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The History of David Grieve
by Mrs. Humphry Ward
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David hesitated.

'Well, it was Miss Purcell told me,' he said. 'She came to see me at my place last evening.'

He drew himself together with a little nervous dignity, as though foreseeing that Daddy would make remarks.

'Miss Purcell!—what, Lucy?—Lucy? Upon my word, Davy! Why, her father'll wring her neck when he finds it out. And she came to warn you?'

Daddy stood a moment taking in the situation, then, with a queer grin, he walked up to David and poked him in the ribs.

'So there were passages—eh, young man—when you were up there?'

The young fellow straightened himself, with a look of annoyance.

'Nothing of the sort, Daddy; there were no passages. But Miss Lucy's done me a real friendly act, and I'd do the same for her any day.'

Dora had sat down to her silks again. As David spoke she bent closely over them, as though the lamp-light puzzled her usually quick perception of shade and quality.

As for Daddy, he eyed the lad doubtfully.

'She's got a pretty waist and a brown eye, Davy, and she's seventeen.'

'She may be for me,' said David, throwing his head back and speaking with a certain emphasis and animation. 'But she's a little brick to have given me notice of this thing.'

The warmth of these last words produced more effect on Daddy than his previous denials.

'Dora,' he said, looking round—'Dora, do you believe the varmint? All the same, you know, he'll be for marrying soon. Look at him!' and he pointed a thin theatrical finger at David from across the room.' When I was his make I was in love with half the girls in the place. Blue eyes here—brown eyes there—nothing came amiss to me.'

'Marrying!' said David, with an impatient shrug of the shoulders, but flushing all over. 'You might wait, I think, till I've got enough to keep one on, let alone two. If you talk such stuff, Daddy, I'll not tell you my secrets when there are any to tell.'

He tried to laugh it off; but Dora's grey eye, glancing timidly round at him, saw that he was in some discomfort. There was a bright colour in her cheek too, and her hand touched her silks uncertainly.

'Thank you for nothing, sir,' said Daddy, unabashed. 'Trust an old hound like me for scenting out what he wants. But, go along with you! I'm disappointed in you. The young men nowadays have got no blood! They're made of sawdust and brown paper. The world was our orange, and we sucked it. Bedad, we did! But you—cold-blooded cubs—go to the devil, I tell you, and read your Byron!'

And, striking an attitude which was a boisterous reminiscence of Macready, the old wanderer flung out the lines:

'Alas! when mingling souls forget to blend, Death hath but little left him to destroy. Ah! happy years! Once more, who would not be a boy?'

David laughed out. Daddy turned petulantly away, and looked out of window. The night was dreary, dark, and wet.

'Dora!'

'Yes, father.'

'Manchester's a damned dull hole. I'm about tired of it.'

Dora started, and her colour disappeared in an instant. She got up and went to the window.

'Father, you know they'll be waiting for you downstairs,' she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. 'They always say they can't get on without you on debating nights.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Daddy, throwing off the hand. But he looked mollified. The new reading-room was at present his pet hobby; his interest in the restaurant proper had dropped a good deal of late, or so Dora's anxiety persuaded her.

'It's quite true,' said David. 'Go and start 'em, Daddy, and I'll come down soon and cut in. I feel as if I could speak the roof off to-night, and I don't care a hang about what! But first I've got something to say to Miss Dora. I want to ask her a favour.'

He came forward smiling. She gave him a startled look, but her eyes—poor Dora!—could not light on him now without taking a new brightness. How well his triumph sat on him! How crisply and handsomely his black hair curled above his open brow!

'More secrets,' growled Daddy.

'Nothing of any interest, Daddy. Miss Dora can tell you all about it, if she cares. Now go along! Start 'em on the Bishop of Peterborough and the Secularists. I've got a lot to say about that.'

He pushed Daddy laughingly to the door, and came back again to where Dora was once more grappling with her silks. Her expression had changed again. Oh! she had so many things to open to him, if only she could find the courage.

He sat down and looked at a bit of her embroidery, which lay uncovered beside her on the frame.

'I say, that is fine work!' he said, wondering. 'I hope you get well paid for it, Miss Dora. You ought. Well, now, I do want to ask your advice. This business of the house has set me thinking about a lot of things.'

He lay back in his chair, with his hands in his pockets, and threw one leg over the other. He was in such a state of nervous excitement, Dora could see, that he could hardly keep himself still.

'Did I ever tell you about my sister? No, I know I haven't. I've kept it dark. But now I'm settled I want to have her to live with me. There's no one but us two, except the old uncle and aunt that brought us up. I must stick to her—and I mean to. But she's not like other girls. She's a queer one.'

He stopped, frowning a little as the recollections of Louie rushed across him, seeking for words in which to draw her. And directly he paused, Dora, who had dropped her silks again in her sudden astonishment, burst into questions. How old was his sister? Was she in Manchester? Had she a trade? Her soul was full of a warm, unexpected joy, her manner was eager—receptive. He took up his parable and told the story of his childhood and Louie's at the farm. His black eye kindled as he looked past Dora into the past—into the bosom of the Scout. Owing partly to an imaginative gift, partly to his reading habit, when he was stimulated—when he was, as it were, talking at large, trying to present a subject as a whole, to make a picture of it—he rose into ways of speech quite different from those of his class, and different from his own dialect of every day. This latent capacity for fine expression was mostly drawn out at this time by his attempts at public speaking. But to-night, in his excitement, it showed in his talk, and Dora was bewildered. Oh, how clever he was! He talked like a book—just like a book. She pushed her chair back from the silks, and sat absorbed in the pleasure of listening, environed too by the happy thought that he was making a friend of her, giving her—plain, insignificant, humble Dora Lomax—his confidence.

As for him, the more he talked the more he enjoyed talking. Never since he came to Manchester had he fallen into such a moment of unburdenment, of intimacy, or something like it, with any human being. He had talked to Ancrum and to John. But that was quite different. No man confides in a woman as he confides in a man. The touch of difference of sex gives charm and edge, even when, as was the case here, the man has no thrill whatever in his veins, and no thought of love-making in his head.

'You must have been very fond of your sister,' Dora said at last, tremulously. 'You two all alone—and no mother.'

Somehow the soft sentiment in her words and tone struck him suddenly as incongruous. His expression changed.

'Oh, I don't know,' he said, with a sort of laugh, not a very bright one. 'Don't you imagine I was a pattern brother; I was a brute to her lots of times. And Louie—ah, well, you'll see for yourself what she's like; she's a queer customer sometimes. And now I'll tell you what I wanted to ask you, Miss Dora. You see, if Louie comes it won't do for her to have no employment, after she's had a trade all day; and she won't take to mine—she can't abide books.'

And he explained to her his perplexities—the ebbing of the silk trade from Manchester, and so on. He might hire a loom, but Louie would get no work. All trades have their special channels, and keep to them.

So it had occurred to him, if Louie was willing, would Dora take her as an apprentice, and teach her the church work? He would be quite ready to pay for the teaching; that would be only fair.

'Teach her my work!' cried Dora, instinctively drawing back. 'Oh, I don't think I could.'

He coloured, and misunderstood her. In a great labour-hive like Lancashire, with its large and small industries, the native ear is very familiar with the jealous tone of the skilled worker, threatened with competition in a narrow trade.

'I didn't mean any offence,' he said, with a little stiffness. 'I don't want to take the bread out of anybody's mouth. If there isn't work to be had, you've only to say so, Miss Dora.'

'Oh, I didn't mean that,' she cried, wounded in her turn. 'There's plenty of work. At the shop last week they didn't know what to do for hands. If she was clever at it, she'd get lots of work. But—'

She laid her hand on her frame lovingly, not knowing how to explain herself, her gentle brows knitting in the effort of thought.

Her work was so much more to her than ordinary work paid for in ordinary coin. Into these gorgeous altar-cloths, or these delicate wrappings for chalice and paten, she stitched her heart. To work at them was prayer. Jesus, and His Mother, and the Saints; it was with them she communed as her stitches flowed. She sat in a mystic, a heavenly world. And the silence and solitude of her work made one of its chief charms. And now to be asked to share it with a strange girl, who could not love it as she did, who would take it as hard business—never to be alone any more with her little black book and her prayers!

And then she looked up, and met a young man's half-offended look, and a shy, proud eye, in which the nascent friendship of five minutes before seemed to be sinking out of sight.

'Oh yes, I will,' she cried. 'Of course I will. It just sounded a bit strange to me at first. I've been so used to be alone always.'

But he demurred now—wished stiffly to take back his proposal. He did not want to put upon her, and perhaps, after all, Louie would have her own notions.

But she could not bear it, and as he retreated she pressed forward. Of course there was work. And it would be very good for her, it would stir her up to take a pupil; it was just her old-maidish ways—it had startled her a bit at first.

And then, her reserve giving ay more and more as her emotion grew, she confessed herself at last completely.

'You see, it's not just work to me, and it's not the money, though I'm glad enough for that; but it's for the church; and I'd live on a crust, and do it for nothing, if I could!'

She looked up at him—that ardent dream-life of hers leaping to the eyes, transforming the pale face.

David sat silent and embarrassed. He did not know what to say—how to deal with this turn in the conversation.

'Oh, I know you think I'm just foolish,' she said, sadly, taking up her needle. 'You always did; but I'll take your sister—indeed I will.'

'Perhaps you'll turn her your way of thinking,' said David, with a little awkward laugh, looking round for his hat. 'But Louie isn't an easy one to drive.'

'Oh, you can't drive people!' cried Dora, flushing; 'you can't, and you oughtn't. But if Father Russell talked to her she might like him—and the church. Oh, Mr. Grieve, won't you go one Sunday and hear him—won't you—instead of—'

She did not finish her sentence, but David finished it for her: 'Instead of going to the Hall of Science? Well, but you know, Miss Dora, I being what I am, I get more good out of a lecture at the Hall of Science than I should out of Father Russell. I should be quarrelling with him all the time, and wanting to answer him.'

'Oh, you couldn't,' said Dora eagerly, 'he's so good, and he's a learned man—I'm sure he is. Mr. Foss, the curate, told me they think he'll be a bishop some day.'

'All the better for him,' said David, unmoved. 'It don't make any difference to me. No, Miss Dora, don't you fret yourself about me. Books are my priests.'

He stood over her, his hands on his sides, smiling.

'Oh, no!' cried Dora, involuntarily. 'You mustn't say that. Books can't bring us to God.'

'No more can priests,' he said, with a sudden flash of his dark eyes, a sudden dryness of his tone. 'If there is a God to bring us to—prove me that first, Miss Dora. But it's a shame to say these things to you—that it is—and I've been worrying you a deal too much about my stupid affairs. Good night. We'll talk about Father Russell again another time.'

He ran downstairs. Dora went back to her frame, then pushed it away again, ran eagerly to the window, and pulled the blind aside. Down below in the lighted street, now emptying fast, she saw the tall figure emerge, saw it run down the street, and across St. Mary's Gate. She watched it till it disappeared; then she put her hands over her face, and leant against the window-frame weeping. Oh, what a sudden descent from a moment of pure joy! How had the jarring note come? They had been put wrong with each other; and perhaps, after all, he would be no more to her now than before. And she had seemed to make such a leap forward—to come so near to him.

'Oh! I'll just be good to his sister,' she said to herself drearily, with an ache at her heart that was agony.

Then she thought of him as he had sat there beside her; and suddenly in her pure thought there rose a vision of herself in his arms, her head against his broad shoulder, her hand stealing round his neck. She moved from the window and threw herself down in the darkest corner of the room, wrestling desperately with what seemed to her a sinful imagination. She ought not to think of him at all; she loathed herself. Father Russell would tell her she was wicked. He had no faith—he was a hardened unbeliever—and she could not make herself think of that at all—could not stop herself from wanting—wanting him for her own, whatever happened.

And it was so foolish too, as well as bad; for he hadn't an idea of falling in love with anybody—anyone could see that. And she who was not pretty, and not a bit clever—it was so likely he would take a fancy to her! Why, in a few years he would be a big man, he would have made a fortune, and then he could take his pick.

'Oh! and Lucy—Lucy would hate me.'

But the thought of Lucy, instead of checking her, brought with it again a wild gust of jealousy. It was fiercer than before, the craving behind it stronger. She sat up, forcing back her tears, her whole frame tense and rigid. Whatever happened he would never marry Lucy! And who could wish it? Lucy was just a little, vain, selfish thing, and when she found David Grieve wouldn't have her, she would soon forget him. The surging longing within refused, proudly refused, to curb itself—for Lucy's sake.

Then the bell of St. Ann's slowly began to strike ten o'clock. It brought home to her by association one of the evening hymns in the little black book she was frequently accustomed to croon to herself at night as she put away her work:

O God who canst not change nor fail, Guiding the hours as they roll by, Brightening with beams the morning pale, And burning in the mid-day sky!

Quench thou the fires of hate and strife, The wasting fever of the heart; From perils guard our feeble life, And to our souls thy peace impart.

The words flowed in upon her, but they brought no comfort, only a fresh sense of struggle and effort. Her Christian peace was gone. She felt herself wicked, faithless, miserable.

Meanwhile, in the stormy night outside, David was running and leaping through the streets, flourishing his stick from side to side in cut and thrust with an imaginary enemy whenever the main thoroughfares were left behind, and he found himself in some dark region of warehouses, where his steps echoed, and he was king alike of roadway and of pavement.

The wind, a stormy north-easter, had risen since the afternoon. David fought with it, rejoiced in it. After the little hot sitting-room, the stinging freshness, the rough challenge of the gusts, were delicious to him. He was overflowing with spirits, with health, with exultation.

As he thought of Purcell he could hardly keep himself from shouting aloud. If he could only be there to see when Purcell learnt how he had been foiled! And trust Daddy to spread a story which would certainly do Purcell no good! No, in that direction he felt that he was probably safe from attack for a long time to come. Success beckoned to him; his enemy was under foot; his will and his gifts had the world before them.

Father Russell indeed! Let Dora Lomax set him on. His young throat filled with contemptuous laughter. As a bookseller, he knew what the clergy read, what they had to say for themselves. How much longer could it go on, this solemn folly of Christian superstition? 'Just give us a good Education Bill, and we shall see!'

Then, as he fell thinking of his talk with Dora and Lomax, he wished impatiently that he had been even plainer with Daddy about Lucy Purcell. With regard to her he felt himself caught in a tangled mesh of obligation. He must, somehow, return her the service she had done him. And then all the world would think he was making up to her and wanted to marry her. Meanwhile—in the midst of real gratitude, a strong desire to stand between her and her father, and much eager casting about for some means of paying her back—his inner mind was in reality pitilessly critical towards her. Her overdone primness and neatness, her fashionable frocks, of which she was so conscious, her horror of things and people that were not 'nice,' her contented ignorance and silly chattering ways—all these points of manner and habit were scored against her in his memory. She had become less congenial to him rather than more since he knew her first. All the same, she was a little brick, and he would have liked one minute to kiss her for her pluck, make her some lordly present, and the next—never to see her again!

In reality his mind at this moment was filling with romantic images and ideals totally remote from anything suggested by his own everyday life. A few weeks before, old Barbier, his French master, had for the first time lent him some novels of George Sand's. David had carried them off, had been enchanted to find that he could now read them with ease and rapidity, and had plunged straightway into the new world thus opened to him with indescribable zest and passion. His Greek had been neglected, his science laid aside. Night after night he had been living with Valentine, with Consuelo, with Caroline in 'Le Marquis de Villemer.' His poetical reading of the winter had prepared the way for what was practically his first introduction to the modern literature of passion. The stimulating novelty and foreignness of it was stirring all his blood. George Sand's problems, her situations, her treatment of the great questions of sex, her social and religious enthusiasms—these things were for the moment a new gospel to this provincial self-taught lad, as they had been forty years before to the youth of 1830. Under the vitalising touch of them the man was fast developing out of the boy; the currents of the nature were setting in fresh directions. And in such a mood, and with such preoccupations, how was one to bear patiently with foolish, friendly fingers, or with uncomfortable thoughts of your own, pointing you to Lucy Purcell? With the great marriage-night scene from 'Valentine' thrilling in your mind, how was it possible to think of the prim self-conceit, the pettish temper and mincing airs of that little person in Half Street without irritation?

No, no! The unknown, the unforeseen! The young man plunged through the rising storm, and through the sleety rain, which had begun to beat upon him, with face and eyes uplifted to the night. It was as though he searched the darkness for some form which, even as he looked, began to take vague and luminous shape there.

Next morning Daddy, in his exultation, behaved himself with some grossness towards his enemy. About eleven o'clock he became restless, and began patrolling Market Place, passing every now and then up the steps into the narrow passage of Half Street, and so round by the Cathedral and home. He had no definite purpose, but 'have a squint at Tom,' under the circumstances, he must, some way or other.

And, sure enough, as he was coming back through Half Street on one of his rounds, and was within a few yards of Purcell's window, the bookseller came out with his face set in Daddy's direction. Purcell, whose countenance, so far as Daddy could see at first sight, was at its blackest and sourest, and whose eyes were on the ground, did not at once perceive his adversary, and came stern on.

The moment was irresistible. Laying his thumbs in his waistcoat pocket, and standing so as to bar his brother-in-law's path, Daddy launched a few unctuous words in his smoothest voice.

'Tom, me boy, thou hast imagined a device which thou wast not able to perform. But the Lord, Tom, hath made thee turn thy back. And they of thy own household, Tom, have lifted up the heel against thee.'

Purcell, strong, dark-browed fellow that he was, wavered and blenched for a moment under the surprise of this audacious attack. Then with an oath he put out his hand, seized Daddy's thin shoulder, flung him violently round, and passed him.

'Speak to me again in the street, you scoundrel, and I'll give you in charge!' he threw behind him, as he strode on just in time to avoid a flight of street-arabs, who had seen the scuffle from a distance and were bearing down eagerly upon him.

Daddy went home in the highest spirits, stepping jauntily along like a man who has fulfilled a mission. But when he came to boast himself to Dora, he found to his chagrin that he had only earned a scolding. Dora flushed up, her soft eyes all aflame.

'You've done nothing but mischief, father,' said Dora, bitterly. 'How could you say such things? You might have left Uncle Tom to find out for himself about Lucy. He'll be mad enough without your stirring him up. Now he'll forbid her to come here, or see me at all. I don't know what'll become of that child; and whatever possessed you to go aggravating him worse and worse I can't think.'

Daddy blinked under this, but soon recovered himself. No one, he vowed, could be expected to put up for ever with Purcell's mean tricks. He had held his tongue for twenty-one years, and now he had paid back one little text in exchange for the hundreds wherewith Purcell had been wont to break his bones for him in past days. As for Dora, she hadn't the spirit of a fly.

'Well, I dare say I am afraid,' said Dora, despondently. 'I saw Uncle Tom yesterday, too, and he gave me a look made me feel cold down my back. I don't like anybody to hate us like that, father. Who knows—'

A tremor ran through her. She gave her father a piteous, childish look. She had the timidity, the lack of self-confidence which seems to cling through life to those who have been at a disadvantage with the world in their childhood and youth. The anger of a man like Purcell terrified her, lay like a nightmare on a sensitive and introspective nature.

'Pish!' said Daddy, contemptuously; 'I should like to know what harm he can do us, now that I've turned so d—d respectable. Though it is a bit hard on a man to have to keep so in order to spite his brother-in-law.'

Dora laughed and sighed. She came up to her father's chair, put his hair straight, re-tied his tie, and then kissed him on the cheek.

'Father, you're not getting tired of the Parlour?' she said, unsteadily. He evaded her downward look, and tried to shake her off.

'Don't I slave for you from morning till night, you thankless chit, you? And don't you begrudge me all the little amusements which turn the tradesman into the man and sweeten the pill of bondage—eh, you poor-souled thing?'

Her eyes, however, drew his after them, whether he would or no, and they surveyed each other—he uneasily hostile; she sad. She slowly shook her head, and he perfectly understood what was in her mind, though she did not speak. He had been extremely slack at business lately; the month's accounts made up that morning had been unusually disappointing; and twice during the last ten days Dora had sat up till midnight to let her father in, and had tried with all the energy of a sinking heart to persuade herself that it was accident, and that he was only excited, and not drunk.

Now, as she stood looking at him, suddenly all the horror of those long-past days came back upon her, thrown up against the peace of the last few years. She locked her hands round his neck with a vehement pathetic gesture.

'Father, be good to me! don't let bad people take you away from me—don't, father—you're all I have—all I ever shall have.'

Daddy's green eyes wavered again uncomfortably.

'Stuff!' he said, irritably. 'You'll get a husband directly, and think no more of me than other girls do when the marrying fit takes 'em. What are you grinning at now, I should like to know?'

For she was smiling—a light tremulous smile which puzzled him.

'At you, father. You'll have to keep me whether you like it or no. For I'm not a marrying sort.'

She looked at him with a curious defiance, her lip twitching.

'Oh, we know all about that!' said Daddy, impatiently, adding in a mincing voice, '"I will not love; if I do hang me; i' faith I will not." No, my pretty dear, not till the "wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy" comes this road—oh, no, not till next time! Quite so.'

She let him rail, and said nothing. She sat down to her work; he faced round upon her suddenly, and said, frowning:

'What do you mean by it, eh? You're as good-looking as anybody!'

'Well, I want you to think it, father,' she said, affectionately, raising her eyes to his. A mother must have seen the shrinking sadness beneath the smile. What Daddy saw was simply a rounded girlish face, with soft cheeks and lips which seemed to him made for kissing; nothing to set the Thames on fire, perhaps, but why should she run herself down? It annoyed him, touched his vanity.

'Oh, I dare say!' he said to her, roughly, with an affected brutality. 'But you'll be precious disappointed if some one else doesn't think so too. Don't tell me!'

She bent over her frame without speaking. But her heart filled with bitterness, and a kind of revolt against her life.

Meanwhile her conscience accused her about Lucy. Lucy must have got herself into trouble at home, that she was sure of. And it was unlike her to keep it to herself—not to come and complain.

Some days—a week—passed. But Dora dared not venture herself into her uncle's house after Daddy's escapade, and she was, besides, much pressed with her work. A whole set of altar furniture for a new church at Blackburn had to be finished by a given day.

The affairs of the Parlour troubled her, and she got up long before it was light to keep the books in order and to plan for the day. Daddy had no head for figures, and he seemed to her to be growing careless about expenses. Her timid, over-anxious mind conjured up the vision of a slowly rising tide of debt, and it haunted her all day. When she went to her frame she was already tired out, and yet there she sat over it hour after hour.

Daddy was blind. But Sarah, the stout cook, who worshipped her, knew well enough that she was growing thin and white.

'If yo doan't draw in yo'll jest do yoursel a mischief,' she said to her, angrily. 'Yo're nowt but a midge onyways, and a body 'll soon be able to see through yo.'

'I shall be all right, Sarah,' Dora would say.

'Aye, we'st aw on us be aw reet in our coffins,' returned the irate Sarah. Then, melting into affection, 'Neaw, honey, be raysonable, an' I'st just run round t' corner, an' cook you up a bit o' meat for your supper. Yo git no strength eawt i' them messin things yo eat. Theer's nowt but wind in em.'

But not even the heterodox diet with which, every now and then, Dora for peace' sake allowed herself to be fed, behind Daddy's back, put any colour into her cheeks. She went heavily in these days, and the singularly young and childish look which she had kept till now went into gradual eclipse.

David Grieve dropped in once or twice during the week to laugh and gossip about Purcell with Daddy. Thanks to Daddy's tongue, the bookseller's plot against his boy rival was already known to a large circle of persons, and was likely to cost him customers.

Whenever she heard the young full voice below or on the stairs, Dora would, as it were, draw herself together—stand on her defence. Sometimes she asked him eagerly about his sister. Had he written? No; he thought he would still wait a week or two. Ah, well, he must let her know.

And, on the whole, she was glad when he went, glad to get to bed and sleep. Being no sentimental heroine, she was prosaically thankful that she kept her sleep. Otherwise she must have fallen ill, and the accounts would have gone wrong.

At last one evening came a pencil note from Lucy, in these terms:

'You may come and see me, father says. I've been ill.—LUCY.'

In a panic Dora put on her things and ran. Mary Ann, the little hunted maid, let her in, looking more hunted and scared than usual. Miss Lucy was better, she said, but she had been 'terr'ble bad.' No, she didn't know what it was took her. They'd got a nurse for her two nights, and she, Mary Ann, had been run off her legs.

'Why didn't you send for me?' cried Dora, and hurried up to the attic. Purcell did not appear.

Lucy was waiting for her, looking out eagerly from a bank of pillows.

Dora could not restrain an exclamation which was almost a cry. She could not have believed that anyone could have changed so in ten days. Evidently the acute stage—whatever had been the illness—was past. There was already a look of convalescence in the white face, with its black-rimmed eyes and peeling lips. But the loss of flesh was extraordinary for so short a time. The small face was so thinned and blanched that the tangled masses of golden-brown hair in which it was framed seemed ridiculously out of proportion to it; the hand playing with some grapes on the counterpane was of a ghostly lightness.

Dora was shocked almost beyond speaking. She stood holding Lucy's hand, and Lucy looked up at her, evidently enjoying her consternation, for a smile danced in her hollow eyes.

'Lucy, why didn't you send for me?'

'Because I was so feverish at first. I was all light-headed, and didn't know where I was; and then I was so weak I didn't care about anything,' said Lucy, in a small thread of a voice.

'What was it?'

'Congestion of the lungs,' said the girl, with pride. 'They just stopped it, or you'd be laying me out now, Dora. Dr. Alford told father I was dreadful run-down or I'd never have taken it. I'm to go to Hastings. Father's got a cousin there that lets lodgings.'

'But how did you get so ill, Lucy?'

Lucy was silent a bit. Then she said:

'Sit down close here. My voice is so bad still.'

Dora sat close to her pillow, and bent over, stroking her hands with emotion. The fright of her entrance was still upon her.

'Well, you know,' she said in a hoarse whisper, 'father found out about me and Mr. Grieve—I don't know how, but it was one morning. I was sitting in here, and he came in all white, with his eyes glaring. I thought he was going to kill me, and I was that frightened, I watched my chance, and ran out of the door and along into Mill Gate as fast as I could to get away from him; and then I thought I saw him coming after me, and I ran on across the bridge and up Chapel Street a long, long way. I was in a terrible fright, and mad with him besides. I declared to myself I'd never come back here. Well, it was pouring with rain, and I got wet through. Then I didn't know where to go, and what do you think I did? I just got into the Broughton tram, and rode up and down all day! I had a shilling or two in my pocket, and I waited and dodged a bit at either end, so the conductor shouldn't find out. And that was what did it—sitting in my wet things all day. I didn't think anything about dinner, I was that mad. But when it got dark, I thought of that girl—you know her, too—Minnie Park, that lives with her brother and sells fents, up Cannon Gate. And somehow I dragged up there—I thought I'd ask her to take me in. And what happened I don't rightly know. I suppose I was took with a faint before I could explain anything, for I was shivering and pretty bad when I got there. Anyway, she put me in a cab and brought me home; and I don't remember anything about it, for I was queer in the head very soon after they got me to bed. Oh, I was bad! It was just a squeak, '—said Lucy, her voice dropping from exhaustion; but her eyes glittered in her pinched face with a curious triumph, difficult to decipher.

Dora kissed her tenderly, and entreated her not to talk; she was sure it was bad for her. But Lucy, as usual, would not be managed. She held herself quite still, gathering breath and strength; then she began again:

'If I'd died, perhaps he'd have been sorry. You know who I mean. It was all along of him. And father 'll never forgive me—never. He looks quite different altogether somehow. Dora! you're not to tell him anything till I've got right away. I think—I think—I hate him!'

And suddenly her beautiful brown eyes opened wide and fierce.

Dora hung over her, a strange, mingled passion in her look. 'You poor little thing!' she said slowly, with a deep emphasis, answering not the unreal Lucy of those last words, but the real one, so pitifully evident beneath.

'But look here, Dora; when I'm gone away, you may tell him, you must tell him, Dora,' said the child, imperiously. 'I'd not have him see me now for anything. I made Mary Ann put all the glasses away. I don't want to remember what a fright I am. But at Hastings I'll soon get well; and—and remember, Dora, you are to tell him. I'd like him to know I nearly caught my death that day, and that it was all along of him!'

She laid her hands across each other on the sheet with a curious sigh of satisfaction, and was quiet for a little, while Dora held her hand. But it was not long before the stillness broke up in sudden agitation. A tremor ran through her, and she caught Dora's fingers. In her weakness she could not control herself, and her inmost trouble escaped her.

'Oh, Dora, he wasn't kind to me, not a bit—when I went to tell him that night. Oh! I cried when I came home. I did think he'd have taken it different.'

'What did he say?' asked Dora, quietly. Her face was turned away from Lucy, but she still held her hand.

'Oh, I don't know!' said Lucy, moving her head restlessly from side to side and gulping down a sob. 'I believe he was just sorry it was me he'd got to thank. Oh, I don't know!—I don't know!—very likely he didn't mean it.'

She waited a minute, then she began again:

'Oh of course you think I'm silly; and that I'd have much more chance if I turned proud, and pretended I didn't care. I know some girls say they'd never let a man know they cared for him first. I don't believe in 'em! But I don't care. I can't help it. It's my way. But, Dora, look here!'

The tears gathered thick in her eyes. Dora, bending anxiously over her, was startled by the change of expression in her. From what depths of new emotion had the silly Lucy caught the sweetness which trembled for a moment through every line of her little trivial face?

'You know, Dora, it was all nonsense at the beginning. I just wanted some one to amuse myself with and pay me attentions. But it isn't nonsense now. And I don't want him all for myself. Friday night I thought I was going to die. I don't care whether the doctor did or not; I did. And I prayed a good deal. It was queer praying, I dare say. I was very light-headed, but I thanked God I loved him, though—though—he didn't care about me; and I thought if I did get well, and he were to take a fancy to me, I'd show him I could be as nice as other girls. I wouldn't want everything for myself, or spend a lot of money on dress.'

She broke off for want of breath. This moral experience of hers was so new and strange to her that she could hardly find words in which to clothe it.

Dora had slipped down beside her and buried her face in the bed. When Lucy stopped, she still knelt there in a quivering silence. But Lucy could not bear her to be silent—she must have sympathy.

'Aren't you glad, Dora?' she said presently, when she had gathered strength again. 'I thought you'd be glad. You've always wanted me to turn religious. And—and—perhaps, when I get well and come back, I'll go with you to St. Damian's, Dora. I don't know what it is. I suppose it's caring about somebody—and being ill—makes one feel like this.'

And, drawing herself from Dora's hold, she turned on her side, put both her thin hands under her cheek, and lay staring at the window with a look which had a certain dreariness in it.

Dora at last raised herself. Lucy could not see her face. There was in it a sweet and solemn resolution—a new light and calm.

'Dear Lucy,' she said, tremulously, laying her cheek against her cousin's shoulder, 'God speaks to us when we are unhappy—that was what you felt. He makes everything a voice to call unto Himself.'

Lucy did not answer at once. Then suddenly she turned, and said eagerly:

'Dora, did you ever ask him—did you ever find out—whether he was thinking about getting married? You said you would.'

'He isn't, Lucy. He was vexed with father for speaking about it. I think he feels he must make his way first. His business takes him up altogether.'

Lucy gave an irritable sigh, closed her eyes, and would talk no more. Dora stayed with her, and nursed her through the evening. When at last the nurse arrived who was to take charge of her through the night, Lucy pulled Dora down to her and said, in a hoarse, excitable whisper:

'Mind you tell him—that I nearly died—that father'll never be the same to me again—and it was all for him! You needn't say I said so.'

Late that night Dora stood long at her attic-window in the roof looking out at the April night. From a great bank of clouds to the east the moon was just appearing, sending her light along the windy streamers which, issuing from the main mass, spread like wide open fingers across the inner heaven. Opposite there was an old timbered house, one of the few relics of an earlier Manchester, which still, in the very centre of the modern city, thrusts out its broad eaves and overhanging stories beyond the line of the street. Above and behind it, roof beyond roof, to the western limit of sight, rose block after block of warehouses, vast black masses, symbols of the great town, its labours and its wealth; far to the right, closing the street, the cathedral cut the moonlit sky; and close at hand was an old inn, with a wide archway, under which a huge dog lay sleeping.

Town and sky, the upper clouds and stars, the familiar streets and buildings below—to-night they were all changed for Dora, and it was another being that looked at them. In all intense cases of religious experience the soul lies open to 'voices'—to impressions which have for it the most vivid and, so to speak, physical reality. Jeanne d'Arc's visions were but an extreme instance of what humbler souls have known in their degree in all ages. The heavenly voices speak, and the ear actually hears. So it was with Dora. It seemed to her that she had been walking in a feverish loneliness through the valley of the shadow of death; that one like unto the Son of Man had drawn her thence with warning and rebuke, and she was now at His feet, clothed and in her right mind. Words were in her ear, repeated again and again—peremptory words which stabbed and healed at once: 'Daughter, thou shalt not covet. I have refused thee this gift. If it be My will to give it to another, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me. '

As she sank upon her knees, she thought of the confession she would make on Sunday—of the mysterious sanctity and sweetness of the single life—of the vocation of sacrifice laid upon her. There rose in her a kind of ecstasy of renunciation. Her love—already so hopeless, so starved!—was there simply that she might offer it up—burn it through and through with the fires of the spirit.

Lucy should never know, and David should never know. Unconsciously, sweet soul, there was a curious element of spiritual arrogance mingled with this absolute surrender of the one passionate human desire her life was ever to wrestle with. The baptised member of Christ's body could not pursue the love of David Grieve, could not marry him as he was now, without risk and sin. But Lucy—the child of schism, to whom the mysteries of Church fellowship and sacramental grace were unknown—for her, in her present exaltation, Dora felt no further scruples. Lucy's love was clearly 'sent' to her; it was right, whether it were ultimately happy or no, because of the religious effect it had already had upon her.

The human happiness Dora dared no longer grasp at for herself she yearned now to pour lavishly, quickly, into Lucy's hands. Only so—such is our mingled life!—could she altogether still, violently and by force, a sort of upward surge of the soul which terrified her now and then. A mystical casuistry, bred in her naturally simple nature by the subtle influences of a long-descended Christianity, combined in her with a piteous human instinct. When she rose from her knees she was certain that she would never win and marry David Grieve; she was equally certain that she would do all in her power to help little Lucy to win and marry him.

So, like them of old, she pressed the spikes into her flesh, and found a numbing consolation in the pain.



CHAPTER VIII

Some ten days more elapsed before Lucy was pronounced fit to travel south. During this time Dora saw her frequently, and the bond between the two girls grew much closer than before. On the one hand, Lucy yielded herself more than she had ever done yet to Dora's example and persuasion, promised to go to church and see at least what it was like when she got to Hastings, and let Dora provide her with some of her favourite High Church devotional books. On the other, it was understood between them that Dora would look after Lucy's interests, and keep her informed how the land lay while she was in the south, and Lucy, with the blindness of self-love, trusted herself to her cousin without a suspicion or a qualm.

While she was tending Lucy, Dora never saw Purcell but twice, when she passed him in the little dark entry leading to the private part of the house, and on those occasions he did not, so far as she could perceive, make any answer whatever to her salutation. He was changed, she thought. He had always been a morose-looking man, with an iron jaw; but now there was a fixed venom and disquiet, as well as a new look of age, in the sallow face, which made it doubly unpleasing. She would have been sorry for his loneliness and his disappointment in Lucy but for the remembrance of his mean plot against David Grieve, and for a certain other little fact. A middle-aged woman, in a dowdy brown-stuff dress and black mantle, had begun to haunt the house. She sat with Purcell sometimes in the parlour downstairs, and sometimes he accompanied her out of doors. Mary Ann reported that she was a widow, a Mrs. Whymper, who belonged to the same chapel that Purcell did, and who was supposed by those who knew to have been making up to him for some time.

'And perhaps she'll get him after all,' said the little ugly maid, with a grin. 'Catch me staying then, Miss Dora! It's bad enough as it is.'

On one occasion Dora came across the widow, waiting in the little sitting-room. She was an angular person, with a greyish-brown complexion, a prominent mouth and teeth, and a generally snappish, alert look. After a few commonplaces, in which Mrs. Whymper was clearly condescending, she launched into a denunciation of Lucy's ill behaviour to her father, which at last roused Dora to defence. She waxed bold, and pointed out that Lucy might have been managed if her father had been a little more patient with her, had allowed her a few ordinary amusements, and had not insisted in forcing her at once, fresh from school, into ways and practices she did not naturally like, while she had never been trained to them by force of habit.

'Hoity toity, Miss!' said the widow, bridling, 'young people are very uppish nowadays. They never seem to remember there is such a thing as the fifth commandment. In my young days what a father said was law, and no questions asked; and I've seen many a Lancashire man take a stick to his gell for less provocation than this gell's given her feyther! I wonder at you, Miss Lomax, that I do, for backing her up. But I'm afraid from what I hear you've been taking up with a lot of Popish ways.'

And the woman looked her up and down with an air which plainly said that she was on her own ground in that parlour, and might say exactly what she pleased there.

'If I have, I don't see that it matters to you,' said Dora quietly, and retreated.

Yes, certainly, a stepmother looked likely! Lucy in her bedroom upstairs knew nothing, and Dora decided to tell her nothing till she was stronger. But this new development made the child's future more uncertain than ever.

On the day before her departure for Hastings, Lucy came out for a short walk, by way of hardening herself for the journey. She walked round the cathedral and up Victoria Street, and then, tired out with the exertion, she made her way in to Dora, to rest. Her face was closely hidden by a thick Shetland veil, for, in addition to her general pallor and emaciation, her usually clear and brilliant skin was roughened and blotched here and there by some effect of her illness; she could not bear to look at herself in the glass, and shrank from meeting any of her old acquaintances. It was, indeed, curious to watch the effect of the temporary loss of beauty upon her; her morbid impatience under it showed at every turn. But for it, Dora was convinced that she must and would have put herself in David Grieve's way again before leaving Manchester. As it was, she was still determined not to let him see her.

She came in, much exhausted, and threw herself into Daddy's arm-chair with groans of self-pity. Did Dora think she would ever be strong again—ever be anything but an ugly fright? It was hard to have all this come upon you, just through doing a service to some one who didn't care.

'Hasn't he heard yet that I've been ill?' she inquired petulantly.

No; Dora did not think he had. Neither she nor Daddy had seen him. He must have been extra busy. But she would get Daddy to ask him up to supper directly, and tell him all about it.

'And then, perhaps,' she said, looking up with a sweet, intense look—how little Lucy was able to decipher it!—'perhaps he may write a letter.'

Lucy was cheered by this suggestion, and sat looking out of window for a while, idly watching the passers-by. But she could not let the one topic that absorbed her mind alone for long, and soon she was once more questioning Dora in close detail about David Grieve's sister and all that he had said about her. For, by way of obliging the child to realise some of the inconvenient burdens and obligations which were at that moment hanging round the young bookseller's neck, and making the very idea of matrimony ridiculous to him, Dora had repeated to her some of his confidences about himself and Louie. Lucy had not taken them very happily. Everything that turned up now seemed only to push her further out of sight and make her more insignificant. She was thirsting, with a woman's nascent passion and a schoolgirl's vanity, to be the centre and heroine of the play; and here she was reduced to the smallest and meanest of parts—a part that caught nobody's eye, do what she would.

Suddenly she broke off what she was saying, and called to Dora:

'Do you see that pair of people, Dora? Come—come at once! What an extraordinary-looking girl!'

Dora turned unwillingly, being absorbed in a golden halo which she had set herself to finish that day; then she dropped her needle, and pushed her stool back that she might see better. From the cathedral end of Market Place an elderly grey-haired man and a young girl were advancing along the pavement towards the Parlour. As they passed, the flower-sellers at the booths were turning to look at them, some persons in front of them were turning back, and a certain number of errand boys and other loungers were keeping pace with them, observing them. The man leant every now and then on a thick stick he carried, and looked uncertainly from house to house. He had a worn, anxious expression, and the helpless movements of short sight. Whenever he stopped the girl moved on alone, and he had to hurry after her again to catch her up. She, meanwhile, was perfectly conscious that she was being stared at, and stared in return with a haughty composure which seemed to draw the eyes of the passers-by after it like a magnet. She was very tall and slender, and her unusual height made her garish dress the more conspicuous. The small hat perched on her black hair was all bright scarlet, both the felt and the trimming; under her jacket, which was purposely thrown back, there was a scarlet bodice, and there was a broad band of scarlet round the edge of her black dress.

Lucy could not take her eyes off her.

'Did you ever see anybody so handsome, Dora? But what a fast, horrid creature to dress like that! And just look at her; she won't wait for the old man, though he's calling to her—she goes on staring at everybody. They'll have a crowd, presently! Why, they're coming here!'

For suddenly the girl stopped outside the doorway below, and beckoned imperiously to her companion. She said a few sharp words to him, and the pair upstairs felt the swing-door of the restaurant open and shut.

Lucy, forgetting her weakness, ran eagerly to the sitting-room door and listened.

There was a sound of raised voices below, and then the door at the foot of the stairs opened, and Daddy was heard shouting.

'There—go along upstairs. My daughter, she'll speak to you. And don't you come back this way—a man can't be feeding Manchester and taking strangers about, all in the same twinkling of an eye, you know, not unless he happens to have a few spare bodies handy, which ain't precisely my case. My daughter 'll tell you what you want to know, and show you out by the private door. Dora!'

Dora stood waiting rather nervously at the sitting-room door. The girl came up first, the old man behind her, bewildered and groping his way.

'We're strangers here—we want somebody to show us the way. We've been to the book-shop in Half Street, and they sent us on here. They were just brutes to us at that book-shop,' said the girl, with a vindictive emphasis and an imperious self-possession which fairly paralysed Lucy and Dora. Lucy's eyes, moreover, were riveted on her face, on its colour, its fineness of feature, its brilliance and piercingness of expression. And what was the extraordinary likeness in it to something familiar?

'Why!' said Dora, in a little cry, 'aren't you Mr. David Grieve's sister?'

For she had traced the likeness before Lucy. 'Oh, it must be!'

'Well, I am his sister, if you want to know,' said the stranger, looking astonished in her turn. 'He wrote to me to come up. And I lent the letter to uncle to read—that's his uncle—and he went and lost it somehow, fiddling about the fields while I was putting my things together. And then we couldn't think of the proper address there was in it—only the name of a man Purcell, in Half Street, that David said he'd been with for two years. So we went there to ask; and, my!—weren't they rude to us! There was an ugly black man there chivied us out in no time—wouldn't tell us anything. But as I was shutting the door the shopman whispered to me, "Try the Parlour—Market Place." So we came on here, you see.'

And she stared about her, at the room, and at the girls, taking in everything with lightning rapidity—the embroidery frame, Lucy's veil and fashionably cut jacket, the shabby furniture, the queer old pictures.

'Please come in,' said Dora civilly, 'and sit down. If you're strangers here, I'll just put on my hat and take you round. Mr. Grieve's a friend of ours. He's in Potter Street. You'll find him nicely settled by now. This is my cousin, Mr. Purcell's daughter.'

And she ran upstairs, leaving Lucy to grapple with the new-comers.

The two girls sat down, and eyed each other. Reuben stood patiently waiting.

'Is the man at Half Street your father?' asked the new-comer, abruptly.

'Yes,' said Lucy, conscious of the strangest mingling of admiration and dislike, as she met the girl's wonderful eyes.

'Did he and Davy fall out?'

'They didn't get on about Sundays,' said Lucy, unwillingly, glad of the sheltering veil which enabled her to hold her own against this masterful creature.

'Is your father strict about chapel and that sort of thing?'

Lucy nodded. She felt an ungracious wish to say as little as possible.

David's sister laughed.

'Davy was that way once—just for a bit—afore he ran away, I knew he wouldn't keep it on.'

Then, with a queer look over her shoulder at her uncle, she relapsed into silence. Her attention was drawn to Dora's frame, and she moved up to it, bending over it and lifting the handkerchief that Dora had thrown across it.

'You mustn't touch it!' said Lucy, hastily, provoked, she knew not why, by every movement the girl made. 'It's very particular work.'

'I'm used to fine things,' said the other, scornfully. 'I'm a silk-weaver—that's my trade—all the best brocades, drawing-room trains, that style of thing. If you didn't handle them carefully, you'd know it. Yes, she's doing it well,' and the speaker put her head down and examined the work critically. 'But it must go fearful slow, compared to a loom.'

'She does it splendidly,' said Lucy, annoyed; 'she's getting quite famous for it. That's going to a great church up in London, and she's got more orders than she can take.'

'Does she get good pay?' asked the girl eagerly.

'I don't know,' replied Lucy shortly.

'Because, if there's good pay,' said the other, examining the work again closely, 'I'd soon learn it—why I'd learn it in a week, you see! If I stay here I shan't get no more silk-weaving. And of course I'll stay. I'm just sick of the country. I'd have come up long ago if I'd known where to find Davy.'

'I'm ready,' said Dora in a constrained voice beside her.

Louie Grieve looked up at her.

'Oh, you needn't look so glum!—I haven't hurt it. I'm used to good things, stuffs at two guineas a yard, and the like of that. What money do you take a week?' and she pointed to the frame.

Something in the tone and manner made the question specially offensive. Dora pretended not to hear it.

'Shall we go now?' she said, hurriedly covering her precious work up from those sacrilegious fingers and putting it away.

'Lucy, you ought to be going home.'

'Well, I will directly,' said Lucy. 'Don't you bother about me.'

They all went downstairs. Lucy put up her veil, and pressed her face against the window, watching for them. As she saw them cross Market Street, she was seized with hungry longing. She wanted to be going with them, to talk to him herself—to let him see what she had gone through for him. It would be months and months, perhaps, before they met again. And Dora would see him—his horrid sister—everyone but she. He would forget all about her, and she would be dull and wretched at Hastings.

But as she turned away in her restless pain, she caught sight of her changed face in the cracked looking-glass over the mantelpiece. Her white lips tightened. She drew down her veil, and went home.

Meanwhile Dora led the way to Potter Street. Louie took little notice of any attempts to talk to her. She was wholly engaged in looking about her and at the shops. Especially was she attracted by the drapers' windows in St. Ann's Square, pronouncing her opinion loudly and freely as to their contents.

Dora fell meditating. Young Grieve would have his work cut out for him, she thought, if this extraordinary sister were really going to settle with him. She was very like him—strangely like him. And yet in the one face there was a quality which was completely lacking in the other, and which seemed to make all the difference. Dora tried to explain what she meant to herself, and failed.

'Here's Potter Street,' she said, as they turned into it. 'And that's his shop—that one with the stall outside. Oh, there he is!'

David was in fact standing on his step talking to a customer who was turning over the books outside.

Louie looked at him. Then she began to run. Old Grieve too, crimson all over, and evidently much excited, hurried on. Dora fell behind, her quick sympathies rising.

'They won't want me interfering,' she said, turning round.

'I'll just go back to my work.'

Meanwhile, in David's little back room, which he had already swept and garnished—for after his letter of the night before, he had somehow expected Louie, to rush upon him by the earliest possible train—the meeting of these long-sundered persons took place.

David saw Reuben come in with amazement.

'Why, Uncle Reuben! Well, I'm real glad to see you. I didn't think you'd have been able to leave the farm. Well, this is my bit of a place, you see. What do you think of it?'

And, holding his sister by the hand, the young fellow looked joyously at his uncle, pride in his new possessions and the recollection of his destitute childhood rushing upon him together as he spoke.

'Aye, it's a fine beginning yo've made, Davy,' said the old man, cautiously looking round, first at the little room, with its neat bits of new furniture in Louie's honour, and then through the glass door at the shop, which was now heavily lined with books. 'Yo wor allus a cliver lad, Davy. A' think a'll sit down.'

And Reuben, subsiding into a chair, fell forthwith into an abstraction, his old knotted hands trembling a little on his knees.

Meanwhile David was holding Louie at arm's-length to look at her. He had kissed her heartily when she came in first, and now he was all pleasure and excitement.

''Pon my word, Louie, you've grown as high as the roof! I say, Louie, what's become of that smart pink dress you wore at last "wake," and of that overlooker, with the moustaches, from New Mills, you walked about with all day?'

She stared at him open-mouthed.

'What do you mean by that?' she said, quickly.

David laughed out.

'And who was it gave Jim Wigson a box on the ears last fifth of November, in the lane just by the Dye-works, eh, Miss Louie?—and danced with young Redway at the Upper Mill dance, New Year's Day? —and had words with Mr. James at the office about her last "cut," a fortnight ago—eh, Louie?'

'What ever do you mean?' she said, half crossly, her colour rising. 'You've been spying on me.'

She hated to be mystified. It made her feel herself in some one else's power; and the wild creature in her blood grew restive.

'Why, I've known all about you these four years!' the lad began, with dancing eyes. Then suddenly his voice changed, and dropped: 'I say, look at Uncle Reuben!'

For Reuben sat bent forward, his light blurred eyes looking out straight before him, with a singular yet blind intentness, as though, while seeing nothing round about him, they passed beyond the walls of the little room to some vision of their own.

'I don't know whatever he came for,' began Louie, as they both examined him.

'Uncle Reuben,' said David, going up to him and touching him on the shoulder, 'you look tired. You'll be wanting some dinner. I'll just send my man, John Dalby, round the corner for something.'

And he made a step towards the door, but Reuben raised his hand.

'Noa, noa, Davy! Shut that door, wiltha?'

David wondered, and shut it.

Then Reuben gave a long sigh, and put his hand deep into his coat pocket, with the quavering, uncertain movement characteristic of him.

'Davy, my lad, a've got summat to say to tha.'

And with many hitches, while the others watched him in astonishment, he pulled out of his pocket a canvas bag and put it down on an oak stool in front of him. Then he undid the string of it with his large awkward fingers, and pushed the stool across to David.

'Theer's sixty pund theer, Davy—sixty pund! Yo can keawnt it—it's aw reet. A've saved it for yo, this four year—four year coom lasst Michaelmas Day. Hannah nor nobory knew owt abeawt it. But it's yourn—it's yor share, being t' half o' Mr. Gurney's money. Louie's share—that wor different; we had a reet to that, she bein a growin girl, and doin nowt mich for her vittles. Fro the time when yo should ha had it—whether for wages or for 'prenticin—an yo could na ha it, because Hannah had set hersen agen it,—a saved it for tha, owt o' t' summer cattle moastly, without tellin nobory, so as not to mak words.'

David, bewildered, had taken the bag into his hand. Louie's eyes were almost out of her head with curiosity and amazement. 'Mr. Gurney's money!' What did he mean? It was all double-Dutch to them.

David, with an effort, controlled himself, being now a man and a householder. He stood with his back against the shop door, his gaze fixed on Reuben.

'Now, Uncle Reuben, I don't understand a bit of what you've been saying, and Louie don't either. Who's Mr. Gurney? and what's his money?'

Unconsciously the young man's voice took a sharp, magisterial note. Reuben gave another long sigh. He was now leaning on his stick, staring at the floor.

'Noa,—a' know yo doan't understan; a've got to tell tha—'at's t' worst part on 't. An I'm soa bad at tellin. Do yo mind when yor feyther deed, Davy?' he said suddenly, looking up.

David nodded,—a red flush of presentiment spread itself over his face—his whole being hung on Reuben's words.

'He sent for me afore he deed,' continued Reuben, slowly; 'an he towd me aw about his affairs. Six hunderd pund he'd got saved—six-hunderd-pund! Aye, it wor a lot for a yoong mon like him, and after sich a peck o' troobles! And he towd me Mr. Gurney ud pay us th' interest for yor bringin-up—th' two on yo; an whan yo got big, Davy, I wor to tak keawnsel wi Mr. Gurney, an, if yo chose for t' land, yo were to ha yor money for a farm, when yo wor big eneuf, an if yo turned agen th' land, yo wor to be 'prenticed to soom trade, an ha yor money when yo wanted it,—Mr. Gurney bein willin. An I promised him I'd deal honest wi his childer, an—'

Reuben paused painfully. He was wrestling with his conscience, and groping for words about his wife. The brother and sister sat open-mouthed, pale with excitement, afraid of losing a single syllable.

'An takkin it awthegither,' he said, bringing each word out with an effort, 'I doan't think, by t' Lord's mercy, as I've gone soa mich astray, though I ha been mich troobled this four year wi thowts o' Sandy—my brither Sandy—an wi not knowin wheer yo wor gone, Davy. Bit yo seem coom to an honest trade—an Louie theer ha larnt a trade too,—an addle't a bit money,—an she's a fine-grown lass—'

He turned a slow, searching look upon her, as though he were pleading a cause before some unseen judge.

'An theer's yor money, Davy. It's aw th' same, a'm thinkin, whether yo get it fro me or fro Mr. Gurney. An here—'

He rose, and unbuttoning his inner coat, fumbled in the pocket of it till he found a letter.

'An here is a letter for Mr. Gurney. If yo gie me a pen, Davy, I'll write in to 't yor reet address, an put it in t' post as I goo to t' station. I took noatice of a box as I coom along. An then—'

He stood still a moment pondering, one outspread hand on the letter.

'An then theer's nowt moor as a can remember,—an your aunt ull be wearyin; an it's but reet she should know now, at wonst, abeawt t' money a've saved this four year, an t' letter to Mr. Gurney. Yo understan—when yor letter came this mornin—t'mon browt it up to Louie abeawt eight o'clock—she towd me fust out i' th' yard—an I said to her, 'Doan't you tell yor aunt nowt abeawt it, an we'st meet at t' station.' An I made soom excuse to Hannah abeawt gooin ower t' Scout after soom beeasts—an—an—Louie an me coom thegither.'

He passed his other hand painfully across his brow. The travail of expression, the moral struggle of the last twenty-four hours, seemed to have aged him before them.

David sat looking at him in a stupefied silence. A light was breaking in upon him, transfiguring, combining, interpreting a hundred scattered remembrances of his boyhood. But Louie, the instant her uncle stopped, broke into a siring of questions, shrill and breathless, her face quite white, her eyes glittering. Reuben seemed hardly to hear her, and in the middle of them David said sharply,

'Stop that, Louie, and let me talk to Uncle Reuben!'

He drew the letter from under Reuben's fingers, and went on, steadily looking up into his uncle's face:

'You'll let me read it, uncle, and I'll get you a pen directly to put in the address. But first will you tell us about father? You never did—you nor Aunt Hannah. And about mother, too?'

He said the last words with difficulty, having all his life been pricked by a certain instinct about his mother, which had, however, almost nothing definite to work upon. Reuben thought a minute, then sat down again patiently.

'Aye, a'll tell tha. Theer's nobory else can. An tha ought to know, though it'll mebbe be a shock to tha.'

And, with his head resting against his stick, he began to tell the story of his brother and his brother's marriage as he remembered it.

First came the account of Sandy's early struggles, as Sandy himself had described them on that visit which he had paid to the farm in the first days of his prosperity; then a picture of his ultimate success in business, as it had appeared to the dull elder brother dazzled by the younger's 'cliverness.'

'Aye, he might ha been a great mon; he might ha coom to varra high things, might Sandy,' said Reuben solemnly, his voice suddenly rising, 'bit for th' hizzy that ruined him!'

Both his hearers made an involuntary movement. But Reuben had now lost all count of them. He was intent on one thing, and capable only of one thing. They had asked him for his story, and he was telling it, with an immense effort of mind, recovering the past as best he could, and feeling some of it over again intensely.

So when he came to the marriage, he told the story like one thinking it out to himself, with an appalling plainness of phrase. It was, of course, impossible for him to explain Sandy's aberration—there were no resources in him equal to the task. Louise Suveret became in his account what she had always remained in his imagination since Sandy's employers told him what was known of her story—a mere witch and devil, sent for his brother's perdition. All his resentment against his brother's fate had passed into his hatred of this creature whom he had never seen. Nay, he even held up the picture of her hideous death before her children with a kind of sinister triumph. So let the ungodly and the harlot perish!

David stood opposite to the speaker all the while, motionless, save for an uneasy movement here and there when Reuben's words grew more scripturally frank than usual. Louie's face was much more positive than David's in what it said. Reuben and Reuben's vehemence annoyed and angered her. She frowned at him from under her black brows. It was evident that he, rather than his story, excited her.

'An we buried him aw reet an proper,' said Reuben at last, wiping his brow, damp with this unwonted labour of brain and tongue. 'Mr. Gurney he would ha it aw done handsome; and we put him in a corner o' Kensal Green, just as close as might be to whar they'd put her after th' crowner had sat on her. Yor feyther had left word, an Mr. Gurney would ha nowt different. But it went agen me—aye, it did—to leave him wi her after aw!'

And falling suddenly silent, Reuben sat wrapped in a sombre mist of memory.

Then Louie broke out, rolling and unrolling the ribbons of her hat in hot fingers.

'I don't believe half on't—I don't see how you could know—nor Mr. Gurney either.'

Reuben looked round bewildered. Louie got up noisily, went to the window and threw it open, as though oppressed by the narrowness of the room.

'No, I don't,' she repeated, defiantly—'I don't believe the half on't. But I'll find out some day.'

She leaned her elbows on the sill, and, looking out into the squalid bit of yard, threw a bit of grit that lay on the window at a cat that sat sleepily blinking on the flags outside.

Reuben rose heavily.

'Gie me pen and ink, Davy, an let me go.'

The young man brought it him without a word. Reuben put in the address.

'Ha yo read it, Davy?'

David started. In his absorption he had forgotten to read it.

'I wor forced to write it i' the top sheepfold,' Reuben began to explain apologetically, then stopped suddenly. Several times he had been on the point of bringing Hannah into the conversation, and had always refrained. He refrained now. David read it. It was written in Reuben's most laborious business style, and merely requested that Mr. Gurney would now communicate with Sandy's son direct on the subject of his father's money. He had left Needham Farm, and was old enough to take counsel himself with Mr. Gurney in future as to what should be done with it.

Reuben looked over David's shoulder as he read.

'An Louie?' he said uncertainly, at the end, jerking his thumb towards her.

'I'm stayin here,' said Louie peremptorily, still looking out of window.

Reuben said nothing. Perhaps a shade of relief lightened his old face.

When the letter was handed back to him, he sealed it and put it into his pocket, buttoning up his coat for departure.

'Yo wor talkin abeawt dinner, Davy—or summat,' said the old man, courteously.' Thankee kindly. I want for nowt. I mun get home—I mun get home.'

Louie, standing absorbed in her own excited thoughts, could hardly be disturbed to say good-bye to him. David, still in a dream, led him through the shop, where Reuben peered about him with a certain momentary curiosity.

But at the door he said good-bye in a great hurry and ran down the steps, evidently impatient to be rid of his nephew.

David turned and came slowly back through the little piled-up shop, where John, all eyes and ears, sat on a high stool in the corner, into the living room.

As he entered it Louie sprang upon him, and seizing him with both hands, danced him madly round the little space of vacant boards, till she tripped her foot over the oak stool, and sank down on a chair, laughing wildly.

'How much of that money am I going to have?' she demanded suddenly, her arms crossed over her breast, her eyes brilliant, her whole aspect radiant and exulting.

David was standing over the fire, looking down into it, and made no answer. He had disengaged himself from her as soon as he could.

Louie waited a while; then, with a contemptuous lip and a shrug of the shoulders, she got up.

'What's the good of worriting about things, I'd like to know? You won't do 'em no good. Why don't you think about the money? My word, won't Aunt Hannah be mad! How am I to get my parcels from the station, and where am I to sleep?'

'You can go and see the house,' said David, shortly. 'The lodgers upstairs are out, and there's the key of the attic.'

He threw it to her, and she ran off. He had meant to take her in triumphal progress through the little house, and show her all the changes he had been making for her benefit and his own. But a gulf had yawned between them. He was relieved to see her go, and when he was left alone he laid his arms on the low mantelpiece and hid his face upon them. His mother's story, his father's fate, seemed to be burning into his heart.

Reuben hurried home through the bleak March evening. In the train he could not keep himself still, fidgeting so much that his neighbours eyed him with suspicion, and gave him a wide berth. As he started to walk up to Kinder a thin, raw sleet came on. It drove in his face, chilling him through and through, as he climbed the lonely road, where the black moorland farms lay all about him, seen dimly through the white and drifting veil of the storm. But he was conscious of nothing external. His mind was absorbed by the thought of his meeting with Hannah, and by the excited feeling that one of the crises of his timid and patient life was approaching. During the last four years they had been very poor, in spite of Mr. Gurney's half-yearly cheque, partly because of the determination with which he had stuck to his secret saving. Hannah would think they were going now to be poorer still, but he meant to prove to her that what with Louie's departure and the restoration of their whole income to its natural channels, there would not be so much difference. He conned his figures eagerly, rehearsing what he would say. For the rest he walked lightly and briskly. The burden of his brother's children had dropped away from him, and in those strange inner colloquies of his he could look Sandy in the face again.

Had Hannah discovered his flight, he wondered? Some one he was afraid, might have seen him and Louie at the station and told tales. He was not sure that one of the Wigsons had not been hanging about the station yard. And that letter of David's to Louie, which in his clumsy blundering way he had dropped somewhere about the farm buildings or the house, and had not been able to find again! It gave him a cold sweat to think that in his absence Hannah might have come upon it and drawn her own conclusions. As he followed out this possibility in his mind, his step quickened till it became almost a run.

Aye, and Hannah had been ailing of late—there had been often 'summat wrang wi her.' Well, they were both getting into years. Perhaps now that Louie with her sharp tongue and aggravating ways was gone, now that there was only him to do for, Hannah would take things easier.

He opened the gate into the farmyard and walked up to the house door with a beating heart. It struck him as strange that the front blinds were not drawn, for it was nearly dark and the storm beat against the windows. There was a glimmer of fire in the room, but he could see nothing clearly. He turned the handle and went into the passage, making a clatter on purpose. But nothing stirred in the house, and he pushed open the kitchen door, which stood ajar, filled with a vague alarm.

Hannah was sitting in the rocking-chair, by the fire. Beside her was the table partly spread with tea, which, however, had been untouched. At Reuben's entrance she turned her head and looked at him fixedly. In the dim light—a mixture of the dying fire and of the moonlight from outside—he could not see her plainly, but he felt that there was something strange, and he ran forward to her.

'Hannah, are yo bad?—is there owt wrang wi yo?'

Then his seeking eye made out a crumpled paper in her left hand, and he knew at once that it must be Davy's letter.

Before he could speak again she gave him a push backward with her free hand, and said with an effort:

'Where's t' gell?'

'Louie? She's left i' Manchester. A've found Davy, Hannah.'

There was a pause, after which he said, trembling:

'Shall I get yo summat, Hannah?'

A hoarse voice came out of the dark:

'Ha doon wi yo! Yo ha been leein to me. Yo wor seen at t' station.'

Reuben sat down.

'Hannah,' he said, 'yo mun just listen to me.'

And taking his courage in both hands, he told everything without a break: how he had been 'feeart' of what Sandy might say to him 'at th' joodgment,' how he had saved and lied, and how now he had seen David, had written to Mr. Gurney, and stopped the cheques for good and all.

When he came to the letter to Mr. Gurney, Hannah sat suddenly upright in her chair, grasping one arm of it.

'It shall mak noa difference to tha, a tell tha,' he cried hastily, putting up his hand, fearing he knew not what, 'nobbut a few shillins ony way. I'll work for tha an mak it up.'

She made a sound which turned him cold with terror—a sound of baffled weakness, pain, vindictive passion all in one—then she fell helplessly to one side in her chair, and her grey head dropped on her shoulder.

In another moment he was crying madly for help in the road outside. For long there was no answer—only the distant roar of the Downfall and the sweep of the wind. Then a labourer, on the path leading to the Wigsons' farm, heard and ran up.

An hour later a doctor had been got hold of, and Hannah was lying upstairs, tended by Mrs. Wigson and Reuben.

'A paralytic seizure,' said the doctor to Reuben. 'This woman says she's been failing for some time past. She's lived and worked hard, Mr. Grieve; you know that. And there's been some shock.'

Reuben explained incoherently. The doctor did not understand, and did not care, being a dull man and comparatively new to the place. He did what he could, said she would recover—oh, yes, she would recover; but, of course, she could never be the same woman again. Her working days were done.

A servant came over from Wigsons' to sit up with Reuben, Mrs. Wigson being too delicate to undertake it. The girl went to lie down first for an hour or two in the room across the landing, and he was left alone in the gaunt room with his wife. Poor quailing soul! As he sat there in the windy darkness, hour after hour, open-mouthed and open-eyed, he was steeped in terror—terror of the future, of its forlornness, of his own feebleness, of death. His heart clave piteously to the unconscious woman beside him, for he had nothing else. It seemed to him that the Lord had indeed dealt hardly with him, thus to strike him down on the day of his great atonement!



CHAPTER IX

No news of the catastrophe at Needham Farm reached the brother and sister in Potter Street. The use of the pen had always been to Reuben one of the main torments and mysteries of life, and he had besides all those primitive instincts of silence and concealment which so often in the peasant nature accompany misfortune. His brain-power, moreover, was absorbed by his own calamity and by the changes in the routine of daily life which his wife's state brought upon him, so that immediately after his great effort of reparation towards them—an effort which had taxed the whole man physically and mentally—his brother's children and their affairs passed for a while strangely and completely from his troubled mind.

Meanwhile, what a transformation he had wrought in their fortunes! When the shock of his parents' story had subsided in him, and that other shock of jarring temperaments, which the first hour of Louie's companionship had brought with it, had been for the time forgotten again in the stress of plans and practical detail, David felt to the full the exhilaration of his new prospects. He had sprung at a leap, as it seemed to him, from the condition of the boy-adventurer to that of the man of affairs. And as he looked back upon their childhood and realised that all the time, instead of being destitute and dependent orphans, they and their money had really been the mainstay of Hannah and the farm, the lad seemed to cast from him the long humiliation of years, to rise in stature and dignity. That old skinflint and hypocrite, Aunt Hannah! With the usual imperfect sympathy of the young he did not much realise Reuben's struggle. But he bore his uncle no grudge for these years' delay. The contrivances and hardships of his Manchester life had been, after all, enjoyment. Without them and the extravagant self-reliance they had developed in him his pride and ambition would have run less high. And at this moment the nerve and savour of existence came to him from pride and from ambition.

But first of all he had to get his money. As soon as Mr. Gurney's answer to Reuben's letter came, David took train for London, made his way to the great West-End shop which had employed his father, and saw the partner who had taken charge of Sandy's money for so long. Mr. Gurney, a shrewd and pompous person, was interested in seeing Grieve's son, inquired what he was about, ran over the terms of a letter to himself, which he took out of a drawer, and then, with a little flourish as to his own deserts in the matter of the guardianship of the money—a flourish neither unnatural nor unkindly—handed over to the lad both the letter and a cheque on a London bank, took his receipt, talked a little, but with a blunted memory, about the lad's father, gave him a little general business advice, asked whether his sister was still alive, and bade him good morning. Both were satisfied, and the young man left the office with the cheque lying warm in his pocket, looking slowly and curiously round the shop where his father had earned it, as he walked away.

Outside he found himself close to Trafalgar Square, and, striking down to the river, he went to sit on the Embankment and ponder the enclosures which Mr. Gurney had given him. First he took out the cheque, with infinite care, lest the breeze on the Embankment should blow it out of his hand, and spread it on his knee. 600 pounds! As he stared at each letter and flourish his eyes widened anew; and when he looked up across the grey and misty river, the figures still danced before him, and in his exultation he could have shouted the news to the passers-by. Then, when the precious paper had been safely stowed away again, he hesitatingly took out the other—his father's dying memorandum on the subject of his children, so he had understood Mr. Gurney. It was old and brown; it had been written with anguish, and it could only be deciphered with difficulty. There had been no will properly so called. Sandy had placed more confidence in 'the firm' than in the law, and had left behind him merely the general indication of his wishes in the hands of the partner who had specially befriended him. The provisions of it were as Sandy had described them to Reuben on his death-bed. Especially did the father insist that there should be no artificial restriction of age. 'I wanted money most when I was nineteen, and I could have used it just as well then as I could at any later time.'

So he might have been a rich man at least a year earlier. Well, much as he had loathed Purcell, he was glad, on the whole, that things were as they were. He had been still a great fool, he reflected, a year ago.

Then, as to Louie, the letter ran: 'Let Davy have all the money, and let him manage for her. I won't divide it; he must judge. He may want it all, and it may be best for them both he should have it. He's got a good heart; I know that; he'll not rob his sister. I lay it on him, now I'm dying, to be patient with her, and look after her. She's not like other children. But it's not her fault; it was born in her. Let him see her married to a decent man, and then give her what's honestly hers. That little lad has nursed me like a woman since I've been ill. He was always a good lad to me, and I'd like him to know when he's grown up that his father loved him—'

But here the poor laboured scrawl came to an end, save for a few incoherent strokes. David thrust it back into his pocket. His cheek was red; his eyes burnt; he sat for long, with his elbows on his knees, staring at the February river. The choking, passionate impulse to comfort his father he had felt so often as a child was there again, by association, alive and piteous.

Suddenly he woke up with a start. There, to either hand, lay the bridges, with the moving figures atop and the hurrying river below. And from one of them his mother had leapt when she destroyed herself. In the trance of thought that followed, it was to him as though he felt her wild nature, her lawless blood, stirring within him, and realised, in a fierce, reluctant way, that he was hers as well as his father's. In a sense, he shared Reuben's hatred; for he, best of all, knew what she had made his father suffer. Yet the thought of her drew his restless curiosity after it. Where did she come from? Who were her kindred? From the south of France, Reuben thought. The lad's imagination travelled with difficulty and excitement to the far and alien land whence half his being had sprung. A few scraps of poetry and history recurred to him—a single tattered volume of 'Monte Cristo,' which he had lately bought with an odd lot at a sale—but nothing that suggested to his fancy anything like the peasant farm in the Mont Ventoux, within sight of Arles, where Louise Suveret's penurious childhood had been actually cradled.

Two o'clock struck from the belfry of St. Paul's, looming there to his left in the great bend of the river. At the sound he shook off all his thoughts. Let him see something of London. He had two hours and a half before his train from Euston. Westminster first—a hasty glance; then an omnibus to St. Paul's, that he might look down upon the city and its rush; then north. He had a map with him, and his quick intelligence told him exactly how to use his time to the best advantage. Years afterwards he was accustomed to look back on this hour spent on the top of an omnibus, which was making its difficult way to the Bank through the crowded afternoon streets, as one of the strong impressions of his youth. Here was one centre of things: Westminster represented another; and both stood for knowledge, wealth, and power. The boy's hot blood rose to the challenge. His foot was on the ladder, and many men with less chances than he had risen to the top. At this moment, small Manchester tradesman that he was, he had the constant presentiment of a wide career.

That night he let himself into his own door somewhere about nine o'clock. What had Louie been doing with herself all day? She was to have her first lesson from Dora Lomax; but she must have been dull since, unless Dora had befriended her.

To his astonishment, as he shut the door he heard voices in the kitchen—Louie and John. John, the shy, woman-hating creature, who had received the news of Louie's expected advent in a spirit of mingled irritation and depression—who, after his first startled look at her as she passed through the shop, seemed to David to have fled the sight of her whenever it was possible!

Louie was talking so fast and laughing so much that neither of them had heard David's latchkey, and in his surprise the brother stood still a moment in the dark, looking round the kitchen-door, which stood a little open. Louie was sitting by the fire with some yards of flowered cotton stuff on her knee, at which she was sewing; John was opposite to her on the oak stool, crouched over a box of nails, from which he was laboriously sorting out those of a certain size, apparently at her bidding, for she gave him sharp directions from time to time. But his toil was intermittent, for whenever her sallies were louder or more amusing than usual his hand paused, and he sat staring at her, his small eyes expanding, a sympathetic grin stealing over his mouth.

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