"I think he had better leave the university," returned Colonel Godfrey grimly, "for he is only bent on mischief, and will never pass his examination. Let him go abroad a bit with some reliable person and get over his folly, and then see if he will not settle down better. Dinah could afford to give him a year's travelling, and I know she would never begrudge the money."
"No, indeed, she is only too generous by nature," returned his wife; and then after a little more conversation Malcolm took leave of Mrs. Godfrey, and he and the Colonel walked down to the station.
STORM AND STRESS
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain From that same love this vindicating grace— To live on still in love, and yet in vain; To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face. —ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
"C'est le premier pas qui coute," and Malcolm proved the truth of the old French proverb, as he dismissed his fly and walked up the dark drive towards the Wood House.
He no longer felt the hot and cold fits that had shaken him as though with inward ague on his previous visit. He had seen Elizabeth again, had at least retained his outward calmness, and now he felt more sure of himself.
"The pains and penalties of life," Leah had said to him once, and he had thought the expression a strange one on the lips of so beautiful a woman; but he knew better now, and how such pains and penalties fall to the share of many men. "It is all in the day's work," he muttered as he rang the bell, for it was Malcolm's nature to philosophise even in trouble.
It was only six o'clock, and the two sisters were sitting together in the fire-lit twilight. Dinah was lying back in her easy-chair with her eyes closed, but Elizabeth had drawn her chair opposite the fire, and sat with her chin supported by her hands, gazing fixedly at the blazing logs with an absorbed gravity that again surprised Malcolm.
When they heard the visitor announced they both started to their feet and came towards him, but it was Elizabeth who spoke first. "Mr. Herrick, this is too good of you. I hope—I trust," in an anxious tone, "that your news is also good."
"You may rest assured of that," he returned, with an unconscious pressure of her hand. Dinah heaved a deep sigh of relief, and pointed silently to the chair that stood between them. She did not speak, perhaps because she could not: her face looked as though she had passed through an illness. Elizabeth, with her wonted quickness, answered Malcolm's unspoken question.
"Dinah has had one of her bad sick headaches, and has only just come downstairs. All this sad business has upset her greatly, but you will be her best physician," with the old beaming smile which Malcolm dared not meet. "Now," with a housewifely air, "shall I give you some tea? You will dine with us, of course?" But Malcolm declined the offered refreshment.
"I will dine with you if you wish it," he said rather formally, "and if you and Miss Templeton will excuse the absence of war-paint; but I am going back to town to-night."
"Oh no, not to-night!" she exclaimed in quite a shocked voice; "you will be so tired." But Malcolm assured her with absolute truth that he had never been less tired in his life. The storm and stress and excitement of the day had acted on him like a tonic as well as an anodyne; in thinking and planning for others he had found relief from the intolerable ache of ever-present pain that had made his life so purgatorial of late, and the unhealed wound throbbed less cruelly.
"I have so much to tell you that I think I had better begin at once," he observed in a business-like tone, and then both the sisters composed themselves to listen. But this time they heard him less calmly. The shock of learning Saul Jacobi's disgraceful plot, and Cedric's infatuation and weakness, was too much for Dinah, and she sobbed audibly.
"Oh, Betty!" she exclaimed piteously, "to think that our dear boy should be deceiving us like this! But that woman has deluded him."
"The woman beguiled me and I did eat," murmured Malcolm. Then Elizabeth looked at him rather sharply, as though she suspected a double meaning. But as he proceeded with his story, and she heard of Leah's noble act of self-sacrifice, her mood changed and her eyes filled with tears. Malcolm fancied that he heard her say softly under her breath, "She loved much, because much has been forgiven her."
But the climax of their wonder seemed reached when Malcolm told them that Leah was at the Manor House. Dinah seemed as though she could not believe her ears, and again Elizabeth looked at him curiously.
"Our dear Mrs. Godfrey!" she ejaculated. "I wonder what made you go to her. I thought," with a little laugh, "only a woman would have done that."
"Do you consider men so dense?" was his answer. "Mrs. Godfrey is the best friend I have in the world, and she has never disappointed me once. She is not only wise and almost masculine in her breadth of view, but she is also the most womanly of women."
"How well you have grasped her!" returned Elizabeth in an approving voice. "Yes, you are right, she will be a true friend to that poor Miss Jacobi. It was magnificent strategy. I do not believe any one else would have thought of it." But Malcolm only flushed at this eulogium.
"I promised you that I would do my best," he said in a constrained voice; but Elizabeth was too elated and excited by the good news to measure her words.
"Oh, but your best is so much better than other people's best," she said gaily. "Die, dear, why do you not make some pretty speeches to Mr. Herrick when he has achieved all this?" Then Dinah smiled and held out her hand.
"What should we have done without you!" was all she said, but Malcolm felt amply rewarded for his trouble.
They talked a little more about Leah Jacobi, and then Elizabeth said suddenly—
"I have an idea. I will go to the Manor House and talk to Mrs. Godfrey—it is our affair, and we must not shunt our responsibilities on other people's shoulders—and then I can judge of this poor Leah." And though Dinah was evidently startled by this bold suggestion, she did not attempt to gainsay it.
"Shall you go to-morrow?" she asked. "Perhaps I could go too." But Elizabeth promptly negatived this.
"You will do nothing of the kind," she returned decidedly; "I shall have you falling ill on my hands. Besides, you must be at the Wood House, in case Cedric comes;" and as Dinah perceived the force of this argument, she said no more about accompanying her sister.
Malcolm, however, was not so easily satisfied. "Are you sure that you had better do this?" he said rather gravely. "Would it not be wiser to leave Mrs. Godfrey to deal with Miss Jacobi?" But Elizabeth seemed quite indignant.
"Mr. Herrick, I did not expect this from you," she said severely. "I thought we were to do good to our enemies—and this poor soul is not our enemy after all. We have a debt to pay to her, have we not, Die? for she has set our boy free. We must do all we can to help her, and to free her from her terrible brother; for as long as she is with him there can be no peace for her."
"No, you are right," replied Malcolm slowly; "Saul Jacobi is her curse. He is a cold-hearted, selfish schemer. Well, I will not try to hinder your good work, for I see you are bent on doing it. You will go to-morrow, then?"
"Yes, I think so," but Elizabeth hesitated and looked at her sister. "David is expecting his father to-morrow, and he will not want me until the next day—" but she broke off here as dinner was announced.
It could not be said that Malcolm enjoyed his meal. The presence of the servants prevented any freedom in the conversation, and as Dinah was still oppressed and weak from the effects of her headache, the brunt of the talk fell on Malcolm and Elizabeth, and neither of them seemed quite at their ease. The mention of his rival had affected Malcolm painfully, and Elizabeth was aware of this and was at once on her guard. She avoided all local subjects and plied him with questions about his mother and Anna and the Kestons; all of which Malcolm answered punctiliously. When a pause in the conversation seemed inevitable, he plunged into the breach with a description of Amias Keston's latest picture, and an anecdote or two about that infant prodigy Babs; he spoke of a book he had been reading, from which he gave them copious extracts; and then, dessert being placed on the table, he drew a sigh of relief. By that time he was sensible of fatigue.
He left them soon after this. When he bade Dinah good-bye, she took both his hands and looked wistfully in his face. "I cannot say anything to-night," she whispered—"I am too giddy and confused; but I will write, and—and God bless you!"
To his surprise Elizabeth followed him into the hall. As she opened the door for him, the rush of raw, damp air came full in their faces.
"It is a regular November evening," she observed, with a little shiver. "It is the month I like least—the month of decay and—" then she checked herself abruptly. "Mr. Herrick, there is a question I wanted to ask, and that I did not wish Dinah to hear. You are going back to town this evening, are you not, because you expect that Cedric will come to Cheyne Walk?"
"I think he will be here," he returned reluctantly, for he had not wished to hint at this; in his own mind he was prepared for a stormy interview.
"I feel sure of it," she continued. "He is very unbalanced and passionate—he will say things that he does not mean, and that he will repent afterwards. You will bear with him—you will be patient, will you not?"
"Do you think you need ask me that?" Malcolm's voice was so full of reproach and meaning that a sudden flush crossed Elizabeth's face. "Have you forgotten already?" his expression seemed to say—"is he not your brother, and am I not your devoted and humble servant?" Then his manner changed.
"I will deal with him as gently as possible, you may be sure of that," he said kindly. But Elizabeth gave him her hand rather timidly and without looking at him.
This time there was no backward glance as Malcolm and his lantern disappeared into the dark woodlands; but Elizabeth stood so long in the porch that the dead leaves swirled round her feet and even blew across the hall.
"I wish I had not said that," she thought; "I might have trusted him. He will be firm, but he will be gentle too." And then she went back to Dinah, and they talked together of all that should be done on the morrow.
It was not long past eleven when Malcolm let himself into the house in Cheyne Walk with his latch-key, but Verity was evidently on the watch for him.
"Mr. Templeton is here," she said, and he detected a trace of anxiety in her manner. "He has been here quite two hours. Amias wanted him to come into the studio, but he preferred going to your room. I am afraid he is not well, or something is troubling him; he does nothing but walk about."
"I will go up to him," rejoined Malcolm. "I suppose there is a fire?" Verity nodded, and wished him goodnight.
The fire was burning cheerily; nevertheless, as Malcolm opened the door, the room felt as cold as a vault. The window opening on to the balcony had been flung up, and the damp air from the river pervaded the whole place. The sudden draught made the lamp smoke, and he moved it hastily. As he did so a dark figure came between him and the light, and seized him almost roughly by the arm.
"So it is you, Herrick, at last!" in a hoarse voice that was scarcely recognisable. "Now tell me, please, what have you done with Leah?"
The grip on Malcolm's arm was so painful that he winced. "Let me shut that window first, there's a good fellow," he returned coolly, "or we shall be blown into the street;" and as Cedric sullenly let him go, he fastened it and drew down the blind and turned up the lamp.
Cedric watched him savagely.
Verity might well have suspected that something was seriously amiss. Cedric's face was pale and his whole aspect disordered, and the strained, fierce look in his blue eyes almost dismayed Malcolm. There was something aggressive too in his manner that affected him unpleasantly.
"Well, are you going to speak?" in a defiant voice, "or do you wish to drive me crazy? What have you done with the girl who is to be my wife to-morrow?"
"Why do you imagine that I have done anything with her?" returned Malcolm steadily, for he wanted to find out what Cedric really knew. "I have just come from the Wood House. Your sisters are in great trouble about this."
"You have not taken her there," retorted Cedric, with a sneer, "and I am not in a mood to discuss my sisters. Herrick, I call this an infernal shame! What right have you to come between a man and his affianced wife? I will not bear it—you shall make me amends!"—stammering with passion. "Saul says you are at the bottom of this."
"Mr. Jacobi will have to prove it then," returned Malcolm quietly.
"Prove it! Do you think we have not sufficient proof?" exclaimed Cedric angrily. "I suppose you do not deny that you were at Gresham Gardens this morning."
"I was there certainly; Miss Jacobi sent for me. I had seen her in Kensington Gardens the previous day."
"I know all about that," interrupted Cedric rudely. "Saul told me you were bent on making mischief between me and Leah. You left the house with her this morning. One of the servants saw you go. You were carrying a Gladstone bag and a travelling wrap, evidently a lady's."
Malcolm bit his lip. They had been seen then.
"Before we go on with this cross-examination, will you allow me to explain matters," he observed. "It is no use your taking this tone with me, Cedric; I have done nothing of which I am ashamed. As far as I can, and up to a certain point, I will tell you the exact truth, and it may be well for you to hear me."
Malcolm's quiet tone was not without influence, and Cedric flung himself on a chair; but his attitude was still defiant.
"I own that I have done all in my power to induce Leah Jacobi to break off this disastrous engagement," continued Malcolm. "I did this not only for your sake, and because you were the tool of a designing and unscrupulous man, but also for your sisters' sake. When I left her yesterday it was impossible to know how far I had succeeded in my purpose." Cedric looked up when Malcolm said this.
"This morning Miss Jacobi sent me a note, and I went to her at once. She was in deep distress, and showed me her brother's telegram. To my astonishment, she told me that she fully intended to break off her engagement, and entrusted this letter to my care;" and here he stopped and handed it to Cedric, and withdrew to another part of the room while he read it.
A long time afterwards Malcolm read that letter.
"My darling, I cannot marry you," Leah wrote. "I am going to set you free. I pray God that I may never see your dear face again, for this is the hardest piece of work I have ever done in my life. Mr. Herrick has been talking to me; he has made me see things in a different light. I know now that I am no fit wife for you, my life has been too soiled and degraded. In experience I am twenty or thirty years older than you, and though I am only nine-and-twenty, my heart is gray. Dear—dearest, you are so young—perhaps that is why I love you—your youth is so gracious and lovely in my eyes. But Mr. Herrick is right. You must not be angry with him, Cedric. He has been so kind and gentle, and he is so true a friend to you. I have sent for him—when he comes I shall ask him to hide me in some safe place where you and Saul cannot find me. I am so afraid of Saul—he is so strong, he makes me do things against my conscience."
"Darling, let me say just this one thing more. It is because of Saul that I am so determined not to marry you. If you became my husband, he would be a drag on you all your life. He has absolutely no conscience; he would ruin you. No—no, you shall be free. I will not hurt a hair of your head. Farewell.—Your loving and unhappy Leah"
Malcolm had turned his back, and stood looking down into the fire, until a choked sob reached his ears. Cedric's head was sunk on his arms, and his whole frame was convulsed with suppressed emotion; but when Malcolm put his hand on his shoulder, he started up as though beside himself.
"This is your doing," he said furiously. "I will never forgive you, Herrick—never! Oh!"—as midnight chimed from a church near—"this is our wedding-day—: Leah's and mine, and you have hidden my bride away! But you shall give her up," with an oath, and for the moment Malcolm thought the lad would have struck him in his insane passion. Cedric was no mean athlete, and Malcolm was hardly a match for him, but he caught his uplifted hand and held it firmly.
"Don't be a fool, Cedric," he said quietly. "Do you suppose this violence will serve your purpose? Miss Jacobi has placed herself under my protection, and I shall certainly not betray her. Sit down and behave like a gentleman, and let us talk this out. Good heavens!" with a sudden change of voice, "do you suppose you are the only man in the world who cannot marry the woman he loves," and Malcolm's tone and manner seemed to check Cedric's passion. "Let us talk it out like men," he repeated, and Cedric sank back on his chair, still sullen but half subdued.
"HE WILL COME RIGHT"
If your eyes look for nothing but evil, you will always see evil triumphant; but if you have learned to let your glance rest on sincerity, simpleness, truth, you will ever discover deep down in all things the silent overpowering victory of that you love. —MAETERLINCK
Long afterwards Malcolm compared that night's work to a severe wrestling-match, and owned that it had taxed his mental and bodily strength to the utmost. The illustration was singularly apt. The whole force of his manhood and will were set to rescue this poor lad from the effects of his own infatuation and folly, but at first he made little progress.
Saul Jacobi's pernicious influence had done its work, and Malcolm, to his dismay and disgust, was forced to realise that his baleful and hated arguments had already poisoned Cedric's mind. More than once he was revolted by ideas which he knew had been inculcated by Saul Jacobi. "He has poisoned the wells," Malcolm said to himself indignantly—"Cedric's fresh young mind has been contaminated by his odious philosophy," and his heart grew sad as he remembered Dinah's faith in her boy.
More than once he was so sickened by Cedric's want of restraint and childish abandon of grief that he was tempted to give up the struggle. Only Elizabeth's pleading voice was in his ears-"You will bear with him—you will be patient with him, will you not?" and then again he would nerve himself to fresh effort.
All at once a thought came to him as an inspiration. Cedric had been giving way to a perfect paroxysm of despair, and Malcolm had with some sternness remonstrated with him on his want of manliness and self-control. "You are making things worse," he said; "why don't you take your trouble like a man?" But the rebuke only exasperated Cedric.
"Oh, it is all very well for you to talk," he returned angrily, "but if you were in my place you would not bear it any better. You are so immaculate, Herrick, you can't make allowance for a poor miserable devil like me. I don't believe you have ever cared for a woman in your life. Good heavens!" as he caught sight of Malcolm's face, "do you mean that you have ever been in love?"
Then it was that the thought came to Malcolm—Cedric should know that he was a fellow-sufferer.
"I do mean it," he returned steadily, "and I also mean to say that your love is as water unto wine compared to mine; that is, if we can call such mad infatuation by so sacred a name." And there was a tone of contempt in Malcolm's voice that made Cedric wince.
"Don't be so hard on a fellow," he muttered.
"My dear boy, I would not be hard on you for worlds; if I speak of myself at such a moment, it is only that you may see that I am fully competent to sympathise with you."
"Won't you tell me more, Herrick?"
"No, dear lad, I think not, except that my case is even more hopeless than yours, for the only woman I have loved or can love will soon marry another man," and here Malcolm's face looked gray and worn. "I need not add," he continued hastily, "that all this is between us both."
"Of course—of course," was the eager answer. "I am awfully sorry—I am indeed. I wish I had not bullied you so."
Malcolm smiled a little sadly.
"Never mind that now. I only want to say this, we must take our punishment like men, and not whine like fractious children who want the moon—the moon is no nearer for all that." He sighed a little bitterly, for he was tired and depressed; and after that Cedric was more reasonable, and Malcolm regained some of his lost influence.
It was nearly morning before Malcolm could induce him to lie down on the couch; he had flatly refused to take possession of Malcolm's bed.
"I could not rest quietly in bed," he said piteously; "let me lie here while you write your letter;" for it had been arranged between them that Malcolm should send a note to Dinah by the early post; but long before the letter was written the worn-out lad was sleeping heavily. Malcolm covered him up with rugs before he slipped out to the post. Malcolm did not write a very long letter.
"I found Cedric here on my return home," he wrote. "He was very excited and unhappy, and I had great difficulty in bringing him to a reasonable frame of mind; but he is calmer now, and is at present asleep on my couch. I am going with him to Oxford to-morrow, and shall probably remain with him for a day or two. It will never do to leave him alone, or that fellow Jacobi will get hold of him again. I find he has already lent him money. I have been questioning Cedric, and I find that Saul Jacobi trumped up a false excuse for him to make to the Dean. Cedric was a little incoherent on the subject, but I understood him to say that he had begged for a three days' excuse on account of a sister's illness."
"As far as I can make out, Jacobi merely intended to have the marriage ceremony performed, and to allow Cedric to return to Oxford the next day. He had pacified him by promising to bring down his sister later, and to take lodgings for a week or two; but it is impossible to guess what the fellow really meant. As far as I can judge, there will be no further trouble with the authorities, but Cedric must not be left to himself."
"I know some excellent lodgings not a stone's throw from St. John's. Do you not think it would be a good thing if you and your sister were to take possession of them for a week or two? Cedric is not fit to be alone, and you will be a comfort to him. It seems to me that there is nothing else to be done. I cannot possibly remain beyond a night or two. If you wire I will engage the rooms, and they shall be in readiness for you." And when this letter was safely in the post, Malcolm sought the rest he needed so urgently, and was soon sleeping the heavy sleep of exhaustion.
Elizabeth was at the Manor House when Dinah received her letter, but she answered it and sent off her telegram without an hour's delay.
"I told him to take the rooms, Betty," she said, as she handed the letter to her sister the next day. "I have packed my things and shall go to-morrow. Of course, you will do as you like about coming too." Elizabeth considered the matter.
"If one could only have breathing-time," she murmured; "but to-morrow gives me so little time. Could you wait until the afternoon, Die?" she continued, "and then I could go across to Rotherwood and have a talk with David and his father. You see, dear, I am anxious to be with Cedric, and to settle you in comfortably, and I should also like to tell Mr. Herrick the result of my visit to the Manor House." Then Dinah rather reluctantly consented to put off her journey until the afternoon. Elizabeth, preoccupied and anxious, hardly realised what the sacrifice of those few hours was to Dinah, who could literally hardly sleep or eat for her longing to comfort her darling.
Perhaps Elizabeth's thoughts were engrossed by the recollection of her conversation with Leah, for she spoke of little else that night; but just before they separated she asked to read Malcolm's letter again, and when she laid it down there was the old puzzled look in her eyes.
"Why does he always think of the right thing?" she said slowly. "What makes him so thoughtful and understanding? He leaves no margin for other people. This Oxford plan is just splendid. You will be such a comfort to the poor boy, Die. You will be there waiting and watching for him, and ready to fuss over him like a mother hen, and the sly old fox will not be able to get at him;" and she laughed, and bade her sister good-night. But when she was in her own room the thoughtful look returned. "He is always so wise and right," she said to herself. "He has only made one mistake—only one," and her face was very grave; for no one, not even her chosen lover, knew how the thought of Malcolm Herrick's patient sorrow oppressed Elizabeth's tender heart.
Dinah had good reason to regret their postponed journey, for they arrived at Oxford too late to see Cedric that night; but Malcolm was at the station to receive them, and accompanied them to their lodgings.
"I am glad you made up your mind to come," he said, as they drove from the station, "for I shall be obliged to go up to town to-morrow, and I feel happier to leave you in possession. I think Cedric likes the idea of having you. He is not looking well, but one must expect that; he has had rather a rough time of it. Oh, I forgot to say that he cannot possibly be with you until nearly twelve o'clock." Dinah tried not to give her sister a reproachful look when Malcolm said this. Malcolm only waited to hear how they liked the rooms he had taken before he went back to his hotel; but at their earnest request he promised to have breakfast with them the following morning, and also to take a later train, that they might have time for a good talk.
He kept his appointment punctually, and the conversation of course turned first on Cedric, but Malcolm was somewhat reticent on the subject of that stormy interview in Cheyne Walk.
"One must make allowances under such circumstances, and he was hardly himself that night," was all he said, but they fully understood him.
"Do you think he will get over it?" asked Dinah anxiously.
"Oh yes, he will get over it—he is so young;" but Malcolm avoided Elizabeth's eyes as he spoke; "youth has immense advantages. But you must give him time. If you will take my advice, dear Miss Templeton, you will not watch him too closely, or trouble if you find him a little altered, and not quite the old Cedric. He will come right by-and-by."
"Oh, if I could believe that," wistfully.
"You must make yourself believe it. Of course he will give you plenty of trouble at first. He will have his bad days, and try to make you as miserable as he is himself, but you must prepare yourself for that. Think what a boon it will be to him to turn in here and find some one ready to listen to his jeremiad." Then Dinah smiled faintly.
"I hope you intend to remain with your sister," he continued, turning rather abruptly to Elizabeth. She coloured and hesitated.
"I am afraid I can only remain a week, but I shall come down again later on. You need not fear that Dinah will be dull, Mr. Herrick; if she can only be sure of seeing her boy for an hour in the day, she will be perfectly happy. I always tell her that she is cut out for a hermit, she loves her own company so much. I am far more gregarious in my tastes—the society of my fellow-creatures is absolutely necessary to me."
Malcolm was quite aware of this, but he listened gravely. "I hope you mean to let me know your opinion of Leah Jacobi before I go," he observed presently. To his surprise she gave an embarrassed laugh.
"I have been dreading that question all breakfast time; I am so afraid I shall shock you. It is wicked of me, of course, but indeed I am only too ready to sympathise with poor old Cedric, for I have fallen in love with her myself."
"Do you know, I am not at all surprised to hear you say that," observed Malcolm.
"You were aware of my impulsive disposition," returned Elizabeth with another laugh. "But she is simply the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life. All the time I was listening to her I thought of all those fair women the old patriarchs loved—Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel; but I think she is most like Rebekah."
"I daresay you are right there," replied Malcolm coolly—"I can imagine myself that Leah Jacobi would be equally clever at deception."
"For shame, Mr. Herrick!" in an indignant tone; "you know I did not mean that. I was thinking of the young Rebekah at the well at Damascus."
"It was too bad of me," he returned apologetically; "but of course I understood what you meant. There is a strange fascination about Miss Jacobi. It is not only her beauty, though that is undeniable."
"No, indeed," exclaimed Elizabeth eagerly; "but one can hardly say where the charm lies; but the moment I saw her deep-set, melancholy eyes, and heard her low, vibrating voice, I seemed to lose my heart to her. Poor dear Cedric, how could he help loving her?—how could any man resist her?" But Elizabeth checked herself as she became aware of Malcolm's keen, penetrating glance.
"You surely do not wish him to marry her?" he asked in a low voice. Then Elizabeth looked quite shocked.
"Mr. Herrick-our brother-Cedric; no, a thousand times no; neither would she marry him now. But oh, how my heart aches for her!"
"You need not tell me that."
"We were up half the night talking," she went on, "and she told me everything—everything," and here Elizabeth positively shuddered. "Oh, why are such things allowed? What a mystery life is! Mrs. Godfrey was with us at first, and then the Colonel carried her off; but I heard the clock strike three before I left Leah's room, and then I could not sleep a wink for thinking over some of the horrible scenes she had described."
"I wish she had not told you," murmured Malcolm. Elizabeth smiled a little sadly.
"It will not hurt me, and I shall be able to help her better. Mr. Herrick, Dinah agrees with me that we must never lose sight of her. I told Mrs. Godfrey so. Oh, that was a masterly stroke of policy, taking the poor thing to the Manor House. Mrs. Godfrey is so clever—she has an idea already. Did you ever see Mrs. Richardson, who lives in the red house on the road to Combe—Sandy Hollow, I think they call it?"
"Do you mean that very eccentric old lady whom Mrs. Godfrey always calls Mother Quixote, who is so rich, and always travels with a white Persian cat? Of course I have seen her at church. She is stout, rather addicted to gorgeous raiment, and wears a gold pince-nez."
"That is the very person!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Oh yes, she is excessively rich, has not a relative in the world, gives half her income away, and, as dear Mrs. Godfrey expresses it, spends a good deal of her time in trying to wash her black sheep white, and weeping over her failures."
"And I am afraid does more harm than good in the long run," observed Malcolm; but Elizabeth would not allow this.
"She is the drollest old dear in the world," she went on, "and is quite a Mrs. Malaprop in some of her sayings, but she has the best and kindest heart in the world. Mrs. Godfrey means to enlist her sympathies on Leah's behalf, and we have no fear of the result."
"And you think this good lady will be able to help Miss Jacobi?"
"We are quite sure of it. Mrs. Richardson has a weak chest, and she always winters abroad, and she has been in the habit of engaging some young lady to accompany her as a travelling companion. Her maid is rather a crotchety old person, and very uneducated; besides, the cat gives her sufficient employment. I forgot to say he is blind, and rejoices in the name of Sir Charles Grandison. Mrs. Richardson is a descendant of the novelist, and always carries Clarissa Harlowe and Sir Charles Grandison about with her. She is full of amusing fads and fancies."
"And you mean Miss Jacobi to be her travelling companion?"
"Mrs. Godfrey means it—it is her idea. Anyhow, she promised to go round to Sandy Hollow the next day and give the old lady a full description of Leah, and if possible to arrange a meeting."
"I think it a very good idea," chimed in Dinah, her soft voice breaking the silence for the first time—she was always willing to leave the conversation in Elizabeth's hands. "Miss Jacobi seems very willing to do anything, poor thing, that will make her independent of her brother."
"Yes, indeed, she is terribly afraid of him," returned Elizabeth. "She has reason to dread his violence, I can see that. Once or twice he has treated her with absolute cruelty, but then she owned he had been drinking. You see," appealing to Malcolm, "it would be such a relief to us all to know she was abroad, and in such kind hands; and then, as Mrs. Godfrey says, she is so exactly fitted for the post. She is very accomplished, speaks French, German, and Italian fluently, and is a good reader. Oh, must you go?" as Malcolm looked at his watch with some significance.
"I am afraid I must not lose this train," he replied hastily, "but I shall hope to run down again in a week or two. You will let me know how things go on," addressing Dinah, "and if there be anything I can do for you?" and then he shook hands with Elizabeth rather hurriedly and went off to secure his luggage.
"I hope we did not keep him too long," observed Elizabeth anxiously, "for he is running as though he were late." But Dinah did not hear her; she had already taken up her position by the window, and was looking out for Cedric.
TRAVELLING THROUGH SAHARA
The hope I dreamed of was a dream— Was but a dream; and now I wake Exceeding comfortless, and worn and sad For a dream's sake. —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.
For the next few weeks Malcolm was much occupied with business, but he contrived to pay a flying visit to Oxford, and to spend a few hours with Dinah and Cedric. He had corresponded with Dinah regularly, and her letters told him all he most wished to know. At first they had been very sad. Cedric had broken down utterly on seeing his sisters, and both she and Elizabeth had been very much upset. The change in him was so great that they could hardly recognise their bright-faced boy, and Dinah owned that they had been shocked by the hard, reckless manner in which he had spoken. "I think Mr. Jacobi's influence has done great harm," she wrote; "Cedric says such extraordinary things sometimes, that I feel quite frightened to hear him. He never used to talk so—surely Oxford cannot have done this." Malcolm ground his teeth rather savagely when he read this. "He has poisoned the wells," he said to himself a second time. "There is no punishment too severe for one who tries to contaminate the innocence of youth!"
Dinah's letters became more cheerful after a time. Cedric liked having her near him, and she saw him for an hour or two every day. Elizabeth had not come down again. David Carlyon was not well. He had caught a fresh cold, and Elizabeth seemed worried about him, all the more that his sister was with him, and Theo did not understand nursing. "Theo Carlyon is rather an unsatisfactory person," wrote Dinah.
By-and-by she gave him news of Leah Jacobi. Mrs. Godfrey's brilliant idea was certainly likely to be verified. Mrs. Richardson had been several times to the Manor House, she wrote, and had evidently taken a fancy to Leah. A few days later there was still more satisfactory news.
"It is all arranged," she wrote triumphantly. "Mrs. Richardson has engaged Miss Jacobi as a travelling companion, and will pay her a handsome salary. They are to leave England in about ten days' time. Mrs. Godfrey says that she and the Colonel will be quite sorry to lose their guest—Miss Jacobi is so gentle and affectionate that they have both grown fond of her; and Mrs. Godfrey predicts that Mrs. Richardson will never part with her."
Malcolm paid his second visit to Oxford soon after the receipt of this letter. Dinah was delighted to see him, and to hear that he intended to spend a quiet Sunday with them.
"I was just going to write to you," she said, when the first greetings had passed between them. "Cedric was so upset last night. He had a letter from that odious man Jacobi. Such a letter! written on a dirty scrap of paper in pencil. But I will show it to you; Cedric left it here;" and Dinah unlocked her writing-case.
Malcolm frowned as he read it.
"I am up Queer Street, my boy," wrote Jacobi; "12 Gresham Gardens is in the hands of the bailiffs, and every stick of furniture is to be sold; and as England is rather too hot for me just now, I am going to make tracks for New York. If I could see that sister of mine, I would give her a piece of my mind. What a cursed fool the girl has been! But it is all that fellow Herrick's fault. He is a deep one, and he has a game of his own on hand; I am as sure of that as that my name is Saul Jacobi. Well, ta-ta, old fellow, I will let you know my diggings later on. Hang that fellow! if it had not been for him we should have pulled the job through, and you would have had the handsomest wife in Europe. Well, that game's played out, and I was never the one to cry over spilt milk. 'A short life and a merry one,' that's my creed.—Yours up to date,"
"SAUL MELCHIOR JACOBI."
"So we are rid of the brute for the present," observed Malcolm. The expression seemed to alarm Dinah.
"For the present?" she repeated anxiously.
"My dear lady," he returned gravely, "do you suppose that we have seen the last of Saul Jacobi?"
"Indeed—indeed, I hope so," very earnestly.
"Then 'hope told a flattering tale,' and you must not believe her," replied Malcolm smiling. "The Jacobis of this life are not so easily shaken off. Like the horse-leech's daughters, they cry 'Give, give.' I should not be the least surprised if a series of begging letters with the New York postmark reached Cedric at due intervals."
"Oh, Mr. Herrick, what shall we do?"
"Do—why, put them in the fire unread. That will be my advice to Cedric. I know exactly the sort of letters that fellow will write. The first one will be jocular and friendly, and the business part will be in the postscript; the second will be pathetic and somewhat reproachful, and the demands more urgent; finally, if money is not forthcoming, he will bluster and threaten and make himself exceedingly unpleasant. Cedric must simply have no dealings with him; and above all things, he must take no notice of his letters."
"I hope you will tell Cedric this." And Malcolm promised that he would speak to him very plainly.
But Cedric was not the docile pupil of old. The lad's sweet disposition and milk of human kindness had soured under the sudden shock of his trouble; the loss of his sweetheart and the consciousness of his own misconduct filled him with bitterness, and made him at times very irritable. Dinah's gentleness suited him better than Malcolm's bracing counsels, and her exceeding patience with him in his fits of despondency sometimes roused him to penitence.
By Malcolm's advice she had told him in guarded terms that Leah was well, and with friends who intended to take her abroad; but no entreaties on Cedric's part could induce her to reveal the names of Leah's protectors, or how she had received the information. Cedric complained bitterly to Malcolm that they were all treating him like a child.
"Not at all, my dear fellow," was Malcolm's answer; "it is by Miss Jacobi's wish that we keep silence. The lady who has engaged her as a companion is a stranger to all of us, but I believe she is a very kind-hearted woman, and that Miss Jacobi will be very comfortable with her."
"Comfortable—a companion—my beautiful Leah!"
But the pain was too great, and Cedric burst into tears. After all, he was little more than a boy, and Malcolm remembered this and was patient.
On Sunday afternoon, as they were coming out of chapel, Dinah said suddenly, "I quite forgot to tell you that Mr. Rossiter has been at the Manor House again, and has seen Leah, and quite approves of the arrangement with Mrs. Richardson. He is going back to America, and has promised to keep an eye on Saul Jacobi. He was quite confidential with Leah."
"He is rather intimate with them," returned Malcolm; "indeed, I believe he is in love with the fair Rebekah himself"—for he had never forgotten Elizabeth's name for her. "Hugh Rossiter is a fine fellow, and would suit her a hundred times better than poor old Cedric. Oh well, he is too cunning a hunter to make a false shot, but I have a notion that he will try again some day;" and then Cedric came out and joined them, and they walked back to the lodgings.
Malcolm was going back to town that evening, and when Cedric had left them Dinah talked a little about her future plans.
"Cedric is so much better," she said, "that I think I can go home next week. He will follow me in another fortnight, and I do not like leaving Elizabeth so long alone."
"I think you told me that she was worried about Mr. Carlyon?" returned Malcolm with manifest effort.
"Yes, indeed, and she may well be," replied Dinah with a sigh. "Young men are so reckless and imprudent—at least David is. Just think of his madness, Mr. Herrick. He is not strong, and he takes cold more easily than other people. He got very wet taking a funeral for a clergyman at Dinglefield, and when he reached home, instead of changing his clothes, he went a mile farther to baptize a dying child. He was soaking by the time he got back, and a bad feverish cold set in. Elizabeth insisted that Dr. Randolph should see him; and she wrote to Theo herself, but I fancy from her letters that she rather repented of sending for her; but poultices were needed, and Mrs. Pratt, his landlady, is simply an impossible woman. However, things have worked so badly between them that Theo has gone back to Stokeley, and Elizabeth declares that even her brother is thankful to be rid of her. But he is better now."
"He is up and about again, but he doesn't lose his cough, and I can see Elizabeth is anxious. You look surprised, but I assure you my sister has some reason for her fears. David's mother was consumptive, and two of his sisters died young of the same complaint. Theo is the only robust one, and David knows well that he ought to take care. Mr. Carlyon is always worrying about him."
Malcolm tried to express his sympathy properly, but he felt he acquitted himself badly. Was this the reason, he wondered, why Elizabeth had looked so grave? but he thought it wiser not to dwell on the subject.
Malcolm was having a bad time just then. The excitement of the Jacobi episode had roused him for a while, but now natural reaction had set in, and the deadness and dulness of his daily routine oppressed him intolerably. Nothing interested him—nothing gave him pleasure. His literary work, the society of his friends, even his nightly "smokes" with the faithful Goliath, were like the dust and bitterness of the apples of Sodom. The present was like the desert of Sahara to him, and the future a perfect cavern of gloom.
He was tired of himself and every one else, and, though he did not know it, his nerves were unstrung, and he could not always control his irritability.
But he did his best, and fought his "foul fiend" gallantly. "He is a good divine that follows his own instructions," he would say grimly, when he compelled himself to make fresh efforts. Anything was better than brooding, he thought. And in the evenings he would resist the temptation to yield to his weariness and to take possession of his easy-chair.
For he knew too well that at such hours he was not master of his thoughts, and that in fancy the empty chair opposite to him would not long be unoccupied.
How often had he pictured Elizabeth there as the companion of his solitude—how often had her bright face, with its changing expression, come between him and his book! And in the gloaming her pleasant voice, with its quick breaks and hesitation, its characteristic abruptness, had sounded in his ears. Sometimes he would walk to and fro in a perfect agony of impatience and passionate rebellion against his fate. "I am possessed, but it is with an angel in woman's shape," he would say to himself; "and yet she is no angel either—she is far too human. And her faults—oh well," with a dreary laugh, "her faults are Elizabethan too." But once, when the bitterness of his pain was too great, he muttered to himself a strange thing.
"It is I who ought to be in his place," he said. "She is bewitched—David Carlyon's simplicity and goodness have bewitched her—but he is not her rightful mate." And then he struck himself fiercely on the breast and whispered, "He is here—he is here, Elizabeth!"
But in spite of his inward sadness he would not spare himself, and every week he went as usual to Queen's Gate to dine with his mother. But the long evenings tried him, and he found it difficult to hide his ennui and weariness from his mother's sharp eyes. One evening, just before Christmas, Anna made some remarks on his tired looks in her gentle, affectionate way, and he had checked her with unwonted irritability.
"I wish you would get out of that habit of commenting on people's looks," he said quite angrily. "It is very objectionable to me. I suppose every one is tired and out of sorts at times, but it does no good to notice it."
"I am sorry, Malcolm—I will try to remember next time," faltered Anna; but the tears were in her eyes, and a few minutes later she left the room.
Mrs. Herrick ventured on a remonstrance. "I am afraid you have hurt Anna," she said; "she is so sensitive, and you were quite rough with her."
"I am afraid I was," returned Malcolm penitently; "but if you only knew how it riles a man to be watched so closely."
"It was a very natural speech on Anna's part," replied his mother in her sensible, matter-of-fact way. "The truth is, Malcolm, you have not been like yourself for months—you are ill or worried, and you do not wish us to take any notice. Well, you shall have your way, but it is a little hard on us both."
"Mother, there is nothing that I can tell you. You know I have said that before. One must have worries in this life—" But Malcolm checked himself as Anna came back into the room. She was rather quiet and subdued all dinner-time, though she tried to appear as usual. And Malcolm's conscience pricked him unmercifully.
Later on he found himself alone with her. She was drawing at a little round table, and he went and stood by her.
"Annachen," he said caressingly, as he put his hand under her chin and made her look at him, "I was a brute to speak to you as I did. Of course you meant it kindly, dear, but it seemed to rub me up the wrong way. I think I am tired this evening; anyhow, my head aches." And Malcolm might have added with truthfulness that his heart ached too.
"Yes, and I worried you; it was very tactless and foolish on my part," and again the ready tears started to Anna's eyes. But Malcolm would not allow this—his dear little Anna was always kind and thoughtful, and he had no right to be so savage with her.
"My mother is always hinting at my changed looks, but indeed I try to be as usual. If I behave so badly, I must keep away." But this threat so alarmed Anna that he took back his words.
"He is very unhappy—I think he gets more so," Anna thought, as she stood by her window that night; "and of course it is Elizabeth who makes him so." And that night Anna again wept and prayed for Malcolm—her dearest brother, as she called him—for deep down in her girlish heart there was buried the pure virginal love that she had unconsciously given him—a love that no touch or breath would ever wake into life now.
Malcolm was very repentant for days over his unkind speech, and on Christmas Eve, when he paid his next visit, he brought Anna a peace-offering in the shape of a valuable proof engraving of a picture she had long coveted. Malcolm had had it beautifully framed. Anna was enchanted with the gift, but Mrs. Herrick privately called her son to account for his extravagance.
"There was no need to make Anna such an expensive present," she said seriously. "You must have paid twenty guineas for that engraving. You are too lavish in your generosity. She would be quite satisfied with some pretty trifle."
"I am quite sure of that," he returned; "but it is such a pleasure to give her things. Indeed, mother," as Mrs. Herrick still looked grave, "I can well afford it. I have more money than I know how to spend, and as I am not likely to marry, I see no good in hoarding."
Malcolm was right in saying that his income was too large for a bachelor, for in addition to the salary he drew from his literary post, his mother insisted on making him a handsome allowance, and every quarter day a large sum was placed to his account at his banker's, which Malcolm rarely touched.
"You are my only son, and there will be plenty for you when I die," she had said to him; "and Anna shall have her share too. Your father was a rich man, Malcolm, and there is no need for you to work unless you wish to do so;" but Malcolm soon convinced her that an idle life was not to his taste.
Just after the new year Malcolm received rather a reproachful letter from Mrs. Godfrey, accusing him of forgetting their existence.
"Of course you will say you are busy," she wrote, "but I do not mean to accept that excuse. You can spend a quiet Sunday with us as well as at Oxford, and I beg to remind you that I am an older friend than Dinah Templeton." Then Malcolm somewhat reluctantly made up his mind to accept the invitation for the following Saturday, although he was hardly in the mood for his old friend's lively talk.
To his surprise his genial hostess received him rather gravely, and it struck him at once that her cheerfulness was a little forced, and with the familiarity of their intimate friendship he at once taxed her with it. "Colonel Godfrey is well, and you are quite well," he said pointedly, "and yet something seems troubling you?"
"You are quite right," she returned with a sigh. "You know I am rather a sympathetic person, Mr. Herrick, and I have been very much upset this morning by a letter from Elizabeth Templeton. Mr. Carlyon has been up to town to consult Dr. Broderick. His father took him; and from what she says there is nothing to be done—the poor fellow is in a rapid decline," and as she said this Mrs. Godfrey's eyes were full of tears.
Bleed on beneath the rod, Weep on until thou see; Turn fear and hope to love of God, Who loveth thee.
Turn all to love, poor soul; Be love thy starting-point, thy goal, Be love thy watch and ward; And thy reward. —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.
It was the Feast of the Epiphany, and morning service was just over in Rotherwood church, when Elizabeth Templeton came out of the porch and walked slowly towards the gate, as though she expected some one to overtake her.
At the sound of short, hurrying footsteps behind her she turned round and welcomed the new-comer with a faint smile, and they went on together. The Rev. Rupert Carlyon had been taking the service at his son's request, and now, as he walked beside Elizabeth and tried vainly to adapt his brisk, rapid step to hers, he looked more than ever like a gray-haired, shabby David Carlyon. The resemblance between father and son had always been striking, and even the mannerisms and tricks of speech were absurdly similar. "A dry, chippy little man," Cedric had once called him, and now, in his worn Inverness cape and slouched clerical hat, he seemed smaller and more shrunken than ever.
It was a lovely winter's day, and the hoar-frost on the hedges glittered in the sunshine; the air was crisp and buoyant in spite of the cold; but Elizabeth, who so revelled in the beauty of Nature, and thought every season good and perfect, now only glanced round her with the indifferent air of one whose thoughts were elsewhere.
"You are going to the vicarage?" she remarked at last; "I must not take you out of your way."
"Oh, I will walk as far as the White Cottage with you," returned Mr. Carlyon briskly. "You have promised to spend my last day with my boy and me, so I shall be sure to turn up at tea. Charrington will give me some luncheon, and then I have two or three visits to pay for David; he is worrying himself dreadfully about that cobbler's child."
"Ah, poor little Kit," observed Elizabeth sadly; "how sorry Mr. Herrick will be—Kit is his special protegee. But Dr. Randolph says that she could never have lived to grow up. Her stepmother is nursing her devotedly; but it is so sad to see Caleb Martin: he is quite bound up in the child, and it seems no use to try and comfort him. 'Ay, it is the Lord's will,' he said to me yesterday, 'and maybe Kit will have a fine time when the angels make much of her; but what will Ma'am and I do without her—that is what I want to know?'"
"To be sure—to be sure," returned Mr. Carlyon hurriedly, "that is what we all want to know. Well, Elizabeth, you will do your best to make my boy hear reason? Theo and I have failed, and this is our last chance."
"I will do what I can," replied Elizabeth dejectedly; "but David is a difficult patient, and I very much fear that even I shall have little influence with him. It is so strange," she continued sorrowfully, "that with all his unselfishness he should think so little of our feelings in this."
"Oh, you must make allowances for the morbidness of disease," returned Mr. Carlyon, shaking his head. "Sick people have their fancies. You must not lose heart, my dear,—remember you are my chief comfort as well as David's." Then again she tried to smile. The next minute they came in sight of the White Cottage, and Mr. Carlyon left her to fulfil his self-imposed duties.
Elizabeth was right when she confessed that David Carlyon was a difficult patient, for his high spirit and energy had prevented him for a long time from owning he was ill.
Even in the early days of their engagement there had been symptoms that ought not to have been neglected; but he had fought his languor and fever manfully, and even Elizabeth knew nothing of an alarming attack of faintness that had followed an unusually hard day's work.
Afterwards he had taken cold, and his illness had been so sharp that Elizabeth in desperation had summoned his sister; but even then David had absolutely refused any further medical advice, and had also resisted all his friends' entreaties that he would be moved to the vicarage or the Wood House to be properly nursed. "His old diggings were good enough for the likes of him," he would say, "and though Mother Pratt had her failings, she was not a bad sort;" and when Elizabeth pressed him more closely he had seemed quite worried.
"Do give me my way in this," he said to her coaxingly. "If you knew how I love this dear old cottage! It was in this room I first saw you, dearest. You were standing by that window, in the sunshine, when the vicar brought me to see the place, and you turned round with such a beaming smile on your face. I think I loved you then. I could not be so happy anywhere else." And Elizabeth had reluctantly yielded her opinion.
But the humble cottage rooms had been beautified and transformed by hers and Dinah's thoughtful care for the invalid, and one comfort after another had found their way from the Wood House. The very couch that Dinah had used in her illness, with its soft silk cushions and eider-down foot-quilt, the gold and black screen from the inner drawing-room, and a favourite easy-chair that David had often praised, were all at the White Cottage, Nor was Mr. Charrington behindhand in his attentions. His housekeeper, Mrs. Finch, always prepared the invalid's dainty little dinners: the excellent beef-tea and soups, the jellies, rusks, and delicate puddings, were all Mrs. Finch's handiwork. Mrs. Pratt's cookery was not to be depended on, and though she pretended to grumble at other folks' interference, she was only too glad to be saved trouble.
It may be doubted whether David Carlyon really realized his own serious condition until the physician's opinion had been made known to him. "Advanced phthisis," he muttered thoughtfully. But when Dr. Broderick proceeded to recommend Mentone or some southern health resort for the winter, he had turned upon him almost abruptly.
"I suppose Davos Platz would not cure me?" he asked. Then, as the doctor hesitated with the natural dislike to give pain, David continued bluntly—
"It would be the truest kindness on your part, Dr. Broderick, to tell me the truth. If I take your advice and go to one of these places, may I expect to get well in time?"
"I am afraid not, Mr. Carlyon," returned the physician reluctantly. "It would be wrong of me to let you go away with this idea. You have consulted me too late—the disease is too far advanced. But it is my duty to tell you that life would certainly be prolonged in a warmer climate."
"There, David," and the Rev Rupert Carlyon looked pleadingly at his son.
"Wait a moment, father," returned David firmly; "I have not quite finished my questions. Let us understand each other, doctor. If I go away, you tell me my life will be prolonged—do you mean for years?" Dr. Broderick shook his head.
"Oh, I see"—but David tried not to look at his father's pinched, white face—"you mean months probably?"
"Yes—yes," returned the doctor hurriedly; "with care, and under favourable circumstances, there might be no further breakdown for another year; but"—with a keen look at his patient—"I will not undertake to promise this."
"I quite understand," returned David quietly. "Dr. Broderick, I am sorry, but I cannot take your prescription. They sent my mother to Davos Platz—there seemed hope for her—and she died away from us all; and one of my sisters died at Mentone too. But I do not intend to follow their example;" and then he had risen from his chair and put an end to the interview.
Nothing would induce him to go abroad. Even when Elizabeth promised that she and Dinah would go too, his resolution to remain in England had been unshaken.
"Why should I let them sacrifice themselves for me?" he said to his father. "Am I not bringing trouble enough on Elizabeth? Why did I ever speak to her? I was mad to let her engage herself to me—I might have known how it would be!" And that day David's despondency was very great.
But at other times he made heroic efforts to hide his deep inward sadness from Elizabeth. He was so young, and the love of life was so strong within him, and the thought of disease and death so terrible. Sometimes in the dark hours of the winter's night, when his racking cough would not let him sleep, he wrestled with his despair as Christian wrestled with Apollyon.
"A soldier who refuses wounds and death," he would say to himself—"a minister of Christ who fears to tread in his Master's footsteps, what is he but a coward and deserter—and I am both!"
And then the torrent of his human passion would sweep over his soul—his love for Elizabeth, the knowledge that but for this hereditary malady he would have had the blessed certainty of calling her wife!
What a noble life they two would have lived! What plans of unselfishness they had formed! How the treasures of their happiness would have overflowed and fertilised other and more barren lives! And now not life but death claimed him!
Ah, no wonder if his human weakness blenched at the prospect, if his heart at times quailed and grew sick within him; for when one is young and happy it is not easy to die, and fuller life, not rest, is the thing desired.
But there were times when his fears seemed lulled and tranquillised, and when, with the strange hopefulness that was a feature of his disease, he would even delude himself with the idea that the doctors were wrong, and that he would surely get better.
These intervals of comparative brightness would come to him when the sun shone, or his nights had been less suffering, or when Elizabeth was with him. Her presence so rested and stimulated him that it was impossible for him always to realise the truth. "I can think of nothing but you," he would say to her—"I can think of nothing but you."
The sitting-room at the White Cottage looked snug and cosy that morning; the fire burned cheerily, and David Carlyon lay on his luxurious couch in the sunshine in a perfect nest of pillows, carefully screened from draughts, and with a small table beside him, with flowers and fruit and books—all carefully and tastefully arranged by Elizabeth's own hands, on her way to church, while the invalid was still in his bedroom.
It was a good day with David, and the old cheery smile was on his lips as Elizabeth entered; but as she knelt beside him to give him her usual greeting, the ravages of the fatal disease were fearfully perceptible in the strong light.
The hollowed temples and sharply-defined features, the tightened skin, the hectic flush, the emaciation and shortness of breathing, and the constant cough, all told their sad tale of rapid decline and decay. Too late—she knew it well—for any human skill to arrest those symptoms; no earthly care and love could preserve that cherished life much longer!
"You are late, dearest," he said, holding her hand; "I saw the church-goers pass a quarter of an hour ago. I expect you and my father were gossiping as usual. But all the same I know my good Fairy has been at work," with a glance at his flowers. "You must not spoil me like this, my darling," and he raised her hand to his lips.
"You know I love to do it," returned Elizabeth gently. And then she brought a low chair to his side, and placed herself where he could see her. He would lie for hours contentedly watching her as she worked or read to him. Sometimes the thin hand would touch a fold of her dress caressingly, as though even that were sacred to him, and not a change of the speaking face or an intonation of her voice would be lost on him.
Perhaps no two men were more dissimilar than David Carlyon and Malcolm Herrick, and yet they were alike in this, that they each loved Elizabeth with a profound and noble love.
"You are looking serious, dear," he said presently, as Elizabeth made a pretence of sorting the silks of her embroidery. That little piece of embroidery with its gay silken flowers became one of Elizabeth's dearest relics. It was David who helped her choose the shades, who insisted on a spray of his favourite lilies of the valley being inserted. How he had praised her skill and made his little jokes over her industry! But the screen would never be used by him now, and the stitches were put in perfunctorily and with a heavy heart.
Elizabeth had made no answer to David's remark about her gravity. She was trying to collect her thoughts for the business she had in view; but the next minute a hand was laid upon her work.
"Tell me all about it," he said persuasively. "Of course I know you and my father have been brewing mischief. I think I can read your very thoughts," as Elizabeth looked up at him; "you need not try to hide things from me."
"I could not if I tried," she returned in a low voice. "David, I want you to do something for my sake. Your father and I—yes, and Dinah too—have been making such a nice little plan. We have heard of a delightful house at Ventnor; it belongs to a friend of Mrs. Godfrey, and it is so comfortable and so beautifully furnished, and with such a pleasant view. You are so fond of the sea, David, and your father loves it too; and we thought"—hesitating a moment, as she felt the grip of David's fingers round her wrist—"Dinah and I both thought it would be a capital arrangement to take Red Brae for three or four months. There would be plenty of room for you, and your father and Theo too," she continued as he remained silent; "and it would be so nice for us to be together, and our old nurse Mrs. Gibbon—you know Mrs. Gibbon, dear—would help us to take care of you."
David drew a deep breath. "Yes, I see," he returned slowly, "and all the expense and trouble would be for me. Don't I know your generosity, Elizabeth," in a choked voice. "But it is too much—I cannot do it. Don't you know, darling—don't we both know—that nothing really matters? Ventnor will do me no good. Let me bide where I am," and David's voice was pathetic in its pleading—"let me die in this dear old cottage."
"No, no," returned Elizabeth, bursting into tears. "David, how can you be so cruel! Surely you wish to stay longer with me! Why need we be parted yet! Think of it, dear—that it is for my sake, and your father's and Theo's. If it is a sacrifice, it is a sacrifice for those you love. Oh, David, my David, it is such a little thing I ask—just for us to be a few months longer together. I know how you hated going abroad, and I would not have pressed it for worlds; but Ventnor—oh, David, you cannot have the heart to refuse me!" And Elizabeth broke down utterly and hid her face in her hands.
Perhaps it was as well that she did not see David's expression that moment; as he lay back upon his pillows his face was deathly. Why did they ask this of him? He was just growing more resigned and peaceful. Those agonised prayers of his for aid and succour had been answered, and the deep blessedness of an accepted cross seemed to fill his soul with a strange calm. He must die, and he knew it; but his Heavenly Father had been merciful to him, and death had lost its terrors; and now his longing was to die in the village he had chosen as his home, and under the shadow of the church where he had ministered as God's priest.
He knew where they would lay him: he and Elizabeth had chosen his last resting-place, and she had listened dry-eyed to his simple directions and wishes. He had talked out his heart to her, and her unselfish sympathy had been his greatest comfort. But now she was asking this sacrifice of him, and how was he to refuse her? And yet, if Elizabeth had guessed how the thought of that exile filled him with dismay and desolation, she would surely have denied her own craving for a few more weeks of life. But David knew better than to tell her.
Presently the hot hand was laid on her head.
"Elizabeth, let me see your dear face. You and my father shall have your way, darling; I will go to Ventnor." David's breathing was so laboured that he was obliged to stop here; but Elizabeth, with a cry of joy, threw her arms round him.
"Oh, David dear, thank you—thank you! You have made me so happy!" and the smile he loved so well beamed through her tears. But David's answering smile was rather forced.
"There is little cause for thankfulness," he replied wearily—"a poor helpless invalid who will only give you trouble! But there is one thing you must promise, dearest." And, as she looked at him expectantly, he whispered, "You must promise to bring me back here." Then Elizabeth bowed her head in silence, for she knew too well what he meant.
"I HAVE BEEN A COWARD"
Father! we need Thy winter as Thy spring; We need Thy earthquakes as Thy summer showers; But through them all Thy strong arms carry us, Thy strong heart bearing large share in our grief. Because Thou lovest goodness more than joy In them Thou lovest, Thou dost let them grieve. —George MacDonald.
And so it was settled—Elizabeth had her way; and after a little they talked quietly of their future plans. The flitting was to be accomplished as soon as possible. The house would be ready for them in another week. Dinah would go down first to make arrangements, and Cedric would accompany her, and stay at Ventnor until it was time for him to return to Oxford. The change of scene would be good for him, and in many ways he would be useful to Dinah. Elizabeth also told David that his father had promised to travel down with them; that he intended to find a locum tenens for Stokeley, and that he would probably remain with them for a month or six weeks; and this last item of information seemed to afford David much satisfaction. But the next moment he observed, in rather a worried tone, that it would be a great expense, and that he was afraid Theo would object.
"Theo will have to mind her own business," returned Elizabeth severely. "Your father means to tell her that you are his first duty, and of course he is right." But Elizabeth carefully forbore to tell David that she had already undertaken to pay the expenses of the locum tenens for three months, and by dint of sheer obstinacy and feminine persuasions she had at last induced Mr. Carlyon to accept her bounty.
"My poverty and not my will consents," he observed sadly. But Elizabeth would not listen to this.
"Dear Mr. Carlyon," she had said earnestly, "if you only knew the pleasure this will give me. Can you not understand that I only cared for my money because it would be his, and now what good will it be to me? Let me use it for him as long as I can. Let me do all in my power for him and you too—as though—as though I were already your daughter." And then, as she wiped away a few quiet tears, Mr. Carlyon had yielded.
David strove with his wonted unselfishness to interest himself in Elizabeth's plans for his comfort. He heard how the inner drawing-room at Red Brae was to be converted into a bedroom, that he might be able, without fatigue, to take possession of the drawing-room couch by the pleasant window, with its view of the sea; and how a smaller room on the same floor was to be prepared for his father. But by and bye, in spite of his efforts, his attention flagged, and he looked so exhausted that Elizabeth refused to say another word.
"I shall give you your luncheon, and then read you to sleep," she said, in what David called "her Mother Gamp tone;" but he was too worn out to resist, and though forgetfulness was not to be obtained, it was certainly a comfort to lie with closed eyes and listen to Elizabeth's dear voice, till the twilight compelled her to close the book, and then she sat by him in silence until he asked her to light the lamp.
Tea was ready before Mr. Carlyon returned. As he opened the door he gave a quick, anxious glance at Elizabeth.
"Come in, dad, it is all right," observed David in a weak voice, but he spoke with his old cheeriness. "Wilful man, and wilful woman too, must have their way, and I have given in like a good boy."
"That's a dear lad," returned his father, rubbing his cold hands gleefully together. "I knew you would make him hear reason, Elizabeth. She is worth the rest of us put together, is she not, Davie?"
"Mr. Carlyon," interrupted Elizabeth, "David is tired and must not talk any more, and some one else is tired too." And then she drew up an easy-chair by the fire and gave Mr. Carlyon his tea, and talked to him softly about Mr. Charrington and Kit, until it was time for her to go; but even then she refused to bid him good-bye. "I shall be at the station," she whispered, as he kissed her forehead; "we can say things to each other then," and he understood her and nodded.
But later on, as Mr. Carlyon sat beside his son's bed-side, with the worn little book of devotions out of which he had been reading to him still open in his hands, he was struck with the strained, troubled look in David's eyes.
"What is it, my dear?" he said wistfully, for the curate-in-charge of Stokeley had homely little ways and tricks of speech that endeared him still more to those who loved him, and Elizabeth would often praise the simplicity and unobtrusive goodness that reminded her of David.
"There is something on your mind," he continued tenderly; "make a clean breast of it, my boy. You and I understand each other—don't we, Davie?" and Mr. Carlyon gently patted his son's hand, as though he were still a little child. "Out with it, lad—you are not quite happy about Ventnor?"
"Father, how could you guess that?" returned David in a deprecating voice. "If you knew how I hate myself for being so cowardly and ungrateful. Promise me—promise me, dad, that you will never let Elizabeth know how badly I feel about it; it would make her so unhappy."
"So it would, poor girl—so it would," rejoined Mr. Carlyon, for in his eyes Elizabeth was still a girl, and the very dearest of daughters to him.
"She and Dinah have planned it all for me," continued David. "I know what a sacrifice it is to Dinah, for she does so dislike leaving home; but she is doing it for Elizabeth's sake."
"You are doing it for Elizabeth's sake too, are you not, David?" asked his father quietly. Then the harassed face brightened at once.
"Let me tell you all about it, dad," he returned eagerly—"it will be such a comfort; you have often been my father-confessor before. If you knew how my heart sank when Elizabeth begged me to go to Ventnor, and yet how was I to refuse her when she said, with tears in her eyes, that my consenting to the plan would probably give her a few more weeks of happiness. You know how she meant it?"
"Oh yes, I know, David," in the same quiet tone.
"Of course, I could not refuse. I dared not be guilty of such selfishness, for—after all, what does a little more pain matter?" and here David drew a heavy sigh of intense weariness. "But I was so tired, and then I knew that the battle would have to be fought all over again."
"I am not sure that I understand you, dear lad."
"No, because I am not making things clear; but I will try to do so, and then you must help me. I have been a coward, father—that's the truth—and have rebelled against my hard fate—God's will was not my will, and I wanted to live and marry Elizabeth."
"Ay, David boy, I know."
"Yes, you know," with a sad, yearning look at the gray head bent now upon the trembling hands. "You know that was how my mother felt when she went so far away from us to die—she only consented to go because she wanted to live."
"And it broke her heart to leave us," returned his father huskily. "Dear heart, how she prayed that we might be spared that parting; but the Divine Will ordered otherwise."
"I have prayed too," murmured David, "and then, thank God! the strength and help I needed so sorely came. I have felt so peaceful lately, and now the struggle will begin again."
"Oh no, surely not, David."
"Yes, father, it must. I shall get better for a time, and I shall have the sunshine, and Elizabeth's dear love, and life will grow too precious to me again, and I shall dishonour my Master, and put Him to shame, by wanting to lay down my cross."
"No, David, I am not afraid of that," returned his father gravely. "My own boy, this is only one of the dark hours, when the evil one tempts you in your weakness; need I remind you of what you have so often preached to others, that as thy day thy strength will be, and that help never comes beforehand?"
"True, but I seem to forget everything." Then a warm, comforting hand was laid tenderly upon David's forehead.
"I shall remind you. We shall not be parted yet, my son, and God will help me to say the right words to you. Ah, David," in a reverent tone, "many lives have their Gethsemanes, but only one ever drank the bitter cup of sorrow to the dregs without a murmur, and only one had an angel to comfort Him. He will not be hard on us because our human will shrinks from some hard cross of pain, for 'He knoweth our frame,' and in our weakness and extremity He will be our staff and our stay." And in trembling tones he blessed his boy, and sat beside him in voiceless prayer and the deep, inward supplication of exceeding love, nor did he leave him until David had sunk into an exhausted sleep.
David was very feverish and unwell the next day, and Mr. Carlyon could not leave him; but after a few hours he grew better again, and as the days went on he seemed to recover his old cheerfulness.
One afternoon, as Elizabeth was sitting with him as usual—for she always spent her afternoons at the White Cottage—he surprised her by asking if Malcolm Herrick never came to the Wood House now.
"How strange that you should ask that question," returned Elizabeth, colouring slightly at the mention of Malcolm's name, "for he is coming down this very evening, and Cedric is driving to Earlsfield to meet him. Dinah asked him to come," she went on; "she wanted to talk to him about Cedric."
"Herrick is Dinah's right-hand man of business—she quite swears by him," replied David, smoothing tenderly a ruffled lock of brown hair that the wind had disordered. "I suppose he will remain the night?"
"Oh yes, of course. Dinah has got a room ready for him; she told him that she should not allow him to go to the 'King's Arms.'"
"It was right for her to put her foot down," returned David approvingly. "Why on earth need he scruple to accept your hospitality! Somehow I always liked Herrick, though I am not so sure that he returned the compliment; perhaps under the circumstances one could hardly expect it."
Elizabeth's face grew hot—the subject was a painful one to her. "Never mind about Mr. Herrick, dear," she said hurriedly; "Dinah and he are great friends."
"You need not tell me that," in rather a meaning tone; "Dinah has excellent taste. Dearest," his voice changing to seriousness, "I want you to give Herrick a message from me. Tell him I should like to shake hands with him when he goes to the vicarage."
"Do you really want me to say this to him?" and there was little doubt from Elizabeth's face that she was reluctant to give the message. But David meant to have his way.
"Yes, tell him," he repeated. "He and Cedric are sure to walk over in the morning—the vicar and Herrick are such cronies; and why should he pass my door?" And this seemed so plausible that Elizabeth said no more; but as she walked home she wondered more than once over this strange fancy on David's part. There had been so little intercourse between the two young men—a secret sense of antagonism on Malcolm Herrick's part had been an obstacle to David's proffered friendliness. It was true that Mr. Herrick must pass the White Cottage on his way to the vicarage, and even without the message his good feeling would probably have induced him to stop and inquire after the invalid, but she felt David's request would surprise him. Nevertheless, she must do his will and give the message.
Elizabeth was later than usual that evening, and she found that Malcolm had just arrived, and was talking to Dinah in the drawing-room. He was standing before the fire warming himself after his cold drive, and as Elizabeth entered he broke off in the middle of a sentence and silently shook hands with her. Elizabeth felt at once conscious that his manner was even more constrained and guarded than usual, and this made her nervous, and for the moment she could find nothing to say. It was a relief to them both when Dinah observed in her quiet, matter-of-fact way—
"Mr. Herrick is so kind and obliging, Betty; he has promised not to leave us until quite late to-morrow afternoon—that will give us plenty of time for a nice talk. You see, Cedric will be with us this evening, and we may find it difficult to get rid of him, and there is so much that I want to say."
"I think I can take him off your hands," replied Elizabeth; and then she turned to Malcolm, though he noticed that she avoided looking at him, and there was a curious abruptness in her manner that almost amounted to awkwardness.
"Mr. Carlyon has sent you a message, Mr. Herrick. He thinks you will be sure to call at the vicarage, and he would like you to look in at the White Cottage as you pass. He says that he would be pleased to shake hands with you."
There was no doubt that Malcolm was surprised. He unconsciously stiffened.
"He is very kind," he said rather formally; "but of course I meant to call, or at least leave my card—I had just told your sister so."
"Perhaps you had better call at the vicarage first," returned Elizabeth hurriedly. "Mr. Carlyon is rarely out of his room before mid-day, and all hours are alike to Mr. Charrington." And when Malcolm had gravely agreed to do this, Elizabeth went upstairs to prepare for dinner, and did not appear again until the gong sounded.
She did not forget her promise, however, of taking Cedric off Dinah's hands, and as soon as they had finished their coffee she challenged him to a game of chess in the inner drawing-room, where on cold nights a second fire generally burned.
The rooms were so large that unless Dinah and Malcolm raised their voices it was impossible to hear their conversation, and as Cedric had his back to them he had no idea that they were talking more confidentially than usual; but from Malcolm's position Elizabeth's face stood out in full relief, and in spite of all his efforts his attention often wandered.
Even in those few short weeks since they had last met he could see a change in her. She had grown thinner and paler, and there was a deepened sadness in her eyes; and yet in his opinion she had never looked more lovely, though it was more the inward than outward loveliness that he meant.
He noticed how mechanically she played, and how the game failed to interest her. When Cedric checkmated her twice, she only rose with an air of relief, as though she had finished a wearisome task, and came towards them.
"I am cold," she said simply, as Dinah made room for her; "we nearly let the fire out between us." But as she sat in her snug corner warming her hands, she did not attempt to join in the conversation. Indeed, her manner was so absent that Malcolm felt convinced that she heard little of what they said, and he was not surprised that Dinah noticed it at last.
"You are tired, Betty dear," she said kindly; "I am quite sure that Mr. Herrick will excuse you;" and Elizabeth availed herself at once of this permission to withdraw.
"She is not at her ease," Malcolm thought bitterly. "She seems afraid of me somehow; she will not meet my eyes, and she has scarcely spoken a dozen words to me." And he sighed, for it seemed the saddest thing to him that she should suffer, and that he should be powerless to help her; and in his fanciful way he said to himself, "We are like two travellers walking along stony paths with a high wall between us, so that no helping hand can be stretched out, and no voices of comfort can be heard." And then he added, "I dare not even tell her that I am sorry for her, and for him too."
Malcolm was alone when he paid his visit to the White Cottage. There was no doubt that the change in David Carlyon shocked him greatly, though he strove to hide this from the invalid.
David welcomed him with his old cordiality; but Malcolm, who was exceedingly nervous, could only stammer out a few commonplaces.
The bright, eager young face that Elizabeth so loved was shrunken and wasted, the lips seemed drawn from the teeth, and yet at times the old cheery smile played round them; but the voice was weak and toneless, and every now and then the hard, dry cough seemed to rack him cruelly.
"If you knew how sorry I am to see you like this," observed Malcolm kindly.
"Well, I am rather a poor specimen just now," returned David with a feeble laugh; "but what can't be cured must be endured—eh, Herrick? I told Elizabeth" (here a shade came over Malcolm's face) "that I should like to shake hands with you. When a fellow is going a long journey"—and here David's hollow eyes grew a little sad and wistful—"it seems natural to bid one's friends good-bye. We did not know each other much, Herrick, but I always wanted to see more of you."
"You are very good to say so"—but if his life had depended on it Malcolm could not have brought himself to say more at that moment. He wished himself a hundred miles away.
A quaint, sweet smile flitted across David's face; he could read Malcolm's thoughts.
"You have been such a good fellow, Herrick, and have done so much for them all. That was a bad business with Cedric, but at his age he will get over it—you and I know that."
"We do indeed," returned Malcolm gravely.
"Dinah comes and talks to me sometimes," went on David. "She says that if you had been their own brother you could not have done more; she is so grateful to you, Herrick." Perhaps he would have said more, but Malcolm checked him.
"Never mind that, Carlyon; it was a great pleasure to me to do it. Now let us talk of something more interesting." And then for a short time they talked of Oxford and the boat-race; and then of Ventnor, which Malcolm knew well—he had even spent an evening at Red Brae when the Godfreys were staying there. "The house is charming," he said quite enthusiastically; "I know the rooms you will have, Carlyon, and they are delightful."
David did not respond, and he was evidently getting tired, so Malcolm rose to take his leave.
"I wish—I wish I could do something for you too," he said with such sincerity that David was quite touched.
"I have had my good things," he returned in a low voice, "and now I must dree my weird. Don't worry, Herrick—things generally come right in the long run, but we must not try to act Providence too much. Good-bye—God bless you." The thin hand wrung Malcolm's with surprising force; but Malcolm's eyes were a little misty as he went out of the room, for he knew—he knew too well—that in this life he should never see David Carlyon's face again!
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
Shall I forget on this side of the grave? I promise nothing: you must wait and see, Patient and brave. (O my soul, watch with him and he with me!)
Shall I forget in peace of Paradise? I promise nothing: follow, friend, and see, Faithful and wise. (O my soul, lead the way he walks with me!) —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.
A few days after the invalid had safely reached Ventnor, Dinah wrote one of her pleasant, chatty letters to Malcolm. She told him that David had borne the long journey fairly well, and that he and Mr. Carlyon were charmed with Red Brae. "I wish Cedric could have stayed longer," she finished. "He has been such a dear good boy; but I am afraid he is still very unhappy. Elizabeth heard from Mrs. Godfrey yesterday. Leah has been ill with influenza, but Mrs. Richardson has nursed her like a mother. Leah seems devoted to her already. The poor girl told Mrs. Godfrey that she had never had such a kind friend in her life."
As the weeks went on, Dinah wrote still more cheerily. "The improvement in David is quite surprising," she said in one of her letters. "Even Dr. Hewlitt seems astonished. He is able to be out in his bath-chair every day, and on sunny afternoons he spends hours on the balcony. Mr. Carlyon is always with him. It is beautiful to see their devotion to each other. They seem to think alike on every subject. He and Elizabeth read aloud by turns, and I like to take my work there and listen to them."
"A happy family party," thought Malcolm a little bitterly, as he put down the letter. Even now he could have found it in his heart to envy his rival; but the next moment he dismissed the unworthy thought.
But it was only a temporary rally. Dr. Hewlitt told Dinah privately one day that there was no real improvement in the patient's condition, and that at any time there might be a sudden change for the worse; when they least expected it, haemorrhage or collapse might set in. And the doctor's fears were verified.
One day, late in March, David seemed unusually well. A gale had blown all night, but towards morning the wind had lulled and a heavy rain had set in, and David had expressed some disappointment at having to remain indoors; but Mr. Carlyon, who considered himself weather-wise, assured him that the weather would improve later.
The gale had disturbed Elizabeth, and she had found it impossible to sleep for hours, and when she rose the next morning she felt unusually weary and depressed. A strange foreboding—a sense of separation and loss—seemed to oppress her, and no efforts on her part could enable her to maintain her wonted cheerfulness. Her dejection was so evident that David noticed it at last, and when Mr. Carlyon had put on his old mackintosh and gone out for a blow on the parade, he gently rallied her on her depression.
"What is it, dearest?" he asked rather anxiously. "You are not your bright self this morning. You are so good and unselfish, darling, that you never let me see when you are unhappy, but to-day you cannot hide it from me." Then he took her hands and held them so that he could see her face.
"I do not know what has come over me," returned Elizabeth in a mournful voice, "but all night long and this morning my heart has felt as heavy as lead." Great tears welled in her eyes, and she suddenly laid her head down on his shoulder. "Oh, David—David, if I could only go too; life will be so long and difficult without you." He stroked her hair for a few minutes without speaking. She was thinking of the parting that must surely come, and he must find some word to comfort her. "If I could only feel that you were near me," she whispered, "even though I could not see you or hear your voice—that you were still loving me and watching over my poor life!"
"Dearest," he returned tenderly, "I have often had these thoughts. More than once my father and I have spoken of it. It is his idea that nothing can divide us from those we love. Continuity of life—continuity of love, that is his creed."
"Is it yours too, David?"
"Dear Elizabeth," returned the young man simply, "the future is so veiled in mystery and silence that one hardly knows what one believes, except that all will be well with us. It seems to me that even in paradise we must still love our dear ones and pray for them, so tossed and buffeted by the waves of this troublesome world: but more than that I dare not say. I think I must always love you—there as well as here." Then she smiled at him through her tears.
"Dear love," he went on a moment later, "there is something I have often wanted to say, and yet the words were difficult to utter. Elizabeth, life is long as you say, and your great loving heart must not remain unsatisfied. Do not mourn for me too long—do not refuse comfort that may be offered to you, if you can be happy, dear."
But here Elizabeth's hand was laid over his lips.
"No—no, you shall not say it—I will not hear it;" and Elizabeth's eyes were wide with trouble. "David—David—" and then she could say no more for her wild weeping.
"Hush—hush, my darling—I cannot bear this," and David's lips grew so white that Elizabeth in alarm controlled herself. But as she gave him a restorative, he held out his feeble hand to her. "Forgive me if I said too much," he pleaded; "I thought perhaps it might be a comfort afterwards. Dear Elizabeth, be true to yourself as you have been true to me, and may God bless and reward you for all your goodness to me and mine!" David spoke with strange solemnity, for, though neither of them guessed it then, this was their last farewell before the parting of the ways.
The evening passed tranquilly. Elizabeth seemed less dejected, but her head ached, and she sat silently beside David, while Mr. Carlyon went on with the book they were reading. Once, when there was a pause, she looked up and saw David's rapt gaze fixed on the sunset, while a look of almost unearthly beauty seemed to transform his emaciated features. She would have spoken to him; but he made a gesture as though for silence, and again that awful sense of separation seemed to pass between them. Mr. Carlyon put down his book, and looked too at the wondrous pageant of the sea and sky. "The bridegroom has run his race," murmured David in a strange voice. "What regal robes of gold and crimson! Father, this is the best sunset we have seen yet."