"That is about it," blurted out Tom. "Can you get ready and come back with me, Bessie? Hatty asked for you last night for the first time, and then father said I had better come and fetch you; so I took the last train to London, and slept at Uncle George's, and came on this morning."
"And Hatty is very ill?" asked Bessie, with a sort of desperate calmness that appeared very ominous to Tom, for he answered nervously:
"Well, she is pretty bad. Father says it is a sudden failure. It is her heart; and he says he always expected it. He never did think well of Hatty, only he would not tell us so—what was the use? he said. But now these fainting attacks have made him anxious, for he says one can never tell what may happen; and then he said you must be fetched at once."
"I suppose we can start by the next train, Tom?"
"Yes, by the 3:15; there is none before that. We must catch the 6:05 from Paddington, so you will have time to look about you."
"Let me help you," exclaimed Edna eagerly. "Mamma, will you send Brandon to us?" And she followed Bessie.
Richard came into the room that moment, and took possession of Tom, carrying him off to the garden and stable-yard, and trying to make the time pass in a less irksome manner. Richard could show his sympathy for Bessie in no other way than this, and he felt sorry for Tom, who was feeling awkward among so many strangers, and was trying to repress his feelings, after the fashion of young men.
"I am afraid your sister is very much cut up about this," observed Richard presently.
"Oh, yes, she will take it uncommonly badly; she and Hatty are such chums."
"Yes, but I trust that your sister is not dangerously ill?"
"Well, she does not seem so to me," replied Tom vaguely. "She is weak, of course; any one would be weak after such an attack; but she looks and talks much as usual, only she is too tired to get up."
"And it is her heart, you say?"
"Well, my father says so. You see, she has always been weakly, but there never seemed much amiss to us; and now my father says that he never expects her to make an old woman, and that there is something wrong with her heart, and he is afraid that she may go off in one of these attacks, and that is why he wants Bessie to come home at once."
"Yes, I see; it looks very serious. Oh, there is the luncheon-bell. I have ordered the carriage round directly afterward, so you will be in plenty of time."
When the two young men returned to the house they found Bessie in the dining-room. She took her old place by Richard, and made some pretense of eating. Once, when Richard spoke to her, begging her to remember the long journey before her, she looked up at him with a faint smile; that smile, so gentle and childlike, haunted Richard during the remainder of the day.
Bessie was battling bravely with her feelings all luncheon, and during the short interval that elapsed before the carriage was brought round she managed to say a few words to Mrs. Sefton, thanking her for all her kindness, and just before she left the house she found an opportunity to speak to Edna.
"Edna," she whispered, holding her friend's hand, "you will not forget our talk. I shall be thinking of you even when I am with Hatty." And then for the moment she could say no more.
"Will you come, Miss Lambert?" urged Richard gently. He had followed the girls, and had overheard this little speech; but Bessie did not heed him.
"Will you try to be brave, Edna?" But her voice was almost inaudible.
"Go with Richard, Bessie, darling; he is waiting for you." And then Bessie got into the carriage.
She looked back and waved her hand as they drove away, but this time there was no smile on her face. Edna was standing on the porch, and the afternoon sun was shining on her face and hair and white dress, and her large wistful eyes were full of sadness. Bessie's lip quivered, her heart ached. How beautiful it all was! The world seemed glorified in sunshine; every one they met seemed happy, and yet Edna was wretched, and Hatty ill—perhaps dying; and a great black cloud seemed to overshadow everything, a sense of terror and confusion, of utter chaos. "In the midst of life we are in death." Why did those words come to Bessie? Just before the train moved Richard broke the silence.
"You will let us hear how things are, Miss Lambert?"
"Oh, yes, I will write to Edna."
"And you will take care of yourself?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Things maybe better than you expect; one can never tell." He stopped and looked earnestly in her face, and she could see that he was very much moved. "I wish you could be spared all this, but I know you will do your best for everybody. I will not tell you now how we shall all miss you; the house will seem very empty when I go back."
"You have been very good to me, Mr. Sefton; thank you for everything."
"No one can help being good to you," he replied gravely. "Good-bye, God bless you!" The train moved on, and he lifted his hat and stood aside.
"Oh, how kind every one is!" thought Bessie, as she leaned back wearily and closed her eyes. Was it all a dream, or was her beautiful holiday really over? Alas! the dull, aching consciousness told her too truly that it was sorrowful reality.
The journey seemed endless to Bessie, but she restrained her painful restlessness for Tom's sake. Tom was very kind after his own fashion; he got her some tea at Paddington, and was very attentive to her comfort, and every now and then he gave utterance to a few remarks, bidding her keep up her heart like a brave little woman.
"'While there is life there is hope,' you know, Bessie," he said. "I think my father takes too dark a view of the case; but then, you see, Hatty is his own child. I don't believe she is as bad as all that; depend upon it, she will take a good turn yet."
"Don't let us talk about it, Tom," pleaded Bessie, with a sick, wretched feeling that Tom's boyish testimony was not very reliable. How she wished he would be silent; but in a few minutes he was back again on the same subject, with another homely axiom for Bessie's comfort.
But the longest day must have an end, and at last they reached Cliffe. No one met them at the station, but Tom assured her that he never expected to be met; he put Bessie into a fly, and again there was need for patience, as the horse toiled slowly up the steep road. It was long past nine when they reached the house, and by that time Bessie's overwrought feelings bordered on nervous irritability.
The door opened as the fly stopped, and by the hall lamp she saw her mother's face, looking paler and sadder, but her voice was as quiet and gentle as ever.
"Is that you, Bessie? My dear child, how tired you must be!"
"Oh, mother, mother!" and now Bessie literally fell on her mother's neck and wept.
Mrs. Lambert seemed to understand all about it; she made her sit down on the couch, and took off her hat, and smoothed her hair with caressing fingers.
"You have had a long day, and have been keeping up as well as you could; don't be afraid of giving way a little, now you are with your own mother," she said tenderly.
"Oh, mother, you are such a comfort; but I must not trouble you like this, and I am keeping you from Hatty."
"Hattie is asleep," replied her mother quietly. "Christine is with her; you must come into the dining-room with me, and have something to eat and drink before you go upstairs;" but Bessie detained her "Wait a moment, mother, darling; Tom is there, and I want to speak to you alone. What does father really think of Hatty?"
"He thinks her very ill," was the sorrowful answer; "it seems a sudden failure. She was much as usual until the warm weather came, and then one evening she complained of palpitation and faintness, and the next day she seemed very weak, and so it has gone on. Your father says he was always afraid there was latent mischief, but I think he hardly expected it would be like this. There was a consultation this morning, but they say there is no rallying power, and another attack may carry her off."
"Oh, mother, if I had only stayed at home!"
"Don't say that, Bessie; you must not even think of it; no care on your part could have prevented this. Hatty seemed as well as usual for a week or two after you left, and none of us suspected anything. You are very good not to reproach us for not sending for you before, but Hatty prevented us; she would not have your pleasure spoiled, and it was only last night that your father looked so grave, and said Tom had better fetch you."
"But is there no hope—no hope at all, mother?"
"I dare not ask the question," and here Mrs. Lambert's eyes filled with tears. "Your father looks so harassed. Dr. Morton said she might go on like this for a long time, getting weaker and weaker, or it might be sudden. Dear little Hatty is so good and patient, and gives us no trouble. Now you must not talk any more, and you must be a good child and take your supper; we all need to keep up our strength. I will leave Tom to take care of you while I go up to Hatty."
Bessie did as she was told, and Ella and Katie waited on her, and then she went up to her own room, and stayed there until Christine came to fetch her.
"Hattie is awake now, Bessie, and she is asking for you, and mother has gone downstairs to speak to father."
"Thank you, Chrissy dear. I will go to her at once;" and Bessie went hurriedly across the passage.
Hattie lay on her little bed with her eyes closed. As she opened them a sudden sweet smile came over her face, and she held out her arms to Bessie. "My own Betty, is it really you?"
"Yes, it is really I," returned Bessie, trying to speak brightly; but now her heart sunk as she looked at her sister. There was no need to tell her Hatty was very ill; the life was flickering in the feeble body, the mysterious wasting disease had made rapid strides, even in these few days. "Oh, Hatty darling, to find you like this! Why—why did you not let them send for me? You wanted me; I am sure you wanted me."
"Why, of course I wanted you," returned Hatty, in a weak, happy voice, "and that is just why I would not let them send. You know how unhappy I have always been because of my horrid selfishness, and I did want to be good for once, and I said to myself when Mrs. Sefton's letter came, 'Bessie shall not know how poorly I feel, nor what strange suffocating feelings I have sometimes. I won't try to get my own way this time; she shall be happy a little longer.'"
"Oh, Hatty! as though I cared for any happiness without you!"
"You must not say that, Bessie dear," replied Hatty, stroking her sister's hand; "and yet it seems nice to hear you say so. Do you recollect what I used to say—that it would take very little to kill me, because I was so weak? Well, I think it is coming true."
"Don't talk so, Hatty; I can't bear it. I feel as if I want to lie there in your stead."
But Hatty shook her head.
"No, darling, no; that would not do at all. You are so strong and full of life, and people could not spare you. It does not matter for a weakly little creature like myself. I have never been strong enough to enjoy anything. I have just been 'Little Miss Much-Afraid,' full of troublesome fears and fancies; but they seem gone somehow."
"I am so glad, my Hatty; but ought you to talk?"
"Yes, when I feel like this. Oh, I am so comfortable, and it is so nice to have you with me again. What talks we will have! Yes, I don't feel like dying yet. Oh, there's mother, and she is going to send you away."
"Yes, for to-night, love. Bessie is tired, and it is not good for you to talk so much. Bessie shall be head nurse to-morrow, if she likes, but father says she is to go to bed now."
"Very well, mother," replied Hatty meekly. "Bid me good-night, Bessie. I don't mean to be selfish ever again." And as Bessie kissed her without speaking and moved away, she said to herself, "It was Bessie that always helped me to be good; but bye and bye I shall be quite good. Oh, how nice that will be!"
Bessie's life was changed, indeed, from this day. No more thoughtless, merry hours, no more rides and drives and pleasant musical evenings. Her days were passed in a sick-room, and from hour to hour she seemed only to live on Hatty's looks and words. Bessie had for many years been her mother's right hand, and now she shared her watch beside the sick-bed. Her bright, healthy color began to fade from fatigue and anxiety, and it needed her father's stringent orders to induce her to take needful rest and exercise. For the first time in her life Bessie found it difficult to submit, and she had to fight more than one battle with herself before she yielded. More than once her mother remonstrated with her tenderly but firmly.
"Bessie dear," she said once, "this may be a long illness, and it is your duty to husband your strength most carefully. You are looking pale from confinement to the house and want of exercise. You know your father insists that Christine should relieve you for two hours in the afternoon."
"Yes, mother; and of course father is thinking of me; but what does it matter if I look a little pale? I cannot bear to lose an hour of Hatty's company when—when—" but Bessie could not finish her sentence.
"My dear, the feeling is natural; but don't you think Chrissy likes to have her to herself sometimes? We all love Hatty; you must remember that."
"Oh, mother, how selfish I am, after all! I see what you mean. I want to monopolize Hatty, and I grudge her to every one else—even to you and Chrissy. I never knew I could be so horrid; but I see even trouble has its temptations."
"Indeed it has, Bessie; but I will not have you say such hard things about yourself. You are our dear child, and our greatest comfort, and I do not know what your father and I would do without you. Don't fret any more, darling; go out with Katie, and get a little turn in the woods, and come back fresh for the evening work."
Mrs. Lambert's words were not thrown away. Bessie's sweet, reasonable nature was easily guided; her passionate love for Hatty had blinded her to her own selfishness, but now her eyes were open. The mother's heart was often touched by the cheerful alacrity with which Bessie would yield her place to Christine. Even Hatty's plaintive, "Oh, must you go, Bessie?" seemed to make no impression; but how long those two hours seemed!
Bessie did not forget her friends in her trouble; she sent frequent notes to Edna, and heard often from her in return. Now and then a kind message came from Richard, and every week a hamper filled with farm produce and fruit and flowers were sent from The Grange. Hatty used to revel in those flowers; she liked to arrange them herself, and would sit pillowed up on her bed or couch, and fill the vases with slow, tremulous fingers.
"Doesn't the room look lovely?" she would say, in a tone of intense satisfaction. When her weakness permitted she loved to talk to Bessie about her friends at The Grange, and was never weary of listening to Bessie's descriptions.
"What a nice man Mr. Richard must be, Betty!" she would say. "I should like to see him." And she often harped on this theme, and questioned Bessie closely on this subject; but often their talk went deeper than this.
One evening, about five weeks after Bessie's return, she was alone with Hatty; she had been reading to her, and now Hatty asked her to put down the book.
"Yes, it is very nice, but I feel inclined to talk. Come and lie on the bed, Bessie, and let us have one of our old cosy talks. Put your head down on the pillow beside me. Yes, that is how I mean; isn't that comfortable? I always did like you to put your arm round me. How strong and firm your hand feels! Look at the difference." And Hatty laid her wasted, transparent fingers on Bessie's pink palm.
"Poor little Hatty?"
"No, I am not poor a bit now. You must not call me that. I don't think I have ever been so happy in my life. Every one is so kind to me—even Tom—he never finds fault with me now."
"We are all so sorry for you."
"Yes, but you must not be too sorry. Somehow I am glad of this illness, because it makes you all think better of me. You will not remember now how cross, and jealous, and selfish I used to be. You will only say, 'Poor little thing, she always wanted to be good, even when she was most naughty and troublesome.'"
"Don't, Hatty; I can't bear to hear you!"
"Yes, let me say it, please; it seems to do me good. How often you have helped me over my difficulties. 'If I could only tell Bessie,' that was what I used to say. I am glad you went away and gave me something to bear. I used to be glad every night when I prayed; it was something to do for you, and something to bear for His sake." And Hatty dropped her voice reverently, for she was speaking of the Lord Jesus.
"Yes, darling, I see what you mean."
"I am glad that it has not been too easy, and that I have really tried for once not to be selfish. I don't want to get well, Bessie. I should have all the old, miserable feelings over again. I have been 'Little Miss Much-Afraid' all my life, and the fears have been a part of me. Do you recollect what Bunyan said about Much-Afraid? 'She went through the river singing;' that was because she had left all her fears and troubles on the bank."
"And you are not afraid to die, Hatty?"
"No, not really afraid. Sometimes in the night, when I lie awake with that strange oppression, I think how strange it will be without you all, and to have only the angels to talk to me. But I suppose I shall get used to it. I always say that psalm over to myself, and then the queer feeling leaves me. Don't you know? 'He shall give His angels charge over thee. They shall bear thee up in their hands.' That verse gives one such a restful feeling; just as though one were a little child again."
"Dear Hatty, you will be in that city where 'the inhabitants shall not say, I am sick, and they that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.' You will be where Jesus is.
'Peace, perfect peace with loved ones far away! In Jesus' keeping we are safe—and they.'
It does me good to hear you; but you must not talk any more, your voice is so weak. Let me repeat one of your favorite hymns, and then perhaps you will get drowsy." And then Hatty consented to be silent.
After all, the end came very suddenly, just when it was least expected. Hatty had seemed better that day; there was a strange flicker of life and energy; she had talked much to her mother and Bessie, and had sent a loving, playful message to Tom, who was away from home.
It had been her father's custom to take the early part of the night-watch, and then to summon one of the others to relieve him. He had persisted in this, in spite of long, laborious days. Hatty was very dear to her father's heart, and he loved those quiet hours beside her. Bessie had retired to bed early, as it was her turn to be roused, but long before the usual hour her mother was beside her.
"Come, my child, come; do not wait to dress, Hatty is going home fast."
One startled, non-comprehending look, and then the truth rushed on Bessie, and she threw on her dressing-gown and hurried to the sick-room.
"Going home fast!" nay, she had gone; the last sigh was breathed as Bessie crossed the threshold "Thank God, she has not suffered!" murmured her father. Bessie heard him as she flung herself down beside Hatty.
There had been no pain, no struggle; a sudden change, a few short sighs, and Hatty had crossed the river. How peaceful and happy she looked in her last sleep—the sweet, deep sleep that knows no awaking! An innocent smile seemed to linger on her face. Never more would Hatty mourn over her faults and shortcomings; never more would morbid fears torment and harass her weary mind; never more would she plead for forgiveness, nor falter underneath her life's burden, for, as Maguire says, "To those doubting ones earth was a night season of gloom and darkness, and in the borderland they saw the dawn of day; and when the summons comes they are glad to bid farewell to the night that is past, and to welcome with joy and singing the eternal day, whose rising shall know no sunset."
Many and many a time during that mourning week did Bessie, spent and weary with weeping, recall those words that her darling had uttered, "I don't want to get well, Bessie; I should have all the old miserable feelings over again." And even in her desolation Bessie would not have called her back.
"My Hatty has gone," she wrote to Edna, in those first days of her loss. "I shall never see her sweet face again until we meet in Paradise. I shall never hear her loving voice; but for her own sake I cannot wish her back. Her life was not a happy one; no one could make it happy, it was shadowed by physical depression. She had much to bear, and it was not always easy to understand her; it was difficult for her to give expression to the nameless fears, and the strange, morbid feelings that made life so difficult. She loved us all so much, but even her love made her wretched, for a careless word or a thoughtless speech rankled in her mind for days, and it was not easy to extract the sting; she was too sensitive, too highly organized for daily life; she made herself miserable about trifles. I know she could not help it, poor darling, and father says so too. Oh, how I miss her. But God only knows that, and I dare say He will comfort me in His own good time. Mother is ill; she is never strong, and the nursing and grief have broken her down, so we must all think of her. Pray for us all, dear Edna, for these are sorrowful days. I do not forget you, but I seem to look at you through the mist of years; still, I am always your loving friend,
"I MUST NOT THINK OF MYSELF."
Bessie's words to Edna had been strangely prophetical—"Trouble may come to me one day;" it had come already, in its most crushing form. The bond of sisterhood is very strong; it has peculiar and precious privileges, apart from other relationships; a sort of twinship of sympathy unites many sisters who have grown up together. Their thoughts and interests are seldom apart. All their little pleasures, their minor griefs, youthful hopes, disappointments, are shared with each other. They move together through the opening years of their life. Sometimes old age finds them still together, tottering hand in hand to the grave. Of all her sisters, Bessie could least spare Hatty, and her death left a void in the girl's life that was very difficult to fill. From the first, Bessie had accepted the responsibility of Hatty. Hatty's peculiar temperament, her bad health and unequal spirits, had set her apart from the other members of the family, who were all strong and cheerful and full of life.
Bessie had realized this and had made Hatty her special charge and duty; but now there was a gap in her daily life, a sense of emptiness and desolation. There was no need now to hurry through her morning's task that she might sit with Hatty. When she went out, there was no Hatty to watch for her return and listen to all her descriptions of what she had seen. At night, when Bessie went upstairs, she would creep softly into a certain empty room, which was dearer to her than any other room. Hatty's little gowns, her few girlish possessions, were all locked away in the wardrobe; but her Bible and Prayer-book, and her shabby little writing-case, lay on the table. Bessie would pull up the blinds, and kneel down by the low bed; she liked to say her prayers in that room. Sometimes as she prayed the sense of her sister's presence would come over her strongly; she could almost feel the touch of the thin little hands that had so often toiled in her service. Hatty's large wistful eyes seemed to look lovingly out of the darkness. "Oh! my Hatty, are you near me?" she would sob; but there was no answer out of the silence.
Who has not tasted the bitterness of these moments, when the craving for the loved presence seems insupportable, hardly to be borne? How our poor human hearts rebel against the unnatural separation, until the thrilling words make themselves heard: "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Oh, yes, of the living! Cease, then, to mourn, poor soul, as one without hope. Somewhere, not here, but in the larger room of a purified existence, your beloved one lives, breathes, nay, thinks of thee. Be comforted; one day we shall meet them, and the friendship of time will become the love of eternity.
Bessie strove hard not to be selfish in her grief. Her mother's strength, never very great, had broken down utterly for a time. Bessie knew that this failure of power added to her father's anxiety, and in the most touching manner she tried to console them both. When she looked back at these sad days, Bessie owned that she had been marvellously helped and supported. With the day's burden had come daily strength to bear it.
"I must not think of myself; I must think of father and mother," she would say, as she awoke in the morning with that blank sense of loss. "There is nothing to do for Hatty now, but there are others who need me." And this thought helped her through the day.
In that busy household there was no time to sit alone and brood. A quiet walk now and then, and that half hour in Hatty's room, was all Bessie could conscientiously spare. If she stayed away for an hour, Christine complained of dullness, and her mother looked sadder on her return. Ella and Katie, too, made constant demands on her time and patience. Christine was very unlike Bessie in temperament. She was a pretty, bright girl, warm-hearted and high-spirited, but she did not possess Bessie's contented nature. Christine often found her quiet life irksome. She was inquisitive, restless, eager to see the world. She had insatiable curiosity; a love of change, her small girlish ambitions. She wanted to plume her wings a little—to try them in flights hither and thither. The gay world seemed to her ignorance a land flowing with milk and honey. She had yet to spell the meaning of the words illusion and vanity. Bessie was fond of Christine. She loved all her sisters dearly, but there was less sympathy between them than there had been between herself and Hatty.
Hatty, in spite of her morbid humors and difficult tendencies, had a refined and cultured mind; her chief source of fretfulness was that she loved the best, and failed to reach it. The very loftiness of her standard produced despondency akin to despair.
Hatty's faith was pure, but feeble. She hated everything false and mean. She despised the conventionalities of life, while Bessie laughed at them. She and Bessie had their ideals, their simple secrets, their crude girlish notions, that were nevertheless very true and sweet.
Bessie could make allowances for Hatty's sharp speeches as she watched her daily struggles with her faulty temper. She could rejoice in Hatty's victories all the more that she had borne so patiently with her failures, and there was no abiding sting in her grief now, no remorseful feelings for duties undone and opportunities wasted; but with Christine things were different.
One Sunday afternoon when Bessie was stealing away for a quiet half hour in Hatty's room, she was surprised to find Christine following her.
"May I come in too, Bessie?" she said very humbly, and her eyes were full of tears; "I do so want a little comfort, and I can't talk to mother. I am making myself miserable about Hatty."
"About our dear Hatty! Oh, Chrissy, what can you mean?" asked Bessie reproachfully. "We can talk here, and perhaps our poor darling may be listening to us. I do love this room; it seems to breathe of Hatty somehow. There, I will open the window. How sweet the air is? and look, how red the leaves are, though it is only the end of September!" And then she added, softly: "Hatty has been six weeks in her new home."
"Oh, how I envy you, Bessie!" sighed Christine, "you can talk and think happily about our dear little Hatty, but with me it is all so different. If I had only been good to her, if she had not made me so impatient But I cannot help remembering how horrid I used to be." And here one tear after another rolled down Christine's pretty, troubled face.
Bessie's soft heart grew very pitiful. "Dear Chrissy," she said gently, "there is no need to fret over that now. Hatty was always fond of you, and you of her; she told me that night, when I came home, how kind you had been to her. There was no one but you to do things, and you were such a comfort to her."
"How could I help being kind to her, when she was so ill, and there was the fear of losing her? Somehow, I never thought there was much amiss with Hatty. I could not get it out of my mind that she always made the most of every little ailment, and that it was wrong of you and mother to give in to her. I never thought it would come to this." And Christine sobbed afresh.
"Yes, I know what you mean; but, indeed, Chrissy, dear, you need not distress yourself so. Hatty forgave everything long ago; she was never one to bear malice—no, her nature was too sweet for that."
"But I might have made her happier," persisted Christine. "I need not have minded her worrying so over every little trifle, but I was always losing patience, and getting vexed with her. I used to wonder at your bearing with her as you did, and I thought it a mistake to give way to all her humors. I never imagined that she was cross because she was suffering, but father says all her gloomy fancies and tiresome little ways came from her bad health."
"I might have made her happier!" That speech went to Bessie's heart. "Listen to me, darling," she said eagerly; "think rather of how, by your waywardness, you have wounded the loving heart of Jesus, and sinned against Him. Let the sense of Hatty's loss send you to him in penitence for pardon. Nothing can now undo the past; but you can set yourself in the grace and strength which Jesus gives to do all in your power to make the lives of those around you happier. I do not want to make you more miserable, but what you have just said reminds me so of a passage I copied only the other day out of one of Tom's books; it was written by a man who failed in his own life, but was very gentle and very tolerant of other people. 'Oh, let us not wait,' he says, 'to be just, or pitiful, or demonstrative toward those we love, until they or we are struck down by illness, or threatened with death. Life is short, and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!' And then in another place he says, and that is so true, too, 'Never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to look for the budding flower and the opening heart, to hope always like God; to love always—this is duty.'"
Christine made a despairing gesture. "It is a duty in which I have utterly failed," she said bitterly.
"You think you might have been kinder to Hatty; that is just what Tom said of himself the other day. I am afraid many people have these sort of reproachful thoughts when they lose one they love. Everything seems different," she continued, in a musing tone; "we see with other eyes. Death seems to throw such a strange, searching light over one's life; big things are dwarfed, and little things come into pre-eminence; our looks and words and actions pass in review before us—we see where we have failed, and our successes do not comfort us."
"But you, at least, are free from these thoughts, Bessie?"
"Not entirely. There were times when I found Hatty trying, when she depressed me, and made me impatient. Indeed, Chrissy dear, we must remember that we are human, and not angels. None of us are free from blame; we have all failed in our turn. You have never been morbid before; try to forget the little everyday frictions, for which Hatty was to blame as well as you, and only remember how good you were to her in her illness—what a comfort to me as well as to her. 'Chrissy has been such a darling,' Hatty said to me one day."
After all, Christine was quite willing to be comforted, and presently she dried her eyes.
"You must let me talk to you sometimes, Bessie," she said; "it will do me good, because you have such a nice clear way of putting things, and you never mind trouble. I know I can't take Hatty's place, but if you will let me do things for you sometimes, and feel that I am a help, for we are sisters as much as you and Hatty were, and I want to get nearer to you somehow."
"And so you shall, dear," replied Bessie, touched by this humility. "You must not think that I do not love you because Hatty was so much to me. There is nothing I would not do for you, Chrissy—oh, you may be sure of that;" and Bessie kissed her affectionately.
This conversation made Christine happier, for she was a good-hearted girl, and her repentance was very real, and it strengthened Bessie in her resolve to do her best for them all. Sorrow is a great test of character; it makes the selfish more selfish, and hardens the proud, but Bessie grew softer under its influence. After all, Edna was right in saying that it was harder to suffer through one's own fault. An affliction that comes straight from God's hand (though, in one sense, all trouble is permitted by His providence) wounds, and yet heals at the same time, and Bessie was to learn this by degrees; and, after all, her cross was wreathed with the soft flowers of hope.
One morning early in October Bessie had a most unexpected pleasure. She had just returned from a long walk, and was on her way to the morning-room in search of her mother, when Christine opened the drawing-room door and beckoned to her with a very excited face.
"Do come in, Betty," she said, in a loud whisper that must have been distinctly audible inside the room. "What a time you have been! and there is a friend of yours waiting for you."
Bessie quickened her steps, feeling somewhat mystified by Christine's manner, and the next moment she was face to face with Edna. Bessie turned very pale and could hardly speak at first for surprise and emotion; but Edna took her in her arms and kissed her.
"My dear Bessie," she said softly; and then she laughed a little nervously, and it was not the old musical laugh at all—"are you very surprised to see me? Oh, it was a bright idea of mine. I have been visiting those same friends (I had returned from them that day, you know, when we were snowed up together). Well, when I saw Sheen Valley, all of a sudden the thought popped into my head that I would stop at Cliffe, and take a later train; so I telegraphed to mamma, who is in London, and now I have a whole hour to spend with you. Is not that nice?"
"Very nice indeed. I am so glad to see you, Edna; but you are looking delicate; you have lost your color."
"What nonsense!" with a touch of her old impatience. "You are as bad as mamma; she is always finding fault with me. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones at their neighbors. You do not look like yourself either, Bessie."
"Oh, that is different," and Bessie's lips trembled a little; "I have gone through so much since we parted. I try to take it properly, and every one helps me, but I think I miss my Hatty more every day."
"You want a change," returned Edna kindly, for she was much touched by the alteration in her friend's looks.
Bessie had lost her pretty fresh color, and looked pale and subdued in her black dress; her gray eyes had a sad look in them, even her voice had lost its old cheery tones, and her very movements were quieter; the bright elasticity that had been her charm was missing now, and yet Edna thought she had never looked so sweet.
"My poor little Daisy," she continued, "you have a crushed look. You want country air to revive you. Will you come to us? Mamma will be delighted; you are such a favorite of hers; and as for myself, I want you more than I can say."
"Not yet; I could not leave mother yet," returned Bessie; but a faint color stole into her face. No, she could not leave her post, and yet it would have been nice to see The Grange again, and Richard's friendly face; he had been so kind to her; and there was Whitefoot, and the dear dogs, and the lanes would be full of hips and haws. "No, not yet; but I should like to come again one day."
"Well, well, I will not tease you; bye and bye I will make another appeal, but if your mother be not well——" She paused, and then something of the old mischief came into her eyes. "You see I am improving, Bessie; I am not always trying to get my own way; my goodness makes mamma quite uneasy. I think she has got it into her head that I shall die young; all good young people die—in books. No, it was wrong of me to joke," as a pained look crossed Bessie's face. "Seriously, I am trying to follow your advice; but, oh! it is such hard work."
"Dear Edna, do you think I do not see the difference in you?"
"Am I different?" she asked eagerly, and a wistful look came into her lovely eyes. "Richard said the other day how much nicer I was; we are quite friends, Ritchie and I, now, and I won't let mamma be so hard on him. He was very kind to me when—when—Neville went away; he tells me about him sometimes, for once or twice he has seen him in London; but just fancy, Bessie, he never even asked after me. 'Are your people well?' That is all he said; but of course he will never forgive me; men are like that."
"He may not think that you want to be forgiven," returned Bessie.
Edna's color rose.
"He will never know it," she said proudly; but the next moment her tone changed. "Oh, Bessie, what shall I do? Sometimes I am so miserable that I hardly know how I am to go on living. I never thought I should miss Neville like this, but I do—I do."
"Do not think me unkind if I say that I rejoice to hear it; it proves how deep and real your affection was."
"It was the only real part of me," was the reply. "Now it is too late, I have discovered it for myself. I never would let myself think seriously of my engagement. I liked Neville, and I meant to marry him one day, and that was all I thought about it; but now I see that the real feeling was there all the time, only choked up with rubbish, and I am quite sure that I could never care for any one else in the same way—never—never."
"Poor Edna! it is very hard, and I am so sorry for you."
But as Bessie spoke Christine came back into the room with a small tray of refreshments, and her mother followed, so she and Edna were obliged to break off the conversation.
"BESSIE'S SECOND FLITTING."
Just before Edna left them Dr. Lambert came into the room. He seemed very pleased to see her, and at once offered to drive her to the station. Bessie was a little disappointed at this, for she had hoped to walk down with her friend; it would have given them time to finish their conversation; but Edna certainly looked tired, so she refrained from a dissenting word.
Edna bade her good-bye very affectionately, and begged her to write to her frequently, and just before they reached the station she said a word or two to Dr. Lambert; would he spare Bessie to them bye and bye—not now, but a little later—for Oatlands was pleasant even in the winter?
"Yes, bye and bye," he returned hastily; "but her mother cannot spare the girl now; she is not well; her strength has flagged since Hatty's death, and Bessie is mother's crutch; but later on you shall have her; and indeed she looks pale, and in need of change, and I shall be thankful to let her go." And when he reached the home he told them all of Edna's invitation to Bessie, and how he had answered her.
Mrs. Lambert looked wistfully at her daughter.
"You would like to go, Bessie; it would do you good, and indeed I am growing stronger every day. I would spare you willingly."
"No, mother, I am not going to leave you just now. Why, you have not been down yet to breakfast. When you are quite well and strong I will think of it." And Bessie looked tenderly at her mother's thin, faded face.
Perhaps it was not quite so thin as it was, not so pinched and anxious, but there was plenty of room for improvement; and though Mrs. Lambert sighed, she could not conscientiously own that she was well. But when she was alone with her husband, she spoke to him about Bessie's looks.
"She is not like the same girl," she said sadly. "She feels darling Hatty's loss more than the others. What does it matter about me, Herbert? A mother must think of her children before herself."
"Perhaps so," he replied rather dryly, "but it is my duty to think first of you, my dear Dora. We both love our children, and would willingly do our best for them. I am not blind to Bessie's looks; but she is really strong, and her health will not suffer."
"No; but the change will do her good," she pleaded.
"I do not doubt it, and I wish you were strong enough to spare her; but Bessie is young enough to wait a little. It is we who are growing old, my dear, and who need to be comforted quickly; the young have their life before them."
But though the doctor expressed himself after this stoical fashion, he was very tender in his manner to Bessie, and though he would not have avowed it to his wife, he watched the girl narrowly, and often took her for drives, or contrived errands for her at the other end of the town. Nay, more, he became extravagant, and brought home books for her and Christine, bidding them improve their minds, and Bessie found herself the possessor of several nice books, not wholly instructive—for "Lorna Doone," and Miss Austen's "Emma," and "A Sister's Story," by Mrs. Craven, were among them.
Bessie had other little surprises that pleased her greatly; every week or two a hamper came from Oatlands—new-laid eggs and cream, a chicken or two, and often a brace of partridges or a pheasant. Bessie, who was housekeeper, used to rejoice over the contents of these hampers; she knew the game would tempt her mother's sickly appetite. Many of Dr. Lambert's patients remembered that he had an invalid wife, and fruit and flowers and all sorts of delicacies found their way to the doctor's house, for the Lamberts were much respected in Cliffe, and even the poor people would step up with a couple of new-laid eggs from a speckled hen, or a pot of blackberry-jam, or a bottle of elderberry wine for Mrs. Lambert.
"The world is very full of nice people," observed Bessie one day, when, near Christmas, she looked at the larder shelves fairly laden with good things. One kind friend had sent them a barrel of oysters. Aunt Charlotte's contribution had been a stock of apples that would last them half through the winter.
The hamper from Oatlands had been unusually rich, for a turkey, and a great fat goose dangled from the ceiling, and Edna had added a rich cake and a packet of bonbons and chocolate for Ella and Katie. But the letter that accompanied it had made Bessie somewhat anxious. Edna had a cold, a severe cold, for she could not shake it off, and her mother had decided to take her to Brighton for a month or two. The doctor had recommended Hastings or Bournemouth as being warmer, but Edna had a fancy for Brighton, so her mother had taken a suite of rooms in the Glenyan Mansions—a big drawing-room overlooking King's Road and the sea, and a small dining-room leading out of it.
"And we have four bedrooms," wrote Edna, "for Richard proposes to run down for a night or two now and then, and mamma suggests an invitation to you. Do you think you could come, Bessie—that your mother could spare you? We are going on the third of January, and want you to join us a few days afterward. Do try, there's a dear! My cold has made me so weak and miserable, and the cough will not let me sleep properly at night, so of course my life is not very pleasant. It will be such a comfort to have you, for I never can talk to mamma; she frets herself into a fuss over everything, and that makes me, oh, so impatient, I should like to jump into the sea! But you are such a patient, reasonable little creature, Daisy dear, and I am so fond of you. Bye the bye, Richard has sent you a message. He was very particular in repeating it more than once. Let me see; oh, this is it: 'Do you not think that you owe some duty to your friends, especially when they need you?' That he was sure you could do me good, and that he hoped you would make every effort to come, if only for my sake. Was that not kind and brotherly of him? But then Richard is very much improved, too."
Bessie hardly knew what she was to say in reply. Her mother was better, certainly; but she could not propose to leave her. She was much surprised when her father asked her that evening if no letter had accompanied the hamper, and on her replying in the affirmative, he coolly asked to see it.
"Well," he said interrogatively, as he handed back the letter, "what answer do you propose to give, Bessie?"
"I do not know; at least, I have not thought about it," she answered.
Her father looked at her steadily.
"You have never been to Brighton?"
"So much the better; it will be all new to you. Sit down and write to Miss Edna at once, and tell her that you will be glad to spend a week or two with her and her mother. Let me see, what time did she say? The first week in January, that will fit in well. I am going up to town on the seventh, and we can travel together. That will do famously, will it not, mother?"
"Do you think you can spare me, mother?" asked Bessie anxiously.
And Mrs. Lambert answered without hesitation: "I certainly can and will spare you, Bessie, and I am very grateful to Mrs. Sefton for her invitation. My dear," as the girl still hesitated, "your father and I have long wished you to have a little holiday, so your mind may be quite at rest." And after this Bessie was satisfied.
But it was with very different feelings that Bessie left her home in the mild-tempered sunshine of that January day, to those when, seven months ago, she paid her first visit to The Grange. Things had been well with her then; no trouble since her brother's death had checkered her bright, sunshiny existence. She had gone in holiday mood to seek fresh interests and new enjoyments; but now how utterly changed were her feelings! She could no longer look out upon the world through the rose-colored spectacles that youth generally wears. For the second time in her life she had been brought face to face with death, and the great reality had sobered her. A deep sense of responsibility, of the inner meaning of life, seemed to cast a weight of gravity over her. A bond of sympathy seemed to unite her with all those who were in sorrow; so many were unhappy, so many had lost their nearest and dearest. Oh, how she longed to comfort them all!
Bessie was not one to speak of her feelings; the best of her life was out of sight. Only once she said to Christine, as they were walking home from church in the starlight:
"People are very proud when their relatives achieve any worldly honor or attain to any rank, yet no one seems to feel an added dignity when any dear one has finished his or her earthly conflict most gloriously, and has won a heavenly crown. Why is it, Chrissy? Somehow it seems such an honor to me to feel I have a sister as well as a brother in heaven; it makes one more careful not to do anything unworthy of them."
Bessie's gray eyes had a softer look in them than they had of old; her voice had grown more gentle. Mrs. Sefton, who was at the station, hardly recognized the girl as she came quickly toward her; the black dress and crape bonnet made her look older, but when she smiled it was the same Bessie.
"My dear, are you very tired?" she asked, looking at her kindly. "It is such a cold evening that I dare not let Edna come with me, for her cough is still troublesome. I had some difficulty with her, but at last I got my way. Edna is not nearly so self-willed as she used to be." But here Mrs. Sefton sighed.
"Do you think Edna is really better?" asked Bessie, when the carriage door was closed, and they drove away from the station.
"I do not know," returned Mrs. Sefton, in a troubled voice. "Dr. Milton assures me that there is nothing radically wrong with her health, only want of tone and a severe cold; but I cannot feel comfortable about her. She is losing appetite and flesh, and her spirits are so variable. She is not happy, Bessie, and she cannot always hide her feelings from her mother. Richard says that we can do nothing; but how are we to go on like this?"
Bessie hardly knew what to answer; she was full of sympathy for the anxious mother; she knew Edna was her one thought in life, and that no happiness was possible to her if her child suffered. They were in the King's Road now, and the brightly lighted shop-windows almost dazzled Bessie. On the opposite side she could see a dark line that was evidently the sea; a dull, heavy surging of waves broke on her ear; now and then the splash of the white surf was clearly visible.
"Edna is young," she said vaguely; but, after all, there was scant consolation in this truism, for the young suffer very keenly; a sense of impatience, of injustice, aggravates their pain. The old accept their sorrows more meekly; their reason comes to their aid. "Man is born to trouble," they say, and the philosophy enables them to endure at least with some show of dignity.
"Yes, she is young; perhaps she may be consoled," replied Mrs. Sefton, with another sigh; and then the carriage stopped. "Our rooms are on the first floor," observed Mrs. Sefton, as they stood in the large, brilliantly lighted hall, and she conducted Bessie up the staircase and down a narrow corridor, and then into a long, well-furnished drawing-room, where they found Edna.
She was sitting on a low chair, looking at the fire, but she sprang up and welcomed Bessie warmly.
"My dear little Daisy, how delighted I am to see you!" she said, with something of her old animation. "Mamma, is it not delicious to have her again? Sit down there; you look tired and cold, and I mean to wait on you. Mamma, the tea is all ready, and I am going to pour it out. Take off your warm jacket, Bessie; oh, and your bonnet too; and then you will look more like yourself."
Bessie did as she was bidden, but her eyes followed Edna's graceful figure. How delicate she looked—far, far too pretty! She was almost dazzling to-night. The ruby velveteen set off her fair hair and white skin; her face was flushed, and her eyes were too bright; and as she moved about Bessie heard her cough once or twice—a hard, dry cough. But there seemed nothing wrong with Edna's spirits to-night. She was evidently overjoyed to have her friend with her again; she talked and laughed after her old fashion.
"You will be sure to like this place, Bessie," she said. "The shops are delightful, and it is so amusing to see the people; and the sea is magnificent. I have my ponies here, so we can have plenty of drives; and there are some people that we know at the Bedford. We don't intend to mope, mamma and I; we are going to the grand bazaar at the Pavilion, and there are some first-rate concerts. But you shall be as quiet as you like," with a sudden change of tone, as Bessie looked grave; "your only duty will be to talk to me. Now I will show you your room, and you shall unpack and get ready for dinner."
Bessie was not sorry to be left alone in her comfortable room. When she had finished her unpacking, she put on her best cashmere dress, with its soft white frilling, and fastened a few white flowers at her throat. Then she sat down before the fire, and had a quiet quarter of an hour before Edna came in search of her and carried her off.
All the evening Edna was as merry as possible. She played several of her favorite pieces, and even sung a little; only as the evening drew to its close she began to have a white, exhausted look; but she followed Bessie into her room, and sat down on the rug, with the evident intention of having a talk.
"Edna, you must not stay; you look far too tired," remonstrated Bessie; "and we shall have plenty of time for talk to-morrow."
"But I like fireside talks best," replied Edna willfully; "and I am not inclined to sleep yet. I do hate the night!" with sudden petulance. "It is so stupid to lie awake and watch the fire go out, and count sheep jumping through a gap in the hedge; anything to cheat one's self into oblivion. Do you sleep well, Bessie?"
"Yes, always; trouble never keeps me awake. I always think of Hatty when I lie down, and wonder what she is doing, and what the angels are teaching her, but I fall asleep in the middle of a thought, and it is morning before I wake."
"Oh, you have a good conscience," replied Edna bitterly; "you have no remorseful thoughts to goad you into wakefulness. If one could only have one's life over again, Bessie? I want you to help me while you are here, to think what I had better do. I cannot go on like this. Is there anything that I can do? Any work? If it were not for mamma, I would go to some hospital and learn nursing; it is too dreadful living like this just to amuse one's self, and try to forget. I must do something, something for the good of myself, if not for my fellow-creatures."
Bessie listened to her with some surprise. Edna's manner was excited; she looked feverish; her voice had a hard ring in it.
"Tell me what I must do," she said, fixing her large eyes on Bessie.
"Dear, you must get well first," replied Bessie tenderly. "You are far from strong; your mother is right, Edna."
Edna shook her head impatiently.
"It is nothing—a cold; what does it signify? How can one feel well with all these worrying thoughts? It is work that I want, Bessie—work that will take me out of myself and make me forget."
"Are you sure that God wishes you to forget?" asked Bessie softly. "Oh, my dear," stroking her hand, "you can never say again that I do not know what trouble is, that I cannot feel for you; but I have learned that we must not run away from our trouble; girls so often talk like that," she went on, "about going into a hospital, but they do not know what they want. Nursing is too sacred a work to be done from such a motive. What good would such a work, undertaken in a selfish, self-seeking spirit, do them? Edna, when God wounds He heals, but it must be in His own time, and in the proper place; and even troubles caused by our own recklessness must come under this head."
"Wait a minute, dear; I seem to see it so clearly. You have work, only you are throwing it aside and asking for more. 'Thou earnest not to thy place by accident; it is the very place God meant for thee.' Don't you remember those lines? Surely, surely, an only daughter's place must be with her mother; to make her happy must be no light duty. You are her one thought from morning to night; it breaks her heart to see you unhappy. Edna, if your mother died, and you had not tried to make her happy!"
"Do you mean—oh, I see what you mean, but I am too selfish to find it out for myself. I am only thinking of my own good, not of her at all. I have never been good to her; she gives all, and I just take it."
"Make her your work," whispered Bessie, "and bye and bye comfort will come to you, as it would not in any hospital, in any self-chosen duty; for where God puts us, He must find us, or we shall have to give an account of why we have erred and strayed," finished Bessie reverently.
ON THE PARADE.
Bessie had spoken out of the simplicity of her honest heart; but there is a great power in earnestness, and her words were not to fall to the ground. In spite of Edna's faults, many and glaring as they were, she was very susceptible to good influences; her affection for Neville Sinclair proved this, as well as her friendship with Bessie; underneath the leaven of selfishness and self-will engendered by a false education there was a large margin of generosity and truth; if she were quick to sin, she was also quick to repent.
Edna did not again allude to the subject of her unhappiness; there were no more fireside confidences with Bessie, but for two or three days she was very quiet and thoughtful, and there were no excited moods of merriment to jar on Bessie. She was gentle and affectionate in her manner to her mother, and this unusual docility seemed to add to Mrs. Sefton's uneasiness.
Bessie did not feel comfortable in her mind about Edna; the old spring and elasticity seemed gone forever; there was manifest effort in everything she did through the day, and yet she never rested willingly. She laid out plans for every hour, she made appointments with her friends; every day there was driving, shopping, tea-drinking, often a concert or recitation to finish off the evening; but now and then, in the midst of a lively conversation, there would be the look of utter exhaustion on her face, and when her friends had left she would throw herself on the couch as though all strength had gone. On these occasions, when she was spent and weary, it was not always easy to control her irritability. Mrs. Sefton was not a judicious woman, and, in spite of her devotion to her daughter, she often showed a want of tact and a lack of wisdom that galled Edna's jaded spirits. She was always urging Edna to seek new distractions, or appealing to her sense of vanity.
"Mamma thinks a new dress or ornament can make any girl happy," she said one day, with a curl of her lip; "but she is mistaken; I don't care about them now."
One afternoon Mrs. Sefton had been lunching with a friend, and when she returned she brought Edna a present; it was a pin brooch set with brilliants, a most costly toy, and Edna had admired it in an idle moment; but as she opened the little case there was no pleased expression on her face.
"Oh, mamma, why have you bought this?" she asked, in a dissatisfied voice.
"You admired it so much, my darling, and so I thought I would please myself by giving you this surprise."
"It is very pretty," holding it out for Bessie's inspection; "but I have more ornaments than I know how to use now. I am sorry you bought it, mamma; it must have cost so much money."
"Do you think I begrudge you anything?" replied Mrs. Sefton, who was much chagrined by this reception of her gift.
Edna looked up at this moment, and saw the disappointed look on her mother's face. Her better feelings were touched, and she threw her arms round her neck.
"Mother dear, why will you load me so with things?" she remonstrated. "You give me everything, and I do nothing for you in return; please don't give me anything more for a long time. I am horribly discontented, nothing seems to give me pleasure; even this beautiful pin is wasted on me."
"Don't talk so, Edna," returned her mother, with the tears in her eyes; "if you knew how it troubled me to hear you. There is nothing that I would not do to make you happy, but if you talk in that way you take all the spirit out of me."
"Then I won't talk so any more," replied Edna, repentantly; and she fastened the brilliant pin in some lace she wore, and begged them both to admire it; and she was very affectionate to her mother all that evening, and seemed bent on making her smile.
Mrs. Sefton looked almost happy that night; she thought Edna looked better and more like herself, and she had not coughed once, and no one knew that as the girl took off her trinket that night she suddenly hid her face in her hands and wept.
"It is all no use, mother," she sobbed; "no money can buy me content nor make me good and happy; if I were only like Bessie—Bessie is worthy of him, but I never was—I never was!"
When Bessie had been with her friends more than a week she began to wonder that there was no news of Richard, and one day she asked Edna if he were all alone at The Grange.
"Yes, I believe so," was the careless answer; "but Richard is a regular old bachelor, and he will not be dull."
"But he comes to see you sometimes?"
"He has not been yet, but that is mamma's fault, and not Ritchie's; he wrote on Wednesday to say he was coming from Saturday to Monday, but mamma said she wanted the room for Miss Shelton, and after all, she did not come; so it was a pity Richard should be disappointed; and now Miss Shelton may come next week, and there is no room for him again. Mamma has just written to say that she cannot possibly have him until Saturday week."
Bessie felt a pang of disappointment; she was going home on the Thursday, and would just miss him. What a pity! He had been so kind and friendly to her during her visit at The Grange, and she would have liked to have seen him. She wondered vaguely if he would be disappointed too when he heard that she had gone. It was thoughtless of Mrs. Sefton to invite Miss Shelton, but most likely she had done it on purpose to keep her stepson away. Edna had told her rather sorrowfully the other day that her mother did not understand Richard any better.
"He is never at his ease with her, and so he never appears to advantage in her presence," she said. "Poor Ritchie! I am afraid he has a dull life at The Grange!"
Bessie was afraid so too, but she dared not say so; she could only appeal to Edna's generosity, and beg her to consider that she owed a duty to her brother. But she could not say much on this point. A girl cannot well enter the lists on a young man's behalf; however sensible and free from nonsense she may be, she is bound by a sense of conventionality; and though in her heart Bessie was very sorry for Richard, very much interested in his behalf, she felt her pity must be kept to herself.
Bessie was not ashamed to own her disappointment, and she was human enough to bear a grudge against the offending Miss Shelton, who proved to be an old governess of Edna's, and a most worthy woman.
In consequence of Edna's temporary indisposition, which made her languid in the morning, the family breakfast was unusually late, and was rarely ready before ten. It was Bessie's habit, therefore, to go out, after an early cup of cocoa, for an hour's solitary walk; she enjoyed this more than any other part of the day. The Parade was almost deserted at the time, and she met few people. She loved to stroll down to the beach and watch the waves rolling on the shore; the cold, fresh air invigorated her, and her old color returned. Her mother would have been at rest about her if she could have seen the girl's strong, elastic step, or noticed how the sea breezes had brought back her fresh color. Bessie would return from these morning walks with refreshed spirits and vigorous, youthful appetite that Edna good-naturedly quizzed.
"You would be hungry, too, if you had swallowed those delicious sea breezes," Bessie would answer, nothing daunted by these remarks, and she persevered in these early strolls.
The morning after their little conversation about Richard, Bessie went out as usual. There had been rain during the night, and the seats on the Parade were soaking, but the sun was shining now, and the little pools in the road were sparkling in the warm sunlight, and the sea looked clear and blue.
"What a delicious morning," thought Bessie, as she walked on briskly. "There is rather a strong wind, though. Oh, that gentleman has lost his hat!" The gentleman in question had been leaning on the railings, looking down on some boys playing on the shingle; but as his hat took to itself wings, and rolled playfully down the Parade, after the manner of hats, he followed it in quick pursuit. Happily, it rolled almost to Bessie's feet, and she captured it.
"Thank you so much," observed the young man, gratefully; but as Bessie held it to him with a smile, they mutually started, and a simultaneous exclamation rose to their lips.
"Miss Lambert!" and then rather awkwardly they shook hands. "Who would have thought of seeing you here?" went on Mr. Sinclair, rather nervously, as he brushed the wet from his hat. "But of course one meets every one at Brighton, so I ought not to be surprised. I only came down last night, and I have already exchanged greetings with half a dozen acquaintances. Have you been here long?"
"About ten days. I am staying with the Sefton's at Glenyan Mansions. Mrs. Sefton and Edna are both here."
"Edna here?" and then he bit his lip, and a dark flush crossed his face. "I hope Miss Sefton is quite well," he continued coldly.
"Indeed she is not," returned Bessie bluntly. But this sudden encounter had taken her by surprise, and she hardly knew what she was saying. "She is very far from well. Oh, quite ill, I should say; though she will have it that there is nothing the matter. But she is so changed that she is hardly like the same girl. Oh, no; she is perfectly different; not like Edna at all, and——"
"What has been the matter with her?" he asked abruptly; but he turned his face away as he put the question. They were both standing by the railings, and now he crossed his arms upon them, leaning heavily against them, so that Bessie could not see his face. There was no one in sight, except the boys playing beneath them, and an old man hobbling on crutches. "What has been the matter with her?" he repeated, as Bessie hesitated.
"She caught cold, and could not shake it off, and so her mother got frightened about her, and brought her here. But it does not seem to do her much good. It is her spirits, I think, for she has lost all her fun, and she is not at all like the old Edna, and it grieves me to see her," stammered Bessie, confused at having said so much, and yet not willing to be silent. "What can I say? What ought I to do for them both?" she thought, in much distress.
"There has never been anything wrong with her spirits before," replied Mr. Sinclair, in rather an incredulous tone. But Bessie had caught sight of his face; it was quite pale now, and he was pulling his mustache nervously, and she was not a bit deceived by his voice. "Do you mean that she is not happy? I hope—that is—I trust nothing has occurred to trouble her."
"Nothing fresh. Oh, Mr. Sinclair!" and here Bessie burst out, regardless of conventionality, of probable consequences, of everything but her honest heart. "Why do you not understand what it is that ails Edna? If you do not know, no one can—no one—no one;" and then, frightened at her own audacity, Bessie colored up to her forehead and walked on; but Mr. Sinclair was by her side the next moment.
"Don't go, Miss Lambert. Please do not leave me yet. Tell me plainly what it is you mean. You are Edna's friend, and I know you will be true to her. You have a good heart. I see in your eyes that you are sorry for me; do not be afraid to speak out. Why am I to know what is the matter with Edna?"
"That is a strange question for you to ask; surely you know Edna well enough to be aware how deeply she can repent of her faults!"
"Do you mean—speak plainly, I beseech you; do you—can you mean that Edna repents of her cruel treatment of me?"
"Repents! Of course she has repented. Mr. Sinclair, you were very wrong to leave her. Why did you take her at her word? It was all temper; her pride was piqued because she believed herself distrusted. I know Edna so well; in spite of her faults, she is true and generous. When she loves, she loves once and forever; if she sent you away, she has been sorry for it ever since. What must you think of me for telling you this? I am so ignorant of the world, most likely I have acted foolishly, but it seems to me that truth is everything."
"I think that you have acted nobly, Miss Lambert; you have made me your debtor for life, if this be true;" and then he stopped and passed his hand across his forehead, as though the sudden relief had bewildered him. "Oh, thank God!" she heard him say, as though to himself.
"It is true."
"I will believe it; I can trust you; my good angel brought me out this morning. The last seven months have not been the happiest time in my existence. I had my own trouble to bear, and then my mother fell ill. I thought I should have lost her, but I was spared that; still, her life hangs on a thread. I am afraid from your deep mourning that you have been in trouble, too, Miss Lambert."
"I have lost a dear sister."
"That is sad; but you have other sisters left to comfort you."
"I had no one but my mother and Edna; I should have been lonely indeed. But now I must not keep you standing any longer; the wind is cold, and you are beginning to look tired."
"Yes, and breakfast will be ready; I must not be late."
"Is Sefton with you?" he asked suddenly.
"No; he is at Oatlands; he is not coming until Saturday week."
"I am sorry to hear it; he would have helped me in a great difficulty. Sefton has always been my friend. Miss Lambert, I confess I don't clearly see my way. I can hardly present myself at Glenyan Mansions, and yet how am I to see Edna? If we could only meet, as it were, accidentally, it would be better for both of us."
"I see what you mean," returned Bessie, whose ready sympathy made her quick to detect his meaning "Edna is very proud; you think it would be wiser to leave her in ignorance of this interview. Yes, you are right; there must be some other way;" and then, after a moment's consideration, she added, "There is a fancy bazaar at the Pavilion this afternoon; some friends of the Sefton's are stall-holders, and we are all going; every one will be there; why should you not go too?"
"Thank you," was all he said; but his face brightened perceptibly, and then in an eager tone: "What time will you go?"
"Mrs. Sefton said she should order the carriage at half-past three, so I suppose we shall be there about a quarter to four. The Crawfords' stall is at the end of the room, and Minnie and Eleanor Crawford are to be dressed in sacques and hoops, with powdered hair, in the fashion of George III.'s time. Edna is very anxious to see their stall in its first glory, before there is a rush of buyers."
"You have made me your friend for life," he said lightly. "I must not go any farther, for I see the windows of Glenyan Mansions;" and then he shook hands with her, and quietly retraced his steps to his hotel.
"I wonder if mother would be shocked," thought Bessie. "I think I should have been shocked myself under any other circumstances; but when I thought of poor Edna, and saw him looking so pale and grave, I felt I must help them both. Was it very forward of me? Have I betrayed Edna's confidence? But, no; I found it all out for myself; surely, no one could blame me for speaking the truth. If Mr. Richard were here, I would ask him. Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, after all. One cannot be wrong if only one be absolutely true."
Bessie found it very difficult to preserve her ordinary demeanor that morning. The consciousness that she had a secret oppressed her, but neither Mrs. Sefton nor Edna seemed to notice any difference in her manner. Edna looked languid and depressed, and seemed to have lost all interest in the bazaar. She alarmed Bessie in the course of the morning by saying that, after all, she did not care to mix with such a crowd.
"Oh, Edna, I shall be so disappointed if we do not go!" exclaimed Bessie.
"My dear, I was not talking about you," replied Edna wearily. "Mamma will go, of course, and you can accompany her; but I am sick of bazaars, and the noise and chatter will make my head ache. You may take my purse, Bessie, and buy something of Minnie and Eleanor;" and Edna threw down her work and began looking over the batch of novels that her mother had sent in from the circulating library, leaving Bessie to digest her dismay and disappointment as well as she could.
BESSIE BUYS A JAPANESE FAN.
Edna continued in this unsatisfactory mood until luncheon. Nothing pleased her. The novels were stupid. She was tired of love tales—why could not people find something else to write about? She was sick of such namby-pamby sentimentality; and then they were so untrue to life. Stories in real life did not always end happily, or there would not be so many old maids in the world.
"Single women, Edna; I like that term ever so much better."
"No; old maids," persisted Edna, obstinately; "cross, cranky old maids."
"Old maids, as you call them (and you are very rude to a lot of good, nice women, Edna), are not necessarily cross and cranky; the unmarried women I know are all busy, cheerful creatures, full of life and energy, and very useful in their generation. Father says he always enjoys a talk with an unmarried lady; so many of them keep their freshness and youth, even though they have wrinkles on their faces. I know some of them get soured and narrow, but perhaps they have had much to try them."
"Bessie, I do believe you will be an old maid yourself, some day."
"Your prophecy does not frighten me in the least If I am to be an old maid, I mean to be a very happy one. You know, Edna, how often I have talked to you of my dear Mr. Robertson. Well, he said something on this subject in one of his sermons that pleased me very much. I remember dear Hatty liked it too. I cannot recollect the exact words, but it was to this effect—that much of our happiness depends on the way we look on life; that if we regard it as a complete and finished existence, then no doubt those who fail in their aims are disappointed and discontented. In this the unmarried and childless woman, and the widow who has lost her treasure, will be agreed; but if we regard our present existence as only a prelude to a better—as an education, a training for a high and happier sphere—then the disappointed may take heart, for they have only come to the beginning of their life, and may surely wait with some degree of patience until a future life expands their happiness. Grown-up people do not want their sugar-plums all at once, as children do—don't you see it, Edna?"
"Oh, yes, I know what you good people mean." But she spoke with a degree of pettishness. "But I have not climbed as high as you, and I shall be a shriveled, cantankerous old maid."
"You will be nothing of the kind," replied Bessie, kissing her. "But luncheon is ready, and here comes your mother; pray, don't say anything to her about not going to the Pavilion, or she will be so disappointed; she never enjoys anything without you." And to her great relief Edna acquiesced.
Mrs. Sefton talked a great deal about the bazaar during luncheon. The Tozers and Lady Hampton were going, and she had heard that Minnie Crawford's costume was perfect, and suited her admirably.
"I suppose I had better go and get ready," observed Edna, pushing back her chair, "or mamma will never survive the disappointment. The carriage will be here at half-past three." And she marched out of the room with rather a bored expression on her face.
"Nothing pleases her," complained Mrs. Sefton; "she seems tired of everything. I believe she is only going to the bazaar because she thinks it will give me pleasure; and the crowd and hot room will make her ill. Run after her, Bessie, and beg her not to go. You and I will do very well together, and we can choose something pretty for her off the Crawford's stall. I would rather she did not go, I would indeed."
"It will do her good," pleaded Bessie; "the room will not be crowded just at first, and it will be such a pretty sight. She would be dull if we left her at home and the drive will refresh her."
"Do you think so?" returned Mrs. Sefton doubtfully. "But I am beginning to lose heart; nothing we can do seems to please her. I believe she is getting tired of Brighton; last night she said she wished we were at home; but Oatlands is far too quiet for her. I think I shall take rooms in town for the season, and afterward we will go abroad. The Crawford's are going to the Engadine, and they are lively young people, and their society will be good for Edna. Perhaps," looking at Bessie wistfully, "your mother might be induced to spare you, and we could take you with us. You have never seen Switzerland, Bessie?"
"No, none of us have ever been abroad. Oh, it would be too delightful!" but as Bessie went off smiling to get ready for the drive, she told herself that any Swiss journey would be very dubious. "That is one of the things one has to long for all one's life," thought Bessie, "one of the denied good things that are to come presently."
Edna came down to the carriage looking quite bright and pretty; she was no longer in a misanthropic mood, the mere exertion of dressing to please her mother had done her a world of good. It was a brilliant afternoon and already groups of well-dressed people were moving in the direction of the Pavilion. "There are the Tozers, mamma!" she exclaimed beginning to look interested; "and there is Lady Hampton in that victoria; she has her old bonnet on; what a dear old dowdy she is! I tell you what, Bessie, I mean to dress well, even when I am a cranky old maid; there is a great support in clothes—and—no, it can't be——"
"Well, finish your sentence," observed Bessie. "Have you seen a ghost, Edna?" laughing rather nervously, for Edna had changed color in a singular manner.
"No, only a likeness; but of course I was mistaken;" but, all the same, Bessie knew that Edna had really seen Mr. Sinclair, however much she might doubt the evidence of her eyes. She had caught a glimpse of him, too—he was on his way to the Pavilion with the other people.
Edna did not recover herself in a hurry; she looked white and shaken; the likeness must have been a strong one, and brought back the past too vividly. Bessie glanced at her anxiously. Certainly, Edna's looks verified her words. Mr. Sinclair would read the truth for himself. They had arrived at the Pavilion now, and Mrs. Sefton and Edna were already exchanging greetings with their friends.
"Does it not look like a picture of Vanity Fair?" she whispered, when they at last made their way into the bazaar.
Well, it was a curious sight, certainly; a young man with powdered hair, in a blue velvet coat, offered them programmes of the entertainment; a little Moorish girl, with a necklace of gold coins, showed them her flower-basket, and a stately Queen Elizabeth smiled at Edna across the counter. A harlequin and a cavalier mounted guard over the post-office, and a gypsy presided over a fish pond. Mary Stuart and a Greek lady were in charge of the refreshment stall. It was a relief when the band struck up one of Strauss' waltzes, and drowned the din of voices; but as the sad, sweet strains of "Verliebt und Verloren" floated through the room, a pained expression crossed Edna's face.
A moment later Bessie felt her arm grasped, and Edna whispered excitedly:
"Look, Bessie; is it my fancy—that gentleman standing by the flower-stall—is it——"
"Yes, it is Mr. Sinclair," returned Bessie calmly. "Oh, he sees us now; he is coming to speak to us. Dear Edna, please don't look so pale over it; you surely do not mind seeing him."
But Edna was beyond answering; there was not an atom of color in her face as Mr. Sinclair came up to them and lifted his hat.
It was very odd that just at that minute Bessie was seized with an uncontrollable longing to become the possessor of a Japanese fan. It was excessively dear and excessively ugly, and the young person in the Catherine de Medicis ruff who was in charge of that part of the stall was otherwise engaged; nevertheless, Bessie would not give up her point. Mrs. Sefton was on the other side of the room, talking to Lady Hampton; and though it was clearly Bessie's duty to remain with Edna, she was perfectly blind to the fact; she did not even wait to greet Mr. Sinclair, but turned her back on him in the rudest manner, and kept her eyes on the gaudy specimen of Japanese art.
It was ten minutes before the coveted article was in her possession, and even then the stall seemed to fascinate her, and she was just making up her mind that a certain little blue vase would please Christine when Mrs. Sefton touched her arm.
"My dear child, why have you hidden yourself? and what has become of Edna?"
"Edna?" looking round; but there was clearly no vestige of her, or of Mr. Sinclair either. It was easy to escape detection in that crowd. "She was here just now. Mr. Sinclair was with her, and——"
"Neville here!" in intense surprise.
"Yes; and Edna seemed rather upset at seeing him, and so I left them."
"You have taken my breath away," exclaimed Mrs. Sefton. "Oh, Bessie, do you think—— Come and let me sit down somewhere; my sight-seeing is over What did he say to her? How did they meet? Did he speak first?"
"Don't ask me; I know nothing," replied Bessie, with an odd little laugh. "She pointed him out to me, and asked if it were her fancy; and then he saw us, and Edna looked very white, and he held out his hand and said something; and then there was that Japanese fan, and of course, I heard nothing more."
"You left them. That was right; you were very sensible, my dear."
"Let me tell you everything," said Bessie, feeling burdened by her secret. "I have seen Mr. Sinclair before; I met him on the Parade, and it was I who told him to come here." And she related the purport of her conversation with him.
Mrs Sefton seemed much moved. "It will come right;" she said, in an agitated voice. "My poor child will be happy again. Bessie, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you. I love Neville like a son. It is the wish of my heart to see Edna his wife. He has brilliant prospects. He is a rising man, and immensely clever; and Edna will never care for any one else."
Bessie forgave this worldly speech on account of the motherly tone in which it was said.
"He must have taken her away; they are certainly not in this room," she said bye and bye. "Perhaps they are in the gardens; they will be quieter there."
"Never mind, we will not look for them. You must amuse yourself, Bessie, until they come of their own accord. Suppose we buy something at the Crawfords' stall. I want you to choose something pretty for each of your sisters. Throw that hideous fan away! It is not worth sixpence. Where did you pick up such an ugly thing?"
"It was the first handy article," replied Bessie. "Throw it away! No indeed! I shall keep it forever as a memento of this day."
But Mrs. Sefton, in high good-humor, vowed that she should have a prettier remembrance of the day than that. A few minutes afterward she put a lovely little work-case in Bessie's hands. It was fitted up very tastefully, and was really a most useful present; and then she proceeded to select work-bags and pretty knick-knacks for the Lambert girls.
Bessie remonstrated in vain. Mrs. Sefton had come there to spend money, and she lavished one article after another on Bessie.
"This soft white shawl will just suit your mother," she said. "And, oh! here is a pocketbook for Dr. Lambert. Your father will find that useful. Does your brother smoke? No? Well, we will buy that letter-case for him; and now I think we have finished."
But it was quite half an hour afterward before the truants returned.
"Here they come!" exclaimed Bessie, as Mrs. Sefton began to get restless.
"Oh, mamma, dear, I hope we have not kept you," said Edna penitently; but she blushed very prettily as she spoke, and there was no mistaking the happy look in her eyes.
"You must blame me, Mrs. Sefton," interrupted Mr. Sinclair, who also looked radiant. "There was such a crowd that I took Edna into the gardens, and we have been sitting quietly under the trees. I hope we have not really inconvenienced you and Miss Lambert."
"Not a bit," replied Mrs. Sefton cheerfully. "But we may as well go home now, as Bessie and I have made all our purchases. Will you see if the carriage be there, Neville?"
"Neville is coming back with us, mamma," observed Edna, in her old bright manner; and then Mrs. Sefton looked at her meaningly. Just then the band struck up with a military march, and Bessie lost Edna's low answer. There was nothing particular said during the drive home. Mr. Sinclair observed he must go to his hotel to dress, and Edna questioned Bessie about her purchases.
When they reached Glenyan Mansions, Edna shut herself up with her mother, and Bessie went off to her own room and inspected her treasures, and then she dressed herself and sat down to read. Bye and bye there was a knock at the door, and Edna came in; she looked perfectly lovely with that soft look of happiness on her face.
"May I come in, Bessie? Mamma is talking to Neville in the drawing-room, and I can spare you a few minutes. Neville has told me everything. He says it is you who smoothed the way for our meeting and reconciliation. Bessie, darling, how am I to thank you?" and Edna wrapped her arms round her and kissed her fondly.
"It is all right, then?"
"It was all right the moment I saw him; he just looked at me, and said, 'I wonder if you are glad or sorry to see me, Edna?' and I managed to gasp out the word 'Glad!' And then he took my hand and asked me to come out of the crowd, and let him talk to me quietly. It seemed to me we understood each other at once."
"Dear Edna, I congratulate you from my heart."
"Yes, and it is all owing to you; we shall neither of us forget that. Bessie, you don't half know how good Neville is, how gentle and generous he has been. He would not let me humble myself, or ask for his forgiveness. But, oh, he has been so unhappy! His mother has been nearly dying, poor fellow, and I never knew it; and even now her health is in a critical state. It is so sad for him, for he dotes on her, and they are everything to each other. He says if it had happened, and he had not had me to comfort him, it would almost have broken his heart."
"But he will have you now."
"Yes, and it must be my one thought to make up to him for these wretched seven months. Do you know, Bessie, he seems more distressed about me than about himself. He says I am quite altered, so thin and pale. He said it so gravely that I asked him if I had grown too plain for his taste; but there—I don't mean to repeat his answer."
"He will soon find out that you are as vain as ever."
"I actually told him so, for he was so depressed at my changed appearance that I had to make one or two mischievous speeches just to rouse him, and that did him good; he punished me, though, by pointing out some of his gray hairs; but he has really grown handsomer, Bessie. Mamma said so, too, though Neville was never really handsome. Poor mamma! she is so happy, she has been crying for joy."
The dinner-bell rang at that moment, and they were obliged to break off their talk. Mr. Sinclair had evidently found Edna's absence irksome, for he met her with a reproach at her delay; but she answered him so sweetly that he was mollified in a moment.
It was the happiest evening Bessie had had since Hatty's death; it was such a relief to see Edna's face bright with smiles, and to hear the satisfied tones of her voice, and to meet the quiet look of content on Mr. Sinclair's face. He was not a demonstrative man, and a stranger would hardly have thought his manner lover-like, but it was evident that he and Edna understood each other perfectly. After dinner he asked her to sing for him, and she went to the piano at once.
"This is your favorite song, Neville," she said, looking at him quietly, and a flush of pleasure crossed his face. If he had ever doubted the reality of her affection for him, he could not have doubted it to-night, when every moment her gentleness and soft, appealing manner seemed to plead for forgetfulness of the past, and to hold out a safer promise for the future.
"I must come and see your mother," Bessie heard her say later on. "Mamma thinks of taking rooms for the season, and then I shall see her often; shall you like that, Neville?"
"There is only one thing I should like better," he replied, and there was a smile on his face as he got up and wished them good-night; and then he said something in a low voice to Edna.
"Very well," she answered, with a bend of her graceful head, and she rose from her seat and walked to the door.
Mrs. Sefton looked after them with an indulgent smile.
"He wants a word with her alone; Edna won't refuse him anything to-night. How happy they are, Bessie! Dear Neville is so satisfied; he told me that he was struck with the improvement in Edna; he thinks her so much more womanly and so gentle, but he is troubled about her delicacy; but she will get better now all this worry is at an end." And Bessie acquiesced in this.
When Edna came back, a little while afterward, she went straight to her mother and knelt down by her chair.
"Mother dear," she said, tenderly, "Neville has forgiven me, and you must forgive me, too."
"I forgive you my darling!" in a startled tone.
"Yes, for being such a bad daughter; but I will be good; indeed, I will be good now;" and, worn out with the emotions of the day, Edna laid her head on her mother's lap and burst into tears.
Bessie, touched to the heart by this little display of feeling, went softly out of the room, and left the mother and child together.
MRS. SEFTON HAS ANOTHER VISITOR.
It was impossible for Neville Sinclair to tear himself away from Brighton for another twenty-four hours, so he telegraphed to his mother and made arrangements to take another day's holiday. He settled this before he slept that night, and presented himself at Glenyan Mansions long before the late breakfast was over. He and Bessie exchanged an amused glance as they shook hands, which was instantly detected by Edna, and she at once insisted on an explanation.