"What refining measures are you thinking of?—beside your own presence and example."
"I was certainly not thinking of that. Why, Mr. Dillwyn, knowledge itself is refining; and then, so is comfort; and I could help them to more comfort, in their houses, and in their meals. I began to teach them singing, which has a great effect; and I carried all the pictures I had with me. Most of all, though, to bring them to a knowledge of Bible truth is the principal thing and the surest way. The rest is really in order to that."
"Wasn't it very hard work?"
"No," said Lois. "Some things were hard; but not the work."
"Because you like it."
"Yes. O, Mr. Dillwyn, there is nothing pleasanter than to do one's work, if it is work one is sure God has given."
"That must be because you love him," said Philip gravely. "Yet I understand, that in the universal adjustment of things, the instrument and its proper work must agree." He was silent a minute, and Lois did not break the pause. If he would think, let him think, was her meaning. Then he began again.
"There are different ways. What would you think of a man who spent his whole life in painting?"
"I should not think that could be anybody's proper life-work."
"I think it was truly his, and he served God in it."
"Who was he?"
"A Catholic monk, in the fifteenth century."
"What did he paint? What was his name?"
"His name was Fra Angelico—by reason of the angelic character which belonged to him and to his paintings; otherwise Fra Giovanni; he was a monk in a Dominican cloister. He entered the convent when he was twenty years old; and from that time, till he was sixty-eight, he served God and his generation by painting."
Lois looked somewhat incredulous. Mr. Dillwyn here took from one of his pockets a small case, opened it and put it in her hands. It was an excellent copy of a bit of Fra Angelico's work.
"That," he said as he gave it her, "is the head of one of Fra Angelico's angels, from a group in a large picture. I had this copy made for myself some years ago—at a time when I only dimly felt what now I am beginning to understand."
Lois scarce heard what he said. From the time she received the picture in her hands she lost all thought of everything else. The unearthly beauty and purity, the heavenly devotion and joy, seized her heart as with a spell. The delicate lines of the face, the sweet colouring, the finished, perfect handling, were most admirable; but it was the marvellous spiritual love and purity which so took possession of Lois. Her eyes filled and her cheeks flushed. It was, so far as painting could give it, the truth of heaven; and that goes to the heart of the human creature who perceives it. Mr. Dillwyn was watching her, meanwhile, and could look safely, secure that Lois was in no danger of finding it out; and while she, very likely, was thinking of the distance between that angel face and her own, Philip, on the other hand, was following the line of his sister's thought, and tracing the fancied likeness. Like one of Fra Angelico's angels! Yes, there was the same sort of grave purity, of unworldly if not unearthly spiritual beauty. Truly the rapt joy was not there, nor the unshadowed triumph; but love,—and innocence,—and humility,—and truth; and not a stain of the world upon it. Lois said not one word, but looked and looked, till at last she tendered the picture back to its owner.
"Perhaps you would like to keep it," said he, "and show it to your sister."
He brought it to have Madge see it! thought Lois. Aloud—
"No—she would enjoy it a great deal more if you showed it to her;—then you could tell her about it."
"I think you could explain it better."
As he made no motion to take back the picture, Lois drew in her hand again and took a further view. How beautiful was the fair, bright, rapt, blissful face of the angel!—as if, indeed, he were looking at heaven's glories.
"Did he—did the painter—always paint like this?"
"Always, I believe. He improved in his manner as he went on; he painted better and better; but from youth to age he was incessantly doing the one thing, serving God with his pencil. He never painted for money; that is, not for himself; the money went into the church's treasury. He did not work for fame; much of his best work is upon the walls of the monks' cells, where few would see it. He would not receive office. He lived upon the Old and New Testaments, and prayer; and the one business of his life was to show forth to the world what he believed, in such beautiful wise that they might be won to believe it too."
"That is exactly the work we have to do,—everybody," said Lois, lifting her eyes with a bright light in them. "I mean, everybody that is a Christian. That is it;—to show forth Christ, and in such wise that men may see and believe in him too. That is the word in Philippians—'shining as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.' I did not know it was possible to do it in painting—but I see it is. O, thank you for showing me this!—it has done me good."
Her eyes were glistening as she gave him the picture again. Philip put it in security, in silence, and rose up.
"Well," said he, "now I will go and hear somebody play the 'Carnival of Venice,' as if it were all rattle and no fun."
"Is that the way they play it?"
"It is the way some people play it. Good night."
The door closed after him, and Lois sat down alone before the fire again.
CHOOSING A WIFE.
She did not open her Bible to go on with the investigation Mr. Dillwyn had broken off. Now that he had just been with her in proper person, an instinct of scared modesty fled from the question whether or no he were a man whom a Christian woman might marry. What was it to her? Lois said to herself; what did it concern her, whether such a marriage were permissible or no? Such a question would never come to her for decision. To Madge, perhaps? But now the other question did ask for consideration;—Why she winced at the idea that it might come to Madge? Madge did not share her sister's scruple; Madge had not made the promise Lois had made; if Mr. Dillwyn asked her, she would accept him, Lois had little doubt. Perhaps he would ask her; and why, why did Lois wish he would not? For she perceived that the idea gave her pain. Why should it give her pain? For herself, the thing was a fixed fact; whatever the Bible said—and she knew pretty well what it said—for her, such a marriage was an impossibility. And why should she think about it at all? nobody else was thinking about it. Fra Angelico's angel came back to her mind; the clear, unshadowed eyes, the pure, glad face, the separateness from all earth's passions or pleasures, the lofty exaltation above them. So ought she to be. And then, while this thought was warmest, came, shutting it out, the image of Mr. Dillwyn at the music party; what he was doing there, how he would look and speak, how Madge would enjoy his attentions, and everything; and Lois suddenly felt as if she herself were very much alone. Not merely alone now, to-night; she had chosen this, and liked it; (did she like it?)—not now, but all through her life. It suddenly seemed to Lois as if she were henceforth to be always alone. Madge would no doubt marry—somebody; and there was no home, and nobody to make home for Lois. She had never thought of it before, but now she seemed to see it all quite clearly. Mrs. Barclay's work had been, to separate her, in a certain way, from her family and her surroundings. They fitted together no longer. Lois knew what they did not know; she had tastes which they did not share, but which now were become part of her being; the society in which she had moved all her life till two years, or three years, ago, could no longer content her. It was not inanimate nature, her garden, her spade and her wheelbarrow, that seemed distasteful; Lois could have gone into that work again with all her heart, and thought it no hardship; it was the mental level at which the people lived; the social level, in houses, tables, dress, and amusements, and manner; the aesthetic level of beauty, and grace, and fitness, or at least the perception of them. Lois pondered and revolved this all till she began to grow rather dreary. Think of the Esterbrooke school, and of being alone there! Rough, rude, coarse boys and girls; untaught, untamed, ungovernable, except by an uncommon exertion of wisdom and will; long days of hard labour, nights of common food and sleep, with no delicate arrangements for either, and social refreshment utterly out of the question. And Madge away; married, perhaps, and travelling in Europe, and seeing Fra Angelico's paintings. Then the angel's face recurred to Lois, and she pulled herself up. The angel's face and the painter's history both confronted her. On one hand, the seraphic purity and joy of a creature who knew no will but God's will; on the other hand, the quiet, patient life, which had borne such fruits. Four hundred years ago, Fra Angelico painted; and ever since his work had been bearing witness to God's truth and salvation; was even at that minute teaching and admonishing herself. What did it signify just how her own work should be done, if only it were like work? What matter whether rough or smooth, alone or in company? Where the service is to be done, there the Master puts his servant; what the service is, he knows; for the servant, all that he has to take care of is, that step by step he follow where he is led, and everywhere, and by all means in his power, that he show forth Christ to men. Then something like that angel's security would be with him all the way, and something like that angel's joy be at the end of it. The little picture had helped and comforted Lois amazingly, and she went to bed with a heart humbled and almost contented.
She went, however, in good time, before Madge could return home; she did not want to hear the outflow of description and expatiation which might be expected. And Madge indeed found her so seemingly sleepy, that she was forced to give up talking and come to bed too. But all Lois had gained was a respite. The next morning, as soon as they were awake, Madge began.
"Lois, we had a grand time last night! You were so stupidly asleep when I came home, I couldn't tell you. We had a beautiful time! O Lois, Mrs. Burrage's house is just magnificent!"
"I suppose so."
"The floors are all laid in patterns of different coloured woods—a sort of mosaic—"
"What?—I call it mosaic, with centre-pieces and borders,—O, elegant! And they are smooth and polished; and then carpets and rugs of all sorts are laid about; and it's most beautiful. She has got one of those Persian carpets she was telling about, Lois."
"I dare say."
"And the walls are all great mirrors, or else there is the richest sort of drapery—curtains, or hangings; and the prettiest painted walls. And O, Lois, the flowers!—"
"Where were they?"
"Everywhere! On tables, and little shelves on the wall—"
"O, well!—shelves they are, call them what you like; and stands of plants and pots of plants—the whole place was sweet with the smell, and green with the leaves, and brilliant with the flowers—"
"Seems to have been brilliant generally."
"So it was, just brilliant, with all that, and with the lights, and with the people."
"Were the people brilliant too?"
"And the playing."
"Everybody said so. It wasn't like Mrs. Barclay's playing."
"What was it like?"
"It looked like very hard work, to me. My dear, I saw the drops of sweat standing on one man's forehead;—he had been playing a pretty long piece," Madge added, by way of accounting for things. "I never saw anything like it, in all my life!"
"Like what?—sweat on a man's forehead?"
"Like the playing. Don't be ridiculous."
"It is not I," said Lois, who meanwhile had risenn and was getting dressed. Madge was doing the same, talking all the while. "So the playing was something to be seen. What was the singing?"
Madge stood still, comb in hand. "I don't know!" she said gravely. Lois could not help laughing.
"Well, I don't," Madge went on. "It was so queer, some of it, I did not know which way to look. Some of it was regular yelling, Lois; and if people are going to yell, I'd rather have it out-of-doors. But one man—I think he thought he was doing it remarkably well—the goings up and down of his voice—"
"Well, the cadences if you choose; they made me think of nothing but the tones of the lions and other beasts in the menagerie. Don't you know how they roar up and down? first softly and then loud? I had everything in the world to do not to laugh out downright. He was singing something meant to be very pathetic; and it was absolutely killing."
"It was not all like that, I suppose?"
"No. There was some I liked. But nothing one-half so good as your singing a hymn, Lois. I wish you could have been there to give them one. Only you could not sing a hymn in such a place."
"Why, because! It would be out of place."
"I would not go anywhere where a hymn would be out of place."
"That's nonsense. But O, how the people were dressed, Lois! Brilliant! O you may well say so. It took away my breath at first"
"You got it again, I hope?"
"Yes. But O, Lois, it is nice to have plenty of money."
"Well, yes. And it is nice not to have it—if the Lord makes it so."
"Makes what so? You are very unsympathetic this morning, Lois! But if you had only been there. O Lois, there were one or two fur rugs—fur skins for rugs,—the most beautiful things I ever saw. One was a leopard's skin, with its beautiful spots; the other was white and thick and fluffy—I couldn't find out what it was."
"Bear! O Lois—those two skins finished me! I kept my head for a while, with all the mosaic floors and rich hangings and flowers and dresses,—but those two skins took away the little sense I had left. They looked so magnificent! so luxurious."
"They are luxurious, no doubt."
"Lois, I don't see why some people should have so much, and others so little."
"The same sort of question that puzzled David once."
"Why should Mrs. Burrage have all that, and you and I have only yellow painted floors and rag carpets?"
"I don't want 'all that.'"
"Madge, those things do not make people happy."
"It's all very well to say so, Lois. I should like just to try once."
"How do you like Mrs. Burrage?"
Madge hesitated a trifle.
"She is pleasant,—pretty, and clever, and lively; she went flying about among the people like a butterfly, stopping a minute here and a minute there, but I guess it was not to get honey but to give it. She was a little honeyfied to me, but not much. I don't—think"—(slowly) "she liked to see her brother making much of me."
Lois was silent.
"He was there; I didn't tell you. He came a little late. He said he had been here, and as he didn't find us he came on to his sister's."
"He was here a little while."
"So he said. But he was so good, Lois! He was very good. He talked to me, and told me about things, and took care of me, and gave me supper. I tell you, I thought madam his sister looked a little askance at him once or twice. I know she tried to get him away."
Lois again made no answer.
"Why should she, Lois?"
"Maybe you were mistaken."
"I don't think I was mistaken. But why should she, Lois?"
"Madge, dear, you know what I told you."
"About that; people's feelings. You and I do not belong to this gay, rich world; we are not rich, and we are not fashionable, and we do not live as they live, in any way; and they do not want us; why should they?"
"We should not hurt them!" said Madge indignantly.
"Nor be of any use or pleasure to them."
"There isn't a girl among them all to compare with you, as far as looks go."
"I am afraid that will not help the matter," said Lois, smiling; but then she added with earnest and almost anxious eagerness,
"Madge, dear, don't think about it! Happiness is not there; and what God gives us is best. Best for you and best for me. Don't you wish for riches!—or for anything we haven't got. What we have to do, is to live so as to show forth Christ and his truth before men."
"Very few do that," said Madge shortly.
"Let us be some of the few."
"I'd like to do it in high places, then," said Madge. "O, you needn't talk, Lois! It's a great deal nicer to have a leopard skin under your feet than a rag-carpet."
Lois could not help smiling, though something like tears was gathering.
"And I'd rather have Mr. Dillwyn take care of me than uncle Tim Hotchkiss."
The laughter and the tears came both more unmistakeably. Lois felt a little hysterical. She finished dressing hurriedly, and heard as little as possible of Madge's further communications.
It was a few hours later, that same morning, that Philip Dillwyn strolled into his sister's breakfast-room. It was a room at the back of the house, the end of a suite; and from it the eye roved through half-drawn portieres and between rows of pillars, along a vista of the parquetted floors Madge had described to her sister; catching here the glitter of gold from a picture frame, and there a gleam of white from a marble figure, through the half light which reigned there. In the breakfast-room it was bright day; and Mrs. Burrage was finishing her chocolate and playing with bits of dry toast, when her brother came in. Philip had hardly exchanged greetings and taken his seat, when his attention was claimed by Mrs. Burrage's young son and heir, who forthwith thrust himself between his uncle's knees, a bat in one hand, a worsted ball in the other.
"Uncle Phil, mamma says her name usen't to be Burrage—it was your name?"
"That is correct."
"If it was your name once, why isn't it your name now?"
"Because she changed it and became Burrage."
"What made her be Burrage?"
"That is a deep question in mental philosophy, which I am unable to answer, Chauncey."
"She says, it's because she married papa."
"Does not your mother generally speak truth?"
Young Philip Chauncey seemed to consider this question; and finally waiving it, went on pulling at a button of his uncle's coat in the energy of his inquiries.
"Uncle Phil, you haven't got a wife?"
"Why haven't you?"
"An old cookery book says, 'First catch your hare.'"
"Must you catch your wife?"
"I suppose so."
"How do you catch her?"
But the answer to this most serious inquiry was met by such a burst of laughter on the part of both the older persons in the room, that Phil had to wait; nothing daunted, however, returned to the charge.
"Uncle Phil, if you had a wife, what would her name be?"
"If ever I have one, Chauncey, her name will be—"
But here the speaker had very nearly, in his abstraction, brought out a name that would, to say the least, have astonished his sister. He caught himself up just in time, and laughed.
"If ever I have one, her name will be mine."
"I did not know, last night, but you had chosen the lady to whom you intended to do so much honour," his sister observed coolly, looking at him across her chocolate cup.
"Or who I hoped would do me so much honour. What did you think of my supposed choice?" he asked with equal coolness.
"What could I think, except that you were like all other men—distraught for a pretty face."
"One might do worse," observed Philip, in the same tone, while that of his sister grew warmer.
"Some men,—but not you, Philip?"
"What distinguishes me from the mass?"
"You are too old to be made a fool of."
"Old enough to be wise, certainly."
"And you are too fastidious to be satisfied with anything short of perfection; and then you fill too high a position in the world to marry a girl who is nobody."
"So?"—said Philip, using, which it always vexed his sister to have him do, the half questioning, half admiring, wholly unattackable German expression. "Then the person alluded to seemed to you something short of perfection?"
"She is handsome," returned his sister; "she has a very handsome face; anybody can see that; but that does not make her your equal."
"Humph!—You suppose I can find that rare bird, my equal, do you?"
"What's the matter with her?"
"She is simply nobody."
"Seems to say a good deal," responded Philip. "I do not know just what it says."
"You know as well as I do! And she is unformed; unused to all the ways of the world; a mere novice in society."
"Part of that is soon mended," said Philip easily. "I heard your uncle, or Burrage's uncle, old Colonel Chauncey, last night declaring that there is not a girl in the city that has such manners as one of the Miss Lothrops; manners of 'mingled grace and dignity,' he said."
"That was the other one."
"That was the other one."
"She has been in New York before?"
"That was the one that Tom Caruthers was bewitched with?"
"Have you heard that story?" said Mr. Dillwyn dryly.
"Why shouldn't I hear it?"
"No reason, that I know. It is one of the 'ways of the world' you referred to, to tell everything of everybody,—especially when it is not true."
"Isn't that story true?"
"It has no inherent improbability. Tom is open to influences, and—" He stopped.
"I know it is true; for Mrs. Caruthers told me herself."
"It was very good for him, that the thing was put an end to. But you—you should fly at higher game than Tom Caruthers can strike, Philip."
"Thank you. There was no occasion for your special fear last night. I am in no danger there. But I know a man, Jessie,—a man I think much of, too,—who is very much drawn to one of those ladies. He has confessed as much to me. What advice shall I give him? He is a man that can please himself; he has abundant means, and no ties to encumber him."
"Does he hold as high a position as you?"
"And may pretend to as much?"
"He is not a man of pretensions. But, taking your words as they mean, I should say, yes."
"Is it any use to offer him advice?"
"I think he generally hears mine—if he is not too far gone in something."
"Ah!—Well, Philip, tell him to think what he is doing."
"O, I have put that before him."
"He would make himself a great goose."
"Perhaps I ought to have some arguments wherewith to substantiate that prophecy."
"He can see the whole for himself. Let him think of the fitness of things. Imagine such a girl set to preside over his house—a house like this, for instance. Imagine her helping him receive his guests; sitting at the head of his table. Fancy it; a girl who has been accustomed to sanded floors, perhaps, and paper window-shades, and who has fed on pumpkins and pork all her life."
Mr. Dillwyn smiled, as his eye roved over what of his sister's house was visible from where he sat, and he remembered the meal-times in Shampuashuh; he smiled, but his eye had more thought in it than Mrs. Burrage liked. She was watching him.
"I cannot tell what sort of a house is in question in the present case," he said at length. "Perhaps it would not be a house like this."
"It ought to be a house like this."
"Isn't that an open question?"
"No! I am supposing that this man, your friend— Do I know him?"
"Do you not know everybody? But I have no permission to disclose his name."
"And I do not care for it, if he is going to make a mesalliance; a marriage beneath him. Such marriages turn out miserably. A woman not fit for society drags her husband out of it; a woman who has not refined tastes makes him gradually coarse; a woman with no connections keeps him from rising in life; if she is without education, she lets all the best part of him go to waste. In short, if he marries a nobody he becomes nobody too; parts with all his antecedents, and buries all his advantages. It's social ruin, Philip! it is just ruin."
"If this man only does not prefer the bliss of ruining himself!"—said her brother, rising and lightly stretching himself. Mrs. Burrage looked at him keenly and doubtfully.
"There is no greater mistake a man can make, than to marry beneath him," she went on.
"Yes, I think that too."
"It sinks him below his level; it is a weight round his neck; people afterwards, when he is mentioned say,—'He married such a one, you know;' and, 'Didn't he marry unfortunately?'—He is like depreciated coin. It kills him, Philip, politically."
"O, fashionably! of course."
"What's left to a man when he ceases to be fashionable?"
"Well, of course he chooses a new set of associates."
"But if Tom Caruthers had married as you say he wanted to marry, his wife would have come at once into his circle, and made one of it?"
"Provided she could hold the place."
"Of that I have no doubt."
"It was a great gain to Tom that he missed."
"The world has odd balances to weigh loss and gain!" said Philip.
"Why, Philip, in addition to everything else, these girls are religious;—not after a reasonable fashion, you know, but puritanical; prejudiced, and narrow, and stiff."
"How do you know all that?"
"From that one's talk last night. And from Mrs. Wishart."
"Did she say they were puritanical?"
"Yes. O yes! they are stiff about dancing and cards; and I had nearly laughed last night at the way Miss—what's her name?—opened her eyes at me when I spoke of the theatre."
"She does not know what the theatre is," said Philip.
"She thinks she does."
"She does not know the half."
"Philip," said Mrs. Burrage severely and discontentedly, "you are not agreeing with me."
"Not entirely, sister."
"You are as fond of the theatre, or of the opera, as anybody I know."
"I never saw a decent opera in my life."
"Nor did you."
"How ridiculous! You have been going to the opera all your life, and the theatre too, in half a dozen different countries."
"Therefore I claim to know of what I speak. And if I had a wife—" he paused. His thoughts made two or three leaps; the vision of Lois's sweet, pure dignity came before him, and words were wanting.
"What if you had a wife?" asked his sister impatiently.
"I would rather she would be anything but a 'fast' woman."
"She needn't be 'fast'; but she needn't be precise either."
There was something in Philip's air or his silence which provoked Mrs. Burrage. She went on with some heat, and defiantly.
"I have no objection to religion, in a proper way. I always teach Chauncey to make the responses."
"Make them yourself?"
"Do you mean them?"
"Yes. Do you mean what you say? When you have said, 'Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners'—did you feel guilty? or miserable?"
"Yes. Did you feel miserable?"
"Philip, I have no idea what you are driving at, unless you are defending these two precise, puritanical young country-women."
"A little of that," he said, smiling, "and a little of something else."
He had risen, as if to go. His sister looked at him, vexed and uncertain. She was proud of her brother, she admired him, as almost people did who knew Mr. Dillwyn. Suddenly she changed her tactics; rose up, and coming to him laid both her hands on his shoulders so that she could raise herself up to kiss him.
"Don't you go and be foolish!" she said. "I will forgive your friend, Philip, but I will not forgive you!"
The days of December went by. Lois was herself again, in health; and nothing was in the way of Madge's full enjoyment of New York and its pleasures, so she enjoyed them to the full. She went wherever Mrs. Wishart would take her. That did not involve any very outrageous dissipation, for Mrs. Wishart, though fond of society, liked it best in moderation. Moderate companies and moderate hours suited her. However, Madge had enough to content her new thirst for excitement and variety, especially as Mr. Dillwyn continually came in to fill up gaps in her engagements. He took her to drive, or to see various sights, which for the country-bred girl were full of enchantment; and he came to the house constantly on the empty evenings.
Lois queried again and again what brought him there? Madge it must be; it could hardly be the society of his old friend Mrs. Wishart. It was not her society that he sought. He was general in his attentions, to be sure; but he played chess with Madge, he accompanied Madge's singing, he helped Madge in her French reading and Italian pronunciation, and took Madge out. He did none of these things with Lois. Truly Lois had been asked, and would not go out either alone or with her sister in Mr. Dillwyn's carriage or in Mr. Dillwyn's convoy. And she had been challenged, and invariably declined, to sing with them; and she did not want to learn the game of chess, and took no help from anybody in her studies. Indeed, Lois kept herself persistently in the background, and refused to accompany her friends to any sort of parties; and at home, though she must sit down-stairs in the evening, she withdrew from the conversation as much as she could.
"My dear," said Mrs. Wishart, much vexed at last, "you do not think it is wicked to go into society, I hope?"
"Not for you. I do not think it would be right for me."
"Why not, pray? Is this Puritanism?"
"Not at all," said Lois, smiling.
"She is a regular Puritan, though," said Madge.
"It isn't that," Lois repeated. "I like going out among people as well as Madge does. I am afraid I might like it too well."
"What do you mean by 'too well'?" demanded her protectress, a little angrily.
"More than would be good for me. Just think—in a little while I must go back to Esterbrooke and teaching; don't you see, I had better not get myself entangled with what would unfit me for my work?"
"Nonsense! That is not your work."
"You are never going back to that horrid place!" exclaimed Madge.
But they both knew, from the manner of Lois's quiet silence, that their positions would not be maintained.
"There's the more reason, if you are going back there by and by, why you should take all the advantage you can of the present," Mrs. Wishart added. Lois gave her a sweet, grateful look, acknowledging her tenderness, but not granting her conclusions. She got away from the subject as soon as she could. The question of the sisters' return home had already been broached by Lois; received, however, by Mrs. Wishart with such contempt, and by Madge with such utter disfavour, that Lois found the point could not be carried; at least not at that time; and then winter began to set in, and she could find no valid reason for making the move before it should be gone again, Mrs. Wishart's intention being unmistakeable to keep them until spring. But how was she going to hold out until spring? Lois felt herself very uncomfortable. She could not possibly avoid seeing Mr. Dillwyn constantly; she could not always help talking to him, for sometimes he would make her talk; and she was very much afraid that she liked to talk to him. All the while she was obliged to see how much attention he was paying to Madge, and it was no secret how well Madge liked it; and Lois was afraid to look at her own reasons for disliking it. Was it merely because Mr. Dillwyn was a man of the world, and she did not want her sister to get entangled with him? her sister, who had made no promise to her grandmother, and who was only bound, and perhaps would not be bound, by Bible commands? Lois had never opened her Bible to study the point, since that evening when Mr. Dillwyn had interrupted her. She was ashamed to do it. The question ought to have no interest for her.
So days went by, and weeks, and the year was near at an end, when the first snow came. It had held off wonderfully, people said; and now when it came it came in earnest. It snowed all night and all day; and slowly then the clouds thinned and parted and cleared away, and the westering sun broke out upon a brilliant world.
Lois sat at her window, looking out at it, and chiding herself that it made her feel sober. Or else, by contrast, it let her know how sober she was. The spectacle was wholly joy-inspiring, and so she had been wont to find it. Snow lying unbroken on all the ground, in one white, fair glitter; snow lying piled up on the branches and twigs of trees, doubling them with white coral; snow in ridges and banks on the opposite shore of the river; and between, the rolling waters. Madge burst in.
"Isn't it glorious?" said Lois. "Come here and see how black the river is rolling between its white banks."
"Black? I didn't know anything was black," said Madge. "Here is Mr. Dillwyn, come to take me sleigh-riding. Just think, Lois!—a sleigh ride in the Park!—O, I'm so glad I have got my hood done!"
Lois slowly turned her head round. "Sleigh-riding?" she said. "Are you going sleigh-riding, and with Mr. Dillwyn?"
"Yes indeed, why not?" said Madge, bustling about with great activity. "I'd rather go with him than with anybody else, I can tell you. He has got his sister's horses—Mrs. Burrage don't like sleighing—and Mr. Burrage begged he would take the horses out. They're gay, but he knows how to drive. O, won't it be magnificent?"
Lois looked at her sister in silence, unwilling, yet not knowing what to object; while Madge wrapped herself in a warm cloak, and donned a silk hood lined with cherry colour, in which she was certainly something to look at. No plainer attire nor brighter beauty would be seen among the gay snow-revellers that afternoon. She flung a sparkling glance at her sister as she turned to go.
"Don't be very long!" Lois said.
"Just as long as he likes to make it!" Madge returned. "Do you think I am going to ask him to turn about, before he is ready? Not I, I promise you. Good-bye, hermit!"
Away she ran, and Lois turned again to her window, where all the white seemed suddenly to have become black. She will marry him!—she was saying to herself. And why should she not? she has made no promise. I am bound—doubly; what is it to me, what they do? Yet if not right for me it is not right for Madge. Is the Bible absolute about it?
She thought it would perhaps serve to settle and stay her mind if she went to the Bible with the question and studied it fairly out. She drew up the table with the book, and prayed earnestly to be taught the truth, and to be kept contented with the right. Then she opened at the well-known words in 2 Corinthians, chap. vi.
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers"—
"Yoked together." That is, bound in a bond which obliges two to go one way and pull in one draught. Then of course they must go one way; and which way, will depend upon which is strongest. But cannot a good woman use her influence to induce a man who is also good, only not Christian, to go the right way?
Lois pondered this, wishing to believe it. Yet there stood the command. And she remembered there are two sides to influence; could not a good man, and a pleasant man, only not Christian, use his power to induce a Christian woman to go the wrong way? How little she would like to displease him! how willingly she would gratify him!—And then there stands the command. And, turning from it to a parallel passage in 1 Cor. vii. 39, she read again the directions for the marriage of a Christian widow; she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, "only in the Lord." There could be no question of what is the will of God in this matter. And in Deut. vii. 3, 4, she studied anew the reasons there given. "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods."
Lois studied these passages with I cannot say how much aching of heart. Why did her heart ache? It was nothing to her, surely; she neither loved nor was going to love any man to whom the prohibition could apply. Why should she concern herself with the matter? Madge?— Well, Madge must be the keeper of her own conscience; she would probably marry Mr. Dillwyn; and poor Lois saw sufficiently into the workings of her own heart to know that she thought her sister very happy in the prospect. But then, if the question of conscience could be so got over, why was she troubled? She would not evade the inquiry; she forced herself to make it; and she writhed under the pressure and the pain it caused her. At last, thoroughly humbled and grieved and ashamed, she fled to a woman's refuge in tears, and a Christian's refuge in prayer; and from the bottom of her heart, though with some very hard struggles, gave up every lingering thought and wish that ran counter to the Bible command. Let Madge do what Madge thought right; she had warned her of the truth. Now her business was with herself and her own action; and Lois made clean work of it. I cannot say she was exactly a happy woman as she went down-stairs; but she felt strong and at peace. Doing the Lord's will, she could not be miserable; with the Lord's presence she could not be utterly alone; anyhow, she would trust him and do her duty, and leave all the rest.
She went down-stairs at last, for she had spent the afternoon in her own room, and felt that she owed it to Mrs. Wishart to go down and keep her company. O, if Spring were but come! she thought as she descended the staircase,—and she could get away, and take hold of her work, and bring things into the old train! Spring was many weeks off yet, and she must do different and harder work first, she saw. She went down to the back drawing-room and laid herself upon the sofa.
"Are you not well, Lois?" was the immediate question from Mrs. Wishart.
"Yes, ma'am; only not just vigorous. How long they are gone! It is growing late."
"The sleighing is tempting. It is not often we have such a chance. I suppose everybody is out. You don't go into the air enough, Lois."
"I took a walk this morning."
"In the snow!—and came back tired. I saw it in your face. Such dreadful walking was enough to tire you. I don't think you half know how to take care of yourself."
Lois let the charge pass undisputed, and lay still. The afternoon had waned and the sun gone down; the snow, however, made it still light outside. But that light faded too; and it was really evening, when sounds at the front door announced the return of the sleighing party. Presently Madge burst in, rosy and gay as snow and sleigh-bells could make anybody.
"It's glorious!" she said. "O, we have been to the Park and all over. It's splendid! Everybody in the world is out, and we saw everybody, and some people we saw two or three times; and it's like nothing in all the world I ever saw before. The whole air is full of sleigh-bells; and the roads are so thick with sleighs that it is positively dangerous."
"That must make it very pleasant!" said Lois languidly.
"O, it does! There's the excitement, you know, and the skill of steering clear of people that you think are going to run over you. It's the greatest fun I ever saw in my life. And Mr. Dillwyn drives beautifully."
"I dare say."
"And the next piece of driving he does, is to drive you out."
"I hardly think he will manage that."
"Well, you'll see. Here he is. She says she hardly thinks you will, Mr. Dillwyn. Now for a trial of power!"
Madge stood in the centre of the room, her hood off, her little plain cloak still round her; eyes sparkling, cheeks rosy with pleasure and frosty air, a very handsome and striking figure. Lois's eyes dwelt upon her, glad and sorry at once; but Lois had herself in hand now, and was as calm as the other was excited. Then presently came Mr. DilIwyn, and sat down beside her couch.
"How do you do, this evening?"
His manner, she noticed, was not at all like Madge's; it was quiet, sober, collected, gentle; sleighing seemed to have wrought no particular exhilaration on him. Therefore it disarmed Lois. She gave her answer in a similar tone.
"Have you been out to-day?"
"Yes—quite a long walk this morning."
"Now I want you to let me give you a short drive."
"O no, I think not."
"Come!" said he. "I may not have another opportunity to show you what you will see to-day; and I want you to see it."
He did not seem to use much urgency, and yet there was a certain insistance in his tone which Lois felt, and which had its effect upon her, as such tones are apt to do, even when one does not willingly submit to them. She objected that it was late.
"O, the moon is up," cried Madge; "it won't be any darker than it is now."
"It will be brighter," said Philip.
"But your horses must have had enough."
"Just enough," said Philip, laughing, "to make them go quietly. Miss Madge will bear witness they were beyond that at first. I want you to go with me. Come, Miss Lois! We must be home before Mrs. Wishart's tea. Miss Madge, give her your hood and cloak; that will save time."
Why should she not say no? She found it difficult, against that something in his tone. He was more intent upon the affirmative than she upon the negative. And after all, why should she say no? She had fought her fight and conquered; Mr. Dillwyn was nothing to her, more than another man; unless, indeed, he were to be Madge's husband, and then she would have to be on good terms with, him. And she had a secret fancy to have, for once, the pleasure of this drive with him. Why not, just to see how it tasted? I think it went with Lois at this moment as in the German story, where a little boy vaunted himself to his sister that he had resisted the temptation to buy some ripe cherries, and so had saved his pennies. His sister praised his prudence and firmness. "But now, dear Hercules," she went on, "now that you have done right and saved your pennies, now, my dear brother, you may reward yourself and buy your cherries!"
Perhaps it was with some such unconscious recoil from judgment that Lois acted now. At any rate, she slowly rose from her sofa, and Madge, rejoicing, threw off her cloak and put it round her, and fastened its ties. Then Mr. Dillwyn himself took the hood and put it on her head, and tied the strings under her chin. The start this gave her almost made Lois repent of her decision; he was looking into her face, and his fingers were touching her cheek, and the pain of it was more than Lois had bargained for. No, she thought, she had better not gone; but it was too late now to alter things. She stood still, feeling that thrill of pain and pleasure where the one so makes the other keen, keeping quiet and not meeting his eyes; and then he put her hand upon his arm and led her down the wide, old-fashioned staircase. Something in the air of it all brought to Lois's remembrance that Sunday afternoon at Shampuashuh and the walk home in the rain; and it gave her a stricture of heart. She put the manner now to Madge's account, and thought within herself that if Madge's hood and cloak were beside him it probably did not matter who was in them; his fancy could do the rest. Somehow she did not want to go to drive as Madge's proxy. However, there was no helping that now. She was put into the sleigh, enveloped in the fur robes; Mr. Dillwyn took his place beside her, and they were off.
OFF AND ON.
Certinaly Madge had not said too much, and the scene was like witchery. The sun was down, but the moon was up, near full, and giving a white illumination to the white world. The snow had fallen thick, and neither sun nor wind had as yet made any impression upon it; the covering of the road was thick and well beaten, and on every exposed level surface lay the white treasure piled up. Every twig and branch of the trees still held its burden; every roof was blanketed; there had been no time yet for smoke and soil to come upon the pure surfaces; and on all this fell the pale moon rays, casting pale shadows and making the world somehow look like something better than itself. The horses Mr. Dillwyn drove were fresh enough yet, and stepped off gaily, their bells clinking musically; and other bells passed them and sounded in the nearer and further distance. Moreover, under this illumination all less agreeable features of the landscape were covered up. It was a pure region of enchanted beauty to Lois's sense, through which they drove; and she felt as if a spell had come upon her too, and this bit of experience were no more real than the rest of it. It was exquisitely and intensely pleasant; a bit of life quite apart and by itself, and never to be repeated, therefore to be enjoyed all she could while she had it. Which thought was not enjoyment. Was she not foolish to have come?
"Are you comfortable?" suddenly Mr. Dillwyn's voice came in upon these musings.
"O, perfectly!" Lois answered, with an accentuation between delight and desperation.
And then he was silent again; and she went on with her musings, just that word having given them a spur. How exquisite the scene was! how exquisite everything, in fact. All the uncomelinesses of a city suburb were veiled under the moonlight; nothing but beauty could be seen; here were points that caught the light, and there were shadows that simply served to set off the silvery whiteness of the moon and the snow; what it was that made those points of reflection, or what lay beneath those soft shadows, did not appear. The road was beaten smooth, the going was capital, the horses trotted swiftly and steadily, Lois was wrapped in soft furs, and the air which she was breathing was merely cold enough to exhilarate. It was perfection. In truth it was so perfect, and Lois enjoyed it so keenly, that she began to be vexed at herself for her enjoyment. Why should Mr. Dillwyn have got her out? all this luxury of sense and feeling was not good for her; did not belong to her; and why should she taste at all a delight which must be so fleeting? And what had possessed him to tie her hood strings for her, and to do it in that leisurely way, as if he liked it? And why did she like it? Lois scolded and chid herself. If he were going to marry Madge ever so much, that gave him no right to take such a liberty; and she would not allow him such liberties; she would keep him at a distance. But was she not going to a distance herself? There would be no need.
The moonlight was troubled, though by no cloud on the ethereal firmament; and Lois was not quite so conscious as she had been of the beauty around her. The silence lasted a good while; she wondered if her neighbour's thoughts were busy with the lady he had just set down, to such a degree that he forgot to attend to his new companion? Nothing could be more wide of the truth; but that is the way we judge and misjudge one another. She was almost hurt at his silence, before he spoke again. The fact is, that the general axiom that a man can always put in words anything of which his head and heart are both full, seems to have one exception. Mr. Dillwyn was a good talker, always, on matters he cared about, and matters he did not care about; and yet now, when he had secured, one would say, the most favourable circumstances for a hearing, and opportunity to speak as he liked, he did not know how to speak. By and by his hand came again round Lois to see that the fur robes were well tucked in about her. Something in the action made her impatient.
"I am very well," she said.
"You must be taken care of, you know," he said; to Lois's fancy he said it as if there were some one to whom he must be responsible for her.
"I am not used to being taken care of," she said. "I have taken care of myself, generally."
"Like it better?"
"I don't know. I suppose really no woman can say she likes it better. But I am accustomed to it."
"Don't you think I could take care of you?"
"You are taking capital care of me," said Lois, not knowing exactly how to understand him. "Just now it is your business; and I should say you were doing it well."
"What would you say if I told you that I wanted to take care of you all your life?"
He had let the horses come to a walk; the sleigh-bells only tinkled softly; no other bells were near. Which way they had gone Lois had not considered; but evidently it had not been towards the busy and noisy haunts of men. However, she did not think of this till a few minutes afterwards; she thought now that Mr. Dillwyn's words regarded Madge's sister, and her feeling of independence became rigid.
"A kind wish,—but impracticable," she answered.
"I shall be too far off. That is one thing."
"Where are you going to be?—Forgive me for asking!"
"O yes. I shall be keeping school in New England somewhere, I suppose; first of all, at Esterbrooke."
"But if I had the care of you—you would not be there?"
"That is my place," said Lois shortly.
"Do you mean it is the place you prefer?"
"There is no question of preference. You know, one's work is what is given one; and the thing given me to do, at present, seems to be there. Of course I do prefer what my work is."
Still the horses were smoothly walking. Mr. Dillwyri was silent a moment.
"You did not understand what I said to you just now. It was earnest."
"I did not think it was anything else," said Lois, beginning to wish herself at home. "I am sure you meant it, and I know you are very good; but—you cannot take care of me."
"Give me your reasons," he said, restraining the horses, which would have set off upon a quicker pace again.
"Why, Mr. Dillwyn, it is self-evident. You would not respect me if I allowed you to do it; and I should not respect myself. We New England folks, if we are nothing else, we are independent."
"So?—" said Mr. Dillwyn, in a puzzled manner, but then a light broke upon him, and he half laughed.—"I never heard that the most rampant spirit of independence made a wife object to being dependent on her husband."
"A wife?" said Lois, not knowing whether she heard aright.
"Yes," said he. "How else? How could it be else? Lois, may I have you, to take care of the rest of my life, as my very own?"
The short, smothered breath with which this was spoken was intelligible enough, and put Lois in the rarest confusion.
"Me?—" was all she could ejaculate.
"You, certainly. I never saw any other woman in my life to whom I wished to put the question. You are the whole world to me, as far as happiness is concerned."
"I?—" said Lois again. "I thought—"
She hesitated, and he urged the question. Lois was not enough mistress of herself to choose her words.
"I thought—it was somebody else."
"Did you?—Who did you think it was?"
"O, don't ask me!"
"But I think I must ask you. It concerns me to know how, and towards whom, my manner can have misled you. Who was it?"
"It was not—your manner—exactly," said Lois, in terrible embarrassment. "I was mistaken."
"How could you be mistaken?"
"I never dreamed—the thought never entered my head—that—it was I."
"I must have been in fault then," said he gently; "I did not want to wear my heart on my sleeve, and so perhaps I guarded myself too well. I did not wish to know anybody else's opinion of my suit till I had heard yours. What is yours, Lois?—what have you to say to me?"
He checked the horses again, and sat with his face inclined towards her, waiting eagerly, Lois knew. And then, what a sharp pain shot through her! All that had gone before was nothing to this; and for a moment the girl's whole nature writhed under the torture. She knew her own mind now; she was fully conscious that the best gift of earth was within her grasp; her hands were stretched longingly towards it, her whole heart bounded towards it; to let it go was to fall into an abyss from which light and hope seemed banished; there was everything in all the world to bid her give the answer that was waited for; only duty bade her not give it. Loyalty to God said no, and her promise bound her tongue. For that minute that she was silent Lois wrestled with mortal pain. There are martyrs and martyrdoms now-a-days, that the world takes no account of; nevertheless they have bled to death for the cause, and have been true to their King at the cost of all they had in the world. Mr. Dillwyn was waiting, and the fight had to be short, though well she knew the pain would not be. She must speak. She did it huskily, and with a fierce effort. It seemed as if the words would not come out.
"I have nothing to say, Mr. Dillwyn,—that you would like to hear," she added, remembering that her first utterance was rather indefinite.
"You do not mean that?" he said hurriedly.
"Indeed I do."
"I know," he said, "you never say anything you do not mean. But how do you mean it, Lois? Not to deny me? You do not mean that?"
"Yes," she said. And it was like putting a knife through her own heart when she said it. O, if she were at home! O, if she had never come on this drive! O, if she had never left Esterbrooke and those sick-beds!—But here she was, and must stand the question; and Mr. Dillwyn had not done.
"What reason do you give me?"—and his voice grated now with pain.
"I gave none," said Lois faintly. "Don't let us talk about it! It is no use. Don't ask me anything more!"
"One question I must. I must know it. Do you dislike me, Lois?"
"Dislike? O no! how should I dislike you?" she answered. There was a little, very slight, vibration in her voice as she spoke, and her companion discerned it. When an instrument is very high strung, a quite soft touch will be felt and answered, and that touch swept all the strings of Mr. Dillwyn's soul with music.
"If you do not dislike me, then," said he, "what is it? Do you, possibly like me, Lois?"
Lois could not prevent a little hesitation before she answered, and that, too, Philip well noted.
"It makes no difference," she said desperately. "It isn't that. Don't let us talk any more about it! Mr. Dillwyn, the horses have been walking this great while, and we are a long way from home; won't you drive on?"
He did drive on then, and for a while said not a word more. Lois was panting with eagerness to get home, and could not go fast enough; she would gladly have driven herself, only not quite such a fresh and gay pair of horses. They swept along towards a region that she could see from afar was thicker set with lights than the parts where they were. Before they reached it, however, Mr. Dillwyn drew rein again, and made the horses walk gently.
"There is one question still I must ask," he said; "and to ask it, I must for a moment disobey your commands. Forgive me; but when the happiness of a whole life is at stake, a moment's pain must be borne—and even inflicted—to make sure one is not suffering needlessly a far greater evil. Miss Lois, you never do anything without a reason; tell me your reason for refusing me. You thought I liked some one else; it is not that; I never have liked any one else. Now, what is it?"
"There is no use in talking," Lois murmured. "It is only pain."
"Necessary pain," said he firmly. "It is right I should know, and it must be possible for you to tell me. Say that it is because you cannot like me well enough—and I shall understand that."
But Lois could not say it; and the pause, which embarrassed her terribly, had naturally a different effect upon her companion.
"It is not that!" he cried. "Have you been led to believe something false about me, Lois?—Lois?"
"No," she said, trembling; the pain, and the difficulty of speaking, and the struggle it cost, set her absolutely to trembling. "No, it is something true." She spoke faintly, but he listened well.
"True! What is it? It is not true. What do you mean, dear?"
The several things which came with the intonations of this last question overset the remnant of Lois's composure. She burst into tears; and he was looking, and the moonlight was full in her face, and he could not but see it.
"I cannot help it," she cried; "and you cannot help it. It is no use to talk about it. You know—O, you know—you are not a Christian!"
It was almost a cry at last with which she said it; and the usually self-contained Lois hid her face away from him. Whether the horses walked or trotted for a little while she did not know; and I think it was only mechanical, the effort by which their driver kept them at a foot pace. He waited, however, till Lois dropped her hands again, and he thought she would attend to him.
"May I ask," he then said, and his voice was curiously clear and composed,—"if that is your only objection to me?"
"It is enough!" said Lois smotheredly, and noticing at the same time that ring in his voice.
"You think, one who is a Christian ought never to marry another who is not a Christian?"
"No!" she said, in the same way, as if catching her breath.
"It is very often done."
She made no reply. This was a most cruel discussion, she thought. Would they never reach home? And the horses walking! Walking, and shaking their heads, with soft little peals of the bells, like creatures who had at last got quiet enough to like walking.
"Is that all, Lois?" he asked again; and the tone of his voice irritated her.
"There need not be anything more," she answered. "That is enough. It is a barrier for ever between us; you cannot overcome it—and I cannot. O, do make the horses go! we shall never get home! and don't talk any more."
"I will let the horses go presently; but first I must talk a little more, because there is something that must be said. That was a barrier, a while ago; but it is not now. There is no need for either of us to overcome it or try to overcome it, for it does not exist. Lois, do you hear me? It does not exist."
"I do not understand," she said, in a dazed kind of way, turning towards him. "What does not exist?"
"That barrier—or any barrier—between you and me."
"Yes, it does. It is a barrier. I promised my dear grandmother—and if I had not promised her, it would be just the same, for I have promised to obey God; and he forbids it."
"Forbids me, a Christian, to have anything to do with you, who are not a Christian. I mean, in that way."
"But, Lois—I am a Christian too."
"You?" she said, turning towards him.
"What sort of a one?"
Philip could not help laughing at the naive question, which, however, he perfectly understood.
"Not an old one," he said; "and not a good one; and yet, Lois, truly an honest one. As you mean the word. One whose King Christ is, as he is yours; and who trusts in him with the whole heart, as you do."
"You a Christian!" exclaimed Lois now, in the greatest astonishment. "When did it happen?"
He laughed again. "A fair question. Well, it came about last summer. You recollect our talk one Sunday in the rain?"
"That set me to thinking; and the more I saw of you,—yes, and of Mrs. Armadale,—and the more I heard of you from Mrs. Barclay, the more the conviction forced itself upon my mind, that I was living, and had always lived, a fool's life. That was a conclusion easily reached; but how to become wise was another matter. I resolved to give myself to the study till I had found the answer; and that I might do it uninterruptedly, I betook myself to the wilds of Canada, with not much baggage beside my gun and my Bible. I hunted and fished; but I studied more than I did either. I took time for it too. I was longing to see you; but I resolved this subject should be disposed of first. And I gave myself to it, until it was all clear to me. And then I made open profession of my belief, and took service as one of Christ's declared servants. That was in Montreal."
"Why did you never say anything about it, then?"
"I am not accustomed to talking on the subject, you know. But, really, I had a reason. I did not want to seem to propitiate your favour by any such means; I wished to try my chances with you on my own merits; and that was also a reason why I made my profession in Montreal. I wanted to do it without delay, it is true; I also wanted to do it quietly. I mean everybody shall know; but I wished you to be the first."
There followed a silence. Things rushed into and over Lois's mind with such a sweep and confusion, that she hardly knew what she was thinking or feeling. All her positions were knocked away; all her assumptions were found baseless; her defences had been erected against nothing; her fears and her hopes were alike come to nought. That is, bien entendu, her old fears and her old hopes; and amid the ruins of the latter new ones were starting, in equally bewildering confusion. Like little green heads of daffodils pushing up above the frozen ground, and fair blossoms of hepatica opening beneath a concealing mat of dead leaves. Ah, they would blossom freely by and by; now Lois hardly knew where they were or what they were.
Seeing her utterly silent and moveless, Mr. Dillwyn did probably the wisest thing he could do, and drove on. For some time the horses trotted and the bells jingled; and by too swift approaches that wilderness of lights which marked the city suburb came nearer and nearer. When it was very near and they had almost entered it, he drew in his reins again and the horses tossed their heads and walked.
"Lois, I think it is fair I should have another answer to my question now."
"What question?" she asked hurriedly.
"You know, I was so daring as to ask to have the care of you for the rest of your natural life—or of mine. What do you say to it?"
Lois said nothing. She could not find words. Words seemed to tumble over one another in her mind,—or thoughts did.
"What answer are you going to give me?" he asked again, more gravely.
"You know, Mr. Dillwyn," said Lois stammeringly, "I never thought,—I never knew before,—I never had any notion, that—that—that you thought so."—
"Thought so?—about what?"
"I have thought so about you for a great while."
Silence again. The horses, being by this time pretty well exercised, needed no restraining, and walked for their own pleasure. Everything with Lois seemed to be in a whirl.
"And now it becomes necessary to know what you think about me," Mr. Dillwyn went on, after that pause.
"I am very glad—" Lois said tremulously.
"That you are a Christian."
"Yes, but," said he, half laughing, "that is not the immediate matter in hand. What do you think of me in my proposed character as having the ownership and the care of you?"
"I have never thought of you so," Lois managed to get out. The words were rather faint, heard, however, as Mr. Dillwyn's hand came just then adjusting and tucking in her fur robes, and his face was thereby near hers.
"And now you do think of me so?—What do you say to me?"
She could not say anything. Never in her life had Lois been at a loss and wrecked in all self-management before.
"You know, it is necessary to say something, that I may know where I stand. I must either stay or go. Will you send me away? or keep me 'for good,' as the children say?"
The tone was not without a touch of grave anxiety now, and impatient earnestness, which Lois heard well enough and would have answered; but it seemed as if her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth. Mr. Dillwyn waited now for her to speak, keeping the horses at a walk, and bending down a little to hear what she would say. One sleigh passed them, then another. It became intolerable to Lois.
"I do not want to send you away," she managed finally to say, trembling.
The words, however, were clear and slow-spoken, and Mr. Dillwyn asked no more then. He drove on, and attended to his driving, even went fast; and Lois hardly knew how houses and rocks and vehicles flew past them, till the reins were drawn at Mrs. Wishart's door. Philip whistled; a groom presently appeared from the house and took the horses, and he lifted Lois out. As they were going up the steps he asked softly,
"Is that all you are going to say to me?"
"Isn't it enough for to-night?" Lois returned.
"I see you think so," he said, half laughing. "I don't; but, however—Are you going to be alone to-morrow morning, or will you take another sleigh ride with me?"
"Mrs. Wishart and Madge are going to Mme. Cisco's matinee."
"At what o'clock?"
"They will leave here at half-past ten."
"Then I will be here before eleven."
The door opened, and with a grip of her hand he turned away.
Lois went along the hall in that condition of the nerves in which the feet seem to walk without stepping on anything. She queried what time it could be; was the evening half gone? or had they possibly not done tea yet? Then the parlour door opened.
"Lois!—is that you? Come along; you are just in time; we are at tea. Hurry, now!"
Lois went to her room, wishing that she could any way escape going to the table; she felt as if her friend and her sister would read the news in her face immediately, and hear it in her voice as soon as she spoke. There was no help for it; she hastened down, and presently perceived to her wonderment that her friends were absolutely without suspicion. She kept as quiet as possible, and found, happily, that she was very hungry. Mrs. Wishart and Madge were busy in talk.
"You remember Mr. Caruthers, Lois?" said the former;—"Tom Caruthers, who used to be here so often?"
"Did you hear he had made a great match?"
"I heard he was going to be married. I heard that a great while ago."
"Yes, he has made a very great match. It has been delayed by the death of her mother; they had to wait. He was married a few months ago, in Florence. They had a splendid wedding."
"What makes what you call a 'great match'?" Madge asked.
"I understand money," Madge went on; "but what do you mean by 'family,' Mrs. Wishart?"
"My dear, if you lived in the world, you would know. It means name, and position, and standing. I suppose at Shampuashuh you are all alike—one is as good as another."
"Indeed," said Madge, "you are much mistaken, Mrs. Wishart. We think one is much better than another."
"Do you? Ah well,—then you know what I mean, my dear. I suppose the world is really very much alike in all places; it is only the names of things that vary."
"In Shampuashuh," Madge went on, "we mean by a good family, a houseful of honest and religious people."
"Yes, Madge," said Lois, looking up, "we mean a little more than that. We mean a family that has been honest and religious, and educated too, for a long while—for generations. We mean as much as that, when we speak of a good family."
"That's different," said Mrs. Wishart shortly.
"Different from what you mean?"
"Different from what is meant here, when we use the term."
"You don't mean anything honest and religious?" said Madge.
"O, honest! My dear, everybody is honest, or supposed to be; but we do not mean religious."
"Not religious, and only supposed to be honest!" echoed Madge.
"Yes," said Mrs. Wishart. "It isn't that. It has nothing to do with that. When people have been in society, and held high positions for generation after generation, it is a good family. The individuals need not be all good."
"Oh—!" said Madge.
"No. I know families among the very best in the State, that have been wicked enough; but though they have been wicked, that did not hinder their being gentlemen."
"Oh—!" said Madge again. "I begin to comprehend."
"There is too much made of money now-a-days," Mrs. Wishart went on serenely; "and there is no denying that money buys position. I do not call a good family one that was not a good family a hundred years ago; but everybody is not so particular. Not here. They are more particular in Philadelphia. In New York, any nobody who has money can push himself forward."
"What sort of family is Mr. Dillwyn's?"
"O, good, of course. Not wealthy, till lately. They have been poor, ever since I knew the family; until the sister married Chauncey Burrage, and Philip came into his property."
"The Caruthers are rich, aren't they?"
"And now the young one has made a great match? Is she handsome?"
"I never heard so. But she is rolling in money."
"What else is she?" inquired Madge dryly.
"She is a Dulcimer."
"That tells me nothing," said Madge. "By the way you speak it, the word seems to have a good deal of meaning for you."
"Certainly," said Mrs. Wishart. "She is one of the Philadelphia Dulcimers. It is an old family, and they have always been wealthy."
"How happy the gentleman must be!"
"I hope so," said Mrs. Wishart gravely. "You used to know Tom quite well, Lois. What did you think of him?"
"I liked him," said Lois. "Very pleasant and amiable, and always gentlemanly. But I did not think he had much character."
Mrs. Wishart was satisfied; for Lois's tone was as disengaged as anything could possibly be.
Lois could not bring herself to say anything to Madge that night about the turn in her fortunes. Her own thoughts were in too much agitation, and only by slow degrees resolving themselves into settled conclusions. Or rather, for the conclusions were not doubtful, settling into such quiet that she could look at conclusions. And Lois began to be afraid to do even that, and tried to turn her eyes away, and thought of the hour of half-past ten next morning with trembling and heart-beating.
It came with tremendous swiftness, too. However, she excused herself from going to the matinee, though with difficulty. Mrs. Wishart was sure she ought to go; and Madge tried persuasion and raillery. Lois watched her get ready, and at last contentedly saw the two drive off. That was good. She wanted no discussion with them before she had seen Mr. Dillwyn again; and now the coast was clear. But then Lois retreated to her own room up-stairs to wait; she could not stay in the drawing-room, to be found there. She would have so much time for preparation as his ring at the door and his name being brought up-stairs would give her. Preparation for what? When the summons came, Lois went down feeling that she had not a bit of preparation.
Philip was standing in the middle of the floor, waiting for her; and the apparition that greeted him was so unexpected that he stood still, feasting his eyes with it. He had always seen Lois calm, collected, moving and speaking with frank independence, although with perfect modesty. Now?—how was it? Eyes cast down, colour coming and going; a look and manner, not of shyness, for she came straight to him, but of the most lovely maidenly consciousness; of all things, that which a lover would most wish to see. Yet she came straight to him, and as he met her and held out his hand, she put hers in it.
"What are you going to say to me this morning, Lois?" he said softly; for the pure dignity of the girl was a thing to fill him with reverence as well as with delight, and her hand seemed to him something sacred.
Her colour stirred again, but the lowered eyelids were lifted up, and the eyes met his with a most blessed smile in them.
"I am very happy, Mr. Dillwyn," she said.
Everybody knows how words fail upon occasion; and on this occasion the silence lasted some considerable time. And then Philip put Lois into one of the big easy-chairs, and went down on one knee at her feet, holding her hand. Lois tried to collect her spirits to make remonstrance.
"O, Mr. Dillwyn, do not stay there!" she begged.
"Why not? It becomes me."
"I do not think it becomes you at all," said Lois, laughing a little nervously,—"and I am sure it does not become me."
"Mistaken on both points! It becomes me well, and I think it does not become you ill," said he, kissing the hand he held. And then, bending forward to carry his kiss from the hand to the cheek,—"O my darling, how long I have waited for this!"
"Long?" said Lois, in surprise. How pretty the incredulity was on her innocent face.
"Very long!—while you thought I was liking somebody else. There has never been any change in me, Lois. I have been patiently and impatiently waiting for you this great while. You will not think it unreasonable, if that fact makes me intolerant of any more waiting, will you?"
"Don't keep that position!" said Lois earnestly.
"It is the position I mean to keep all the rest of my life!"
But that set Lois to laughing, a little nervously no doubt, yet so merrily that Philip could not but join in.
"Do I not owe everything to you?" he went on presently, with tender seriousness. "You first set me upon thinking. Do you recollect your earliest talk to me here in this room once, a good while ago, about being satisfied?"
"Yes," said Lois, suddenly opening her eyes.
"That was the beginning. You said it to me more with your looks than with your words; for I saw that, somehow, you were in the secret, and had yourself what you offered to me. That I could not forget. I had never seen anybody 'satisfied' before."
"You know what it means now?" she said softly.
"To-day?— I do!"
"No, no; I do not mean to-day. You know what I mean!" she said, with beautiful blushes.
"I know. Yes, and I have it, Lois. But you have a great deal to teach me yet."
"O no!" she said most unaffectedly. "It is you who will have to teach me."
"How soon may I begin?"
"Yes. You do not think Mrs. Wishart's house is the best place, or her company the best assistance for that, do you?"
"Ah, please get up!" said Lois.
But he laughed at her.
"You make me so ashamed!"
"You do not look it in the least. Shall I tell you my plans?"
"Plans!" said Lois.
"Or will you tell me your plans?"
"Ah, you are laughing at me! What do you mean?"
"You were confiding to me your plans of a little while ago; Esterbrooke, and school, and all the rest of it. My darling!—that's all nowhere."
"But,"—said Lois timidly.
"That is all gone, of course. But—"
"You will let me say what you shall do?"
"I suppose you will."
"Your hand is in all my plans, from henceforth, to turn them and twist them what way you like. But now let me tell you my present plans. We will be married, as soon as you can accustom your self to the idea. Hush!—wait. You shall have time to think about it. Then, as early as spring winds will let us, we will cross to England."
"England?" cried Lois.
"Wait, and hear me out. There we will look about us a while and get such things as you may want for travelling, which one can get better in England than anywhere else. Then we will go over the Channel and see Paris, and perhaps supplement purchases there. So work our way—"
"Always making purchases?" said Lois, laughing, though she caught her breath too, and her colour was growing high.
"Certainly, making purchases. So work our way along, and get to Switzerland early in June—say by the end of the first week."
"Don't you want to see Switzerland?"
"But it is not the question, what I might like to see."
"With me it is."
"As for that, I have an untirable appetite for seeing things. But—but," and her voice lowered, "I can be quite happy enough on this side."
"Not if I can make you happier on the other."
"But that depends. I should not be happy unless I was quite sure it was right, and the best thing to do; and it looks to me like a piece of self-indulgence. We have so much already."
The gentle manner of this scruple and frank admission touched Mr. Dillwyn exceedingly.
"I think it is right," he said. "Do you remember my telling you once about my old house at home?"
"Yes, a little."
"I think I never told you much; but now you will care to hear. It is a good way from this place, in Foster county, and not very far from a busy little manufacturing town; but it stands alone in the country, in the midst of fields and woods that I used to love very much when I was a boy. The place never came into my possession till about seven or eight years ago; and for much longer than that it has been neglected and left without any sort of care. But the house is large and old-fashioned, and can be made very pretty; and the grounds, as I think, leave nothing to be desired, in their natural capabilities. However, all is in disorder, and needs a good deal of work done up on it; which must be done before you take possession. This work will require some months. Where can we be better, meanwhile, than in Switzerland?"
"Can the work be done without you?"
He waited a bit. The new things at work in Lois's mind made the new expression of manner and feature a most delicious study to him. She had a little difficulty in speaking, and he was still and watched her.
"I am afraid to talk about it," she said at length,
"I should like it so much!"—
"Therefore you doubt?"
"Yes. I am afraid of listening just to my own pleasure."
"You shall not," said he, laughing. "Listen to mine. I want to see your eyes open at the Jung Frau, and Mont Blanc."
"My eyes open easily at anything," said Lois, yielding to the laugh;—"they are such ignorant eyes."
"Very wise eyes, on the contrary! for they know a thing when they see it."
"But they have seen so little," said Lois, finding it impossible to get back to a serious demeanour.
"That sole defect in your character, I propose to cure."
"Ah, do not praise me!"
"Why not? I used to rejoice in the remembrance that you were not an angel but human. Do you know the old lines?—
'A creature not too bright and good For human nature's daily food; For transient sorrows, simple wiles, Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.'
Only 'wiles' you never descend to; 'blame' is not to be thought of; if you forbid praise, what is left to me but the rest of it?"
And truly, what with laughter and some other emotions, tears were not far from Lois's eyes; and how could the kisses be wanting?
"I never heard you talk so before!" she managed to say.
"I have only begun."
"Please come back to order, and sobriety."
"Sobriety is not in order, as your want of it shows."
"Then come back to Switzerland."
"Ah!—I want you to go up the AEggischhorn, and to stand on the Goerner Graet, and to cross a pass or two; and I want you to see the flowers."
"Are there so many?"
"More than on a western prairie in spring. Most people travel in Switzerland later in the season, and so miss the flowers. You must not miss them."
"What flowers are they?"
"A very great many kinds. I remember the gentians, and the forget-me-nots; but the profusion is wonderful, and exceedingly rich. They grow just at the edge of the snow, some of them. Then we will linger a while at Zermatt and Chamounix, and a mountain pension here and there, and so slowly work our way over into Italy. It will be too late for Rome; but we will go, if you like it, to Venice; and then, as the heats grow greater, get back into the Tyrol."
"O, Mrs. Barclay had beautiful views from the Tyrol; a few, but very beautiful."
"How do you like my programme?"
"You have not mentioned glaciers."
"Are you' interested in glaciers?"
"You shall see as much of them as you can see safely from terra firma."
"Are they so dangerous?"
"But you have crossed them, have you not?"
"Times enough to make me scruple about your doing it."
"I am very sure-footed."
He kissed her hand, and inquired again what she thought of his programme.
"There is no fault to be found with the programme. But—"
"If I add to it the crossing of a glacier?"
"No, no," said Lois, laughing; "do you think I am so insatiable? But—"
"Would you like it all, my darling?"
"Like it? Don't speak of liking," she said, with a quick breath of excitement. "But—"
"We are not going to live to ourselves?" She said it a little anxiously and eagerly, almost pleadingly.
"I do not mean it," he answered her, with a smile. "But as to this journey my mind is entirely clear. It will take but a few months. And while we are wandering over the mountains, you and I will take our Bibles and study them and our work together. We can study where we stop to rest and where we stop to eat; I know by experience what good times and places those are for other reading; and they cannot be so good for any as for this."
"Oh! how good!" said Lois, giving a little delighted and grateful pressure to the hand in which her own still lay.
"You agree to my plans, then?"
"I agree to—part. What is that?"—for a slight noise was heard in the hall.—"O Philip, get up!—get up!—there is somebody coming!"
Mr. Dillwyn rose now, being bidden on this wise, and stood confronting the doorway, in which presently appeared his sister, Mrs. Burrage. He stood quiet and calm to meet her; while Lois, hidden by the back of the great easy-chair, had a moment to collect herself. He shielded her as much as he could. A swift review of the situation made him resolve for the present to "play dark." He could not trust his sister, that if the truth of the case were suddenly made known to her, she would not by her speech, or manner, or by her silence maybe, do something that would hurt Lois. He would not risk it. Give her time, and she would fit herself to her circumstances gracefully enough, he knew; and Lois need never be told what had been her sister-in-law's first view of them. So he stood, with an unconcerned face, watching Mrs. Burrage come down the room. And she, it may be said, came slowly, watching him.
I have never described Mr. Dillwyn; and if I try to do it now, I am aware that words will give to nobody else the image of him. He was not a beauty, like Tom Caruthers; some people declared him not handsome at all, yet they were in a minority. Certainly his features were not according to classical rule, and criticism might find something to say to every one of them; if I except the shape and air of the face and head, the set of the latter, and the rich hair; which, very dark in colour, massed itself thick and high on the top of the head, and clung in close thick locks at the sides. The head sat nobly upon the shoulders, and correspondent therewith was the frank and manly expression of the face. I think irregular features sometimes make a better whole than regular ones. Philip's eyes were not remarkable, unless for their honest and spirited outlook; his nose was neither Roman nor Grecian, and his mouth was rather large; however, it was somewhat concealed by the long soft moustache, which he wore after the fashion of some Continentals (N. B., not like the French emperor), carefully dressed and with points turning up; and the mouth itself was both manly and pleasant. Altogether, the people who denied Mr. Dillwyn the praise of beauty, never questioned that he was very fine-looking. His sister was excessively proud of him, and, naturally thought that nothing less than the best of everything—more especially of womankind—was good enough for him. She was thinking this now, as she came down the room, and looking jealously to see signs of what she dreaded, an entanglement that would preclude for ever his having the best. Do not let us judge her hardly. What sister is not critical of her brother's choice of a wife? If, indeed, she be willing that he should have a wife at all. Mrs. Burrage watched for signs, but saw nothing. Philip stood there, calmly smiling at her, not at all flustered by her appearance. Lois saw his coolness too, and envied it; feeling that as a man, and as a man of the world, he had greatly the advantage of her. She was nervous, and felt flushed. However, there is a power of will in some women which can do a great deal, and Lois was determined that Mr. Dillwyn should not be ashamed of her. By the time it was needful for her to rise she did rise, and faced her visitor with a very quiet and perfectly composed manner. Only, if anything, it was a trifle too quiet; but her manner was other wise quite faultless.
"Philip!—" said Mrs. Burrage, advancing—"Good morning—Miss Lothrop. Philip, what are you doing here?"
"I believe you asked me that question once on a former occasion. Then, I think, I had been making toast. Now, I have been telling Miss Lothrop my plans for the summer, since she was so good as to listen."
"Plans?" repeated Mrs. Burrage. "What plans?" She looked doubtfully from one to the other of the faces before her. "Does he tell you his plans, Miss Lothrop?"
"Won't you sit down, Mrs. Burrage?" said Lois. "I am always interested when anybody speaks of Switzerland."
"Switzerland!" cried the lady, sinking into a chair, and her eyes going to her brother again. "You are not talking of Switzerland for next summer?"
"Where can one be better in summer?"
"But you have been there ever so many times!"
"By which I know how good it will be to go again."
"I thought you would spend the summer with me!"
"Where?" he asked, with a smile.
"Philip, I wish you would dress your hair like other people."
"It defies dressing, sister," he said, passing his hand over the thick mass.
"No, no, I mean your moustache. When you smile, it gives you a demoniac expression, which drives me out of all patience. Miss Lothrop, would he not look a great deal better if he would cut off those Hungarian twists, and wear his upper lip like a Christian?"
This was a trial! Lois gave one glance at the moustache in question, a glance compounded of mingled horror and amusement, and flushed all over. Philip saw the glance and commanded his features only by a strong exertion of will, remaining, however, to all seeming as impassive as a judge.
"You don't think so?" said Mrs. Burrage. "Philip, why are you not at that picture sale this minute, with me?"
"Why are you not there, let me ask, this minute without me?"
"Because I wanted you to tell me if I should buy in that Murillo."
"I can tell you as well here as there. What do you want to buy it for?"
"What a question! Why, they say it is a genuine Murillo, and no doubt about it; and I have just one place on the wall in my second drawing-room, where something is wanting; there is one place not filled up, and it looks badly."
"And the Murillo is to fill up the vacant space?"
"Yes. If you say it is worth it."
"The money. Five hundred. But I dare say they would take four, and perhaps three. It is a real Murillo, they say. Everybody says."
"Jessie, I think it would be extravagance."
"Extravagance! Five hundred dollars for a Murillo! Why, everybody says it is no price at all."
"Not for the Murillo; but for a wall panel, I think it is. What do you say, Miss Lothrop, to panelling a room at five hundred dollars the panel?"
"Miss Lothrop's experience in panels would hardly qualify her to answer you," Mrs. Burrage said, with a polite covert sneer.
"Miss Lothrop has experience in some other things," Philip returned immoveably. But the appeal put Lois in great embarrassment.
"What is the picture?" she asked, as the best way out of it.
"It's a St. Sebastian," Mrs. Burrage answered shortly.
"Do you know the story?" asked Philip. "He was an officer in the household of the Roman emperor, Diocletian; a Christian; and discovered to be a Christian by his bold and faithful daring in the cause of truth. Diocletian ordered him to be bound to a tree and shot to death with arrows, and that the inscription over his head should state that there was no fault found in him but only that he was a Christian. This picture my sister wants to buy, shows him stripped and bound to the tree, and the executioner's work going on. Arrows are piercing him in various places; and the saint's face is raised to heaven with the look upon it of struggling pain and triumphing faith together. You can see that the struggle is sharp, and that only strength which is not his own enables him to hold out; but you see that he will hold out, and the martyr's palm of victory is even already waving before him."
Lois's eyes eagerly looked into those of the speaker while he went on; then they fell silently. Mrs. Burrage grew impatient.
"You tell it with a certain gout," she said. "It's a horrid story!"
"O, it's a beautiful story!" said Lois, suddenly looking up.
"If you like horrors," said the lady, shrugging her shoulders. "But I believe you are one of that kind yourself, are you not?"
"Liking horrors?" said Lois, in astonishment.
"No, no, of course! not that. But I mean, you are one of that saint's spiritual relations. Are you not? You would rather be shot than live easy?"
Philip bit his lip; but Lois answered with the most delicious simplicity,—
"If living easy implied living unfaithful, I hope I would rather be shot." Her eyes looked, as she spoke, straight and quietly into those of her visitor.
"And I hope I would," added Philip.
"You?" said his sister, turning sharp upon him. "Everybody knows you would!"
"But everybody does not know yet that I am a fellow-servant of that Sebastian of long ago; and that to me now, faithful and unfaithful mean the same that they meant to him. Not faithfulness to man, but faithfulness to God—or unfaithfulness."
"And as faithfulness is a word of large comprehension, it takes in also the use of money," Mr. Dillwyn went on smiling; "and so, Jessie, I think, you see, with my new views of things, that five hundred dollars is too much for a panel."
"Or for a picture, I suppose!" said Mrs. Burrage, with dry concentrated expression.
"Depends. Decidedly too much for a picture not meant to be looked at?"
"Why shouldn't it be looked at?"
"People will not look much at what they cannot understand."
"Why shouldn't they understand it?"
"It is a representation of giving up all for Christ, and of faithfulness unto death. What do the crowds who fill your second drawing-room know about such experience?"
Mrs. Burrage had put the foregoing questions dryly and shortly, examining her brother while he spoke, with intent, searching eyes. She had risen once as if to go, and now sat down again. Lois thought she even turned pale.
"Philip!—I never heard you talk so before. What do you mean?"
"Merely to let you know that I am a Christian. It is time."
"You were always a Christian!"
"In name. Now it is reality."
"You don't mean that you—you!—have become one of those fanatics?"
"Those people who give up everything for religion, and are insane upon the subject."
"You could not have described it better, than in the first half of your speech. I have given up everything for religion. That is, I have given myself and all I have to Christ and his service; and whatever I do henceforth, I do only in that character and in that interest. But as to sanity,"—he smiled again,—"I think I was never sane until now."
Mrs. Burrage had risen for the second time, and her brother was now standing opposite to her; and if she had been proud of him a little while before, it was Lois's turn now. The calm, clear frankness and nobleness of his face and bearing made her heart fairly swell with its gladness and admiration; but it filled the other woman's heart with a different feeling.
"And this is you, Philip Dillwyn!" she said bitterly. "And I know you; what you have said you will stand to. Such a man as you! lost to the world!"