Margaret was beloved and not she, and Fay must bear it and live.
And the fair child-face grew whiter and whiter, but she only took the nerveless hands in hers and kissed them.
"Do not fret, Hugh, it shall be as you wish," she said, in a voice so low that he only just heard her, for a sobbing breath seemed to impede her utterance; "it shall be as you wish, my dear husband," and then, not trusting herself to look at him, she left the room.
In the corridor she met Saville.
"Please find the nurse and send her to Sir Hugh," she said, hurriedly, "and tell Ford I want him to take a note over to Sandycliffe," and then she went into the library and wrote a few words.
"DEAR MISS FERRERS,—My husband wishes to see you; will you come to him at once? He thinks that he is very ill, and can not live, and he wishes to bid you goodbye. He has told me the reason, and it is quite right, and I hope you will come, for I can not bear to see him fret."
And then she remembered that she had not ordered the pony-carriage, and that Ford would be saddling one of the horses; so she rang for Ellerton, and made him understand very carefully, that Ford was to drive over to the Grange and take the note, and that he must wait and bring Miss Ferrers back with him. "For you must know, Ellerton," she said, with pathetic dignity, but not looking at the old servant, "that Sir Hugh feels himself worse, and wants to say good-bye to his old friend;" "for of course," thought Fay, when Ellerton had left the library with tears in his eyes, "if Hugh and she were engaged, all the servants must know, and it was better for me to speak out like that."
When Margaret read that poor little note the tears fell fast and blotted the page. "Thank God she knows at last," she said to herself as she folded it up, and then hurriedly prepared to obey the summons.
She hoped that she would not see Lady Redmond before that parting with Hugh were over, for she needed all her strength for that; and to her great relief only Ellerton received her. She was ushered for a few minutes into the empty drawing-room, and then Sir Hugh's nurse came down to her, and said Dr. Martin had just left the house, and her master would see Miss Ferrers now.
And there was no one in the sick-room when she entered it, though the nurse had told her that she would be in the dressing-room within call. There was no one to see the flash of joy in the sick man's eyes, when Margaret's cold lips touched his forehead, or to hear his low "Margaret, darling," that greeted her.
But when she had looked in his face she knew he would not die, and that her work was before her; and while poor weak Hugh panted out words of passionate longing and despair, she was girding up her strength for what she had to say, and praying for help that she might be able to comfort him.
And no one knew what passed between them but their guardian angels; only Hugh's miserable selfish passion sunk down abashed as he listened to this brave sweet woman who was not ashamed to tell him how she loved him, and how she would love him to her life's end. And as he saw into the depths of that pure heart, its stainless purity, its unrepining sorrow, he trembled and was silent.
"What am I that I should touch even the hem of her garment?" he said to himself afterward.
And she told him what he had never guessed, that were he free she would never marry him or any man, for in her trouble long ago she had vowed herself to Heaven; and with a few forcible words she showed him the plan and purpose of her future life—when Raby should have ceased to need her; drawing such calm pictures of a tender ministry and a saintly sisterhood, that Hugh, looking at her with dazzled eyes, thought he could almost discern a faint halo round her head.
"You were always too good for me, Margaret," he muttered, but she only smiled at him, and still holding his hands as she knelt beside him, she whispered that her prayers were heard, and that she knew he would not die, that it was only his weakness, and he would soon struggle back to life again.
"But what good is life to me without you, Margaret?" he asked, in a despairing voice.
"What good? Have you forgotten your wife, Hugh?"
"No," he murmured, restlessly, "but she is only a child;" but Margaret shook her head.
"You are wrong, she is not a child, nor ever will be again." And then very gently she urged him when he was stronger to tell Fay the whole story of their engagement; for she was afraid those few words that he confessed were all he had said must have made her very unhappy; but Hugh would not allow this. He told Margaret that she did not understand Fay, or how young and innocent she really was; she had not seemed agitated or disturbed when he had asked to see Margaret—she had answered him quite tranquilly; he was sure she would not suffer from the knowledge of their engagement, for he was always kind to her and she loved him; and then he added bitterly that the suffering was his, but when he got well, if he ever did get well, he would go away, for he could not go on living like this.
And when Margaret saw how it was she did not dissuade him; perhaps, after all, it would be better for him to go away for a little, and come back and begin his life anew, doing a man's work in his generation.
"One day you will love your wife," she said to him, "and indeed you can not fail to love her, and then you will only remember that you have a sister Margaret praying for you every day of her life. No, do not look at me like that, Hugh. Up in heaven it will be no sin to love you—I can keep my love till then." And she then tried to leave him, for, strong as she was, she could not have borne this scene much longer, and Hugh was terribly exhausted.
"Will you kiss me once more, Margaret?" he had asked, faintly, and she had stooped over him again and kissed his forehead and eyes, and then gently bade God bless him.
Was this a woman he had loved or an angel, Hugh wondered, as she closed the door and left him alone in the sunlight; but he was too weak to carry out the thought. When the nurse came to his side he had fallen into a refreshing sleep.
As Margaret crossed the threshold of the dressing-room she caught sight of a listless little figure sitting in one of the deep window-seats of the corridor. There was something in her attitude that struck Margaret—an air of deep dejection, of utter forlornness, that went to her heart. The beautiful little head seemed drooping with weariness; but as she went closer and saw the wan face and the baby mouth quivering, with the under lip pressed like a child's in pain, she gave an involuntary exclamation. She would not suffer, Hugh had said, she was so young and innocent; and now—the angels comfort your broken heart, sweet Fay.
"Hush!" she said, turning round as she heard Margaret's voice; "we must not talk here, it would disturb him, and he must be kept very quiet—oh! very quiet, Doctor Conway says. Come in here, if you wish to speak to me," and she led the way into her little room. "Will you sit down?" she went on, with the same passive gentleness; "you were good to come, but—but—it must have tired you."
"Oh! Lady Redmond—" But here Margaret could say no more. She seemed to have no strength left for this; she felt as though her calmness and fortitude were deserting her.
"I told Doctor Conway that you were coming, and he thought it would do no harm, and Doctor Martin said the same. He knows you, he says, and he was sure that you would be very wise and quiet, that you would not excite him. No, do not tell me anything about it. I—I can trust you, and Hugh would not like me to know."
"Indeed you are mistaken," began Margaret, eagerly, but Fay checked her with a little dignity.
"Never mind that. Do you know, Miss Ferrers, that Doctor Conway says that my husband is better, that he will not die, it is only weakness and a nervous fancy; but though he is so slow in getting well, they notice a gradual improvement."
"Thank God, for your sake, Lady Redmond." But as she said this a painful flush mounted to Fay's forehead.
"You should say for his sake," she returned, quietly. "What does it matter about me? Perhaps before the summer is over we may be at rest together, baby and I."
"Lady Redmond! Oh! I can not bear it;" and here Margaret burst into tears. Yes, she who had parted dry-eyed from her lover wept bitterly for the deceived and unhappy wife.
"Why do you cry, Miss Ferrers?" asked Fay, in the same subdued voice. "It seems to me that if God would take us both it would be so much better for us all. Nobody wants us"—and here her lips quivered—"and I should not like my baby to live without me. What could Hugh do with it, you know?"
"My child," replied Margaret, checking her sobs, "is this your faith? is this your woman's courage? Would you who love him so be content to die without winning your husband's heart?"
Fay looked at her wonderingly.
"It is yours to win," she continued. "Oh! do not look at me like that, as though I have murdered your happiness. What have you done, you poor child, that you should suffer like this for my sake. For the sake of my future peace of mind I entreat you to listen to me."
And then, as Fay did not refuse, Margaret took the listless little hand and told her all. And she judged wisely in doing so, for it was out of her great pity for him that Fay learned to forgive her husband, and that the vague hope arose in her heart that she might comfort and win him back. And when Margaret had finished her sad story, Fay put her arms round her and kissed her.
"Oh, I am so sorry for you; how unhappy you must have been when you gave him up; but it was noble of you, and you did it for his sake. Forgive me if I wronged you, for when you were in that room talking to him, I felt angry and bitter with him and you too; but I see it is no one's fault, only we are all so unhappy, please forgive me, for indeed you are better than I."
"There is nothing to forgive," replied Margaret, gently. "Yes, I tried to do my duty, and if your husband has failed in his, remember that he is not patient by nature, that men are not like us. One day he will be yours, and yours solely, and then you will be able to think of me without bitterness." Then, taking the little creature in her arms, she added, "Good-bye, be brave and patient and generous for your husband's sake, and it will all come right," and with a low word of blessing she let her go.
And when Hugh woke that evening from his long trance-like sleep he found his Wee Wifie as usual beside him.
She had been sitting there all day, with her great tearless eyes fixed on vacancy; refusing to take rest or food, never moving except to drop her head still lower over her clasped hands.
"You are tired, Wee Wifie," he said, as she stooped over him and asked how he felt. "You will wear yourself out, my child;" and he felt for the little hand that generally lay so near his own. Fay put it in his, and bent over him with an unsteady smile.
"I am not so very tired, and I like to take care of you," she said, with a quiver in her sweet voice. "I promised in sickness as well as health, you know; let me do my duty, dear," and Hugh was silent.
But that night, while Hugh slept, and Margaret knelt praying pitiful prayers for Fay, Fay, tossing in her lonely chamber, sobbed in the desolate darkness:
"Oh, if it would please God that, when the summer has come, baby and I might die together; for if Hugh can not love me, my sorrow is greater than I could bear."
TWO STRINGS TO ONE BOW.
Over the grass we stepped unto it, And God He knoweth how blithe we were, Never a voice to bid us eschew it; Hey the green ribbon that showed so fair!
The beck grows wider, the hands must sever On either margin, our songs all done, We move apart, while she singeth ever Taking the course of the stooping sun.
That room of Mrs. Watkins's was unusually quiet that May evening, only Fern Trafford was sitting alone by the open window looking out listlessly at the few passers-by.
Fern's busy hands were idle to-night, and the work lay unheeded in her lap. There was a shadow too on the fair face, and a little pucker of anxiety on the smooth girlish forehead, as though some harassing problem were troubling her.
Fern was not quite happy in her mind. Erle Huntingdon had been there that very afternoon, but he had not stayed long, and his manner had been different somehow.
Fern was revolving the visit in rather a troubled way. She wondered if Erle's decided nervousness and want of ease had been owing to her mother's rather cool reception of him. Mrs. Trafford had not been cordial in her manner; she had treated the young man with some restraint and dignity, and had not pressed him to prolong his visit. Erle must have felt that he was not wanted, for he had very soon risen to take his leave, and had gone away a little sadly.
Fern was too loyal to blame her mother, but she wished she had been a little kinder to poor Erle. Something was vexing him she was sure; he was not in his usual spirits. Once or twice when there had been a moment's pause, she had looked up from her work and found him watching her; and once she was sure that there were tears in his eyes. If they had only been alone she would have asked him what was the matter, and if anything was vexing him. He wanted to tell her something, she was sure, but her mother had been there all the time, and had followed him to the door herself; and though she had gone to the window for a parting look he had not once glanced up—he had walked away very fast with his head bent, as though he were absorbed in thought.
It had not been quite a happy winter to Fern. First Erle and then Crystal had been away, and she had missed them both terribly. It was not as though she had other friends to take their places, and their absence had made quite a blank in her existence.
If her mother could always stay at home and talk to her, if Fluff were older and more of a companion, she might not have missed them so much; but somehow her day-dreams were hardly as consoling as usual. They seemed more shadowy and unreal, and now and then Fern felt a little dull. Ever since her mother and Crystal had given her those hints about Erle, the girl had felt some hostile influence threatening her sweet content. Her thoughts were always straying to that unknown Evelyn Selby of whom Percy had spoken. Now and then she would question Erle about her in her innocent way, but he always evaded these questions.
"Oh, yes, I see her sometimes," he would answer. "What makes you so much interested in Miss Selby? I have other lady friends, dozens and dozens of them;" and then Fern would look confused and uncomfortable, and would change the subject; but all the same this girl was never out of her thought. She was rich and well-born and beautiful, and Erle was always meeting her.
Fern tried to hide these thoughts, but Mrs. Trafford often fancied the bright face was a little clouded. Fern laughed and talked as much as ever, and worked as busily for them all; but more than once, when she had returned earlier than usual, she had found Fern with her hands lying idly in her lap, and a very thoughtful look on her face. Fern would jump up at once, with a merry laugh at her own idleness; but her mother did not always forget the look. It was far too dreamy and abstracted, she said to herself, as she watched her child tenderly.
Crystal was thinking much the same as she entered the room rather quietly that May evening—so quietly, indeed, that Fern was not conscious of her presence till she pat her hand on her shoulder with a light laugh.
"Asleep, or only dreaming with your eyes open, Fern. What is the matter, little one?"
"Oh, Crystal, how you startled me," exclaimed Fern, turning crimson under Crystal's sharp scrutiny. "What made you come in so noiselessly? I never even heard your footsteps. Yes, I was dreaming, I believe," pushing back her hair with rather a tired gesture. "Fluff was sleepy and went to bed, and mother had to help Miss Martingale with the accounts, and one gets stupid sitting alone."
"I never heard you say that before," rather incredulously; "you are the brightest girl I know, Fern; your mother's name 'Little Sunshine' just suits you; you always seem to me the very essence of sunshine."
"Oh, one must be dull and stupid sometimes," returned Fern, with a suspicion of tears in her voice. "Never mind about me; tell me about your afternoon, Crystal; have you enjoyed yourself?"
"Yes—no—well, the children did. The flowers were beautiful and the gardens so pretty, and there were plenty of gayly dressed people there. Oh, by the bye, I saw Mr. Huntingdon; he was walking with such a handsome girl."
Fern felt an odd choking sensation in her throat. "You must have been mistaken, Crystal; Mr. Erle has been sitting with us."
"Oh, yes, he told us so, for of course he came up to speak to me when Miss Selby had joined her friends; they came in very late, just as we were leaving."
"And—and—it was Miss Selby?"
"Yes, and her aunt, Lady Maltravers; and they had other people with them. I liked the look of Miss Selby; she has a nice frank face. I think she looks charming, and she walks so well too. I do like a girl to hold herself well."
"And Mr. Erle was walking with her?"
"Yes, they are evidently very intimate;" but Crystal forbore to add that Erle had looked decidedly uncomfortable at the sight of her, though he had come up to her, and had entered into conversation. She had not thought him looking either well or happy, though Miss Selby had seemed in high spirits. But she kept these thoughts to herself.
Fern did not ask any more questions. A miserable consciousness that was new to her experience kept her tongue tied.
Erle had not mentioned that he was going to the Botanical Gardens with Miss Selby; he had only muttered something about an engagement as he took his leave.
Crystal saw that Fern looked discomposed, but she took no notice. She thought the sooner that her eyes were open the better, for in her own mind she was convinced from what she had seen that afternoon that Erle Huntingdon was on the eve of an engagement to Miss Selby, if he were not actually engaged. They were quite alone when she had met them first. Lady Maltravers was sitting down at a little distance, and Miss Selby was blushing and smiling and looking excessively happy, and Crystal had been rather indignant at the sight.
"Pray do not let me keep you from your friends," she had said rather coldly when Erle came up to her. "That was Miss Selby, was it not, the tall young lady in gray with whom you were walking? what a nice face she has;" and Erle had reluctantly owned that it was Miss Selby.
"Go back to her by all means," Crystal had replied, with a touch of sarcasm in her voice; "she is looking round and wondering whom you have picked up. Oh, yes, I like the look of her very much. I think you are to be congratulated, Mr. Huntingdon;" and then Erle had marched off rather sulkily.
"She looks absurdly happy, and I suppose she is in love with him; just see how she smiles at him. What fools we girls are," and Crystal had turned away, feeling very sorry for Fern in her heart, but all the same she knew better than to say a word of sympathy to Fern.
"He has made himself very pleasant to her, but it can not have gone very deep. I do not believe Fern knows what love is," she said, very bitterly to herself, and then she changed the subject.
"Oh, do you know, I had such a surprise," she continued, cheerfully, as Fern averted her face and seemed much engrossed with a Savoyard and his monkey on the opposite side of the way. "When I got to Upton House this morning I found Miss Campion had arrived unexpectedly, and of course she went with us."
"Do you mean Mrs. Norton's sister?" asked Fern, with languid curiosity.
"Yes, Aunt Addie, as the children call her; she is staying at some private hotel, and she drove over to see them. I was so pleased to see her, for you know how kind she was to me at Hastings. I do believe that she has taken a decided fancy to me, and it does seem so strange."
"It is not strange at all," exclaimed Fern, rather roused by this; "many people take a fancy to you, Crystal. I did directly mother brought you in that evening."
"Oh you,"—smoothing the fair hair caressingly—"you are a darling, and you love every one, but Miss Campion—well, she is quite different. One would never expect a clever woman of the world who has friends and acquaintances in all quarters of the globe to be guilty of this sort of sentimentality; but all the same," with a little laugh, "she seemed to be delighted to see me, and of course the American scheme was revived."
"Oh, Crystal," with a very long face, "I thought you had given up that idea."
"Not at all; but I wanted to hear more about it, and I could not quite make up my mind."
"You talk as though you were thinking seriously of it. Mrs. Norton would never consent to part with you."
"Mrs. Norton would do exactly what her sister wished her to do, my dear. Aunt Addie's will rules Upton House. I begin to understand things better now. We used to wonder how Mrs. Norton could afford all those pretty gowns and bonnets, and why the curate's wife was so much better dressed than the vicar's wife, and how they could afford to go out of town and have all those nice things for the children, but of course it is all Aunt Addie's doing."
"Miss Campion is rich then."
"Yes; Mrs. Norton told me all about it when we were in the gardens. She says some old uncle left her all his money. She does so much good with it; and she is especially kind to Mrs. Norton, who is her favorite sister. She has promised to send the boys to school when they are old enough, and she pays my salary, and, in fact, the whole household are much benefited by Aunt Addie. So Mrs. Norton told me rather sorrowfully that if I made up my mind to go to America with her sister they would not say a word to prevent it."
"But you will not go, dear," coaxingly.
"Miss Campion has friends in New York," returned Crystal, evasively; "but she does not mean to stay there long. She wants to see Niagara and Colorado, and I forget the route she has planned; but a companion she must have, and she offers such handsome terms, and after all she will not, be away more than five or six months, and as she says the change will do me good; the only thing is she will start early next week and, as I tell her, I have nothing ready, but she only laughed and said we should have plenty of time to market in New York; and that she loved shopping."
"Crystal, I do believe that you have made up your mind to leave us."
Crystal hesitated a moment, and her dark eyes grew a little misty.
"And if it be my duty, Fern, will you say a word to keep me, my darling?" as Fern looked sorrowfully in her face. "I am not leaving you for good and all; I will never do that until—" but here she paused, and then hurried on. "The fact is, Fern, your mother can no longer protect me; your brother's unmanly persecution is driving me away. No, I will say nothing bitter of him to-night; after all he is your brother; but it will be better for him if I leave here—a brief absence may help to cure him."
"But his selfishness must not drive you away, my poor Crystal."
"Dear, it will be far better for me to go," returned Crystal with a sigh. "I am growing restless again, and, as Miss Campion says, the change will do me good; I came home to tell you this to-night I have told Miss Campion that I will go."
"Yes, probably next Wednesday or Thursday, about a week from to-day. I shall have to be very busy, you see. Don't look so pale over it, Fern; six months will soon pass. Do you know," rather sadly, "I have had such a curious feeling all day, as though something were going to happen, and that I wanted to get away first. Oh, I can't explain it; I felt the same yesterday. Fern, did Mr. Huntingdon tell you anything more about those friends of his whom he met down at Sandycliffe?"
"No, dear," with rather a wondering look, "he only just mentioned them, you know. What nice people they were, and so kind and friendly; he took rather a fancy to them."
"Yes, but I thought he might have spoken of them again."
"Oh, no, he only saw them twice; he just went over to tell them how Lady Redmond's ankle was; it was only the accident that made him speak of them at all. How interested you seem in those Ferrers, Crystal."
"Yes," was the quick response; but something in her voice made Fern look at her inquiringly. "Did you—did you know them, Crystal?" she asked, in some surprise.
"Yes," was again the brief answer; but after a moment's silence she said, "Fern, you have been very good, very patient all this time, you have never asked me any questions about my past life. I think as I am going away from you, and as one can not tell what may happen, that I should like you to know my miserable story. Oh, it will be safe with you; I do not fear that for a moment; I have only hesitated all these months because of the pain of telling it, and for fear you should cease to love me if you knew of the faults I am so bitterly expiating."
"Faults," incredulously; "I have never seen them, Crystal, you always seem so good and brave and patient."
"My dear," she answered, mournfully, "appearances are deceitful sometimes. Do you remember the story of the poor demoniac whose name was Legion, and how he sat clothed and saved and in his right mind: to me it is one of the most touching and beautiful instances of the Redeemer's power. He was so galled by his chains, he was so torn and wasted by those evil spirits among the Galilean tombs. Fern," with a deep pathetic look in her eyes, "sometimes it seems to me that, thank God, the evil spirit is exorcised in me too—that there is nothing in my heart now but passionate regret for an unpremeditated sin."
"My poor dear Crystal, is it so bad as that?"
"Yes," with a sigh; "shall I tell you about it—as I told your mother—oh, how good she was to me, how she tried to comfort me, and she had suffered so much herself. Of course, you have always known that my name is not really Davenport, but you have never guessed that it is Crystal Ferrers."
"Ferrers! Do you mean that you belong to Mr. Erle's friends, the blind clergyman who lives with his sister at the Grange?"
"Yes, I am Margaret Ferrers's cousin, the young cousin whom they adopted as their own child, and who lived with them from childhood. Well, I will tell you from the beginning, for you will never understand without hearing about my mother. Give me your hand, dear; if you are tired, and do not want to hear more, will you draw it away. I am glad it is getting dusk, so you will not see my face; the moon will rise presently, so we shall have light enough."
"One moment, Crystal; does Mr. Erle know?"
"No, of course not, he is a mere acquaintance; what should put that in your head, Fern?"
"Oh, nothing, it was only fancy," returned the girl; she hardly knew why she had put the question; was it something in Erle's manner that afternoon? He had asked her, a little anxiously, if Miss Davenport were going away again, and if she would be at home the following week. "For she had been such a runaway lately," he had said with a slight laugh, "and I was thinking that it must be dull for you when she is away." But Fern had assured him that Crystal had no intention of going away again, for she had no idea of the plot that Crystal and Miss Campion were hatching between them.
The path my father's foot Had trod me out (which suddenly broke off What time he dropped the wallet of the flesh And passed) alone I carried on, and set My child-heart 'gainst the thorny underwood, To reach the grassy shelter of the trees, Ah, babe i' the wood, without a brother-babe! My own self-pity, like the redbreast bird, Flies back to cover all that past with leaves.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
"I must begin at the very beginning, Fern," said Crystal, with a stifled sigh. "I hope I shall not weary you;" and as Fern disclaimed the possibility of fatigue with much energy, she continued: "Oh, I will be as brief as possible, but I want you to understand it all plainly.
"I have told you that Margaret Ferrers is my cousin; her father, Colonel Ferrers, had a brother much younger than himself: his name was Edmund, and he was my father.
"I recollect him very little, except that he was very kind to me, but they tell me that he was a singularly handsome man, and very accomplished, and greatly beloved by all who knew him.
"He was much younger than Uncle Rolf; he was still at college when Uncle Rolf went out to India with his wife. He distinguished himself there, and made a great many friends; his brilliant abilities attracted the notice of rather an influential man; he offered him a secretaryship, and soon afterward took him with him to Rome.
"There his success was even greater than it had been in London. Every one conspired to spoil and flatter the handsome young Englishman. He was admitted to the most select circles; the youthful queens of society tried to find favor in his eyes; he might have made more than one splendid match, for there was quite a furor about him, but he soon put a stop to his brilliant career by a most imprudent marriage, for he fell in love with a Roman flower-girl and made her his wife.
"Ah, you look shocked, Fern; society was shocked too, they had made so much of him, you see.
"People said he was mad, that Bianca's dark eyes had bewitched him; it may be so, but from the day when he first saw her tying up her roses and lilies on the steps of the fountain, to the last moment when he laid his head like a tired child on her bosom to die, he never loved any other woman but her, and he loved her well. But it was not a happy match; how could it be? it was too unequal, he had all the gentleness and calm that belonged to the Ferrers, and she—she brought him, beside her dark Madonna beauty, the fierce Italian nature, the ungovernable temper that became the heritage of her unhappy daughter."
Fern started as though she would have spoken, but Crystal only pressed her hand and went on—
"When a few months had passed over, and the fame of Bianca's great beauty had got abroad, society relaxed its frowns a little, and received its erring favorite into its arms again.
"They had left Rome and had settled at Florence, and friends began to flock round them; Bianca was only a peasant girl, but love taught her refinement, and she did not disgrace her husband's choice; but it would have been more for her happiness, and my father's too, if they had never withdrawn from the seclusion of their quiet villa.
"For very soon the fierce jealousy of her undisciplined nature began to assert itself.
"She could not endure to see her husband talk to another woman, or hear him praise one even in the most moderate terms. A mere trifle would provoke her, and then long and painful were the scenes that ensued.
"She loved him passionately; she loved him as only an Italian can love; and she made his life so bitter to him that he yielded it up almost thankfully at last. He had been very patient with her, and when he was dying, he put his hands upon her dark hair in his tender way:
"'We have not been happy together, dear,' he said, 'but I do not think it has been my fault. I loved you always, but it was hard to make you believe it; be good to our child, Bianca, for my sake.' And then, as she knelt beside him in speechless anguish and remorse, he called his little Crystal to him and kissed and blessed me, and while he was still holding my hand a sudden spasm crossed his face and he put his head down upon her shoulder, and in another moment he was gone.
"My poor mother, she did not long survive him.
"As soon as the news of my father's death reached England, Uncle Rolf wrote at once offering a home to his only brother's widow and child.
"It was my father's desire, she knew, that she should live under the protection of his relatives, so she obeyed his wishes at once. She did not hesitate for a moment, though she felt she was a dying woman, and it broke her heart to leave her husband's grave. She would bring her child to England and place her safely in Colonel Ferrers's care, and then she could go with an easy conscience to rejoin her beloved.
"How well I remember that journey; every detail was stamped upon my childish recollection.
"Alas! she never lived to reach England. She was taken very ill in Paris, and after a few days of intense suffering, she passed peacefully away.
"A kind-hearted American widow and her daughter, with whom my father had a slight acquaintance in Florence, had traveled with us and were at the same hotel, and nothing could exceed their goodness to my poor mother.
"They nursed her most tenderly, and were with her when she died, and Mrs. Stanforth promised my mother most faithfully that they would watch over me until they had seen me safe under Colonel Ferrers's care.
"Every one was kind to me. I remember once when I was sitting in a corner of the saloon with Minnie Stanforth, I heard people talking softly of the beautiful Florentine lady who lay dead upstairs, and how some one had told them that she had died of a broken heart from the loss of her English husband.
"I was not with her when she breathed her last. Minnie had coaxed me away on some pretext or other, and when I became restless and miserable, she took me in her kind arms, and with the tears streaming from her eyes, told the truth.
"Fern, sometimes when I shut my eyes I can recall that scene now.
"I can see a child crouching in a corner of the big gaudy salon where a parrot was screaming in a gilded cage, a forlorn miserable child, with her face hidden in her hands and crying as though her little heart would break.
"I remember even now with gratitude how good the Stanforths were to me. Minnie had a little bed placed beside hers, and would often wake up in the middle of the night to soothe and comfort me, when I started from some dream in a paroxysm of childish terror and grief. Young as I was I so fretted and pined after my mother, that if we had stayed longer in Paris I should have been ill; but, as soon as the funeral was over, we started for England.
"Uncle Rolf had been prevented, by an attack of gout, coming to the funeral, but he wrote to Mrs. Stanforth giving her full instructions, and promised that if possible he would meet us at Dover.
"It was early one November morning, as I lay listlessly in my berth, that I was aroused by the noise overhead. Was the brief voyage over, I wondered; had we reached England so soon? and, weak as I was, I crawled on deck, full of languid curiosity, to see my father's country. But the first glimpse disappointed me—a leaden sea, white chalky cliffs, and a gray sky, with black ugly-looking buildings and ships looming out of a damp mist; this was all I could see of Old England. And I was turning away disconsolately when Mrs. Stanforth came up to me with a tall gentleman with a kind, brown, wrinkled face and a gray mustache.
"'Here is your little niece, Colonel Ferrers,' I heard her say in her pleasant clipping voice; 'poor little dear, she has fretted herself almost to death for her mother.' Then as I hung back, rather shyly, I felt myself lifted in my uncle's arms.
"'Little Crystal,' he said, gently, and I thought I felt a tear on my face as he kissed me, 'my poor Edmund's child.' And then, stroking my hair, 'But you shall come home with me and be my dear little daughter;' and then, as the kind hand fondled me, I crept nearer and hid my face in his coat. Dear Uncle Rolf, I loved him from that moment. The rest of the day seemed like a dream.
"We were speeding through a strange unknown country, past fields and hedge-rows, and stretches of smooth uplands, ugly plowed lands and patches of gray sullen gloom that resembled the sea.
"Now I was gazing out blankly at the dreary landscape, and now nodding drowsily on my uncle's shoulder, till all at once we stopped under some dark trees, and a voice very close to me said, 'Let me lift her out, father.' And then some one carried me into a sudden blaze of light; and all at once I found myself in a large pleasant room with some sweet-smelling wood burning on the hearth, and a girl with dead-brown curls sewing at a little table with a white china lamp on it.
"The strong arms that had carried me in and put me on the sofa, and were now bungling over the fastenings of my heavy cloak, belonged to a tall youth with a pleasant face, that somehow attracted me.
"'Come and help me, Maggie,' he said, laughing, and then the fair, mild face of Margaret bent over me.
"'Poor child, how tired she looks, Raby,' I heard her whisper, 'and so cold, too, the darling;' and then she knelt down beside me and chafed my hands, and talked to me kindly; and Raby brought me some hot coffee, and stood watching me drink it, looking down at me with his vivid dark eyes, those kind, beautiful eyes—oh, Raby, Raby!" and here for a moment Crystal buried her face in her hands, and Fern was grieved to see the tears were streaming through her fingers.
"Do not go on if it troubles you," she said, gently; "I am interested, oh, so interested in that poor little lonely child; but if it pains you to recall those days, you shall not distress yourself for me."
"Yes—yes—I wish to tell it, only give me one moment." And for a little while she wept bitterly; then drying her eyes, she went on in a broken voice:
"Ah, I was not lonely long; thank God, there is nothing more transitory than a child's grief, deep and inconsolable as it first appears.
"I did not forget my mother—I do not forget her now, but in a short time I threw off all traces of sadness. The change, the novelty of my life, the unfailing kindness that I experienced, soon worked a beneficial effect on my health and spirits. In a little while I ceased to regret Italy and its blue skies—and the Grange with its dear inmates became my world.
"But it was Raby who was my chief friend—my favorite playfellow.
"I loved Uncle Rolf; child as I was, I very soon learned to reverence that simple, kindly nature—that loyal heart; and Margaret was like a dear elder sister; but it was Raby who from the first became my master and my companion; Raby who instructed and reproved and praised me; whose frown was my worst punishment; whose smile was my reward.
"It was he who implanted in me a thirst for knowledge; all the leisure moments he could snatch from his own studies were devoted to mine. During his college terms he corresponded with me, and planned out my work during his absence, sparing himself neither time nor pains; and from the night he carried me in, poor, weary child, to the light and radiance of his peaceful home—he seemed to have adopted me peculiarly, until it came to be understood at the Grange that Crystal was Raby's darling and belonged especially to him.
"I think that if Margaret had not been endowed with that singular unselfishness that belonged to her nature, she must have missed something out of her life; once she had been everything to her brother, but now it was Crystal! Crystal who must bring him his books, and hunt out the words in the dictionary. Crystal who must tidy his papers and lay the little spray of flowers beside his plate at breakfast. Crystal who must go with him on his rounds among the sick and aged—for true to the priestly office to which he proposed to dedicate himself, the young under-graduate already devoted a portion of his time to deeds of charity. Little by little in my childish selfishness I stole from her her sweetest privileges; the many little offices with which a loving woman delights to minister to the objects of her affection, be they father, brother or husband.
"I took the stool at his feet, the low chair at his side, but she never complained; for the brother and sister understood each other most truly. In their quiet looks, I have read a mutual assurance that spoke of perfect trust and undiminished affection; Margaret could never be jealous of Raby, or Raby of Margaret.
"Raby had very peculiar notions on the subject of female education.
"Mine, for example, was carried on in rather a desultory fashion. I was not fretted by restraint, or made stupid by long tasks; just sufficient knowledge was imparted to excite my reasoning powers and arouse the desire for more. 'Let her learn,' he would say, 'but let her learn as the bird learns to sing.' And when Margaret, in her gentle way, sighed over my lamentable ignorance of all feminine acquirements and household method:
"'Let her be,' he would reply, with masculine preremptoriness, 'we must not force nature. When the time comes for her womanly instincts to develop, not an English matron or even our own clever Margaret will excel Crystal then.' And still, more strange to say, he rather stimulated than repressed my vanity; and so I grew up quite conscious of my own personal attractions; but without the knowledge having undue weight with me.
"From the first he would have me dressed in the quaint, rich style in which I came to them first.
"'It suits her peculiar style of beauty,' I heard him once say, when Margaret remonstrated with him on the extravagance of the idea. I was curled up on the window-seat, reading, and they did not think I was listening.
"'Raby is right,' observed Uncle Rolf; 'she will never make a quiet-looking English girl like our Maggie here—were you to dress her as a Puritan or a Quaker; ah, she will break hearts enough, I'll warrant, with those dark, witch eyes of hers; we must be careful of the child! If Bianca's beauty were like her daughter's, one can not wonder much at poor Edmund's choice.'
"Something in my uncle's speech aroused my childish petulance. I closed my book and came forward.
"'I don't want to break any hearts!' I cried, angrily; 'I only want Raby's—I am going to belong to Raby all my life, I will never leave him, never!' and I stamped my foot in a little fury.
"They all laughed, Uncle Rolf long and merrily, but Raby colored up as he smiled.
"'That's right, darling,' he said, in a low voice. 'Now go back to your book.' And I went at once obediently.
"When I bade him good-night that evening, and stood lingering by his chair on some pretext or other, he suddenly took hold of me and drew me toward him.
"'Little Crystal,' he said, 'you think you love Raby indeed; I am sure you do, and Heaven knows how sweet your childish affection is to me; but do you know—will you ever know how Raby loves you?' and putting his hands on my head he bade God bless my innocent face, and let me go.
"Oh, those delicious days of my childhood. But they are gone—they are gone! Long rambles on the sea-shore with Margaret, and in the corn-fields with Raby; now nutting in the copse or gathering brier roses in the lanes; setting out our strawberry feast under the great elm-tree on the lawn or picking up fir-cones in the Redmond avenue. Spring flowers and autumn sunsets—bright halcyon days of my youth made glorious with love.
"For as yet no shadow of the future had fallen upon me, no taint of that inherited passion had revealed itself; perhaps nothing had occurred to rouse the dormant temper lulled by the influences of this happy home. But the time came soon enough. Shalt I ever forget that day?
"It was during the Easter vacation—I must have been nearly thirteen then. Raby had been unwell; some low, feverish attack had seized him, and he was just ill enough to lie on the sofa all day and be petted and waited upon. I was perfectly happy from morning to night; I devoted myself to his amusement; reading to him, talking to him, or even sitting silently beside him while he slept.
"'Our Crystal is getting quite a woman,' he said once, when I turned his hot pillow and put the cooling drink beside him; and at that brief word of praise my face flushed with pleasure, and I felt amply rewarded.
"One day we had visitors, Hugh Redmond and two girls, distant relations of his, who were staying at the Hall with their mother.
"One of them, Isabel Vyvie, I had seen several times, and had taken a great dislike to her.
"She was a tall, striking-looking girl, much handsomer than her sister, Emily, and she must have been two or three years older than Raby. She always seemed to like his society; so, while the others talked to Uncle Rolf and Margaret, she sat on my low chair beside Raby's couch, and talked to him without seeming to notice any one else.
"Miss Vyvie was very handsome and a flirt, and Raby was only a young man.
"It would hardly have been natural if he had not seemed gratified by her interest in him, though I did not know until afterward that he valued it at its true cost.
"Still she was pleasant and her little airs amused him, and he entered into a long conversation with some enjoyment, and for once I was forgotten. I tried to join in once or twice, but Miss Vyvie treated me as a child, and scarcely deigned to notice me; but Raby did not seem to resent her indifference or want of courtesy.
"'He only cares for me when others are not by,' I thought, and my heart began to swell with jealous emotion. But just before she left something occurred that fanned the envious spark into a flame.
"Her white hand was resting on the little table that stood beside the couch. There was a diamond ring on one finger that flashed as she moved; presently she stretched it out to Raby, with a bewitching smile.
"'Oh, what lovely lilies of the valley,' she exclaimed, pointing to the flowers; 'they are the first I have seen this year. I adore lilies, they are perfectly exquisite. Do let me have them, Mr. Ferrers. I know they grew in the garden, and I shall keep them as a memento of Sandycliffe and the dear Grange. Come, you must not let me break the tenth commandment and covet any longer,' and the fair, girlish hand rested near the flowers as she spoke.
"Raby looked embarrassed and hesitated.
"I had gathered those lilies for him before the dew was off them. They grew in a little nook of the Redmond grounds; they were his favorite flowers, and I had walked all those miles to hunt for them.
"'Come,' she said, 'surely you will not refuse me, Mr. Ferrers,' and her smile was very winning; and Raby, though reluctant, laid the little spray of lilies in her hand. He could hardly have done otherwise, but I was too young to know that.
"'There, she has gone at last, the pretty chatterbox,' he exclaimed, with a yawn of real or pretended weariness as the door closed upon our visitors. 'Crystal, my child, come here: I have not heard your voice for the last hour. Tell me what you think of Miss Vyvie; is she not a lively young lady?'
"I made him no answer. I was past it.
"Oh, if I had only gone silently out of the room to recover myself. If he had not spoken to me just then. He started when he saw my face.
"'Crystal, my dear child, what is the matter?' and then—then it burst forth. Oh, my God, I must have been beside myself. Surely some demon must have entered into my childish heart before I could have poured forth that torrent of passionate invective and reproach.
"They had never witnessed such a scene. Margaret, sweet soul, cried and trembled as she heard me, and Uncle Rolf grew quite pale.
"'That child,' he cried, 'Edmund's child!' and his voice was full of horror; but Raby rose slowly from his couch, and without a word led me from the room.
"I do not know whether I yielded to that firm touch, or whether his strength compelled me; but, still silent, he took me up to my room and left me there.
"Oh, the awfulness of that mute reproach, the sternness of that pale face; it recalled me to myself sooner than any word would have done. Almost before the door closed my passion had spent itself, and then the agony of shame and despair that followed! I had forfeited his good opinion forever. He would never love me again! If I could die—oh, impious prayer that I prayed—if I could only die! But I would never see his face again. I would go where they could never find me, where I would never grieve them more.
"Fern, it was a strange feature that marked those passionate fits of mine; but I never yielded to them afterward without the same desire seizing me to go away and see them no more; and but for the watchful care that surrounded me at those times I should often have escaped.
"It came upon me now, this horror of restraint, and overmastered me. To my fancy I seemed to feel the walls falling in upon me in judgment for my sin. I was suffocated, and yet restless. Oh, to be away, I thought, to be away from those reproachful faces; and I rushed downstairs, through the house and down the yew-tree walk; but the garden-door into the lane was locked, and at that slight obstacle I shivered and lay down on the grass and crushed my face against the ground, and felt like some youthful Cain, branded with unextinguishable shame.
"I had lost Raby's love. I had forfeited his respect. There lay the unbearable sting. Never should I forget that pale, stern face and the unspoken reproach in those dark eyes.
"'Oh, I can not bear it,' I cried; 'I can not, can not, bear it.'
"'My child,' said Raby's grave voice close to me, 'if you are sorry, and your grief tells me you are, you must ask pardon of our Father in heaven."
"'Then—may a merciful God forgive me for my blasphemy—I cried, 'not His, but yours, Raby. I can not live without your love;' and then I was almost choked with my sobs.
"'Crystal,' he said, with a heavy sigh, 'can this be my child whom I have taught and guided, my child for whom I have prayed every night;' and, touched by the gentleness of his tone, I crept a little nearer and clasped his feet.
"'I can never be forgiven,' I sobbed. 'What has heaven to do with such a sinner as I?'
"'Ah, little one,' he answered, 'have not I forgiven thee, and I was stretched on no cross for thy sake;' and then, kneeling down by my side, he raised my wet face from the grass and laid it gently on his arm and kissed it, and then I knew I was forgiven.
"Never, never shall I forget how he talked to me—and yet he was ill—as a brother and a priest, too! How he helped me to bear the terror of the sin and the shame of my repentance; how, without removing one iota of its guilt or one dread of its probable consequences, he led me to the one consolation. 'Thy sins, even thine, shall be forgiven thee,' and then he took me back into the house, cast down indeed and humbled, but no longer despairing, and led me to Uncle Rolf.
"'Father,' he said, still holding my hand, perhaps because he felt how I trembled, 'father, Crystal has come to ask your pardon and Margaret's also for the pain she has caused you both, and to say that, with God's help, she will never offend so again.'
"Never! oh, Raby, never! when the inborn enemy was strong as death and cruel as the grave. Oh, my good angel, Raby, what have the years written, against me—against me—your unhappy child?"
A GRAVE DECISION.
From the day I brought to England my poor searching face (An orphan even of my father's grave); He had loved me, watched me, watched his soul in mine, Which in me grew, and heighten'd into love.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
"The years rolled by, but, alas! they brought no added happiness with them. The taint in my nature that had revealed itself so unexpectedly, only developed more strongly as time went on; at rare intervals—very rare, I am thankful to say—fierce gusts of passion overmastered my reason, so that for a brief time I seemed like one possessed with an evil spirit.
"They tried everything—everything that human wisdom and kindness could devise to save me from myself, but in vain. All causes for offense were removed, and every possible means taken to ward off the threatened excitement; but when the paroxysms came, they wasted no words, no severity upon me, they simply left me to myself.
"But the punishment that followed was a terrible one. For days and days after one of these outbreaks, sometimes for a week together, Raby would refuse to speak to me or to hold any communication at all.
"Our walks and rides, our pleasant studies, were all broken off, every little office and attention refused, my remarks met by a chilling manner that drove me to silence.
"Left completely to my own society, I wandered aimlessly about the house or sat moping over my books or work in a corner. I never sought to rebel against the rigor of my sentence; it was a just one I knew, and I bore it as patiently as I could. And then all at once, sometimes when I least expected it, when I was most hopeless and forlorn, a hand would be placed on my head in the old caressing manner, and a low 'forgiven, darling,' would bring me back to sunshine and happiness; but, oh, how he suffered. I never knew until afterward that his punishment was even greater than mine.
"I am speaking now of my younger days, but presently there came a time when they treated it less as a fault than a malady; when Raby dreaded the repentance more than the paroxysm, for so poignant was my anguish of remorse that it threatened to prey on my health.
"Then, when they saw how I wept and strove against it, and how the torment of my own undisciplined nature was more than I could bear, then they grew to look upon me as one upon whom some deadly scourge was laid—some moral sickness that they could not understand indeed, but which, out of their great love, they could afford to pity.
"Years rolled on. Raby had passed through his university life with honors; had gained a fellowship, and had taken orders, and accepted a curacy some distance from Sandycliffe.
"It was only a temporary position until the church at Sandycliffe had been restored and was ready for use; the living had been already promised to him, and small as it was, he wished to hold it, at least for the present. Raby was a man singularly devoid of ambition, and though he must have been conscious that his were no common gifts, he always told us that he did not wish a wider sphere until he had tested his powers, and had worked a little in the home vineyard.
"At this time he was much occupied with his studies, and some doctrinal treatise on which he was engaged; and as only Sunday duty was required of him, he was able to be with us from Monday to Saturday, a great boon to us, as Uncle Rolf's health was failing, and his son's constant presence was a great comfort to him. He died when I was about fifteen, and then Raby became master of the Grange.
"The next two years that followed were, in spite of my dear uncle's loss, very happy ones.
"The fits of passion became more rare and decreased in violence, and for a time ceased altogether. It seemed to be coming true what Raby had once prophesied, that I should outgrow them when I became a woman.
"That was our chief joy; but later on, after a year or so, Hugh Redmond came more frequently to the Grange, and by and by Margaret and he were engaged. Raby gave his consent rather reluctantly, he always told me he did not consider him worthy of a woman like Margaret, he thought him weak and impulsive and without ballast; but Margaret had lost her heart to her handsome young lover, and could see no fault in him, and for a time all went smoothly; but I am anticipating a little.
"The event that stands prominently in my recollection was a ball that was to be given in honor of young Egerton Trelawney, the eldest son of a wealthy merchant living at Pierrepoint. Margaret was going, and of course Hugh Redmond would be there, but they were not engaged then. Margaret had induced Raby to let me accompany her, for I was nearly seventeen then, and very womanly for my age. He consented rather reluctantly, I thought, and the subject dropped. Another time I should have tried to extort a more gracious permission, for my heart was set on the ball; but for some time I had noticed a slight change in Raby's manner to me, an imperceptible reserve that made me a little less at my ease with him; it was not that he failed in kindness, for he had never been so good to me, but there was certainly a slight barrier between us. He ceased to treat me as a child, there was something deferential in his tenderness; his eyes had a keen, watchful look in them as they rested on me that perplexed me.
"I was beginning not to understand Raby at all; either he was not quite happy, or I had disappointed him in some way; and yet, though I longed to question him, an unusual shyness held me back.
"It was the evening before the ball, and Raby was in the library so absorbed in his Hebrew manuscript that for once he had not missed me from my accustomed place.
"The new ball dress Margaret had ordered had ordered for me in London had just arrived, and she had coaxed me to put down my book and try it on in case any alterations should be required. I had never seen any gown I liked better; the rich, creamy tint just set off my olive complexion and coils of black hair to perfection. I was quite startled when I saw myself in the long pier glass; my neck and arms were gleaming through the dainty, cobwebby lace, a ruby pendant sparkled like a crimson star at my throat. Margaret was enchanted.
"'Oh, Crystal,' she exclaimed, 'how beautiful you look, just like an Esther or Vashti with their grand Oriental faces. Come down with me and let us startle Raby from his dusty old folios; he will think he sees a vision.'
"I followed her smiling; I was pleased that Raby should see me in this queenly garb. I stole gently behind his chair. 'Oh, king, live forever,' I said, laughing, and then he turned round; and as I dropped him a mocking courtesy he tried to suppress the exclamation that rose to his lips.
"'Shall I do?' I continued, mischievously; 'shall I do, Raby?' and I made a sweeping obeisance to him, such as Esther might have made to Ahasuerus, but no like scepter of favor was extended to me.
"'Yes, you will do very nicely,' he said, curtly, and then he went back to his folios. But I had seen the expression in his eyes, the long, wistful look he had cast at me, and I triumphed.
"But my triumph was of brief duration. The next morning Raby treated me with almost chilling reserve. In vain I laughed, and talked, and strove to win him to merriment; his manner repelled all such attempts, and I was obliged to chat with Margaret.
"'Where are you going?' I asked, presently, when he had closed his books and was preparing to leave the room.
"'I am going up to West Point to see poor Lettie White,' he returned; 'her mother has been down this morning and tells me she is worse. You had better not accompany me, Crystal,' for I had started up from my chair.
"'And why not?" I exclaimed, in a hurt voice; 'it is such a delicious morning, and there is no such place as the West Point for a breeze; it will freshen me up for the evening.'
"'Well, do as you like,' he returned, coldly, and closed the door. The indifference of his tone wounded me. What could I have done to offend him; but I was never proud where Raby was concerned, so I put on my hat and accompanied him.
"For the first mile or two we were very silent. Raby walked on with his shoulders slightly bent, and his eyes fixed on the ground, a habit of his when he was thinking very deeply.
"'Raby,' I said at last, rather timidly, 'I wish you would walk a little slower, I want to talk to you;' and then he looked at me with some surprise.
"'I was only thinking of my next Sunday's sermon,' he replied, as if in apology for his want of attention. 'I told you you had better not come with me, Crystal.'
"'Oh, I know you did not want me,' I answered, lightly; 'your manner made that fact very apparent; but you see I wanted to come, and so I had my own way. Of course I know the text you will choose, Raby. What a pity that it is too far for me to come and hear that sermon. To think that neither Margaret nor I have ever heard you preach, and to lose that sermon of all others.'
"'What do you mean?' he answered, rather irritably, for my gay mood was clashing with his somber one.
"'Oh, the text will be, "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher. All is vanity;" that will be your subject, Raby, will it not?'
"He turned round at that, and a smile dispelled his gravity; and then he took my hand and put it on his arm, and held it gently there.
"'I think you have guessed my thoughts, Crystal,' he said, quietly, 'but not all of them. Do you know I have been thinking as we came along that you and I, dear child, have reached the cross-roads of life at last, where each must choose his or her path, and go on their way alone.'
"'Oh, Raby,' I exclaimed in some distress as I pressed closer to him; 'what can you mean by saying anything so dreadful. I hope your path and mine will always be the same.'
"'My dear,' he returned, gently—very gently; but there was pain and some strange solemn meaning in his face—'I disappointed you last night. You thought that I would not praise your finery or stoop to flatter your innocent vanity, that I held myself aloof from your girlish pleasure. Ah,' with a sudden change of tone, 'you little know what brilliant vision haunted me last night and drove sleep from my eyes; how it lured and tempted me from my sense of right; but God had mercy on His poor priest, and strengthened his hands in the day of battle.'
"The white abstracted look of his face, the low vehemence of his tone, thrilled me almost painfully; never had Raby looked or spoken like that.
"'No, my darling,' he went on, sorrowfully, 'I will never wrong the child I have guided and protected all these years, or take advantage of your youth and inexperience, by using my influence and condemning you to a life for which you are not fitted. Go forth into the world then, my Esther—did not Margaret compare you to Esther—make experience of its pleasures, its trials, its seductions, its false wooings, and its dazzling honors; if they tell you your beauty might win a coronet they would be right.'
"'Hush! let me finish; go into the world that claims you, but if it fail to please you—if it ever cast you away humbled and broken-hearted, then come back to me, my darling, come back to Raby; he will be praying for you here.'
"Shall I ever forget his tone; my tears fell fast as I listened to him.
"'What do you mean?' I sobbed; 'how have I offended you? Why do you propose to send me away from you?'
"'Nay,' he said, quietly, 'I am only speaking for your good. You are young, Crystal, but you must be conscious, indeed your manner told me so last night, that you have grace, beauty, and talents, triple gifts that the world adores. You will be its idol. Make your own election, then, my child, for you are now a woman. I will never seek to influence you, I am only a humble priest. What has such a one to do with a ball-room queen; the world's ways have never been my ways, for from my youth I have determined that "for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."'
"His calm steadfast voice awed me; every word seemed to rebuke my vanity and presumption. Ah, I saw it all now. Raby was disappointed with my choice; he had hoped—he had hoped otherwise.
"We had reached the end of our walk by this time. Before us was the poor cottage where Lettie White was dying. I took my hand from Raby's arm and sat down on the little stone bench by the bee-hives. Raby seemed to linger a moment, as though he expected me to speak to him, but I remained silent, and he turned away with a quick sigh and went into the house. Soon after I heard his voice through the upper window, where the white curtains were flapping in the breeze, and Lettie's weak tones answering him.
"Before me was a field of crimson clover; some brown bees were busily at work in it. There were scarlet poppies too gleaming in the hedge down below; the waves were lapping on the sands with a soft splash and ripple; beyond was the sea vast and crystalline, merged in misty blue. Did I hear it with a dull whirring of repetition, or was it the voice of my own conscience: 'For me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'
"Raby came out presently, and we walked home, still silent. The dignity of his office was upon him; his lips were moving, perhaps in petition for the dying girl.
"When we reached the house he went up to his room. The evening came. I got out our German books—Raby and I were studying together—and presently he joined me. In his absence of mind he had forgotten all about the ball, as I knew he would, and we were both absorbed in Schiller's magnificent 'Wallenstein' when Margaret entered, looking what Hugh Redmond called his 'Marguerite of Marguerites,' his pearl among women.
"Raby started and looked perplexed.
"'What, is it so late? You are dressed, Margaret, and this careless child has not commenced her toilet. Pray help her, Maggie, she will be dreadfully late.'
"Margaret gave me a wistful smile.
"'The carriage is here already,' she answered, quietly, 'and Mrs. Montague is waiting. Crystal is not going to the ball, Raby.'
"'Not going?' He turned and looked at me, our eyes met, and then he understood.
"'Does not Margaret look lovely,' I asked in assumed carelessness, when the hall door had closed, and he came back to the room.
"For answer he took me in his arms.
"'Not half so fair as my Esther,' he said, tenderly, 'though she is not wearing her regal dress. I thank God,' and here his voice grew low and solemn. 'I thank God, Crystal, that my darling has chosen the better part that shall not be taken away from her.'"
GO BACK TO RABY.
O calm grand eyes, extinguished in a storm, Blown out like lights o'er melancholy seas, Though shriek'd for by the shipwrecked. O my dark! My Cloud,—to go before me every day, While I go ever toward the wilderness, I would that you could see me bare to the soul.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
"Things went on very happily for a long time after this. The church at Sandycliffe was finished; Raby gave up his curacy, and read himself in; and then came the day when Margaret and I heard him preach.
"Shall I ever forget that day—it was Eastertide—and all that belonged to it? the last unclouded Sunday that was ever to rise upon me; the tiny flower-decked church already crowded with worshipers, the memorial window that Raby and Margaret had put in, sacred to the memory of their father, with its glorious colors reflected on the pavement in stains of ruby and violet; and lastly, the grave beautiful face of the young vicar as he looked round upon his little flock for the first time, his eyes resting for a moment as though in silent benediction on the vicarage seat.
"Were I to tell you what I thought of that sermon, you might think my praise partial, but there were many there, Hugh Redmond among them, who commented afterward on the eloquence and vivid power of the preacher. Hugh Redmond had accompanied us to church, for he and Margaret had been engaged some months, and they were always together. He declared that that sermon had made a deep impression on him.
"Many were affected that day by Raby's deep searching eloquence, but none more so than a lady who sat alone under the pulpit, and who drew down her crape veil that no one might see her tears.
"I knew her well; she was a childless widow who had lately come to live at Sandycliffe in a pretty cottage about half a mile from the Grange, and with whom Margaret had become very intimate—a fair gentle-looking woman who had gone through much trouble, and who wished to devote her life to good works; and as I looked at her now, my own eyes misty with sympathy, did I ever imagine that the time was fast approaching when I should wrong her with the bitterest hatred, and even seek to lift my hand against her.
"And yet you were one of God's dear saints, Mona!
"The service over, we lingered for a moment in the shady church-yard, Hugh and Margaret and I, until Raby should join us. He came out at last, a little pale and tired-looking. Margaret met him, her eyes shining like stars.
"'Oh, Raby,' she faltered, 'God has given me my heart's desire.' He smiled, but his hand went out to the girl standing silently behind him.
"'What does my child say?' he whispered, when the others had gone on a little; but I had no answer ready, he was so good, so far above me. With a sudden impulse I lifted the kind hand to my lips as though he were a king.
* * * * *
"Raby was very zealous in his profession. There was so little to do in Sandycliffe, but he offered himself as coadjutor to the vicar of Pierrepoint, and as there was a large poor population there, he and Margaret, and Mrs. Grey, his faithful helper, found plenty of scope for their energies.
"Mrs. Grey had no ties, she was rich and lonely, and she sought relief from her sick heart in ministering to the needs of others. Her health was delicate, and the air of Sandycliffe suited her—she had taken a fancy to the place; and the pretty cottage she rented was more to her taste than her house at South Kensington.
"Margaret and she were always together, their natures were congenial to each other, and a warm friendship grew up between them; Raby was also much interested in the young widow. I heard him say much more than once that she was a rare creature, and so humble in her own estimation that one would never have guessed how cultivated and accomplished she really was; 'her manners are so perfectly gentle,' he went on, 'no wonder Margaret is glad to have found such a friend.'
"I began to think that she was Raby's friend too, for nothing seemed to be done in Sandycliffe without Mrs. Grey—'our Mrs. Grey,' as Raby called her. Scarcely a day passed without seeing her at the Grange, and very often, as I knew, Raby called at the cottage.
"When I was with him their conversation was always about Pierrepoint, about the workmen's club Raby had started, and the mothers' meeting that was Mrs. Grey's hobby; she was certainly, in spite of her weak health, a most active creature; Raby always seemed to defer to her opinion. He told Margaret that Mrs. Grey was one of the most clear-headed women he had ever met, that her large-minded views were always surprising him. I used to listen in silence to all this. I liked Mrs. Grey, but I began to be jealous of her influence; I thought Raby was too much guided by her judgment—perhaps he was fascinated by her sweet looks.
"'Small beginnings make large endings.' 'Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth.' Even in a small country place like Sandycliffe there are busy and mischievous tongues. Presently a whisper reached my ears that fanned the smoldering embers of discontent within me to a scorching flame.
"Raby was a young unmarried man, and Mrs. Grey was young and attractive. What if people declared that her heart was buried in her husband's grave, and that she would, never marry again; they knew young widows always said those sort of things. Perhaps the vicar would induce her to change her mind some day. It would be such an excellent match, they went on; they were evidently cut out for each other, both so good; and then she was rich, it would be such a fortunate thing for Mr. Ferrers, especially when his sister left him; and then, looking at me, they supposed I should go to Redmond Hall with my cousin when she married. People talked like this to us both. Margaret used to laugh as though she were amused at the notion, and she seemed to expect me to laugh too; then she got a little indignant, and contradicted the report gravely. Nothing of the kind could ever happen, she said—she wished those busybodies would leave Raby and Mona alone; Mona was her friend, not his. But somehow I did not believe her. Fern, you look at me reproachfully, you think I ought to have been wiser; but how could I know; I was Raby's adopted child, his pet, but Mrs. Grey was more his equal in age, and she was very pretty. Her fair delicate style of beauty, and her extreme softness and gentleness might be dangerously attractive to a man like Raby, and I feared—I distrusted her.
"Alas! in a little time I learned to look upon her as my deadliest rival; to hear her name on his lips would send a jealous thrill through me.
"They were always together, at least it seemed so to me; but perhaps I was wrong. By and by I dropped all pretense of parish work; it did not suit me, I said. Raby seemed grieved, but he was true to his word, and did not try to influence me. Perhaps he thought I was restless and was pining for excitement and gayety. Alas! he little knew I would wander miles away, that I might not encounter them coming up the village street together, or witness the frank, cordial smile with which they parted. Mona's look, her touch, her soft vibrating voice set every nerve on edge. I was pining with a disease for which I knew no name and no remedy, and which was preying on my health and spirits.
"And worst of all, I was completely misunderstood. When in the unequal struggle my appetite failed and sleep forsook me, and a sort of fever kept me restless and irritable, and still no physical illness was at the root, they misconstrued the symptoms and attributed my depression to another cause. I saw in their looks that they distrusted me; they thought my old enemy was coming back, and redoubled their gentleness and care. Then Raby would speak tenderly to me, till every word sounded like a caress; and Margaret would follow me from place to place like some guardian spirit, as though she did not wish to lose sight of me. But they never guessed the cause—how could they? for as the weeks went on, a cold forbidding haughtiness hid their child's suffering heart from them. I would die, I said to myself recklessly, before they should guess my secret.
"Raby's face grew sad and then somewhat stern. I knew the old doubts were harassing him; he feared their quiet life was irksome to my youth, that I was fretting in secret for the gayeties and triumphs I had renounced.
"One day we three were sitting at luncheon together; I was playing with the food on my plate to prevent them noticing my want of appetite, as though I could ever evade Raby's eyes, and longing to escape from the room, for I felt more than usually miserable.
"Raby was watching me, I could see, though his conversation was directed to Margaret. She had been talking about the new schools that Mrs. Grey proposed building at Pierrepoint.
"'She wants to sell her house at South Kensington,' she said; 'she never means to live there again. It is a great pity, I tell her, for it is such a comfortable house and so beautifully furnished. But she will have it that she feels happier in her cottage; how good she is, Raby.'
"'Yes, indeed, hers is almost a perfect character,' he replied; 'she is so strong and yet so womanly, so very, very gentle.'
"Something in Raby's words touched too sensitive a chord, and after a vain attempt to control myself, I suddenly burst into hysterical tears, and left the room. They thought it was my strange temper, but I was only miserable that the enemy—my Philistine—was upon me, when he was only lurking in ambush for the time when my weakness would render me an easy prey.
"Let me go on quickly, for the remembrance of that day overpowers me. They never came near me. Raby always treated me himself at such times, and sometimes he would not allow Margaret to come to me; it was so now, and yet her dear face and sympathy might have saved me. I sobbed myself quiet, and then I lay on the couch in the morning-room, feeling strangely ill. I was faint and sick. I had eaten nothing, and I wanted food and wine, and to be hushed and comforted like a little child; and no one came near me. Of course not! they thought it was a fit of the old passion. No doubt Raby was in the village talking it over with Mona.
"It grew toward evening—cool quiet evening, but there was no quiet in my heart. I was burning with inward fever.
"I had had little sleep the night before, something odd and tumultuous seemed rising in my brain; a gleam of fair hair was blinding me. He loves fair women, I thought, and he calls me his dark-eyed Esther. Oh, Raby, I hate her! I hate her! You shall never marry her! You shall never call her your darling! I felt as though I should kill her first; for, indeed, I was nearly wild with passion, they had left me too long alone.
"Presently the door opened, and Raby came in. He looked very grave, I thought, as he sat down beside me. His quiet glance recalled me to myself.
"'Crystal,' he said, gently, 'have you been ill again, my dear?' They always called the paroxysms 'illness' now, but the word displeased me.
"'Where is Margaret?' I asked, sullenly. 'I can not talk to you, Raby. I am weak, and you do not understand. If I am ill, as you say, you should not keep Margaret from me.'
"'She is at the schools,' he returned, soothingly, 'I left her with Mrs. Grey—they will be here directly; but, Crystal, my darling, before they come in I want to have a little talk with you. You are better now, are you not? I want to tell you what I have decided to do for my child's welfare. I am going to send her away!'
"I sprung up with an exclamation of dismay, but he put me back firmly and quietly on the couch as though I were a child, and went on with his speech.
"'Crystal,' he said, rather sternly, 'I claim obedience as your guardian; I claim it legally and morally.' Never had he spoken so severely before. 'I am doing what costs me a great sacrifice. I am going to send you away from us for a little while for your own good; for your own peace and happiness. Alas! I see plainly now, how we have failed to secure either.' I tried to speak, but I could not. I crushed my hands together as though they were in a vise, as I listened.
"'Heaven knows,' he continued, sadly, 'how I have tried to do my duty to you, and how Margaret has tried too; how we have loved you, prayed and cared for you, never thinking of ourselves, but only of you. What have we done that you should hide your unhappiness from us? Why did you not come to me and tell me frankly, and like a brave girl, that the sacrifice I asked was too great for you to yield; that your youth and temperament demanded a different life to mine; that the quiet and monotony were killing you; would anything have been too hard for your brother's love?'
"I shivered at the word. Oh, Raby, why—why did you utter it? who never were, who never could be a brother of mine. He had never used that word before; it bore a terrible meaning to me now.
"'I have spoken to Doctor Connor,' he went on, more quickly, 'and his opinion coincides with mine; and so I have arranged it all with Mrs. Grey; surely a kinder and sweeter soul never breathed, not even our own Margaret. You are to go abroad under her care for six months; Doctor Connor advises it. Yes, it will be hard for us, but never fear, my darling, the time will soon pass.
"'You shall go to Switzerland and Italy, and see your father's grave, and your beautiful Florence again. You shall see fresh sights and breathe fresh air until this weary lassitude has left you, and you come back to us like our old Crystal.'
"'I will not go, Raby,' I exclaimed, exasperated beyond endurance at the very idea. 'I will never go with Mrs. Grey;' but I might as well have spoken to a rock.
"'I am your guardian, and I tell you that you will go, Crystal,' he returned, severely, but his sternness was only assumed to hide his pain. 'Nay, my child,' as he saw my face, 'do not make it too hard for me, by a resistance that will be useless. Think how the months will fly by, and how the change will benefit you, and how good it is of our dear Mrs. Grey to give up her peaceful home and her work just for your sake and mine.'
"His sake! He was driving me mad. Ah, it was on me now. He might talk or he might be silent, but this would make itself heard.
* * * * *
"Oh, Mona, lying deep in your quiet grave, where they carried you so soon, it was not I, but the demon who possessed me!
* * * * *
"He was very white now. He took hold of my hands and held them firmly.
"'How dare you, Crystal,' he said, sternly; 'how dare you speak of a lady, of Mrs. Grey in that way. Ah, Heavenly Father, forgive this unhappy child, she can not know what she says.'
"I answered with a mocking laugh that seemed forced from my lips, and then, as though my unhappy fate were sealed, Mrs. Grey entered.
"She thought that it was a hysterical attack, and came at once to Raby's help.
"'Do not be alarmed, Mr. Ferrers,' she said, gently, 'it is only hysteria;' and she held out a glass of cold water to him. The action provoked me. I tore myself from Raby's grasp, dashing the glass aside. I longed to break something. There was a bottle beside me, some chemical acid that Hugh Redmond had carelessly left that very morning. I snatched up the vial, for I wanted to crush it into a million atoms, and rush from the room; but she called out in affright, 'Oh, Crystal, don't touch it, it is—' and then she never finished.
"I saw her white hands trembling, her blue eyes dilated with horror; and then my demon was upon me. I knew what it was, and I hurled it at her, and Raby sprung between—he sprung between us, oh, Raby, Raby!—and then, with a shriek that rang through my brain for months afterward, he fell to the ground in convulsions of agony.
* * * * *
"I can not go on. I can not!
"Was not Cain's punishment greater than he could bear?
"When they came to me as I lay in my despair across the threshold of his door, and told me that the light of those beautiful eyes was quenched forever; that I should never meet that loving glance again, that he was blind—blind—and that it was my hand that had done it; then it was that in my agony I breathed the vow that I would remove their curse from them, that I would wander forth, Cain-like, into the great world, until my punishment was in some degree commensurate with my sin. Fern, I have never faltered in my purpose. I have never repented of my resolve, though their love has sought to recall me, and I know that in their hearts they have forgiven me. I have worked, and wept, and prayed, and my expiation has not been in vain.
"In the Crystal you know, you will hardly find a trace of the high-spirited girl that Raby loved, nay, that he loves still. Ah, I know it all now; how he seeks for his darling, and makes it his life purpose to find her, and bring her back to peace. I know how even in his intolerable anguish he prayed them to have mercy upon me, and to spare me the awful truth. I have seen his face, that changed blind face of his. I have ministered to him with these hands, I have heard his dear voice, and yet I have not betrayed myself."
"Crystal," sobbed Fern, and indeed she could scarcely speak for her tears, she was so moved by this pitiful story, "if I were you I would go back to-morrow; how can you, how can you leave him, when he needs you so?"
"I go back to him?" repeated the other girl, mournfully. "I who have blighted his life and darkened his days; who have made his existence a long night? I who have robbed him of the glory of his priesthood, and made him what he is, a wreck of his former self?"
"Yes," was the steady answer. "I would go back to him and be his eyes, though his goodness humbled me in the dust. Ah, Crystal, are you worse than she out of whom the Saviour cast seven devils, and who loved much because much had been forgiven her."
"Hush, hush! you do not know, Fern!"
"My darling, I do know," persisted Fern, gently, "and I tell you that it is your duty to go back to Raby, who loves you so. Nay," she continued, as a deep blush rose to Crystal's olive cheek, "he never cared for this Mona—your own words have proved that. Go back to him, and be the light of his eyes, and take his darkness from him, for I see plainly that he will never leave off seeking you, and you only."
THE TALL YOUNG LADY IN BROWN.
Not enjoyment and not sorrow Is our destined end or way; But to act that each to-morrow Finds us further than to-day
In the world's broad field of battle In the bivouac of life Be not like dumb driven cattle, Be a hero in the strife.
As Fern finished her little speech, Crystal hid her face in her hands, but there was no answer—only the sound of a deep-drawn sob was distinctly audible. A few minutes afterward she raised it, and in the moonlight Fern could see it was streaming with tears.
"Do not say any more," she implored; "do you think my own heart does not tell me all that, but I will not go back yet; the flaming sword of conscience still bars my way to my Paradise. Fern, do you know why I have told you my story? It is because I am going away, and I want you to promise me something, and there is no one else I can ask; no, not your mother," as Fern looked surprised at this, "she has enough to trouble her."
"What is it?" asked Fern, rather timidly.
"I am going away," returned Crystal, "and one never knows what may happen. I am young, but life is uncertain. If I never come back, if anything befalls me, will you with your own hands give this to Raby," and as she spoke, she drew from her bosom a thick white envelope sealed and directed, and placed it in Fern's lap. As it lay there Fern could read the inscription: "To be given to the Rev. Raby Ferrers, after my death."
"Oh, Crystal," she exclaimed, with a shiver, "what could happen to you. You are young—not one-and-twenty yet—and your health is good, and—" but Crystal interrupted her with a strange smile.
"Yes, it is true; but the young and the strong have to die sometimes; when the call comes we must go. Do not look so frightened, Fern, I will not die if I can help it; but if it should be so, will you with your own hands give that to Raby; it will tell him what I have suffered, and—and it will comfort him a little."
"Yes, dear, I will do it;" and Fern leaned forward and kissed her softly. The moon was shining brightly now, and in the clear white light Fern noticed for the first time how thin and pale Crystal looked; how her cheek, and even her slight supple figure, had lost their roundness. There were deep hollows in the temples, dark lines under the dark eyes, in spite of her beauty she was fearfully wan. The grief that preyed upon her would soon ravage her good looks. For the first time Fern felt a vague fear oppressing her, but she had no opportunity to say more, for at that moment Crystal rose quickly from her seat.
"You have promised," she said, gratefully; "thank you for that. It is a great trust, Fern, but I know I can rely on you. Now I can talk no more. If your mother comes in, will you tell her about Miss Campion. I think she will be glad for many reasons. Now I will try and sleep, for there is much to be done to-morrow. Good night, my dear;" and the next moment Fern found herself alone in the moonlight.
When Mrs. Trafford returned, she heard the news very quietly.
"It will be better—much better," she said, quickly. "You must not fret about it, my sunbeam. Crystal is beginning to look ill; change and movement will do her good. Our life is very quiet. She has too much time to feed upon herself. She will be obliged to rouse herself among strangers." And when Fern told her tearfully of the promise she had made, Mrs. Trafford only listened with a grave smile.
"Put it away safely, my dear; you will never have to give it, I hope; only it is a relief to the poor child to know you have it. Hers is a strange morbid nature. She is not yet humbled sufficiently. When she is, she will go back, like the Prodigal, and take the forgiveness that is waiting for her. Now, my darling, all this sad talk has made you look pale. You must try and forget it, and go to sleep." But, for the first time in her healthy girlhood, sleep refused to come at Fern's bidding; and she lay restless and anxious, thinking of her friend's tragical story until the gray dawn ushered in the new day.
The little household in Beulah Place were very busy during the next few days. The girls went out shopping together to replenish Crystal's modest wardrobe, and then sat working until nearly midnight to complete the new traveling dress. Fern was putting the final stitches on the last afternoon while Crystal went to bid good-bye to her pupils. The black trunk in the girl's room was already packed, for she was to start early in the morning.
Percy had not yet heard the news; he had been away from town the last week, to Crystal's great relief. She had begged Mrs. Trafford and Fern to say nothing about her movements. He might appear at any moment, and Crystal dreaded a scene if he heard of her approaching departure.
"It will be much better for him not to know until the sea is between us," she had said to Mrs. Trafford. "When he hears I have gone without bidding him good-bye, he will see then that I mean what I say—that my life has nothing to do with his;" and Mrs. Trafford had agreed to this.
It was with a feeling of annoyance and very real discomfort, then, that Crystal caught sight of him as she came down the steps of Upton House. He was walking quickly down the street, and evidently perceived her at once. There would be no chance of escaping him, so she walked slowly on, quite aware that he would overtake her in another minute. As they were to part so soon, she must put up with his escort. Of course he had been to Beulah Place, and was now in search of her; poor foolish boy!
The next moment she heard his footstep behind her.
"Miss Davenport, this is too delightful," and his handsome face wore a look of pleased eagerness. "I thought I should have to wait some time, from Fern's account, but I have not been here a moment. There is no hurry, is there?" checking her pace as Crystal seemed inclined to walk fast.
"We are busy people, Mr. Trafford," she answered, pleasantly, "and can never afford to walk slowly. Why did you not wait with your sister? You have not seen her for a long time."
"Has it seemed a long time to you?" he returned, with quick emphasis. "I wish I could believe that you had missed me, that you had even given me a thought during my absence;" and he looked wistfully at the girl as he spoke.
"I am sure your mother and Fern missed you," she replied, evasively. She wanted to keep him in good humor, and avoid any dangerous topics. She would like to leave him, if possible, with some kindly memory of this interview. In spite of his sins against her, she could not altogether harden her heart against Fern's brother.
Any stranger meeting these two young people would have regarded them as a perfectly matched couple. Percy's refined aristocratic face and distinguished carriage made a splendid foil for Crystal's dark beauty and girlish grace. As Percy's eyes rested on her they scarcely noticed the shabby dress she wore. He was thinking as usual that he had never seen any one to compare with this young governess; and he wondered, as he had wondered a hundred times before, if her mother had been an Englishwoman; his mother would never tell him anything about Miss Davenport, except that she was of good birth and an orphan.
"Did you bring Mr. Huntingdon with you?" she asked, rather hurriedly, for she was quite aware of the fixed look that always annoyed her. The admiration of men was odious to her now the only eyes she had cared to please would never look at her again.
"Do you mean Erle?" was the careless answer. "Oh, no, my dearly beloved cousin has other game to bring down;" and here there was a slightly mocking tone in Percy's voice. "He is with la belle Evelyn as usual. I am afraid Erle does not quite hit it as an ardent lover; he is rather half-hearted. He asked me to go down to Victoria Station to meet his visitor, but I declined, with thanks. I had other business on hand, and I do not care to be ordered about; so the carriage must go alone."
"You are expecting visitors at Belgrave House then?" she asked; but there was no interest in her manner. She only wanted to keep conversation to general subjects. She would talk of Belgrave House or of anything he liked if he would only not make love to her. If he only knew how she hated it, and from him of all men.
"Oh, it is not my visitor," was the reply; "it is only some old fogy or other that Erle has picked up at Sandycliffe—Erle has a craze about picking up odd people. Fancy inflicting a blind parson on us, by way of a change."
He was not looking at the girl as he spoke, or he must have seen the startled look on her face. The next moment she had turned her long neck aside.
"Do you mean he is actually blind, and a clergyman? how very strange!"
"Yes; the result of some accident or other. His name is Ferrers. Erle raved about him to my grandfather; but then Erle always raves about people—he is terribly softhearted. He is coming up to London, on some quest or other, no one knows what it is, Erle is so very mysterious about the whole thing."
"Oh, indeed," rather faintly; "and you—you are to meet him, Mr. Trafford?"
"On the contrary, I am going to do nothing of the kind," he returned, imperturbably. "I told Erle that at 6:30, the time the train was due, I was booked for a pressing engagement. I did not mention the engagement was with my mother, and that I should probably be partaking of a cup of tea; but the fact is true nevertheless."
Crystal did not answer; perhaps she could not. He was coming up to London, actually to Belgrave House, and on this very evening. Erle must have got scent of her secret—how or in what manner she could not guess; but all the same, it must be Erle who had betrayed her. She had thought him a little odd and constrained the last few times she had seen him; she had noticed more than once that his eyes had been fixed thoughtfully on her face as though he had been watching her, and he had seemed somewhat confused when he had found himself detected. What did it all mean; but never mind that now. Raby would be coming to Beulah Place, but she would be hundreds of miles away before that; she was safe, quite safe; but if only she could see him before she went. If she could only get rid of this tiresome Percy, who would stay, perhaps, for hours. Could she give him the slip? She could never remain in his company through a long evening; it would drive her frantic to listen to him, and to know all the time that Raby was near, and she could not see him. And then all at once a wild idea came to her, and her pale cheeks flushed, and her eyes grew bright, and she began to talk rather quickly and in an excited manner.
"Oh! do you know, Mr. Trafford," she said, gravely, "I think it is very wrong of you to encourage Mr. Erle to come so often to Beulah Place. Fern is pretty—very pretty, and Mr. Erle is fond of saying pleasant things to her, and all the time he knows Mr. Huntingdon wishes him to marry Miss Selby. He has no right to make himself so agreeable to your sister; and I think you ought to keep him in better order."