"I suppose it is admitted that the highest faculty of man is worship," remarked Sophia, suggesting that he was not speaking to the point; "but that is no reason why a boy with a head for figures should be made a farmer, or that a young woman with special ability should remain a maid-of-all-work."
"And what of the affections—love for children, and for other women better than herself? A girl who has such privileges as this girl had with you has a far better chance of doing well than in a public hotel, even if that were a safe place for her."
Possibly Sophia thought her companion showed too great sensibility concerning Eliza's privileges, for she did not take notice of any but the last part of his sentence.
"It is a safe place for her; for she is able to take care of herself anywhere, if she chooses; and if she doesn't choose, no place is safe. Besides, you know, the place is a boarding-house really, rather than an hotel."
"I am not so surprised at the view you take of it, for you will do more than any one else to supply her place."
This, Trenholme's feeling prophecy, was quite true. Sophia did do more of Eliza's work than any one. She spared her younger sisters because she wanted them to be happy.
In spite of this, however, Sophia was not so much in need of some one's sympathy as were those younger girls, who had less work to do. A large element in happiness is the satisfaction of one's craving for romance. Now, there are three eras of romance in human life. The first is childhood, when, even if the mind is not filled with fictitious fairy tales which clothe nature, life is itself a fairy tale, a journey through an unexplored region, an enterprise full of effort and wonder, big with hope, an endless expectation, to which trivial realisations seem large. It was in this era that the younger Rexford children, up to Winifred, still lived; they built snow-men, half-expecting, when they finished them in the gloaming, that the thing of their creation would turn and pursue them; they learned to guide toboggans with a trailing toe, and half dreamed that their steeds were alive when they felt them bound and strain, so perfectly did they respond to the rider's will. Sophia, again, had reached the third epoch of romance, when, at a certain age, people make the discovery of the wondrous loveliness in the face of the Lady Duty, and, putting a hand in hers, go onward, thinking nothing hard because of her beauty. But it is admitted by all that there is often a stage between these two, when all the romance of life is summed up in the hackneyed word "love." The pretty girls who were nicknamed Blue and Red had outgrown childhood, and they saw no particular charm in work; they were very dull, and scarce knew why, except that they half envied Eliza, who had gone to the hotel, and who, it was well known, had a suitor in the person of Mr. Cyril Harkness, the Philadelphian dentist.
Harkness had set up his consulting room in the hotel, but, for economy's sake, he lodged himself in the old Harmon house that was just beyond Captain Rexford's, on the same road. By this arrangement he passed the latter house twice a day, but he never took any notice of Blue and Red. They did not wish that he should—oh no, they were above that—but they felt sure that Eliza was very silly to dislike him as she did, and—well, between themselves, they found an infinite variety of things to say concerning him, sayings emphasised by sweet little chuckles of laughter, and not unfrequently wandering sighs. Sophia, at their age, had had many suitors, this was the family tradition, and lo, upon their own barren horizon there was only one pretty young man, and he only to be looked at, as it were, through the bars of a fence.
One day, when the blue merino frock was flitting about near the red one, the wearers of both being engaged in shaking up a feather bed, Red suddenly stopped her occupation in some excitement.
"Oh, Blue!" She paused a moment as if she were experiencing some interesting sensation; "oh, Blue, I think I've got toothache."
"No!" cried Blue, incredulously, but with hope.
Again over Red's face came the absorbed expression of introspection, and she carefully indented the outside of her pretty cheek several times with her forefinger.
"Yes, I'm sure I feel it. But no; there, it's gone again!"
"It's just the very way things have," said Blue, lamenting. "For two months we've quite wished we had toothache, and there was Tommy the other night just roaring with it."
"I shouldn't like a roaring toothache," said Red, reflectively.
"Oh, but the worse it was," cried Blue, encouragingly, "the more necessary it would be—" She stopped and shook her head with a very roguish and significant glance at her sister.
"Mamma only put a bag of hot salt to Tommy's," said Red, prognosticating evil.
"But if it were me," cried Blue, with assurance, "I'd not be cured by bags of hot salt. I would insist upon consulting a dentist."
They both laughed a laugh of joyful plotting.
"It was only the other day," said Red, twisting her little English voice into the American accent, "that he told Harold he was right down clever at tinkering a tooth in the most painless manner."
"Oh, Red, dear Red," begged Blue, "do feel it again, for my sake; it would be so joyfully funny if mamma would take us to him."
"I'd a little bit rather you, had the ache, Blue."
"I'd have it this instant if I could, but"—reproachfully—"it was you that felt the twinge.".
"Well, I don't mind," said Red, heroically, "as long as my cheek doesn't swell; I won't go with a swelled face."
"What would it matter? He knows that your face is alike on both sides usually."
"Still, I shouldn't like it," replied Red, with a touch of obstinacy.
Eliza, however, was of a very different mind about this same young man. She had not taken her new situation with any desire to see more of him; rather she hoped that by seeing him oftener she should more quickly put an end to his addresses.
The "Grand Hotel" of Chellaston was, as Miss Rexford had said, a boarding-house. It had few transient visitors. The only manufacturer of the village, and his wife, lived in it all the year round; so did one of the shopkeepers. Several other quiet people lived there all winter; in summer the prices were raised, and it was filled to overflowing by more fashionable visitors from the two cities that were within a short journey. This "hotel" was an enormous wooden house, built in the simplest fashion, a wide corridor running from front to rear on each storey, on which the room doors opened. Rooms and corridors were large, lofty, and well-lighted by large windows. The dining-room, billiard-room, office, and bar-room, on the ground-floor, together with the stairs and corridors, were uncarpeted, painted all over a light slate grey. With the exception of healthy geraniums in most of the windows, there was little ornament in these ground-floor rooms; but all was new, clean, and airy. The upper rooms were more heavily furnished, but were most of them shut up in winter. All the year round the landlord took in the daily papers; and for that reason his bar-room, large and always tolerably quiet, was the best public reading-room the village boasted.
The keeper of this establishment was a rather elderly man, and of late he had been so crippled by rheumatism that he could walk little and only on crutches. He was not a dainty man; his coat was generally dusty, his grey beard had always a grimy appearance of tobacco about it. He spent the greater part of his day now sitting in a high pivot chair, his crutches leaning against it.
"You see, miss," he said to Eliza, "I'll tell you what the crying need for you is in this house at present; it's to step round spry and see that the girls do their work. It's this way; when I was spry, if I wasn't in the room, the young people knew that, like as not, I was just round the corner; they knew I might be there any minute; at present they know they'll hear my sticks before I see them. It makes all the difference. What I want of you is to be feet for me, and eyes for me, and specially in the dining-room. Mrs. Bantry—that dressy lady you saw in the corridor—Mrs. Bantry told me that this morning they brought her buckwheat cakes, and ten minutes after, the syrup to eat 'em with. How hot do you suppose they were?"
He finished his speech with the fine sarcasm of this question. He looked at Eliza keenly. "You're young," he remarked warningly, "but I believe you're powerful."
And Eliza showed that she was powerful by doing the thing that he desired of her, in spite of the opposition from the servants which she at first experienced. She had a share of hand work to do also, which was not light, but she had high wages, a comfortable room in the top storey, and the women who were boarding in the house made friends with her. She would have thought herself very well off had it not been for her dislike of Harkness, for which one reason certainly was the show he made of being in love with her.
Harkness had his office on the first floor, and he took dinner at the hotel. For about a week after Eliza's advent the young dentist and the young housekeeper measured each other with watchful eyes, a measurement for which the fact that they crossed each other's path several times a day gave ample opportunity. Because the woman had the steadier eyes and the man was the more open-tempered, Eliza gained more insight into Harkness's character than he did into hers. While he, to use his own phrase, "couldn't reckon her up the least mite in the world," she perceived that under his variable and sensitive nature there was a strong grip of purpose upon all that was for his own interest in a material way; but having discovered this vein of calculating selfishness, mixed with much of the purely idle and something that was really warmhearted, she became only the more suspicious of his intentions towards herself, and summoned the whole strength of her nature to oppose him.
She said to him one day, "I'm surprised to hear that you go about telling other gentlemen that you like me. I wonder that you're not ashamed."
As she had hitherto been silent, he was surprised at this attack, and at first he took it as an invitation to come to terms.
"I've a right-down, hearty admiration for you, Miss White. I express it whenever I get the chance; I'm not ashamed of my admiration."
"But I am," said Eliza, indignantly. "It's very unkind of you."
Harkness looked at her, failing to unravel her meaning.
"There ain't anything a young lady likes better than to have an admirer. She mayn't always like him, but she always likes him to be admiring of her."
However true this philosophy of the inner secrets of the heart might be, Eliza did not admit it for a moment. She denounced his behaviour, but it was clear, as the saying is, that she was speaking over the head of her audience. The youth evidently received it as a new idea that, when he had spoken only in her praise, she could seriously object.
"Why now," he burst forth, "if any young lady took to admiring me, thinking a heap of me and talking about me to her friends, d'ye think I'd be cut up? I'd be pleased to that extent I'd go about on the broad grin. I mightn't want to marry just yet; and when I did, I mightn't possibly take up with her; but I can tell you, as soon as I was disposed to marry, I'd have a soft side towards her; I'd certainly think it right to give her the first chance in considering who I'd have. And that's all I ask of you, Miss White. You won't have anything to do with me (why, I can't think), but I just give it put that I'm an admirer, and I hang on, hoping that you'll think better of it."
He was good-natured about it, perfectly open apparently, and at the same time evidently so confident that his was the sensible view of the matter that Eliza could only repeat her prohibition less hopefully.
A little later she found that he had quelled a revolt against her authority that was simmering in the minds of the table-maids. She went at once to the door that was decorated with the dentist's sign.
It was opened by Harkness in the bowing manner with which he was wont to open to patients. When he saw Eliza's expression he straightened himself.
"I want to know what you've been saying to those girls downstairs about me."
"Well now," said he, a little flustered, "nothing that you'd dislike to hear."
"Do you think," she went on with calm severity, "that I can't manage my affairs without your help?"
"By no means." His emphasis implied that he readily perceived which answer would give least offence. "Same time, if I can make your path more flowery—fail to see objections to such a course."
"I don't want you to trouble yourself."
"It wasn't the least mite of trouble," he assured her. "Why, those girls downstairs, whenever I roll my eyes, they just fly to do the thing I want."
"Do you think that is nice?" asked Eliza.
"I do not like it."
"It don't follow that whenever they roll their eyes, I do what they want. Jemima! no. They might roll them, and roll them, and roll them, right round to the back of their heads; 'twouldn't have an atom of effect on me."
He waited to see some result from this avowal, but Eliza was looking at him as coldly as ever.
"In that respect," he added, "there ain't no one that interferes with your prerogative."
Eliza looked as if he had spoken in a foreign tongue. "I do not understand," she said, and in this she told a lie, but she told it so successfully that he really did not know whether she had understood, or whether it behooved him to speak more plainly.
Before he could make up his mind, she had taken her departure. When she was gone he stood looking darkly, wishing he knew how to hasten the day when she should change her aspect to him.
When Harkness found that he was always defied by Eliza he grew gloomy, and was quiet for a time. One day, however, he recovered his former cheerfulness. He seemed, indeed, to be in high spirits. When he saw his time, he sought talk with Eliza. He did not now affect to be lively, but rather wore a manner of marked solemnity.
"Can you read the French language?" he asked.
"No," she answered.
"That's unfortunate, for I'm not a good hand at it myself; but I've found a bit of news in a French paper here that is real interesting and important."
He unfurled a crushed copy of a Quebec journal a few days old. "It says," he began translating, that "there's a man called Cameron, who's been nicknamed Lazarus Cameron, because he seemed to be dead and came to life again."
He looked hard at the paper, as if needing a few moments to formulate further translation.
"Do go on," said Eliza, with manifest impatience.
"Why now, you're real interested, Miss White."
"Anybody would want to know what you're at."
"Well, but, considering it's any one so composed as you, Miss White, it's real pleasant to see you so keen."
"I'm keen for my work. I haven't time, like you, to stand here all day."
All this time he had been looking at the paper. "What I've read so far, you see, is what I've told you before as having happened to my knowledge at a place called Turrifs Station."
"Is that all?"
"No," and he went on translating. "'Whether this man was dead or not, he is now alive, but partially deaf and blind; and whether he has ever seen anything of the next world or not, he has now no interest in this one, but spends his whole time praying or preaching, living on crusts, and walking great distances in solitary places. He has lately appeared in the suburbs of this city' (that is Quebec) 'and seems to be a street-preacher of no ordinary power.'"
Harkness stopped with an air of importance.
"Is that all?" asked Eliza.
He gave her another paper, in English, to read. This contained a longer and more sensational account of the same tale, and with this difference, that instead of giving the simple and sentimental view of the French writer, the English journalist jeered greatly, and also stated that the nickname Lazarus had been given in derision, and that the man, who was either mad or an imposter, had been hooted, pelted, and even beaten in the streets.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"Unless you can tell me any more." He did not say this lightly.
"Is that all?" she asked again, as if his words had been unmeaning.
"Well now, I think that's enough. 'Tisn't every day this poor earth of ours is favoured by hearing sermons from one as has been t'other side of dying. I think it would be more worth while to hear him than to go to church, I do."
"Do you mean to say," she asked, with some asperity, "that you really believe it?"
"I tell you I saw the first part of it myself, and unless you can give me a good reason for not believing the second, I'm inclined to swallow it down whole, Miss Cameron—I beg your pardon, White, I mean. One gets real confused in names, occasionally."
"Well," said Eliza, composedly, preparing to leave him, "I can't say I understand it, Mr. Harkness, but I must say it sounds too hard for me to believe."
He looked after her with intense curiosity in his eyes, and in the next few days returned to the subject in her presence again and again, repeating to her all the comments that were made on the story in the bar-room, but he could not rouse her from an appearance of cheerful unconcern.
Another item appeared in the papers; the old man called Cameron had been brought before the magistrates at Quebec for some street disturbance of which he appeared to have been the innocent cause.
Upon this Cyril Harkness took a whim into his head, which he made known to all his friends in the place, and then to Eliza—a most extraordinary whim, for it was nothing less than to go down to Quebec, and take the street preacher under his own protection.
"I feel as if I had a sort of responsibility," said he, "for I was at the very beginning of this whole affair, and saw the house where he had lived, and I got real well acquainted with his partner, who no doubt had ill-treated him. I saw the place where a daughter of his perished too, and now he's got so near up here as this, I can't bear to think of that old man being ill-treated and having no one to look after him. I'm going right down to Quebec by the Saturday-night train, an' I'll be back Monday morning if I can persuade the old gentleman to come right here where I can look after him. I reckon there's room in the Harmon house for both him and me, an' I reckon, if he's got anything particularly powerful to say in the way of religion, it won't do this little town any harm to hear it."
He had said all this to Eliza.
"Don't!" she cried in great surprise, but with determined opposition. "I shall never think you have any sense again if you do such a foolish and wicked thing."
"Why now, Miss White, as to losing your good opinion, I didn't know as I'd been fortunate enough to get it yet; and as to its being wicked, I don't see how you make that out."
"It's meddling with what you have nothing to do with."
"Well now, what will you give me not to go?" He said these words, as he said most of his words, in a languid, lingering way, but he turned and faced her with an abrupt glance.
He and she were standing at the head of the first staircase in the unfurnished corridor. It was the middle of the afternoon; no one chanced to be passing. He, light-moving, pretty fellow as he was, leaned on the wall and glanced at her sharply. She stood erect, massive, not only in her form, but in the strength of will that she opposed to his, and a red flush slowly mantled her pale, immobile face.
"I don't know what you want of me," she said. "Money's the thing you love, and I haven't any money; but whether I had or not, I would give you nothing." She turned at the last word.
Then Harkness, taking the chiding and jeers of all his companions good-naturedly, and giving them precisely the same excuses that he had given to Eliza, started for Quebec.
What was more remarkable, he actually brought back the old preacher with him—brought him, or rather led him, to the Harmon house, for the old man was seemingly quite passive. This was an accomplished fact when Eliza and Harkness met again.
The day after his coming, and the next, for some reason the old stranger called Cameron remained in the brick house to which Harkness had brought him. The young man, impatient for novelty, if for nothing else, began to wonder if he had sunk into some stupor of mind from which he would not emerge. He had heard of him as a preacher, and as the conceptions of ordinary minds are made up only of the ideas directly presented to them, he had a vague notion that this old man continually preached. As it was, he went to his work at the hotel on the third morning, and still left his strange guest in the old house, walking about in an empty room, munching some bread with his keen white teeth, his bright eyes half shut under their bushy brows.
Harkness came to the hotel disconcerted, and, meeting Eliza near the dining-room, took off his hat in sullen silence. Several men in the room called after him as he passed. "How's your dancing bear, Harkness?" "How's the ghost you're befriending?" "How's your coffin-gentleman?" There was a laugh that rang loudly in the large, half-empty room.
After Harkness had despatched two morning visitors, however, and was looking out of his window, as was usual in his idle intervals, he noticed several errand-boys gazing up the road, and in a minute an advancing group came within his view, old Cameron walking down the middle of the street hitting the ground nervously with his staff, and behind him children of various sizes following rather timidly. Every now and then the old man emitted some sound—a shout, a word of some sort, not easily understood. It was this that had attracted the following of children, and was very quickly attracting the attention of every one in the street. One or two men, and a woman with a shawl over her head, were coming down the sidewalks the same way and at about the same pace as the central group, and Harkness more than suspected that they had diverged from the proper course of their morning errands out of curiosity. He took more interest in the scene than seemed consistent with his slight connection with the principal actor. He made an excited movement toward his door, and his hand actually trembled as he opened it. Eliza was usually about the passages at this time of day. He called her name.
She put her head over the upper bannister.
"Come down and see Lazarus Cameron!"
"I'll come in a minute."
He saw through the railing of the bannisters the movement of some linen she was folding.
"He'll be past in a minute." Harkness's voice betrayed his excitement more than he desired.
Eliza dropped the linen and came downstairs rather quickly. Harkness returned to his window; she came up beside him. The inner window was open, only one pane was between them and the outer air. In yards all round cocks were crowing, as, on a mild day in the Canadian March, cocks will crow continually. Light snow of the last downfall lay on the opposite roofs, and made the hills just seen behind them very white. The whole winter's piles of snow lay in the ridges between the footpaths and the road. Had it not been that some few of the buildings were of brick, and that on one or two of the wooden ones the white paint was worn off, the wide street would have been a picture painted only in different tones of white. But the clothes of the people were of dark colour, and the one vehicle in sight was a blue box-sleigh, drawn by a shaggy pony.
Eliza was conscious of the picture only as one is conscious of surroundings upon which the eye does not focus. Her sight fastened on the old man, now almost opposite the hotel. He was of a broad, powerful frame that had certainly once possessed great strength. Even now he was strong; he stooped a little, but he held his head erect, and the well-formed, prominent features of his weather-beaten face showed forth a tremendous force of some sort; even at that distance the brightness of his eyes was visible under bushy brows, grey as his hair. His clothes were of the most ordinary sort, old and faded. His cap was of the commonest fur; he grasped it now in his hand, going bareheaded. Tapping the ground with his staff, he walked with nervous haste, looking upward the while, as blind men often look.
Harkness did not look much out of the window; he was inspecting Eliza's face: and when she turned to him he gave her a glance that, had she been a weaker woman, would have been translated into many words—question and invective; but her silence dominated him. It was a look also that, had he been a stronger man, he would have kept to himself, for it served no purpose but to betray that there was some undercurrent of antagonism to her in his mind.
"You're very queer to-day, Mr. Harkness," she remarked, and with that she withdrew.
But when the door closed she was not really gone to the young man. He saw her as clearly with his mind as a moment before he had seen her with his eyes, and he pondered now the expression on her face when she looked out of the window. It told him, however, absolutely nothing of the secret he was trying to wring from her.
There was no square in Chellaston, no part of the long street much wider than any other or more convenient as a public lounging place. Here, in front of the hotel, was perhaps the most open spot, and Harkness hoped the old man would make a stand here and preach; but he turned aside and went down a small side street, so Harkness, who had no desire to identify himself too publicly with his strange protege, was forced to leave to the curiosity of others the observation of his movements.
The curiosity of people in the street also seemed to abate. The more respectable class of people are too proud to show interest in the same way that gaping children show it, and most people in this village belonged to the more respectable class. Those who had come to doors or windows on the street retired from them just as Harkness had done; those out in the street went on their ways, with the exception of two men of the more demonstrative sort, who went and looked down the alley after the stranger, and called out jestingly to some one in it.
Then the old man stopped, and, with his face still upturned, as if blind to everything but pure light, took up his position on one side of the narrow street. He had only gone some forty paces down it. A policeman, coming up in front of the hotel, looked on, listening to the jesters. Then he and they drew a little nearer, the children who had followed stood round, one man appeared at the other end of the alley. On either side the houses were high and the windows few, but high up in the hotel there was a small window that lighted a linen press, and at that small window, with the door of the closet locked on the inside, Eliza stood unseen, and looked and listened.
The voice of the preacher was loud, unnatural also in its rising and falling, the voice of a deaf man who could not hear his own tones. His words were not what any one expected. This was the sermon he preached:
"In a little while He that shall come will not tarry. Many shall say to Him in that day, 'Lord, Lord,' and He shall say, 'Depart from me; I never knew you.'"
His voice, which had become very vehement, suddenly sank, and he was silent.
"Upon my word, that's queer," said one of the men who stood near the policeman.
"He's staring mad," said the other man in plain clothes. "He should be in the asylum."
This second man went away, but the first speaker and the policeman drew still nearer, and the congregation did not diminish, for the man who left was replaced by the poor woman with the checked shawl over her head who had first followed the preacher up the street, and who now appeared standing listening at a house corner. She was well known in the village as the wife of a drunkard.
The old man began speaking again in softer voice, but there was the same odd variety of tones which had exciting effect.
"Why do you defraud your brother? Why do you judge your brother? Why do you set at nought your brother? Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these, you do it to Him."
His voice died away again. His strong face had become illumined, and he brought down his gaze toward the listeners.
"If any man shall do His will he shall know of the doctrine. He will know—yes, know—for there is no other knowledge as sure as this."
Then, in such a colloquial way that it almost seemed as if the listeners themselves had asked the question, he said: "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?"
And he smiled upon them, and held out his hands as if in blessing, and lifted up his face again to heaven, and cried, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent."
As if under some spell, the few to whom he had spoken stood still, till the preacher slowly shifted himself and began to walk away by the road he had come.
Some of the children went after him as before. The poor woman disappeared behind the house she had been standing against. The policeman and his companion began to talk, looking the while at the object of their discussion.
Eliza, in the closet, leaned her head against the pile of linen on an upper shelf, and was quite still for some time.
Principal Trenholme had been gone from Chellaston a day or two on business. When he returned one evening, he got into his smart little sleigh which was in waiting at the railway station, and was driving himself home, when his attention was arrested and his way blocked by a crowd in front of the hotel. He did not force a way for his horse, but drew up, listening and looking. It was a curious picture. The wide street of snow and the houses were dusky with night, except where light chanced to glow in doorways and windows. The collection of people was motley. Above, all the sky seemed brought into insistent notice as a roof or covering, partly because pale pink streamers of flickering northern light were passing over it, partly because the leader of the crowd, an old man, by looking upwards, drew the gaze of all to follow whither his had gone.
Trenholme heard his loud voice calling: "Behold He shall come again, and every eye shall look on Him Whom they have pierced. Blessed are those servants whom their Lord when He cometh shall find watching."
The scene was foreign to life in Chellaston. Trenholme, who had no mind to stand on the skirts of the crowd, thrust his reins into the hand of his rustic groom, and went up the broad steps of the hotel, knowing that he would there have his inquiries most quickly answered.
In the bar-room about thirty men were crowded about the windows, looking at the preacher, not listening, for the double glass, shut out the preacher's voice. They were interested, debating loudly among themselves, and when they saw who was coming up the steps, they said to each other and the landlord, "Put it to the Principal." There were men of all sorts in this group, most of them very respectable; but when Trenholme stood inside the door, his soft hat shading his shaven face, his fur-lined driving coat lying back from the finer cloth it covered, he was a very different sort of man from any of them. He did not know that it was merely by the influence of this difference (of which perhaps he was less conscious than any of them) that they were provoked to question him. Hutchins, the landlord, sat at the back of the room on his high office chair.
"Good evening, Principal," said he. "Glad to see you in the place again, sir. Have you heard of a place called Turrifs Road Station? 'Tain't on our map."
Trenholme gave the questioner a severe glance of inquiry. The scene outside, and his proposed inquiry concerning it, passed from his mind, for he had no means of divining that this question referred to it. The place named was known to him only by his brother's letter. The men, he saw, were in a rough humour, and because of the skeleton in his closet he jumped to the thought that something had transpired concerning his brother, something that caused them to jeer. He did not stop to think what it might be. His moral nature stiffened itself to stand for truth and his brother at all costs.
"I know the place;" he said.
His words had a stern impressiveness which startled his hearers. They were only playing idly with the pros and cons of a newspaper tale; but this man, it would seem, treated the matter very seriously.
Hutchins had no desire to annoy, but he did not know how to desist from further question, and, supposing that the story of Cameron was known, he said in a more ingratiating way:
"Well, but, sir, you don't want us to believe the crazy tale of the station hand there, that he saw the dead walk?"
Again there was that in Trenholme's manner which astonished his hearers. Had they had the slightest notion they were offending him, they would have known it was an air of offence, but, not suspecting that, they could only judge that he thought the subject a solemn one.
"I would have you believe his word, certainly. He is a man of honour."
A facetious man here took his pipe out of his mouth and winked to his companions. "You've had private information to that effect, I suppose, Principal."
Very haughtily Trenholme assented.
He had not been in the room more than a few moments when all this had passed. He was handed a newspaper, which gave still another account of the remote incident which was now at last ticklings the ears of the public, and he was told that the man Cameron was supposed to be the preacher who was now without. He heard what part Harkness had played, and he saw that his brother's name was not mentioned in the public print, was apparently not known. He took a little pains to be genial (a thing he was certainly not in the habit of doing in that room), in order to dissipate any impression his offended manner might have given, and went home.
It is not often a man estimates at all correctly the effect of his own words and looks; he would need to be a trained actor to do this, and, happily, most men are not their own looking-glasses. Trenholme thought he had behaved in a surly and stiff manner, and, had the subject been less unpleasant, he would rather have explained at once where and who his brother was. This was his remembrance of his call at the hotel, but the company there saw it differently.
No sooner had he gone than the facetious man launched his saw-like voice again upon the company. "He had private information on the subject, he had."
"There's one sure thing," said a stout, consequential man; "he believes the whole thing, the Principal does."
A commercial traveller who was acquainted with the place put in his remark. "There isn't a man in town that I wouldn't have expected to see gulled sooner."
To which a thin, religious man, who, before Trenholme entered, had leaned to the opinion that there were more things in the world than they could understand, now retorted that it was more likely that the last speaker was gulled himself. Principal Trenholme, he asserted, wasn't a man to put his faith in anything without proofs.
Chellaston was not a very gossiping place. For the most part the people had too much to do, and were too intent upon their own business, to take much trouble to retail what they chanced to hear; but there are some things which, as the facetious man observed, the dead in their graves would gossip about if they could; and one of these themes, according to him, was that Principal Trenholme believed there had been something supernatural about the previous life of the old preacher. The story went about, impressing more particularly the female portion of the community, but certainly not without influence upon the males also. Portly men, who a week before would have thought themselves compromised by giving a serious thought to the narrative, now stood still in the street to get the chance of hearing the preacher, and felt that in doing so they were wrapped in all the respectability of the cloth of Trenholme's coats, and standing firm on the letters of his Oxford degree and upon all the learning of the New College.
They did not believe the story themselves. No, there was a screw loose somewhere; but Principal Trenholme had some definite knowledge of the matter. The old man had been in a trance, a very long trance, to say the least of it, and had got up a changed creature. Principal Trenholme was not prepared to scout the idea that he had been nearer to death than falls to the lot of most living men.
It will be seen that the common sense of the speakers shaped crude rumour to suit themselves. Had they left it crude, it would have died. It is upon the nice sense of the probable and possible in talkative men that mad rumour feeds.
As for Trenholme, he became more or less aware of the report that had gone out about his private knowledge of old Cameron, but it was less rather than more. The scholastic life of the college was quite apart from the life of the village, and in the village those who talked most about Cameron were the least likely to talk to Trenholme on any subject. His friends were not those who were concerned with the rumour; but even when he was taxed with it, the whole truth that he knew was no apparent contradiction. He wrote to Alec, making further inquiries, but Alec had retreated again many miles from the post. To be silent and ignore the matter seemed to be his only course.
Thus it happened that, because Harkness housed him in the hope of working upon Eliza, and because Trenholme happened to have had a brother at Turrifs Station, the strange old preacher found a longer resting place and a more attentive hearing in the village of Chellaston than he would have been likely to find elsewhere.
There was in Chellaston a very small and poor congregation of the sect called Adventists. The sect was founded by one Miller, a native of New York State, a great preacher and godly man, who, from study of prophecy, became convinced that the Second Coming of the Lord would take place in the year 1843. He obtained a large following; and when the time passed and his expectation was not fulfilled, this body, instead of melting away, became gradually greater, and developed into a numerous and rather influential sect. In the year of Miller's prediction, 1843, there had been among his followers great excitement, awe and expectation; and the set time passed, and the prediction had no apparent fulfilment, but lay to every one's sight, like a feeble writing upon the sands of fantasy, soon effaced by the ever flowing tide of natural law and orderly progression. Now, that this was the case and that yet this body of believers did not diminish but increased, did not become demoralised but grew in moral strength, did not lose faith but continued to cherish a more ardent hope and daily expectation of the Divine appearing, is no doubt due to the working of some law which we do not understand, and which it would therefore be unscientific to pronounce upon.
The congregation of Adventists in Chellaston, however, was not noticeable for size or influence. Some in the neighbourhood did not even know that this congregation existed, until it put forth its hand and took to itself the old preacher who was called Lazarus Cameron. They understood his language as others did not; they believed that he had come with a message for them; they often led him into their meeting-place and into their houses; and he, perhaps merely falling into the mechanical habit of going where he had been led, appeared in his own fashion to consort with them.
There, was something weird about the old preacher, although he was healthy, vigorous, and kindly, clean-looking in body and soul; but the aspect of any one is in the eye of the beholder. This man, whose mind was blank except upon one theme, whose senses seemed lost except at rare times, when awakened perhaps by an effort of his will, or perhaps by an unbidden wave of psychical sympathy with some one to whom he was drawn by unseen union, awoke a certain feeling of sensational interest in most people when they approached him. The public were in the main divided into two classes in their estimate of him—those who felt the force of his religion, and argued therefrom that his opinions were to be respected; and those who believed that his mind was insane, and argued therefrom that his religion was either a fancy or a farce. At first there was a great deal of talk about whether he should be put in a madhouse or not; some called Harkness a philanthropist, and others called him a meddling fellow. Soon, very soon, there was less talk: that which is everybody's business is nobody's business. Harkness continued to befriend him in the matter of food and lodging; the old man grew to be at home in the Harmon house and its neglected surroundings. When the will to do so seized him, he went into the village and lifted up his voice, and preached the exactions of the love of the Son of God, proclaiming that He would come again, and that quickly.
The winter days had grown very long; the sun had passed the vernal equinox, and yet it looked upon unbroken snowfields. Then, about the middle of April, the snow passed quickly away in blazing sunshine, in a thousand rivulets, in a flooded river. The roads were heavy with mud, but the earth was left green, the bud of spring having been nurtured beneath the kindly shelter of the snow.
Now came the most lovely moment of the year. All the trees were putting forth new leaves, leaves so young, so tiny as yet, that one could see the fowls of the air when they lodged in the branches—no small privilege, for now the orange oriole, and the bluebird, and the primrose-coloured finch, were here, there, and everywhere; and more rarely the scarlet tanager. A few days before and they had not come; a few days more and larger leaves would hide them perfectly. Just at this time, too, along the roadsides, big hawthorn shrubs and wild plum were in blossom, and in the sheltered fields the mossy sod was pied with white and purple violets, whose flowerets so outstripped their half-grown leaves that blue and milky ways were seen in woodland glades.
With the sense of freedom that comes with the thus sudden advent of the young summer, Winifred Rexford strayed out of the house one morning. She did not mean to go, and when she went through the front gate she only meant to go as far as the first wild plum-tree, to see if the white bloom was turning purple yet, as Principal Trenholme had told her it would. When she got to the first plum-tree she went on to the second. Winifred wore a grey cotton dress; it was short, not yet to her ankles, and her broad hat shaded her from the sun. When she reached the second group of plum-trees she saw a scarlet tanager sitting on a telegraph pole—for along the margin of the road, standing among uncut grass and flowers and trees, tall barkless stumps were set, holding the wires on high. Perhaps they were ugly things, but a tree whose surface is uncut is turned on Nature's lathe; at any rate, to the child the poles were merely a part of the Canadian road, and the scarlet tanager showed its plumage to advantage as it sat on the bare wood. There was no turning back then; even Sophia would have neglected her morning task to see a tanager! She crept up under it, and the bird, like a streak of red flame, shot forth from the pole, to a group of young pine trees further on.
So Winifred strayed up the road about a quarter of a mile, till she came to the gate of the Harmon garden. The old house, always half concealed, was quickly being entirely hidden by the massive Curtains the young leaves were so busily weaving. The tanager turned in here, as what bird would not when it spied a tract of ground where Nature was riotously decking a bower with the products of all the roots and seeds of a deserted garden! There was many a gap in the weather-beaten fence where the child might have followed, but she dare not, for she was in great awe of the place, because the preacher who was said to have died and come to life again lived there. She only stood and looked through the fence, and the tanager—having flitted near the house—soared and settled among the feathery boughs of a proud acacia tree; she had to look across half an acre of bushes to see him, and then he was so high and so far that it seemed (as when looking at the stars) she did not see him, but only the ray of scarlet light that travelled from him through an atmosphere of leaflets. It was very trying, for any one knows that it is something to be able to say that you have come to close quarters with a scarlet tanager.
Winifred, stooping and looking through the fence, soon heard the college bell jangle; she knew that it was nine o'clock, and boys and masters were being ingathered for morning work. The college buildings in their bare enclosure stood on the other side of the road. Winifred would have been too shy to pass the playground while the boys were out, but now that every soul connected with the place would be indoors, she thought she might go round the sides of the Harmon garden and see the red bird much nearer from a place she thought of.
This place was nothing but a humble, disused, and untidy burying-ground, that occupied the next lot in the narrow strip of land that here for a mile divided road and river. Winifred ran over the road between the Harmon garden and the college fence, and, climbing the log fence, stood among the quiet gravestones that chronicled the past generations of Chellaston. Here grass and wild flowers grew apace, and close by ran the rippling river reflecting the violet sky above. A cemetery, every one knows, is a place where any one may walk or sit as long as he likes, but Winifred was surprised to find Principal Trenholme's housekeeper there before her; and moreover, this staid, sad woman was in the very place Winifred was going to, for she was looking through the fence that enclosed the Harmon garden.
"Good morning, Mrs. Martha," said Winifred politely, concealing her surprise.
"I've been milking," said the sad woman, glancing slightly at a pail of foaming milk that she had set for greater security between two grave-heaps.
Winifred came and took her place beside the housekeeper, and they both looked through the paling of the Harmon property.
The tanager was still on the acacia, from this nearer point looking like a great scarlet blossom of some cactus, so intense was the colour; but Winifred was distracted from her interest in the bird by seeing the old house more plainly than she had ever seen it before. It stood, a large substantial dwelling, built not without the variety of outline which custom has given to modern villas, but with all its doors and windows on this side fastened by wooden shutters, that, with one or two exceptions, were nailed up with crossbeams and overgrown with cobwebs. Winifred surveyed it with an interested glance.
"Did you come to see him?" whispered the housekeeper.
Winifred's eye reverted to the tanager of which, on the whole, her mind was more full. "Yes"—she whispered the word for fear of startling it.
"I should think yer ma would want you in of a morning, or Miss Sophia would be learning you yer lessons. When I was your age—But"—sadly—"it stands to reason yer ma, having so many, and the servant gone, and the cows comin' in so fast these days one after t'other, that they can't learn you much of anything reg'lar."
Winifred acquiesced politely. She was quite conscious of the shortcomings in the system of home education as it was being applied to her in those days; no critic so keen in these matters as the pupil of fourteen!
"Well now, it's a pity," said the housekeeper, sincerely, "and they do say yer ma does deplorable bad cooking, and yer sisters that's older than you aren't great hands at learning." The housekeeper sat down on a grave near the paling, as if too discouraged at the picture she had drawn to have energy to stand longer.
Winifred looked at the tanager, at the housekeeper, and round her at the happy morning. This sad-eyed, angular woman always seemed to her more like a creature out of a solemn story, or out of a stained-glass window, than an ordinary person whose comments could be offensive. They had talked together before, and each in her own way took a serious interest in the other.
"Sister Sophia has learned to cook very nicely," said the child, but not cheerfully. It never seemed to her quite polite to be cheerful when she was talking to Mrs. Martha.
"Yes, child; but she can't do everything"—with a sigh—"she's put upon dreadful as it is." Then in a minute, "What made you think of coming here after him?"
"I think it's so wonderful." The child's eyes enlarged as she peered through the fence again at the scarlet bird.
"Lolly, child! I'm glad to hear you say that," said Mrs. Martha, strongly. "He's far above and beyond—he's a very holy man."
Winifred perceived now that she was talking of old Cameron, and she thought it more polite not to explain that she had misunderstood. Indeed, all other interests in her mind became submerged in wonder concerning the old man as thus presented.
"He's mad, isn't he?"
"No, he isn't."
"I knew he was very good, but couldn't he be good and mad too?"
"No," said Mrs. Martha; and the serious assertion had all the more effect because it stood alone, unpropped by a single reason.
"When I've milked the Principal's special cow I often come here of a morning, and sometimes I see the saint walking under the trees. I don't mind telling you, child, for you've a head older than yer years, but you mustn't speak of it again. I'd not like folks to know."
"I won't tell," whispered Winifred, eagerly. She felt inexpressibly honoured by the confidence. "Do you think he'll come out now?" Awe and excited interest, not unmingled with fear, were taking possession of her. She crouched down beside the solemn woman, and looked through at the house and all its closed windows. The hedge was alive with birds that hopped and piped unnoticed, even the scarlet bird was forgotten.
"Mrs. Martha," she whispered, "I heard papa say Cameron believed that our Saviour was soon coming back again, and only those people would go with Him who were watching and waiting. Mr. Trenholme said every one was mad who thought that."
"There's a sight of people will tell you you're mad if you're only fervent."
The child did not know precisely what "fervent" meant, but she began to doubt Trenholme's positive knowledge on the subject. "Do you believe the end of the world's coming so soon?"
"Lor, child! what do I know but the world might go on a good bit after that? I can't tell from my Bible whether the Lord will take us who are looking for Him up to His glory for a while, or whether He'll appoint us a time of further trial while He's conquering the earth; but I do know it wouldn't matter much which, after we'd heard Him speak to each of us by name and seen His face." The sad woman looked positively happy while she spoke.
"Oh, Mrs. Martha, are you watching like that? But how can you all the time—you must sleep and work, you know?"
"Yes, child; but the heart can watch; and He knows we must sleep and work; and for that reason I'm not so sure but, if we're faithful, He might in mercy give us a word beforehand to let us know when to be expecting more particularly. I don't know, you know, child; I'm only saying what might be."
"But what makes you think so, Mrs. Martha?"
Winifred was quick-witted enough to perceive something withheld.
"There's things that it's not right for any one to know but those as will reverence them."
"Oh, I will, I will," said Winifred, clasping her hands.
"As I understand it, Mr. Cameron's had no assurance yet."
Winifred did not ask what this meant. She felt that she was listening to words that, if mysterious, were to be pondered in silence.
"You know the poor thing whose husband is always tipsy—drunken Job they call him—that you've seen listening to Mr. Cameron?—and that weakly Mr. McNider, with the little boy?"
"Yes," assented Winifred.
"He told them," whispered the housekeeper, "that when he was agonising in prayer it came into his mind to wait until August this year. He hasn't any assurance what it may have meant; but that may come later, and p'r'aps the days may be told him; and he's awaiting, and we're awaiting too. There, that's all I have to tell, child, and I must be going."
She gathered her lean figure up from the hillock, and took up her pail.
As for the girl Winifred, a terrible feeling of fear had come over her. All the bright world of sun and flowers seemed suddenly overshadowed by the lowering cloud of an awful possibility. She would no more have allowed herself to be left alone in that sunny corner of the glad spring morning than she would have remained alone where visible danger beset her. Her face bathed in the sudden tears that came so easily to her girlish eyes, she sprang like a fawn after her companion and grasped her skirt as she followed.
"How you take on!" sighed the woman, turning. "Do you mean to say you ain't, glad?"
"I'm frightened," gasped the girl.
"And you been confirmed this spring! What did it mean to you if you ain't glad there's ever such a little chance of perhaps seeing Him before the year's out."
They both climbed the fence, handing over the milk-pail between them. When they had got on to the road and must part, the housekeeper spoke.
"I tell you what it is, Winifred Rexford; we've not one of us much to bring Him in the way of service. If there's one thing more than another I'm fond of it's to have my kitchen places to myself, but I've often thought I ought to ask yer ma to send one of you over every day to learn from me how a house ought to be kept and dinner cooked. Ye'd learn more watching me in a month, you know, than ye'd learn with yer ma a fussin' round in six years. Don't tell yer ma it's a trial to me, but just ask her if she'll send you over for an hour or two every morning."
"Thank you," said Winifred, reluctantly. "Do you think I ought to come?"
"Well, I'd want to be a bit more use to my ma if I was you."
"It's very kind of you," acknowledged Winifred; "but—but—Mrs. Martha, if it was true about this—this August, you know—what would be the use of learning?"
"Child," said the woman, and if her voice was sad it was also vehement, "them as are mad in religion are them as thinks doing the duty of each day for His sake ain't enough without seeing where's the use of doing what He puts to our hand."
"Mrs. Martha," besought Winifred, timidly, "I—don't like cooking; but do you think if I did this I should perhaps get to be glad to think—be glad to think our Saviour might be coming again so soon?"
"To love Him is of His grace, and you must get it direct from Him; but it's wonderful how doing the best we can puts heart into our prayers."
The scarlet tanager rose and flew from tree to tree like a darting flame, but Winifred had forgotten him.
Midsummer came with its culmination of heat and verdure; and a great epoch it was in the Chellaston year, for it brought the annual influx of fashionable life from Quebec and Montreal. To tell the plain truth, this influx only consisted of one or two families who had chosen this as a place in which to build summer residences, and some hundred other people who, singly or in parties, took rooms in the hotel for the hot season; but it made a vast difference in the appearance of the quiet place to have several smart phaetons, and one carriage and pair, parading its roads, and to have its main street enlivened by the sight of the gay crowd on the hotel verandahs.
"Now," said Miss Bennett, calling upon Miss Rexford, "there will be a few people to talk to, and we shall see a little life. These people are really a very good sort; you'll begin to have some enjoyment."
The Rexfords had indeed been advertised more than once of the advantage that would accrue to them from the coming of the town-folks, and this chiefly by Trenholme himself.
"The place will seem far different," he had said, "when you have passed one of our summers. We really have some delightful pleasure parties here in summer." And another time he had said, "When Mrs. Brown and her daughters come to their house on the hill I want you to know them. They are such true-hearted people. All our visitors are genuine Canadians, not immigrants as we and our neighbours are; and yet, do you know, they are so nice you would hardly know them from English people. Oh, they add to our social life very much when they come!"
He had said so many things of this sort, ostensibly to Mrs. Rexford, really to Sophia, who was usually a party to his calls on her mother, that he had inspired in them some of his own pleasurable anticipation. It was not until the summer visitors were come that they realised how great was the contrast between their own bare manner of living and the easy-going expenditure of these people, who were supposed to be such choice acquaintances for them. Everything is relative. They had not been mortified by any comparison of their own circumstances and those of Chellaston families, because, on one account and another, there had always appeared to be something to equalise the difference. Either their neighbours, if better off, had not long ago begun as meagrely, or else they lacked those advantages of culture or social standing which the Rexfords could boast. Such are the half conscious refuges of our egotism. But with the introduction of this new element it was different. Not that they drew any definite comparison between themselves and their new neighbours—for things that are different cannot be compared, and the difference on all points was great; but part of Trenholme's prophecy took place; the life in that pleasant land did appear more and more desirable as they witnessed the keen enjoyment that these people, who were not workers, took in it—only (Trenholme and Miss Bennett seemed to have overlooked this) the leisure and means for such enjoyment were not theirs.
"Oh, mamma," said Blue and Red, "we saw the Miss Browns driving on the road, and they had such pretty silver-grey frocks, with feathers in their hats to match. We wish we could have feathers to match our frocks."
And later Sophia, seeking her step-mother, found her in her own room, privately weeping. The rare sight rent her heart.
"If I am their mother" (she began her explanation hurriedly, wiping her tears) "I can say truthfully they're as pretty a pair of girls as may be seen on a summer day. You had your turn, Sophia; it's very noble of you to give up so much for us now, but it can't be said that you didn't have your turn of gaiety."
Now Blue and Red were not in need of frocks, for before they left England their mother had stocked their boxes as though she was never to see a draper's shop again. But then, she had been in a severely utilitarian mood, and when she cut out the garments it had not occurred to her that Fashion would ever come across the fields of a Canadian farm.
Sophia rallied her on this mistake now, but resolutely abstracted certain moneys from the family purse and purchased for the girls white frocks. She did not omit blue and red ribbons to distinguish between the frocks and between the wearers. Trenholme had remarked of the girls lately that neither would know which was herself and which the other if the badge of colour were removed, and Sophia had fallen into the way of thinking a good deal of all he said. She was busy weighing him in the scales of her approval and disapproval, and the scales, she hardly knew why, continued to balance with annoying nicety.
For the making up of the frocks, she was obliged to apply for advice to Eliza, who was the only patron of dressmakers with whom she was intimate.
"I think, on the whole, she is satisfactory," said Eliza of one whom she had employed. "She made the dress I have on, for instance; it fits pretty well, you see."
Sophia did not resent this. Eliza had had a rocket-like career of success in the hotel which pleased and amused her; but she felt that to forgive the Brown family for having a carriage and pair required large-mindedness while her father's carriage still stood in the unfurnished drawing-room, and even Mrs. Rexford had given up hopes of finding horses to draw it.
Very soon after, their annual arrival, Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their two daughters came kindly to call on the new English family. Principal Trenholme found time to run over by appointment and introduce his friends. The visitors were evidently generous-minded, wholesome sort of people, with no high development of the critical faculty, travelled, well-read, merry, and kind. Sophia confessed to herself after the first interview that, had it not been for their faulty degree of wealth and prosperity, she would have liked them very much. Mrs. Bennett, whose uncle had been an admiral, considered them desirable friends for her daughter, and this was another reason why, out of pure contrariness, Sophia found liking difficult; but she determined for Trenholme's sake to try—a good resolution which lasted until she had taken Blue and Red to return the call, but no longer.
"And Miss Rexford," said good Mrs. Brown, "we hear you have had the privilege of knowing Principal Trenholme for a long time before he came out here. He is a very good man; for so comparatively young a man, and one, as you might say, with so many worldly advantages, I think it is perhaps remarkable that he is so spiritually-minded. I count it a blessing that we have the opportunity of attending his church during the summer months." Simple sense and perfect sincerity were written on every line of Mrs. Brown's motherly face.
"He really is very good," said one of the daughters. "Do you know, Miss Rexford, we have a friend who has a son at the college. He really went to the college a very naughty boy, no one could manage him; and he's so changed—such a nice fellow, and doing so well. His mother says she could thank Principal Trenholme on her knees, if it was only the conventional thing to do."
"He is a most devoted Christian," added Mrs. Brown, using the religious terms to which she was accustomed, "and I believe he makes it a matter of prayer that no young man should leave his college without deepened religious life. I believe in prayer as a power; don't you, Miss Rexford?"
"Yes," replied Sophia, tersely. She did not feel at that moment as if she wanted to discuss the point.
"And then he's so jolly," put in the youngest Miss Brown, who was a hearty girl. "That's the sort of religion for me, the kind that can rollick—of course I mean out of church," she added naively.
Blue and Red sat shyly upon their chairs and listened to this discourse. It might have been Greek for all the interest they took in it.
As for Sophia, it could not be said to lack interest for her—it was very plain, she thought, why Robert Trenholme thought so highly of the Browns.
There was a youth belonging to this family who was a year or two older than Blue and Red. His mother, sent for him to come into the room, and introduced him to them. He was a nice youth, but precocious; he said to them:
"I suppose you think Chellaston is a very pretty place, but I'll tell you what our natural beauties lack as yet. It is such a literature as you have in England, which has done so much to endear the wildflowers and birds and all natural objects there to the heart of the people. Our Canadian flora and fauna are at present unsung, and therefore, to a large extent, unobserved by the people, for I think the chief use of the poet is to interpret nature to the people—don't you?"
Blue ventured "yes," and Red lisped in confusion, "Do you think so, really?" but as for any opinion on the subject they had none. Sophia, fearing that her sisters would be cast aside as hopeless dunces, was obliged to turn partially from the praise that was being lavished on Trenholme to make some pithy remark upon the uses of the poet.
Sophia, although half conscious of her own unreasonableness, decided now that the Browns might go one way and she another; but she was indebted to this visit for a clue in analysing the impression Trenholme made upon her. His new friends had called him noble; she knew now that when she knew him ten years before he had seemed to her a more noble character.
In the next few weeks she observed that in every picnic, every pleasure party, by land or water, Principal Trenholme was the most honoured guest, and, indeed, the most acceptable cavalier. His holidays had come, and he was enjoying them in spite of much work that he still exacted from himself. She wondered at the manner in which he seemed to enjoy them, and excused herself from participation. It was her own doing that she stayed at home, yet, perversely, she felt neglected. She hardly knew whether it was low spite or a heaven-born solicitude that made her feel bitter regret at the degeneracy she began to think she saw in him.
In due time there came a pleasure party of which Trenholme was to be the host. It was to take place in a lovely bit of wilderness ground by the river side, at the hour of sunset and moonrise, in order that, if the usual brilliancy attended these phenomena, the softest glories of light might be part of the entertainment. Music was also promised. Principal Trenholme came himself to solicit the attendance of the Miss Rexfords; but Sophia, promising for Blue and Red, pleaded lack of time for herself. "And I wish your scheme success," cried she, "but I need not wish you pleasure since, as on all such occasions, you will 'sit attentive to your own applause.'"
She felt a little vexed that he did not seem hurt by her quotation, but only laughed. She did not know that, although the adulation he received was sweet to him, it was only sweet that summer because he thought it must enhance his value in her eyes. Some one tells of a lover who gained his point by putting an extra lace on his servants' liveries; and the savage sticks his cap with feathers: but these artifices do not always succeed.
Up the road, about a mile beyond the college and the Harmon house, there was a wilderness of ferns and sumac trees, ending in a stately pine grove that marked the place where road and river met. Thither Blue and Red were sent on the evening of Trenholme's picnic. They were dressed in their new frocks, and had been started at the time all the picnic-goers were passing up the road. They walked alone, but they were consigned to Mrs. Bennett's care at the place of assembly. Several carriages full of guests passed them.
"I'm growing more shy every moment," said Blue.
"So am I," sighed Red.
Young girls will make haunting fears for themselves out of many things, and these two were beset with a not unnatural fear of young men who would talk to them about flora and fauna. Sophia had told them that they looked like ninnies when they appeared not to know what people meant, and they could not endure the thought.
Sighed Blue at last, "Do you think it would be dreadfully wicked not to go?"
All the guests had passed them by this time, for they had loitered sadly. It was not that they were not proud of their clothes; they were as proud as peacocks, and minced along; but then it was enough just to wear one's fine clothes and imagine that they might meet somebody who would admire them.
"Oh, Blue," said Red suddenly, withholding her steps, "suppose we didn't go, and were to walk back just a little later, don't you think we might meet—?" There was no name, but a sympathetic understanding. It was Harkness of whom they thought.
"I'm sure he's a great deal better looking than young Mr. Brown, and I think it's unkind to mind the way he talks. Since Winifred had her teeth done, I think we might just bow a little, if we met him on the road."
"I think it would be naughty," said Red, reflectively, "but nice—much nicer than a grown-up picnic."
"Let's do it," said Blue. "We're awfully good generally; that ought to make up."
The sunset cloud was still rosy, and the calm bright moon was riding up the heavens when these two naughty little maidens, who had waited out of sight of the picnic ground, judged it might be the right time to be walking slowly home again.
"I feel convinced he won't come," said Blue, "just because we should so much like to pass him in these frocks."
Now an evil conscience often is the rod of its own chastisement; but in this instance there was another factor in the case, nothing less than a little company of half tipsy men, who came along from the town, peacefully enough, but staggering visibly and talking loud, and the girls caught sight of them when they had come a long way from the pleasure party and were not yet very near any house. The possibility of passing in safety did not enter their panic-stricken minds. They no sooner spied the men than they stepped back within the temporary shelter of a curve in the road, speechless with terror. They heard the voices and steps coming nearer. They looked back the long road they had come, and perceived that down its length they could not fly. It was in this moment of despair that a brilliant idea was born in the mind of Red. She turned to the low open fence of the little cemetery.
"Come, we can pretend to be tombs," she cried, and whirled Blue over the fence. They climbed and ran like a streak of light, and before the drunkards were passing the place, the girls were well back among marble gravestones.
Some artistic instinct warned them that two such queer monuments ought to be widely apart to escape notice. So, in the gathering dimness, each knelt stock still, without even the comfort of the other's proximity to help her through the long, long, awful minutes while the roisterous company were passing by. The men proceeded slowly; happily they had no interest in inspecting the gravestones of the little cemetery; but had they been gazing over the fence with eager eyes, and had their designs been nothing short of murderous upon any monument they chanced to find alive, the hearts of the two erring maidens could not have beat with more intense alarm. Fear wrought in them that sort of repentance which fear is capable of working. "Oh, we're very, very naughty; we ought to have gone to the picnic when Sophia was so good as to buy us new frocks," they whispered in their hearts; and the moon looked down upon them benevolently.
The stuff of their repentance was soon to be tested, for the voice of Harkness was heard from over the Harmon fence.
"Oh, Glorianna! there was never such sculptures. Only want wings. Hats instead of wings is a little curious even for a funeral monument."
The two girls stood huddled together now in hasty consultation. "We didn't mean to be sculptures," spoke up Red, defending her brilliant idea almost before she was aware. "There's nothing but stand-up slabs here; we thought we'd look something like them."
"We were so frightened at the men," said Blue. They approached the fence as they spoke.
"Those men wouldn't have done you one mite of harm," said the dentist, looking down from a height of superior knowledge, "and if they had, I'd have come and made a clearance double quick."
They did not believe his first assertion, and doubted his ability to have thus routed the enemy, but Blue instinctively replied, "You see, we didn't know you were here, or of course we shouldn't have been frightened."
"Beautiful evening, isn't it?" remarked the dentist.
"Yes, but I think perhaps,"—Red spoke doubtfully—"we ought to be going home now."
She was a little mortified to find that he saw the full force of the suggestion.
"Yes, I suppose your mother'll be looking for you."
They both explained, merely to set him right, that this would not be the case, as they had started to Principal Trenholme's picnic.
He asked, with great curiosity, why they were not there, and they explained as well as they could, adding, in a little burst of semi-confidence, "It's rather more fun to talk to you across a fence than sit up and be grand in company."
He smiled at them good-naturedly.
"Say," said he, "if your mother let you stay out, 'twas because you were going to be at the Trenholme party. You're not getting benefit of clergy here, you know."
"We're going;"—loftily—"we're only waiting to be sure there's no more drunken people."
"I was just about to remark that I'd do myself the pleasure of escorting you."
At this they whispered together. Then, aloud—"Thank you very much, but we're not afraid; we're often out as late in papa's fields. We're afraid mamma wouldn't like it if you came with us."
"Wouldn't she now?" said Harkness. "Why not? Is she stuck up?"
Blue felt that a certain romance was involved in acknowledging her parents' antipathy and her own regret.
"Rather," she faltered. "Papa and mamma are rather proud, I'm afraid." It was a bold flight of speech; it quite took Red's breath away. "And so,"—Blue sighed as she went on—"I'm afraid we mustn't talk to you any more; we're very sorry. We—I'm sure—we think you are very nice."
Her feeling tone drew from him a perfectly sincere reply, "So I am; I'm really a very nice young man. My mother brought me up real well." He added benevolently, "If you're scared of the road, come right through my place here, and I'll set you on your own farm double quick."
It was with pleasurable fear that the girls got through the fence with his help. They whispered to each other their self-excuses, saying that mamma would like them to be in their own fields as quickly as possible.
The moonlight was now gloriously bright. The shrubs of the old garden, in full verdure, were mysteriously beautiful in the light. The old house could be clearly seen. Harkness led them across a narrow open space in front of it, that had once been a gravel drive, but was now almost green with weeds and grasses. On the other side the bushes grew, as it seemed, in great heaps, with here and there an opening, moonlit, mysterious. As they passed quickly before the house, the girls involuntarily shied like young horses to the further side of Harkness, their eyes glancing eagerly for signs of the old man. In a minute they saw the door in an opening niche at the corner of the house; on its steps sat the old preacher, his grey hair shining, his bronzed face bathed in moonlight. He sat peaceful and quiet, his hands clasped. Harkness next led them through, a dark overgrown walk, and, true to his promise, brought them at once to the other fence. He seemed to use the old paling as a gate whenever the fancy took him. He pulled away two of the rotten soft wood pales and helped the girls gallantly on to their father's property.
"Charmed, I'm sure, to be of use, ladies!" cried he, and he made his bow.
On the other side of their own fence, knee-deep in dry uncut grass, they stood together a few paces from the gap he had made, and proffered their earnest thanks.
"Say," said Harkness, abruptly, "d'you often see Miss White up to your house?"
"Eliza, do you mean?" said they, with just a slight intonation to signify that they did not look upon her as a "Miss." Their further answer represented the exact extent of their knowledge in the matter. "She didn't come much for a good while, but last week she came to tea. It is arranged for mamma to ask her to tea once in a while, and we're all to try and be nice to her, because—well, our sister says, now that people pay her attentions, she ought to have a place where she can come to, where she can feel she has friends."
"How d'ye mean—'pay her attentions'?"
"That was what we heard sister Sophia say," they replied, pursing up their little lips. They knew perfectly well what the phrase meant, but they were not going to confess it. The arts of those who are on the whole artless are very pretty.
"Say, d'ye think Miss White's got the least bit of a heart about her anywheres?"
"We don't know exactly what you mean"—with dignity—"but one of the ladies who boards at the hotel told mamma that Eliza always behaves admirably'; that's part of the reason we're having her to tea."
"Did she, though? If having about as much feeling as this fence has is such fine behaviour—!" He stopped, apparently not knowing exactly how to end his sentence.
The girls began to recede. The grass grew so thin and dry that they did little harm by passing through it. It sprang up in front of their feet as they moved backwards in their white dresses. All colour had passed from the earth. The ripple of the river and the cry of the whip-poor-will rose amid the murmur of the night insects.
"Do you sometimes come down here of an evening?" asked the young man. "At sunset it's real pleasant."
"Sometimes," answered Blue. Her soft voice only just reached him.
So the days wore on till August. One morning Cyril Harkness lay in wait for Eliza. It was early; none of the boarders at the hotel were down yet. Eliza, who was always about in very good time, found him in the corridor on the first floor. He did not often attempt to speak to her now.
"Say," said he, gloomily, "come into my office. I've something to tell."
The gloom of his appearance, so unusual to him, gave her a presage of misfortune. She followed him into the room of dental appliances.
He told her to sit down, and she did so. She sat on a stiff sofa against the wall. He stood with one elbow on the back of the adjustable chair. Behind him hung a green rep curtain, which screened a table at which he did mechanical work. They were a handsome pair. The summer morning filled the room with light, and revealed no flaw in their young comeliness.
"Look here! It's January, February, March"—he went on enumerating the months till he came to August—"that I've been hanging on here for no other earthly reason than to inspire in you the admiration for me that rises in me for you quite spontaneous."
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Isn't that enough—eight months out of a young man's life?"
"It's not enough to make me waste my time at this hour in the morning."
"Well, it's not all, but it's what I'm going to say first; so you'll have to listen to it for my good before you listen to the other for your own. I've done all I could, Miss White, to win your affection."
He paused, looking at her, but she did not even look at him. She did appear frightened, and, perceiving this, he took a tone more gentle and pliant.
"I can't think why you won't keep company with me. I'm a real lovable young man, if you'd only look at the thing fairly."
He had plenty of humour in him, but he did not seem to perceive the humour of acting as showman to himself. He was evidently sincere.
"Why, now, one of my most lovable qualities is just that when I do attach myself I find it awful hard to pull loose again. Now, that's just what you don't like in me; but if you come to think of it, it's a real nice characteristic. And then, again, I'm not cranky; I'm real amiable; and you can't find a much nicer looking fellow than me. You'll be sorry, you may believe, if you don't cast a more favourable eye toward me."
She did not reply, so he continued urging. "If it's because you're stuck up, it must have been those poor English Rexfords put it into your head, for you couldn't have had such ideas before you came here. Now, if that's the barrier between us, I can tell you it needn't stand, for I could have one of those two pretty young ladies of theirs quick as not. If I said 'Come, my dear, let's go off by train and get married, and ask your father's blessing after,' she'd come."
"How dare you tell me such a falsehood!" Eliza rose magnificently.
"Oh," said he, "I meet them occasionally."
She looked at him in utter disdain. She did not believe him; it was only a ruse to attract her.
"How do you know," she asked fiercely, "what ideas I could have had or not before I went to the Rexfords?"
"That's a part of what I was going to say next"—she sat down again—"but I don't want to hurt you, mind. I'd make it real easy for you if you'd let me cherish you."
"What have you to say?"
"Just this—that it'll all have to come out some time; you know to what I allude."
She did not look as if she knew.
"Upon my word!" he ejaculated admiringly, "you do beat all."
"Well, what are you talking of?" she asked.
"In this world or the next, all you've done will be made public, you know," he replied, not without tone of menace. "But what I want to speak about now is Father Cameron. I've got him here, and I've never regretted the bread and shelter I give him, for he's a real nice old gentleman; but I can't help him going to people's houses and putting ideas into their heads—no more than the wind, I can't keep him. He's crazed, poor old gentleman, that's what he is."
"You ought never to have brought him here."
"You'd rather he'd been stoned in Quebec streets?" He looked at her steadily. "It's because they all more than half believe that he got his ideas when dead, and then came to life again, that he gets into harm. If it wasn't for that tale against him he'd not have been hurt in Quebec, and he'd not be believed by the folks here."
"I thought you believed that too."
He gave her a peculiar smile. "If you was to say right out now in public that you knew he wasn't the man they take him for, but only a poor maniac who don't know who he is himself, you'd put an end to the most part of his influence."
"What do I know about it?" she asked scornfully; but, in haste to divert him from an answer, she went on, "I don't see that he does any harm, any way. You say yourself he's as good as can be."
"So he is, poor gentleman; but he's mad, and getting madder. I don't know exactly what's brewing, but I tell you this, there's going to be trouble of some sort before long."
"Well, for one thing, drunken Job is calling out in the rum-hole that he'll kill his wife if he finds her up to any more religious nonsense; and she is up to something of that sort, and he's quite able to do it, too. I heard him beating her the other night."
"I'm a kind-hearted fellow, Miss White," he went on, with feeling in his voice. "I can't bear to feel that there's something hanging over the heads of people like her—more than one of them perhaps—and that they're being led astray when they might be walking straight on after their daily avocations."
"But what can they be going to do?" she asked incredulously, but with curious anxiety.
"Blest if I know! but I've heard that old man a-praying about what he called 'the coming of the Lord,' and talking about having visions of 'the day and the month,' till I've gone a'most distracted, for otherwise he does pray so beautiful it reminds me of my mother. He's talking of 'those poor sheep in the wilderness,' and 'leading them' to something. He's mad, and there's a dozen of them ready to do any mad thing he says."
"You ought to go and tell the ministers—tell the men of the town."
"Not I—nice fool I'd look! What in this world have I to accuse him of, except what I've heard him praying about? I've done myself harm enough by having him here."
"What do you want me to do then?"
"Whatever you like; I've told you the truth. There was a carter at Turrifs drunk himself to death because of this unfortunate Mr. Cameron's rising again—that's one murder; and there'll be another."
With that he turned on his heel and left her in his own room. He only turned once to look in at the door again. "If you're in any trouble, I'm real soft-hearted, Eliza; I'll be real good to you, though you've been crusty to me."
If she was in trouble then, she did not show it to him.
Nothing contributes more frequently to indecision of character in the larger concerns of existence than a life overcrowded with effort and performance. Had Robert Trenholme not been living at too great a pace, his will, naturally energetic, would not, during that spring and summer, have halted as it did between his love for Sophia Rexford and his shame concerning his brother's trade. With the end of June his school had closed for the summer, but at that time the congregation at his little church greatly increased; then, too, he had repairs in the college to superintend, certain articles to write for a Church journal, interesting pupils to correspond with—in a word, his energy, which sometimes by necessity and sometimes by ambition had become regulated to too quick a pace, would not now allow him to take leisure when it offered, or even to perceive the opportunity. His mind, habituated to unrest, was perpetually suggesting to him things needing to be done, and he always saw a mirage of leisure in front of him, and went on the faster in order to come up to it. By this mirage he constantly vowed to himself that when the opportunity came he would take time to think out some things which had grown indistinct to him. At present the discomfort and sorrow of not feeling at liberty to make love to the woman he loved was some excuse for avoiding thought, and he found distraction in hard work and social engagements. With regard to Sophia he stayed his mind on the belief that if he dared not woo she was not being wooed, either by any man who was his rival, or by those luxuries and tranquillities of life which nowadays often lure young women to prefer single blessedness.
In the meantime he felt he had done what he could by writing again and again, and even telegraphing, to Turrifs Station. It is a great relief to the modern mind to telegraph when impatient; but when there is nothing at the other end of the wire but an operator who is under no official obligation to deliver the message at an address many miles distant, the action has only the utility already mentioned—the relief it gives to the mind of the sender. The third week in August came, and yet he had heard nothing more from Alec. Still, Alec had said he would come in summer, and if the promise was kept he could not now be long, and Robert clung to the hope that he would return with ambitions toward some higher sphere of life, and in a better mind concerning the advisability of not being too loquacious about his former trade.
In this hope he took opportunity one day about this time, when calling on Mrs. Rexford, to mention that Alec was probably coming. He desired, he said, to have the pleasure of introducing him to her.
"He is very true and simple-heaped," said the elder brother; "and from the photograph you have seen, you will know he is a sturdy lad." He spoke with a certain air of depression, which Sophia judged to relate to wild oats she supposed this Alec to be sowing. "He was always his dear father's favourite boy," added Trenholme, with a quite involuntary sigh.
"A Benjamin!" cried Mrs. Rexford, but, with that quickness of mind natural to her, she did not pause an instant over the thought.
"Well, really, Principal Trenholme, it'll be a comfort to you to have him under your own eye. I often say to my husband that that must be our comfort now—that the children are all under our eye; and, indeed, with but one sitting-room furnished, and so little outing except in our own fields, it couldn't well be otherwise. It's an advantage in a way."
"A doubtful advantage in some ways," said Sophia; but the little children were now heard crying, so she ran from the room.
"Ah, Principal Trenholme," cried the little step-mother, shaking her head (she was sewing most vigorously the while), "if my children will but profit by her example! But, indeed, I reproach myself that she is here at all, although she came against my desire. Sophia is not involved in our—I might say poverty, Principal Trenholme." (It was the first-time the word had crossed her lips, although she always conversed freely to him.) "When I see the farm producing so little in comparison, I may say, in confidence, poverty; but Sophia has sufficient income of her own." "I did not know that," said Trenholme, sincerely. "She came with us, for we couldn't think of taking any of it for the house expenses if she was away; and, as it's not large, it's the more sacrifice she makes. But Sophia—Sophia might have been a very rich woman if she'd married the man she was engaged to. Mr. Monekton was only too anxious to settle everything upon her."
Trenholme had positively started at these words. He did not hear the next remark. The eight years just passed of Sophia's life were quite unknown to him, and this was a revelation. He began to hear the talk again.
"My husband said the jointure was quite remarkable. And then the carriages and gowns he would have given! You should have seen the jewels she had! And poor Mr. Monekton—it was one month off the day the wedding was fixed, for when she broke it off. Suddenly she would have none of it."
Trying to piece together these staccato jottings by what he knew of the character of his love, Trenholme's mind was sore with curiosity about it all, especially with regard to the character of Mr. Monckton.
"Perhaps"—he spoke politely, as if excusing the fickleness of the absent woman—"perhaps some fresh knowledge concerning the gentleman reached Miss Rexford."
"For many a year we had known all that was to be known about Mr. Monckton," declared the mother, vigorously. "Sophia changed her mind. It was four years ago, but she might be Mrs. Monckton in a month if she'd say the word. He has never been consoled; her father has just received a letter from him to-day begging him to renew the subject with her; but when Sophia changes once she's not likely to alter again. There's not one in a thousand to equal her."
Trenholme agreed perfectly with the conclusion, even if he did not see that it was proved by the premises. He went away with his mind much agitated and filled with new anxieties. The fact that she had once consented to marry another seemed to him to make it more probable that she might do so again. He had allowed himself to assume that since the time when he had seen her as a young girl, the admired of all, Sophia had drifted entirely out of that sort of relation to society; but now, by this sudden alarm, she seemed to be again elevated on some pinnacle of social success beyond his reach. It struck him, too, as discouraging that he should be able to know so little about a girl he had loved in a vague way so long, and now for a time so ardently, and who had dwelt for months at his very door. He blamed the conventionalities of society that made it impossible for him to ask her the thousand and one questions he fain would ask, that refused him permission to ask any until he was prepared to make that offer which involved the explanation from which he shrank so much that he would fain know precisely what degree of evil he must ask her to face before he asked at all. He told himself that he shrank not so much on account of his own dislike, as on account of the difficulty in which his offer and explanation must place her if she loved him; for if she was not bound strongly by the prejudices of her class, all those she cared for certainly were. On the other hand, if she did not love him, then, indeed, he had reason to shrink from an interview that would be the taking away of all his hope. Who would not wrestle hard with hope and fear before facing such an alternative? Certainly not a man of Trenholme's stamp.
It is a mistake to suppose that decision and fearlessness are always the attributes of strength. Angels will hover in the equipoise of indecision while clowns will make up their minds. Many a fool will rush in to woo and win a woman, who makes her after-life miserable by inconsiderate dealings with incongruous circumstance, in that very unbending temper of mind through which he wins at first. Trenholme did not love the less, either as lover or brother, because he shrank, as from the galling of an old wound, when the family trade was touched upon. He was not a weaker man because he was capable of this long suffering. That nature has the chance to be the strongest whose sensibilities have the power to draw nourishment of pain and pleasure from every influence; and if such soul prove weak by swerving aside because of certain pains, because of stooping from the upright posture to gain certain pleasures, it still may not be weaker than the more limited soul who knows not such temptations. If Trenholme had swerved from the straight path, if he had stooped from the height which nature had given him, the result of his fault had been such array of reasons and excuses that he did not now know that he was in fault, but only had hateful suspicion of it when he was brought to the pass of explaining himself to his lady-love. The murmurs of an undecided conscience seldom take the form of definite self-accusation. They did not now; and Trenholme's suspicion that he was in the wrong only obtruded itself in the irritating perception that his trouble had a ludicrous side. It would have been easier for him to have gone to Sophia with confession of some family crime or tragedy than to say to her, "My father was, my brother is, a butcher; and I have allowed this fact to remain untold!" It was not that he did not intend to prove to her that his silence on this subject was simply wise; he still writhed under the knowledge that such confession, if it did not evoke her loving sympathy, might evoke her merriment.
That afternoon, however, he made a resolution to speak to Sophia before another twenty-four hours had passed—a resolution which was truly natural in its inconsistency; for, after having waited for months to hear Alec's purpose, he to-day decided to act without reference to him. At the thought of the renewed solicitation of another lover, his own love and manliness triumphed over everything else. He would tell her fully and frankly all that had made him hesitate so long, and of his long admiration for her, and how dearly he now loved her. He would not urge her; he would, leave the choice to her. This resolution was not made by any impulsive yielding to a storm of feeling, nor in the calm of determined meditation; he simply made up his mind in the course of that afternoon's occupation.