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Herb of Grace
by Rosa Nouchette Carey
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"Ay, that it is, David," returned Mr. Carlyon; "but you are looking weary, my boy, and I must be getting you to bed. Will you ring for Nurse Gibbon, Elizabeth?" But as she did so she noticed how feebly David walked, and how heavily he leant on his father's arm.

Half an hour later, as Elizabeth was standing on the balcony enjoying the cool spring air, she heard Mr. Carlyon call her loudly. Then a bell rang, and she and Dinah rushed into David's room. One look at the changed, livid face told them the truth. Dinah sent off for the doctor, and she and Elizabeth tried all possible remedies, but in vain. Sudden collapse had set in. David could not speak; but for one moment his dying eyes rested on Elizabeth's face, and his last act of consciousness was to try to put her hand in his father's.

"I understand, David," Elizabeth stooped and whispered into his dull ear. "Yes, we will take care of each other, and comfort each other;" and then a faint, flickering smile seemed to cross his face, but the next moment unconsciousness set in. For hours Elizabeth knelt beside him with her arm supporting the pillow under his head, while on the other side the stricken father offered up supplications for his dying son. When his voice quavered and broke with human weakness, and Dinah begged him to spare himself, he shook his gray head. "Maybe he hears me—I will go as far as I can with him down the valley of the shadow of death," And then he folded his trembling hands together. "Oh, David—David, would God I had died for thee, my son—my son!"

"It was very sudden," wrote Dinah to Malcolm the next morning. "Dear David had seemed so much better that day; but Dr. Hewlitt had warned us of probable collapse and heart-failure."

"He had only left us half an hour, and Mr. Carlyon was reading the Evening Psalms to him, when he saw a change in him and called to us."

"I am sure David knew us when we went in, but he could not speak, and then unconsciousness came on. The end was so quiet that we hardly knew when he left us. We have telegraphed to Theo; there is much to be done. Dear Elizabeth is very good and calm. She and Mr. Carlyon are never apart; he can do nothing without her."

"He looks quite aged and broken, and no wonder: he has known so much trouble, and David was his only son."

Dinah secretly marvelled at Elizabeth's wonderful self-control and calmness. During those trying days no one saw her shed tears: it seemed as though her grief was too deep and sacred for outward manifestation. But when Dinah gently hinted at her surprise, Elizabeth looked at her almost reproachfully.

"I thought you would have understood, Die," she returned in a low voice. "David, my David, is a saint in paradise, and one must be still and reverent in one's grief. When one has to mourn all one's life, there need be no excitement." And then she murmured, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me;" and then, as Dinah took her sister's hand and kissed it almost passionately in her love and sympathy, one of the old beautiful smiles lighted up Elizabeth's face.

"I was as one who dreamed," she said later on; and indeed it was a strange dual life that she lived. There were the quiet hours when she knelt beside the coffin—when her thoughts seemed winged, and carried her to the still land where her beloved walked in green pastures and beside still waters; when in fancy she seemed to hear far-off echoes of melodious voices; when for David's sake she would feel comforted and at rest.

"He did not want to die," she would say to herself—"life was sweet to him—but God gave him grace to offer up his will, and then peace came. Darling—darling," laying her cheek against the coffin, "you will never suffer again—no more pain or weariness—no more conflict and temptation—only fuller life and more faithful service—for His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face." Elizabeth marked those words with a red cross on the margin of her Bible on the day David died.

But there was another reason for Elizabeth's self-control and unselfishness. She was anxious on Mr. Carlyon's account. Dinah was right when she told Malcolm that he was much aged and broken. "I have lost my Benjamin, the son of my right hand," he had said to her—"God's hand is heavy upon me;" and though he strove to bear his sorrow with resignation, his feebleness alarmed them all. Theo, as usual, was undisciplined in her grief. "He will die too," she lamented. "Elizabeth, David has gone, and now poor father will follow him. I have never seen him look so ill. David and he were everything to each other."

"Hush, Theo," returned Elizabeth quietly, "we must give him time. It has been a great shock. We must not let him know that we are anxious." And, forgetful of her own trouble, Elizabeth ministered to him with filial devotion. No one else could induce him to take food. She would bring the cup of soup, or the glass of wine, and sit beside him as he took it; or lure him gently to talk to her of David—of his childhood or boyhood. "No one does him so much good as Miss Templeton," Dr. Hewlitt observed one day to Dinah. "I confess I was a bit anxious about him for two days—he has a weak heart, and I did not quite like his look; but your sister has brought him round."

Elizabeth smiled happily when Dinah told her this.

"I am glad Dr. Hewlitt said that, Die. I do love to take care of him; it is the only thing I can do for David now."

"Father," she said to him one day—for when they were alone she always called him by that name—"I think you have still some work to do before your rest time comes. You are getting better, are you not?"

Then he looked at her with sad wistfulness.

"I think I am not worthy to go yet," he returned humbly. "I must do my Master's work as long as He gives me strength to do it. Oh, Elizabeth, they are all there—all but Theo and I—David's mother, and Alice, and Magdalene, and our little Felicia, and now David has joined them in that heavenly mansion."

"But you will go too, dear, when the Master says, 'Go up higher,'" whispered Elizabeth.

Then the slow tears of age gathered in Mr. Carlyon's eyes. "Yes—yes, I know it; but the flesh is weak, Elizabeth. Pray for me that I may have patience;" and then he rested his gray head against her as she knelt beside him, as though the burden of that sorrow were too heavy for him to bear.

Malcolm was in the churchyard that sunshiny April day when they buried David in the tranquil spot that he had chosen for his last resting-place. Not only the people of Rotherwood, but friends from Staplegrove and Earlsfield, and from the villages for miles round, were gathered there—for the young clergyman had been much beloved. Very near the newly-made grave was a tiny grassy mound where little Kit lay; and at Malcolm's side stood a small, shabbily-dressed man, with pale watery blue eyes and an air of extreme dejection, nervously fumbling with the crape band on his hat. Malcolm had just laid a little spray of violets and lilies of the valley on the mound, as they waited for the funeral procession.

"She was fond of flowers, Caleb."

"Ay, that she was, sir," brightening up. "Kit loved everything that was bright and pretty, bless her dear heart! I hope they'll give her lots of flowers where she's gone, and that they will let her pick them for herself. You mind her last words to me, Mr. Herrick—'Good-bye, dad, I am a-going to be an angel, and I mean to be a real splendid one,' and all the time her poor throat would hardly let her speak."

"Poor little soul," murmured Malcolm compassionately; for Kit had suffered greatly in her heroic childish fashion. "Hush, here they come, Caleb."

Malcolm grew quite white when he saw Elizabeth looking like a widow in her deep mourning and crape veil, leaning on Mr. Carlyon's arm. She had chosen the two hymns that David's favourite choir-boys were to sing—"For all the saints who from their labours rest," and "How bright those glorious spirits shine." They were singing the last when the breeze caught Elizabeth's veil and blew it aside, and he had a glimpse of her face. The beauty of her expression—its patient sadness, its calm faith—moved him strangely. "He is not here," it seemed to say—"he has gone to a world where there are no more sorrow and sighing, and God shall wipe away all tears." And then the boys' voices rang sweetly through the churchyard:

"'Midst pastures green He'll lead His flock, Where living streams appear; And God the Lord from every eye Shall wipe off every tear."

Malcolm lingered behind until the crowd had dispersed, and then he and Caleb looked down at the flower-decked coffin. Loving hands had lined the walls of the grave with grasses and spring flowers, Lent lilies and blue hyacinths, until it looked like a green bower decked with blossoms. Countless wreaths and crosses and rustic bunches of flowers lay on the grass waiting until the grave was filled. Malcolm looked at them all before he went back to town; but all that evening the remembrance of Elizabeth's rapt, uplifted look remained with him.

"She did not know I was there," he said to himself. But he was wrong. The very next evening he had a note from Dinah.

"Elizabeth wants me to thank you," she wrote, "for your lovely cross. She thought it so kind of you to be there with us. We both saw you. Was it not all peaceful and beautiful? Next Thursday Elizabeth is going to Stokeley with Mr. Carlyon. He is better, but still very weak and ailing, and she dare not leave him to Theo. When I am alone, will you come down for a night? it would be such a comfort to talk to so kind a friend." And then when Malcolm read this he made up his mind that he would go to the Wood House as soon as Elizabeth had left for Stokeley.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

TANGLED THREADS

God has furnished us with constant occasions of bearing one another's burdens. For there is no man living without his failings, no man that is so happy as never to give offence, no man without his load of trouble.

A loving heart is the great requirement. —Teaching of Buddha.

Cedric had spent the Easter vacation with Malcolm at Cheyne Walk. Malcolm had previously sounded Dinah before he gave the invitation, and found that she fully appreciated the thoughtfulness that prompted it. "It is so like your usual kindness, dear friend," she wrote. "You felt, as we do, that the Wood House would be too quiet and dull just now for Cedric. It is so much better for him to be with you. Indeed, I shall not mind being alone; and when Cedric goes back to Oxford you will run down to see me as you promised."

Malcolm was relieved to find a great improvement in Cedric. Though his love-affair had ended so disastrously, he had achieved his pet ambition, and had been in the winning boat in the Oxford and Cambridge boat-race. The excitement and months of training had done him good morally and physically, and though he was still depressed and melancholy, and had by no means forgotten Leah, he showed greater manliness and self-control, and Malcolm's influence was again in the ascendant.

Malcolm took him to Queen's Gate and introduced him to his mother and Anna. He had previously acquainted his mother with the story of his unfortunate infatuation for Leah Jacobi. To his surprise she was deeply interested, and begged to be allowed to tell Anna.

"Anna cares so much more for unhappy people," she said. "You will see how kind she will be to the poor fellow."

In her way Mrs. Herrick was kind too. Malcolm, who knew young men were seldom welcome at 27 Queen's Gate, was secretly amazed at the graciousness with which Cedric was received.

Mrs. Herrick's stoicism was not proof against the lad's handsome face and deep melancholy. Her manner softened and grew quite motherly; and as for Anna, Malcolm took her to task at last, when he found that Cedric was in the habit of going over to Queen's Gate at all hours in the day.

Anna thought Malcolm was serious, and flushed up in quite a distressed manner at his bantering tone.

"Mother asked him," she said, defending herself quite anxiously. "It is so dull for him at Cheyne Walk while you are in town, and so mother said he could come here to luncheon whenever he liked."

"That was kind of her," returned Malcolm; "but as for dulness, there is not a more jovial old fellow than Goliath of Gath. He and Verity would look after him right enough during my absence. Cedric used to be quite chummy with them when he was with me before."

"Yes, I know, dear, but Mr. Templeton says things are so different this time. He likes the Kestons tremendously, but somehow he says he does not feel up to the studio life. I know what he means, Malcolm," rather shyly—"when one is unhappy one must choose one's own companions."

"And so Cedric prefers being here, and talking to you about his troubles." Perhaps Malcolm's tone was slightly mischievous, for Anna blushed violently.

"Oh, Malcolm, surely you understand," she returned nervously. "Don't you see, Mr. Templeton knows we are sorry for him, and he is grateful for our sympathy, and he likes to come and talk to us. He made me feel quite bad yesterday. I could hardly sleep for thinking of all he went through, and thinking of the death of that poor Mr. Carlyon. He does seem so sorry for his sister, though he declares that he never thought him good enough for her. That is how people talk," went on Anna, frowning thoughtfully over her words; "they will judge by outward appearance, as though anything matters when two people love each other. Mr. Templeton has been talking so much about his sister Elizabeth that he quite makes me long to see her, but all the same he seems to care most for his elder sister."

"I believe he does," returned Malcolm; "but then she has taken the place of a mother to him. Anna, dear, I was only in jest. I am really very grateful to you and my mother for making Cedric so happy and at home. I do quite understand, and I believe the society of two such good women will do much for him. Like the rest of us, he has found out that you are a friend born for adversity—a veritable daughter of consolation," and Malcolm's words made Anna very happy.

When Cedric returned to Oxford for his last term, Malcolm paid his promised visit to the Wood House; but he only stayed two nights. The place was too full of painful associations. Elizabeth's presence haunted every room, the emptiness and desolation of the house oppressed him like a nightmare, and though Dinah's gentleness and tact made things more bearable during the day, at night he found himself unable to sleep; and Dinah, who read his weary look aright, forbore to press him to remain. "It is not good for him to be here," she said to herself; "he is so kind and unselfish that he will not spare himself, but I will not ask him to come again," and Dinah kept her word.

But they had much to discuss during those two days. There was now no longer any talk of the Civil Service Examination for Cedric. At the end of June he was to go abroad for six or eight months. A friend of Malcolm's, a young barrister, who had also been crossed in love—a sensible, straightforward fellow—was to accompany him. "He is sure to like Dunlop," Malcolm observed, as he and Dinah paced the terrace together in the sweet spring sunshine. "Charlie is a good-hearted fellow, and one of the best companions I know, though he is a bit down in the mouth just now, poor old chap."

"I think you said the lady jilted him?" asked Dinah sympathetically.

"Yes, and he is well rid of her, if we could only get him to believe that. She was a handsome girl—I saw her once—but she came across an American millionaire, and sent Charlie about his business. Oh, he will get over it fast enough," as Dinah looked quite sorrowful; "when a woman does that sort of thing, she just kills a man's love. Of course he must suffer a bit—his pride is hurt as well as his heart—but in two or three years he will fall in love again, and will live happy ever after."

"Oh, how I hope Cedric will care for some nice girl by-and-bye," exclaimed Dinah earnestly; but Malcolm only smiled.

"You need have no doubt of that, my dear lady," he returned; "but you must give him time to be off with the old love. That is why I am so anxious that he and Miss Jacobi should not meet. You tell me that she and Mrs. Richardson return to Sandy Hollow early in June?"

"Yes; Mrs. Godfrey told us that."

"Then the sooner he is out of England the better. In London one is never sure of not coming across people." And then he rapidly sketched out the details of the proposed trip, which was to include Germany, Switzerland, the Austrian Tyrol, the Italian Lakes, and probably Greece and Constantinople. Cedric had a great desire to visit the Crimea and the shores of the Bosphorus, and to see something of Eastern life. In all probability Christmas and the New Year would be spent in Cairo. "We had better leave Dunlop to work out details," continued Malcolm, "as money or time seem no object. You may as well give them a long tether. Change of scene will do Cedric a world of good, and when he is tired of wandering he will settle down more happily. Very likely by that time he will have some idea of what he wants to do;" and Malcolm's sound common-sense carried the day.

Dinah spoke very little of her sister. She was well, she said in answer to Malcolm's inquiries—Elizabeth was so strong that her health rarely suffered; but she was grieving sorely for David. "Mr. Carlyon is better," she continued. "Elizabeth is the greatest comfort to him. She goes with him when he visits the sick, and sits beside him when he writes his sermons. Indeed, Theo says they are never apart. Theo is very much softened and subdued by her brother's death," went on Dinah. "I think Elizabeth's influence and example will do good there. I believe that, with all her faults, Theo Carlyon is really a good-hearted woman."

Malcolm paid a flying visit to Oxford soon after he got back to town—somehow movement seemed necessary to him in those weary, restless days—and he took Mr. Dunlop with him, and had the satisfaction of seeing that Cedric appeared to like him at once.

"He does not seem to stand on tiptoe and look over a fellow's head, don't you know," observed Cedric. "He meets one on equal terms, though he is ten years older. He is a chip of your block, Herrick, and I expect he is a good fellow too"—and all this speech did Malcolm retail to Dinah in his next letter.

Cedric spent three or four days at Cheyne Walk before he started for the Continent, and again most of his time was devoted to his friends at 27 Queen's Gate.

Malcolm was secretly glad that he was in such safe hands, for, as the time of Cedric's departure drew near, he could not divest himself of an uneasy fear that all their precautions might be unavailing, and that, when they least expected it, he and Leah Jacobi would come face to face. He knew that she and her new friend Mrs. Richardson were now settled at Sandy Hollow for the summer, and that Mrs. Richardson came frequently to town for sight-seeing or shopping expeditions.

Malcolm little knew what good reason he had for his fears.

On Cedric's last day in Cheyne Walk, Mrs. Herrick proposed that he should drive with her and Anna to Pall Mall to see some pictures that were being exhibited. She would leave them at the gallery for an hour, and call for them when she had done her shopping. Malcolm had promised to be there at the same time, and they would all go back together to Queen's Gate for the remainder of the day. It so happened that Mrs. Richardson had planned one of her favourite shopping expeditions for the same day, and in the course of the afternoon the hansom she had chartered drew up at a shop exactly opposite the gallery, where at that very moment Anna, Cedric, and Malcolm were coming down the staircase to join Mrs. Herrick, who was waiting for them in her carriage.

Leah, who had not recovered her normal strength since her attack of influenza, was excessively tried by all the noise and bustle of the West End, and begged to remain in the hansom while Mrs. Richardson finished her purchases. When Mrs. Richardson came out of the shop a quarter of an hour later, the handsome carriage with its pair of bay horses had driven off, and Leah was leaning back in the hansom looking white as death, with a pained, startled expression in her beautiful eyes.

Mrs. Richardson told the man to drive to the station. Then she took the girl's hand kindly. "What is it, my dear?" she said in a motherly voice. "Are you ill, or has something frightened you?" but it was long before Leah could gasp out her explanation.

"She had seen him, and he looked quite bright and happy, and he was talking to a fair haired-girl with a sweet face, and Mr. Herrick was with them;" but poor Leah could say no more, for the jealous pain seemed to choke her. That was the way he had smiled at her, and now she was forgotten, and this other girl had taken her place!

Mrs. Richardson, with all her eccentricities, had a warm, true heart, and she was very patient and tender with the poor girl.

But late that night, as she sat in her dressing-room, there was a timid knock at her door, and Leah entered in her white wrapper, with all her glorious dark hair streaming over her shoulders; but her eyes were swollen with weeping.

"I felt I must come and speak to you or I could not sleep!" she exclaimed in her deep voice; and kneeling down by her friend—"Oh, I have been so wicked! but I will try to be good now."

"Tell me all about it, dearie," returned Mrs. Richardson in her kind, comforting voice; and she drew the dark head to her shoulder, and a sort of wonder filled her eyes as she saw the glossy lengths of hair that swept the floor.

To an onlooker Mrs. Richardson might have seemed a somewhat grotesque figure in her quilted magenta silk dressing-gown, with her gray fringe pinned up by her maid in little twists and rolls, but her honest eyes beamed with kindness and sympathy.

"Oh, I have been so wicked!" repeated Leah. "All these months I have been praying that he might not suffer as I have been suffering, and that in time he might forget me and be happy; and yet, because my prayer has been answered, and that girl is helping him to forget, I felt as though I hated her;" and then she hid her face in the folds of the gaudy dressing-gown and shed tears of bitter shame and self-loathing.

"My dear, if you cry so you will make yourself ill," observed Mrs. Richardson soothingly. "You have been sorely tried, you poor child, but you are not wicked; on the contrary, I think few girls have behaved so well. Do not call yourself names, dearie; Mrs. Godfrey and I both think you good, and we mean to do our best to make you happy."

"Yes, and I am so grateful to you both, you dear, dear friends," and Leah raised her tear-stained face and kissed her with all the warmth of her loving nature. What was it to her that Mrs. Richardson was an odd-looking, eccentric old lady, whose curled gray fringe and gay attire scarcely harmonised with her homely, weather-beaten features; to Leah her face was transfigured by the loveliness of a kind and tender nature. "I think I saw her as the angels did," she said long years afterwards to one who had served for her as Jacob did for his beloved Rachel; "for I loved every line of her dear homely face. Oh, how she mothered me, who had never known mother love, and how good and patient she was with me in my bad times! If God had not taken her, I could never have left her—never!" For when Mrs. Richardson died some years later, her hand was locked in that of her adopted daughter.

Leah drooped for some time after this encounter. Then, as the summer went on, she recovered her spirits gradually; new duties and interests demanded her attention, and in the wholesome and active life led by the mistress of Sandy Hollow she found plenty to distract her sad thoughts.

Mrs. Richardson was a great gardener, and on warm days she spent most of her time in the open air; they breakfasted under a spreading chestnut, and often dined in foreign fashion on the terrace facing the sunset.

When Malcolm went down to the Manor House in August before he started for Norway, he walked across to Sandy Hollow with Mrs. Godfrey. They found Mrs. Richardson sitting in a shady retreat, with all her various pets round her. Leah was gathering flowers in the lower garden, she said. She received Malcolm very kindly, for he was one of her favourites, and talked to him a great deal about the girl—of her sweet temper, her docility, and her patience.

"She has heard nothing of that wretched brother of hers," she continued. Then Malcolm shrugged his shoulders; he could give her information on that subject, he said drily—at least a score of begging letters had reached him and Cedric from New York, and had been consigned to the flames. Saul Jacobi was evidently playing his old tricks and living on his wits; he was utterly irredeemable. Hugh Rossiter always prophesied that he would never die in his bed; and this prediction was unfortunately verified some three years later, when, in a drunken brawl, a tipsy sailor lurched up against him one dark night and pushed him over the quay. No one heard his cry for help for the oaths and curses that were filling the air; neither was his body found until the next day. Strange to say, it was Hugh Rossiter who identified it; and it was he who later on brought Leah a pathetic little proof that Saul had not wholly forgotten his sister.

In the pocket of his shabby old coat—how shabby and how ragged it was Hugh never ventured to tell her—there was a cheap little photo of Leah, taken when she was eighteen, and in the first bloom of her young beauty; and on the soiled envelope was written, "My little sister Leah," and the date of her birth. For no nature is wholly evil and irreclaimable, and perhaps, in spite of his tyranny and cruel tempers, there was a spark of affection in the man's heart for the young sister dependent on him. Leah always believed this, and she wept the saddest, tenderest tears over the little photo. "My poor Saul," she said, "his nature was strangely warped, and he did not know how to speak the truth, and he could be hard and cruel—as I know to my cost—but there were times when he was very good to me;" and so even Saul Jacobi had one human being to mourn for him.



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE NEW CURATE-IN-CHARGE

While I? I sat alone and watched; My lot in life, to live alone In my own world of interests, Much felt but little shown.

Yet sometimes, when I feel my strength Most weak, and life most burdensome, I lift mine eyes up to the hills, From whence my help shall come. —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

Malcolm sat for some time talking to the two ladies; then he made an excuse and set off in search of Leah. He was well acquainted with the grounds of Sandy Hollow, and could have found his way blindfolded to the lower garden.

It was a quaint old plaisance shut in with high walls, which were covered with fruit trees, where downy peaches, and nectarines, and golden apricots, and big yellow plums nestled their sun-kissed cheeks against the warm red bricks. In the oddly-shaped beds all manner of sweet growing things seemed to jostle each other—not forming stately rows, or ordered phalanx, or even gay-patterned borders after the fashion of modern flower-beds, but growing together in the loveliest confusion—peonies and nasturtiums, sweet-peas and salvias; and everywhere crowds of roses—over arches, climbing up walls, hanging in festoons over the gateway, long rows of Standards guarding the path like an army of beauteous Amazons; while all day long the heavy brown bees hummed round them, and filled their honey-bags with rifled sweets.

There was a small green bench placed invitingly in a shady corner, where Leah had seated herself to rest after her labours. Malcolm thought that her figure gave the finishing touch to the picture. She wore a white dress and a large shady hat, and a basket of Marshal Niel roses was in her lap; but when she caught sight of the visitor she rose so hastily that the basket was upset and the roses strewed the ground at her feet. Malcolm felt concerned when he saw how pale she had grown, and how she was trembling from head to foot, but he thought it better to take no notice and to give her time to recover herself.

"Have I startled you?" he said lightly. "Let me pick up your roses for you. May I have this bud for myself?" showing her his spoil. Then, when the basket was full again, he sat down beside her; but it was Leah who broke the silence. She had not regained her colour, and her voice still trembled a little.

"I did not know you were in the neighbourhood," she faltered, "and it startled me so to see you at the gate. I have not been strong since the influenza, and even a little thing like that brings on palpitation; but you must not think that I am not glad to see you."

"Thank you," returned Malcolm in a pleasant, friendly voice. "I only arrived at the Manor House last evening, so you see I have lost no time in coming over to Sandy Hollow. I wanted to see for myself how you were. You are rather too thin and unsubstantial-looking, Miss Jacobi;" but all the time he was saying to himself that he had never seen her look more lovely.

"What does it matter how one looks?" she returned indifferently. "You are thinner too, Mr. Herrick; but then you work so hard. Do you know"—and here her voice changed—"that I saw you a few weeks ago. You did not see me, and I could not speak; you were with some friends." Leah's manner was so significant and pregnant with meaning that Malcolm gazed at her inquiringly.

"I do not remember; I have so many friends," he observed in a puzzled tone.

"You had been to see those French pictures in the new gallery," she returned, "and a lady was waiting for you in her carriage." Then a sudden light broke in upon Malcolm.

"It must have been my mother!" he exclaimed, and then he stopped a little awkwardly, for of course he remembered now; but she finished his sentence quite calmly.

"Yes, he was there—Mr. Templeton, I mean; he was talking to a girl with fair hair, and with such a nice face—not pretty, but sweet and good; and they were laughing together. I could hear him laugh quite distinctly—my hansom was so close."

"Good heavens! what an escape," Malcolm said to himself inwardly; "it was a near thing." Then aloud, "That was Anna Sheldon, my adopted sister; she is the dearest girl in the world; but you are right, she is not really pretty."

"They seemed very happy," returned Leah, but her voice was full of wistful pain.

Malcolm, who was a fellow-sufferer, understood in a moment what she was feeling, and his kind heart prompted the remedy.

"Cedric has been a great deal with them lately," he said quietly; "my mother and Anna know all about his trouble; and they are very kind to him. It is good for him to be with friends who can make allowances for him, and help him."

"But he seemed happy," persisted the poor girl; "and—and—Miss Sheldon will soon make him forget things." But Malcolm shook his head.

"I am afraid not," he returned rather sadly; "Cedric is by no means happy, though we all do our best to make him so. He has had a great shock, Miss Jacobi, and in spite of his youth he has suffered much. I wish I could tell you truthfully that he has forgotten you, but it would be a useless falsehood. We can only hope that time and change will be beneficial;" and then, in the kindest manner, he sketched the outline of Cedric's projected travels, and gave her a full description of his travelling companion.

Malcolm's confidence was not thrown away; before many minutes were over Leah's wan face brightened a little, and her eyes lost their strained look.

"Thank you—thank you so much, Mr. Herrick," she said gratefully, when he had finished; "no one has told me anything about him, and it does me good to know. And now will you do me a favour"—turning to him—"when you write next to Mr. Templeton, will you give him a message from me?"

"May I know the message first?" replied Malcolm cautiously. Then she smiled a little sadly.

"Ah, you do not trust me. Well, I cannot wonder at that. But my message will not hurt him; indeed, I think it may do him good. I want you to tell him that I have been ill, but I am getting well and strong now, and that I am with a dear friend who mothers and takes care of me, and whom I love better every day; and that I am content and at peace. Tell him that I never forget to pray for him, and that my one prayer and wish is for his happiness; that I entreat him with all my heart not to let his disappointment shadow his life; that if he can forget me, it would be wiser and better to do so; but if he remembers, let him think of me as though I were dead, and already praying for him in paradise. Will you tell him this?"

Malcolm was silent for a moment, then he bowed his head, and Leah saw him pencil the message rapidly in his note-book.

"He shall have it—not a word shall be missed," he said briefly. Then he saw the tears of gratitude in her eyes.

"It will make him happier to know I am content," she whispered; "Cedric has such a kind heart."

"You are right—I think that message will do him good," agreed Malcolm. And then Leah lifted her basket and they walked back to the others.

It was during this visit to the Manor House that, in an unguarded moment, Malcolm's jealously-kept secret was betrayed to Mrs. Godfrey's sharp eyes, though Malcolm never guessed the fact then or afterwards.

They had been having tea in the alcove as usual, and the Colonel had just gone to the stables to give an order for the next day. Malcolm had made some humorous speech or other about his wonderful agility for a man of his age, when Mrs. Godfrey remarked innocently—

"How strange that you should say that, Mr. Herrick! It is just word for word what Elizabeth said when she was last here. I never saw two people think so alike;" and here Mrs. Godfrey laughed quite merrily, for once before she had accused Malcolm of making Elizabethan speeches. But her laugh died away when she saw Malcolm's face. It was too sudden, and he was not prepared; but the next moment he was hanging over the parapet trying to catch a peacock butterfly, and was actually joining in the laugh.

"That reminds me of a funny story," he said, speaking rather rapidly, "of two fellows who coined each other's ideas and got rather mixed sometimes;" and he told her the story from beginning to end with his old vivacity, and when he had finished it he went off in search of the Colonel.

But Mrs. Godfrey looked thoughtfully at the distant prospect until Malcolm's footsteps were no longer audible.

"I feel like a burglar," she said to herself—"as though I had picked a lock and stolen something. I, to call myself a clever woman and never to guess it! But he has been too deep for me. He is very strong; one might as well try to open an oyster with one's nails as to find out anything Malcolm Herrick wishes to hide."

Mrs. Godfrey's face grew more troubled. "His mouth was like iron," she whispered, "but his face was so white in the sunshine. Poor fellow—poor fellow," in quite a caressing tone. "But you will be safe with me—even Alick shall not know. I wonder if he guesses anything; he only said yesterday that Mr. Herrick was different somehow. Ah, Elizabeth," she went on, pacing the terrace restlessly, "even wise women like you and me make mistakes sometimes. Yes, yes, you have made a great mistake, my dear;" and then she went into the house to get ready for her walk.

Malcolm went to Norway, and wondered why he did not enjoy himself more. He had congenial companions, good sport, and the weather was distinctly favourable, but he could not get rid of his trouble. Wherever he went, in sunlight or moonlight, the shadowy presence of the woman he loved so passionately walked beside him. On the shores of the lonely fiord or in the pine forests, Elizabeth's bright, speaking face seemed to move before him like a will o' the wisp; even in the rustle of the summer breeze in the leaves he could hear her voice, with its odd breaks and sibilant pauses, so curiously sweet to his ear. "I am possessed," he would say to himself—"I am possessed!" and indeed with all his strength of will he was powerless to resist that influence.

Dinah still wrote to him from time to time. The Wood House was empty, she told him; they had taken a house at Ullswater for three months. Mr. Carlyon and Theo were to be their guests. "Mr. Carlyon is very far from well," she wrote, "and his doctor has ordered complete rest for some months; and we think Elizabeth needs rest and change too, so altogether it is an excellent plan."

The Ullswater scheme seemed to work well. Dinah told Malcolm that Mr. Carlyon and Elizabeth were out together most of the day—fishing, boating, or roaming over the country in search of ferns and wild-flowers. "The life just suits Elizabeth," she went on; "she likes the quiet and freedom. And then she and Mr. Carlyon do each other so much good. He was so weak after the funeral that it is my private opinion that but for Elizabeth's care and devotion he would soon have followed David. I know he thinks so himself. 'Father has two daughters now,' Theo often says, 'but Elizabeth suits him best.' She says it quite amiably. Theo and I keep each other company. Her favourite amusement seems visiting the cottages and talking to the women and children; they get quite fond of 'the red-headed lady' as they call her. But in the evening we are all together, and then Mr. Carlyon or Elizabeth reads aloud."

Malcolm was hard at work in his chambers long before the sisters returned to the Wood House. His book had proved a great success, and the leading papers had reviewed it most favourably. He had now commenced fresh work, and spent all his leisure hours at his desk. When Amias Keston complained that the studio evenings were things of the past, Malcolm looked at him a little sadly. "I can't help it, old fellow," he said gravely; "my social qualities are a bit rusty, but I will behave better by and bye;" and then he nodded to Verity, and went back to his papers and wrote on grimly, as though some unseen taskmaster were behind him, ready to scourge him on if he loitered.

"My work saved me—I had nothing else to live for," he said long afterwards; "nothing else fully occupied my thoughts and made me forget my trouble. When I was turning out copy I was almost happy. I was not Malcolm Herrick: I was the heir of all the ages entering into my kingdom."

"Yes, I know what you mean," replied the friend to whom he had said this: "the children were strewing flowers, and there were timbrels and harps, and they had crowned you with laurel leaves, as though you were a conquering hero."

"Something of that sort," he returned laughing. "But you must not make fun of my sweet mistress from Parnassus; it kept me sane and cool to woo my reluctant Muse. At times she frowned, and then I set my teeth hard and worked like a navvy; but when she smiled my pen seemed to fly in the sunlight, and I was warm and happy."

Malcolm sent a copy of his book to Dinah, and she was not long in acknowledging it. "We have both read it, and think it beautiful," she wrote. "I tried to read it aloud to Elizabeth, but I got so choky over it, and stopped so often, that she grew impatient at last and carried off the book to finish it in her own room. She wants me to tell you how much she likes it. She has sent a copy to Mr. Carlyon. Now I am going to tell you a piece of news that will rather surprise you, but Elizabeth did not wish me to drop a hint until things were definitely settled."

"Mr. Carlyon has resigned his living. The doctor has told him plainly that another winter at Stokeley will be too great a risk: the place is very bleak and cold, and the work far too hard. The Bishop is going to put in a younger man."

"Mr. Carlyon is actually coming to Rotherwood, and is to take David's place"—Malcolm started and frowned when he came to this. "You will be surprised, of course—every one is—but it is really a most excellent arrangement."

"You see, Mr. Charrington's health is not good, and as he will have to winter abroad, he really requires a curate-in-charge who will be responsible for the parish. The salary will be very little less than the income of Stokeley; there is no house, but we have got over this difficulty. Do you remember that low gray house, with the rowan tree over the gate, just by Elizabeth's Home of Rest, where little Kit died? It is scarcely more than a cottage, but it is very cosy and comfortable, and quite large enough for Theo and her father. There are two sitting-rooms—the larger one is to be Mr. Carlyon's study, they will not need a drawing-room—and four bed-rooms, and the garden is really charming. Rowan Cottage belongs to us, so we can ask a nominal rent. I cannot tell you how happy all this makes Elizabeth. Mr. Carlyon has been her one thought since David died. She feels it such a privilege to watch over him and attend to his little comforts. She is at work now at the cottage, getting everything ready for them, for they are expected in about a fortnight's time. But what a volume I am writing, my dear friend, and as usual about our own affairs. By the bye, I have never given you Elizabeth's message. She says that now you have become a celebrated author, she hopes you will not forget your old friends at the Wood House. Of course, this was only one of her joking speeches; she makes her little jokes now and then. What she really means is that you have not been to see us for a long time, and that when you come you will be welcome."

Malcolm read this letter at least a dozen times, and each time he came to the message he smiled as though he were well pleased; nevertheless he made no attempt to go to Staplegrove.

With the exception of that half-hour in the churchyard, he had not seen Elizabeth since her trouble—an instinctive feeling of delicacy had warned him to keep his distance. Nearly eight months had passed, but he was still unwilling to force himself upon her, and the present moment seemed to him peculiarly unpropitious. Elizabeth's thoughts would be occupied with the preparations at the cottage. He knew her so well: she never did things by halves, and she would be at Rotherwood all day long. No, he would not go yet, he said to himself; it would be time enough when Cedric came back, and then he would go down to the Wood House as a matter of course. It cost Malcolm some effort to keep this resolution when Cedric deferred his return week after week. When the New Year opened he was at Cairo, and having "a rattling good time," as he expressed it. It was not until the end of March that he and Mr. Dunlop turned their faces homeward; but Malcolm made his work an excuse and held grimly to his post.



CHAPTER XL

"HE IS MY RIVAL STILL"

Fire that's closest kept burns most of all.

Ay, so true love should do: it cannot speak; For truth hath better deeds than words to grace it. —SHAKESPEARE.

Love is patient and content with anything, so it be together with its beloved. —JEREMY TAYLOR.

It was on a bright sunshiny April afternoon that Malcolm at last paid his long-deferred visit to Staplegrove. Cedric had been at home for nearly a week then, but he and Malcolm had already met. Cedric had spent a night at Cheyne Walk before going down to the Wood House, and had extracted from his friend a reluctant promise that he would come down as early in the week as possible. Malcolm's assurance that he could only spare two nights was treated by the young matron with incredulity.

"Look here, Herrick," he returned in a lordly manner, "it is no good putting on side with me. You may be a brilliant essayist, as that fellow called you, and a tiptop literary swell, but you are not going to chuck up old friends in this fashion. You are going to pay us a decent visit, or your humble servant will kick up no end of a shindy." But to all this Malcolm turned a deaf ear. He repeated gravely that his engagements would only allow him to sleep two nights at the Wood House; and as Malcolm had made the engagements himself for the express purpose of shortening his visit, he probably knew best.

Cedric grumbled a good deal, and used some strong language, but he quieted down after a time, and they went on with their conversation; for Cedric had a plan in his head, and he wanted his friend's advice and co-operation. As Malcolm listened, he wondered what Dinah would think of her boy. Cedric looked at least two or three years older; he was broader, stronger, and Malcolm even fancied he had gained an inch in height; he was certainly a magnificent specimen of an athletic young Englishman.

He had always been handsome, but in Malcolm's opinion he had never appeared to greater advantage than now. His skin was slightly tanned by sun and wind, and his hair had darkened a little; he had lost the expression of weak irresolution which had marred his face, and he had evidently grown in manliness and self-restraint. His manner was still boyish at times, and Malcolm was glad to hear the old ringing laugh. Cedric's wound had been deep, but it was not incurable—time and change of scene had been potent factors in the cure. Malcolm listened with a great deal of interest to the scheme that Cedric intended to lay before his sisters.

It appeared that in the Bavarian highlands he had stumbled across an old school-fellow, Harry Strickland.

"We were chums at Haileybury," went on Cedric. "Harry was always a good sort; but his people sent him to Cambridge, so I lost sight of him. I knew his father was dead and that an uncle had offered him a home—his mother had died when he was quite a little chap, and he had no brothers or sisters—but when we met in the inn that wet night—when Dunlop and I were nearly drowned getting down from the Alp—he told me that a fit of gout had carried off his uncle quite unexpectedly."

"Poor chap, he seems a bit lonely," observed Malcolm sympathetically.

"Yes, he was mooning about, and rather bothered what to do next. So he was delighted at the idea of joining some of our excursions. But I will keep all that for the Wood House, for we had no end of adventures—the dare-devil Englishmen as they called us. But never mind that, I must hurry on."

"Harry is his uncle's heir—not that that amounts to much—but he has come into possession of a fine old farm that has been in the family for a hundred years at least, with plenty of good land, but, alas! little capital. The facts of the case are these, Herrick. Roger Strickland was not a rich man, and for want of a little ready money the farm has deteriorated in value. There is plenty to be got out of the land if only more could be spent on it; they want a new barn and some outhouses, and some of the fencing is disgraceful. As for the Priory itself—it is the Priory farm, you know—it is an old ramshackle place and in sore need of repair; some of the floors are rotten, and there are holes and crannies, and the mice and rats hold high revel in the disused rooms."

"My dear fellow, your description is not alluring," remarked Malcolm, wondering what all this meant.

"Oh, I am telling you the worst; it really is a lovely old place. Only Harry declares he would not live there alone for anything; it is supposed to be haunted by a certain evil-minded Strickland, in a green velvet suit and a powdered periwig, who drags one leg—but I will tell you the story another time; it will make your hair stand on end. Now Harry's difficulty is this: he has so little capital that he is half afraid of taking up the farm himself, and yet it is the only life he cares about; and he wants to find some one, with money to spare, who would join him in working the concern"—and here Cedric stopped and looked significantly at Malcolm.

"Ah, I understand now," returned his friend; "it is to be a sort of partnership. And so you think you would like to take to farming—eh, Cedric?"

"Like it," returned Cedric, colouring with excitement, "it is the very life I should choose. It would be just splendid for Harry and me to work together! Oh, I know what you are going to say"—as Malcolm opened his lips—"but wait a moment and let me finish first. Of course I know nothing of farming, and Harry knows precious little either; but he has a good bailiff whom he can trust, and whose wife manages the dairy. What I am going to propose is this, that Harry and I should go to the Agricultural College at Cirencester for a few months and get an idea of the business; and then, if Dinah would start me with a good round sum we could begin to get the place in order. I have set my heart on it, Herrick," and here Cedric's voice was very persuasive, "and I want you to come down and talk it out with her, like the good fellow you are."

"I will come, of course," returned Malcolm slowly, "and on the whole I am inclined to approve of your plan; but I do not think we can decide anything in this off-hand way. I think the best thing would be for us to reconnoitre the place, and perhaps Mr. Strickland could accompany us. The bailiff could give us full particulars, and we might consult Mr. Strickland's lawyer if we are in any difficulty."

And Cedric made no objection to this arrangement. They would go into the thing properly, of course, and there was no need to hurry matters; he only stipulated that Malcolm should come down and talk to Dinah without delay. This Malcolm had already promised; and when Cedric went to bed he felt assured that Malcolm's interest and sympathy were fully enlisted on his behalf.

"It is a foregone conclusion as far as Dinah is concerned," he thought, as he laid his head on his pillow. "Herrick can make her believe anything he likes, she has such faith in him; he has only to say that it is a capital plan, and that I shall make a first-rate farmer, and she will be ready to take out her cheque-book at once."

Cedric went round to 27 Queen's Gate to pay his respects to the ladies before he started for Staplegrove. Malcolm, who dined there that night, was amused by his mother's openly-avowed admiration of their young friend.

"Cedric Templeton is one of the most attractive-looking men I have ever seen," she said in her most serious voice; "he is very much improved in every way, and is altogether charming."

"I hope you agree with my mother, Anna?" observed Malcolm, laughing. "I think Cedric's ears must be burning at the present moment." But Anna only returned rather shyly that she thought Mr. Templeton looked extremely well.

Malcolm had fixed his day, but he refused to state any hour for his arrival. There was no need to send the dog-cart for him; he would prefer taking a fly from the station. Of course, he put forth business as his plea; but in reality he did not wish Cedric to meet him, the lad's incessant chatter all the way to Staplegrove would have worried him excessively. It was just a year since he had seen Elizabeth, and in his heart he was secretly dreading that first meeting. Perhaps he had left it too long, he ought to have gone sooner; they would be like strangers, and the first interview would be very embarrassing to them both. Yes, he had been a fool to spare himself the pain of seeing her grief. He had kept away, banishing himself for all these months, and yet what good had it done him? it had only increased his nervousness and discomfort tenfold. He was haunted by the fear that he should find her changed, that she would be cold and distant with him. He worked himself up into such a fever at last, that half-way up the Staplegrove Hill he stopped the fly and told the driver that he wished to walk, and directed him to take his bag to the Wood House.

The walk certainly refreshed him, and by the time he reached the Crow's Nest he felt more ready for the ordeal. When he came to the gate that led to the Wood House, he hesitated, and then crossed the road and stood for a few moments looking down the little woodland path he remembered so well. No other place was so associated with Elizabeth. How often he had met her at this little gate, or waited for her when he knew she was coming back from Rotherwood! That day, for example, when she wore her white sun-bonnet, and came along swinging her arms like an imperial milkmaid, a "very queen of curds and cream." At that moment a little sharp clang of a distant gate made his heart beat suddenly. There were footsteps—yes, without doubt, there were footsteps—it was no fancy. Then at the bend of the road he could see distinctly a tall black figure, walking rather slowly and wearily along, and though he could not see her face he knew it was Elizabeth.

The next minute he unlatched the gate a little noisily; he would not steal a march on her—she believed herself alone; then she looked up and quickened her pace, and when he came up to her, there was actually a smile on her face.

"You are fond of surprises," she said, looking at him as she gave him her hand. "Am I late, have you come to meet me; and what have you done with your luggage?"

"I have sent it on," he returned quietly; "it is such a lovely afternoon that I preferred to walk. No, I did not come to meet you; for all I knew, you might have been at the Wood House. I only had a fancy that I should like to see the woodlands again, and then I saw you coming."

"It is not my usual afternoon for Rotherwood," she returned quickly, but a faint colour had come in her face at his words; "but I am there most days. You know, of course—Dinah will have told you—of the new interest I have there. I think Die tells you most things," she continued, with the same glimmer of a smile on her lips.

"Yes, she is very good," he returned gravely. They were walking side by side now. Malcolm had hardly trusted himself to look at her, and yet nothing had been lost on him. How changed she was! that was his first thought. She looked years older; mourning did not suit her; the black hat with its heavy trimming seemed to extinguish her somehow. She was paler and thinner, he was sure of that, and had lost some of her splendid vitality; and yet in spite of all this it was to him the dearest face in the world.

As she made that poor little attempt at a smile, his whole heart went out to her in profound love and pity, and he forgot his own pain in remembering her trouble.

"Your sister told me about Mr. Carlyon," he said, as they crossed the road; "I was very glad to hear from her how well it answered."

"He is very happy at Rotherwood," returned Elizabeth. "The people seem to take to him, and he and the vicar are like brothers, and the work exactly suits him. Theo is happy too, and that is a great blessing. And we have made the cottage so pretty that I should like you to see it." Elizabeth's manner had become more natural; she spoke now as though she were sure of Malcolm's interest. He did not disappoint her.

"I shall certainly call there when I go to the vicarage," he returned, and then he stopped as though to take breath. "I was very glad when I read your sister's letter, and knew that this new work was to come to you; it must make you so much happier."

Malcolm's words were almost magical in their effect, for Elizabeth turned to him with her old eagerness.

"Oh, you always understand," she said gratefully; "that is why it is so easy to talk to you. Yes, indeed, it has made me so much happier. Life is worth living when one knows there is some one in the world who is dependent on one for earthly comfort. Of course Mr. Carlyon has Theo, but she does not know him as I do. I am at the cottage nearly every day."

Malcolm listened and smiled, but he could not have spoken at that moment. How little she guessed how her words stabbed him! She could tell him to his face that life was worth living "because there was some one dependent on her for earthly comfort," and yet she could leave him hungering and thirsting in that sad pilgrimage of his. All her thoughts and sweet ministries were for David's father. "It is for him," he thought bitterly; "he is my rival still—dead as well as living. She is very faithful: she will not forget him, and her heart is still closed to me."

Elizabeth did not seem to notice his silence; she talked on about Mr. Charrington, and the new schools; and then Cedric came flying down the path to meet them, and the next moment Malcolm saw Dinah smiling in the porch.

After dinner that evening they gathered round the fire, for the nights were still chilly, and Elizabeth joined the circle to hear Cedric's scheme discussed.

From his dark corner Malcolm watched her. In spite of her unrelieved black and absence of ornaments, she was looking more like the old Elizabeth. She grew interested and then quite absorbed in Cedric's project, and soon began discussing it with her wonted vivacity. When Malcolm made some damping remark, she argued the point with him in a most peremptory fashion, and was quite Elizabethan in her rebuke.

"That is the worst of talking to a lawyer," she said severely: "his legal mind takes such cut-and-dried views. Granted that it is a speculation, it seems a promising one; and nothing venture, nothing have. I don't know how you feel, Die, but I am quite willing to do my share." Then Dinah, who was in quite a flutter of excitement and pleasure, looked at her adviser in a timid, deprecating fashion.

"If Mr. Herrick thinks we are not imprudent, I should like to do as Cedric wishes," she replied; "though there is no need to touch your money, Betty." But Elizabeth took no notice of this remark.

"I have a proposal to make," she went on in such an animated voice that Malcolm quite started. "Why should we not all go down and see the place? And Mr. Strickland could come too. Donnarton is only three hours from town; it would be a sort of picnic excursion, and I know Dinah would like it."

"Bravo, Betty, what a brick you are!" exclaimed Cedric boisterously; and Malcolm observed in a low voice that it was an excellent idea.

But when they talked it over quietly they found an amendment was necessary. It would be impossible to go and return the same day; there was the farm to inspect, and most likely they would have to consult the lawyer. The matter ended by Cedric volunteering to go back with Malcolm when he returned to town, and talk the matter over with Harry Strickland; and if any decent lodgings could be found in the little town of Donnarton, they would stop at least one night.

As early a day as possible was to be fixed, and all the arrangements were to be made by the gentlemen. Dinah was evidently charmed with the prospect of seeing the Priory; but Elizabeth's ardour quickly cooled when she found it would be necessary to remain the night. "I suppose you could not go without me, Die?" she observed when alone with her sister. Then Dinah's face fell.

"Oh, Betty dear, that would spoil everything," she said in a distressed tone. "Surely you want to see dear Cedric's future home."

"Of course I want to see it," returned Elizabeth rather shortly; "only I should have preferred going down quietly a little later on"—which was somewhat contradictory, as she had herself proposed the plan. But perhaps the delighted look on Malcolm's face when he heard her proposition had somewhat alarmed her; for the next day she was a little cool and distant in her manner to him, and left his entertainment to Dinah and Cedric.



CHAPTER XLI

"YOU CAN BE DINAH'S FRIEND"

Sometimes I said: This thing shall be no more; My expectation wearies and shall cease; I will resign it now and be at peace: Yet never gave it o'er. —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.

Various complications prevented the Templeton-Strickland picnic, as Cedric termed it, from being speedily carried out, and it was not until the middle of May that a day was definitely fixed, and Cedric brought his sisters up to Waterloo, where Malcolm and Mr. Strickland met them. The whole party were to be housed at the Priory, where they were to sleep two nights. There were plenty of good bedrooms, Harry Strickland told them, and in a rough, homely fashion he could undertake that they should be comfortable. He had already been down to the Priory to look after things, and to tell Mrs. Renshaw that she must find some temporary help. He would have brought down a hamper of delicacies from Fortnum and Mason, but Cedric remonstrated with him and said his sisters would much prefer simple country fare. And then Harry gave orders to his bailiff that the plumpest chickens and the fattest ducks were to be sacrificed, and new laid-eggs and cream served ad libitum.

Malcolm always looked back on those two days as the saddest and yet the most beautiful he had ever known. For what sadness can be equal to that of being with the person one loves best in the world, and yet being conscious of a great dividing gulf, that never narrows; and yet in spite of this, what happiness to know that one roof would cover them for two days! Malcolm was in that condition when he was thankful for even fragments and crumbs—a kind smile, an approving word from Elizabeth made his heart beat more quickly. As for Dinah, she was in the seventh heaven. The country was lovely, the Priory a beautiful, picturesque old place, with leaded casements and a deep porch, and a wonderful neglected garden, a veritable wilderness of sweets. She liked everything, admired everything; she thought Harry Strickland a thoroughly nice fellow; and she and Elizabeth wandered all over the house, suggesting improvements in their practicable, sensible way; and full of admiration for the fine oak staircase and some really beautiful cabinets, and benches, on the landing-place and in the best parlours. Roger Strickland had always called them parlours—the oak parlour and the cedar parlour—the latter a charming room with a fine ceiling, cedar-lined panels, and a cosy nook by the fireplace covered with quaint tapestry. Elizabeth fell in love with this room directly. She insisted that a certain cabinet she had seen upstairs should be brought down to the cedar parlour, and that an empty recess should be fitted up for books; and the young men listened to her quite meekly. Her reforms and alterations became so sweeping and extensive at last, that Malcolm, who at first had been only amused, grew seriously alarmed. "We must see what Mr. Atkins thinks," he kept observing; "we must decide on nothing without him." Mr. Atkins was the lawyer who had managed all the Strickland business, and they were to drive into Donnarton that very afternoon to consult him. Nevertheless, when Malcolm made his little protest, Elizabeth only shrugged her shoulders and muttered something about "cautious legal minds" under her breath.

"Good for you, Betty, that we have a lawyer handy," observed Cedric in high good-humour, "or you would be ruining yourself and Dinah too. No—no, Herrick is right: we will mend the holes and lay down fresh flooring where it is absolutely necessary, and do any cleaning and painting that are required, but the rest can keep for a while; the parlours and two decent bedrooms are all we shall require." And then they went off to see the dairy.

They drove into Donnarton after an early dinner; but on arriving at the lawyer's Elizabeth suddenly remarked that they were far too large a party, and that she meant to do a little sight-seeing on her own account. So, as they knew of old that it was useless to argue with her, they went inside, and from over the wire blind in the dingy front room Malcolm watched her crossing the butter market in the direction of the ancient churchyard that skirted one side of it.

It troubled him to hear a bell toll as she passed through the little gate, and a moment later a funeral procession, following a small coffin, evidently of a child, climbed slowly up the steps.

After that he resigned himself to a long, tedious hour. The room was hot and airless, the lawyer very prosy and unnecessarily fluent; but he seemed a straightforward, honest man, and gave them good counsel. Malcolm was soon put into possession of all the Strickland bequest, and after this it was all plain sailing.

The land was good, and though the farm had deteriorated, a little judicious management and a moderate outlay would soon put things on a different footing. This was Mr. Atkins's opinion; he had himself suggested that a partner with some capital should be found.

Some final arrangements were made after this; then Cedric suggested that they should have tea at the inn, and Malcolm volunteered to go in search of Elizabeth.

He felt sure that he should find her still in the churchyard, and he was right. She was standing near one of those dreary monuments which affectionate relatives loved to raise to their departed friends in the early Victorian era. There was old Time with his beard and scythe, a broken column, veiled mourners and a dejected-looking cherub, and the stiff funereal urn; but Elizabeth was looking at a cluster of grassy mounds under a yew tree, with simple headstones, and here and there a cross. She looked up at Malcolm with a quiet smile.

"Have they sent you to find me?" she asked. "It is so nice and peaceful here; I like to think of all those tired workers resting after their labours—their work done."

"I think you make a mistake there," returned Malcolm, falling at once into her vein of thought. "Resting, true, but their work is certainly not finished: it is only broken off, because probably they have reached a part that can only be carried on under certain conditions."

Elizabeth turned round in her quick way. "Say that again!" she exclaimed eagerly, and Malcolm repeated his speech.

"I like that," she murmured: "if one could only grasp that thought."

"There is no difficulty, surely," he replied. "People often talk of continuity of life, and continuity of love, and why not continuity of work? Think of all the thousands of workers who have gone hence, many of them in the prime of their youth or manhood—votaries of science, of art, pioneers and missionaries, soldiers of the Cross, and soldiers of the Queen—a vast army that no man can number!" Here Malcolm paused.

"Yes, yes—oh, please go on!" Elizabeth was drinking in his words as though they were new wine.

"You know what the Wisdom of Solomon says: 'In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their departure is taken for misery;' but," looking at her with a smile, "you and I know better than that."

"And you think, as Mr. Carlyon does, that there will be active life and work there?" and Elizabeth's large sad eyes were full of yearning as she asked the question.

"How could I face the future if I did not believe it?" returned Malcolm earnestly. "Why are these talents, these gifts of genius, this thirst for knowledge given to us, if they are not to be developed and turned to account hereafter? Think of the conditions under which such work will be done"—and here Malcolm's voice was full of enthusiasm—"the wisdom of the ages around us, the great ones of the earth—in whose footprints we have striven to walk—beside us in the fulness of their majesty—no hindrances, no physical weakness, no painful conflict between the human will and the clouded intellect: the heir of all the ages will have entered his goodly heritage. Oh, forgive me," checking himself abruptly, for the tears were streaming down Elizabeth's cheeks.

"No—no, it has been such a comfort! I shall not forget; you have done me so much good;" and then she wiped away her tears, and tried to smile, and by the time they reached the inn she had regained her composure. During their drive home Malcolm occupied the seat next her in the waggonette, and Dinah, who was opposite to them, noticed that Elizabeth talked more to him than she had done since that unlucky afternoon at the Pool, and that Malcolm looked unusually happy.

But his content was of short duration. The next morning, as they were waiting for the waggonette to take them to the station, Elizabeth wandered into the deserted garden, and Malcolm, who followed her, found her standing under a Guelder rose-tree, picking some of the snowy blossoms.

She greeted him with a smile. "This reminds me of Cedric's nursery days," she observed. "He used to love to pelt me with these soft white balls when he was a mite of a thing in a white frock and blue ribbons. Powder-puffins," he used to call them. "What a pretty little fellow he was, to be sure! Well, Mr. Herrick," as Malcolm made no reply, "so our little jaunt is at an end. It has really been very pleasant, don't you think so?"

"I have enjoyed it," returned Malcolm. He spoke with marked emphasis.

"Oh, so have we all," she replied lightly. "It is so delightful to see those two boys so ridiculously happy;" for both Cedric and Harry Strickland had behaved during breakfast time like a couple of crazy schoolboys.

"You have helped to make them so," observed Malcolm meaningly.

"Oh no," in a careless tone; "Dinah is taking the lion's share. If I had had my way, I would have restored this beautiful old place—but two lawyers are enough to crush any woman."

"I am only thankful that we were able to check such sinful extravagance," he returned calmly; "I believe generosity can degenerate into positive vice." But Elizabeth refused to listen to this.

"If it had been Cedric's house, I would have done it up from garret to basement," she said wilfully. "Anyhow, I mean to take the garden in hand. When you come down to the Wood House next, you shall hear all my plans, and of course we shall have one of our old fights over them."

Now what was there in this speech to cause such a curious revulsion in Malcolm's mind? Elizabeth was speaking with the utmost good-humour, and at any other moment he would have thought her imperiousness charming—so what possessed him to draw himself up and say rather stiffly that he feared that it would be some time before they saw him at Staplegrove. "You know, I am going abroad this summer with my mother and Anna Sheldon," he continued gravely; "we are going to the Engadine and the Italian Lakes."

"But that is not until August," returned Elizabeth, rather taken aback by Malcolm's sudden gravity. She had been so pleased with him the previous afternoon; her liking for him had deepened, and she had felt a genuine desire for his friendship. In her secret heart she knew how well he had behaved, and was grateful to him for his delicacy and tact; but at this moment she felt as though she had received a douche of cold water. "That is not until August, and it is only May now," she repeated rather seriously.

"Yes, I know"—but here Malcolm lost his self-command. Perhaps the May sunshine dazzled him, or the soft friendliness in Elizabeth's eyes and that unvarying kindliness tried his endurance, but for once the underlying bitterness found vent.

"I cannot come before I go abroad—you, of all people, ought not to expect it! You must know how I feel—that it is not good for me! When I am with you, I can scarcely endure my pain!" He spoke harshly, almost flinging the words at her; but she answered him quite humbly.

"Forgive me, I did not want to hurt you," in a trembling voice—"I did not understand."

"No, you have never understood," but there was no conciliation in his tone; "you make things harder for me. Elizabeth, I ought not to have said this, but the happiness of these two days has been too much for me. I will keep away until I have regained mastery over myself, and then I will come. If you want me—if there be anything that I can do for you or your sister, you must send for me."

"I could not do that," she returned, averting her face, and showers of white petals powdered the ground at her feet, as her nervous fingers unconsciously stript the stalks—"you have made that impossible," And then she continued impulsively, "Mr. Herrick, you must believe how sorry I am. You have been such a friend—such a true, kind friend, and I have been so grateful to you!"

"I can never be your friend, Elizabeth"—there was a sad finality about Malcolm's tone that made Elizabeth shrink from him almost timidly.

"Can you not?" she returned with a little sob. "But you can be Dinah's friend. Do not let her suffer because of this; if we are both unhappy, there is no need that she should be, and you are one of her greatest comforts."

"You are right," replied Malcolm more gently, "and I shall always be at Miss Templeton's service. I know you tell her everything, will you let her know this?—when she wants me, when either of you want me, I will come if needs be from the ends of the earth. You will believe this?"

"I always believe Dinah's friend," she returned, in a voice he hardly recognised—it was so soft and full of feeling; "but how I shall miss mine!" and here Elizabeth's eyes were very sad. She looked at the bare flower-stalks in her hands rather remorsefully before she threw them away and returned to the house.

On their way to the station Malcolm occupied a seat next to the driver. Now and then Elizabeth glanced up at the broad shoulders a little wistfully. How silent he was, she did not once hear his voice! While they waited for the train, he and Harry Strickland paced up and down the platform. The train was rather full, one or two strangers were in their compartment, and whether accidentally or by purpose, Malcolm was shut off from the rest of his party.

At Waterloo a silent hand-shake was all that passed between him and Elizabeth, and even to Dinah he said little; but as he drove off in the hansom, he told himself that he had done right, and that he did not regret a single word he had spoken.

It was far better for her to know the truth: he understood her so well—she was not dense, but she was wilfully blinding her eyes; very likely she was misled by his calm, matter-of-fact manner.

"She thinks I have got over it—that I have come to my senses, and accepted the inevitable—that we can be friends in the comfortable, approved fashion"—here Malcolm's eyes flashed with sudden fire—"but she has found out her mistake. No, there shall be no more deception. When I see her again I shall wear my true colours—though Heaven forbid that I should persecute her with attentions that only embarrass and distress her. No, you are safe with me, dear," he murmured inwardly; "but even for your sweet sake I will not act a lie. I am Dinah's friend, but your lover, Elizabeth—and must be as long as I have life and breath"—and somehow this solemn avowal of his heart's secret did Malcolm good. But Dinah noticed that Elizabeth was more than usually depressed for some time after their return to the Wood House.



CHAPTER XLII

THE WHIRLIGIG OF TIME

Give what you have; to some it may be better than you dare to think. —LONGFELLOW.

The Possible stands by us ever fresh, Fairer than aught which any life hath owned, And makes divine amends. —JEAN INGELOW.

Two years had passed away since Malcolm had uttered his passionate protest in the Priory garden that May morning, when the white petals of the Guelder roses in Elizabeth's hand lay like snow on the gravel path, and all this time he had sternly adhered to his resolution.

In those two years he had only paid four visits to the Wood House, and on two of these occasions Elizabeth had been absent. Each time he had come on Dinah's invitation, to give her the help and counsel she needed, and more than once he had met her at 27 Queen's Gate.

For Cedric had had his way, and had effected an introduction between his sisters and Mrs. Herrick; and as they had mutually taken to each other, a pleasant intimacy had been the result, and Anna had paid two or three visits to the Wood House. From the first moment of their meeting Anna had fallen in love with Dinah. "You must not think that I do not care for Miss Elizabeth Templeton," she had observed rather shyly to Malcolm, after her first visit to Staplegrove—"for I admire and like her more than I can say, and I am never tired of talking to her—but I do love my dear Miss Dinah!" And indeed Dinah accepted the girl's innocent worship with great kindness. "She is a dear child, and Elizabeth and I are very fond of her," she wrote once to Malcolm; "the thought that some one else is fond of her too makes me very happy." For at this time it was evident to all Cedric's friends that a mutual attachment was growing up between him and Anna.

The years had not been unfruitful to Malcolm, and his name as a powerful and successful author was firmly established. He no longer held his appointment, and had given up his dingy chambers in Lincoln's Inn. His own work fully occupied him, and thanks to his literary receipts and his mother's generosity, he realised a good income.

To his own regret and to his friends also, he was no longer a member of the Keston menage. He had outgrown his homely quarters, and now occupied one of the new flats in Cheyne Walk, and lived in quite a palatial fashion, though many a pipe was still smoked in Amias's studio. Malcolm had emerged from his shell, and mixed freely in society. His was a name to conjure with, and all the people best worth knowing gathered round him and delighted to do him homage. Elizabeth used to read his name sometimes in the columns of the Times and the Morning Post. "He seems to go everywhere, and to know every one," she observed once to Dinah; "I am afraid he will be terribly spoiled." But she only said it to tease Dinah. She knew that Malcolm Herrick had no overweening estimate of himself—that, in spite of his success and his many friends, and all the smiles and adulation lavished on him, at heart he was a lonely man. Perhaps in her way Elizabeth was lonely too. In spite of her devotion to David's father, there were times when the narrowness of her life oppressed her—when her broad sympathies and strong vitality seemed to cry out for a larger life, for a wider outlook—when she trod the woodland paths with a sense of weariness—the same path day after day.

"How tired one gets of it all!" she said to herself one May afternoon, as she came in sight of the porch where Mr. Carlyon was reading tranquilly and enjoying the sweet spring air. The curate-in-charge looked slightly older and had taken to spectacles, but otherwise there was little change in him. On the whole, his existence was a very peaceful one. He loved Rotherwood and the simple, kindly folk amongst whom he lived. His books and Elizabeth's society were his chief pleasures. If the day passed without seeing her, Theo noticed that he grew restless and preoccupied, and finally went across to the Wood House on some excuse or other, to assure himself that nothing was amiss.

"Father thinks that there is no one like Elizabeth," Theo would observe: "nothing that she says or does is wrong. If he had his way they would never be apart;" and Theo was right.

In spite of his short sight, Mr. Carlyon soon detected the signs of mental weariness on Elizabeth's pale face; for as she seated herself on the wooden bench beside him, he patted her hand in his tender, homely way.

"What is it, my dear?" he asked gently. "You look tired, Elizabeth."

"Do I?" she returned absently; "I feel as though I could walk ten miles with pleasure. That is the worst, I am so strong that nothing tires me. Sometimes I fancy it would be a pleasant experience to be honestly fatigued in some good cause. How one would sleep after it!"

"I thought you always slept well, dear?"

"Oh, so I do: often I fall asleep as soon as my head is on the pillow. But I wake early—the first twitter of the birds rouses me—and then life looks so long." Elizabeth spoke in a dejected tone.

"Come and walk," was Mr. Carlyon's only answer to this; "I have been writing my sermon all the morning, and I feel a bit stiff and headachy. Let us go down the valley;" and as Elizabeth made no objection to this, he got his hat and stick, and they sallied forth together. Outside the gate they came upon the vicar, and the three walked on together, as Mr. Charrington intended calling at the Crow's Nest. Elizabeth had been very silent all the way, and had left the conversation to the two gentlemen. When Mr. Charrington had quitted them, they turned into the long woodland path that skirted the valley. It was a beautiful spot, and a favourite resort of Elizabeth's. She loved to breathe the spicy incense of the pines, and to watch the shadows move across the valley. As they seated themselves under a little clump of firs, they could look down into the dark woods far below. All round them were heather, bracken, whortleberries, and brambles, and later on the hillside would be a glory of purple.

"Well, Elizabeth, what is it?" asked Mr. Carlyon, as she still sat beside him in a brown study, and her brow puckered and lined with thought. "I am sure I have been patient enough." Then she started and laughed a little nervously.

"How stupid I am this afternoon! And I have so much to tell you. I am so ashamed of myself, for I ought to be in such good spirits. The young people have come to an understanding at last. Cedric and Anna have written to Dinah; I left her crying for joy over their letters."

"I do not wonder at that—Miss Sheldon is a sweet girl."

"Cedric thinks she is perfect. I wish you could have seen his letter: he is rapturously happy. And Anna writes so sweetly: she says it seems like a dream; that she can hardly believe in her happiness; that she does not deserve it, and that Cedric is everything that she could desire."

"Ah, they are young—life does not seem long to them, does it, Elizabeth?" She smiled and shook her head.

"Cedric is going to bring her down on Wednesday, and he wants Mr. Herrick to come too. Dinah means to ask him, I believe. I tell her that he is far too busy and important a personage to trouble with our small family concerns; but Dinah was quite indignant when I said that."

"She has greater faith in his friendship, you see." But to this Elizabeth made no answer. She went on talking with assumed eagerness of the young couple.

"Cedric intends to be married soon," she said. "Mr. Strickland is going to let them have the Priory, and has taken a cottage for his own use. How charmed Anna will be when she sees it—the garden is a dream of beauty, and the house is delightful!" For each summer she and Dinah had spent weeks at the Priory, and had succeeded in transforming the place. Anna would have a lovely home, and the simple country life would be far more to her taste than ever town had been. Even Mrs. Herrick, who would feel her loss keenly, owned this.

"And Mr. Herrick is to be asked on this grand occasion? I am glad of that, Elizabeth;" and here Mr. Carlyon pushed up his spectacles and peered at her in his mild, short-sighted way. "Do you know, my child, there is something I have been wanting to say to you for a long time, and I may as well say it now."

Elizabeth looked at him rather apprehensively: there was something significant in his manner.

"Something? What do you mean?" she faltered,

"You have been a dear good daughter to me," he went on, clearing his throat from a slight huskiness, "and if you were my own flesh and blood you could not be more to me. We have so much in common, have we not, my dear—and then we both loved David."

"Yes—yes," she murmured, and the ready tears sprang to her eyes.

"We mourned for our dear boy together," he went on slowly, "and groped our way hand in hand through the darkness. How unhappy we were three years ago! Even now it is painful to look back on those days, but, thank God! time and His grace have helped us, and we no longer suffer."

"I am not so sure of that," returned Elizabeth in a low voice; but he seemed not to hear her.

"You have been very faithful, Elizabeth. If you had been David's widow you could not have mourned for him more deeply; but, as David's father, I would bid you mourn no more."

She stared at him with parted lips, but the words would not come.

"Why should you spoil your life, Elizabeth? You are only thirty-five, and please God there are many, many years before you. Why is your heart to be empty and your arms unfilled because our precious boy is in paradise? Do you know, my dear, we often spoke of this—he and I. Thank God, there were no secrets between us, and he told me more than once that the thought of your future was always on his mind."

Elizabeth bowed her head on her hands. She was weeping now, though the tears came very quietly. "If he had only talked to me!" she murmured.

"He tried to do so more than once," returned Mr. Carlyon, "but each time you stopped him. Would you like me to tell you what he said as well as I can remember his words?" She nodded, but her face was still hidden.

"It was at Ventnor, and very near the end, and he was talking about you—living or dying you were his one thought. 'I know how she will grieve,' he said to me, 'but, father, you must not let her grieve too long. I think it would trouble me even in paradise—if such a thing could be—if I thought I had spoilt her life. Elizabeth is made for happiness—she must not waste her sweetness.' And then—shall I go on?" but all the same he did not wait for consent—"it was then that David told me something that I had guessed before—that some one else loved you, and loved you dearly. I am right, am I not, Elizabeth?" No answer, but he could see how her hands clutched each other, as though in sudden agitation.

"'I was beforehand, and he had no chance,' David went on, 'but he is my superior in everything'—he was always so humble in his own estimation, dear fellow. 'Father, Malcolm Herrick worships the ground she walks on. One day he must have his reward.'"

"Oh, hush—hush, for pity's sake," and Elizabeth stretched out her hand to stop him, but he detained it gently.

"Elizabeth, three years are long enough for mourning, and Mr. Herrick has been very patient. Why should another life be spoiled? Why should you doom him as well as yourself to loneliness? I have not forgotten his look that evening when you were singing to us—it was the look of a man who is starving for a little happiness, for the comfort and sweet sustenance that only a wife can give him. There, I will say no more—I have discharged my conscience, and repeated my boy's words. I trust they have not been spoken in vain." His hand rested lightly on her head for a moment as though in blessing, but no word escaped his lips. Then he rose, and after a moment Elizabeth joined him, and they walked back silently together.

"You are not vexed with me, my dear?" he asked anxiously, when they parted at the gate of Rowan Cottage. Then Elizabeth raised her sad eyes to his.

"Why should I be vexed? You are always so kind—so kind; but you have said things that have troubled me;" and she left him, and walked on rapidly until she found herself in the familiar woodland path, and then she unconsciously slackened her pace.

She felt strangely shaken and agitated. The words her old friend had spoken had thrilled her as though by an electric shock. It was a message from the dead. Half-involuntarily she sank down on the bank in the very spot where Malcolm had picked the honeysuckle. She knew what it was to be tired now—for the moment she felt weak and powerless as a little child.

Over and over again she repeated dumbly Mr. Carlyon's words. How could she doubt that David had spoken them when he had tried with loving unselfishness to say them to her! Would she ever forget the tender solemnity of his manner?—

"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 she had stopped him, and he could say no more. Truly, as his father had said, "living or dying she had been his one thought." "Oh, how good you were to me, David!" she whispered.

She rose and paced restlessly to and fro, while a bright-eyed robin watched her from a hazel twig; for other words besides David's were haunting her, and had been haunting her for two years, thought she had vainly tried to forget them. Sometimes she would wake from sleep with her heart beating, and those sad, reproachful words sounding in her ears—

"I can never be your friend, Elizabeth." And again, "If either of you want me, I will come if needs be from the ends of the earth." Would she ever forget the look on his face as he said this!

She had told him then that she should miss him. In these two years she had only seen him twice, and each time some strange embarrassment on her part had seemed to estrange them still more. He was Dinah's friend, not hers—from her he would have all or nothing. And yet, as time went on, and that vast loneliness of life pressed on her more and more, and her woman spirit seemed to wander through waste places seeking rest and finding none, that silent, patient love, that seemed to enfold her from a distance, began to appeal to her more strongly. "Why should another life be spoiled?" Mr. Carlyon had said. "Ah, why indeed?" she murmured.

Then her mood changed; her face grew hot, and there was a pained look in her eyes. "I have tried him too much," she thought; "there are limits even to his patience. Last time I noticed a change: he is growing weary—perhaps he has seen some one else;" and here she choked down something like a sob and hurried on.

Dinah wondered what was amiss with her that evening; she seemed so listless and silent, and took so little interest in the absorbing topic of Cedric's engagement.

The young couple were to arrive the following afternoon, and Dinah had arranged to drive to Earlsfield to meet them. As they sat down to luncheon, she said to Elizabeth, "I am so glad that Mr. Herrick has promised to come to-morrow; I have just had a telegram from him;" and she handed it to her sister. Elizabeth was rather a long time reading it. "Shall be with you by dinner-time. Shall take fly. Stay two nights."

"Is it not good of him to come, when he is so dreadfully busy?" continued Dinah in her placid, satisfied voice. "Cedric will be delighted to have him! Do you think we ought to ask Theo and Mr. Carlyon to dinner, or would Mr. Herrick prefer just a family party?"

"Oh, I think a family party will suit him best," returned Elizabeth gravely; "Theo rather bores him with her parish talk;" and Dinah said no more.



CHAPTER XLIII

A MAY AFTERNOON

What is this love that now on angel wing Sweeps us amid the stars in passionate calm. —MACDONALD.

Elizabeth stood on the terrace in the sweet stillness of a May afternoon. She had been gathering flowers for the dinner-table and drawing-room—masses of white and mauve lilac, long golden trails of laburnum, dainty pink and white May blossoms—but though the Guelder roses almost dropped into her hand, she passed them by untouched and with averted eyes. All her life they had been her special favourites, but now they recalled too vividly a painful episode—the day when Malcolm Herrick so sternly and so sorrowfully refused her his friendship.

Malcolm had been nearly twenty-four hours at the Wood House, and she had hardly exchanged a dozen words with him, and already he had signified his intention of returning to town the next morning, in spite of Cedric's vehement protestations. He had arrived so late the previous evening that he had had only time for a hasty greeting before he went to his room to prepare for dinner. During the evening the young couple had naturally engrossed his attention. A harder-hearted man than Malcolm would have been touched by Anna's innocent happiness and her shy pride in her handsome young lover. "Does she not look lovely!" Elizabeth had said to him in a low voice as they were all gathered on the terrace after dinner. And indeed the girl looked very fair and sweet in her white silk dress, with a row of pearls clasped round her soft throat. "You are right; and yet I never thought Anna really pretty," he returned in a cool, critical tone. "Happiness is generally a beautifier, and my little girl certainly looks her best to-night." And then he went after them; and Elizabeth saw that Anna was hanging on his arm as they went down the steps and that Cedric's hand was on his shoulder.

"How happy they are!" she thought a little enviously; "they are both devoted to him, and he certainly returns their affection. He is good and kind to every one but me," she continued resentfully: "if Dinah had said that, he would not have answered her so curtly and then turned on his heel and left her." Here Elizabeth wilfully ignored the fact that Cedric had signalled to him somewhat impatiently.

"I believe that he has made a vow not to speak to me if he can help it."

Elizabeth was in a restless, irritable frame of mind that prevented her from taking a reasonable view of things. If she had been less alive to her own embarrassment and discomfort, she would have discovered for herself that Malcolm was ill at ease too.

If he had not talked much to her, he had watched her closely, and it had troubled and pained him to see how thin and worn she looked; in the strong light he had even noticed a faint tinge of gray in her bright brown hair.

"She is pitiless to herself as well as to me," he said to himself bitterly; "if she goes on like this, she will be an old woman before her time. Her life is too limited: it suits Dinah, but it does not suit Elizabeth. Why should she spend her lime teaching village children and fagging after that old man"—for Malcolm was growing hopeless and embittered.

The evening had not been productive of much comfort to either of them; a sense of widening estrangement, of ever-deepening misunderstanding kept them apart. When Elizabeth went to the piano—for she had been induced to resume her singing—Malcolm did not follow her; neither did she sing one of his favourite songs. Even when Dinah innocently recalled one that she remembered he loved, and begged her sister to sing it, Elizabeth obstinately refused. "Oh, that old thing!" she said contemptuously; "I am so tired of it." But Malcolm was quite aware of her reason for refusing: she would make no effort to please him, for fear he should be encouraged to repeat his offence.

The next morning things were no better. Cedric had asked Malcolm to walk with them to the valley. It was a glorious morning—bright and fresh and sweet—"just the day for a prowl," as Cedric said. "You will come too. Betty?" he continued; but to every one's surprise Elizabeth demurred to this.

"She was very sorry," she stammered, "but she had promised to go to Rotherwood."

"Why, we are all going there after luncheon!" exclaimed Cedric. "Herrick wants to call at the vicarage, so we can leave him there, and you can go on to Rowan Cottage."

But again Elizabeth hesitated. "It was a great pity," she returned hurriedly, "but Mr. Carlyon and Theo were going to Earlsfield in the afternoon, and she wanted to see Theo particularly about the new school-books that they were to order at Thornton's. Theo makes such mistakes," she went on: "the last batch was all wrong and had to be sent back;" and though Cedric argued with her, and Anna put in a persuasive word or two, Elizabeth was firm. The afternoon would not do. She was very sorry to be so unsociable; but it could not be helped—she must go alone.

All this time Malcolm had said no word. Perhaps if he had, Elizabeth might have been induced to reconsider her decision. The fact was, she was getting sore as well as unhappy. "If he had wanted me, he would have asked me to accompany them," she said to herself, never dreaming that her brusque, decided manner made any such invitation on his part a sheer impossibility.

So Elizabeth had her way, and spent a long pottering morning in the schools and in going over accounts with Theo. More than once she put back her hair from her hot forehead with a gesture of weariness. How lovely the valley would look! she thought. How dark the shadows of the firs would lie! while golden shafts of sunlight would penetrate between the slender stems! She knew where they would be sitting—on a shady knoll overlooking the Dale farm and the range of hillside beyond. They would be talking to him about the Priory, and their future life, and all their hopes and fears; and he would be listening to them with that kind smile she knew so well on his lips.

"What is the matter with you, Elizabeth?" cried Theo rather pettishly; "do you know, you have added up all those figures wrongly?"

"Have I, dear? I am so sorry;" and Elizabeth, with a tired little sigh, worked her way up the column again. When she had entered the sum-total, she took up her hat.

"Surely you will wait for father," observed Theo, rather surprised at this unusual haste; "you know he promised us that he would be back soon after twelve."

"Yes, I know; but we have a guest staying with us, and I ought not to absent myself too long. I have seen Mr. Carlyon already and he will understand. Please give him my love."

Elizabeth could not have told why she was in such a hurry to be home, or why the morning seemed so endless to her. Theo's tactless remarks irritated her more than usual; she could hardly control her impatience as she answered her.

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