Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 3 out of 9
until she is sufficiently recovered to be restored to her
friends, if, indeed, they could not come to take charge of her
themselves.--I remain, madam, your obedient servant
The note was very unsatisfactory after all his consideration, but
it was the best he could do. He made inquiry of a passing servant
as to the lady's name, directed the note, and placed it on the
indicated shelf. He then returned to his lodgings, to await the
doctor's coming and the postboy's return. There was no alteration
in Ruth; she was as one stunned into unconsciousness; she did not
move her posture, she hardly breathed. From time to time Mrs.
Hughes wetted her mouth with some liquid, and there was a little
mechanical motion of the lips; that was the only sign of life she
gave. The doctor came and shook his head,--"a thorough
prostration of strength, occasioned by some great shock on the
nerves,"--and prescribed care and quiet, and mysterious
medicines, but acknowledged that the result was doubtful, very
doubtful. After his departure, Mr. Benson took his Welsh grammar
and tried again to master the ever-puzzling rules for the
mutations of letters; but it was of no use, for his thoughts were
absorbed by the life-in-death condition of the young creature,
who was lately bounding and joyous.
The maid and the luggage, the car and the driver; bad arrived
before noon at their journey's end, and the note had been
delivered. It annoyed Mrs. Bellingham exceedingly. It was the
worst of these kind of connections,--there was no calculating the
consequences; they were never-ending. All sorts of claims seemed
to be established, and all sorts of people to step in to their
settlement. The idea of sending her maid! Why, Simpson would not
go if she asked her. She soliloquised thus while reading the
letter; and then, suddenly turning round to the favourite
attendant, who had been listening to her mistress's remarks with
no inattentive ear, she asked--
"Simpson, would you go and nurse this creature, as this----" she
looked at the signature--"Mr. Benson, who ever he is, proposes?"
"Me! no, indeed, ma'am," said the maid, drawing herself up, stiff
in her virtue.
"I'm sure, ma'am, you: would not expect it of me; I could never
have the face to dress a lady of character again."
"Well, well! don't be alarmed; I cannot spare you: by the way,
just attend to the strings on my dress; the chambermaid here
pulled them into knots, and broke them terribly, last night. It
is awkward, though, very," said she, relapsing into a musing fit
over the condition of Ruth.
"If you'll allow me, ma'am, I think I might say some thing that
would alter the case. I believe, ma'am, you put a bank-note into
the letter to the young woman yesterday?"
Mrs. Bellingham bowed acquiescence, and the maid went on--
"Because, ma'am, when the little deformed man wrote that note
(he's Mr. Benson, ma'am), I have reason to believe neither he nor
Mrs. Morgan knew of any provision being made for the young woman.
Me and the chambermaid found your letter and the bank-note lying
quite promiscuous, like waste paper, on the floor of her room;
for I believe she rushed out like mad after you left."
"That, as you say, alters the case. This letter, then, is
principally a sort of delicate hint that some provision ought to
have been made; which is true enough, only it has been attended
to already. What became of the money?"
"Law, ma'am! do you ask? Of course, as soon as I saw it, I picked
it up and took it to Mrs. Morgan, in trust for the young person."
"Oh, that's right. What friends has she? Did you ever hear from
Mason?--perhaps they ought to know where she is."
"Mrs. Mason did tell me, ma'am, she was an orphan; with a
guardian who was noways akin, and who washed his hands of her
when she ran off. But Mrs. Mason was sadly put out, and went into
hysterics, for fear you would think she had not seen after her
enough, and that she might lose your custom; she said it was no
fault of hers, for the girl was always a forward creature,
boasting of her beauty, and saying how pretty she was, and
striving to get where her good looks could be seen and
admired,--one night in particular, ma'am, at a county ball; and
how Mrs. Mason had found out she used to meet Mr. Bellingham at
an old woman's house, who was a regular old witch, ma'am, and
lives in the lowest part of the town, where all the bad
"There! that's enough," said Mrs. Bellingham sharply, for the
maid's chattering had outrun her tact; and in her anxiety to
vindicate the character of her friend Mrs. Mason by blackening
that of Ruth, she had forgotten that she a little implicated her
mistress's son, whom his proud mother did not like to imagine as
ever passing through a low and degraded part of the town.
"If she has no friends, and is the creature you describe (which
is confirmed by my own observation), the best place for her is,
as I said before, the Penitentiary. Her fifty pounds will keep
her a week or so, if she is really unable to travel, and pay for
her journey; and if on her return to Fordham she will let me
know, I will undertake to obtain her admission immediately."
"I'm sure it's well for her she has to do with a lady who will
take any interest in her, after what has happened."
Mrs. Bellingham called for her writing-desk, and wrote a few
hasty lines to be sent by the post-boy, who was on the point of
"Mrs. Bellingham presents her compliments to her unknown
correspondent, Mr. Benson, and begs to inform him of a
circumstance of which she believes he was ignorant when he wrote
the letter with which she has been favoured; namely, that
provision to the amount of L 50 was left for the unfortunate young
person who is the subject of Mr. Benson's letter. This sum is in
the hands of Mrs. Morgan, as well as a note from Mrs. Bellingham
to the miserable girl, in which she proposes to procure her
admission into the Fordham Penitentiary, the best place for such
a character, as by this profligate action she has forfeited the
only friend remaining to her in the world. This proposition Mrs.
Bellingham repeats; and they are the young woman's best friends
who most urge her to comply with the course now pointed out."
"Take care Mr. Bellingham hears nothing of this Mr. Benson's
note," said Mrs. Bellingham, as she delivered the answer to her
maid; "he is so sensitive just now that it would annoy him sadly,
I am sure."
THURSTAN AND FAITH BENSON
You have now seen the note which was delivered into Mr. Benson's
hands, as the cool shades of evening stole over the glowing
summer sky. When he had read it, he again prepared to write a few
hasty lines before the post went out. The post-boy was even now
sounding his horn through the village as a signal for letters to
be ready; and it was well that Mr. Benson, in his long morning's
meditation, had decided upon the course to be pursued, in case of
such an answer as that which he had received from Mrs.
Bellingham. His present note was as follows;--
"DEAR FAITH,--You must come to this place directly, where I
earnestly desire you and your advice. I am well myself, so do not
be alarmed. I have no time for explanation, but I am sure you
will not refuse me; let me trust that I shall see you on Saturday
at the latest. You know the mode by which I came; it is the best
both for expedition and cheapness. Dear Faith, do not fail me.--
"Your affectionate brother. THURSTAN BENSON.
"P.S.--I am afraid the money I left may be running short. Do not
let this stop you. Take my Facciolati to Johnson's, he will
advance upon it; it is the third row, bottom shelf. Only come."
When this letter was despatched he had done all he could; and the
next two days passed like a long monotonous dream of watching,
thought, and care, undisturbed by any event, hardly by the change
from day to night, which, now the harvest moon was at her full,
was scarcely perceptible. On Saturday morning the answer came--
"DEAREST THURSTAN,--Your incomprehensible summons has just
reached me, and I obey, thereby proving my right to my name of
Faith. I shall be with you almost as soon as this letter. I
cannot help feeling anxious, as well as curious. I have money
enough, and it is well I have; for Sally, who guards your room
like a dragon, would rather see me walk the whole way, than have
any of your things disturbed.--Your affectionate sister,"
It was a great relief to Mr. Benson to think that his sister
would so soon be with him. He had been accustomed from childhood
to rely on her prompt judgment and excellent sense; and to her
care he felt that Ruth ought to be consigned, as it was too much
to go on taxing good Mrs. Hughes with night watching and sick
nursing, with all her other claims on her time. He asked her once
more to sit by Ruth, while he went to meet his sister.
The coach passed by the foot of the steep ascent which led up to
Llan-dhu. He took a boy to carry his sister's luggage when they
arrived; they were too soon at the bottom of the hill; and the
boy began to make ducks and drakes in the shallowest part of the
stream, which there flowed glassy and smooth, while Mr. Benson
sat down on a great stone, under the shadow of an alderbush which
grew where the green flat meadow skirted the water. It was
delightful to be once more in the open air, and away from the
scenes and thoughts which had been pressing on him for the last
three days. There was a new beauty in everything from the blue
mountains which glimmered in the distant sunlight, down to the
flat, rich, peaceful vale, with its calm round shadows, where he
sat. The very margin of white pebbles which lay on the banks of
the stream had a sort of cleanly beauty about it. He felt calmer
and more at ease than he had done for some days; and yet, when he
began to think, it was rather a strange story which he had to
tell his sister, in order to account for his urgent summons. Here
was he, sole friend and guardian of a poor sick girl, whose very
name he did not know; about whom all that he did know was, that
she had been the mistress of a man who had deserted her, and that
he feared--he believed--she had contemplated suicide. The
offence, too, was one for which his sister, good and kind as she
was, had little compassion. Well, he must appeal to her love for
him, which was a very unsatisfactory mode of proceeding, as he
would far rather have had her interest in the girl founded on
reason, or some less personal basis, than showing it merely
because her brother wished it.
The coach came slowly rumbling over the stony road. His sister
was outside, but got down in a brisk active way, and greeted her
brother heartily and affectionately. She was considerably taller
than he was, and must have been very handsome; her black hair was
parted plainly over her forehead, and her dark expressive eyes
and straight nose still retained the beauty of her youth. I do
not know whether she was older than her brother; but, probably
owing to his infirmity requiring her care, she had something of a
mother's manner towards him.
"Thurstan, you are looking pale! I do not believe you are well,
whatever you may say. Have you had the old pain in your back?"
"No--a little--never mind that, dearest Faith. Sit down here,
while I send the boy up with your box." And then, with some
little desire to show his sister how well he was acquainted with
the language, he blundered out his directions in very grammatical
Welsh; so grammatical, in fact, and so badly pronounced, that the
boy, scratching his head, made answer--
So he had to repeat it in English.
"Well, now, Thurstan, here I sit as you bid me. But don't try me
too long; tell me why you sent for me."
Now came the difficulty, and oh! for a seraph's tongue, and a
seraph's powers of representation! But there was no seraph at
hand, only the soft running waters singing a quiet tune, and
predisposing Miss Benson to listen with a soothed spirit to any
tale, not immediately involving her brother's welfare, which had
been the cause of her seeing that lovely vale.
"It is an awkward story to tell, Faith, but there is a young
woman lying ill at my lodgings whom I wanted you to nurse."
He thought he saw a shadow on his sister's face, and detected a
slight change in her voice as she spoke.
"Nothing very romantic, I hope, Thurstan. Remember, I cannot
stand much romance; I always distrust it."
"I don't know what you mean by romance. The story is real enough,
and not out of the common way, I'm afraid."
He paused; he did not get over the difficulty.
"Well, tell it me at once, Thurstan. I am afraid you have let
some one, or perhaps only your own imagination, impose upon you;
but don't try my patience too much; you know I've no great
"Then I'll tell you. The young girl was brought to the inn here
by a gentleman, who has left her; she is very ill, and has no one
to see after her."
Miss Benson had some masculine tricks, and one was whistling a
long, low whistle when surprised or displeased. She had often
found it a useful vent for feelings, and she whistled now. Her
brother would rather she had spoken.
"Have you sent for her friends?" she asked, at last.
"She has none."
Another pause and another whistle, but rather softer and more
wavering than the last.
"How is she ill?"
"Pretty nearly as quiet as if she were dead. She does not speak,
or move, or even sigh."
"It would be better for her to die at once, I think."
That one word put them right. It was spoken in the tone which had
authority over her; it was so full of grieved surprise and
mournful upbraiding. She was accustomed to exercise a sway over
him, owing to her greater decision of character, and, probably,
if everything were traced to its cause, to her superior vigour of
constitution; but at times she was humbled before his pure,
childlike nature, and felt where she was inferior. She was too
good and true to conceal this feeling, or to resent its being
forced upon her. After a time she said--
"Thurstan dear, let us go to her."
She helped him with tender care, and gave him her arm up the long
and tedious hill; but when they approached the village, without
speaking a word on the subject, they changed their position, and
she leant (apparently) on him. He stretched himself up into as
vigorous a gait as he could, when they drew near to the abodes of
On the way they had spoken but little. He had asked after various
members of his congregation, for he was a Dissenting minister in
a country town, and she had answered; but they neither of them
spoke of Ruth, though their minds were full of her.
Mrs. Hughes had tea ready for the traveller on her arrival. Mr.
Benson chafed a little internally at the leisurely way in which
his sister sipped and sipped, and paused to tell him some
trifling particular respecting home affairs, which she had
"Mr. Bradshaw has refused to let the children associate with the
Dixons any longer, because one evening they played at acting
"Indeed! A little more bread and butter, Faith?"
"Thank you; this Welsh air does make one hungry. Mrs. Bradshaw is
paying poor old Maggie's rent, to save her from being sent into
"That's right. Won't you have another cup of tea?"
"I have had two. However, I think I'll take another."
Mr. Benson could not refrain from a little sigh as he poured it
out. He thought he had never seen his sister so deliberately
hungry and thirsty before. He did not guess that she was feeling
the meal rather a respite from a distasteful interview, which she
was aware was awaiting her at its conclusion. But all things come
to an end, and so did Miss Benson's tea.
"Now, will you go and see her?"
And so they went. Mrs. Hughes had pinned up a piece of green
calico, by way of a Venetian blind, to shut out the afternoon
sun; and in the light thus shaded lay Ruth--still, and wan, and
white. Even with her brother's account of Ruth's state, such
death-like quietness startled Miss Benson--startled her into pity
for the poor lovely creature who lay thus stricken and felled.
When she saw her, she could no longer imagine her to be an
impostor, or a hardened sinner; such prostration of woe belonged
to neither. Mr. Benson looked more at his sister's face than at
Ruth's; he read her countenance as a book.
Mrs. Hughes stood by, crying.
Mr. Benson touched his sister, and they left the room together.
"Do you think she will live?" asked he.
"I cannot tell," said Miss Benson, in a softened voice. "But how
young she looks! quite a child, poor creature! When will the
doctor come, Thurstan? Tell me all about her; you have never told
me the particulars."
Mr. Benson might have said she had never cared to hear them
before, and had rather avoided the subject; but he was too happy
to see this awakening of interest in his sister's warm heart to
say anything in the least reproachful. He told her the story as
well as he could, and, as he felt it deeply, he told it with
heart's eloquence; and as he ended, and looked at her, there were
tears in the eyes of both.
"And what does the doctor say?" asked she, after a pause.
"He insists upon quiet; he orders medicines and strong broth. I
cannot tell you all; Mrs. Hughes can. She has been so truly good.
'Doing good, hoping for nothing again.'"
"She looks very sweet and gentle. I shall sit up to night, and
watch her myself; and I shall send you and Mrs. Hughes early to
bed, for you have both a worn look about you I don't like. Are
you sure the effect of that fall has gone off? Do you feel
anything of it in your back still? After all, I owe her something
for turning back to your help. Are you sure she was going to
"I cannot be sure, for I have not questioned her. She has not
been in a state to be questioned; but I have no doubt whatever
about it. But you must not think of sitting up after your
"Answer me, Thurstan. Do you feel any bad effect from that fall?"
"No, hardly any. Don't sit up, Faith, to-night!"
"Thurstan, it's no use talking, for I shall; and, if you go on
opposing me, I dare say I shall attack your back, and, put a
blister on it. Do tell me what that 'hardly any' means. Besides,
to set you quite at ease, you know I have never seen mountains
before, and they fill me and oppress me so much that I could not
sleep; I must keep awake this first night, and see that they
don't fall on the earth and overwhelm it. And now answer my
questions about yourself."
Miss Benson had the power, which some people have, of carrying
her wishes through to their fulfilment; her will was strong, her
sense was excellent, and people yielded to her--they did not know
why. Before ten o'clock she reigned sole power and potentate in
Ruth's little chamber. Nothing could have been better devised for
giving her an interest in the invalid. The very dependence of one
so helpless upon her care inclined her heart towards her. She
thought she perceived a slight improvement in the symptoms during
the night, and she was a little pleased that this progress should
have been made while she reigned monarch of the sick-room. Yes,
certainly there was an improvement. There was more consciousness
in the look of the eyes, although the whole countenance still
retained its painful traces of acute suffering, manifested in an
anxious, startled uneasy aspect. It was broad morning light,
though barely five o'clock, when Miss Benson caught the sight of
Ruth's lips moving, as if in speech. Miss Benson stooped down to
"Who are you?" asked Ruth, in the faintest of whispers.
"Miss Benson--Mr. Benson's sister," she replied.
The words conveyed no knowledge to Ruth; on the contrary, weak as
a babe in mind and body as she was, her lips began to quiver, and
her eyes to show a terror similar to that of any little child who
wakens in the presence of a stranger, and sees no dear, familiar
face of mother or nurse to reassure its trembling heart.
Miss Benson took her hand in hers, and began to stroke it
"Don't be afraid, dear; I'm a friend come to take care of you.
Would you like some tea now, my love ?"
The very utterance of these gentle words was unlocking Miss
Benson's heart. Her brother was surprised to see her so full of
interest when he came to inquire later on in the morning. It
required Mrs. Hughes's persuasions, as well as his own, to induce
her to go to bed for an hour or two after breakfast; and, before
she went, she made them promise that she should be called when
the doctor came. He did not come until late in the afternoon. The
invalid was rallying fast, though rallying to a consciousness of
sorrow, as was evinced by the tears which came slowly rolling
down her pale sad cheeks--tears which she had not the power to
Mr. Benson had remained in the house all day to hear the doctor's
opinion; and, now that he was relieved from the charge of Ruth by
his sister's presence, he had the more time to dwell upon the
circumstances of her case--so far as they were known to him. He
remembered his first sight of her; her lithe figure swaying to
and fro as she balanced herself on the slippery stones, half
smiling at her own dilemma, with a bright, happy light in the
eyes, that seemed like a reflection from the glancing waters
sparkling below. Then he recalled the changed, affrighted look of
those eyes as they met his, after the child's rebuff of her
advances; how that little incident filled up the tale at which
Mrs. Hughes had hinted, in a kind of sorrowful way, as if loath
(as a Christian should be) to believe evil. Then that fearful
evening, when he had only just saved her from committing suicide,
and that nightmare sleep! And now--lost, forsaken, and but just
delivered from the jaws of death, she lay dependent for
everything on his sister and him--utter strangers a few weeks
ago. Where was her lover? Could he be easy and happy? Could he
grow into perfect health, with these great sins pressing on his
conscience with a strong and hard pain? Or had he a conscience?
Into whole labyrinths of social ethics Mr. Benson's thoughts
wandered, when his sister entered suddenly and abruptly.
"What does the doctor say? Is she better?"
"Oh, yes! she's better," answered Miss Benson, sharp and short.
Her brother looked at her in dismay. She bumped down into a chair
in a cross, disconcerted manner. They were both silent for a few
minutes, only Miss Benson whistled and clucked alternately.
"What is the matter, Faith? You say she is better."
"Why, Thurstan, there is something so shocking the matter, that I
cannot tell you."
Mr. Benson changed colour with affright. All things possible and
impossible crossed his mind but the right one. I said, "all
things possible"; I made a mistake. He never believed Ruth to be
more guilty than she seemed.
"Faith, I wish you would tell me, and not bewilder me with those
noises of yours," said he nervously.
"I beg your pardon; but something so shocking has just been
discovered--I don't know how to word it--she will have a child.
The doctor says so." She was allowed to make noises unnoticed for
a few minutes. Her brother did not speak. At last she wanted his
"Isn't it shocking, Thurstan? You might have knocked me down with
a straw when he told me."
"Does she know?"
"Yes; and I am not sure that that isn't the worst part of all."
"How?--what do you mean?"
"Oh, I was just beginning to have a good opinion of her; but I'm
afraid she is very depraved. After the doctor was gone, she
pulled the bed-curtain aside, and looked as if she wanted to
speak to me. (I can't think how she heard, for we were close to
the window, and spoke very low.) Well, I went to her, though I
really had taken quite a turn against her. And she whispered,
quite eagerly, 'Did he say I should have a baby?' Of course I
could not keep it from her; but I thought it my duty to look as
cold and severe as I could. She did not seem to understand how it
ought to be viewed, but took it just as if she had a right to
have a baby. She said, 'Oh, my God, I thank Thee! Oh, I will be
so good!' I had no patience with her then, so I left the room."
"Who is with her?"
"Mrs. Hughes. She is not seeing the thing in a moral light, as I
should have expected."
Mr. Benson was silent again. After some time he began--
"Faith, I don't see this affair quite as you do. I believe I am
"You surprise me, brother! I don't understand you."
"Wait awhile! I want to make my feelings very clear to you, but I
don't know where to begin, or how to express myself."
"It is, indeed, an extraordinary subject for us to have to talk
about; but, if once I get clear of this girl, I'll wash my hands
of all such cases again." Her brother was not attending to her;
he was reducing his own ideas to form. "Faith, do you know I
rejoice in this child's advent?"
"May God forgive you, Thurstan!--if you know what you are saying.
But, surely, it is a temptation, dear Thurstan."
"I do not think it is a delusion. The sin appears to me to be
quite distinct from its consequences."
"Sophistry--and a temptation," said Miss Benson decidedly.
"No, it is not," said her brother, with equal decision. "In the
eye of God, she is exactly the same as if the life she has led
had left no trace behind. We knew her errors before, Faith."
"Yes, but not this disgrace--this badge of her shame!"
"Faith, Faith! let me beg of you not to speak so of the little
innocent babe, who may be God's messenger to lead her back to
Him. Think again of her first words--the burst of nature from her
heart! Did she not turn to God, and enter into a covenant with
Him--'I will be so good'? Why, it draws her out of herself! If
her life has hitherto been self-seeking and wickedly thoughtless,
here is the very instrument to make her forget herself, and be
thoughtful for another. Teach her (and God will teach her, if man
does not come between) to reverence her child; and this reverence
will shut out sin,--will be purification."
He was very much excited; he was even surprised at his own
excitement; but his thoughts and meditations through the long
afternoon had prepared his mind for this manner of viewing the
"These are quite new ideas to me," said Miss Benson coldly. "I
think you, Thurstan, are the first person I ever heard rejoicing
over the birth of an illegitimate child. It appears to me, I must
own, rather questionable morality."
"I do not rejoice. I have been all this afternoon mourning over
the sin which has blighted this young creature; I have been
dreading lest, as she recovered consciousness, there should be a
return of her despair. I have been thinking of every holy word,
every promise to the penitent--of the tenderness which led the
Magdalen aright. I have been feeling, severely and reproachfully,
the timidity which has hitherto made me blink all encounter with
evils of this particular kind. O Faith! once for all, do not
accuse me of questionable morality, when I am trying more than
ever I did in my life to act as my blessed Lord would have done."
He was very much agitated. His sister hesitated, and then she
spoke more softly than before--
"But, Thurstan, everything might have been done to 'lead her
right' (as you call it), without this child, this miserable
offspring of sin."
"The world has, indeed, made such children miserable, innocent as
they are; but I doubt if this be according to the will of God,
unless it be His punishment for the parents' guilt; and even then
the world's way of treatment is too apt to harden the mother's
natural love into something like hatred. Shame, and the terror of
friends' displeasure, turn her mad--defile her holiest instincts;
and, as for the fathers--God forgive them! I cannot--at least,
not just now." Miss Benson thought on what her brother said. At
length she asked, "Thurstan (remember I'm not convinced), how
would you have this girl treated according to your theory?"
"It will require some time, and much Christian love, to find out
the best way. I know I'm not very wise; but the way I think it
would be right to act in, would be this----" He thought for some
time before he spoke, and then said--
"She has incurred a responsibility--that we both acknowledge. She
is about to become a mother, and have the direction and guidance
of a little tender life. I fancy such a responsibility must be
serious and solemn enough, without making it into a heavy and
oppressive burden, so that human nature recoils from bearing it.
While we do all we can to strengthen her sense of responsibility,
I would likewise do all we can to make her feel that it is
responsibility for what may become a blessing."
"Whether the children are legitimate or illegitimate?" asked Miss
"Yes!" said her brother firmly. "The more I think, the more I
believe I am right. No one," said he, blushing faintly as he
spoke, "can have a greater recoil from profligacy than I have.
You yourself have not greater sorrow over this young creature's
sin than I have; the difference is this, you confuse the
consequences with the sin."
"I don't understand metaphysics."
"I am not aware that I am talking metaphysics. I can imagine that
if the present occasion be taken rightly, and used well, all that
is good in her may be raised to a height unmeasured but by God;
while all that is evil and dark may, by His blessing, fade and
disappear in the pure light of her child's presence.--Oh, Father!
listen to my prayer, that her redemption may date from this time.
Help us to speak to her in the loving spirit of thy Holy Son!"
The tears were full in his eyes; he almost trembled in his
earnestness. He was faint with the strong power of his own
conviction, and with his inability to move his sister. But she
was shaken. She sat very still for a quarter of an hour or more
while he leaned back, exhausted by his own feelings.
"The poor child!" said she at length--"the poor, poor child! what
it will have to struggle through and endure! Do you remember
Thomas Wilkins, and the way he threw the registry of his birth
and baptism back in your face? Why, he would not have the
situation; he went to sea, and was drowned, rather than present
the record of his shame."
"I do remember it all. It has often haunted me. She must
strengthen her child to look to God, rather than to man's
opinion. It will be the discipline, the penance, she has
incurred. She must teach it to be (humanly speaking)
"But after all," said Miss Benson (for she had known and esteemed
poor Thomas Wilkins, and had mourned over his untimely death, and
the recollection thereof softened her)--"after all, it might be
concealed. The very child need never know its illegitimacy."
"How?" asked her brother.
"Why--we know so little about her yet; but in that letter, it
said she had no friends;--now, could she not go into quite a
fresh place, and be passed off as a widow?"
Ah, tempter! unconscious tempter! Here was a way of evading the
trials for the poor little unborn child, of which Mr. Benson had
never thought. It was the decision--the pivot, on which the fate
of years moved; and he turned it the wrong way. But it was not
for his own sake. For himself, he was brave enough to tell the
truth; for the little helpless baby, about to enter a cruel,
biting world, he was tempted to evade the difficulty. He forgot
what he had just said, of the discipline and the penance to the
mother consisting in strengthening her child to meet, trustfully
and bravely, the consequences of her own weakness. He remembered
more clearly the wild fierceness, the Cain-like look, of Thomas
Wilkins, as the obnoxious word in the baptismal registry told him
that he must go forth branded into the world, with his hand
against every man's, and every man's against him.
"How could it be managed, Faith?"
"Nay, I must know much more, which she alone can tell us, before
I can see how it is to be managed. It is certainly the best
"Perhaps it is," said her brother thoughtfully, but no longer
clearly or decidedly; and so the conversation dropped.
Ruth moved the bed-curtain aside, in her soft manner, when Miss
Benson re-entered the room; she did not speak, but she looked at
her as if she wished her to come near. Miss Benson went and stood
by her. Ruth took her hand in hers and kissed it; as if fatigued
even by this slight movement, she fell asleep. Miss Benson took
up her work, and thought over her brother's speeches. She was not
convinced, but she was softened and bewildered.
LOSING SIGHT OF THE WELSH MOUNTAINS
Miss Benson continued in an undecided state of mind for the two
next days; but on the third, as they sat at breakfast, she began
to speak to her brother.
"That young creature's name is Ruth Hilton."
"Indeed! how did you find it out?"
"From herself, of course. She is much stronger. I slept with her
last night, and I was aware she was awake long before I liked to
speak, but at last I began. I don't know what I said, or how it
went on, but I think it was a little relief to her to tell me
something about herself. She sobbed and cried herself to sleep; I
think she is asleep now.
"Tell me what she said about herself."
"Oh, it was really very little; it was evidently a most painful
subject. She is an orphan, without brother or sister, and with a
guardian, whom, I think she said, she never saw but once. He
apprenticed her (after her father's death) to a dressmaker. This
Mr. Bellingham got acquainted with her, and they used to meet on
Sunday afternoons. One day they were late, lingering on the road,
when the dressmaker came up by accident. She seems to have been
very angry, and not unnaturally so. The girl took fright at her
threats, and the lover persuaded her to go off with him to
London, there and then. Last May, I think it was. That's all."
"Did she express any sorrow for her error?"
"No, not in words; but her voice was broken with sobs, though she
tried to make it steady. After a while she began to talk about
her baby, but shyly, and with much hesitation. She asked me how
much I thought she could earn as a dressmaker, by working very,
very hard; and that brought us round to her child. I thought of
what you had said, Thurstan, and I tried to speak to her as you
wished me. I am not sure if it was right; I am doubtful in my own
"Don't be doubtful, Faith! Dear Faith, I thank you for your
"There is really nothing to thank me for. It is almost impossible
to help being kind to her; there is something so meek and gentle
about her, so patient, and so grateful!"
"What does she think of doing?"
"Poor child! she thinks of taking lodgings--very cheap ones, she
says; there she means to work night and day to earn enough for
her child. For she said to me; with such pretty earnestness, 'It
must never know want, whatever I do. I have deserved suffering,
but it will be such a little innocent darling!' Her utmost
earnings would not be more than seven or eight shillings a week,
I'm afraid; and then she is so young and so pretty!"
"There is that fifty pounds Mrs. Morgan brought me, and those two
letters. Does she know about them yet?"
"No; I did not like to tell her till she is a little stronger.
Oh, Thurstan! I wish there was not this prospect of a child. I
cannot help it. I do--I could see a way in which we might help
her, if it were not for that."
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, it's no use thinking of it, as it is! Or else we might have
taken her home with us, and kept her till she had got a little
dressmaking in the congregation, but for this meddlesome child;
that spoils everything. You must let me grumble to you, Thurstan.
I was very good to her, and spoke as tenderly and respectfully of
the little thing as if it were the Queen's, and born in lawful
"That's right, my dear Faith! Grumble away to me, if you like.
I'll forgive you, for the kind thought of taking her home with
us. But do you think her situation is an insuperable objection?"
"Why, Thurstan!--it's so insuperable, it puts it quite out of the
"How?--that's only repeating your objection. Why is it out of the
"If there had been no child coming, we might have called her by
her right name--Miss Hilton; that's one thing. Then, another is,
the baby in our house. Why, Sally would go distraught!"
"Never mind Sally. If she were an orphan relation of our own,
left widowed," said he, pausing as if in doubt. "You yourself
suggested she should be considered as a widow, for the child's
sake. I'm only taking up your ideas, dear Faith. I respect you
for thinking of taking her home; it is just what we ought to do.
Thank you for reminding me of my duty."
"Nay, it was only a passing thought. Think of Mr. Bradshaw. Oh! I
tremble at the thought of his grim displeasure."
"We must think of a higher than Mr. Bradshaw. I own I should be a
very coward if he knew. He is so severe, so inflexible. But after
all he sees so little of us; he never comes to tea, you know, but
is always engaged when Mrs. Bradshaw comes. I don't think he
knows of what our household consists."
"Not know Sally? Oh yes, but he does. He asked Mrs. Bradshaw one
day if she knew what wages we gave her, and said we might get a
far more efficient and younger servant for the money. And,
speaking about money, think what our expenses would be if we took
her home for the next six months."
That consideration was a puzzling one; and both sat silent and
perplexed for a time. Miss Benson was as sorrowful as her
brother, for she was becoming as anxious as he was to find it
possible that her plan could be carried out.
"There's the fifty pounds," said he, with a sigh of reluctance at
"Yes, there's the fifty pounds," echoed his sister, with the same
sadness in her tone. "I suppose it is hers."
"I suppose it is; and, being so, we must not think who gave it to
her. It will defray her expenses. I am very sorry, but I think we
must take it."
"It would never do to apply to him under the present
circumstances," said Miss Benson, in a hesitating manner.
"No, that we won't," said her brother decisively. "If she
consents to let us take care of her, we will never let her stoop
to request anything from him, even for his child. She can live on
bread and water--we can all live on bread and water--rather than
"Then I will speak to her and propose the plan. Oh, Thurstan!
from a child you could persuade me to anything! I hope I am doing
right. However much I oppose you at first, I am sure to yield
soon; almost in proportion to my violence at first. I think I am
"No, not in this instance. We are both right: I, in the way in
which the child ought to be viewed; you, dear good Faith, for
thinking of taking her home with us. God bless you, dear, for
When Ruth began to sit up (and the strange, new, delicious
prospect of becoming a mother seemed to give her some mysterious
source of strength, so that her recovery was rapid and swift from
that time), Miss Benson brought her the letters and the
"Do you recollect receiving this letter, Ruth?" asked she, with
grave gentleness. Ruth changed colour, and took it and read it
again without making any reply to Miss Benson. Then she sighed,
and thought a while; and then took up and read the second
note--the note which Mrs. Bellingham had sent to Mr. Benson in
answer to his. After that she took up the bank-note and turned it
round and round, but not as if she saw it. Miss Benson noticed
that her fingers trembled sadly, and that her lips were quivering
for some time before she spoke.
"If you please, Miss Benson, I should like to return this money."
"Why, my dear?"
"I have a strong feeling against taking it. While he," said she,
deeply blushing, and letting her large white lids drop down and
veil her eyes, "loved me, he gave me many things--my watch--oh,
many things; and I took them from him gladly and thankfully,
because he loved me--for I would have given him anything--and I
thought of them as signs of love. But this money pains my heart.
He has left off loving me, and has gone away. This money
seems--oh, Miss Benson--it seems as if he could comfort me, for
being forsaken, by money." And at that word the tears, so long
kept back and repressed, forced their way like rain.
She checked herself, however, in the violence of her emotion, for
she thought of her child.
"So, will you take the trouble of sending it back to Mrs.
"That I will, my dear. I am glad of it, that I am! They don't
deserve to have the power of giving: they don't deserve that you
should take it." Miss Benson went and enclosed it up there and
then; simply writing these words in the envelope, "From Ruth
"And now we wash our hands of these Bellinghams," said she
triumphantly. But Ruth looked tearful and sad; not about
returning the note, but from the conviction that the reason she
had given for the ground of her determination was true--he no
longer loved her.
To cheer her, Miss Benson began to speak of the future. Miss
Benson was one of those people who, the more she spoke of a plan
in its details, and the more she realised it in her own mind, the
more firmly she became a partisan of the project. Thus she grew
warm and happy in the idea of taking Ruth home; but Ruth remained
depressed and languid under the conviction that he no longer
loved her. No home, no future, but the thought of her child,
could wean her from this sorrow. Miss Benson was a little piqued;
and this pique showed itself afterwards in talking to her brother
of the morning's proceedings in the sick chamber.
"I admired her at the time for sending away her fifty pounds so
proudly; but I think she has a cold heart: she hardly thanked me
at all for my proposal of taking her home with us."
"Her thoughts are full of other things just now; and people have
such different ways of showing feeling: some by silence, some by
words. At any rate, it is unwise to expect gratitude."
"What do you expect--not indifference or ingratitude?"
"It is better not to expect or calculate consequences. The longer
I live, the more fully I see that. Let us try simply to do right
actions, without thinking of the feelings they are to call out in
others. We know that no holy or self-denying effort can fall to
the ground vain and useless; but the sweep of eternity is large,
and God alone knows when the effect is to be produced. We are
trying to do right now, and to feel right; don't let us perplex
ourselves with endeavouring to map out how she should feel, or
how she should show her feelings."
"That's all very fine, and I dare say very true," said Miss
Benson, a little chagrined. "But 'a bird in the hand is worth two
in the bush;' and I would rather have had one good, hearty,
'Thank you,' now, for all I have been planning to do for her,
than the grand effects you promise me in the 'sweep of eternity.'
Don't be grave and sorrowful, Thurstan, or I'll go out of the
room. I can stand Sally's scoldings, but I can't bear your look
of quiet depression whenever I am a little hasty or impatient. I
had rather you would give me a good box on the ear."
"And I would often rather you would speak, if ever so hastily,
instead of whistling. So, if I box your ears when I am vexed with
you, will you promise to scold me when you are put out of the
way, instead of whistling?"
"Very well! that's a bargain. You box, and I scold. But,
seriously, I began to calculate our money when she so cavalierly
sent off the fifty-pound note (I can't help admiring her for
it!), and I am very much afraid we shall not have enough to pay
the doctor's bill, and take her home with us."
"She must go inside the coach, whatever we do," said Mr. Benson
"Who's there? Come in! Oh! Mrs. Hughes! Sit down."
"Indeed, sir, and I cannot stay; but the young lady has just made
me find up her watch for her, and asked me to get it sold to pay
the doctor, and the little things she has had since she came; and
please, sir, indeed I don't know where to sell it nearer than
"That is good of her," said Miss Benson, her sense of justice
satisfied; and, remembering the way in which Ruth had spoken of
the watch, she felt what a sacrifice it must have been to resolve
to part with it.
"And her goodness just helps us out of our dilemma," said her
brother; who was unaware of the feelings with which Ruth regarded
her watch, or, perhaps, he might have parted with his Facciolati.
Mrs. Hughes patiently awaited their leisure for answering her
practical question. Where could the watch be sold? Suddenly her
"Mr. Jones, the doctor, is just going to be married, perhaps he
would like nothing better than to give this pretty watch to his
bride; indeed, and I think it's very likely; and he'll pay money
for it as well as letting alone his bill. I'll ask him, sir, at
Mr. Jones was only too glad to obtain possession of so elegant a
present at so cheap a rate. He even, as Mrs. Hughes had foretold,
"paid money for it;" more than was required to defray the
expenses of Ruth's accommodation, as most of the articles of food
she had were paid for at the time by Mr. or Miss Benson, but they
strictly forbade Mrs. Hughes to tell Ruth of this.
"Would you object to my buying you a black gown?" said Miss
Benson to her, the day after the sale of the watch. She hesitated
a little, and then went on--
"My brother and I think it would be better to call you--as if in
fact you were--a widow. It will save much awkwardness, and it
will spare your child much"----mortification, she was going to
have added; but that word did not exactly do. But, at the mention
of her child, Ruth started, and turned ruby-red; as she always
did when allusion was made to it.
"Oh, yes! certainly. Thank you much for thinking of it. Indeed,"
said she, very low, as if to herself, "I don't know how to thank
you for all you are doing; but I do love you, and will pray for
you, if I may."
"If you may, Ruth" repeated Miss Benson, in a tone of surprise.
"Yes, if I may. If you will let me pray for you."
"Certainly, my dear. My dear Ruth, you don't know how often I
sin; I do so wrong, with my few temptations. We are both of us
great sinners in the eyes of the Most Holy; let us pray for each
other. Don't speak so again, my dear; at least, not to me."
Miss Benson was actually crying. She had always looked upon
herself as so inferior to her brother in real goodness, had seen
such heights above her, that she was distressed by Ruth's
humility. After a short time she resumed the subject.
"Then I may get you a black gown?--and we may call you Mrs.
"No; not Mrs. Hilton!" said Ruth hastily.
Miss Benson, who had hitherto kept her eyes averted from Ruth's
face from a motive of kindly delicacy, now looked at her with
"Why not?" asked she.
"It was my mother's name," said Ruth, in a low voice. "I had
better not be called by it."
"Then let us call you by my mother's name," said Miss Benson
tenderly. "She would have----But I'll talk to you about my
mother some other time. Let me call you Mrs. Denbigh. It will do
very well, too. People will think you are a distant relation."
When she told Mr. Benson of this choice of name, he was rather
sorry; it was like his sister's impulsive kindness--impulsive in
everything--and he could imagine how Ruth's humility had touched
her. He was sorry, but he said nothing. And now the letter was
written home, announcing the probable arrival of the brother and
sister on a certain day, "with a distant relation, early left a
widow," as Miss Benson expressed it. She desired the spare room
might be prepared, and made every provision she could think of
for Ruth's comfort; for Ruth still remained feeble and weak.
When the black gown, at which she had stitched away incessantly,
was finished--when nothing remained, but to rest for the next
day's journey--Ruth could not sit still. She wandered from window
to window, learning off each rock and tree by heart. Each had its
tale, which it was agony to remember; but which it would have
been worse agony to forget. The sound of running waters she heard
that quiet evening was in her ears as she lay on her death-bed;
so well had she learnt their tune.
And now all was over. She had driven in to Llan-dhu, sitting by
her lover's side, living in the bright present, and strangely
forgetful of the past or the future; she had dreamed out her
dream, and she had awakened from the vision of love. She walked
slowly and sadly down the long hill, her tears fast falling, but
as quickly wiped away; while she strove to make steady the low
quivering voice which was often called upon to answer some
remark of Miss Benson's. They had to wait for the coach. Ruth
buried her face in some flowers which Mrs. Hughes had given her
on parting; and was startled when the mail drew up with a sudden
pull, which almost threw the horses on their haunches. She was
placed inside, and the coach had set off again, before she was
fully aware that Mr. and Miss Benson were travelling on the
outside; but it was a relief to feel she might now cry without
exciting their notice. The shadow of a heavy thunder-cloud was on
the valley, but the little upland village-church (that showed the
spot in which so much of her life was passed) stood out clear in
the sunshine. She grudged the tears that blinded her as she
gazed. There was one passenger, who tried after a while to
"Don't cry, miss," said the kind-hearted woman. "You're parting
from friends, maybe? Well, that's bad enough; but, when you come
to my age, you'll think none of it. Why, I've three sons, and
they're soldiers and sailors, all of them--here, there, and
everywhere. One is in America, beyond the seas; another is in
China, making tea; and another is at Gibraltar, three miles from
Spain; and yet, you see, I can laugh and eat and enjoy myself. I
sometimes think I'll try and fret a bit, just to make myself a
better figure: but, Lord! it's no use, it's against my nature; so
I laugh and grow fat again. I'd be quite thankful for a fit of
anxiety as would make me feel easy in my clothes, which them
manty-makers will make so tight I'm fairly throttled."
Ruth durst cry no more; it was no relief, now she was watched and
noticed, and plied with a sandwich or a ginger-bread each time
she looked sad. She lay back with her eyes shut, as if asleep,
and went on, and on, the sun never seeming to move from his high
place in the sky, nor the bright hot day to show the least sign
of waning. Every now and then Miss Benson scrambled down, and
made kind inquiries of the pale, weary Ruth; and once they
changed coaches, and the fat old lady left her with a hearty
shake of the hand.
"It is not much further now," said Miss Benson, apologetically,
to Ruth. "See! we are losing sight of the Welsh mountains. We
have about eighteen miles of plain, and then we come to the moors
and the rising ground, amidst which Eccleston lies. I wish we
were there, for my brother is sadly tired." The first wonder in
Ruth's mind was, why then, if Mr. Benson was so tired, did they
not stop where they were for the night; for she knew little of
the expenses of a night at an inn. The next thought was, to beg
that Mr. Benson would take her place inside the coach, and allow
her to mount up by Miss Benson. She proposed this, and Miss
Benson was evidently pleased.
"Well, if you're not tired, it would be a rest and a change for
him, to be sure; and if you were by me I could show you the first
sight of Eccleston, if we reach there before it is quite dark."
So Mr. Benson got down, and changed places with Ruth.
She hardly yet understood the numerous small economies which he
and his sister had to practise--the little daily
self-denials--all endured so cheerfully and simply, that they had
almost ceased to require an effort, and it had become natural to
them to think of others before themselves. Ruth had not
understood that it was for economy that their places had been
taken on the outside of the coach, while hers, as an invalid
requiring rest, was to be the inside; and that the biscuits which
supplied the place of a dinner were, in fact, chosen because the
difference in price between the two would go a little way towards
fulfilling their plan for receiving her as an inmate. Her thought
about money had been hitherto a child's thought; the subject had
never touched her; but afterwards, when she had lived a little
while with the Bensons, her eyes were opened, and she remembered
their simple kindness on the journey, and treasured the
remembrance of it in her heart.
A low grey cloud was the first sign of Eccleston; it was the
smoke of the town hanging over the plain. Beyond the place where
she was expected to believe it existed, arose round, waving
uplands; nothing to the fine outlines of the Welsh mountains, but
still going up nearer to heaven than the rest of the flat world
into which she had now entered. Rumbling stones, lamp-posts, a
sudden stop, and they were in the town of Eccleston; and a
strange, uncouth voice, on the dark side of the coach, was heard
"Be ye there, measter?"
"Yes, yes!" said Miss Benson quickly. "Did Sally send you, Ben?
Get the ostler's lantern, and look out the luggage."
THE DISSENTING MINISTER'S HOUSEHOLD
Miss Benson had resumed every morsel of the briskness which she
had rather lost in the middle of the day; her foot was on her
native stones, and a very rough set they were, and she was near
her home and among known people. Even Mr. Benson spoke very
cheerfully to Ben, and made many inquiries of him respecting
people whose names were strange to Ruth. She was cold, and
utterly weary. She took Miss Benson's offered arm, and could
hardly drag herself as far as the little quiet street in which
Mr. Benson's house was situated. The street was so quiet that
their footsteps sounded like a loud disturbance, and announced
their approach as effectually as the "trumpet's lordly blare" did
the coming of Abdallah. A door flew open, and a lighted passage
stood before them. As soon as they had entered, a stout elderly
servant emerged from behind the door, her face radiant with
"Eh, bless ye! are ye hack again? I thought I should ha' been
lost without ye." She gave Mr. Benson a hearty shake of the hand,
and kissed Miss Benson warmly; then, turning to Ruth, she said,
in a loud whisper--
Mr. Benson was silent, and walked a step onwards. Miss Benson
said boldly out--
"The lady I named in my note, Sally--Mrs. Denbigh, a distant
"Ay, but you said hoo was a widow. Is this chit a widow?"
"Yes, this is Mrs. Denbigh," answered Miss Benson.
"If I'd been her mother, I'd ha' given her a lollypop instead on
a husband. Hoo looks fitter for it."
"Hush! Sally, Sally! Look, there's your master trying to move
that heavy box." Miss Benson calculated well when she called
Sally's attention to her master; for it was believed by every
one, and by Sally herself, that his deformity was owing to a fall
he had had when he was scarcely more than a baby, and intrusted
to her care--a little nurse-girl, as she then was, not many years
older than himself. For years the poor girl had cried herself to
sleep on her pallet bed, moaning over the blight her carelessness
had brought upon her darling; nor was this self-reproach
diminished by the forgiveness of the gentle mother, from whom
Thurstan Benson derived so much of his character. The way in
which comfort stole into Sally's heart was in the
gradually-formed resolution that she would never leave him nor
forsake him, but serve him faithfully all her life long; and she
had kept to her word. She loved Miss Benson, but she almost
worshipped the brother. The reverence for him was in her heart,
however, and did not always show itself in her manners. But if
she scolded him herself, she allowed no one else that privilege.
If Miss Benson differed from her brother, and ventured to think
his sayings or doings might have been improved, Sally came down
upon her like a thunder-clap.
"My goodness gracious, Master Thurstan, when will you learn to
leave off meddling with other folks' business? Here, Ben! help me
up with these trunks." The little narrow passage was cleared, and
Miss Benson took Ruth into the sitting-room. There were only two
sitting-rooms on the ground-floor, one behind the other. Out of
the back room the kitchen opened, and for this reason the back
parlour was used as the family sitting-room; or else, being, with
its garden aspect, so much the pleasanter of the two, both Sally
and Miss Benson would have appropriated it for Mr. Benson's
study. As it was, the front room, which looked to the street, was
his room; and many a person coming for help--help of which giving
money was the lowest kind--was admitted, and let forth by Mr.
Benson, unknown to any one else in the house. To make amends for
his having the least cheerful room on the ground-floor, he had
the garden bedroom, while his sister slept over his study. There
were two more rooms again over these, with sloping ceilings,
though otherwise large and airy. The attic looking into the
garden was the spare bedroom; while the front belonged to Sally.
There was no room over the kitchen, which was, in fact, a
supplement to the house. The sitting-room was called by the
pretty, old-fashioned name of the parlour, while Mr. Benson's
room was styled the study.
The curtains were drawn in the parlour; there was a bright fire
and a clean hearth; indeed, exquisite cleanliness seemed the very
spirit of the household, for the door which was open to the
kitchen showed a delicately-white and spotless floor, and bright
glittering tins, on which the ruddy firelight danced.
From the place in which Ruth sat she could see all Sally's
movements; and though she was not conscious of close or minute
observation at the time (her body being weary, and her mind full
of other thoughts), yet it was curious how faithfully that scene
remained depicted on her memory in after years. The warm light
filled every corner of the kitchen, in strong distinction to the
faint illumination of the one candle in the parlour, whose
radiance was confined, and was lost in the dead folds of
window-curtains, carpet, and furniture. The square, stout,
bustling figure, neat and clean in every respect, but dressed in
the peculiar, old-fashioned costume of the county, namely, a
dark-striped linsey-woolsey petticoat, made very short,
displaying sturdy legs in woollen stockings beneath; a loose kind
of jacket, called there a "bedgown," made of pink print, a
snow-white apron and cap, both of linen, and the latter made in
the shape of a "mutch";--these articles completed Sally's
costume, and were painted on Ruth's memory. Whilst Sally was
busied in preparing tea, Miss Benson took off Ruth's things; and
the latter instinctively felt that Sally, in the midst of her
movements, was watching their proceedings. Occasionally she also
put in a word in the conversation, and these little sentences
were uttered quite in the tone of an equal, if not of a superior.
She had dropped the more formal "you," with which at first she
had addressed Miss Benson, and thou'd her quietly and habitually.
All these particulars sank unconsciously into Ruth's mind, but
they did not rise to the surface, and become perceptible, for a
length of time. She was weary and much depressed. Even the very
kindness that ministered to her was overpowering. But over the
dark, misty moor a little light shone--a beacon; and on that she
fixed her eyes, and struggled out of her present deep
dejection--the little child that was coming to her!
Mr. Benson was as languid and weary as Ruth, and was silent
during all this bustle and preparation. His silence was more
grateful to Ruth than Miss Benson's many words, although she felt
their kindness. After tea, Miss Benson took her upstairs to her
room. The white dimity bed, and the walls, stained green, had
something of the colouring and purity of effect of a snowdrop;
while the floor, rubbed with a mixture that turned it into a rich
dark-brown, suggested the idea of the garden-mould out of which
the snowdrop grows. As Miss Benson helped the pale Ruth to
undress, her voice became less full-toned and hurried; the hush
of approaching night subdued her into a softened, solemn kind of
tenderness, and the murmured blessing sounded like granted
When Miss Benson came downstairs, she found her brother reading
some letters which had been received during his absence. She went
and softly shut the door of communication between the parlour and
the kitchen; and then, fetching a grey worsted stocking which she
was knitting, sat down near him, her eyes not looking at her work
but fixed on the fire; while the eternal rapid click of the
knitting-needles broke the silence of the room, with a sound as
monotonous and incessant as the noise of a hand-loom. She
expected him to speak, but he did not. She enjoyed an examination
into, and discussion of, her feelings; it was an interest and
amusement to her, while he dreaded and avoided all such
conversation. There were times when his feelings, which were
always earnest, and sometimes morbid, burst forth, and defied
control, and overwhelmed him; when a force was upon him
compelling him to speak. But he, in general, strove to preserve
his composure, from a fear of the compelling pain of such times,
and the consequent exhaustion. His heart had been very full of
Ruth all day long, and he was afraid of his sister beginning the
subject; so he read on, or seemed to do so, though he hardly saw
the letter he held before him. It was a great relief to him when
Sally threw open the middle door with a bang, which did not
indicate either calmness of mind or sweetness of temper.
"Is yon young woman going to stay any length o' time with us?"
asked she of Miss Benson.
Mr. Benson put his hand gently on his sister's arm, to check her
from making any reply, while he said--
"We cannot exactly tell, Sally. She will remain until after her
"Lord bless us and save us!--a baby in the house! Nay, then my
time's come, and I'll pack up and begone. I never could abide
them things. I'd sooner have rats in the house."
Sally really did look alarmed.
"Why, Sally!" said Mr. Benson, smiling, "I was not much more than
a baby when you came to take care of me."
"Yes, you were, Master Thurstan; you were a fine bouncing lad of
three year old and better."
Then she remembered the change she had wrought in the "fine
bouncing lad," and her eyes filled with tears, which she was too
proud to wipe away with her apron; for, as she sometimes said to
herself, "she could not abide crying before folk."
"Well, it's no use talking, Sally," said Miss Benson, too anxious
to speak to be any longer repressed. "We've promised to keep her,
and we must do it; you'll have none of the trouble, Sally, so
don't be afraid."
"Well, I never! as if I minded trouble! You might ha' known me
better nor that. I've scoured master's room twice over, just to
make the boards look white, though the carpet is to cover them,
and now you go and cast up about me minding my trouble. If them's
the fashions you've learnt in Wales, I'm thankful I've never been
Sally looked red, indignant, and really hurt. Mr. Benson came in
with his musical voice and soft words of healing.
"Faith knows you don't care for trouble, Sally; she is only
anxious about this poor young woman, who has no friends but
ourselves. We know there will be more trouble in consequence of
her coming to stay with us; and I think, though we never spoke
about it, that in making our plans we reckoned on your kind help,
Sally, which has never failed us yet when we needed it."
"You've twice the sense of your sister, Master Thurstan, that you
have. Boys always has. It's truth there will be more trouble, and
I shall have my share on't, I reckon. I can face it if I'm told
out and out, but I cannot abide the way some folk has of denying
there's trouble or pain to be met; just as if their saying there
was none, would do away with it. Some folk treats one like a
babby, and I don't like it. I'm not meaning you, Master
"No, Sally, you need not say that. I know well enough who you
mean when you say 'some folk.' However, I admit I was wrong in
speaking as if you minded trouble, for there never was a creature
minded it less. But I want you to like Mrs. Denbigh," said Miss
"I dare say I should, if you'd let me alone. I did na like her
sitting down in master's chair. Set her up, indeed, in an
arm-chair wi' cushions! Wenches in my day were glad enough of
"She was tired to-night," said Mr. Benson. "We are all tired; so
if you have done your work, Sally, come in to reading."
The three quiet people knelt down side by side, and two of them
prayed earnestly for "them that had gone astray." Before ten
o'clock, the household were in bed. Ruth, sleepless, weary,
restless with the oppression of a sorrow which she dared not face
and contemplate bravely, kept awake all the early part of the
night. Many a time did she rise, and go to the long casement
window, and looked abroad over the still and quiet town--over the
grey stone walls, and chimneys, and old high-pointed roofs--on to
the far-away hilly line of the horizon, lying calm under the
bright moonshine. It was late in the morning when she woke from
her long-deferred slumbers; and when she went downstairs, she
found Mr. and Miss Benson awaiting her in the parlour. That
homely, pretty, old-fashioned little room! How bright and still
and clean it looked! The window (all the windows at the hack of
the house were casements) was open, to let in the sweet morning
air, and streaming eastern sunshine. The long jessamine sprays,
with their white-scented stars, forced themselves almost into the
room. The little square garden beyond, with grey stone walls all
round, was rich and mellow in its autumnal colouring, running
from deep crimson hollyhocks up to amber and gold nasturtiums,
and all toned down by the clear and delicate air. It was so
still, that the gossamer-webs, laden with dew, did not tremble or
quiver in the least; but the sun was drawing to himself the sweet
incense of many flowers, and the parlour was scented with the
odours of mignonette and stocks. Miss Benson was arranging a
bunch of China and damask roses in an old-fashioned jar; they
lay, all dewy and fresh, on the white breakfast-cloth when Ruth
entered. Mr. Benson was reading in some large folio. With gentle
morning speech they greeted her; but the quiet repose of the
scene was instantly broken by Sally popping in from the kitchen,
and glancing at Ruth with sharp reproach. She said--
"I reckon I may bring in breakfast, now?" with a strong emphasis
on the last word.
"I am afraid I am very late," said Ruth.
"Oh, never mind," said Mr. Benson gently. "It was our fault for
not telling you our breakfast hour. We always have prayers at
half-past seven; and for Sally's sake, we never vary from that
time; for she can so arrange her work, if she knows the hour of
prayers, as to have her mind calm and untroubled."
"Ahem!" said Miss Benson, rather inclined to "testify" against
the invariable calmness of Sally's mind at any hour of the day;
but her brother went on as if he did not hear her.
"But the breakfast does not signify being delayed a little; and I
am sure you were sadly tired with your long day yesterday."
Sally came slapping in, and put down some withered, tough, dry
"It's not my doing if it is like leather"; but as no one appeared
to hear her, she withdrew to her kitchen, leaving Ruth's cheeks
like crimson at the annoyance she had caused.
All day long, she had that feeling common to those who go to stay
at a fresh house among comparative strangers: a feeling of the
necessity that she should become accustomed to the new atmosphere
in which she was placed, before she could move and act freely; it
was, indeed, a purer ether, a diviner air, which she was
breathing in now, than what she had been accustomed to for long
months. The gentle, blessed mother, who had made her childhood's
home holy ground, was in her very nature so far removed from any
of earth's stains and temptation, that she seemed truly one of
"Who ask not if Thine eye Be on them; who, in love and truth,
Where no misgiving is, rely Upon the genial sense of youth."
In the Bensons' house there was the same unconsciousness of
individual merit, the same absence of introspection and analysis
of motive, as there had been in her mother; but it seemed that
their lives were pure and good, not merely from a lovely and
beautiful nature, but from some law, the obedience to which was,
of itself, harmonious peace, and which governed them almost
implicitly, and with as little questioning on their part, as the
glorious stars which haste not, rest not, in their eternal
obedience. This household had many failings: they were but human,
and, with all their loving desire to bring their lives into
harmony with the will of God, they often erred and fell short;
but, somehow, the very errors and faults of one individual served
to call out higher excellences in another, and so they reacted
upon each other, and the result of short discords was exceeding
harmony and peace. But they had themselves no idea of the real
state of things; they did not trouble themselves with marking
their progress by self-examination; if Mr. Benson did sometimes,
in hours of sick incapacity for exertion, turn inwards, it was to
cry aloud with almost morbid despair, "God be merciful to me a
sinner!" But he strove to leave his life in the hands of God, and
to forget himself.
Ruth sat still and quiet through the long first day. She was
languid and weary from her journey; she was uncertain what help
she might offer to give in the household duties, and what she
might not. And, in her languor and in her uncertainty, it was
pleasant to watch the new ways of the people among whom she was
placed. After breakfast, Mr. Benson withdrew to his study, Miss
Benson took away the cups and saucers, and leaving the
kitchen-door open, talked sometimes to Ruth, sometimes to Sally,
while she washed them up. Sally had upstairs duties to perform,
for which Ruth was thankful, as she kept receiving rather angry
glances for her unpunctuality as long as Sally remained
downstairs. Miss Benson assisted in the preparation for the early
dinner, and brought some kidney-beans to shred into a basin of
bright, pure spring-water, which caught and danced in the
sunbeams as she sat near the open casement of the parlour,
talking to Ruth of things and people which as yet the latter did
not understand, and could not arrange and comprehend. She was
like a child who gets a few pieces of a dissected map, and is
confused until a glimpse of the whole unity is shown him. Mr. and
Mrs. Bradshaw were the centre pieces in Ruth's map; their
children, their servants, were the accessories; and one or two
other names were occasionally mentioned. Ruth wondered and almost
wearied at Miss Benson's perseverance in talking to her about
people whom she did not know; but, in truth, Miss Benson heard
the long-drawn, quivering sighs which came from the poor heavy
heart, when it was left to silence, and had leisure to review the
past; and her quick accustomed ear caught also the low mutterings
of the thunder in the distance, in the shape of Sally's
soliloquies, which, like the asides at a theatre, were intended
to be heard. Suddenly, Miss Benson called Ruth out of the room
upstairs into her own bed-chamber, and then began rummaging in
little old-fashioned boxes, drawn out of an equally old-fashioned
bureau, half-desk, half-table, and wholly drawers.
"My dear, I've been very stupid and thoughtless. Oh! I'm so glad
I thought of it before Mrs. Bradshaw came to call. Here it is!"
and she pulled out an old wedding-ring, and hurried it on Ruth's
finger. Ruth hung down her head, and reddened deep with shame;
her eyes smarted with the hot tears that filled them. Miss Benson
talked on, in a nervous hurried way--
"It was my grandmother's; it's very broad; they made them so
then, to hold a posy inside: there's one in that--
'Thine own sweetheart Till death doth part,'
I think it is. There, there! Run away, and look as if you'd
always worn it." Ruth went up to her room, and threw herself down
on her knees by the bedside, and cried as if her heart would
break; and then, as if a light had come down into her soul, she
calmed herself and prayed--no words can tell how humbly, and with
what earnest feeling. When she came down, she was tearstained and
wretchedly pale; but even Sally looked at her with new eyes,
because of the dignity with which she was invested by an
earnestness of purpose which had her child for its object. She
sat and thought, but she no longer heaved those bitter sighs
which had wrung Miss Benson's heart in the morning. In this way
the day wore on; early dinner, early tea seemed to make it
preternaturally long to Ruth; the only event was some unexplained
absence of Sally's, who had disappeared out of the house in the
evening, much to Miss Benson's surprise, and somewhat to her
At night, after Ruth had gone up to her room, this absence was
explained to her at least. She had let down her long waving
glossy hair, and was standing absorbed in thought in the middle
of the room, when she heard a round clumping knock at her door,
different from that given by the small knuckles of delicate
fingers, and in walked Sally, with a judge-like severity of
demeanour, holding in her hand two widow's caps of commonest make
and coarsest texture. Queen Eleanor herself, when she presented
the bowl to Fair Rosamond, had not a more relentless purpose
stamped on her demeanour than had Sally at this moment. She
walked up to the beautiful, astonished Ruth, where she stood in
her long, soft, white dressing-gown, with all her luxuriant brown
hair hanging dishevelled down her figure, and thus Sally spoke--
"Missus--or miss, as the case may be--I've my doubts as to you.
I'm not going to have my master and Miss Faith put upon, or shame
come near them. Widows wears these sort o' caps, and has their
hair cut off; and whether widows wears wedding-rings or not, they
shall have their hair cut off--they shall. I'll have no half work
in this house. I've lived with the family forty-nine year come
Michaelmas, and I'll not see it disgraced by any one's fine long
curls. Sit down and let me snip off your hair; and let me see you
sham decently in a widow's cap to-morrow, or I'll leave the
house. Whatten's come over Miss Faith, as used to be as mim a
lady as ever was, to be taken by such as you, I dunnot know. Here
I sit down with ye, and let me crop you."
She laid no light hand on Ruth's shoulder; and the latter, partly
intimidated by the old servant, who had hitherto only turned her
vixen lining to observation, and partly because she was
broken-spirited enough to be indifferent to the measure proposed,
quietly sat down. Sally produced the formidable pair of scissors
that always hung at her side, and began to cut in a merciless
manner. She expected some remonstrance or some opposition, and
had a torrent of words ready to flow forth at the least sign of
rebellion; but Ruth was still and silent, with meekly-bowed head,
under the strange hands that were shearing her beautiful hair
into the clipped shortness of a boy's. Long before she had
finished, Sally had some slight misgivings as to the fancied
necessity of her task; but it was too late, for half the curls
were gone, and the rest must now come off. When she had done, she
lifted up Ruth's face by placing her hand under the round white
chin. She gazed into the countenance, expecting to read some
anger there, though it had not come out in words; but she only
met the large, quiet eyes, that looked at her with sad gentleness
out of their finely-hollowed orbits. Ruth's soft, yet dignified
submission, touched Sally with compunction, though she did not
choose to show the change in her feelings. She tried to hide it
indeed, by stooping to pick up the long bright tresses; and,
holding them up admiringly, and letting them drop down and float
on the air (like the pendent branches of the weeping birch) she
said: "I thought we should ha' had some crying--I did. They're
pretty curls enough; you've not been so bad to let them be cut
off neither. You see, Master Thurstan is no wiser than a babby in
some things; and Miss Faith just lets him have his own way; so
it's all left to me to keep him out of scrapes. I'll wish you a
very good night. I've heard many a one say as long hair was not
wholesome. Good night."
But in a minute she popped her head into Ruth's room once more--
"You'll put on them caps to-morrow morning. I'll make you a
present on them."
Sally had carried away the beautiful curls, and she could not
find it in her heart to throw such lovely chestnut tresses away,
so she folded them up carefully in paper, and placed them in a
safe corner of her drawer.
RUTH'S FIRST SUNDAY AT ECCLESTON
Ruth felt very shy when she came down (at half-past seven) the
next morning, in her widow's cap. Her smooth, pale face, with its
oval untouched by time, looked more young and childlike than
ever, when contrasted with the head-gear usually associated with
ideas of age. She blushed very deeply as Mr. and Miss Benson
showed the astonishment, which they could not conceal, in their
looks. She said in a low voice to Miss Benson--
"Sally thought I had better wear it."
Miss Benson made no reply; but was startled at the intelligence,
which she thought was conveyed in this speech, of Sally's
acquaintance with Ruth's real situation. She noticed Sally's
looks particularly this morning. The manner in which the old
servant treated Ruth had in it far more of respect than there had
been the day before; but there was a kind of satisfied way of
braving out Miss Benson's glances which made the latter uncertain
and uncomfortable. She followed her brother into his study.
"Do you know, Thurstan, I am almost certain Sally suspects."
Mr. Benson sighed. That deception grieved him, and yet he thought
he saw its necessity.
"What makes you think so?" asked he.
"Oh! many little things. It was her odd way of ducking her head
about, as if to catch a good view of Ruth's left hand, that made
me think of the wedding-ring; and once, yesterday, when I thought
I had made up quite a natural speech, and was saying how sad it
was for so young a creature to be left a widow she broke in with
'widow be farred!' in a very strange, contemptuous kind of
"If she suspects, we had far better tell her the truth at once.
She will never rest till she finds it out, so we must make a
virtue of necessity."
"Well, brother, you shall tell her then, for I am sure I daren't.
I don't mind doing the thing, since you talked to me that day,
and since I have got to know Ruth; but I do mind all the clatter
people will make about it."
"But Sally is not 'people.'"
"Oh, I see it must be done; she'll talk as much as all the other
persons put together, so that's the reason I call her 'people.'
Shall I call her?" (For the house was too homely and primitive to
Sally came, fully aware of what was now going to be told her, and
determined not to help them out in telling their awkward secret,
by understanding the nature of it before it was put into the
plainest language. In every pause, when they hoped she had caught
the meaning they were hinting at, she persisted in looking stupid
and perplexed, and in saying, "Well," as if quite unenlightened
as to the end of the story. When it was all complete and before
her, she said, honestly enough--
"It's just as I thought it was; and I think you may thank me for
having had the sense to put her into widow's caps, and clip off
that bonny brown hair that was fitter for a bride in lawful
matrimony than for such as her. She took it very well, though.
She was as quiet as a lamb, and I clipped her pretty roughly at
first. I must say, though, if I'd ha' known who your visitor was,
I'd ha' packed up my things and cleared myself out of the house
before such as her came into it. As it's done, I suppose I must
stand by you, and help you through with it; I only hope I sha'n't
lose my character--and me a parish-clerk's daughter!"
"O Sally! people know you too well to think any ill of you," said
Miss Benson, who was pleased to find the difficulty so easily got
over; for, in truth, Sally had been much softened by the
unresisting gentleness with which Ruth had submitted to the
"clipping" of the night before.
"If I'd been with you, Master Thurstan, I'd ha' seen sharp after
you, for you're always picking up some one or another as nobody
else would touch with a pair of tongs. Why, there was that Nelly
Brandon's child as was left at our door, if I hadn't gone to th'
overseer we should have had that Irish tramp's babby saddled on
us for life; but I went off and told th' overseer, and the mother
"Yes," said Mr. Benson sadly, "and I often lie awake and wonder
what is the fate of that poor little thing, forced back on the
mother who tried to get quit of it. I often doubt whether I did
right; but it's no use thinking about it now."
"I'm thankful it isn't," said Sally; "and now, if we've talked
doctrine long enough, I'll make th' beds. Yon girl's secret is
safe enough for me."
Saying this she left the room, and Miss Benson followed. She
found Ruth busy washing the breakfast things; and they were done
in so quiet and orderly a manner, that neither Miss Benson nor
Sally, both particular enough, had any of their little fancies or
prejudices annoyed. She seemed to have an instinctive knowledge
of the exact period when her help was likely to become a
hindrance, and withdrew from the busy kitchen just at the right
That afternoon, as Miss Benson and Ruth sat at their work, Mrs.
and Miss Bradshaw called. Miss Benson was so nervous as to
surprise Ruth, who did not understand the probable and possible
questions which might be asked respecting any visitor at the
minister's house. Ruth went on sewing, absorbed in her own
thoughts, and glad that the conversation between the two elder
ladies and the silence of the younger one, who sat at some
distance from her, gave her an opportunity of retreating into the
haunts of memory; and soon the work fell from her hands, and her
eyes were fixed on the little garden beyond, but she did not see
its flowers or its walls; she saw the mountains which girdled
Llan-dhu, and saw the sun rise from behind their iron outline,
just as it had done--how long ago? was it months or was it
years?--since she had watched the night through, crouched up at
his door. Which was the dream and which the reality? that distant
life or this? His moans rang more clearly in her ears than the
buzzing of the conversation between Mrs. Bradshaw and Miss
At length the subdued, scared-looking little lady and her
bright-eyed silent daughter rose to take leave; Ruth started into
the present, and stood up and curtseyed, and turned sick at heart
with sudden recollection.
Miss Benson accompanied Mrs. Bradshaw to the door; and in the
passage gave her a long explanation of Ruth's (fictitious)
history. Mrs. Bradshaw looked so much interested and pleased,
that Miss Benson enlarged a little more than was necessary, and
rounded off her invention with one or two imaginary details,
which, she was quite unconscious, were overheard by her brother
through the half-open study door.
She was rather dismayed when he called her into his room after
Mrs. Bradshaw's departure, and asked her what she had been saying
"Oh! I thought it was better to explain it thoroughly--I mean, to
tell the story we wished to have believed once for all--you know
we agreed about that, Thurstan?" deprecatingly.
"Yes; but I heard you saying you believed her husband had been a
young surgeon, did I not?"
"Well, Thurstan, you know he must have been something; and young
surgeons are so in the way of dying, it seemed very natural.
Besides," said she with sudden boldness, "I do think I've a
talent for fiction, it is so pleasant to invent, and make the
incidents dovetail together; and after all, if we are to tell a
lie, we may as well do it thoroughly, or else it's of no use. A
bungling lie would be worse than useless. And, Thurstan--it may
be very wrong--but I believe--I am afraid I enjoy not being
fettered by truth. Don't look so grave. You know it is necessary,
if ever it was, to tell falsehoods now; and don't be angry with
me because I do it well."
He was shading his eyes with his hand, and did not speak for some
time. At last he said--
"If it were not for the child, I would tell all; but the world is
so cruel. You don't know how this apparent necessity for
falsehood pains me, Faith, or you would not invent all these
details, which are so many additional lies."
"Well, well! I will restrain myself if I have to talk about Ruth
again. But Mrs. Bradshaw will tell every one who need to know.
You don't wish me to contradict it, Thurstan, surely--it was such
a pretty, probable story."
"Faith! I hope God will forgive us if we are doing wrong; and
pray, dear, don't add one unnecessary word that is not true."
Another day elapsed, and then it was Sunday: and the house seemed
filled with a deep peace. Even Sally's movements were less hasty
and abrupt. Mr. Benson seemed invested with a new dignity, which
made his bodily deformity be forgotten in his calm, grave
composure of spirit. Every trace of week-day occupation was put
away; the night before, a bright new handsome tablecloth had been
smoothed down over the table, and the jars had been freshly
filled with flowers. Sunday was a festival and a holyday in the
house. After the very early breakfast, little feet pattered into
Mr. Benson's study, for he had a class for boys--a sort of
domestic Sunday-school, only that there was more talking between
teachers and pupils, than dry, absolute lessons going on. Miss
Benson, too, had her little, neat-tippeted maidens sitting with
her in the parlour; and she was far more particular in keeping
them to their reading and spelling than her brother was with his
boys. Sally, too, put in her word of instruction from the
kitchen, helping, as she fancied, though her assistance was often
rather malapropos; for instance, she called out, to a little fat,
stupid, roly-poly girl, to whom Miss Benson was busy explaining
the meaning of the word quadruped--
"Quadruped, a thing wi' four legs, Jenny; a chair is a quadruped,
But Miss Benson had a deaf manner sometimes when her patience was
not too severely tried, and she put it on now. Ruth sat on a low
hassock, and coaxed the least of the little creatures to her, and
showed it pictures till it fell asleep in her arms, and sent a
thrill through her, at the thought of the tiny darling who would
lie on her breast before long, and whom she would have to cherish
and to shelter from the storms of the world.
And then she remembered, that she was once white and sinless as
the wee lassie who lay in her arms; and she knew that she had
gone astray. By-and-by the children trooped away, and Miss Benson
summoned her to put on her things for chapel.
The chapel was up a narrow street, or rather cul-de-sac, close
by. It stood on the outskirts of the town, almost in fields. It
was built about the time of Matthew and Philip Henry, when the
Dissenters were afraid of attracting attention or observation,
and hid their places of worship in obscure and out-of-the-way
parts of the towns in which they were built. Accordingly, it
often happened, as in the present case, that the buildings
immediately surrounding, as well as the chapels themselves,
looked as if they carried you back to a period a hundred and
fifty years ago. The chapel had a picturesque and old-world look,
for luckily the congregation had been too poor to rebuild it, or
new-face it, in George the Third's time. The staircases which led
to the galleries were outside, at each end of the building, and
the irregular roof and worn stone steps looked grey and stained
by time and weather. The grassy hillocks, each with a little
upright headstone, were shaded by a grand old wych-elm. A
lilac-bush or two, a white rose-tree, and a few laburnums, all
old and gnarled enough, were planted round the chapel yard; and
the casement windows of the chapel were made of heavy-leaded,
diamond-shaped panes, almost covered with ivy, producing a green
gloom, not without its solemnity, within. This ivy was the home
of an infinite number of little birds, which twittered and
warbled, till it might have been thought that they were emulous
of the power of praise possessed by the human creatures within,
with such earnest, long-drawn strains did this crowd of winged
songsters rejoice and be glad in their beautiful gift of life.
The interior of the building was plain and simple as plain and
simple could be. When it was fitted up, oak-timber was much
cheaper than it is now, so the wood-work was all of that
description; but roughly hewed, for the early builders had not
much wealth to spare. The walls were whitewashed, and were
recipients of the shadows of the beauty without; on their "white
plains" the tracery of the ivy might be seen, now still, now
stirred by the sudden flight of some little bird. The
congregation consisted of here and there a farmer with his
labourers, who came down from the uplands beyond the town to
worship where their fathers worshipped, and who loved the place
because they knew how much those fathers had suffered for it,
although they never troubled themselves with the reason why they
left the parish church; and of a few shopkeepers, far more
thoughtful and reasoning, who were Dissenters from conviction,
unmixed with old ancestral association; and of one or two
families of still higher worldly station. With many poor, who
were drawn there by love for Mr. Benson's character, and by a
feeling that the faith which made him what he was could not be
far wrong, for the base of the pyramid, and with Mr. Bradshaw for
its apex, the congregation stood complete.
The country people came in sleeking down their hair, and treading
with earnest attempts at noiseless lightness of step over the
floor of the aisle; and, by-and-by, when all were assembled, Mr.
Benson followed, unmarshalled and unattended. When he had closed
the pulpit-door, and knelt in prayer for an instant or two, he
gave out a psalm from the dear old Scottish paraphrase, with its
primitive inversion of the simple perfect Bible words; and a kind
of precentor stood up, and, having sounded the note on a
pitch-pipe, sang a couple of lines by way of indicating the tune;
then all the congregation stood up, and sang aloud, Mr.
Bradshaw's great bass voice being half a note in advance of the
others, in accordance with his place of precedence as principal
member of the congregation. His powerful voice was like an organ
very badly played, and very much out of tune; but as he had no
ear, and no diffidence, it pleased him very much to hear the fine
loud sound. He was a tall, large-boned, iron man; stern,
powerful, and authoritative in appearance; dressed in clothes of
the finest broadcloth, and scrupulously ill-made, as if to show
that he was indifferent to all outward things. His wife was sweet
and gentle-looking, but as if she was thoroughly broken into
Ruth did not see this, or hear aught but the words which were
reverently--oh, how reverently!--spoken by Mr. Benson. He had had
Ruth present in his thoughts all the time he had been preparing
for his Sunday duty; and he had tried carefully to eschew
everything which she might feel as an allusion to her own case.
He remembered how the Good Shepherd, in Poussin's beautiful
picture, tenderly carried the lambs which had wearied themselves
by going astray, and felt how like tenderness was required
towards poor Ruth. But where is the chapter which does not
contain something which a broken and contrite spirit may not
apply to itself? And so it fell out that, as he read, Ruth's
heart was smitten, and she sank down, and down, till she was
kneeling on the floor of the pew, and speaking to God in the
spirit, if not in the words, of the Prodigal Son: "Father! I have
sinned against Heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to
be called Thy child!" Miss Benson was thankful (although she
loved Ruth the better for this self-abandonment) that the
minister's seat was far in the shade of the gallery. She tried to
look most attentive to her brother, in order that Mr. Bradshaw
might not suspect anything unusual, while she stealthily took
hold of Ruth's passive hand, as it lay helpless on the cushion,
and pressed it softly and tenderly. But Ruth sat on the ground,
bowed down and crushed in her sorrow, till all was ended.
Miss Benson loitered in her seat, divided between the
consciousness that she, as locum tenens for the minister's wife,
was expected to be at the door to receive the kind greetings of
many after her absence from home, and her unwillingness to
disturb Ruth, who was evidently praying, and, by her quiet
breathing, receiving grave and solemn influences into her soul.
At length she rose up, calm and composed even to dignity. The
chapel was still and empty; but Miss Benson heard the buzz of
voices in the chapel-yard without. They were probably those of
people waiting for her; and she summoned courage, and taking
Ruth's arm in hers, and holding her hand affectionately, they
went out into the broad daylight. As they issued forth, Miss
Benson heard Mr. Bradshaw's strong bass voice speaking to her
brother, and winced, as she knew he would be wincing, under the
broad praise, which is impertinence, however little it may be
intended or esteemed as such.
"Oh, yes!--my wife told me yesterday about her--her husband was a
surgeon; my father was a surgeon too, as I think you have heard.
Very much to your credit, I must say, Mr. Benson, with your
limited means, to burden yourself with a poor relation. Very
Miss Benson glanced at Ruth; she either did not hear or did not
understand, but passed on into the awful sphere of Mr. Bradshaw's
observation unmoved. He was in a bland and condescending humour
of universal approval, and when he saw Ruth he nodded his head in
token of satisfaction. That ordeal was over, Miss Benson thought,
and in the thought rejoiced.
"After dinner, you must go and lie down, my dear," said she,
untying Ruth's bonnet-strings, and kissing her. "Sally goes to
church again, but you won't mind staying alone in the house. I am
sorry we have so many people to dinner; but my brother will
always have enough on Sundays for any old or weak people, who may
have come from a distance, to stay and dine with us; and to-day
they all seem to have come, because it is his first Sabbath at
In this way Ruth's first Sunday passed over.
MOTHER AND CHILD
"Here is a parcel for you, Ruth!" said Miss Benson on the Tuesday
"For me!" said Ruth, all sorts of rushing thoughts and hopes
filling her mind, and turning her dizzy with expectation. If it
had been from "him," the new-born resolutions would have had a
bard struggle for existence.
"It is directed 'Mrs. Denbigh,'" said Miss Benson, before giving
it up. "It is in Mrs. Bradshaw's handwriting;" and, far more
curious than Ruth, she awaited the untying of the close-knotted
string. When the paper was opened, it displayed a whole piece of
delicate cambric muslin; and there was a short note from Mrs.
Bradshaw to Ruth, saying her husband had wished her to send this
muslin in aid of any preparations Mrs. Denbigh might have to
make. Ruth said nothing, but coloured up, and sat down again to
"Very fine muslin, indeed," said Miss Benson, feeling it, and
holding it up against the light, with the air of a connoisseur;
yet all the time she was glancing at Ruth's grave face. The
latter kept silence, and showed no wish to inspect her present
further. At last she said, in a low voice--
"I suppose I may send it back again?"
"My dear child! send it back to Mr. Bradshaw! You'd offend him
for life. You may depend upon it, he means it as a mark of high
"What right had he to send it me?" asked Ruth, still in her quiet
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