Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 4 out of 16
For the drawing-room she avows a passionate preference for one all
cabbage-roses and no stalks; but she admits that it may be exasperation.
She wants your sister, clearly, to advise her. By the way,' and
his voice changed, 'the vicar told me last night that Miss Rose is
going to Manchester for the winter to study. He heard it from Miss
Agnes, I think. The news interested me greatly after our conversation.'
He looked at her with the most winning interrogative eyes. His
whole manner implied that everything which touched and concerned
her touched and concerned him; and, moreover, that she had given
him in some sort a right to share her thoughts and difficulties.
Catherine struggled with herself.
'I trust it may answer,' she said, in a low voice.
But she would say no more, and he felt rebuffed. His buoyancy began
to desert him.
'It must be a great trial to Mrs. Elsmere,' she said presently with
an effort, once more steering away from herself and her concerns,
'this going back to her old home.'
'It is. My father's long struggle for life in that house is a very
painful memory. I wished her to put it off till I could go with
her, but she declared she would rather get over the first week or
two by herself. How I should like you to know my mother, Miss
At this she could not help meeting his glance and smile, and answering
them, though with a kind of constraint most unlike her.
'I hope I may some day see Mrs. Elsmere,' she said.
'It is one of my strongest wishes,' he answered, hurriedly, 'to
bring you together.'
The words were simple enough; the tone was full of emotion. He was
fast losing control of himself. She felt it through every nerve,
and a sort of wild dread seized her of what he might say next. Oh,
she must prevent it!
'Your mother was with you most of your Oxford life, was she not?'
she said, forcing herself to speak in her most everyday tones.
He controlled himself with a mighty effort.
'Since I became a Fellow. We have been alone in the world so long.
We have never been able to do without each other.'
'Isn't it wonderful to you?' said Catherine, after a little electric
pause--and her voice was steadier and clearer than it had been since
the beginning of their conversation--'how little the majority of
sons and daughters regard their parents when they come to grow up
and want to live their own lives? The one thought seems to be to
get rid of them, to throw off their claims, to cut them adrift, to
escape them--decently, of course, and under many pretexts, but still
to escape them. All the long years of devotion and self-sacrifice
go for nothing.'
He looked at her quickly--a troubled, questioning look.
'It is so, often; but not, I think, where the parents have truly
understood their problem. The real difficulty for father and mother
is not childhood, but youth; how to get over that difficult time
when the child passes into the man or woman, and a relation of
governor and governed should become the purest and closest of
friendships. You and I have been lucky.'
'Yes,' she said, looking straight before her, and still speaking
with a distinctness which caught his ear painfully, 'and so are the
greater debtors! There is no excuse, I think, for any child, least
of all for the child who has had years of understanding love to
look back upon, if it puts its own claim first; if it insists on
satisfying itself, when there is age and weakness appealing to it
on the other side, when it is still urgently needed to help those
older, to shield those younger, than itself. Its business first
of all is to pay its debt, whatever the cost.'
The voice was low, but it had the clear, vibrating ring of steel.
Robert's face had darkened visibly.
'But, surely,' he cried, goaded by a now stinging sense of revolt
and pain-'surely the child may make a fatal mistake if it imagines
that its own happiness counts for nothing in the parents' eyes.
What parent but must suffer from the starving of the child's nature?
What have mother and father been working for, after all, but the
perfecting of the child's life? Their longing is that it should
fulfil itself in all directions. New ties, new affections, on the
child's part mean the enriching of the parent. What a cruel fate
for the elder generation, to make it the jailer and burden of the
He spoke with heat and anger, with a sense of dashing himself against
an obstacle, and a dumb despairing certainty, rising at the heart
'Ah, that is what we are so ready to say,' she answered, her breath
coming more quickly, and her eye meeting his with a kind of antagonism
in it; 'but it is all sophistry. The only safety lies in following
out the plain duty. The parent wants the child's help and care,
the child is bound to give it; that is all it needs to know. If
it forms new ties, it belongs to them, not to the old ones; the old
ones must come to be forgotten and put aside'
'So you would make all life a sacrifice to the past?' he cried,
quivering under the blow she was dealing him.
'No, not all life,' she said, struggling hard to preserve her perfect
calm of manner: he could not know that she was trembling from head
to foot. 'There are many for whom it is easy and right to choose
their own way; their happiness robs no one. There are others on
whom a charge has been laid from their childhood a charge perhaps--and
her voice faltered at last--'impressed on them by dying lips, which
must govern, possess their lives; which it would be baseness,
treason, to betray. We are not here only to be happy.'
And she turned to him deadly pale, the faintest, sweetest smile on
her lip. He was for the moment incapable of speech. He began
phrase after phrase, and broke them off. A whirlwind of feeling
possessed him. The strangeness, the unworldliness of what she had
done struck him singularly. He realized through every nerve that
what she had just said to him she had been bracing herself to say
to him ever since their last parting. And now he could not tell,
or, rather, blindly could not see, whether she suffered in the
saying it. A passionate protest rose in him, not so much against
her words as against her self-control. The man in him rose up
against the woman's unlooked-for, unwelcome strength.
But as the hot words she had dared so much in her simplicity to
avert from them both were bursting from him, they were checked by
a sudden physical difficulty. A bit of road was under water. A
little beck, swollen by the rain, had overflowed, and for a few
yards distance the water stood about eight inches deep from hedge
to hedge. Robert had splashed through the flood half an hour before,
but it had risen rapidly since then. He had to apply his mind to
the practical task of finding a way to the other side.
'You must climb the bank,' he said, 'and get through into the field.'
She assented mutely. He went first, drew her up the bank, forced
his way through the loosely growing hedge himself, and holding back
some young hazel saplings and breaking others, made an opening for
her through which she scrambled with bent head; then, stretching
out his hand to her, he made her submit to be helped down the steep
bank on the other side. Her straight young figure was just above
him, her breath almost on his cheek.
'You talk of baseness and treason,' he began, passionately, conscious
of a hundred wild impulses, as perforce she leant her light weight
upon his arm.
'Life is not so simple. It is so easy to sacrifice others with
one's self, to slay all claims in honor of one, instead of knitting
the new ones to the old. Is life to be allowed no natural expansion?
Have you forgotten that, in refusing the new bond for the old
bond's sake, the child may be simply wronging the parents, depriving
them of another affection, another support, which ought to have
His tone was harsh, almost violent. It seemed to him that she grew
suddenly white, and he grasped her more firmly still. She reached
the level of the field, quickly withdrew her hand, and for a moment
their eyes met, her pale face raised to his. It seemed an age, so
much was said in that look. There was appeal on her side, passion
on his. Plainly she implored him to say no more, to spare her and
'In some cases,' she said, and her voice sounded strained and hoarse
to both of them, 'one cannot risk the old bond. On dare not trust
one's self--or circumstance. The responsibility is too great; one
can but follow the beaten path, cling to the one thread. But don't
let us talk of it anymore. We must make for that gate, Mr. Elsmere.
It will bring us out on the road again close by home.'
He was quelled. Speech suddenly became impossible to him. He was
struck again with that sense of a will firmer and more tenacious
than his own, which had visited him in a slight passing way on the
first evening they ever met, and now filled him with a kind of
despair. As they pushed silently along the edge of the dripping
meadow, he noticed with a pang that the stepping-stones lay just
below them. The gleam of sun had died away, the aerial valley in
the clouds had vanished, and a fresh storm of rain brought back the
color to Catherine's cheek. On their left hand was the roaring of
the river, on their right they could already hear the wind moaning
and tearing through the trees which sheltered Burwood. The nature
which an hour ago had seemed to him so full of stimulus and
exhilaration, had taken to itself a note of gloom and mourning; for
he was at the age when Nature is the mere docile responsive mirror
of the spirit, when all her forces and powers are made for us, and
are only there to play chorus to our story.
They reached the little lane leading to the gate of Burwood. She
paused at the foot of it.
'You will come in and see my mother, Mr. Elsmere?'
Her look expressed a yearning she could not crush. 'Your pardon,
your friendship,' it cried, with the usual futility of all good
women under the circumstances. But as he met it for one passionate
instant, he recognized fully that there was not a trace of yielding
in it. At the bottom of the softness there was the iron of resolution.
'No, no; not now,' he said involuntarily; and she never forgot the
painful struggle of the face; 'good-by.' He touched her hand without
another word, and was gone.
She toiled up to the gate with difficulty; the gray rain-washed
road, the wall, the trees, swimming before her eyes.
In the hall she came across Agnes, who caught hold of her with a
'My dear Cathie! you have been walking yourself to death. You look
like a ghost. Come and have some tea at once.'
And she dragged her into the drawing-room. Catherine submitted
with all her usual outward calm, faintly smiling at her sister's
onslaught. But she would not let Agnes put her down on the sofa.
She stood with her hand on the back of a chair.
'The weather is very close and exhausting,' she said, gently lifting
her hand to her hat. But the hand dropped, and she sank heavily
into the chair.
'Cathie, you are faint,' cried Agnes, running to her.
Catherine waved her away, and, with an effort of which none but she
would have been capable, mastered the physical weakness.
'I have been a long way, dear,' she said, as though in apology,
'and there is no air. Yes, I will go up-stairs and lie down a
minute or two. 'Oh no, don't come, I will be down for tea directly.'
And refusing all help, she guided herself out of the room, her face
the color of the foam on the beck outside. Agnes stood dumfounded.
Never in her life before had she seen Catherine betray any such
signs of physical exhaustion.
Suddenly Rose ran in, shut the door carefully behind her, and rushing
up to Agnes put her hands on her shoulders.
'He has proposed to her, and she has said no!'
'He? What, Mr. Elsmere? How on earth can you know?'
'I saw them from up-stairs come to the bottom of the lane. Then he
rushed on, and I have just met her on the stairs. It's as plain
as the nose on your face.'
Agnes sat down bewildered.
'It is hard on him' she said at last.
'Yes, it is _very_ hard on him!' cried Rose, pacing the room, her
long thin arms clasped behind her, her eyes flashing, 'for she loves
'She does, my dear, she does,' cried the girl, frowning. I know
it in a hundred ways.'
'And it's all because of us?' she said at last reflectively.
'Of course! I put it to you, Agnes'--and Rose stood still with a
tragic air--'I put it to you, whether it isn't too bad that three
unoffending women should have such a role as this assigned them
against their will!'
The eloquence of eighteen was irresistible. Agnes buried her head
in the sofa cushion, and shook with a kind of helpless laughter.
Rose meanwhile stood in the window, her thin form drawing up to its
full height, angry with Agnes, and enraged with all the world.
'It's absurd, it's insulting,' she exclaimed. 'I should imagine that
you and I Agnes, were old enough and sane enough to look after mamma,
put out the stores, say our prayers, and prevent each other from
running away with adventurers! I won't be always in leading-strings.
I won't acknowledge that Catherine is bound to be an old maid to keep
me in order. I hate it! It is sacrifice run mad.'
And Rose turned to her sister, the defiant head thrown back, a
passion of manifold protest in the girlish looks.
'It is very easy, my dear, to be judge in one's own case,' replied
Agnes calmly, recovering herself. 'Suppose you tell Catherine some
of these home-truths?'
Rose collapsed at once. She sat down despondently, and fell, head
drooping, into a moody silence, Agnes watched her with a kind of
triumph. When it came to the point, she knew perfectly well that
there was not a will among them that could measure itself with any
chance of success against that lofty, but unwavering will of
Catherine's. Rose was violent, and there was much reason in her
violence. But as for her, she preferred not to dash her head against
'Well, then, if you won't say them to Catherine, say them to mamma,'
she suggested presently, but half ironically.
'Mamma is no good,' cried Rose angrily; 'why do you bring her in?
Catherine would talk her round in ten minutes.'
Long after everyone else in Burwood, even the chafing, excited Rose,
was asleep, Catherine in her dimly lighted room, where the stormy
northwest wind beat noisily against her window, was sitting in a
low chair, her head leaning against her bed, her little well-worn
Testament open on her knee. But she was not reading. Her eyes
were shut; one hand hung down beside her, and tears were raining
fast and silently over her cheeks. It was the stillest, most
restrained weeping. She hardly knew why she wept, she only knew
that there was something within her which must have its way. What
did this inner smart and tumult mean, this rebellion of the self
against the will which had never yet found its mastery fail it?
It was as though from her childhood till now she had lived in a
moral world whereof the aims, the dangers, the joys, were all she
knew; and now the walls of this world were crumbling round her, and
strange lights, strange voices, strange colors were breaking through.
All the sayings of Christ which had lain closest to her heart for
years, tonight for the first time seem to her no longer sayings of
comfort or command, but sayings of fire and flame that burn their
coercing way through life and thought. We recite so glibly, 'He
that loseth his life shall save it;' and when we come to any of the
common crises of experience which are the source and the sanction
of the words, flesh and blood recoil. This girl amid her mountains
had carried religion as far as religion can be carried before it
meets life in the wrestle appointed it. The calm, simple outlines
of things are blurring before her eyes; the great placid deeps of
the soul are breaking up.
To the purest ascetic temper a struggle of this kind is hardly real.
Catherine felt a bitter surprise at her own pain. Yesterday a
sort of mystical exaltation upheld her. What had broken it down?
Simply a pair of reproachful eyes, a pale protesting face. What
trifles compared to the awful necessities of an infinite obedience!
And yet they haunt her, till her heart aches for misery, till she
only yearns to be counselled, to be forgiven, to be at least
'Why, why am I so weak?' she cried in utter abasement of soul, and
knew not that in that weakness, or rather in the founts of character
from which it sprang, lay the innermost safeguard of her life.
Robert was very nearly reduced to despair by the scene with Catherine
we have described. He spent a brooding and miserable hour in the
vicar's study afterward, making up his mind as to what he should
do. One phrase of hers which had passed almost unnoticed in the
shock of the moment was now ringing in his ears, maddening him by
a sense of joy just within his reach, and yet barred away from him
by an obstacle as strong as it was intangible. '_We are not here
only to be happy_,' she had said to him, with a look of ethereal
exaltation worthy of her namesake of Alexandria. The words had
slipped from her involuntarily in the spiritual tension of her mood.
They were now filling Robert Elsmere's mind with a tormenting,
torturing bliss. What could they mean? What had her paleness, her
evident trouble and weakness meant, but that the inmost self of
hers was his, was conquered; and that, but for the shadowy obstacle
between them, all would be well?
As for the obstacle in itself, he did not admit its force for a
moment. No sane and practical man, least of all when that man
happened to be Catherine Leyburn's lover, could regard it as a
binding obligation upon her that she should sacrifice her own life
and happiness to three persons, who were in no evident moral straits,
no physical or pecuniary need, and who, as Rose incoherently put
it, might very well be rather braced than injured by the withdrawal
of her strong support.
But the obstacle of character--ah, there was a different matter!
He realized with despair the brooding, scrupulous force of moral
passion to which her lonely life, her antecedents, and her father's
nature working in her had given so rare and marked a development.
No temper in the world is so little open to reason as the ascetic
temper. How many a lover and husband, how many a parent and friend,
have realized to their pain, since history began, the overwhelming
attraction which all the processes of self-annihilation have for a
certain order of minds! Robert's heart sank before the memory of
that frail, indomitable look, that aspect of sad yet immovable
conviction with which she had bade him farewell. And yet,
surely--surely under the willingness of the spirit there had been
a pitiful, a most womanly weakness of the flesh. Surely, now memory
reproduced the scene, she had been white--trembling: her hand had
rested on the moss-grown wall beside her for support. Oh, why had
he been so timid? why had he let that awe of her, which her
personality produced so readily, stand between them? why had he not
boldly caught her to himself and, with all the eloquence of a
passionate nature, trampled on her scruples, marched through her
doubts, convinced--reasoned her into a blessed submission?
'And I will do it yet!' he cried, leaping to his feet with a sudden
access of hope and energy. And he stood awhile looking out into
the rainy evening, all the keen, irregular face, and thin, pliant
form hardening into the intensity of resolve, which had so often
carried the young tutor through an Oxford difficulty, breaking,
down antagonism and compelling consent.
At the high tea which represented the late dinner of the household
he was wary and self-possessed. Mrs. Thornburgh got out of him
that he had been for a walk, and had seen Catherine, but for all
her ingenuities of cross-examination she got nothing more. Afterward,
when he and the vicar were smoking together, he proposed to Mr.
Thornburgh that they two should go off for a couple of days on a
walking tour to Ullswater.
'I want to go away,' he said, with a hand on the vicar's shoulder,
'_and I want to come back_.' The deliberation of the 1ast words
was not to be mistaken. The vicar emitted a contented puff, looked
the young man straight in the eyes, and without another word began
to plan a walk to Patterdale via High Street, Martindale, and
Howtown, and back by Hawes-water.
To Mrs. Thornburgh, Robert announced that he must leave them on the
following Saturday, June 24.
'You have given me a good time, cousin Emma,' he said to her, with
a bright friendliness which dumfounded her. A good time, indeed!
with everything begun and nothing finished: with two households
thrown into perturbation for a delusion, and a desirable marriage
spoilt, all for want of a little common sense and plain speaking,
which _one_ person at least in the valley could have supplied them
with, had she not been ignored and browbeaten on all sides. She
contained herself, however, in his presence, but the vicar suffered
proportionately in the privacy of the connubial chamber. He had
never seen his wife so exasperated. To think what might have
been--what she might have done for the race, but for the whims of
two stuck-up, superior, impracticable young persons, that would
neither manage their own affairs nor allow other people to manage
them for them! The vicar behaved gallantly, kept the secret of
Elsmere's remark to himself like a man, and allowed himself certain
counsels against matrimonial meddling which plunged Mrs. Thornburgh
into well-simulated slumber. However, in the morning he was vaguely
conscious that some time in the visions of the night his spouse had
demanded of him peremptorily, 'When do you get back, William?' To
the best of his memory, the vicar had sleepily murmured, 'Thursday;'
and had then heard, echoed through his dreams, a calculating whisper,
'He goes Saturday--one clear day!'
The 'following morning was gloomy but fine, and after breakfast
the vicar and Elsmere started off. Robert turned back at the top
of the High Fell pass and stood leaning on his alpenstock, sending
a passionate farewell to the gray distant house, the upper window,
the copper beech in the garden, the bit of winding road, while the
vicar discreetly stepped on northward, his eyes fixed on the wild
regions of Martindale.
Mrs. Thornburgh, left alone, absorbed herself to all appearance in
the school treat which was to come off in a fortnight, in a new set
of covers for the drawing-room, and in Sarah's love affairs, which
were always passing through some traffic phase or other, and into
which Mrs. Thornburgh was allowed a more unencumbered view than she
was into Catherine Leyburn's. Rose and Agnes dropped in now and
then and found her not disposed to talk to them on the great event
of the day, Elsmere's absence and approaching departure. They
cautiously communicated to her their own suspicions as to the
incident of the preceding afternoon; and Rose gave vent to one fiery
onslaught on the 'moral obstacle' theory, during which Mrs. Thornburgh
sat studying her with small attentive eyes and curls slowly waving
from side to side. But for once in her life the vicar's wife was
not communicative in return. That the situation should have driven
even Mrs. Thornburgh to finesse was a surprising testimony to its
gravity. What between her sudden taciturnity and Catherine's pale
silence, the girls' sense of expectancy was roused to its highest
'They come back to-morrow night,' said Rose, thoughtfully, 'and he
goes Saturday--10.20 from Whinborough--one day for the Fifth Act!
By the way, why did Mrs. Thornburgh ask us to say nothing about
Saturday at home?'
She _had_ asked them, however; and with a pleasing sense of conspiracy
It was late on Thursday afternoon when Mrs. Thornburgh, finding the
Burwood front door open, made her unchallenged way into the hall,
and after an unanswered knock at the drawing-room door, opened it
and peered in to see who might be there.
'May I come in?'
Mrs. Leyburn, who was a trifle deaf, was sitting by the window
absorbed in the intricacies of a heel which seemed to her more than
she could manage. Her card was mislaid, the girls were none of
them at hand, and she felt as helpless as she commonly did when
'Oh, do come in, please! So glad to see you. Have you been nearly
For, though the rain had stopped, a boisterous northwest wind was
still rushing through the valley, and the trees round Burwood were
swaying and groaning under the force of its onslaught.
'Well, it is stormy,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, stepping in and undoing
all the various safety-pins and elastics which had held her dress
high above the mud. 'Are the girls out?'
'Yes, Catherine and Agnes are at the school; and Rose, I think, is
'Ah, well,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, settling herself in a chair close
by her friend, 'I wanted to find you alone.'
Her face, framed in bushy curls and an old garden bonnet, was flushed
and serious. Her mittened hands were clasped nervously on her lap,
and there was about her such an air of forcibly restrained excitement,
that Mrs. Leyburn's mild eyes gazed at her with some astonishment.
The two women were a curious contrast: Mrs. Thornburgh short,
inclined, as we know, to be stout, ample and abounding in all things,
whether it were curls or cap-strings or conversation; Mrs. Leyburn
tall and well proportioned, well dressed, with the same graceful
ways and languid pretty manners as had first attracted her husband's
attention thirty years before. She was fond of Mrs. Thornburgh,
but there was something in the ebullient energies of the vicar's
wife which always gave her a sense of bustle and fatigue.
'I am sure you will be sorry to hear,' began her visitor, that Mr.
Elsmere is going.'
'Going?' said Mrs. Leyburn, laying down her knitting. 'Why, I
thought he was going to stay with you another ten days at least.'
'So did I--so did he,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, nodding, and then
pausing with a most effective air of sudden gravity and 'recollection.'
'Then why--what's the matter?' asked Mrs. Leyburn, wondering.
Mrs. Thornburgh did not answer for a minute, and Mrs. Leyburn began
to feel a little nervous, her visitor's eyes were fixed upon her
with so much meaning. Urged by a sudden impulse, she bent forward;
so did Mrs. Thornburgh, and their two elderly heads nearly touched.
'The young man is in love!' said the vicar's wife in a stage whisper,
drawing back after a pause, to see the effect of her announcement.
'Oh! with whom?' asked Mrs. Leyburn, her look brightening. She
liked a love affair as much as ever.
Mrs. Thornburgh furtively looked round to see if the door was shut
and all safe--she felt herself a criminal, but the sense of guilt
had an exhilarating rather than a depressing affect upon her.
'Have you guessed nothing? have the girls told you anything?'
'No!' said Mrs. Leyburn, her eyes opening wider and wider. She
never guessed anything; there was no need, with three daughters to
think for her, and give her the benefit of their young brains.
'No,' she said again. 'I can't imagine what you mean.'
Mrs. Thornburgh felt a rush of inward contempt for so much obtuseness.
'Well, then, _he is in love with Catherine!_' she said abruptly,
laying her hand on Mrs. Leyburn's knee, and watching the effect.
'With Catherine!' stammered Mrs. Leyburn; '_with Catherine!_'
The idea was amazing to her. She took up her knitting with trembling
fingers, and went on with it mechanically a second or two. Then
laying it down--'Are you quite sure? has he told you?'
'No, but one has eyes,' said Mrs. Thornburgh hastily. 'William and
I have seen it from the very first day. And we are both certain
that on Tuesday she made him understand in some way or other that
she wouldn't marry him, and that is why he went off to Ullswater,
and why he made up his mind to go south before his time is up.'
'Tuesday?' cried Mrs. Leyburn. 'In that walk, do you mean, when
Catherine looked so tired afterward? You think he proposed in that
She was in a maze of bewilderment and excitement.
'Something like it--but if he did, she said "No;" and what I want
to know is _why_ she said "No."'
'Why, of course, because she didn't care for him!' exclaimed Mrs.
Leyburn, opening her blue eyes wider and wider. 'Catherine's not
like most girls; she would always know what she felt, and would
never keep a man in suspense.'
'Well, I don't somehow believe,' said Mrs. Thornburgh boldly, 'that
she doesn't care for him. He is just the young man Catherine might
care for. You can see that yourself.'
Mrs. Leyburn once more laid down her knitting and stared at her
visitor. Mrs. Thornburgh, after all her meditations, had no very
precise idea as to _why_ she was at that moment in the Burwood
living-room bombarding Mrs. Leyburn in this fashion. All she knew
was that she had sallied forth determined somehow to upset the
situation, just as one gives a shake purposely to a bundle of
spillikins on the chance of more favorable openings. Mrs. Leyburn's
mind was just now playing the part of spillikins, and the vicar's
wife was shaking it viciously, though with occasional qualms as to
the lawfulness of the process.
'You think Catherine does care for him?' resumed Mrs. Leyburn
'Well isn't he just the kind of man one would suppose Catherine
would like?' repeated Mrs. Thornburgh, persuasively: 'he is a
clergyman, and she likes serious people; and he's sensible and nice
and well-mannered. And then he can talk about books, just like her
father used--I'm sure William thinks he knows everything! He isn't
as nice-looking as he might be just now, but then that's his hair
and his fever, poor man. And then he isn't hanging about. He's
got a living, and there'd be the poor people all ready, and everything
else Catherine likes. And now I'll just ask you--did you ever see
Catherine more--more--_lively_--well, I know that's not just the
word, but you know what I mean--than she has been the last fortnight?'
But Mrs. Leyburn only shook her head helplessly. She did not know
in the least what Mrs. Thornburgh meant. She never thought Catherine
doleful, and she agreed that certainly 'lively' was not the word.
'Girls get so frightfully particular nowadays,' continued the vicar's
wife, with reflective candor. 'Why, when William fell in love with
me, I just fell in love with him--at once--because he did. And if
it hadn't been William, but somebody else, it would have been the
same. I don't believe girls have got hearts like pebbles--if the
man's nice, of course!'
Mrs. leyburn listened to this summary of matrimonial philosophy
with the same yielding, flurried attention as she was always disposed
to give to the last speaker.
'But,' she said, still in a maze, 'if she did care for him, why
should she send him away?'
'_Because she won't have him!_' said Mrs. Thornburgh, energetically,
leaning over the arm of her chair that she might bring herself
nearer to her companion.
The fatuity of the answer left Mrs. Leyburn staring.
'Because she won't have him, my dear Mrs. Leyburn! And--and--I'm
sure nothing would make me interfere like this if I weren't so fond
of you all, and if William and I didn't know for certain that there
never was a better young man born! And then I was just sure you'd
be the last person in the world, if you knew, to stand in young
'_I!_' cried poor Mrs. Leyburn--'I stand in the way!' She was
getting tremulous and tearful, and Mrs. Thornburgh felt herself a
'Well,' she said, plunging on desperately, 'I have been thinking
over it night and day. I've been watching him, and I've been talking
to the girls, and I've been putting two and two together, and I'm
just about sure that there might be a chance for Robert, if only
Catherine didn't feel that you and the girls couldn't get on without
Mrs. Leyburn took up her knitting again with agitated fingers. She
was so long in answering, that Mrs. Thornburgh sat and thought with
trepidation of all sorts of unpleasant consequences which might
result from this audacious move of hers.
'I don't know how we _should_ get on,' cried Mrs. Leyburn at last,
with a sort of suppressed sob, while something very like a tear
fell on the stocking she held.
Mrs. Thornburgh was still more frightened, and rushed into a flood
of apologetic speech. Very likely she was wrong perhaps it was all
a mistake, she was afraid she had done harm, and so on. Mrs. Leyburn
took very little heed, but at last she said, looking up and applying
a soft handkerchief gently to her eyes--
'Is his mother nice? Where's his living? Would he want to be married
The voice was weak and tearful, but there was in it unmistakable
eagerness to be informed. Mrs. Thornburgh, overjoyed, let loose
upon her a flood of particulars, painted the virtues and talents
of Mrs. Elsmere, described Robert's Oxford career, with an admirable
sense for effect, and a truly feminine capacity for murdering every
university detail, drew pictures of the Murewell living, and rectory,
of which Robert had photographs with him, threw in adroit information
about the young man's private means, and in general showed what may
be made of a woman's mind under the stimulus of one of the occupations
most proper to it. Mrs. Leyburn brightened visibly as the flood
proceeded. Alas, poor Catherine! How little room there is for the
heroic in this trivial everyday life of ours!
Catherine a bride, Catherine a wife and mother, dim visions of a
white soft morsel in which Catherine's eyes and smile should live
again--all these thoughts went trembling and flashing through Mrs.
Leyburn's mind as she listened to Mrs. Thornburgh. There is so
much of the artist in the maternal mind, of the artist who longs
to see the work of his hand in fresh combinations and under all
points of view. Catherine, in the heat of her own self-surrender,
had perhaps forgotten that her mother too had a heart!
'Yes, it all sounds very well' said Mrs. Leyburn at last, sighing,
'but, you know, Catherine isn't easy to manage.'
'Could you talk to her--find out a little?'
'Well, not to-day; I shall hardly see her. Doesn't it seem to you
that when a girl takes up notions like Catherine's she hasn't time
for thinking about the young men? Why, she's as full of business
all day long as an egg's full of meat. Well, it was my poor Richard's
doing--it was his doing, bless him! I am not going to say anything
against it but it was different--once.'
'Yes, I know,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, thoughtfully. 'One had plenty
of time, when you and I were young, to sit at home and think what
one was going to wear, and how one would look, and whether he had
been paying attention to any one else; and if he had, why; and all
that. And now the young women are so superior. But the marrying
has got to be done somehow all the same. What is she doing to-day?'
'Oh, she'll be busy all to-day and to-morrow; I hardly expect to
see her till Saturday.'
Mrs. Thornburgh gave a start of dismay.
'Why, what is the matter now?' she cried in her most aggrieved
tones. 'My dear Mrs. Leyburn, one would think we had the cholera
in the parish. Catherine just spoils the people.'
'Don't you remember,' said Mrs. Leyburn, staring in her turn, and
drawing herself up a little, 'that to-morrow is Midsummer Day, and
that Mary Backhouse is as bad as she can be?'
'Mary Backhouse! Why I had forgotten all about her!' cried the
vicar's wife, with sudden remorse. And she sat pensively eyeing
the carpet awhile.
Then she got what particulars she could out of Mrs. Leyburn.
Catherine, it appeared, was at this moment at High Ghyll, was not
to return till late and would be with the dying girl through the
greater part of the following day, returning for an hour or two's
rest in the afternoon, and staying in the evening till the twilight,
in which the ghost always made her appearances, should have passed
Mrs. Thornburgh listened to it all, her contriving mind working the
while at railway speed on the facts presented to her.
'How do you get her home tomorrow night?' she asked, with sudden
'Oh, we send our man Richard at ten. He takes a lantern if it's
Mrs. Thornburgh said no more. Her eyes and gestures were all alive
again with energy and hope. She had given her shake to Mrs. Leyburn's
mind. Much good might it do! But, after all, she had the poorest
opinion of the widow's capacities as an ally.
She and her companion said a few more excited, affectionate, and
apologetic things to one another, and then she departed.
Both mother and knitting were found by Agnes half an hour later in
a state of considerable confusion. But Mrs. Leyburn kept her own
counsel, having resolved for once, with a timid and yet delicious
excitement, to act as the head of the family.
Meanwhile Mrs. Thornburgh was laying plans on her own account.
'Ten o'clock-moonlight,' said that contriving person to herself
going home--'at least if the clouds hold up--that'll do--couldn't
To any person familiar with her character the signs of some unusual
preoccupation were clear enough in Mrs. Leyburn during this Thursday
evening. Catherine noticed them at once when she got back from High
Ghyll about eight o'clock, and wondered first of all what was the
matter; and then, with more emphasis, why the trouble was not
immediately communicated to her. It had never entered into her
head to take her mother into her confidence with regard to Elsmere.
Since she could remember, it had been an axiom in the family to
spare the delicate nervous mother all the anxieties and perplexities
of life. It was at system in which the subject of it had always
acquiesced with perfect contentment, and Catherine had no qualms
about it. If there was good news, it was presented in its most
sugared form to Mrs. Leyburn; but the moment any element of pain
and difficulty cropped up in the common life, it was pounced upon
and appropriated by Catherine, aided and abetted by the girls, and
Mrs. Leyburn knew no more about it than an unweaned babe.
So that Catherine was thinking at most of some misconduct of a Perth
dyer with regard to her mother's best gray poplin, when one of the
greatest surprises of her life burst upon her.
She was in Mrs. Leyburn's bedroom that night, helping to put away
her mother's things as her custom was. She had just taken off the
widow's cap, caressing as she did so the brown hair underneath,
which was still soft and plentiful, when Mrs. Leyburn turned upon
her. 'Catherine!' she said in an agitated voice, laying a thin
hand on her daughter's arm. 'Oh, Catherine, I want to speak to
Catherine knelt lightly down by her mother's side and put her arms
round her waist.
'Yes mother darling,' she said, half smiling.
'Oh, Catherine! If--if--you like Mr. Elsmere--don't mind--don't
think--about us, dear. We can manage--we can manage, dear!'
The change that took place in Catherine Leyburn's face is indescribable.
She rose instantly, her arms falling behind her, her beautiful
brows drawn together. Mrs. Leyburn, looked up at her with a pathetic
mixture of helplessness, alarm, entreaty.
'Mother, who hag been talking to you about Mr. Elsmere and me?'
'Oh, never mind, dear, never mind,' said the widow hastily; 'I
should have seen it myself--oh, I know I should; but I'm a bad
mother, Catherine!' and she caught her daughter's dress and drew
her toward her. _Do_ you care for him?'
Catherine did not answer. She knelt down again, and laid her head
on her mother's hands.
'I want nothing,' she said presently in a low voice of intense
emotion--'I want nothing but you and the girls. You are my life--I
ask for nothing more. I am abundantly--content.'
Mrs. Leyburn gazed down on her with infinite perplexity. The brown
hair, escaped from the cap, had fallen about her still pretty neck,
a pink spot of excitement was on each gently hollowed cheek; she
looked almost younger than her pale daughter.
'But--he is very nice,' she said timidly. 'And he has a good living.
Catherine, you ought to be a clergyman's wife.'
'I ought to be, and I am your daughter,' said Catherine smiling, a
little with an unsteady lip, and kissing her hand.
Mrs. Leyburn sighed and looked straight before her. Perhaps in
imagination she saw the vicar's wife. 'I think--I think,' she said
very seriously, 'I should like it.'
Catherine straightened herself brusquely at that. It was as though
she had felt a blow.
'Mother!' she cried, with a stifled accent of pain, and yet still
trying to smile, 'do you want to send me away?'
'No-no!' cried Mrs. Leyburn hastily. 'But if a nice man wants you
to marry him, Catherine? Your father would have liked him--oh! I
know your father would have liked him. And his manners to me are
so pretty, I shouldn't mind being _his_ mother-in-law. And the
girls have no brother, you know, dear. Your father was always so
sorry about that.'
She spoke with pleading agitation, her own tempting imaginations--the
pallor, the latent storm of Catherine's look--exciting her more and
Catherine was silent a moment, then she caught her mother's hand
'Dear little mother--dear, kind little mother! You are an angel--you
always are. But I think, if you'll keep me, I'll stay.'
And she once more rested her head clingingly on Mrs. Leyburn's knee.
But _do_ you--'_do_ you love him, Catherine?'
'I love you, mother, and the girls, and my life here.'
'Oh dear,' sighed Mrs. Leyburn, as though addressing a third person,
the tears, in her mild eyes, 'she won't; and she _would_ like it--and
so should I!'
Catherine rose, stung beyond bearing.
'And I count for nothing to you, mother!'--her deep voice quivering;
'you could put me aside--you and the girls, and live as though I
had never been!'
'But you would be a great deal to us if you did marry, Catherine!'
cried Mrs. Leyburn, almost with an accent of pettishness. 'People
have to do without their daughters. There's Agnes--I often think,
as it is, you might let her do more. And if Rose were troublesome,
why, you know it might be a good thing--a very good thing if there
were a man to take her in hand!'
'And you, mother, without me?' cried poor Catherine, choked.
'Oh, I should come and see you,' said Mrs. Leyburn, brightening.
'They say it _is_ such a nice house, Catherine, and such pretty
country, and I'm sure I should like his mother, though she _is_
It was the bitterest moment of Catherine Leyburn's life. In it the
heroic dream of years broke down. Nay, the shrivelling ironic touch
of circumstance laid upon it made it look even in her own eyes
almost ridiculous. What had she been living for, praying for, all
these years? She threw herself down by the widow's side, her face
working with a passion that terrified Mrs. Leyburn.
'Oh, mother, say you would miss me--say you would miss me if I
Then Mrs. Leyburn herself broke down, and the two women clung to
each other, weeping. Catherine's sore heart was soothed a little
by her mother's tears, and by the broken words of endearment that
were lavished on her. But through it all she felt that the excited
imaginative desire in Mrs. Leyburn still persisted. It was the
cheapening--the vulgarizing, so to speak, of her whole existence.
In the course of their long embrace Mrs. Leyburn let fall various
items of news that showed Catherine very plainly who had been at
work upon her mother, and one of which startled her.
'He comes back tonight, my dear--and he goes on Saturday. Oh, and,
Catherine, Mrs. Thornburgh says he does care so much. Poor young
And Mrs. Leyburn looked, up at her now standing daughter with eyes
as woe-begone for Elsmere as for herself.
'Don't talk about it any more, mother,' Catherine implored. 'You
won't sleep, and I shall be more wroth with Mrs. Thornbourgh than
I am already.'
Mrs. Leyburn let herself be gradually soothed and coerced, and
Catherine, with a last kiss to the delicate emaciated fingers on
which the worn wedding ring lay slipping forward--in itself a
history--left her at last to sleep.
'And I don't know much more than when I began!' sighed the perplexed
widow to herself, 'Oh, I wish Richard was here--I do!'
Catherine's night was a night of intense mental struggle. Her
struggle was one with which the modern world has perhaps but scant
sympathy. Instinctively we feel such things out of place in our
easy indifferent generation. We think them more than half unreal.
We are so apt to take it for granted that the world has outgrown
the religious thirst for sanctification; for a perfect moral
consistency, as it has outgrown so many of the older complications
of the sentiment of honor. And meanwhile half the tragedy of our
time lies in this perpetual clashing of two estimates of life--the
estimate which is the offspring of the scientific spirit, and which
is forever making the visible world fairer and more desirable in
mortal eyes; and the estimate of Saint Augustine.
As a matter of fact, owing to some travelling difficulties, the
vicar and Elsmere did not get home till noon on Friday. Catherine
knew nothing of either delay or arrival. Mrs. Leyburn watched her
with anxious timidity, but she never mentioned Elsmere's name to
any one on the Friday morning, and no one dared speak of him to
her. She came home in the afternoon from the Backhouses' absorbed
apparently in the state of the dying girl, took a couple of hours
rest, and hurried off again. She passed the vicarage with bent
head, and never looked up.
'She is gone!' said Rose to Agnes as she stood at the window looking
after her sister's retreating figure, 'It is all over! They can't
meet now. He will be off by nine to-morrow.'
The girl spoke with a lump in her throat, and flung herself down
by the window, moodily watching the dark form against the fells.
Catherine's coldness seemed to make all life colder and more
chilling--to fling a hard denial in the face of the dearest claims
The stormy light of the afternoon was fading toward sunset. Catherine
walked on fast toward the group of houses at the head of the valley,
in one of which lived the two old carriers who had worked such havoc
with Mrs. Thornburgh's housekeeping arrangements. She was tired
physically, but she was still more tired mentally. She had the
bruised feeling of one who has been humiliated before the world and
before herself. Her self-respect was for the moment crushed, and
the breach made in the wholeness of personal dignity had produced
a strange slackness of nerve, extending both to body and mind. She
had been convicted, it seemed to her, in her own eyes, and in those
of her world, of an egregious over-estimate of her own value. She
walked with hung head like one ashamed, the overstrung religious
sense deepening her discomfiture at every step. How rich her life
had always been in the conviction of usefulness--nay, indispensableness!
Her mother's persuasions had dashed it from her. And religious
scruple, for her torment, showed her her past, transformed, alloyed
with all sorts of personal prides and cravings, which stood unmasked
now in a white light.
And he? Still near her for a few short hours! Every pulse in her
had thrilled as she had passed the house which sheltered him. But
she will see him no more. And she is glad. If he had stayed on,
he too would have discovered how cheaply they held her--those dear
ones of hers for whom she had lived till now! And she might have
weakly yielded to his pity what she had refused to his homage. The
strong nature is half tortured, half soothed by the prospect of his
going. Perhaps when he is gone she will recover something of that
moral equilibrium which has been, so shaken. At present she is a
riddle to herself, invaded by a force she has no power to cope with,
feeling the moral ground of years crumbling beneath her, and
struggling feverishly for self-control.
As she neared the head of the valley the wind became less tempestuous.
The great wall of High Fell, toward which she was walking, seemed
to shelter her from its worst violence. But the hurrying clouds,
the gleams of lurid light which every now and then penetrated into
the valley from the west, across the dip leading to Shanmoor, the
voice of the river answering the voice of the wind, and the deep
unbroken shadow that covered the group of houses and trees toward
which she was walking, all served to heighten the nervous depression
which had taken hold of her. As she neared the bridge, however,
leading to the little hamlet, beyond which northward all was stony
loneliness and desolation, and saw in front of her the gray stone
house, backed by the sombre red of a great copper beech, and overhung
by crags, she had perforce to take herself by both hands, try and
realize her mission afresh, and the scene which lay before her.
Mary Backhouse, the girl whom Catherine had been visiting with
regularity for many weeks, and whose frail life was this evening
nearing a terrible and long-expected crisis, was the victim of a
fate sordid and common enough, yet not without its elements of dark
poetry. Some fifteen months before this Midsummer Day she had been
the mistress of the lonely old house in which her father and uncle
had passed their whole lives, in which she had been born, and in
which, amid snowdrifts so deep that no doctor could reach them, her
mother had passed away. She had been then strong and well favored,
possessed of a certain masculine black-browed beauty, and of a
temper which sometimes gave to it an edge and glow such as an artist
of ambition might have been glad to catch. At the bottom of all
the outward _sauvagerie_, however, there was a heart, and strong
wants, which only affection and companionship could satisfy and
tame. Neither were to be found in sufficient measure within her
home. Her father and she were on fairly good terms, and had for
each other, up to a certain point, the natural instincts of kinship.
On her uncle, whom she regarded as half-witted, she bestowed
alternate tolerance and jeers. She was, indeed, the only person
whose remonstrances ever got under the wool with old Jim, and her
sharp tongue had sometimes a cowing effect on his curious nonchalance
which nothing else had. For the rest, they had no neighbors with
whom the girl could fraternize, and Whinborough was too far off to
provide any adequate food for her vague hunger after emotion and
In this dangerous morbid state she fell a victim to the very coarse
attractions of a young farmer in the neighboring valley of Shanmoor.
He was a brute with a handsome face, and a nature in which whatever
grains of heart and conscience might have been interfused with the
original composition had been long since swamped. Mary, who had
recklessly flung herself into his power on one or two occasions,
from a mixture of motives, partly passion, partly jealousy, partly
ennui, awoke one day to find herself ruined, and a grim future hung
before her. She had realized her doom for the first time in its
entirety on the Midsummer Day preceding that we are now describing.
On that day, she had walked over to Shanmoor in a fever of dumb
rage and despair, to claim from her betrayer the fulfilment of his
promise of marriage. He had laughed at her, and she had fled home
in the warm rainy dusk, a prey to all those torturing terrors which
only a woman _in extremis_ can know. And on her way back she had
seen the ghost or 'bogle' of Deep Crag; the ghost had spoken to
her, and she had reached home more dead than alive, having received
what she at once recognized as her death sentence.
What had she seen? An effect of moonlit mist--a shepherd-boy bent
on a practical joke--a gleam of white waterfall among the darkening
rocks? What had she heard? The evening greeting of a passer by,
wafted down to her from some higher path along the fell? distant
voices in the farm enclosures beneath her feet? or simply the eerie
sounds of the mountain, those weird earth-whispers which haunt the
lonely places of nature? Who can tell? Nerves and brain were
strained to their uttermost. The legend of the ghost--of the girl
who had thrown her baby and herself into the tarn under the frowning
precipitous cliffs which marked the western end of High Fell, and
who had since then walked the lonely road to Shanmoor every Midsummer
Night with her moaning child upon her arm--had flashed into Mary's
mind as she left the white-walled village of Shanmoor behind her,
and climbed upward with her shame and her secret into the mists.
To see the bogle was merely distressing and untoward; to be spoken
to by the phantom voice was death. No one so addressed could hope
to survive the following Midsummer Day. Revolving these things in
her mind, along with the terrible details of her own story, the
exhausted girl had seen her vision, and, as she firmly believed,
incurred her doom.
A week later she had disappeared from home and from the neighborhood.
The darkest stories were afloat. She had taken some money with
her, and all trace of her was lost. The father had a period of
gloomy taciturnity, during which his principal relief was got out
of jeering and girding at his elder brother; the noodle's eyes
wandered and glittered more; his shrunken frame seemed more shrunken
as he sat dangling his spindle less from the shaft of the carrier's
cart; his absence of mind was for a time more marked, and excused
with less buoyancy and inventiveness than usual. But otherwise all
went on as before. John Backhouse took no step, and for nine months
nothing was heard of his daughter.
At last one cheerless March afternoon, Jim, Coming back from the
Wednesday round with the cart, entered the farm kitchen, while John
Backhouse was still wrangling at one of the other farmhouses of the
hamlet about some disputed payment. The old man came in cold and
weary, and the sight of the half-tended kitchen and neglected
fire--they paid a neighbor to do the housework, as far as the care
of her own seven children would let her--suddenly revived in his
slippery mind the memory of his niece, who, with all her faults,
had had the makings of a housewife, and for whom, in spite of her
flouts and jeers, he had always cherished a secret admiration. As
he came in he noticed that the door to the left hand, leading into
what Westmoreland folk call the 'house' or sitting-room of the farm,
was open. The room had hardly been used since Mary's flight, and
the few pieces of black oak and shining mahogany which adorned it
had long ago fallen from their pristine polish. The geraniums and
fuchsias with which she had filled the window all the summer before,
had died into dry blackened stalks; and the dust lay heavy on the
room, in spite of the well-meant but wholly ineffective efforts of
the charwoman next door. The two old men had avoided the place for
months past by common consent, and the door into it was hardly ever
Now, however, it stood ajar, and old Jim going up to shut it, and
looking in, was struck dumb with astonishment. For there on a
wooden rocking chair, which had been her mothers favorite seat, sat
Mary Backhouse, her feet on the curved brass fender, her eyes staring
into the parlor grate. Her clothes, her face, her attitude of
cowering chill and mortal fatigue, produced an impression which
struck through the old man's dull senses, and made him tremble so
that his hand dropped from the handle of the door. The slight sound
roused Mary, and she turned toward him. She said nothing for a few
seconds, her hollow black eyes fixed upon him; then with a ghastly
smile, and a voice so hoarse as to be scarcely audible,
'Weel, aa've coom back. Ye'd maybe not expect me?'
There was a sound behind on the cobbles outside the kitchen door.
'Yur feyther!' cried Jim between his teeth. 'Gang up-stairs wi'
And he pointed to a door in the wall concealing a staircase to the
She sprang up, looked at the door and at him irresolutely, and then
stayed where she was, gaunt, pale, fever-eyed, the wreck and ghost
of her old self.
The steps neared. There was a rough voice in the kitchen, a surprised
exclamation, and her father had pushed past his brother into the
John Backhouse no sooner saw his daughter than his dull weather-beaten
face flamed into violence. With an oath he raised the heavy whip
he held in his hand and flung himself toward her.
'Naw, ye'll not du'at!' cried Jim, throwing himself with all his
feeble strength on to his brother's arm. John swore and struggled,
but the old man stuck like a limpet.
'You let 'un aleann' said Mary, drawing her tattered shawl over her
breast. 'If he aims to kill me, aa'll not say naa. But lie needn't
moider hisself! There's them abuve as ha' taken care o' that!'
She sank again into her chair, as though her limbs could not support
her, and her eyes closed in utter indifference of a fatigue which
had made even fear impossible.
The father's arm dropped; he stood there sullenly looking at her.
Jim, thinking she had fainted, went up to her, took a glass of
water out of which she had already been drinking from the mahogany
table, and held it to her lips. She drank a little, and then with
a desperate effort raised herself, and clutching the arm of the
chair, faced her father.
'Ye'll not hev to wait lang. Doan't ye fash yersel. Maybe it ull
comfort ye to knaw summat! Lasst Midsummer Day aa was on t' Shanmoor
road, i' t' gloaming. An' aa saw theer t' bogle,--thee knaws, t'
bogle o' Bleacliff Tarn; an' she turned hersel, an' she spoak to
She uttered the last words with a grim emphasis, dwelling on each,
the whole life of the wasted face concentrated in the terrible black
eyes, which gazed past the two figures within their immediate range
into a vacancy peopled with horror. Then a film came over, them,
the grip relaxed, and she fell back with a lurch of the rocking-chair
in a dead swoon.
With the help of the neighbor from next door, Jim got her up-stairs
into the room that had been hers. She awoke from her swoon only
to fall into the torpid sleep of exhaustion, which lasted for twelve
'Keep her oot o' ma way,' said the father with an oath to Jim, 'or
aa'll not answer nayther for her nor me!'
She needed no telling. She soon crept down-stairs again, and went
to the task of house-cleaning. The two men lived in the kitchen
as before; when they were at home she ate and sat in the parlor
alone. Jim watched her as far as his dull brain was capable of
watching, and he dimly understood that she was dying. Both men,
indeed, felt a sort of superstitious awe of her, she was so changed,
so unearthly. As for the story of the ghost, the old popular
superstitions are almost dead in the Cumbrian mountains, and the
shrewd north-country peasant is in many places quite as scornfully
ready to sacrifice his ghosts to the Time Spirit as any 'bold bad'
haunter of scientific associations could wish him to be. But in a
few of the remoter valleys they still linger, though beneath the
surface. Either of the Backhouses, or Mary in her days of health,
would have suffered many things rather than allow a stranger to
suppose they placed the smallest credence in the story of Bleacliff
Tarn. But, all the same, the story which each had beard in childhood,
on stormy nights perhaps, when the mountain side was awful with the
sounds of tempest, had grown up with them, had entered deep into
the tissue of consciousness. In Mary's imagination the ideas and
images connected with it had now, under the stimulus of circumstance,
become instinct with a living pursuing terror. But they were
present, though in a duller, blunter state, in the minds of her
father and uncle; and as the weeks passed on, and the days lengthened
toward midsummer, a sort of brooding horror seemed to settle on the
Mary grew weaker and weaker; her cough kept Jim awake at nights;
once or twice when he went to help her with a piece of work which
not even her extraordinary will could carry her through, her hand
burnt him like a hot cinder. But she kept all other women out of
the house by her mad, strange ways; and if her uncle showed any
consciousness of her state, she turned upon him with her old temper,
which had lost all its former stormy grace, and had become ghastly
by the contrast it brought out between the tempestuous, vindictive
soul and the shaken weakness of frame.
A doctor would have discovered at once that what was wrong with her
was phthisis, complicated with insanity; and the insanity, instead
of taking the hopeful optimistic tinge which is characteristic of
the insanity of consumption, had rather assumed the color of the
events from which the disease itself had started. Cold, exposure,
long-continued agony of mind and body--the madness intertwined with
an illness which had such roots as these was naturally a madness
of despair. One of its principal signs was the fixed idea as to
Midsummer Day. It never occurred to her as possible that her life
should be prolonged beyond that limit. Every night, as she dragged
herself up the steep little staircase to her room, she checked off
the day which had just passed from the days she had still to live.
She had made all her arrangements; she had even sewed with her own
hands, and that without any sense of special horror, but rather in
the provident peasant way, the dress in which she was to be carried
to her grave.
At last one day, her father, coming unexpectedly into the yard, saw
her carrying a heavy pail of water from the pump. Something stirred
within him, and he went up to her and forcibly took it from her.
Their looks met, and her poor mad eyes gazed intensely into his.
As he moved forward toward the house she crept after him, passing
him into the parlor, where she sank down breathless on the settle
where she had been sleeping for the last few nights, rather than
face climbing the stairs. For the first time he followed her,
watching her gasping struggle for breath, in spite of her impatient
motion to him to go. After a few seconds he left her, took his
hat, went out, saddled his horse, and rode off to Whinborough. He
got Dr. Baker to promise to come over on the morrow, and on his way
back he called and requested to see Catherine Leyburn. He stammeringly
asked her to come and visit his daughter who was ill and lonesome;
and when she consented gladly, he went on his way feeling a load
off his mind. What he had just done had been due to an undefined,
but still vehement prompting of conscience. It did not make it any
the less probable that the girl would die on or before Midsummer
Day; but, supposing her story were true, it absolved him from any
charge of assistance to the designs of those grisly powers in whose
clutch she was.
When the doctor came next morning a change for the worse had taken
place, and she was too feeble actively to resent his appearance.
She lay there on the settle, every now and then making superhuman
efforts to get up, which generally ended in a swoon. She refused
to take any medicine, she would hardly take any food, and to the
doctor's questions she returned no answer whatever. In the same
way, when Catherine came, she would be absolutely silent, looking
at her with glittering, feverish eyes, but taking no notice at all,
whether she read or talked, or simply sat quietly beside her.
After the silent period, as the days went on, and Midsummer Day
drew nearer, there supervened a period of intermittent delirium.
In the evenings, especially when her temperature rose, she became
talkative and incoherent and Catherine would sometimes tremble as
she caught the sentences which, little by little, built up the
girl's bidden tragedy before her eyes. London streets, London
lights, London darkness, the agony of an endless wandering, the
little clinging puny life, which could never be stilled or satisfied,
biting cold, intolerable pain, the cheerless workhouse order, and,
finally, the arms without a burden, the breast without a child--these
were the sharp fragments of experience, so common so terrible to
the end of time, which rose on the troubled surface of Mary Backhouse's
delirium, and smote the tender heart of the listener.
Then in the mornings she would lie suspicious and silent, watching
Catherine's face with the long gaze of exhaustion, as though trying
to find out from it whether her secret had escaped her. The doctor,
who had gathered the story of the 'bogle' from Catherine, to whom
Jim had told it, briefly and reluctantly, and with an absolute
reservation of his own views on the matter, recommended that if
possible they should try and deceive her as to the date of the day
and month. Mere nervous excitement might, he thought, be enough
to kill her when the actual day, and hour came round. But all their
attempts were useless. Nothing distracted the intense sleepless
attention with which the darkened mind kept always in view that one
absorbing expectation. Words fell from her at night, which seemed
to show that she expected a summons--a voice along the fell, calling
her spirit into the dark. And then would come the shriek, the
struggle to get loose, the choked waking, the wandering, horror-stricken
eyes, subsiding by degrees into the old silent watch.
On the morning of the 23d, when Robert, sitting at his work, was
looking at Burwood through the window in the flattering belief that
Catherine was the captive of the weather, she had spent an hour or
more with Mary Backhouse, and the austere influences of the visit
had perhaps had more share than she knew in determining her own
mood that day. The world seemed such dross, the pretences of
personal happiness so hollow and delusive, after such a sight! The
girl lay dying fast, with a look of extraordinary attentiveness in
her face, hearing every noise, every footfall, and, as it seemed
to Catherine, in a mood of inward joy. She took, moreover, some
notice of her visitor. As a rough tomboy of fourteen, she had shown
Catherine, who had taught her in the school sometimes and had
especially won her regard on one occasion by a present of some
article of dress, a good many uncouth signs of affection. On the
morning in question Catherine fancied she saw something of the old
childish expression once or twice. At any rate, there was no doubt
her presence was soothing, as she read in her low vibrating voice,
or sat silently stroking the emaciated hand, raising it every now
and then to her lips with a rush of that intense pitifulness which
was to her the most natural of all moods.
The doctor, whom she met there, said that this state of calm was
very possibly only transitory. The night had been passed in a
succession of paroxysms, and they were almost sure to return upon
her, especially as he could get her to swallow none of the sedatives
which might have carried her in unconsciousness past the fatal
moment. She would have none of them; he thought that she was
determined to allow of no encroachments on the troubled remnants
of intelligence still left to her; so the only thing to be done was
to wait and see the result. 'I will come tomorrow,' said Catherine
briefly; 'for the day certainly, longer if necessary.' She had
long ago established her claim to be treated seriously as a nurse,
and Dr. Baker made no objection. '_If_ she lives so long,' he said
dubiously. 'The Backhouses and Mrs. Irwin (the neighbor) shall be
close at hand. I will come in the afternoon and try to get her to
take an opiate; but I can't give it to her by force, and there is
not the smallest chance of her consenting to it.'
All through Catherine's own struggle and pain during these two days
the image of the dying girl had lain at her heart. It served her
as the crucifix serves the Romanist; as she pressed it into her
thought, it recovered from time to time the failing forces of the
will. Need life be empty because self was left unsatisfied? Now,
as she neared the hamlet, the quality of her nature reasserted
itself. The personal want tugging at her senses, the personal
soreness, the cry of resentful love, were silenced. What place had
they in the presence of this lonely agony of death, this mystery,
this opening beyond? The old heroic mood revived in her. Her step
grew swifter, her carriage more erect, and as she entered the farm
kitchen she felt herself once more ready in spirit for what lay
From the next room there came a succession of husky sibilant sounds,
as though someone were whispering hurriedly and continuously.
After her subdued greeting, she looked inquiringly at Jim.
'She's in a taaking way,' said Jim, who looked more attenuated and
his face more like a pink and white parchment than ever. 'She's
been knacking an' taaking a long while. She woau't know ye. Luke
ye,' he continued, dropping his voice as he opened the 'house' door
for her; 'ef you want ayder ov oos, you just call oot--sharp! Mrs.
Irwin, she'll stay in wi' ye--she's not afeeard!'
The superstitious excitement which the looks and gestures of the
old man expressed, touched Catherine's imagination, and she entered
the room with an inward shiver.
Mary Backhouse lay raised high on her pillows, talking to herself
or to imaginary other persons, with eyes wide open but vacant, and
senses conscious of nothing but the dream-world in which the mind
was wandering. Catherine sat softly down beside her, unnoticed,
thankful for the chances of disease. If this delirium lasted till
the ghost-hour--the time of twilight, that is to say, which would
begin about half-past eight, and the duration of which would depend
on the cloudiness of the evening--was over; or, better still, till
midnight were past; the strain on the girl's agonized senses might
be relieved, and death come at last in softer, kinder guise.
'Has she been long like this?' she asked softly of the neighbor who
sat quietly knitting by the evening light.
The woman looked up and thought.
'Ay!' she said. 'Aa came in at tea-time, an' she's been maistly
taakin' ivver sence!'
The incoherent whisperings and restless movements, which obliged
Catherine constantly to replace the coverings over the poor wasted
and fevered body, went on for sometime. Catherine noticed presently,
with a little thrill, that the light was beginning to change. The
weather was growing darker and stormier; the wind shook the house
in gusts; and the farther shoulder of High Fell, seen in distorted
outline through the casemented window, was almost hidden by the
trailing rain clouds. The mournful western light coming from behind
the house struck the river here and there; almost everything else
was gray and dark. A mountain ash, just outside the window, brushed
the panes every now and then; and in the silence, every surrounding
sound--the rare movements in the next room, the voices of quarrelling
children round the door of a neighboring house, the far-off barking
of dogs--made itself distinctly audible.
Suddenly Catherine, sunk in painful reverie, noticed that the
mutterings from the bed had ceased for some little time. She turned
her chair, and was startled to find those weird eyes fixed with
recognition on herself. There was a curious, malign intensity, a
curious triumph in them.
'It must be--eight o'clock'--said the gasping voice--'_eight
o'clock_;' and the tone became a whisper, as though the idea thus
half involuntarily revealed had been drawn jealously back into the
strongholds of consciousness.
'Mary,' said Catherine, falling on her knees beside the bed, and
taking one of the restless hands forcibly into her own--'can't you
put this thought away from you? We are not the playthings of evil
spirits--we are the children of God! We are in His hands. No evil
thing can harm us against His will.'
It was the first time for many days she had spoken openly of the
thought which was in the mind of all, and her whole pleading soul
was in her pale, beautiful face. There was no response in the sick
girl's countenance, and again that look of triumph, of sinister
exultation. They had tried to cheat her into sleeping, and living,
and in spite of them, at the supreme moment, every sense was awake
and expectant. To what was the materialized peasant imagination
looking forward? To an actual call, an actual following, to the
free mountain-side, the rush of the wind, the phantom figure
floating on before her, bearing her into the heart of the storm?
Dread was gone, pain was gone; there was only rapt excitement and
'Mary,' said Catherine again, mistaking her mood for one of tense
defiance and despair, 'Mary, if I were to go out now and leave Mrs.
Irwin with you, and if I were to go up all the way to the top of
Shanmoss and back again, and if I could tell you there was nothing
there, nothing!--If I were to stay out till the dark has come--it
will be here in half an hour--and you could be quite sure when you
saw me again, that there was nothing near you but the dear old
hills, and the power of God, could you believe me and try and rest
Mary looked at her intently. If Catherine could have seen clearly
in the dim light she would have caught something of the cunning of
madness slipping into the dying woman's expression. While she
waited for the answer, there was a noise in the kitchen outside an
opening of the outer door, and a voice. Catherine's heart stood
still. She had to make a superhuman effort to keep her attention
fixed on Mary.
'Go!' said the hoarse whisper close beside her, and the girl lifted
her wasted hand, and pushed her visitor from her. 'Go!' it repeated
insistently, with a sort of wild beseeching then, brokenly, the
gasping breath interrupting: 'There's naw fear--naw fear--fur the
likes o' you!'
'I'm not afraid,' she said gently, but her hand shook as she pushed
her chair back; 'God is everywhere, Mary.'
She put on her hat and cloak, said something in Mrs. Irwin's ear,
and stooped to kiss the brow which to the shuddering sense under
her will seemed already cold and moist with the sweats of death.
Mary watched her go; Mrs. Irwin, with the air of one bewildered,
drew her chair nearer to the settle; and the light of the fire,
shooting and dancing through the June twilight, threw such fantastic
shadows over the face on the pillow that all expression was lost.
What was moving in the crazed mind? Satisfaction, perhaps, at
having got rid of one witness, one gaoler, one of the various
antagonistic forces surrounding her? She had a dim, frenzied notion
she should have to fight for her liberty when the call came, and
she lay tense and rigid, waiting--the images of insanity whirling
through her brain, while the light slowly, slowly waned.
Catherine opened the door to the kitchen. The two carriers were
standing there, and Robert Elsmere also stood with his back to her,
talking to them in an undertone.
He turned at the sound behind him, and his start brought a sudden
rush to Catherine's check. Her face, as the candle-light struck
it amid the shadows of the doorways was like an angelic vision to
him--the heavenly calm of it just exquisitely broken by the wonder,
the shock, of his presence.
'You here?' he cried coming up to her, and taking her hand--what
secret instinct guided him?--close in both of his. 'I never dreamt
of it--so late. My cousin sent me over--she wished for news.'
She smiled involuntarily. It seemed to her she had expected this
in some sort all along. But her self-possession was complete.
'The excited state may be over in a short time now,' she answered
him in a quiet whisper; 'but at present it is at its height. It
seemed to please her'--and withdrawing her hand she turned to John
Backhouse--'when I suggested that I should walk up to Shanmoss and
back. I said I would come back to her in half an hour or so, when
the daylight was quite gone, and prove to her there was nothing on
A hand caught her arm. It was Mrs. Irwin, holding the door close
with the other hand.
'Miss Leyburn--Miss Catherine! Yur not gawin' oot--not gawin' oop
_that_ path?' The woman was fond of Catherine, and looked deadly
'Yes, I am, Mrs. Irwin--but I shall be back very soon. Don't leave
her; go back.' And Catherine motioned her back with a little
'Doan't ye let 'ur, sir,' said the woman excitedly to Robert.
'One's eneuf oneut aa'm thinking.' And she pointed with a meaning
gesture to the room behind her.
Robert looked at Catherine, who was moving toward the outer door.
'I'll go with her,' he said hastily, his face lighting up. 'There
is nothing whatever to be afraid of, only don't leave your patient.'
Catherine trembled as she heard the words, but she made no sign,
and the two men and the women watched their departure with blank
uneasy wonderment. A second later they were on the fell-side
climbing a rough stony path, which in places was almost a watercourse,
and which wound up the fell toward a tract of level swampy moss or
heath, beyond which lay the descent to Shanmoor. Daylight was
almost gone; the stormy yellow west was being fast swallowed up in
cloud; below them as they climbed lay the dark group of houses,
with a light twinkling here and there. All about them were black
mountain forms; a desolate tempestuous wind drove a gusty rain into
their faces; a little beck roared beside them, and in the distance
from the black gulf of the valley the swollen river thundered.
Elsmere looked down on his companion with an indescribable exultation,
a passionate sense of possession which could hardly restrain itself.
He had come back that morning with a mind clearly made up. Catherine
had been blind indeed when she supposed that any plan of his or
hers would have been allowed to stand in the way of that last wrestle
with her, of which he had planned all the methods, rehearsed all
the arguments. But when he reached the Vicarage he was greeted
with the news of her absence. She was inaccessible it appeared for
the day. No matter! The vicar and he settled in the fewest possible
words that he should stay till Monday, Mrs. Thornburgh meanwhile
looking on, saying what civility demanded, and surprisingly little
else. Then in the evening Mrs. Thornburgh had asked of him, with
a manner of admirable indifference, whether he felt inclined for
an evening walk to High Ghyll to inquire after Mary Backhouse. The
request fell in excellently with a lover's restlessness, and Robert
assented at once. The vicar saw him go with puzzled brows and a
quick look at his wife, whose head was bent close over her worsted
It never occurred to Elsmere--or if it did occur, he pooh-poohed
the notion--that he should find Catherine still at her post far
from home on this dark stormy evening. But in the glow of joy which
her presence had brought him he was still capable of all sorts of
delicate perceptions and reasonings. His quick imagination carried
him through the scene from which she had just momentarily escaped.
He had understood the exaltation of her look and tone. If love
spoke at all, ringed with such surroundings, it must be with its
most inward and spiritual voice, as those speak who feel 'the
Eternities' about them.
But the darkness hid her from him so well that he had to feel out
the situation for himself. He could not trace it in her face.
'We must go right up to the top of the pass,' she said to him as
he held a gate open for her which led them into a piece of larch
plantation on the mountain-side. 'The ghost is supposed to walk
along this bit of road above the houses, till it reaches the heath
on the top, and then it turns toward Bleacliff Tarn, which lies
higher up to the right, under High Fell.'
'Do you imagine your report will have any effect?'
'At any rate,' she said, sighing, 'it seemed to me that it might
divert her thoughts a little from the actual horror of her own
summons. Anything is better than the torture of that one fixed
idea as she lies there.'
'What is that?' said Robert, startled a little by some ghostly
sounds in front of them. The little wood was almost dark, and he
could see nothing.
'Only a horse trotting on in front of us,' said Catherine; 'our
voices frightened him, I suppose. We shall be out on the fell again
And as they quitted the trees, a dark bulky form to the left suddenly
lifted a shadowy head from the grass, and clattered down the slope.
A cluster of white-stemmed birches just ahead of them, caught
whatever light was still left in the atmosphere, their feathery
tops bending and swaying against the sky.
'How easily, with a mind attuned, one could people this whole path
with ghosts!' said Robert. 'Look at those stems, and that line of
stream coming down to the right, and listen to the wind among the
For they were passing a little gully deep in bracken, up which the
blast was tearing its tempestuous way.
Catherine shivered a little, and the sense of physical exhaustion,
which had been banished like everything else--doubt, humiliation,
bitterness--by the one fact of his presence, came back on her.
'There is something, rather awful in this dark and storm,' she said,
'Would you have faced it alone?' he asked, his voice thrilling her
with a hundred different meanings. 'I am glad I prevented it.'
'I have no fear of the mountains,' she said, trembling 'I know them,
and they me.'
'But you are tired--your voice is tired--and the walk might have
been more of an effort than you thought it. Do you never think of
'Oh dear, yes,' said Catherine, trying to smile, and could find
nothing else to say. They walked on a few moments in silence,
splashes of rain breaking in their faces. Robert's inward excitement
was growing fast. Suddenly Catherine's pulse stood still. She
felt her hand lifted, drawn within his arm, covered close with his
warm, trembling clasp.
'Catherine, let it stay there. Listen one moment. You gave me a
hard lesson yesterday, too hard--I cannot learn it--I am bold--I
claim you. Be my wife. Help me through this difficult world. I
have loved you from the first moment. Come to me. Be kind to me.'
She could hardly see his face, but she could feel the passion in
his voice and touch. Her Cheek seemed to droop against his arm.
He felt her tottering.
'Let me sit down,' she said; and after one moment of dizzy silence
he guided her to a rock, sinking down himself beside her, longing,
but not daring, to shelter her under his broad Inverness cloak
against the storm.
'I told you,' she said, almost whispering, 'that I was bound, tied
'I do not admit your plea,' he said passionately; 'no, not for a
moment. For two days have I been tramping over the mountains
thinking it out for yourself and me. Catherine, your mother has
no son, she would find one in me. I have no sisters--give me yours.
I will cherish them as any brother could. Come and enrich my life;
you shall still fill and shelter theirs. I dare not think what my
future might be without you to guide, to inspire, to bless--dare
not--lest with a word you should plunge me into an outer darkness
I cannot face.'
He caught her unresisting hand, and raised it to his lips.
'Is there no sacredness,' he said, brokenly, 'in the fate that has
brought us together-out of all the world--here in this lonely valley?
Come to me, Catherine. You shall never fail the old ties, I promise
you; and new hands shall cling to you--new voices shall call you
Catherine could hardly breathe. Every word had been like balm upon
a wound--like a ray of intense light in the gloom about them. Oh,
where was this softness bearing her--this emptiness of all will,
of all individual power? She hid her eyes with her other hand,
struggling to recall that far away moment in Marrisdale. But the
mind refused to work. Consciousness seemed to retain nothing but
the warm grasp of his hand--the tones of his voice.
He saw her struggle, and pressed on remorselessly.
'Speak to me--say one little kind word. Oh, you cannot send me
away miserable and empty!'
She turned to him, and laid her trembling free hand on his arm.
He clasped them both with rapture.
'Give me a little time.'
'No, no,' he said, and it almost seemed to her that he was smiling:
'time for you to escape me again my wild mountain bird; time for
you to think yourself and me into all sorts of moral mists! No,
you shall not have it. Here--alone with God and the dark--bless
me or undo me. Send me out to the work of life maimed and sorrowful,
or send me out your knight, your possession, pledged--'
But his voice failed him. What a note of youth, of imagination,
of impulsive eagerness there was through it all! The more slowly
moving, inarticulate nature was swept away by it. There was but
one object clear to her in the whole world of thought or sense,
everything else had sunk out of sight--drowned in a luminous mist.
He rose and stood before her as he delivered his ultimatum, his
tall form drawn up to its full height. In the east, across the
valley, above the farther buttress of High Fell, there was a clearer
strip of sky, visible for a moment among the moving storm-clouds,
and a dim haloed moon shone out in it. Far away a white-walled
cottage glimmered against the fell: the pools at their feet shone
in the weird, passing light.
She lifted her head, and looked at him, still irresolute. Then she
too rose, and helplessly, like someone impelled by a will not her
own, she silently held out to him two white, trembling hands.
'Catherine--my angel--my wife!'
There was something in the pale, virginal grace of look and form
which kept his young passion in awe. But he bent his head again
over those yielded hands, kissing them with dizzy, unspeakable joy.
* * * * * * * * * * *
About twenty minutes later Catherine and Robert, having hurried
back with all speed from the top of Shanmoss, reached the farmhouse
door. She knocked. No one answered. She tried the lock; it
yielded, and they entered. No one in the kitchen. She looked
disturbed and conscience-sticken.
'Oh!' she cried to him, under her breath; 'have we been too long?'
And hurrying into the inner room she left him waiting.
Inside was a mournful sight. The two men and Mrs. Irwin stood close
round the settle, but as she came nearer, Catherine saw Mary Backhouse
lying panting on her pillows, her breath coming in loud gasps, her
dress and all the coverings of the bed showing signs of disorder
and confusion, her black hair tossed about her.
'It's bin awfa' work sence you left, miss,' whispered Mrs. Irwin
to Catherine excitedly, as she joined them. 'She thowt she heerd
soombody fleytin' and callin'--it was t' wind came skirlin' round
t' place, an' she aw' but thrown hirsel' oot 'o' t' bed, an' aa
shooted for Tim, and they came, and they and I--it's bin as much
as we could a' du to hod 'er.'
'Luke! Steady!' exclaimed Jim. 'She'll try it again.'
For the hands were moving restlessly from side to side, and the
face was working again. There was one more desperate effort to
rise, which the two men checked--gently enough, but effectually--and
then the exhaustion seemed complete. The lids fell, and the struggle
for breath was pitiful.
Catherine flew for some drugs which the doctor had left, and shown
her how to use. After some twenty minutes they seemed to give
relief, and the great haunted eyes opened once more.
Catherine held barley-water to the parched lips, and Mary drank
mechanically, her gaze still intently fixed on her nurse. When
Catherine put down the glass the eyes followed her with a question
which the lips had no power to frame.
'Leave her now a little,' said Catherine to the others. 'The fewer
people and the more air the better. And please let the door be
open: the room is too hot.'
They went out silently, and Catherine sank down beside the bed.
Her heart went out in unspeakable longing toward the poor human
wreck before her. For her there was no morrow possible, no dawn
of other and softer skies. All was over: life was lived, and all
its heavenly capabilities missed forever. Catherine felt her own
joy hurt her, and her tears fell fast.
'Mary,' she said, laying her face close beside the chill face on
the pillow, 'Mary, I went out: I climbed all the path as far as
Shanmoss. There was nothing evil there. Oh, I must tell you! Can
I make you understand? I want you to feel that it is only God and
love that are real. Oh, think of them! He would not let you be
hurt and terrified in your pain, poor Mary. He loves you. He is
waiting to comfort you--to set you free from pain forever: and He
has sent you a sign by me.' . . . She lifted her head from the
pillow, trembling and hesitating. Still that feverish, questioning
gaze on the face beneath her, as it lay in deep shadow cast by a
light on the windowsill some paces away.
'You sent me out, Mary, to search for something, the thought of
which has been tormenting and torturing you. You thought God would
let a dark lost spirit trouble you and take you away from Him--you,
His child, whom He made and whom He loves! And listen! While you
thought you were sending me out to face the evil thing, you were
really my kind angel--God's messenger--sending me to meet the joy
of my whole life!
'There was some one waiting here just now,' she went on hurriedly,
breathing her sobbing words into Mary's ear. 'Some one who has
loved me, and whom I love. But I had made him sad, and myself;
then when you sent me out he came too, we walked up that path, you
remember beyond the larchwood, up to the top, where the stream goes
under the road. And there he spoke to me, and I couldn't help it
any more. And I promised to love him and be his wife. And if it
hadn't been for you, Mary, it would never have happened. God had
put it into your hand, this joy, and I bless you for it! Oh, and
Mary--Mary--it is only for a little little while this life of ours!
Nothing matters--not our worst sin and sorrow--but God, and our
love to Him. I shall meet you some day--I pray I may--in His sight
and all will be well, the pain all forgotten--all!'
She raised herself again and looked down with yearning passionate
pity on the shadowed form. Oh, blessed answer of heart to heart!
There were tears forming under the heavy lids, the corners of the
lips were relaxed and soft. Slowly the feeble hand sought her own.
She waited in an intense, expectant silence.
There was a faint breathing from the lips, she stooped, and caught
'Kiss me!' said the whisper, and she laid her soft fresh lips to
the parched mouth of the dying. When she lifted her head again
Mary still held her hand; Catherine softly stretched out hers for
the opiate Dr. Baker had left; it was swallowed without resistance,
and a quiet to which the invalid had been a stranger for days stole
little by little over the wasted frame. The grasp of the fingers
relaxed, the labored breath came more gently, and in a few more
minutes she slept. Twilight was long over. The ghost-hour was
passed, and the moon outside was slowly gaining a wider empire in
the clearing heavens.
It was a little after ten o'clock that Rose drew aside the curtain
at Burwood and looked out.
'There is the lantern,' she said to Agnes, 'just by the vicarage.
How the night has cleared!'
She turned back to her book. Agnes was writing letters. Mrs.
Leyburn was sitting by the bit of fire that was generally lit for
her benefit in the evenings, her white shawl dropping gracefully
about her, a copy of the _Cornhill_ on her lap. But she was not
reading, she was meditating, and the girls thought her out of
spirits. The hall door opened.
'There is some one with Catherine!' cried Rose starting up. Agnes
suspended her letter.
'Perhaps the vicar,' said Mrs. Leyburn, with a little sigh.
A hand turned the drawing-room door, and in the door-way stood
Elsmere. Rose caught a gray dress disappearing up the little stairs
Elsmere's look was enough for the two girls. They understood in
an instant. Rose flushed all over. The first contact with love
is intoxicating to any girl of eighteen, even though the romance
be not hers. But Mrs. Leyburn sat bewildered.
Elsmere went up to her, stooped and took her hand.
'Will you give her to me, Mrs. Leyburn?' he said, his boyish looks
aglow, his voice unsteady. 'Will you let me be a son to you?'
Mrs. Leyburn rose. He still held her hand. She looked up at him
'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, where is Catherine?'
'I brought her home,' he said gently, 'She is mine, if you will it.
Give her to me again!'
Mrs. Leyburn's face worked pitifully. The rectory and the wedding
dress, which had lingered so regretfully in her thoughts since her
last sight of Catherine, sank out of them altogether.
'She has been everything in the world to us, Mr. Elsmere.'
'I know she has,' he said simply. 'She shall be everything in the
world to you still. I have had hard work to persuade her. There
will be no chance for me if you don't help me.'
Another breathless pause, Then Mrs. Leyburn timidly drew him to
her, and he stooped his tall head and kissed her like a son.
'Oh, I must go to Catherine!' she said hurrying away, her pretty
withered cheeks wet with tears.
Then the girls threw themselves on Elsmere. The talk was all
animation and excitement for the moment, not a tragic touch in it.
It was as well perhaps that Catherine was not there to hear!
'I give you fair warning,' said Rose, as she bade him good-night,
'that I don't know how to behave to a brother. And I am equally
sure that Mrs. Thornburgh doesn't know how to behave to _fiance_.'
Robert threw up his hands in mock terror at the name and departed.
'We are abandoned,' cried Rose, flitting herself into the chair
again--then with a little flash of half irresolute wickedness--'and
we are free! Oh, I hope she will be happy!'
And she caught Agnes wildly round the neck as though she would drown
her first words in her last.
'Madcap!' cried Agnes struggling. 'Leave me at least a little
breath to wish Catherine joy!'
And they both fled up-stairs.
There was indeed no prouder woman in the three kingdoms than Mrs.
Thornburgh that night. After all the agitation down-stairs she could
not persuade herself to go to bed. She first knocked up Sarah and
communicated the news; then she sat down before a pier-glass in her
own room studying the person who had found Catherine Leyburn a
'My doing from beginning to end,' she cried with a triumph beyond
words. 'William has had _nothing_ to do with it. Robert has had
scarcely as much. And to think how little I dreamt of it when I
began! Well, to be sure, no one could have _planned_ marrying those
two. There's no one but Providence could have foreseen it-they're
so different. And after all it's _done_. Now then, whom shall I
have next year?'
Farewell to the mountains!
The scene in which the next act of this unpretending history is to
run its course is of a very different kind. In place of the rugged
northern nature--a nature wild and solitary indeed, but still rich,
luxuriant, and friendly to the senses of the traveller, even in its
loneliest places. The heaths and woods of some districts of Surrey
are scarcely more thickly peopled than the fells of Westmoreland;
the walker may wander for miles, and still enjoy an untamed primitive
earth, guiltless of boundary or furrow, the undisturbed home of all
that grows and flies, where the rabbits, the lizards, and the birds
live their life as they please, either ignorant of intruding man
or strangely little incommoded by his neighborhood. And yet there
is nothing forbidding or austere in these wide solitudes. The
patches of graceful birch-wood; the miniature lakes nestling among
them; the brakes of ling--pink, faintly scented, a feast for every
sense; the stretches of purple heather, glowing into scarlet under
the touch of the sun; the scattered farmhouses, so mellow in color,
so pleasant in outline; the general softness and lavishness of the
earth and all it bears, make these Surrey commons not a wilderness
but a paradise. Nature, indeed, here is like some spoilt, petulant
child. She will bring forth nothing, or almost nothing, for man's
grosser needs. Ask her to bear corn or pasture flocks and she will
be miserly and grudging. But ask her only to be beautiful, enticing,
capriciously lovely, and she will throw herself into the task with
all the abandonment, all the energy, that heart could wish.
It is on the borders of one of the wilder districts of a county,
which is throughout a strange mixture of suburbanism and the desert,
that we next meet with Robert and Catherine ELsmere. The rectory
of Murewell occupied the highest point of a gentle swell of ground
which sloped through cornfields and woods to a plain of boundless
heather on the south, and climbed away on the north toward the long
chalk ridge of the Hog's Back. It was a square white house pretending
neither to beauty nor state, a little awkwardly and barely placed,
with only a small stretch of grass and a low hedge between it and
the road. A few tall firs climbing above the roof gave a little
grace and clothing to its southern side, and behind it there was a
garden sloping softly down toward the village at its foot--a garden
chiefly noticeable for its grass walks, the luxuriance of the fruit
trees clinging to its old red wars, and the masses of pink and white
phloxes which now in August gave it the floweriness and the gayety
of an Elizabethan song. Below in the hollow and to the right lay
the picturesque medley of the village-roofs and gables and chimneys,
yellow-gray thatch, shining whitewash, and mellowed brick, making
a bright patchwork among the softening trees, thin wreaths of blue
smoke, like airy ribbons, tangled through it all. Rising over the
rest was a house of some dignity. It had been an old manor-house,
now it was half ruinous and the village inn. Some generations back
the squire of the clay had dismantled it, jealous that so big a
house should exist in the same parish as the Hall, and the spoils
of it had furnished the rectory: so that the homely house was fitted
inside with mahogany doors and carved cupboard fronts, in which
Robert delighted, and in which even Catherine felt a proprietary
Altogether a quiet, English spot. If the house had no beauty, it
commanded a world of loveliness. All around it--north, south, and
west--there spread, as it were, a vast playground of heather and
wood and grassy common, in which the few work-a-day patches of hedge
and ploughed land seemed engulphed and lost. Close under the rectory
windows, however, was a vast sloping cornfield, belonging to the
glebe, the largest and fruitfulest of the neighborhood. At the
present moment it was just ready for the reaper--the golden ears
had clearly but a few more days or hours to ripple in the sun. It
was bounded by a dark summer-scorched belt of wood, and beyond,
over the distance, rose a blue pointed bill, which seemed to be
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