, and Malcolm sauntered across the lawn, looking at the various groups in the hope of seeing Elizabeth's tall figure.
Presently he came upon Mr. Jacobi. He was standing by the sun-dial, looking smart and well-groomed in his frock-coat, and a rare orchid in his button-hole. He was contemplating the house with fixed attention. A sudden impulse made Malcolm join him. Mr. Jacobi greeted him with his usual affability, and then, as though by mutual consent, they strolled together in the direction of the rustic bridge.
"Nice sleepy old place this," observed Mr. Jacobi condescendingly. "Seems as though it had been in existence for a hundred years at least. Do you know how long it has belonged to the Templetons?"
"No, I have no idea," returned Malcolm stiffly, for he resented the question. "What a perfect day it is! I am sorry to hear from Templeton that your sister is indisposed."
Mr. Jacobi's eyes narrowed a little; he looked rather sharply at Malcolm.
"Oh, Templeton told you that. Nice fellow—as good a specimen of a young Briton as ever I wish to see; sensible too, and a good companion. Yes, my sister is a bit seedy—a bad sick headache, nothing more. It is in our family; my mother had them, and Leah takes after her. It is hard lines, poor old girl," continued Mr. Jacobi in a feeling tone, "for she was longing to make the Misses Templeton's acquaintance."
Malcolm returned a civil answer, and Mr. Jacobi continued—
"Templeton is a lucky fellow, between you and me and the post," in a jocular tone. "It must be a good thing for him that his sisters have set their faces against matrimony. Nice-looking women, both of them, but in my humble opinion Miss Elizabeth is the most attractive. Templeton let out to Leah the other day that she could have married a dozen times over if she had wished to do so, only she vowed she was cut out for an old maid."
"I don't suppose he knows anything about it," returned Malcolm, feeling this speech was in the worst possible form. It revolted him to hear this man even mention Elizabeth's name—he would give him no encouragement; but Saul Jacobi, who could be dense when he chose, did not drop the subject.
"It is rather a big place for two maiden ladies of uncertain age," he remarked blandly; but this speech irritated Malcolm beyond endurance.
"There is nothing uncertain about the second Miss Templeton's age," he said impatiently; "she is still a young woman." Then it struck him that Mr. Jacobi looked a trifle crestfallen.
"Young, do you call her? Oh no, very mature and sedate, like a middle-aged woman. Gyp Campion told me as a fact—do you know Gyp? he is in the Hussars, and a tiptop swell in the bargain—well, Gyp let out that his brother Owen had proposed to Miss Elizabeth Templeton years ago at Alassio."
"Oh, I daresay," indifferently. "I think I must go back to the house now;" it cost Malcolm an effort to be civil.
"I will walk back with you. What was I saying? Oh, she refused the poor chap, and told him that the holy estate of matrimony had no attraction for her, or some such rubbish. That is why I call Templeton a lucky fellow. There is not a creature belonging to them, except a distant cousin or two in New Zealand, so of course he will come in for everything;" a pause here, and a furtive glance of inquiry; but Malcolm remained mute, and his face might have been a blank wall as far as expression was concerned.
"They have got a pretty penny saved too," went on Mr. Jacobi, not in the least silenced by Malcolm's lack of interest. "Gyp told me a thing or two about that. It seems they had a farm in Cornwall"—here he sniffed at his scentless orchid with an air of enjoyment, a habit of his when his subject interested him. "It was a rotten concern—farm buildings out of repair, and a few scrubby fields with more stones than grass. Miss Templeton was just going to sell it for a mere song when some one discovered tin. My word, those few acres rose in value! Gyp declared they realised quite a small fortune on it. That was only three or four years ago."
"Indeed," returned Malcolm drily; "if you will pardon my speaking plainly, Mr. Jacobi, I do not think the Misses Templeton's business affairs are any concern of ours, and I would prefer to talk on any other subject."
This was too manifest a hint to be disregarded even by the irrepressible Jacobi; but the next minute Malcolm added, "Will you excuse my leaving you, I see some old friends of mine on their way to the Pool, and they will expect me to join them;" but if Malcolm intended to do so, he chose a most circuitous route.
"Rum chap that," observed Saul Jacobi, turning on his heel—"not easy to get any information out of him; looks as though he had swallowed the poker first, and then the tongs as a sort of relish afterwards, and neither of them agreed with him. I wonder what young Templeton saw in him. He lays it on pretty thick too: it is Herrick this and Herrick that, as though he were Solomon in all his glory. Confound his airs and impudence! Let me tell you, my young gentleman," with a sly smile, "that the Misses Templeton's private business is a matter that concerns Saul Jacobi pretty closely."
Meanwhile Malcolm was in a white heat of righteous indignation.
"That wretched little cad, how dare he meddle and pry into the Misses Templeton's family affairs! There is something I mistrust in the man; he is smooth and plausible, but he is crafty too; he is deep—deep—and if I do not mistake, he is clever too."
Then he added, "I must get hold of Cedric; I am not comfortable at his associating with this man. Cedric is as weak as water; he is so easily led, he would be the dupe of any designing person; but the Jacobis will have to reckon with me;" and here Malcolm, who had uttered the last words aloud, stopped and looked rather foolish, as a merry laugh greeted his ear, and Elizabeth, in all the glory of her Paris gown and picture hat, barred the way, and regarded him with her beaming smile.
"Mr. Herrick, you are quite dramatic; Hamlet or the melancholy Jacques could not have been more lost in gloomy meditation. If I may presume to ask the question, why will the Jacobis have to reckon with you?"
"Did I say so?" returned Malcolm, with an uneasy laugh. "I suppose I was thinking aloud. That fellow Jacobi has been rubbing me up the wrong way; he stuck to me like a burr, and I could not get rid of him."
"I had some trouble in shaking him off myself," she owned. "You were quite right, Mr. Herrick, he is not a gentleman, and I dislike his manner excessively; it is too subservient, and he is too soft-tongued. Poor dear Die, I wish you could have seen her face when he paid her a compliment; she looked quite bewildered."
Elizabeth's eyes were dancing with amusement at the recollection, but Malcolm did not respond to her merriment; he felt things were too serious.
"I am not at all easy in my mind," he said, and then Elizabeth looked at him inquiringly. "Jacobi seems to have got a hold on Cedric. He goes back with him to-night, does he not? Ah, I thought so," as Elizabeth nodded. "I must have some talk with him; I shall tell him that I disapprove of the Jacobis, and shall beg him to break off the acquaintance."
"Oh, thank you—thank you!" returned Elizabeth earnestly, and there was a beautiful colour in her face; she even held out her hand impulsively to him, as though her gratitude carried her away. "How good you are to us—a real friend to two lone, lorn women!" and here something twinkled in Elizabeth's eyes; but perhaps she was a little taken aback when Malcolm very quietly and reverently raised the hand to his lips, as though he were vowing knightly service to his liege lady.
"I should ask nothing better than to be your friend," he said in a low voice; but perhaps something in her manner checked him, for he added hastily, "and your sister's too."
It was rather a lame conclusion, but Elizabeth accepted it graciously. "I shall rely on you to help us," she said very seriously; "get him to break with the Jacobis, and Dinah and I will owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Hush! please do not mention names," whispered Malcolm; "some one might overhear us;" but he was too late, Elizabeth's incautious speech had reached an unseen auditor.
Malcolm felt a little ashamed of himself when he remembered his impulsive action. "She will think it so strange," he thought; "she will not understand that it was only the outward and visible sign of my inward reverence." But he was wrong, Elizabeth did understand, and she did not misjudge him.
"He is a high-minded gentleman," she said to herself; and then she sighed and her face grew troubled, "but I wish—I wish he had not done that."
Malcolm found his work cut out for him; for the remainder of the afternoon he was hunting his quarry. But Cedric was never alone. He was either surrounded by a bevy of girls or else Jacobi was beside him. Even Cedric seemed surprised at the tenacity with which his friend and host stuck to him.
"Herrick wants me," he said once; "I will come back to you right enough, old fellow;" but Jacobi still pinioned him.
"We will go together, my dear boy," he said pleasantly. "I have taken a fancy to your Mentor. He seems a clever chap. He is a barrister, isn't he, and literary, and all that sort of thing?"
"I have told you about him often enough," returned Cedric, in rather a surly tone, as though the iron hand under the velvet glove made itself evident. Cedric felt he was being managed and coerced, and he waxed indignant; but Saul Jacobi was more than a match for him, and in spite of all Malcolm's efforts, Cedric went back to Henley without a word of warning.
Malcolm was quite troubled and crestfallen over his failure.
"I did my best," he said to Elizabeth; "I followed him about the whole afternoon, but that fellow stuck to him like a leech."
"So I saw," she returned rather sadly; "it was no fault of yours, Mr. Herrick, I am quite sure of that. Well, we must find some other opportunity." And then Elizabeth smiled at him very kindly, and Malcolm went back to the Crow's Nest feeling somewhat comforted.
Love lies deeper than all words; And not the spoken but the speechless love Waits answer, ere I rise and go my way. —BROWNING.
When in after-years Malcolm Herrick reviewed this portion of his life, he owned to himself that during the five weeks that followed the Templeton Bean-feast he had lived in a fool's paradise—in a state of beatitude that was as unsubstantial and fleeting as the sunset clouds that piled themselves behind the fir woods.
He was very happy, almost pathetically so, and the new wine of youth seemed coursing through his veins. "This is life," he would say to himself; "I have only existed before, but now I am reborn into a new world, and I have learned the secret of all the ages."
Every day his passion for Elizabeth Templeton increased, and the charm and sweetness of her personality attracted him more powerfully. He had never seen any one like her; she was so full of surprises, her nature was so rich, so original, and yet so womanly, that the man whom she blessed with her love could never have grown weary of her society. Without an effort, simply by being herself, a truthful, noble-hearted woman, she had dominated his strong nature and brought him to her feet. Was she conscious of his devotion? This was a question that Malcolm vainly tried to answer, but her manner perplexed and baffled him. She was always kind and friendly, and her cordial welcome never varied, but Malcolm could not flatter himself that he received any special encouragement, or that she regarded him in any other light than a trusted and valued friend. Now and then, when he found himself alone with her, he fancied her manner had changed—that she had become quiet and reserved, as though she were not at her ease with him. Was it only his imagination, he wondered, that she seemed trying to keep him at a distance, as though she were afraid of him? But such was his blindness and infatuation that he drew encouragement even from this.
To Malcolm those summer days were simply perfect. His morning hours were devoted to his literary work, and the essays were taking shape and form under his hand. Never had his brain been clearer; he worked with a facility that surprised himself. "I am inspired," he would whisper; "I have a patron saint of my own now," and he would tell himself that no name could be so sweet to him as Elizabeth. He would murmur it half-aloud as he wandered in the woodlands in the gloaming—"Elizabeth, Elizabeth"—and once as he said it, something seemed to rise in his throat and choke him.
He had not forgotten Anna; he had never forgotten her in his life, for his adopted sister was very dear to him.
Every week he wrote to his mother and also to her—pleasant, chatty letters, full of affection and warm with brotherly kindness. If Anna ever shed tears over them he never knew it.
With what touching humility she acknowledged his thoughtfulness!
"Another letter—how good you are to me!" she would say in her reply. "Mother declares that you spoil me. I read her all your description of the Bean-feast. Oh, if I had only been there! But it is wicked of me to say that."
But later on there was a touch of curiosity, almost a shadow of doubt.
"You say so little about Miss Elizabeth Templeton," she wrote, "and yet you are at the Wood House every day. It is always Miss Templeton. Is it heresy, dear? but I fancy I should like Miss Elizabeth best. Tell me more about her next time you write. I want to see her with your eyes." But Anna pleaded in vain—on the subject of Elizabeth's merits he kept silence.
But it was quite true that he was at the Wood House nearly every day, and that the sisters always welcomed him most kindly. Sometimes he dined there, either alone or with the Kestons; or he would stroll across at tea-time, or oftener in the evening, when they were sitting on the terrace. David Carlyon was often with them; his father had left him by this time. The young men used to look askance at each other in the dim light, and Malcolm would shake hands with the curate rather stiffly.
"Carlyon was there again," he would say to Amias, when he found his friend smoking in the porch. "I don't dislike the fellow, but one may have too much even of a good thing." Then Amias looked at him rather queerly but made no answer.
Caleb Martin and Kit were established comfortably at the cottage under Mrs. Sullivan's motherly wing, and Kit's white pinched little face filled out in the sweet country air.
"She is a different creature," Caleb assured Malcolm. "I wish Ma'am could see her. She is just as happy as the day is long. We are in the woods from morning to night, picking up fir-cones and building with them, and making believe that we are gypsies. She's ready to drop with fatigue before she lets me take her home, and then our good lady scolds us a bit."
"And poor Mrs. Martin is alone in Todmorden's Lane?" remarked Malcolm.
"Lord love you, sir," returned Caleb, "you don't need to be pitying Ma'am; she's glad to be rid of the pair of us. She is whitewashing and papering the rooms. She is a handy woman, is Ma'am, and she says we shall not know the place when we go back. I never knew such a woman for scrubbing and cleaning—it seems to make her happy somehow."
Malcolm made frequent visits to Rotherwood to see Caleb and Kit, and he generally paid them on the days when Elizabeth was at the schools, so that he could walk back with her through the woodlands.
The first time he did this Elizabeth seemed rather surprised, though she offered no objection; but after that she took it as a matter of course, and chatted with him on all manner of subjects. She listened very kindly when Malcolm sounded her on the subject of Kit, and made all sorts of impossible plans for the child's future; and though she laughed at him good-humouredly, and told him that he was a visionary, impracticable person, she soon became serious and brought her shrewd common-sense and feminine wits to his assistance. And so it was that one day he made a proposition that nearly took Caleb's breath away.
Kit must certainly not go back to Todmorden's Lane until she was stronger, he remarked. Miss Templeton and he were fully agreed on this point; the fogs and low-lying mists from the river were harmful to her poor little chest.
Caleb must leave her under Mrs. Sullivan's care. Miss Templeton had made all arrangements, and he would be responsible for the expense. There had been a pitched battle over this point; but for once Elizabeth had been forced to give in, Malcolm had been so stern and masterful.
Caleb should come down for the week-end every three weeks or so, he could promise him that, and a whole week at Christmas. But Caleb looked too much dazed to answer, and there was a misty look in the transparent, light-blue eyes.
"I'm took all of a heap!" he ejaculated at last. "It is not that I don't thank you kindly, sir, for I am pretty nigh choking with gratitude; but you see there is Ma'am to reckon with—if Kit were her own little 'un she couldn't be fonder of her."
"I daresay not," remarked Malcolm, and there was a trace of impatience in his tone; "but, after all, Mr. Martin, you are Kit's father." But Caleb only shook his head doubtfully, and went on in his slow, ruminating way.
"Most folk think that Ma'am is a bad-natured woman because she gives them the rough side of her tongue; but, Lord bless you, her bark's worse than her bite. Her heart is just set on Kit, and she would not hurt a hair of her head in her most contrary moods, when even the black cat won't stay in the place she is making such a scrimmage with the pots and pans. But Kit only laughs. 'It is Ma'am at her music,' she says; 'but it t'aint the sort of music I like.' Yes, indeed, sir, I have heered her say that a score of times."
"Very well, then, you had better go and have a talk with your wife," returned Malcolm.
And Caleb went, and came back to Rotherwood the next day a sadder and a wiser man.
"Well, and what did Mrs. Martin say?" asked Malcolm when he saw Caleb again.
The little cobbler drew his hand across his eyes in an embarrassed fashion; he was evidently trying to recollect something.
"Ma'am sends her humble duty," he answered presently in a sing-song voice, "and she is greatly obliged to you and the kind lady, and Kit may stay along of Mrs. Sullivan—those were her very words, sir."
"Mrs. Martin is a sensible woman then."
"Oh, she is that, sir. She was scolding me all supper-time for not thinking of the child's good. 'You can bring her back if you like, Caleb,' she says, 'and poison her with the filthy fogs, and get her ready for her coffin, poor lamb. And you call yourself a father, Caleb Martin? Drat all such fathers, I say!' She made me clean ashamed of myself, did Ma'am;" and here the little man looked ready to cry.
"Well, Mr. Martin, I do think the child will be better here, and you can come down every three weeks or so to see her—you know we have arranged that—and now and then you can bring your wife too;" and Caleb brightened up at this.
But the day he left Rotherwood he was so lugubrious and tearful that Malcolm felt quite sorry for him; but Kit took a less depressing view.
"I don't want you to go, dad," she said feelingly; "but I like staying along with this good lady," with a friendly nod of her head to Mrs. Sullivan. "I have got a black kitten of my own and a yellow chick, and they are better than dolls because they can love me back. And the ladies from the Wood House are going to take me out for drives—my, won't that be 'eavenly!" Nevertheless Kit shed a few tears when Caleb closed the little gate behind him. "I want to stay here, and I want daddy too," she said rather pitifully.
All these weeks Malcolm had seen nothing of Cedric. His visit to the Jacobis had been prolonged for another ten days, and then he wrote, in high spirits, to tell his sisters that Dick Wallace had invited him to go down to his father's place in Scotland.
"I expect I shall have rare sport there, and stalk a deer or two," he continued. "Dick and I are to go down by the night mail on Thursday, but I will run over to Staplegrove for a few hours. Tell Herrick I will look him up at his diggings."
By some oversight Elizabeth forgot to give Malcolm this message, and Malcolm, who had to go up to town on business, was much chagrined to find that Cedric had called during his absence, and had been greatly disappointed at missing him.
He went across to the Wood House directly after supper, and found the ladies sitting out on the terrace.
Elizabeth was very contrite.
"It was dreadfully careless of me," she confessed; "I meant to have sent you a note last night, but some one called—who was it, Dinah?—and put it out of my head." But Dinah could not recollect that any one had called except David Carlyon, and seemed rather surprised at the question.
"Oh, it must have been Mr. Carlyon," returned Elizabeth; but she coloured slightly. "It was really very stupid of me; Cedric was quite put out about it."
"Oh, well, it cannot be helped," observed Malcolm, philosophically. "Did he say much about the Jacobis?"
"No, he only remarked that they had been very kind, and that he had had a rattling good time. Those were his words, were they not, Die?" and Dinah smiled assent.
"We both asked him a heap of questions, but they seemed to bore him; he was full of his Scotch visit, and would scarcely talk of anything else."
Malcolm was not quite satisfied, but he kept his doubts to himself. Elizabeth, who was as sharp as a needle, looked up at him quickly. "We did our best, I assure you, Mr. Herrick, but he refused to be drawn; he seemed very much excited."
"The Wallaces are a good sort of people, are they not?" was Malcolm's next question.
"Oh yes, they are thoroughly nice;" it was Dinah who answered him. "Sir Richard is charming, and so is Lady Wallace; and of course Dick is an old acquaintance of ours."
"There are some daughters, I believe?"
"Yes, but they are not very young or attractive, poor things," replied Elizabeth—"heavy, podgy sort of girls, but very kind-hearted. By the bye, Die, I wonder if Cedric will come across the Godfreys, they are somewhere in the neighbourhood." And then she explained to Malcolm that Fettercairn Hall, where Sir Richard Wallace lived, was only a few miles from the shooting lodge where the Godfreys were staying; and this fact appeared to give the sisters a good deal of satisfaction.
It was the middle of September now, and Malcolm reflected with some uneasiness that more than half his holiday was over. The Kestons had decided to return to Cheyne Walk in another three weeks or so, and of course he must accompany them; his mother and Anna would be back in town by that time, and his presence would be needed in Lincoln's Inn.
"The shadows of the prison-house," as he called it, began to haunt him, and he counted up his days as jealously as a miser counts his gold.
Every day he saw Elizabeth; and each hour he was alone with her he found it more difficult to keep silence; but as yet he had had himself well in hand. Perhaps something in her manner had sealed his lips, or he feared that the spell of this happy dream would be broken. But during those wakeful summer nights, when that sweet pain kept him restless, he would tell himself that the time had not yet come, that she did not know him well enough.
"She is not a young girl," he would say to himself; "she is a mature woman who knows the world and has thought deeply-why, even to know her is a liberal education." And then he repeated to himself in the darkness those lines of Shelley—
"Her voice was like the voice of his own soul, Heard in the calm of thought,"
for all the sweet influences of summer and nature had only fed the passion, and every day it seemed to grow stronger and stronger.
"She is my other self, she thinks my thoughts, we have a thousand things in common, how can she help loving me!" he would say when his mood was jubilant and sanguine; but at other times a chill doubt would cross his mind.
"She is different from other women, she will not be easily won, that is why I fear to speak;" but all the same Malcolm registered a mental vow that he would not leave Staplegrove until the decisive words had been spoken.
DOWN BY THE POOL
The heaven Of thy mild brows hath given Grace to all things I see; And in thy life I live, and lose myself in thee. —J. Addington Symonds
I would love infinitely, and be loved. —Browning
Malcolm was no hot-headed boy to be moved by mere impulse, nevertheless the day came when all his prudent resolutions were forgotten, when silence and self-repression were absolute torture to him, when he felt he must speak or for ever hold his peace.
It was Elizabeth's birthday; he only heard that afterwards, or he would have brought her some choice offering in the shape of flowers or books, in honour of his patron Saint's fete-day; but happily Elizabeth was unconscious of this.
"I am thirty-one to-day," she said to him gaily; "is not that a great age? Oh, no wonder Cedric calls me an old maid." And then she laughed with an air of enjoyment, as though her new title amused her. "Old maids can be very nice, can they not, Mr. Herrick?"
They were sitting down by the Pool, and Dinah had just left them at Elizabeth's suggestion to tell the servants that they would have tea there, and to answer a business note. The afternoon was sultry, more like August than September; but down by the Pool there was a pleasant shade and coolness. As usual, all the dogs were grouped round them; and Elizabeth, in spite of her thirty-one years, looked quite youthful in her white gown. A dark velvety Cramoisie rose nestled against her full throat. Malcolm remembered suddenly that he had noticed that special rose in the garden of the White Cottage when he last dined at the vicarage; he wondered with a sudden fierce prick of jealousy if that fellow Carlyon knew it was her birthday, and had brought it to her. At the idea there was a dangerous throbbing of his pulses.
The previous evening he had strolled across to the Wood House in the hope that Elizabeth would be in one of her gracious moods, and then he could coax her to sing to him. But to his disappointment his visit had seemed less welcome than usual; and though Dinah received him with her wonted gentle courtesy, he had a vague suspicion that something was amiss. Dinah looked as though she had been shedding tears, and Elizabeth's face was flushed, and she was very silent; if he had not known them so well, and their intense love for each other, he would almost have suspected that there had been a warm altercation between them, but this was manifestly impossible.
No, they had never quarrelled even in their childish days, he remembered Elizabeth had once told him that, and assuredly they never quarrelled now. Nevertheless, there was something troubled in the atmosphere, and even Dinah seemed to find it difficult to talk.
Malcolm raged inwardly over his disappointment, but he had too much tact to prolong his visit. He was rewarded for his forbearance when Dinah said in her gentle way, "I am afraid we are rather stupid to-night, Mr. Herrick; Elizabeth is tired, and—and—we have been talking for hours; if you look in to-morrow afternoon we will promise to behave better." But though Elizabeth did not endorse this, Malcolm accepted this invitation with undisguised pleasure.
But his satisfaction would have been sadly damped if he had overheard Elizabeth's speech. "Why did you ask him, Die? You know"—hesitating a moment—" that I like to be quiet on my birthday."
"He looked so dull," returned Dinah apologetically; "I think we depressed him. I am very sorry, dear; I ought to have found out your wishes first. But he will not stay long unless we ask him." Elizabeth made no answer to this; she looked thoughtful and a little troubled, and Dinah felt she had done the wrong thing. But this afternoon Elizabeth was in her old sunshiny mood, and she made her little speech about being an old maid in a way that charmed Malcolm.
How still it was down by the Pool! Only a dry leaf dropping into the water, or the sleepy snapping of one of the dogs at the midges, or the faint twitter of a far-off bird broke the silence. The air was sweet with the warm, resinous smell of the firs; the strong perfume seemed to pervade his senses.
He was alone with her—not a human creature was near them; and he was so close that if he had stretched out his hand he could have touched her dress. Malcolm's heart began beating dangerously, and there was a curious throbbing at his temples; when he tried to speak his voice was thick and indistinct; then with a great effort he steadied himself, for his time had come and he knew it.
"There is something I want to say to you—that for weeks I have been trying to say—will you let me speak now?" Did he really say those words, or did he whisper them inwardly? But no, he could see the sudden startled look in Elizabeth's eyes when she saw his face.
"May I speak?"
"No—no," in a frightened tone. "Mr. Herrick, for my sake—for both our sakes—I implore you to be silent; I cannot—I will not listen"—her agitation increasing with every word. But she might as well have tried to control the wind.
"You cannot mean that," he returned gently but firmly; "forgive me if I do not obey you—if it is not possible for me to keep silence any longer. Elizabeth, surely all these weeks you must have known that you were the one woman in the world for me?"
"No—no," she returned, covering her face with her hands, "I never knew it; how could I—how could I?" But he mistook the cause of her emotion.
"I think no woman was ever loved so well! All these weeks that I have been dumb, I have been living for you—only for you." Then she put up her trembling hand to stop him, but he caught it in his own.
"Elizabeth, will you try to love me a little?"
"Hush—hush," endeavouring to free herself. "Indeed—indeed you must not say such things, Mr. Herrick; you are deceiving yourself. We are friends, and I like you, and I am very, very grateful to you for all your goodness to Cedric, but I never meant it to come to this."
"How do you mean?" he asked, and his face was white with emotion. "Surely you must have seen how things were with me;" and Malcolm's voice was a little hard.
"I think I tried not to see," she answered truthfully. "Once or twice I was afraid, and then I told myself I was mistaken. Mr. Herrick, I do not want to hurt you, I would not add to your trouble for the world, but at least you will do me the justice of owning that I never gave you any encouragement."
"No," he returned, in a tone of forced composure, "you never encouraged me in my presumption. I loved you because I could not help myself—because you were Elizabeth Templeton and I was Malcolm Herrick." Then her eyes grew very sad.
"Dear friend, it was no presumption—any woman would have felt honoured by such devotion; but," and here a burning flush came to her face, "it is too late—I am not free."
Malcolm stared at her. Surely he was in some hideous nightmare, but he would wake directly. What an awful stillness seemed round them!—as though a storm were impending: the water-lilies on the Pool looked like dead things, and even the dragon-fly hung motionless in mid-air; only the dogs panted and snored round them. Elizabeth pressed her hands together as though something pained her.
"I am not free," she repeated in a low voice; but she did not look at Malcolm as she spoke. "Last evening Mr. Carlyon spoke to me, and—and we are engaged."
"Good God!" but Malcolm did not say the words aloud, for his tongue felt suddenly dry and palsied,—it was only the cry of his soul to his Maker in the hour of his agony. But Elizabeth dared not look at him, or her heart would have been wrung with pity at the sight of his drawn, haggard face.
"We have cared for each other for a long time," she whispered, "but he was poor and did not like to speak. Only Dinah knows. I had just told her when you came in last evening. We did not want any one else to know just yet."
"But I forced your hand." Malcolm had pulled himself together now. "Thank you for telling me the truth; but you were always a brave woman," and he tried to smile.
"Oh no, I have not been brave;" and then her eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Mr. Herrick, I am so unhappy; this—this—has spoiled everything."
"No—no, you must not say that. If I have been a blind fool, it is no fault of yours, and I have no one to thank but myself for the misery that has come upon me. Elizabeth"—oh, how sad his voice was! it thrilled her to hear it—"before I leave you, let me wish you every happiness—you and Mr. Carlyon too;" and then he rose to his feet.
"Must you go?" she pleaded.
"Yes, I must go," he returned hurriedly; "will you excuse me to your sister?" Then Elizabeth stretched out her hand to him in silence, and he saw that she could not trust herself to speak.
"You must not be too sorry for me," he said rather brokenly; "I am not the only man who has been denied his heart's desire;" and he turned away and plunged into the little fir wood. Elizabeth sat listening to his retreating footsteps. The tears were running down her cheeks. She was still weeping when Dinah rejoined her.
"Have I been long?" she observed cheerfully. "That tiresome Mrs. Carrick called about the mothers' meetings. Where is Mr. Herrick?" Then, as she caught sight of Elizabeth's face, "Oh, my dear Betty, what is it?—what has gone wrong?—and on your birthday too!"—Elizabeth wept afresh.
"Hush, don't ask me—not now. David will be here directly, and he must not see me like this. You were right, Die, you saw how it was, and I would not believe you—I did not want to believe you. Now let me go away and recover myself." But Dinah held her fast.
"You shall go in a moment, dear; but just tell me one thing—did Mr. Herrick ask you to be his wife?"
"Not exactly—I would not let him go as far as that; but, Die, he loves me so, and he is so unhappy." Then Dinah sighed, and her hand dropped from her sister's arm.
"You had better go," she returned. "I see Mullins crossing the bridge. If David comes I will make an excuse for your absence;" and Elizabeth nodded and turned away. Dinah's heart was very heavy as she stood looking down upon the Pool. It is the looker-on who sees most of the game, and weeks ago she had vainly tried to open Elizabeth's eyes to a sense of her danger.
"He has never said a word to me that the whole world might not hear—I don't believe he ever will," Elizabeth had replied obstinately; but Dinah knew that she was wilfully deceiving herself—that her intuition was truer than her words, and that in Malcolm Herrick's presence she was always on guard, as if she feared an invasion of her woman's kingdom.
Dinah could have wept too in her grievous disappointment and passionate pity, for Elizabeth's choice seemed to her a great mistake. David Carlyon was a dear fellow, and as good as gold, but he was not equal to Malcolm.
"If only they had met a year ago," she thought, "before David's influence grew so strong, she would surely have discovered then that they were made for each other. Mr. Herrick is just the sort of man she would have admired. There is something striking and original about him, and then in spite of his cleverness he is so simple and good. Oh, Betty, my darling," she went on, "why could you not have given me such a brother! I should have been so proud of him!" And then Dinah checked herself in very shame, for she remembered how she had promised Elizabeth the previous evening that she would take David Carlyon to her sisterly heart.
It was not a very cheerful birthday tea, though each one of the trio tried to do his or her best to promote innocent hilarity. Elizabeth talked a great deal, but her face was still flushed, and she rather avoided her lover's eyes, and as for David he talked principally to Dinah. He told funny little parish stories which made her laugh, and to which Elizabeth listened with a manifest effort, and he took no notice when she chimed in with some irrelevant remark. Dinah wondered to herself more than once if he really had not noticed that Elizabeth's eyelids were still reddened, in spite of cold water and eau de Cologne. David was certainly a little dense in his happiness, she thought, and then she sighed involuntarily as she thought of the lonely man who had left them.
"He will take it hardly," she said to herself. "His nature is intense, and he will suffer more than most men;" and as this thought passed through her mind, she looked up and found David's keen, bright eyes fixed on her, and coloured a little as though he had read her thoughts.
When tea was over, Dinah made some transparent little excuse to go back to the house, for in these sweet, early days of their happiness she knew well that the lovers would have much to say to each other. And she was not wrong: before she was out of sight David had flung himself down at Elizabeth's feet, and had taken her hands.
"What is it, dearest?" he said tenderly. "You have been shedding tears—do you think I did not know that?" Then Elizabeth blushed as though she were a child discovered in a fault. "Tell me all about it, darling," he whispered; but she shook her head.
"I cannot, David—indeed I cannot; you must not ask me to tell you this." Elizabeth's voice quivered a little, but she was very much in earnest.
"Must I not?" he returned with a smile. "Don't look so frightened, sweetheart; perhaps there is no need to ask, perhaps I know all you are trying to keep from me." And then in a low voice full of meaning, "So Herrick has spoken at last."
"At last!" It was evident those two words had startled Elizabeth. David with some difficulty suppressed an irresistible smile.
"Do you mean," he asked incredulously, "that you never noticed, what every one else saw so plainly, that that poor fellow fairly worshipped the ground you trod on?" Then again a painful flush came to Elizabeth's face.
"I was not sure," she stammered, for her conscience did not wholly acquit her—"I would not let myself see or notice things; besides, I was thinking of you." Then David kissed the hands he held; but there was a troubled look in his eyes.
"Poor beggar!" he muttered to himself. Then aloud, "Do you know, my darling, what people will say when they hear you have thrown over a man like Herrick for me—for a mere curate, with empty pockets and not too many brains."
"Do you suppose I care what they say!" throwing her head back in rather a regal fashion.
"They will say you are mad; and upon my word," and here David knit his brows in a puzzled manner, "I am not sure that they will be wrong. Look at the difference between us. Herrick is my superior in every way. I used to shake in my shoes to hear him talk to the vicar. Elizabeth, my heart aches for that poor fellow, but even you do not know what I have suffered on his account all these weeks. There were times when I was tempted to throw up the sponge."
"Oh, David, when you knew—when you must have known my feelings!"
"Yes, I knew; but there were days when my courage failed me, and I felt I had no right to stand in your light. Dearest," and here he was kneeling beside her with all a man's worship in his honest eyes, "you are too good for me—do you think I do not know that it is your goodness and generosity that make you stoop to me!" But Elizabeth laid her hand upon his lips.
"Hush, you shall not talk so. It is I who am not worthy of you. I love you, David—I love you, oh so dearly; that is enough for you—and me too," and Elizabeth looked at him with an adorable smile. Then for a little while Malcolm Herrick was forgotten.
"IT HAS GONE VERY DEEP"
When you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave. —SHAKESPEARE.
Fulfil the perfection of long-suffering—be thou patient. —Teaching of Buddha.
All his life long Malcolm never spoke of the hours that followed that fateful interview down by the Pool, when he was as one who had just received his baptism of fire—when he was scorched through and through with that new and terrible agony.
"He will take it hardly," Dinah had said to herself. "His nature is intense, and he will suffer more than most men;" and she was right. Malcolm did suffer cruelly.
He had spoken his parting words to Elizabeth with outward calmness, though his lips were blanched and his features drawn with pain; for he was a gentleman, and noblesse oblige, and why should he make her suffer when she had done him no wrong? "I am not the only man who has been denied his heart's desire," he had said to her in a dull, lifeless voice, and in this he was certainly right. All are not winners in the race; many fail to attain their goal, and retire baffled and disheartened from the contest; but few suffer as Malcolm Herrick did, and though he did not curse the day he was born, as Job did, the whole plan and purpose of his life seemed frustrated and the future a hopeless blank.
And the fault was his own! Even in his most despairing moments he never ceased to tell himself that she had never encouraged him—never held out her woman's sceptre for him to touch; and even when she had been most sweet and winsome, she had not abridged the distance between them, nor, in her noble sincerity and friendship, attempted to draw him closer.
No, it was he who had been a blind fool, and he must pay the penalty of his madness. The gates of his earthly paradise had closed behind him for ever. He could hear them clanging in the distance; and the golden bells of his city of dreams were chiming "Nevermore—oh, nevermore!"
"His City of dreams—what a good name!" thought he; and through the long summer days he had dwelt there like a king. And now the gates had closed, and the golden pinnacles were no longer visible, and the breath of the roses and the fragrance of the spices of Araby the blessed would no longer steep his senses in sweetness. Nevermore—oh, nevermore would those blissful dreams be his!
Malcolm never quite recollected what he did with himself that evening. The idea of going back to the Crow's Nest in his present state of mind was simply intolerable. How could he have joined in the simple meal and listened to Goliath's talk!
No, it would be better to have a good long walk and look things in the face, and if he tired himself so much the better. But Malcolm never retained any clear recollection of that walk. He had a vague idea that he passed Earlsfield station, and presently he found himself on the open moor, where he had driven with Elizabeth the day when she had so naively confessed her ignorance to him. "I am rather a desultory sort of person," she had said to him, and he had offered to make out a list of books for her to read.
He had done so, and she had thanked him very sweetly, and had sent for some of the books, but he had never seen her read them. Perhaps Carlyon—and at this thought he ground his teeth hard—perhaps Carlyon had discouraged her. Horticulture seemed his chief hobby, and he was always talking to her about a new fern-house they were making at the Wood House, and Malcolm's poor books were neglected.
He flung himself down on the heather. He would battle it out with himself, he thought, and when he was in a quieter frame of mind he would go home. Home, pooh! he would never have a home now!
It was a glorious evening. A fresh, soft breeze had risen and blew refreshingly in his face, but he never heeded it, for in some moods we take the gifts and graces of Nature as a matter of course, and yield her no thanks or acknowledgment for her gentle benison. Even the glowing crimson tints of the sunset clouds could not move him to admiration. A line of Browning came involuntarily to his mind:
I will not soil thy purple with my dust;
but he was thinking of Elizabeth and not of the sunset.
"I must battle it out with myself," he repeated. But hours passed, and the moon had risen, and he still lay there, plucking up the heather and flinging it aside in a stupefaction of misery. It was only when the September darkness stole over the moor that he recollected himself and stumbled to his feet.
He was almost worn out when he unlatched the little gate at the Crow's Nest. Amias was smoking as usual in the porch, and Verity was with him. The lamplight from within fell full on Malcolm's face as he approached them. Verity gave a start.
"Oh, how tired you look!" she said in quite a shocked voice. Malcolm gave her a weary smile.
"I have had a long walk," he returned. "It was such a lovely evening, so I resolved to miss supper for once." He tried to speak in a jaunty fashion, but it was a ghastly failure, and he knew it. He was so sick and faint with inanition that he felt as though he could not utter another word. "I am tired, I think I will go to bed. Good-night you two;" and he groped his way to the garden-house.
Amias took his pipe from his mouth and looked at his wife inquiringly.
"What's come to Herrick?" he said in a concerned tone; "he looks dead beat. We thought he was dining at the Wood House; at least you said so, Yea-Verily, my child, and I believed you."
"Yes, I know, dear; but we were both wrong, and he has eaten nothing, that is evident." And then she got up quickly. "The kitchen fire is still alight, and the kettle will soon boil; I told Martha to leave it. I will make him some coffee, and you shall take it to him. And, Amias, you dear old thing, don't talk to him; he is not fit for it to-night."
And so it was that a quarter of an hour later Amias knocked at Malcolm's door, and was reluctantly bidden to enter.
Malcolm was sitting still fully dressed by the open window, and the moonlight made him look still more ghastly. Amias, without a word, lighted the lamp and placed the tray beside him. "Verity sends her love, and says you must eat your supper," was all he ventured to say, but his large hand rested kindly on Malcolm's shoulder for a moment. Malcolm tried to thank him, but the words would not come. But when his friend had left the room he suddenly covered his face with his hands and cried like a child. "Elizabeth—Elizabeth!" but there was no response; only a sleepy bird stirred in the shrubbery. In spite of his great intimacy with the Kestons and his very real friendship, Malcolm did not confide in either of them. He was undemonstrative and self-reliant by nature, and, as he said himself afterwards, "There are some things that a man ought to keep to himself." But neither Amias nor Verity expected any such confidence.
If Amias seemed puzzled by the change in Malcolm, Verity needed no explanation. She had seen how things were from the first. She had once caught sight of Malcolm's face when Elizabeth Templeton had passed him so closely that her dress brushed against him. She had seen that look in Amias's eyes in the dear auld lang syne.
Verity was a loyal little soul, and she never even hinted her suspicions to her husband. Neither did she attempt to find out what was amiss. When, the next evening, Malcolm told them hurriedly that he would be obliged to return to town earlier than he thought, she interrupted Amias's clumsy exclamations of regret. "Mr. Herrick has been very good to give us so much of his company," she said cheerfully. "Of course we shall miss him, and so will Babs;" and then in her pretty, housewifely way she set about making arrangements for his comfort, and Malcolm felt inwardly grateful for this unspoken sympathy.
He went over to the vicarage to bid Mr. Charrington good-bye. On the way back he met David Carlyon. The young curate looked rather nervous and discomposed, but Malcolm was quite calm.
"As I am leaving Staplegrove to-morrow," he said quietly, "I am glad to have this opportunity of offering my congratulations and bidding you good-bye." The lie came glibly to his lips. Glad, when he would have gone a dozen miles to avoid his rival—his successful rival! Nevertheless—such hypocrites are the best of men—the words flowed smoothly from his lips.
"Thanks awfully," replied David, prodding the dust with his stick. "Are you going up to the Wood House now? I think—that is, I am sure the ladies are out;" which was certainly the fact, as he had just seen them driving in the direction of Earlsfield.
"No, not this afternoon, I think," replied Malcolm.
"Well, good-bye, I am a bit pressed for time;" and then the young men shook hands, and David's grip was almost painful.
"Poor beggar!" he muttered to himself as he turned away; but Malcolm could not give expression, if he tried, to those bitter thoughts of his.
"David Carlyon her husband—the husband of Elizabeth Templeton—why, the very birds knew how to mate more fitly!" he thought. "He is good and true, but he is not worthy of her;" and David in his sad humility was saying the same thing of himself.
That evening Dinah received a note; Amias Keston left it.
"My dear Miss Templeton," wrote Malcolm, "to-morrow I am leaving Staplegrove, and I know you will understand the reason why I do not call to bid you good-bye, and that you will not think me ungrateful after all the kindness and hospitality I have received from you. Your sister has often told me that you have no secrets from each other; so you will know why it is better for me to return to town. I have been to the vicarage this afternoon, and have seen Carlyon. With kindest regards to you and your sister, yours very sincerely and gratefully,"
Elizabeth grew a little pale and bit her lip when Dinah showed her the note.
"It has gone very deep," she said to herself. "David said so, and he was right—it has gone very deep."
So Malcolm shook off the dust of Staplegrove, and the gates of his City of dreams clanged behind him.
"He must dree his weird," he said to himself, as he sat down to his work in the gloomy room in Lincoln's Inn, and in spite of heart-sickness he worked on stolidly and well. The evenings were his worst time, when he went back to the empty house at Cheyne Walk and sat on the balcony brooding over his troubles, until the light faded and an eerie darkness crept over the river.
"I suppose many men have to go through this sort of thing," he would say to himself, trying to philosophise in his old way, but if any one had seen his face! "What does our glorious Will say?—'Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.' Ah, but he also says, 'How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!'" And sometimes, when the silence and solitude oppressed him terribly, he would picture to himself the dreary future. "I shall never marry," he would say. "There is only one woman in the whole world that I want, and she will have nothing to do with me and my love, and no other woman shall ever be my wife." And then he would wonder sadly what life would be like when he was an old bachelor; would he be living on here with Amias and Verity, or would he go back to his mother and do his duty to her in her old age? But with all his bitter ruminations he never let himself go again, but battled manfully with his pain, though as the days went on he grew paler and thinner, and looked wretchedly ill.
Malcolm knew that his mother and Anna were back at Queen's Gate, but it was quite ten days before he saw them. He dreaded the ordeal of his mother's searching glances; but at last one evening he plucked up his courage and went.
Anna, who saw him coming, flew down the staircase to meet him. She looked younger than ever, and quite pretty, with the soft pink colour in her cheeks and her fair hair; but her smile faded when she saw Malcolm's face.
"Oh, Malcolm, have you been ill?" she asked in an alarmed voice.
"No, dear, not ill—only a trifle seedy and out of sorts. Come, let me look at you, lady fair?" and he pinioned her lightly. "Good child," he continued approvingly, "I shall tell the mater you do her credit."
"Yes, I am quite well, and quite rested; and oh, Malcolm, I am so glad to see you again!" Then he smiled at her kindly, and they went upstairs hand in hand. Mrs. Herrick, hearing their voices, came out on the landing to greet her son. Her manner was more than usually affectionate.
"My dear boy," she said, "what an age it is since we saw you! It is more than a fortnight since you even wrote. When did you come back to town?"
Malcolm had dreaded this question, but he was compelled to answer it truthfully.
"About ten days ago," he returned coolly; he knew his mother never tolerated excuses.
"Ten days, and you have never been near us!" Then her tone changed. "Have you been ill, Malcolm?" and she regarded him with undisguised anxiety.
"Anna asked me the same question," he replied, impatiently. "I have only been out of sorts, as I tell her—rather off my feed and that kind of thing." Then Mrs. Herrick said no more on that subject, but as they sat at dinner the keen gray eyes were often fixed on his face. Malcolm did his part manfully: he talked and questioned Anna about her doings; he would not brook an instant's silence. Anna must tell him this and that about her water-party and the picnic, and those wonderful people who tried to force an acquaintance on them; he would not let her off, though more than once the girl looked wistfully at him. Why did he not tell them about Staplegrove? He had not once mentioned the Wood House and the Templetons. Was anything wrong with him? He did not look himself; and she had never before noticed those lines on his forehead. He looked different somehow in these two months. When he went on to the balcony to smoke his cigarette she followed, and stood silently beside him, until he turned and saw her anxious face.
"Well, Annachen," one of his pet names for her, "what is it, little woman?" Then her soft hand smoothed his coat-sleeve.
"Malcolm dear, I don't like to ask, but I am sure something has gone wrong between you and your friends at the Wood House; you have not once mentioned their name, and there is such a sad, sad look in your eyes."
Malcolm took the girl's slender wrists and held them firmly.
"Anna, you are my dear little sister, are you not?"
"Oh yes," in a shrinking voice, for he was evidently waiting for an answer.
"A faithful little sister, who will not misunderstand her brother, even if he doesn't confide in her?"
"Anna, you are right, and something is troubling me—something that can never be set straight in this world; but not even to you can I speak of it." Then she knew, and in her innocent love she would fain have comforted him.
"I am very sorry—very, very sorry," was all she could find to say.
"I am sorry too," he returned gently, and then he kissed her cheek, and Anna stole away sadly to her own room. If she shed tears they were for him, and not for herself. Anna's affection for her adopted brother was perfectly unconscious and selfless; she never indulged in unwholesome introspection; she never asked herself why her heart ached that night, and a sense of loneliness and desolation stole over her.
Malcolm was unhappy, that was her one thought—things had gone wrong with him. Oh, if she could only give him his heart's desire! This wonderful unknown Elizabeth—had she refused him? Was there some one else? Alas, these questions were not to be answered. She must play her part of a faithful little sister, who must ask nothing, refuse nothing.
Malcolm's ordeal was not yet over. When he threw away his cigarette and went back to the drawing-room, he found his mother alone.
"I thought Anna was with you," he said apologetically, "or I would not have stayed out there so long. I am afraid I must be going now."
"You have your latch-key," she returned quietly; "sit down a moment, I want to speak to you, Malcolm. You are not yourself this evening, something has gone wrong." Again Anna's very words. He was silent. Why had his womankind such sharp eyes?
"I am a bit flattened out," he acknowledged, "but I shall be all right in a day or two;" but she passed this by almost contemptuously.
"Something is troubling you," she continued, "and to judge by your looks it is no light thing. You have grown thinner, Malcolm."
"Oh, I was always one of the lean kine," he returned lightly; but she seemed almost affronted at the little joke.
"Does that mean you do not intend to tell me your trouble?" and here her eyes grew very wistful. "You are my only son, Malcolm;" she never called him her only child, her adopted daughter was too dear to her. "Is there anything that I can do to help you?"
"Nothing—nothing," and he kissed her hand gratefully, for her motherly tone touched his heart. "Mother dear, forgive me if I cannot speak to you or Anna about this."
"Not even to poor little Anna?"
"No, not even to her. Mother, please do not misunderstand me, or think me ungrateful, but there are some things of which a man does not find it easy to speak." Then Mrs. Herrick said no more; she must bide her time, and until then she could only pray for him.
And up in her pretty room Anna was praying her guileless, innocent prayers, and watering every petition with her tears.
"How could she—how could she?" she cried more than once; "how could any woman refuse my dear Malcolm?"
Can such prayers help? Yea—a thousand times yea! Only He who reads human hearts knows the value of such prayers! When the son—the brother—the lover—has gone into the battle of life, when his strength is failing and the Philistines are upon him, it may be that the pure petition of some loving heart may be as an invisible shield to withstand the darts of the evil one, or haply that "arrow drawn at a venture" which else had pierced between the joints of his armour. "I said little, but I prayed much for you, my son," Mrs. Herrick once said to Malcolm in after-years when they understood each other better, and he knew that she spoke the truth.
"I SEE LIGHT NOW"
Every man's task is his life-preserver. —EMERSON.
Life is an opportunity for service. —DR. WESTCOTT.
It is in the silence that follows the storm, and not in the silence before it, that we should search for the budding flower. —Hindu Proverb.
One gray October afternoon, a fortnight later, Malcolm was walking down Victoria Street, when he came face to face with Colonel Godfrey. The Colonel, who was full of business as usual, seemed unfeignedly pleased at the meeting.
"This is a stroke of good luck!" he exclaimed in his hearty way. "You are just the man I want, Herrick. I was rather in a fix, and was going to Victoria for one of those boy messengers; but you will do my business for me, like a good fellow? Have you anything particular to do?"
"Nothing special. I was only going to the Army and Navy Stores for some stationery." Then the Colonel looked still more delighted.
"There, I was sure of it! My wife is in the tea-room at this very minute expecting me to join her. I should have been punctual to the minute, only I came across Erskine of ours; he wants my advice about a mare he is thinking of buying, and he was so pressing that I felt I must send Catherine a message."
"And I am to do the job for you? All right: Barkis is willin'." And then they both laughed at the familiar words, for Colonel Godfrey loved and studied his Dickens as some men study their classics.
"Tell her to be at the entrance at a quarter to six, and I will be there. Well, I must be off, Erskine will be waiting for me." And the Colonel saluted Malcolm and marched off with his head in the air, while more than one fashionable lounger turned round to look at the fine soldierly figure.
At this hour the refreshment-rooms at the Army and Navy Stores were generally crowded, and for two or three minutes Malcolm searched them vainly, before he discovered Mrs. Godfrey sitting alone at a table at the other end of the long room.
She gave an exclamation when she saw him. "Life is full of surprises," she said with the bright, vivid smile that always welcomed her favourite—"Alick promised to join me here!" And Malcolm sat down beside her and gave her the Colonel's message.
Mrs. Godfrey was evidently well used to these messages, for she received it with becoming resignation.
"I have ten minutes to spare," she observed serenely, "so you had better order yourself some tea, and we can tell each other our news. By the bye, how long have you been in town?" And when Malcolm told her nearly a month, she seemed surprised.
"I made up my mind you were still at Staplegrove," she replied; "though, now I come to think of it, there has certainly been no mention of you in Elizabeth's last two letters. By the bye," turning to him with her customary quickness—but Malcolm was just then studying the menu—"what do you think of this engagement?"
"I think it is for me to put the question to you," he returned with admirable sang-froid; but one hand clenched itself so tightly under the table that the marks of the nails were in the palm.
"Then I may as well be frank and tell you that I would forbid the banns if I could. Elizabeth ought to have married better—she is far too fine a creature to throw herself away on David Carlyon."
"He is a very good fellow," observed Malcolm rather feebly; it was hard lines that he should be expected to discuss this.
"Oh yes, he is a good fellow," a little contemptuously. "I remember I liked him very well when we were down at the Wood House this spring; there is nothing to say against the young man, he is as good as gold, and an excellent clergyman; and he is gentlemanly too—both the Carlyons are that; but," very decidedly, "he is not good enough for Elizabeth."
Malcolm agreed with every word, but he dared not trust himself to say so; he waited a moment, and then said quietly—
"It seems that Miss Templeton holds a different opinion; she appears quite satisfied with her choice."
"Satisfied"—and here Mrs. Godfrey gave a little laugh. "To judge from her letters—and we have been corresponding pretty freely lately—one would think she was a girl in her teens; she is absurdly happy—even Dinah says so. But between you and me I don't believe Dinah is a bit better pleased than the rest of us."
"What does the Colonel think?" asked Malcolm, feeling as though he ought to say something.
"Oh, Alick always agrees with me, though he expresses his ideas rather differently. He took quite a fancy to Mr. Carlyon, and they were always together last spring; so of course he will not say much—only he will have it that he is not big enough or strong enough for Elizabeth. 'She will master him, and make him look small,' that was what Alick said. They are not to be married until Easter, I hear, and Dinah wishes them to live at the Wood House."
Malcolm had never felt anything like the sudden throb of pain that shot through him when Mrs. Godfrey said this; he grew so pale that she rose hastily, thinking the room was too hot for him.
"Shall we go downstairs?" she said kindly; "the atmosphere of this place is quite suffocating." And Malcolm agreed to this; he was just thinking that he would make some excuse to leave her, when to his chagrin she led the way to the little waiting-place by the entrance, and, seating herself, beckoned to him to follow her example. "There is something I ought to tell you," she said rather seriously; "it is nice and quiet here, and there is plenty of fresh air. You are not looking the thing, Mr. Herrick; you are thinner—much thinner; I am afraid you have been working too hard."
"Oh, no, I cannot lay that flattering unction to my soul," he returned. "Is this what you have to tell me? for in that case I must remark that I have about a ton of stationery on my mind."
"No, do be quiet a moment," and her faultlessly gloved hand rested on his arm. "There is really something I want to say. You know we saw Cedric when he was staying at Fettercairn?" Malcolm's forced rigidity relaxed.
"Oh, yes, Cedric told me that in one of his letters."
"The Wallaces are nice people, and in our cramped quarters the Hall was rather a find. Sir Richard and my husband took to each other, and Lady Wallace and I followed suit."
"That must have been a pleasant sort of arrangement," observed Malcolm.
"I liked the girls too, they were so honestly, frankly ugly; and they were so good-natured, and so delightfully aware of their shortcomings, that they were quite refreshing. Fancy Martha, the eldest girl, saying to me seriously, 'Dick is the only one who takes after mother and father; he is really nice-looking, you know, but Ailie and I are a couple of squat little toads. Now, please don't laugh, Mrs. Godfrey,' she went on, 'for we are very fond of toads, and they have such bright, projecting eyes.' What on earth could I say! for indeed poor Martha is almost grotesque-looking, and yet one can't help loving her. I know I had a fit of laughing, and both of them laughed with me."