"I wonder if Paganism helped you much when you were poor and ill and unhappy, and things in general had gone wrong with you. I daresay it was very nice for the cheerful, prosperous people; but how about those who had never got what they wanted out of life, and were never likely to get it?" Christopher, like other people, looked at most matters from his own individual standpoint; and his own individual standpoint was not at all a comfortable spot just then.
"The Greeks suffered and died as did the Jews and the Christians," replied Elisabeth, "yet they were a joyous and light-hearted race. It is not sorrow that saddens the world, but rather modern Christianity's idealization of sorrow. I do not believe we should be half as miserable as we are if we did not believe that there is virtue in misery, and that by disowning our mercies and discarding our blessings we are currying favour in the eyes of the Being, Who, nevertheless, has showered those mercies and those blessings upon us."
Thus had Alan Tremaine's influence gradually unmoored Elisabeth from the old faiths in which she had been brought up; and he had done it so gradually that the girl was quite unconscious of how far she had drifted from her former anchorage. He was too well-bred ever to be blatant in his unbelief—he would as soon have thought of attacking a man's family to his face as of attacking his creed; but subtly and with infinite tact he endeavoured to prove that to adapt ancient revelations to modern requirements was merely putting new wine into old bottles and mending old garments with new cloth; and Elisabeth was as yet too young and inexperienced to see any fallacy in his carefully prepared arguments.
She had nobody to help her to resist him, poor child! and she was dazzled with the consciousness of intellectual power which his attitude of mind appeared to take for granted. Miss Farringdon was cast in too stern a mould to have any sympathy or patience with the blind gropings of an undisciplined young soul; and Christopher—who generally understood and sympathized with all Elisabeth's difficulties and phases—was so jealous of her obvious attachment to Tremaine, and so unhappy on account of it, that for the time being the faithful friend was entirely swallowed up in the irate lover, sighing like one of the Osierfield furnaces. Of course this was very unfair and tiresome of him—nobody could deny that; but it is sometimes trying to the amiability of even the best of men to realize that the purely mundane and undeserved accident of want of money can shut them off entirely from ever attaining to the best kind of happiness whereof their natures are capable—and especially when they know that their natures are capable of attaining and appreciating a very high standard of happiness indeed. It may not be right to be unsociable because one is unhappy, but it is very human and most particularly masculine; and Christopher just then was both miserable and a man.
There was much about Alan that was very attractive to Elisabeth: he possessed a certain subtlety of thought and an almost feminine quickness of perception which appealed powerfully to her imagination. Imagination was Elisabeth's weak, as well as her strong, point. She was incapable of seeing people as they really were; but erected a purely imaginary edifice of character on the foundations of such attributes as her rapid intuition either rightly or wrongly perceived them to possess. As a rule, she thought better of her friends than they deserved—or, at any rate, she recognised in them that ideal which they were capable of attaining, but whereto they sometimes failed to attain.
Life is apt to be a little hard on the women of Elisabeth's type, who idealize their fellows until the latter lose all semblance of reality; for experience, with its inevitable disillusionment, can not fail to put their ideal lovers and friends far from them, and to hide their etherealized acquaintances out of their sight; and to give instead, to the fond, trusting souls, half-hearted lovers, semi-sincere friends, and acquaintances who care for them only as the world can care. Poor imaginative women—who dreamed that you had found a perfect knight and a faithful friend, and then discovered that these were only an ordinary selfish man and woman after all—life has many more such surprises in store for you; and the surprises will shock you less and hurt you more as the years roll on! But though life will have its surprises for you, death perchance will have none; for when the secrets of all hearts are opened, and all thwarted desires are made known, it may be that the ordinary selfish man and woman will stand forth as the perfect knight and faithful friend that God intended them, and you believed them, and they tried yet failed to be; and you will be satisfied at last when you see your beloved ones wake up after His likeness, and will smile as you say to them, "So it is really you after all."
Although Tremaine might be lacking in his duty toward God, he fulfilled (in the spirit if not in the letter) his duty toward his neighbour; and Elisabeth was fairly dazzled by his many schemes for making life easier and happier to the people who dwelt in the darkness of the Black Country.
It was while he was thus figuring as her ideal hero that Elisabeth went to stay with Felicia Herbert, near a manufacturing town in Yorkshire. Felicia had been once or twice to the Willows, and was well acquainted with the physical and biographical characteristics of the place; and she cherished a profound admiration both for Miss Farringdon and Christopher Thornley. Tremaine she had never met—he had been abroad each time that she had visited Sedgehill—but she disapproved most heartily of his influence upon Elisabeth, and of his views as set forth by that young lady. Felicia had been brought up along extremely strict lines, and in a spirit of comfortable intolerance of all forms of religion not absolutely identical with her own; consequently, a man with no form of religion at all was to her a very terrible monster indeed. On the Sundays of her early youth she had perused a story treating of an Unbeliever (always spelled with a capital U), and the punishments that were meted out to the daughter of light who was unequally yoked with him; and she was imbued with a strong conviction that these same punishments were destined to fall upon Elisabeth's head, should Elisabeth incline favourably to the (at present) hypothetical suit of the master of the Moat House. Thus it happened that when Elisabeth came to the Herberts', full of girlish admiration for Alan Tremaine, Felicia did her best to ripen that admiration into love by abusing Alan in and out of season, and by endeavouring to prove that an attachment to him would be a soul-destroyer of the most irreparable completeness.
"It is no use talking to me about his goodness," she said; "nobody is good who isn't a Christian."
"But he is good," persisted Elisabeth—"most tremendously good. The poor people simply adore him, he does such a lot for them; and he couldn't have lovelier thoughts and higher ideals if he were a girl instead of a man. There must be different ways of goodness, Felicia."
"There are not different ways of goodness; mamma says there are not, and it is very wicked to believe that there are. I am afraid you are not half as religious as you were at Fox How."
"Yes, I am; but I have learned that true religion is a state of mind rather than a code of dogmas."
Felicia looked uncomfortable. "I wish you wouldn't talk like that; I am sure mamma wouldn't like it—she can not bear anything that borders on the profane."
"I am not bordering on the profane; I am only saying what I uphold is true. I can not take things for granted as you do; I have to think them out for myself; and I have come to the conclusion that what a man is is of far more importance than what a man believes."
"But you ought not to think things like that, Elisabeth; it isn't right to do so."
"I can't help thinking it. I am an independent being with a mind of my own, and I must make up that mind according to what I see going on around me. What on earth is the good of having an intellect, if you submit that intellect to the will of another? I wonder how you can take your ideas all ready-made from your mother," exclaimed Elisabeth, who just then was taking all hers ready-made from Alan Tremaine.
"Well, I can not argue. I am not clever enough; and, besides, mamma doesn't like us to argue upon religious subjects—she says it is unsettling; so I will only say that I know you are wrong, and then we will let the matter drop and talk about Christopher. How is he?"
"Oh, he is all right, only very horrid. To tell you the truth, I am getting to dislike Christopher."
"Elisabeth!" Felicia's Madonna-like face became quite sorrowful.
"Well, I am; and so would you, if he was as stand-off to you as he is to me. I can't think what is wrong with him; but whatever I do, and however nice I try to be to him, the North Pole is warm and neighbourly compared with him. I'm sick of him and his unsociable ways!"
"But you and he used to be such friends."
"I know that; and I would be friends now if he would let me. But how can you be friends with a man who is as reserved as the Great Pyramid and as uncommunicative as the Sphinx, and who sticks up iron palings all round himself, like a specimen tree in the park, so that nobody can get near him? If a man wants a girl to like him he should be nice to her, and not require an introduction every time they meet."
Felicia sighed: her sweet, placid nature was apt to be overpowered by Elisabeth's rapid changes of front. "But he used to be so fond of you," she expostulated feebly.
Elisabeth shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, I suppose he likes me now, in his cold, self-satisfied way: it isn't that. What I complain of is that he doesn't admire me enough, and I do so love to be admired."
"Do you mean he doesn't think you are pretty?" Felicia always had to have things fully explained to her; excess of imagination could never lead her astray, whatever it might do to her friend.
"Of course not; I don't see how he could, considering that I'm not: women don't expect men to admire them for things that they don't possess," replied Elisabeth, who had still much to learn. "What I mean is he doesn't realize how clever I am—he despises me just as he used to despise me when I was a little girl and he was a big boy—and that is awfully riling when you know you are clever."
"Is it? I would much rather a man liked me than thought I was clever."
"I wouldn't; anybody can like you, but it takes a clever person to appreciate cleverness. I have studied myself thoroughly, and I have come to the conclusion that I need appreciation far more than affection: I'm made like that."
"I don't understand you. To me affection is everything, and I can not live without it. If people are really fond of me, they can think me as stupid as they like."
Elisabeth's face grew thoughtful; she was always interested in the analysis of herself and her friends. "How different we two are! I couldn't forgive a person for thinking me stupid, even if I knew that person adored me. To me no amount of affection would make up for the lack of appreciation. I want to be understood as well as liked, and that is where Christopher and I come across each other; he never understands me in the least. Now that is why Mr. Tremaine and I get on so well together; he understands and appreciates me so thoroughly."
Felicia's pretty month fell into stern lines of disapproval. "I am sure I should hate Mr. Tremaine if I knew him," she said.
"Oh, no, you wouldn't—you simply couldn't, Felicia, he is so delightful. And, what is more, he is so frightfully interesting: whatever he says and does, he always makes you think about him. Now, however fond you were of Chris—and he really is very good and kind in some ways—you could never think about him: it would be such dreadfully uninteresting thinking, if you did."
"I don't know about that; Christopher is very comfortable and homelike, somehow," replied Felicia.
"So are rice-puddings and flannel petticoats, but you don't occupy your most exalted moments in meditating upon them."
"Do you know, Elisabeth, I sometimes think that Christopher is in love with you." Unlike Elisabeth, Felicia never saw what did not exist, and therefore was able sometimes to perceive what did.
"Good gracious, what an idea! He'd simply roar with laughter at the mere thought of such a thing! Why, Christopher isn't capable of falling in love with anybody; he hasn't got it in him, he is so frightfully matter-of-fact."
Felicia looked dubious. "Then don't you think he will ever marry?"
"Oh, yes, he'll marry fast enough—a sweet, domestic woman, who plays the piano and does crochet-work; and he will talk to her about the price of iron and the integrity of the empire, and will think that he is making love, and she will think so too. And they will both of them go down to their graves without ever finding out that the life is more than meat or the body than raiment."
Elisabeth was very hard on Christopher just then, and nothing that Felicia could say succeeded in softening her. Women are apt to be hard when they are quite young—and sometimes even later.
Felicia Herbert was the eldest of a large family. Her parents, though well-to-do, were not rich; and it was the dream of Mrs. Herbert's life that her daughter's beauty should bring about a great match. She was a good woman according to her lights, and a most excellent wife and mother; but if she had a weakness—and who (except, of course, one's self) is without one?—that weakness was social ambition.
"You will understand, my dear," she said confidentially to Elisabeth, "that it would be the greatest comfort to Mr. Herbert and myself to see Felicia married to a God-fearing man; and, of course, if he kept his own carriage as well we should be all the better satisfied."
"I don't think that money really makes people happy," replied Elisabeth, strong in the unworldliness of those who have never known what it is to do without anything that money can buy.
"Of course not, my dear—of course not; nothing but religion can bring true happiness. Whenever I am tempted to be anxious about my children's future, I always check myself by saying, 'The Lord will provide; though I can not sometimes help hoping that the provision will be an ample one as far as Felicia is concerned, because she is so extremely nice-looking."
"She is perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Elisabeth enthusiastically; "and she gets lovelier and lovelier every time I see her. If I were to change places with all the rich men in the world, I should never do anything but keep on marrying Felicia."
"Still, she could only marry one of you, my dear. But, between ourselves, I just want to ask you a few questions about a Mr. Thornley whom Felicia met at your house. I fancied she was a wee bit interested in him."
"Interested in Chris! Oh! she couldn't possibly be. No girl could be interested in Christopher in that way."
"Why not, my dear? Is he so unusually plain?"
"Oh! no; he is very good-looking; but he has a good head for figures and a poor eye for faces. In short, he is a sensible man, and girls don't fall in love with sensible men."
"I think you are mistaken there; I do indeed. I have known many instances of women becoming sincerely attached to sensible men."
"You don't know how overpoweringly sensible Christopher is. He is so wise that he never makes a joke unless it has some point in it."
"There is no harm in that, my dear. I never see the point of a joke myself, I admit; but I like to know that there is one."
"And when he goes for a walk with a girl, he never talks nonsense to her," continued Elisabeth, "but treats her exactly as if she were his maiden aunt."
"But why should he talk nonsense to her? It is a great waste of time to talk nonsense; I am not sure that it is not even a sin. Is Mr. Thornley well off?"
"No. His uncle, Mr. Smallwood, is the general manager of our works; and Christopher has only his salary as sub-manager, and what his uncle may leave him. His mother was Mr. Smallwood's sister, and married a ne'er-do-weel-who left her penniless; at least, that is to say, if he ever had a mother—which I sometimes doubt, as he understands women so little."
"Still, I think we can take that for granted," said Mrs. Herbert, smiling with pride at having seen Elisabeth's little joke, and feeling quite a wit herself in consequence. One of the secrets of Elisabeth's popularity was that she had a knack of impressing the people with whom she talked, not so much with a sense of her cleverness as with a sense of their own. She not only talked well herself, she made other people talk well also—a far more excellent gift.
"So," she went on, "if his uncle hadn't adopted him, I suppose Chris would have starved to death when he was a child; and that would have been extremely unpleasant for him, poor boy!"
"Ah! that would have been terrible, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Herbert, so full of pity for Christopher that she was willing to give him anything short of her firstborn. She was really a kind-hearted woman.
Elisabeth looked out of the window at the group of stunted shrubs with black-edged leaves which entitled Felicia's home to be called Wood Glen. "There is one thing to be said in favour of starvation," she said solemnly, "it would keep one from getting stout, and stoutness is the cruellest curse of all. I'd rather be dead than stout any day."
"My dear child, you are talking nonsense. What would be the advantage of being thin if you were not alive?"
"When you come to that, what would be the advantage of being alive if you weren't thin?" retorted Elisabeth.
"The two cases are not parallel, my dear; you see you couldn't be thin without being alive, but you could be alive without being thin."
"It is possible; I have come across such cases myself, but I devoutly trust mine may never be one of them. As the hymn says, I shall always be 'content to fill a little space.'"
"Ah! but I think the hymn doesn't mean it quite in that sense. I believe the hymn refers rather to the greatness of one's attainments and possessions than to one's personal bulk."
Elisabeth opened her eyes wide with an expression of childlike simplicity. "Do you really think so?"
"I do, my dear. You know one must not take poetry too literally; verse writers are allowed what is termed 'poetic license,' and are rarely, if ever, quite accurate in their statements. I suppose it would be too difficult for anybody to get both the truth and the rhyme to fit in, and so the truth has to be somewhat adapted. But about Mr. Thornley, my love; you don't think that he and Felicia are at all interested in one another?"
"Good gracious, no! I'm sure they are not. If they had been, I should have spotted it and talked about it ages ago."
"I hope you are not given to talk about such things, even if you do perceive them," said Mrs. Herbert, with reproof in her tone; "talking scandal is a sad habit."
"But it isn't scandal to say that a man is in love with a woman—in fact, it is the very opposite. It is much worse scandal never to talk about a woman in that way, because that means that you think she is either too old or too ugly to have a lover, and that is the worst scandal of all. I always feel immensely tickled when I hear women pluming themselves on the fact that they never get talked about; and I long to say to them, 'There is nothing to be proud of in that, my dears; it only means that the world is tacitly calling you stupid old frights.' Why, I'd rather people found fault with me than did not talk about me at all."
"Then I am afraid you are not 'content to fill a little space,'" said Mrs. Herbert severely.
"To tell you the truth I don't think I am," replied Elisabeth, with engaging frankness; "conceit is my besetting sin and I know it. Not stately, scornful, dignified pride, but downright, inflated, perky, puffed-up conceit. I have often remarked upon it to Christopher, and he has always agreed with me."
"But, my dear, the consciousness of a fault is surely one step toward its cure."
"Not it," replied Elisabeth, shaking her head; "I've always known I am conceited, yet I get conceiteder and conceiteder every year. Bless you! I don't want to 'fill a little space,' and I particularly don't want 'a heart at leisure from itself'; I think that is such a dull, old-maidish sort of thing to have—I wouldn't have one for anything. People who have hearts at leisure from themselves always want to understudy Providence, you will notice."
Mrs. Herbert looked shocked. "My dear, what do you mean?"
"I mean that really good people, who have no interests of their own, are too fond of playing the part of Providence to other people. That their motives are excellent I admit; they are not a bit selfish, and they interfere with you for your own good; but they successfully accomplish as much incurable mischief in half an hour as it would take half a dozen professional mischief-makers at least a year to finish off satisfactorily. If they can not mind their own business it doesn't follow that Providence can't either, don't you see?"
Whereupon Felicia entered the room, and the conversation was abruptly closed; but not before Mrs. Herbert had decided that if Providence had selected her daughter as the consoler of Christopher's sorrows, Providence must be gently and patiently reasoned with until another and more suitable comforter was substituted. She did not, of course, put the matter to herself thus barely; but this was what her decision practically amounted to.
But although people might not be talking, as Mrs. Herbert imagined, about Christopher and Felicia, the tongues of Sedgehill were all agog on the subject of the evident attachment between Elisabeth Farringdon and the master of the Moat House.
"I'm afeared as our Miss Elisabeth is keeping company with that Mr. Tremaine; I am indeed," Mrs. Bateson confided to her crony, Mrs. Hankey.
Mrs. Hankey, as was her wont, groaned both in spirit and in person. "So I've heard tell, more's the pity! Miss Elisabeth is no favourite of mine, as you know, being so dark-complexioned as a child, and I never could abide dark babies. I haven't much to be thankful for, I'm sure, for the Lord has tried me sore, giving me Hankey as a husband, and such a poor appetite as I never enjoy a meal from one year's end to another; but one thing I can boast of, and that is my babies were all fair, with as clear a skin as you could want to see. Still, I don't wish the young lady no harm, it not being Christian to do so; and it is sad at her age to be tied to a husband from which there is no outlet but the grave."
"I don't hold with you there, Mrs. Hankey; it is dull work for the women who have nobody to order 'em about and find fault with 'em. Why, where's the good of taking the trouble to do a thing well, if there's no man to blame you for it afterward? But what I want to see is Miss Elisabeth married to Master Christopher, them two being made for one another, as you might say."
"He has a new heart and a nice fresh colour, has Master Christopher; which is more than his own mother—supposing she was alive—could say for Mr. Tremaine."
"That is so, Mrs. Hankey. I'm afeared there isn't much religion about him. He don't even go to church on a Sunday, let alone chapel; though he is wonderful charitable to the poor, I must admit."
Mrs. Hankey pursed up her mouth. "And what are works without faith, I should like to know!"
"Quite true—quite true; but maybe the Lord ain't quite as hard on us as we are on one another, and makes allowances for our bringing-up and such."
"Maybe," replied Mrs. Hankey, in a tone which implied that she hoped her friend was mistaken.
"You see," continued Mrs. Bateson, "there's nothing helps you to understand the ways of the Lord like having children of your own. Why, afore I was married, I was for whipping every child that was contrairy till it got good again; but after my Lucy Ellen was born, I found that her contrairiness made me sorry for her instead of angry with her, and I knowed as the poor little thing was feeling poorly or else she'd never have been like that. So instead of punishing her, I just comforted her; and the more contradictious she got, the more I knowed as she wanted comfort. And I don't doubt but the Lord knows that the more we kick against Him the more we need Him; and that He makes allowance accordingly."
"You seem to have comfortable thoughts about things; I only hope as you are not encouraging false hopes and crying peace where there is no peace," remarked Mrs. Hankey severely.
But Mrs. Bateson was not affrighted. "Don't you know how ashamed you feel when folks think better of you than you deserve? I remember years ago, when Caleb came a-courting me, I was minded once to throw him over, because he was full solemn to take a young maid's fancy. And when I was debating within myself whether I'd throw him over or no, he says to me, 'Kezia, my lass,' he says, 'I'm not afeared as ye'll give me the slip, for all your saucy ways; other folks may think you're a bit flirty, but I know you better than they do, and I trust you with all my heart.' Do you think I could have disappointed him after that, Mrs. Hankey? Not for the whole world. But I was that ashamed as never was, for even having thought of such a thing. And if we poor sinful souls feel like that, do you think the Lord is the One to disappoint folks for thinking better of Him than He deserves? Not He, Mrs. Hankey; I know Him better than that."
"I only wish I could see things in such a cheerful light as you do."
"It was only after my first baby was born that I began to understand the Lord's ways a bit. It's wonderful how caring for other folks seems to bring you nearer to Him—nearer even than class meetings and special services, though I wouldn't for the world say a word against the means of grace."
This doctrine was too high for Mrs. Hankey; she could not attain to it, so she wisely took refuge in a side issue. "It was fortunate for you your eldest being a girl; if the Lord had thought fit to give me a daughter instead of three sons, things might have been better with me," she said, contentedly moving the burden of personal responsibility from her own shoulders to her Maker's.
"Don't say that, Mrs. Hankey. Daughters may be more useful in the house, I must confess, and less mischievous all round; but they can't work as hard for their living as the sons can when you ain't there to look after them."
"You don't know what it is to live in a house full of nothing but men, with not a soul to speak to about all the queer tricks they're at, many a time I feel like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island among a lot of savages."
"And I don't blame you," agreed Mrs. Bateson sympathetically; "for my part I don't know what I should have done when Caleb and the boys were troublesome if I couldn't have passed remarks on their behaviour to Lucy Ellen; I missed her something terrible when first she was married for that simple reason. You see, it takes another woman to understand how queer a man is."
"It does, Mrs. Bateson; you never spoke a truer word. And then think what it must be on your death-bed to have the room full of stupid men, tumbling over one another and upsetting the medicine-bottles and putting everything in its wrong place. Many a time have I wished for a daughter, if it was but to close my eyes; but the Lord has seen fit to withhold His blessings from me, and it is not for me to complain: His ways not being as our ways, but often quite the reverse."
"That is so; and I wish as He'd seen fit to mate Miss Elisabeth with Master Christopher, instead of letting her keep company with that Mr. Tremaine."
Mrs. Hankey shook her head ominously. "Mr. Tremaine is one that has religious doubts."
"Ah! that's liver," said Mrs. Bateson, her voice softening with pity; "that comes from eating French kickshaws, and having no mother to see that he takes a dose of soda and nitre now and then to keep his system cool. Poor young man!"
"I hear as he goes so far as to deny the existence of a God," continued Mrs. Hankey.
"All liver!" repeated Mrs. Bateson; "it often takes men like that; when they begin to doubt the inspiration of the Scriptures you know they will be all the better for a dose of dandelion tea; but when they go on to deny the existence of a God, there's nothing for it but chamomile. And I don't believe as the Lord takes their doubts any more seriously than their wives take 'em. He knows as well as we do that the poor things need pity more than blame, and dosing more than converting; for He gave 'em their livers, and we only have to bear with them and return thanks to Him for having made ours of a different pattern."
"And what do the women as have doubts need, I should like to know?"
"A husband and children is the best cure for them. Why, when a woman has a husband and children to look after, and washes at home, she has no time, bless you! to be teaching the Lord His business; she has enough to do minding her own."
GREATER THAN OUR HEARTS
The world is weary of new tracks of thought That lead to nought— Sick of quack remedies prescribed in vain For mortal pain, Yet still above them all one Figure stands With outstretched Hands.
"Cousin Maria, do you like Alan Tremaine?" asked Elisabeth, not long after her return from Yorkshire.
"Like him, my dear? I neither like nor dislike persons with whom I have as little in common as I have with Mr. Tremaine. But he strikes me as a young man of parts, and his manners are admirable."
"I wasn't thinking about his manners, I was thinking about his views," said the girl, walking across the room and looking through the window at the valley smiling in the light of the summer morning; "don't you think they are very broad and enlightened?"
"I daresay they are. Young persons of superior intelligence are frequently dazzled by their own brilliance at first, and consider that they were sent into the world specially to confute the law and the prophets. As they grow older they learn better."
Elisabeth began playing with the blind-cord. "I think he is awfully clever," she remarked.
"My dear, how often must I beg you not to use that word awfully, except in its correct sense? Remember that we hold the English tongue in trust—it belongs to the nation and not to us—and we have no more right to profane England's language by the introduction of coined words and slang expressions than we have to disendow her institutions or to pollute her rivers."
"All right; I'll try not to forget again. But you really do think Alan is clever, don't you?"
"He is undoubtedly intelligent, and possesses the knack of appearing even more intelligent than he is; but at present he has not learned his own limitations."
"You mean that he isn't clever enough to know that he isn't cleverer," suggested Elisabeth.
"Well, my dear, I should never have put it in that way, but that approximately expresses my ideas about our young friend."
"And he is aw—I mean frightfully well off."
Miss Farringdon looked sternly at the speaker. "Never again let me hear you refer to the income of persons about whom you are speaking, Elisabeth; it is a form of ill-breeding which I can not for a moment tolerate in my house. That money is a convenience to the possessor of it, I do not attempt to deny; but that the presence or the absence of it should be counted as a matter of any moment (except to the man himself), presupposes a standpoint of such vulgarity that it is impossible for me to discuss it. And even the man himself should never talk about it; he should merely silently recognise the fact, and regulate his plan of life accordingly."
"Still, I have heard quite nice people sometimes say that they can not afford things," argued Elisabeth.
"I do not deny that; even quite nice people make mistakes sometimes, and well-mannered persons are not invariably well-mannered. Your quite nice people would have been still nicer had they realized that to talk about one's poverty—though not so bad as talking about one's wealth—is only one degree better; and that perfect gentle-people would refer neither to the one nor to the other."
"I see." Elisabeth's tone was subdued.
"I once knew a woman," continued Miss Farringdon, "who, by that accident of wealth, which is of no interest to anybody but the possessor, was enabled to keep a butler and two footmen; but in speaking of her household to a friend, who was less richly endowed with worldly goods than herself, she referred to these three functionaries as 'my parlourmaid,' for fear of appearing to be conscious of her own superiority in this respect. Now this woman, though kind-hearted, was distinctly vulgar."
"But you have always taught me that it is good manners to keep out of sight any point on which you have the advantage over the people you are talking to," Elisabeth persisted. "You have told me hundreds of times that I must never show off my knowledge after other people have displayed their ignorance; and that I must not even be obtrusively polite after they have been obviously rude. Those are your very words, Cousin Maria: you see I can give chapter and verse."
"And I meant what I said, my dear. Wider knowledge and higher breeding are signs of actual superiority, and therefore should never be flaunted. The vulgarity in the woman I am speaking about lay in imagining that there is any superiority in having more money than another person: there is not. To hide the difference proved that she thought there was a difference, and this proved that her standpoint was an essentially plebeian one. There was no difference at all, save one of convenience; the same sort of difference there is between people who have hot water laid on all over their houses and those who have to carry it upstairs. And who would be so trivial and commonplace as to talk about that?"
Elisabeth, seeing that her cousin was in the right, wisely changed the subject. "The Bishop of Merchester is preaching at St. Peter's Church, in Silverhampton, on St. Peter's Day, and I have asked Alan Tremaine to drive me over in his dog-cart to hear him." Although she had strayed from the old paths of dogma and doctrine, Elisabeth could not eradicate the inborn Methodist nature which hungers and thirsts after righteousness as set forth in sermons.
"I should like to hear him too, my dear," said Miss Farringdon, who also had been born a Methodist.
"Then will you come? In that case we can have our own carriage, and I needn't bother Alan," said Elisabeth, with disappointment written in capital letters all over her expressive face.
"On which day is it, and at what hour?"
"To-morrow evening at half-past six," replied the girl, knowing that this was the hour of the evening sacrifice at East Lane Chapel, and trusting to the power of habit and early association to avert the addition of that third which would render two no longer any company for each other.
Her trust was not misplaced. "It is our weekevening service, my dear, with the prayer-meeting after. Did you forget?"
Elisabeth endeavoured to simulate the sudden awakening of a dormant memory. "So it is!"
"I see no reason why you should not go into Silverhampton to hear the Bishop," said Miss Farringdon kindly. "I like young people to learn the faith once delivered to the saints, from all sorts and conditions of teachers; but I shall feel it my duty to be in my accustomed place."
So it came to pass, one never-to-be-forgotten summer afternoon, that Alan Tremaine drove Elisabeth Farringdon into Silverhampton to hear the Bishop of Merchester preach.
As soon as she was safely tucked up in the dog-cart, with no way of escape, Elisabeth saw a look in Alan's eyes which told her that he meant to make love to her; so with that old, old feminine instinct, which made the prehistoric woman take to her heels when the prehistoric man began to run after her, this daughter of the nineteenth century took refuge in an armour of flippancy, which is the best shield yet invented for resisting Cupid's darts.
It was a glorious afternoon—one of those afternoons which advertise to all the world how excellent was the lotus-eaters' method of dividing time; and although the woods had exchanged the fresh variety of spring for the dark green sameness of summer, the fields were gay with haymakers, and the world still seemed full of joyous and abundant life.
"Let's go the country way," Elisabeth had said at starting; "and then we can come back by the town." So the two drove by Badgering Woods, and across the wide common; and as they went they saw and felt that the world was very good. Elisabeth was highly sensitive to the influences of nature, and, left to herself, would have leaned toward sentiment on such an afternoon as this; but she had seen that look in Alan's eyes, and that was enough for her.
"Do you know," began Tremaine, getting to work, "that I have been doing nothing lately but thinking about you? And I have come to the conclusion that what appeals so much to me is your strength. The sweetness which attracts some men has no charm for me; I am one of the men who above all things admire and reverence a strong woman, though I know that the sweet and clinging woman is to some the ideal of feminine perfection. But different men, of course, admire different types."
"Exactly; there is a Latin proverb, something about tots and sentences, which embodies that idea," suggested Elisabeth, with a nervous, girlish laugh.
Alan did not smile; he made it a rule never to encourage flippancy in women.
"It is hardly kind of you to laugh at me when I am speaking seriously," he said, "and it would serve you right if I turned my horse's head round and refused to let you hear your Bishop. But I will not punish you this time; I will heap coals of fire on your head by driving on."
"Oh! don't begin heaping coals of fire on people's head, Mr. Tremaine; it is a dangerous habit, and those who indulge in it always get their fingers burned in the end—just as they do when they play with edged tools, or do something (I forget what) with their own petard."
There was a moment's silence, and then Alan said—
"It makes me very unhappy when you are in a mood like this; I do not understand it, and it seems to raise up an impassable barrier between us."
"Please don't be unhappy about a little thing like that; wait till you break a front tooth, or lose your collar-stud, or have some other real trouble to cry over. But now you are making a trouble out of nothing, and I have no patience with people who make troubles out of nothing; it seems to me like getting one's boots spoiled by a watering-cart when it is dry weather; and that is a thing which makes me most frightfully angry."
"Do many things make you angry, I wonder?"
"Some things and some people."
"Tell me what sort of people make a woman of your type angry."
Elisabeth fell into the trap; she could never resist the opportunity of discussing herself from an outside point of view. If Alan had said you, she would have snubbed him at once; but the well-chosen words, a woman of your type, completely carried her away. She was not an egotist; she was only intensely interested in herself as the single specimen of humanity which she was able to study exhaustively.
"I think the people who make me angry are the unresponsive people," she replied thoughtfully; "the people who do not put their minds into the same key as mine when I am talking to them. Don't you know the sort? When you discuss a thing from one standpoint they persist in discussing it from another; and as soon as you try to see it from their point of view, they fly off to a third. It isn't so much that they differ from you—that you would not mind; there is a certain harmony in difference which is more effective than its unison of perfect agreement—but they sing the same tune in another key, and the discords are excruciating. Then the people who argue make me angry; those who argue about trifles, I mean."
"Ah! All you women are alike in that; you love discussion, and hate argument. The cause of which is that you decide things by instinct rather than by reason, and that therefore—although you know you are right—you can not possibly prove it."
"Then," Elisabeth continued, "I get very angry with the people who will bother about non-essentials; who, when you have got hold of the vital centre of a question, stray off to side issues. They are first-cousins of the people who talk in different keys."
"I should have said they were the same."
"Well, perhaps they are; I believe you are right. Christopher Thornley is one of that sort; when you are discussing one side of a thing with him, you'll find him playing bo-peep with you round the other; and you never can get him into the right mood at the right time. He makes me simply furious sometimes. Do you know, I think if I were a dog I should often bite Christopher? He makes me angry in a biting kind of way."
Alan smiled faintly at this; jokes at Christopher's expense were naturally more humorous than jokes at his own. "And what other sorts of people make you angry?" he asked.
"I'm afraid the people who make me angriest of all are the people who won't do what I tell them. They really madden me." And Elisabeth began to laugh. "I've got a horribly strong will, you see, and if people go against it, I want them to be sent to the dentist's every morning, and to the photographer's every afternoon, for the rest of their lives. Now Christopher is one of the worst of those; I can't make him do what I want just because I want it; he always wishes to know why I want it, and that is so silly and tiresome of him, because nine times out of ten I don't know myself."
"Christopher certainly has the knack of making me angrier than anybody else I ever met," said Elisabeth thoughtfully. "I wonder why it is? I suppose it must be because I have known him for so long. I can't see any other reason. I am generally such an easy-going, good-tempered girl; but when Christopher begins to argue and dictate and contradict, the Furies simply aren't in it with me."
"The excellent Thornley certainly has his limitations."
Elisabeth's eyes flashed. She did not mind finding fault with Christopher herself; in fact, she found such fault-finding absolutely necessary to her well-being; but she resented any attempt on the part of another to usurp this, her peculiar prerogative. "He is very good, all the same," she said, "and extremely clever; and he is my greatest friend."
But Alan was bored by Christopher as a subject of conversation, so he changed him for Elisabeth's self. "How loyal you are!" he exclaimed with admiration; "it is indeed a patent of nobility to be counted among your friends."
The girl, having just been guilty of disloyalty, was naturally delighted at this compliment. "You always understand and appreciate me," she said gratefully, unconscious of the fact that it was Alan's lack of understanding and appreciation which had aroused her gratitude just then. Perfect comprehension—untempered by perfect love—would be a terrible thing; mercifully for us poor mortals it does not exist.
Alan went on: "Because I possess this patent of nobility, I am going to presume upon my privileges and ask you to help me in my life-work; and my life-work, as you know, is to ameliorate the condition of the poor, and to carry to some extent the burdens which they are bound to bear."
Elisabeth looked up at him, her face full of interest; no appeal to her pity was ever made in vain. If people expected her to admire them, they were frequently disappointed; if they wished her to fear them, their wish was absolutely denied; but if they only wanted her to be sorry for them, they were abundantly satisfied, sympathy being the keynote of her character. She was too fastidious often to admire; she was too strong ever to fear; but her tenderness was unfailing toward those who had once appealed to her pity, and whose weakness had for once allowed itself to rest upon her strength. Therefore Alan's desire to help the poor, and to make them happier, struck the dominant chord in her nature; but unfortunately when she raised her eyes, full of sympathetic sympathy, to his, she encountered that look in the latter which had frightened her at the beginning of the excursion; so she again clothed herself in her garment of flippancy, and hardened her heart as the nether millstone. In blissful unconsciousness Alan continued—
"Society is just now passing through a transition stage. The interests of capital and labour are at war with each other; the rich and the poor are as two armies made ready for battle, and the question is, What can we do to bridge over the gulf between the classes, and to induce them each to work for, instead of against, the other? It is these transition stages which have proved the most difficult epochs in the world's history."
"I hate transition stages and revolutions, they are so unsettling. It seems to me they are just like the day when your room is cleaned; and that is the most uncomfortable day in the whole week. Don't you know it? You go upstairs in the accustomed way, fearing nothing; but when you open the door you find the air dark with dust and the floor with tea-leaves, and nothing looking as it ought to look. Prone on its face on the bed, covered with a winding-sheet, lies your overthrown looking-glass; and underneath it, in a shapeless mass, are huddled together all the things that you hold dearest upon earth. You thrust in your hand to get something that you want, and it is a pure chance whether your Bible or your button-hook rises to the surface. And it seems to me that transition periods are just like that."
"How volatile you are! One minute you are so serious and the next so frivolous that I fail to follow you. I often think that you must have some foreign blood in your veins, you are so utterly different from the typical, stolid, shy, self-conscious English-woman."
"I hope you don't think I was made in Germany, like cheap china and imitation Astrakhan."
"Heaven forbid! The Germans are more stolid and serious than the English. But you must have a Celtic ancestor in you somewhere. Haven't you?"
"Well, to tell you the truth, my great-grandmother was a Manxwoman; but we are ashamed to talk much about her, because it sounds as if she'd had no tail."
"Then you must have inherited your temperament from her. But now I want to talk to you seriously about doing something for the men who work in the coal-pits, and who—more even than the rest of their class—are shut out from the joy and beauty of the world. Their lives not only are made hideous, but are also shortened, by the nature of their toil. Do you know what the average life of a miner is?"
"Of course I do: twenty-one years."
Alan frowned; he disapproved of jokes even more than of creeds, and understood them equally. "Miss Farringdon, you are not behaving fairly to me. You know what I mean well enough, but you wilfully misunderstand my words for the sake of laughing at them. But I will make you listen, all the same. I want to know if you will help me in my work by becoming my wife; and I think that even you can not help answering that question seriously."
The laughter vanished from Elisabeth's face, as if it had been wiped out with a sponge. "Oh! I—I don't know," she murmured lamely.
"Then you must find out. To me it seems that you are the one woman in all the world who was made for me. Your personality attracted me the first moment that I met you; and our subsequent companionship has proved that our minds habitually run in the same grooves, and that we naturally look at things from the same standpoint. That is so, is it not?"
"The only serious difference between us seemed to be the difference of faith. You had been trained in the doctrines of one of the strictest sects, while I had outgrown all dogmas and thrown aside all recognised forms of religion. So strong were my feelings on this point, that I would not have married any woman who still clung to the worn-out and (by me) disused traditions; but I fancy that I have succeeded in converting you to my views, and that our ideas upon religion are now practically identical. Is not that so?"
Elisabeth thought for a moment. "Yes," she answered slowly; "you have taught me that Christianity, like all the other old religions, has had its day; and that the world is now ready for a new dispensation."
"Exactly; and for a dispensation which shall unite the pure ethics of the Christian to the joyous vitality of the Greek, eliminating alike the melancholy of the one and the sensualism of the other. You agree with me in this, do you not?"
"You know that I do."
"I am glad, because—as I said before—I could not bear to marry any woman who did not see eye to eye with me on these vital matters. I love you very dearly, Elisabeth, and it would be a great grief to me if any question of opinion or conviction came between us; yet I do not believe that two people could possibly be happy together—however much they might love each other—if they were not one with each other on subjects such as these."
Elisabeth was silent; she was too much excited to speak. Her heart was thumping like the great hammer at the Osierfield, and she was trembling all over. So she held her peace as they drove up the principal street of Silverhampton and across the King's Square to the lych-gate of St. Peter's Church; but Alan, looking into the tell-tale face he knew so well, was quite content.
Yet as she sat beside Alan in St. Peter's Church that summer evening, and thought upon what she had just done, a great sadness filled Elisabeth's soul. The sun shone brightly through the western window, and wrote mystic messages upon the gray stone walls; but the lights of the east window shone pale and cold in the distant apse, where the Figure of the Crucified gleamed white upon a foundation of emerald. And as she looked at the Figure, which the world has wept over and worshipped for nineteen centuries, she realized that this was the Symbol of all that she was giving up and leaving behind her—the Sign of that religion of love and sorrow which men call Christianity. She felt that wisdom must be justified of her children, and not least of her, Elisabeth Farringdon; nevertheless, she mourned for the myth which had once made life seem fair, and death even fairer. Although she had outgrown her belief in it, its beauty had still power to touch her heart, if not to convince her intellect; and she sighed as she recalled all that it had once meant, and how it had appeared to be the one satisfactory solution to the problems which weary and perplex mankind. Now she must face all the problems over again in the grim twilight of dawning science, with no longer a Star of Bethlehem to show where the answer might be found; and her spirit quailed at the pitiless prospect. She had never understood before how much that Symbol of eternal love and vicarious suffering had been to her, nor how puzzling would be the path through the wilderness if there were no Crucifix at life's cross-roads to show the traveller which way to go; and her heart grew heavier as she took part in the sacred office of Evensong, and thought how beautiful it all would be if only it were true. She longed to be a little child again—a child to whom the things which are not seen are as the things which are seen, and the things which are not as the things which are; and she could have cried with homesickness when she remembered how firmly she had once believed that the shadow which hung over the Osierfield was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, to testify that God was still watching over His people, as in the days of old. Now she knew that the pillar was only the smoke and the flame of human industries; and the knowledge brought a load of sadness, as it seemed to typify that there was no longer any help for the world but in itself.
When the Bishop ascended the pulpit, Elisabeth recalled her wandering thoughts and set herself to listen. No one who possesses a drop of Nonconformist blood can ever succeed in not listening to a sermon, even if it be a poor one; and the Bishop of Merchester was one of the finest preachers of his day. His text was, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee"; and he endeavoured to set forth how it is only God who can teach men about God, and how flesh and blood can never show us the Christ until He chooses to reveal Himself. At first Elisabeth listened only with her mind, expecting an intellectual treat and nothing more; but as he went on, and showed how the Call comes in strange places and at strange times, and how when it comes there is no resisting it, her heart began to burn within her; and she recognised the preacher, not only as a man of divers gifts and great powers, but as the ambassador of Christ sent direct to her soul. Then slowly her eyes were opened, and she knew that the Figure in the east window was no Sign of an imaginary renunciation, no Symbol of a worn-out creed, but the portrait of a living Person, Whose Voice was calling her, and Whose Love was constraining her, and Whose Power was enfolding her and would not let her go. With the certainty that is too absolute for proof, she knew in Whom she now believed; and she knew, further, that it was not her own mind nor the preacher's words that had suddenly shown her the truth—flesh and blood had not revealed it to her, but Christ Himself.
When the service was over, Elisabeth came out into the sunlight with a strange, new, exultant feeling, such as she had never felt before. She stood in the old churchyard, waiting for Alan to bring round the dog-cart, and watching the sun set beyond the distant hills; and she was conscious—how she could not explain—that the sunset was different from any other sunset that she had ever seen. She had always loved nature with an intense love; but now there seemed a richer gold in the parting sunbeams—a sweeter mystery behind the far-off hills—because of that Figure in the east window. It was as if she saw again a land which she had always loved, and now learned for the first time that it belonged to some one who was dear to her; a new sense of ownership mingled with the old delight, and gave an added interest to the smallest detail.
Then she and Alan turned their backs to the sunset, and drove along the bleak high-road toward Sedgehill, where the reflection of the blast-furnaces—that weird aurora borealis of the Black Country—was already beginning to pulsate against the darkening sky. And here again Elisabeth realized that for her the old things had passed away, and all things had become new. She felt that her childish dream was true, and that the crimson light was indeed a pillar of fire showing that the Lord was in the midst of His people; but she went further now than she had gone in her day-dreams, and knew that all the lights and shadows of life are but pillars of cloud and of fire, forthtelling the same truth to all who have seeing eyes and understanding hearts.
Suddenly the silence was broken by Alan. "I have been thinking about you during the service, and building all sorts of castles in the air which you and I are going to inhabit together. But we must not let the old faiths hamper us, Elisabeth; if we do, our powers will be impaired by prejudices, and our usefulness will be limited by traditions."
"I have something to say to you," Elisabeth replied, and her eyes shone like stars in the twilight; "you won't understand it, but I must say it all the same. In church to-night, for the first time in my life, I heard God speaking to me; and I found out that religion is no string of dogmas, but just His calling us by name."
Tremaine looked at her pityingly. "You are overtired and overwrought by the heat, and the excitement of the sermon has been too much for you. But you will be all right again to-morrow, never fear."
"I knew you wouldn't understand, and I can't explain it to you; but it has suddenly all become quite clear to me—all the things that I have puzzled over since I was a little child; and I know now that religion is not our attitude toward God, but His attitude toward us."
"Why, Elisabeth, you are saying over again all the old formulas that you and I have refuted so often."
"I know I am; but I never really believed in them till now. I can't argue with you, Alan—I'm not clever enough—and besides, the best things in the world can never be proved by argument. But I want you to understand that the Power which you call Christianity is stronger than human wills, or human strength, or even human love; and now that it has once laid hold upon me, it will never let me go."
Alan's face grew pale with anger. "I see; your old associations have been too strong for you."
"It isn't my old associations, or my early training, or anything belonging to me. It isn't me at all. It is just His Voice calling me. Can't you understand, Alan? It is not I who am doing it all—it is He."
There was a short silence, and then Tremaine said—
"But I thought you loved me?"
"I thought so too, but perhaps I was wrong; I don't know. All I know is that this new feeling is stronger than any feeling I ever had before; and that I can not give up my religion, whatever it may cost me."
"I will not marry a woman who believes in the old faith."
"And I will not marry a man who does not."
Alan's voice grew hard. "I don't believe you ever loved me," he complained.
"I don't know. I thought I did; but perhaps I knew as little about love as you know about religion. Perhaps I shall find a real love some day which will be as different from my friendship for you as this new knowledge is different from the religion that Cousin Maria taught me. I'm very sorry, but I can never marry you now."
"You would have given up your religion fast enough if you had really cared for me," sneered Tremaine.
Elisabeth pondered for a moment, with the old contraction of her eyebrows. "I don't think so, because, as I told you before, it isn't really my doing at all. It isn't that I won't give up my religion—it is my religion that won't give up me. Supposing that a blind man wanted to marry me on condition that I would believe, as he did, that the world is dark: I couldn't believe it, however much I loved him. You can't not know what you have once known, and you can't not have seen what you have seen, however much you may wish to do so, or however much other people may wish it."
"You are a regular woman, in spite of all your cleverness, and I was a fool to imagine that you would prove more intelligent in the long run than the rest of your conventional and superstitious sex."
"Please forgive me for hurting you," besought Elisabeth.
"It is not only that you have hurt me, but I am so disappointed in you; you seemed so different from other women, and now I find the difference was merely a surface one."
"I am so sorry," Elisabeth still pleaded.
Tremaine laughed bitterly. "You are disappointed in yourself, I should imagine. You posed as being so broad and modern and enlightened, and yet you have found worn-out dogmas and hackneyed creeds too strong for you."
Elisabeth smiled to herself. "No; but I have found the Christ," she answered softly.
FELICIA FINDS HAPPINESS
Give me that peak of cloud which fills The sunset with its gorgeous form, Instead of these familiar hills That shield me from the storm.
After having been weighed in Elisabeth's balance and found wanting, Alan Tremaine went abroad for a season, and Sedgehill knew him no more until the following spring. During that time Elisabeth possessed her soul and grew into a true woman—a woman with no smallness or meanness in her nature, but with certain feminine weaknesses which made her all the more lovable to those people who understood her, and all the more incongruous and irritating to those who did not. Christopher, too, rested in an oasis of happiness just then. He was an adept in the study of Elisabeth, and he knew perfectly well what had passed between her and Alan, although she flattered herself that she had kept him completely in the dark on the subject. But Christopher was always ready to dance to Elisabeth's piping, except when it happened to be on red-hot iron; even then he tried to obey her bidding, and it was hardly his fault if he failed.
Christopher Thornley was one of those people whose temperament and surroundings are at war with each other. Such people are not few in this world, though they themselves are frequently quite unaware of the fact; nevertheless, there is always an element of tragedy in their lot. By nature he was romantic and passionate and chivalrous, endowed with an enthusiastic admiration for beauty and an ardent longing for all forms of joyousness; and he had been trained in a school of thought where all merely human joys and attractions are counted as unimportant if not sinful, and where wisdom and righteousness are held to be the two only ends of life. Perhaps in a former existence—or in the person of some remote ancestor—Christopher had been a knightly and devoted cavalier, ready to lay down his life for Church and king, and in the meantime spending his days in writing odes to his mistress's eyebrow; and now he had been born into a strict Puritan atmosphere, where principles rather than persons commanded men's loyalty, and where romance was held to be a temptation of the flesh if not a snare of the devil. He possessed a great capacity for happiness, and for enjoyment of all kinds; consequently the dull routine of business was more distasteful to him than to a man of coarser fibre and less fastidious tastes. Christopher was one of the people who are specially fitted by nature to appreciate to the full all the refinements and accessories of wealth and culture; therefore his position at the Osierfield was more trying to him than it would have been to nine men out of every ten.
When spring came back again, Alan Tremaine came with it to the Moat House; and at the same time Felicia Herbert arrived on a visit to the Willows. Alan had enough of the woman in his nature to decide that—Elisabeth not being meant for him—Elisabeth was not worth the having; but, although she had not filled his life so completely as to make it unendurable without her, she had occupied his thoughts sufficiently to make feminine society and sympathy thenceforth a necessity of his being. So it came to pass that when he met Felicia and saw that she was fair, he straightway elected her to the office which Elisabeth had created and then declined to fill; and because human nature—and especially young human nature—is stronger even than early training or old associations, Felicia fell in love with him in return, in spite of (possibly because of) her former violent prejudice against him. To expect a person to be a monster and then to find he is a man, has very much the same effect as expecting a person to be a man and finding him a fairy prince; we accord him our admiration for being so much better than our fancy painted him, and we crave his forgiveness for having allowed it to paint him in such false colours. Then we long to make some reparation to him for our unjust judgment; and—if we happen to be women—this reparation frequently takes the form of ordering his dinner for the rest of his dining days, and of giving him the right to pay our dressmakers' bills until such time as we cease to be troubled with them.
Consequently that particular year the spring seemed to have come specially for the benefit of Alan and Felicia. For them the woods were carpeted with daffodils, and the meadows were decked in living green; for them the mountains and hills broke forth into singing, and the trees of the field clapped their hands. Most men and women have known one spring-time such as this in their lives, whereof all the other spring-times were but images and types; and, maybe, even that one spring-time was but an image and a type of the great New Year's Day which shall be Time's to-morrow.
But while these two were wandering together in fairyland, Elisabeth felt distinctly left out in the cold. Felicia was her friend—Alan had been her lover; and now they had drifted off into a strange new country, and had shut the door in her face. There was no place for her in this fairyland of theirs; they did not want her any longer; and although she was too large-hearted for petty jealousies, she could not stifle that pang of soreness with which most of us are acquainted, when our fellow-travellers slip off by pairs into Eden, and leave us to walk alone upon the dusty highway.
Elisabeth could no more help flirting than some people can help stammering. It was a pity, no doubt; but it would have been absurd to blame her for it. She had not the slightest intention of breaking anybody's heart; she did not take herself seriously enough to imagine such a contingency possible; but the desire to charm was so strong within her that she could not resist it; and she took as much trouble to win the admiration of women as of men. Therefore, Alan and Felicia having done with her, for the time being, she turned her attention to Christopher; and although he fully comprehended the cause, he none the less enjoyed the effect. He cherished no illusions concerning Elisabeth, for the which he was perhaps to be pitied; since from love which is founded upon an illusion, there may be an awakening; but for love which sees its objects as they are, and still goes on loving them, there is no conceivable cure either in this world or the world to come.
"I'm not jealous by nature, and I think it is horrid to be dog-in-the-mangerish," she remarked to him one sunny afternoon, when Alan and Felicia had gone off together to Badgering Woods and left her all alone, until Christopher happened to drop in about tea-time. He had a way of appearing upon the scene when Elisabeth needed him, and of effacing himself when she did not. He also had a way of smoothing down all the little faults and trials and difficulties which beset her path, and of making for her the rough places plain. "But I can't help feeling it is rather dull when a man who has been in love with you suddenly begins to be in love with another girl."
"I can imagine that the situation has its drawbacks."
"Not that there is any reason why he shouldn't, when you haven't been in love with him yourself."
"Not the slightest. Even I, whom you consider an epitome of all that is stiff-necked and strait-laced, can see no harm in that. It seems to me a thing that a man might do on a Sunday afternoon without in any way jeopardizing his claim to universal respect."
"Still it is dull for the woman; you must see that."
"I saw it the moment I came in; nevertheless I am not prepared to state that the dulness of the woman is a consummation so devoutly to be prayed against. And, besides, it isn't at all dull for the other woman—the new woman—you know."
"And of course the other woman has to be considered."
"I suppose she has," Christopher replied; "but I can't for the life of me see why," he added under his breath.
"Let's go into the garden," Elisabeth said, rising from her chair; "nobody is in but me, and it is so stuffy to stay in the house now we have finished tea. Cousin Maria is busy succouring the poor, and——"
"And Miss Herbert is equally busy consoling the rich. Is that it?"
"That is about what it comes to."
So they went into the garden where they had played as children, and sat down upon the rustic seat where they had sat together scores of times; and Elisabeth thought about the great mystery of love, and Christopher thought about the length of Elisabeth's eyelashes.
"Do you think that Alan is in love with Felicia?" the girl asked at last.
"Appearances favour the supposition," replied Christopher.
"You once said he wasn't capable of loving any woman."
"I know I did; but that didn't in the least mean that he wasn't capable of loving Miss Herbert."
"She is very attractive; even you like her better than you like me," Elisabeth remarked, looking at him through the very eyelashes about which he was thinking. "I wonder at it, but nevertheless you do."
"One never can explain these things. At least I never can, though you seem to possess strange gifts of divination. I remember that you once expounded to me that either affinity or infinity was at the root of these matters—I forget which."
"She is certainly good-looking," Elisabeth went on.
"She is; her dearest friend couldn't deny that."
"And she has sweet manners."
"Distinctly sweet. She is the sort of girl that people call restful."
"And a lovely temper."
Christopher still refused to be drawn. "So I conclude. I have never ruffled it—nor tried to ruffle it—nor even desired to ruffle it."
"Do you like ruffling people's tempers?"
"Some people's tempers, extremely."
"What sort of people's?"
"I don't know. I never schedule people into 'sorts,' as you do. The people I care about can not be counted by 'sorts': there is one made of each, and then the mould is broken."
"You do like Felicia better than me, don't you?" Elisabeth asked, after a moment's silence.
"So you say, and as you are a specialist in these matters I think it wise to take your statements on faith without attempting to dispute them."
"Chris, you are a goose!"
"I know that—far better than you do." And Christopher sighed.
"But I like you all the same."
"That is highly satisfactory."
"I believe I always liked you better than Alan," Elisabeth continued, "only his way of talking about things dazzled me somehow. But after a time I found out that he always said more than he meant, while you always mean more than you say."
"Oh! Tremaine isn't half a bad fellow: his talk is, as you say, a little high-flown; but he takes himself in more than he takes in other people, and he really means well." Christopher could afford to be magnanimous toward Alan, now that Elisabeth was the reverse.
"I remember that day at Pembruge Castle, while he was talking to me about the troubles of the poor you were rowing Johnnie Stubbs about on the mere. That was just the difference between you and him."
"Oh! there wasn't much in that," replied Christopher; "if you had been kind to me that day, and had let me talk to you, I am afraid that poor Johnnie Stubbs would have had to remain on dry land. I merely took the advice of the great man who said, 'If you can not do what you like, do good.' But I'd rather have done what I liked, all the same."
"That is just like you, Chris! You never own up to your good points."
"Yes, I do; but I don't own up to my good points that exist solely in your imagination."
"You reckon up your virtues just as Cousin Maria reckons up her luggage on a journey; she always says she has so many packages, and so many that don't count. And your virtues seem to be added up in the same style."
Christopher was too shy to enjoy talking about himself; nevertheless, he was immensely pleased when Elisabeth was pleased with him. "Let us wander back to our muttons," he said, "which, being interpreted, means Miss Herbert and Tremaine. What sort of people are the Herberts, by the way? Is Mrs. Herbert a lady?"
Elisabeth thought for a moment. "She is the sort of person who pronounces the 't' in often."
"I know exactly; I believe 'genteel' is the most correct adjective for that type. Is she good-looking?"
"Very; she was the pencil sketch for Felicia."
"About how old?"
"It is difficult to tell. She is one of the women who are sixty in the sun and thirty in the shade, like the thermometer in spring. I should think she is really an easy five-and-forty, accelerated by limited means and an exacting conscience. She is always bothering about sins and draughts and things of that kind. I believe she thinks that everything you do will either make your soul too hot or your body too cold."
"You are severe on the excellent lady."
"I try not to be, because I think she is really good in her way; but her religion is such a dreadfully fussy kind of religion it makes me angry. It seems to caricature the whole thing. She appears to think that Christianity is a sort of menu of moral fancy-dishes, which one is bound to swallow in a certain prescribed order."
"Poor dear woman!"
"When people like Mrs. Herbert talk about religion," Elisabeth went on, "it is as bad as reducing the number of the fixed stars to pounds, shillings, and pence; just as it is when people talk about love who know nothing at all about it."
Christopher manfully repressed a smile. "Still, I have known quite intelligent persons do that. They make mistakes, I admit, but they don't know that they do; and so their ignorance is of the brand which the poet describes as bliss."
"People who have never been in love should never talk about it," Elisabeth sagely remarked.
"But, on the other hand, those who have been, as a rule, can't; so who is to conduct authorized conversations on this most interesting and instructive subject?"
"The people who have been through it, and so know all about it," replied Elisabeth.
"Allow me to point out that your wisdom for once is at fault. In the first place, I doubt if the man who is suffering from a specific disease is the suitable person to read a paper on the same before the College of Surgeons; and, in the second, I should say—for the sake of argument—that the man who has been through eternity and come out whole at the other end, knows as much about what eternity really means as—well, as you do. But tell me more about Mrs. Herbert and her peculiarities."
"She is always bothering about what she calls the 'correct thing.' She has no peace in her life on account of her anxiety as to the etiquette of this world and the next—first to know it and then to be guided by it. I am sure that she wishes that the Bible had been written on the principle of that dreadful little book called Don't, which gives you a list of the solecisms you should avoid; she would have understood it so much better than the present system."
"But you would call Miss Herbert a lady, wouldn't you?" Christopher asked.
"Oh, yes; a perfect lady. She is even well-bred when she talks about her love affairs; and if a woman is a lady when she talks about her love affairs, she will be a lady in any circumstances. It is the most crucial test out."
"Yes; I should have called Miss Herbert a perfect lady myself."'
"That is the effect of Fox How; it always turned out ladies, whatever else it failed in."
"But I thought you maintained that it failed in nothing!"
"No more it did; but I threw that in as a sop to what's-his-name, because you are so horribly argumentative."
Christopher was amused. Elisabeth was a perfect chef in the preparing of such sops, as he was well aware; and although he laughed at himself for doing it (knowing that her present graciousness to him merely meant that she was dull, and wanted somebody to play with, and he was better than nobody), he made these sops the principal articles of his heart's diet, and cared for no other fare.
"What is Mr. Herbert like?" he inquired.
"Oh! he is a good man in his way, but a back-boneless, sweet-syrupy kind of a Christian; one of the sort that seems to regard the Almighty as a blindly indulgent and easily-hoodwinked Father, and Satan himself as nothing worse than a rather crusty old bachelor uncle. You know the type."
"Perfectly; they always drawl, and use the adjective 'dear' in and out of season. I quite think that among themselves they talk of 'the dear devil.' And yet 'dear' is really quite a nice word, if only people like that hadn't spoiled it."
"You shouldn't let people spoil things for you in that way. That is one of your greatest faults, Christopher; whenever you have seen a funny side to anything you never see any other. You have too much humour and too little tenderness; that's what's the matter with you."
"Permit me to tender you a sincere vote of thanks for your exhaustive and gratuitous spiritual diagnosis. To cure my faults is my duty—to discover them, your delight."
"Well, I'm right; and you'll find it out some day, although you make fun of me now."
"I say, how will Mrs. Herbert fit in Tremaine's religious views—or rather absence of religious views—with her code of the next world's etiquette?" asked Christopher, wisely changing the subject.
"Oh! she'll simply decline to see them. Although, as I told you, she is driven about entirely by her conscience, it is a well-harnessed conscience and always wears blinkers. It shies a good deal at gnats, I own; but it can run in double-harness with a camel, if worldly considerations render such a course desirable. It is like a horse we once had, which always shied violently at every puddle, but went past a steamroller without turning a hair."
"'By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue,'" quoted Christopher.
"I don't want to be too severe, but Mrs. Herbert does make me so mad. When people put religious things in a horrid light, it makes you feel as if they were telling unkind and untrue tales about your dearest friends."
"What does the good woman say that makes 'my lady Tongue' so furious?"
"Well, she is always saying one must give up this and give up that, and deny one's self here and deny one's self there, for the sake of religion; and I don't believe that religion means that sort of giving up at all. Of course, God is pleased when we do what He wishes us to do, because He knows it is the best for us; but I don't believe He wants us to do things when we hate doing them, just to please Him."
"Perhaps not. Still, if one does a thing one doesn't like doing, to please another person, one often ends by enjoying the doing of the thing. And even if one never enjoys it, the thing has still to be done."
"Well, if you were awfully fond of anybody, should you want them to spend their time with you, and do what you were doing, when you knew all the time that they didn't like being with you, but were dying to be with some one else?"
"Certainly not." Christopher might not know much about theology, but he knew exactly how people felt when they were, as Elisabeth said, "awfully fond of anybody."
"Of course you wouldn't," the girl went on; "you would wish the person you loved to be happy with you, and to want to be with you as much as you wanted to be with them; and if they didn't really care to be with you, you wouldn't thank them for unselfishness in the matter. So if an ordinary man like you doesn't care for mere unselfishness from the people you are really fond of, do you think that what isn't good enough for you is good enough for God?"
"No. But I still might want the people I was fond of to be unselfish, not for my own sake but for theirs. The more one loves a person, the more one wishes that person to be worthy of love; and though we don't love people because they are perfect, we want them to be perfect because we love them, don't you see?"
"You aren't a very good instance, Chris, because, you see, you are rather a reserved, cold-hearted person, and not at all affectionate; but still you are fond of people in your own way."
"Yes; I am fond of one or two people—but in my own way, as you say," Christopher replied quietly.
"And even you understand that forced and artificial devotion isn't worth having."
"Yes; even I understand as much as that."
"So you will see that unselfishness and renunciation and things of that sort are only second-best things after all, and that there is nothing of the kind between people who really love each other, because their two wills are merged in one, and each finds his own happiness in the happiness of the other. And I don't believe that God wants us to give up our wills to His in a 'Thy way not mine' kind of way; I believe He wants the same mind to be in us that was in Christ Jesus, so that He and we shall be wishing for the same things."
"Wise Elisabeth, I believe that you are right."
"And you'll see how right I am, when you really care very much for somebody yourself. I don't mean in the jolly, comfortable way in which you care for Mr. Smallwood and Cousin Maria and me. That's a very nice friendly sort of caring, I admit, and keeps the world warm and homelike, just as having a fire in the room keeps the room warm and homelike; but it doesn't teach one much."
Christopher smiled sadly. "Doesn't it? I should have thought that it taught one a good deal."
"Oh! but not as much as a lovely romantic attachment would teach one—not as much as Alan and Felicia are teaching each other now."
"Don't you think so?"
"Of course I don't. Why, you've never taught me anything, Chris, though we've always been fond of each other in the comfortable, easy fashion."
"Then the fault has been in me, for you have taught me a great many things, Elisabeth."
"Because I've taken the trouble to do so. But the worst of it is that by the time I've taught you anything, I have changed my mind about it myself, and find I've been teaching you all wrong. And it is a bother to begin to unteach you."
"I wonder why. I don't think I should find it at all a bother to unteach you certain things."
"And it is a greater bother still to teach you all over again, and teach you different." Elisabeth added, without attending to the last remark.
"Thank you, I think I won't trespass on your forbearance to that extent. Some lessons are so hard to master that life would be unbearable if one had to learn them twice over." Christopher spoke somewhat bitterly.
Elisabeth attended then. "What a funny thing to say! But I know what it is—you've got a headache; I can see it in your face, and that makes you take things so contrariwise."
"Poor old boy! Does it hurt?"
"And have you had it long?"
"Yes," replied Christopher with truth, and he added to himself, "ever since I can remember, and it isn't in my head at all."
Elisabeth stroked his sleeve affectionately. "I am so sorry."
Christopher winced; it was when Elisabeth was affectionate that he found his enforced silence most hard to bear. How he could have made her love him if he had tried, he thought; and how could he find the heart to make her love him as long as he and she were alike dependent upon Miss Farringdon's bounty, and they had neither anything of their own? He rejoiced that Alan Tremaine had failed to win her love; but he scorned him as a fool for not having succeeded in doing so when he had the chance. Had Christopher been master of the Moat House he felt he would have managed things differently; for the most modest of men cherish a profound contempt for the man who can not succeed in making a woman love him when he sets about it.
"By Jove!" he said to himself, looking into the gray eyes that were so full of sympathy just then, "what an ass the man was to talk to such a woman as this about art and philosophy and high-falutin' of that sort! If I had only the means to make her happy, I would talk to her about herself and me until she was tired of the subject—and that wouldn't be this side Doomsday. And she thinks that I am cold-hearted!" But what he said to Elisabeth was, "There isn't much the matter with my head—nothing for you to worry about, I can assure you. Let us talk about something more interesting than my unworthy self—Tremaine, for instance."
"I used to believe in Alan," Elisabeth confessed; "but I don't so much now. I wonder if that is because he has left off making love to me, or because I have seen that his ideas are so much in advance of his actions."
"He never did make love to me, so I always had an inkling of the truth that his sentiments were a little over his own head. As a matter of fact, I believe I mentioned this conviction to you more than once; but you invariably treated it with the scorn that it doubtless deserved."
"And yet you were right. It seems to me that you are always right, Chris."
"No—not always; but more often than you are, perhaps," replied Christopher, in rather a husky voice, but with a very kindly smile. "I am older, you see, for one thing; and I have had a harder time of it for another, and some of the idealism has been knocked out of me."
"But the nice thing about you is that though you always know when I am wrong or foolish, you never seem to despise me for it."
Despise her? Christopher laughed at the word; and yet women were supposed to have such keen perceptions.
"I don't care whether you are wise or foolish," he said, "as long as you are you. That is all that matters to me."
"And you really think I am nice?"
"I don't see how you could well be nicer."
"Oh! you don't know what I could do if I tried. You underrate my powers; you always did. But you are a very restful person, Chris; when my mind gets tired with worrying over things and trying to understand them, I find it a perfect holiday to talk to you. You seem to take things as they are."
"Well, I have to, you see; and what must be must."
"Simple natures like yours are very soothing to complex natures like mine. When I've lived my life and worn myself out with trying to get the utmost I can out of everything, I shall spend the first three thousand years of eternity sitting quite still upon a fixed star without speaking, with my legs dangling into space, and looking at you. It will be such a nice rest, before beginning life over again."
"Say two thousand years; you'd never be able to sit still without speaking for more than two thousand years at the outside. By that time you'd have pulled yourself together, and be wanting to set about teaching the angels a thing or two. I know your ways."
"I should enjoy that," laughed Elisabeth.
"So would the angels, if they were anything like me."
Elisabeth laughed again, and looked through the trees to the fields beyond. Friends were much more comfortable than lovers, she said to herself; Alan in his palmiest days had never been half so soothing to her as Christopher was now. She wondered why poets and people of that kind made so much of love and so little of friendship, since the latter was obviously the more lasting and satisfactory of the two. Somehow the mere presence of Christopher had quite cured the sore feeling that Alan and Felicia had left behind them when they started for their walk without even asking her to go with them; and she was once more sure of the fact that she was necessary to somebody—a certainty without which Elisabeth could not live. So her imagination took heart of grace again, and began drawing plans for extensive castles in Spain, and arranging social campaigns wherein she herself should be crowned with triumph. She decided that half the delight of winning life's prizes and meeting its fairy princes would be the telling Christopher all about them afterward; for her belief in his exhaustless sympathy was boundless.
"A penny for your thoughts," he said, after she had been silent for some moments.
"I was looking at Mrs. Bateson feeding her fowls," said Elisabeth evasively; "and, I say, have you ever noticed that hens are just like tea-pots, and cocks like coffee-pots? Look at them now! It seems as if an army of breakfast services had suddenly come to life a la Galatea, and were pouring libations at Mrs. Bateson's feet."
"It does look rather like that, I admit. But here are Miss Herbert and Tremaine returning from their walk; let's go and meet them."
And Elisabeth went to meet the lovers with no longer any little cobwebs of jealousy hiding in the dark corners of her heart, Christopher's hand having swept them all away; he had a wonderful power of exterminating the little foxes which would otherwise have spoiled Elisabeth's vines; and again she said to herself how much better a thing was friendship than love, since Alan had always expected her to be interested in his concerns, while Christopher, on the contrary, was always interested in hers.
It was not long after this that Elisabeth was told by Felicia of the latter's engagement to Alan Tremaine; and Elisabeth was amazed at the rapidity with which Felicia had assimilated her lover's views on all subjects. Elisabeth had expected that her friend would finally sacrifice her opinions on the altar of her feelings; she was already old enough to be prepared for that; but she had anticipated a fierce warfare in the soul of Felicia between the directly opposing principles of this young lady's mother and lover. To Elisabeth's surprise, this civil war never took place. Felicia accepted Alan's doubts as unquestioningly as she had formerly accepted Mrs. Herbert's beliefs; and as she loved the former more devotedly than she had ever loved the latter, she was more devout and fervid in her agnosticism than she had ever been in her faith. She had believed, because her mother ordered her to believe; she doubted, because Alan desired her to doubt; her belief and unbelief being equally the outcome of her affections rather than of her convictions.
Mrs. Herbert likewise looked leniently upon Alan's want of orthodoxy, and at this Elisabeth was not surprised. Possibly there are not many of us who do not—in the private and confidential depths of our evil hearts—regard earth in the hand as worth more than heaven in the bush, so to speak; at any rate, Felicia's mother was not one of the bright exceptions; and—from a purely commercial point of view—a saving faith does not go so far as a spending income, and it is no use pretending that it does. So Mrs. Herbert smiled upon her daughter's engagement; but compromised with that accommodating conscience of hers by always speaking of her prospective son-in-law as "poor Alan," just as if she really believed, as she professed she did, that the death of the body and the death of the soul are conditions equally to be deplored.
"You see, my dear," she said to Elisabeth, who came to stay at Wood Glen for Felicia's marriage, which took place in the early summer, "it is such a comfort to Mr. Herbert and myself to know that our dear child is so comfortably provided for. And then—although I can not altogether countenance his opinions—poor Alan has such a good heart."
Elisabeth, remembering that she had once been fascinated by the master of the Moat House, was merciful. "He is an extremely interesting man to talk to," she said; "he has thought out so many things."
"He has, my love. And if we are tempted to rebuke him too severely for his non-acceptance of revealed truth, we must remember that he was deprived comparatively early in life of both his parents, and so ought rather to be pitied than blamed," agreed Mrs. Herbert, who would cheerfully have poured out all the vials of the Book of Revelation upon any impecunious doubter who had dared to add the mortal sin of poverty to the venial one of unbelief.