Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 4 out of 9
"What right? Mr. Bradshaw thinks----I don't know exactly what
you mean by 'right.'"
Ruth was silent for a moment, and then said--
"There are people to whom I love to feel that I owe
gratitude--gratitude which I cannot express, and had better not
talk about--but I cannot see why a person whom I do not know
should lay me under an obligation. Oh! don't say I must take this
muslin, please, Miss Benson!"
What Miss Benson might have said if her brother had not just then
entered the room, neither he nor any other person could tell; but
she felt his presence was most opportune, and called him in as
umpire. He had come hastily, for he had much to do; but he no
sooner heard the case than he sat down, and tried to draw some
more explicit declaration of her feeling from Ruth, who had
remained silent during Miss Benson's explanation.
"You would rather send this present back?" said he.
"Yes," she answered softly. "Is it wrong?"
"Why do you want to return it?"
"Because I feel as if Mr. Bradshaw had no right to offer it me."
Mr. Benson was silent.
"It's beautifully fine," said Miss Benson, still examining the
"You think that it is a right which must be earned?"
"Yes," said she, after a minute's pause. "Don't you?"
"I understand what you mean. It is a delight to have gifts made
to you by those whom you esteem and love, because then such gifts
are merely to be considered as fringes to the garment--as
inconsiderable additions to the mighty treasure of their
affection, adding a grace, but no additional value, to what
before was precious, and proceeding as naturally out of that as
leaves burgeon out upon the trees; but you feel it to be
different when there is no regard for the giver to idealise the
gift--when it simply takes its stand among your property as so
much money's value. Is this it, Ruth?"
"I think it is. I never reasoned why I felt as I did; I only knew
that Mr. Bradshaw's giving me a present hurt me, instead of
making me glad."
"Well, but there is another side of the case we have not looked
at yet--we must think of that, too. You know who said, 'Do unto
others as ye would that they should do unto you'? Mr. Bradshaw
may not have had that in his mind when he desired his wife to
send you this; he may have been self-seeking, and only anxious to
gratify his love of patronising--that is the worst motive we can
give him; and that would be no excuse for your thinking only of
yourself, and returning his present."
"But you would not have me pretend to be obliged?" asked Ruth.
"No, I would not. I have often been similarly situated to you,
Ruth; Mr. Bradshaw has frequently opposed me on the points on
which I feel the warmest--am the most earnestly convinced. He, no
doubt, thinks me Quixotic, and often speaks of me, and to me,
with great contempt when he is angry. I suppose he has a little
fit of penitence afterwards, or perhaps he thinks he can pay for
ungracious speeches by a present; so, formerly, he invariably
sent me something after these occasions. It was a time, of all
others, to feel as you are doing now; but I became convinced it
would be right to accept them, giving only the very cool thanks
which I felt. This omission of all show of much gratitude had the
best effect--the presents have much diminished; but, if the gifts
have lessened, the unjustifiable speeches have decreased in still
greater proportion, and I am sure we respect each other more.
Take this muslin, Ruth, for the reason I named; and thank him as
your feelings prompt you. Overstrained expressions of gratitude
always seem like an endeavour to place the receiver of these
expressions in the position of debtor for future favours. But you
won't fall into this error."
Ruth listened to Mr. Benson; but she had not yet fallen
sufficiently into the tone of his mind to understand him fully.
She only felt that he comprehended her better than Miss Benson,
who once more tried to reconcile her to her present, by calling
her attention to the length and breadth thereof.
"I will do what you wish me," she said, after a little pause of
"May we talk of something else?"
Mr. Benson saw that his sister's frame of mind was not
particularly congenial with Ruth's, any more than Ruth's was with
Miss Benson's; and, putting aside all thought of returning to the
business which had appeared to him so important when he came into
the room (but which principally related to himself), he remained
above an hour in the parlour, interesting them on subjects far
removed from the present, and left them at the end of that time
soothed and calm.
But the present gave a new current to Ruth's ideas. Her heart was
as yet too sore to speak, but her mind was crowded with plans.
She asked Sally to buy her (with the money produced by the sale
of a ring or two) the coarsest linen, the homeliest dark blue
print, and similar materials; on which she set busily to work to
make clothes for herself; and as they were made, she put them on;
and as she put them on, she gave a grace to each, which such
homely material and simple shaping had never had before. Then the
fine linen and delicate soft white muslin, which she had chosen
in preference to more expensive articles of dress when Mr.
Bellingham had given her carte blanche in London, were cut into
small garments, most daintily stitched and made ready for the
little creature, for whom in its white purity of soul nothing
could be too precious.
The love which dictated this extreme simplicity and coarseness of
attire, was taken for stiff, hard economy by Mr. Bradshaw, when
he deigned to observe it. And economy by itself, without any soul
or spirit in it to make it living and holy, was a great merit in
his eyes. Indeed, Ruth altogether found favour with him. Her
quiet manner, subdued by an internal consciousness of a deeper
cause for sorrow than he was aware of, he interpreted into a very
proper and becoming awe of him. He looked off from his own
prayers to observe how well she attended to hers at chapel; when
he came to any verse in the hymn relating to immortality or a
future life, he sung it unusually loud, thinking he should thus
comfort her in her sorrow for her deceased husband. He desired
Mrs. Bradshaw to pay her every attention she could; and even once
remarked, that he thought her so respectable a young person that
he should not object to her being asked to tea the next time Mr.
and Miss Benson came. He added, that he thought, indeed, Benson
had looked last Sunday as if he rather hoped to get an
invitation; and it was right to encourage the ministers, and to
show them respect, even though their salaries were small. The
only thing against this Mrs. Denbigh was the circumstance of her
having married too early, and without any provision for a family.
Though Ruth pleaded delicacy of health, and declined accompanying
Mr. and Miss Benson on their visit to Mr. Bradshaw, she still
preserved her place in his esteem; and Miss Benson had to call a
little upon her "talent for fiction" to spare Ruth from the
infliction of further presents, in making which his love of
The yellow and crimson leaves came floating down on the still
October air; November followed, bleak and dreary; it was more
cheerful when the earth put on her beautiful robe of white, which
covered up all the grey naked stems, and loaded the leaves of the
hollies and evergreens each with its burden of feathery snow.
When Ruth sat down to languor and sadness, Miss Benson trotted
upstairs, and rummaged up every article of spare or worn-out
clothing, and bringing down a variety of strange materials, she
tried to interest Ruth in making them up into garments for the
poor. But, though Ruth's fingers flew through the work, she still
sighed with thought and remembrance. Miss Benson was at first
disappointed, and then she was angry. When she heard the low,
long sigh, and saw the dreamy eyes filling with glittering tears,
she would say, "What is the matter, Ruth?" in a half-reproachful
tone, for the sight of suffering was painful to her; she had done
all in her power to remedy it; and, though she acknowledged a
cause beyond her reach for Ruth's deep sorrow, and, in fact,
loved and respected her all the more for these manifestations of
grief, yet at the time they irritated her. Then Ruth would snatch
up the dropped work, and stitch away with drooping eyes, from
which the hot tears fell fast; and Miss Benson was then angry
with herself, yet not at all inclined to agree with Sally when
she asked her mistress "why she kept 'mithering' the poor lass
with asking her for ever what was the matter, as if she did not
know well enough." Some element of harmony was wanting--some
little angel of peace, in loving whom all hearts and natures
should be drawn together, and their discords hushed. The earth
was still "hiding her guilty front with innocent snow," when a
little baby was laid by the side of the pale, white mother. It
was a boy; beforehand she had wished for a girl, as being less
likely to feel the want of a father--as being what a mother,
worse than widowed, could most effectually shelter. But now she
did not think or remember this. What it was, she would not have
exchanged for a wilderness of girls. It was her own, her darling,
her individual baby, already, though not an hour old, separate
and sole in her heart, strangely filling up its measure with love
and peace, and even hope. For here was a new, pure, beautiful,
innocent life, which she fondly imagined, in that early passion
of maternal love, she could guard from every touch of corrupting
sin by ever watchful and most tender care. And her mother had
thought the same, most probably; and thousands of others think
the same, and pray to God to purify and cleanse their souls, that
they may be fit guardians for their little children. Oh, how Ruth
prayed, even while she was yet too weak to speak; and how she
felt the beauty and significance of the words, "Our Father!"
She was roused from this holy abstraction by the sound of Miss
Benson's voice. It was very much as if she had been crying.
"Look, Ruth!" it said softly, "my brother sends you these. They
are the first snowdrops in the garden." And she put them on the
pillow by Ruth; the baby lay on the opposite side.
"Won't you look at him?" said Ruth; "he is so pretty!"
Miss Benson had a strange reluctance to see him. To Ruth, in
spite of all that had come and gone, she was reconciled--nay,
more, she was deeply attached; but over the baby there hung a
cloud of shame and disgrace. Poor little creature! her heart was
closed against it--firmly, as she thought. But she could not
resist Ruth's low faint voice, nor her pleading eyes, and she
went round to peep at him as he lay on his mother's arm, as yet
his shield and guard.
"Sally says he will have black hair, she thinks," said Ruth. "His
little hand is quite a man's, already. Just feel how firmly he
closes it;" and with her own weak fingers she opened his little
red fist, and taking Miss Benson's reluctant hand, placed one of
her fingers in his grasp. That baby-touch called out her love;
the doors of her heart were thrown open wide for the little
infant to go in and take possession.
"Ah, my darling!" said Ruth, failing back weak and weary. "If God
will but spare you to me, never mother did more than I will. I
have done you a grievous wrong--but, if I may but live, I will
spend my life in serving you!"
"And in serving God!" said Miss Benson, with tears in her eyes.
"You must not make him into an idol, or God will, perhaps, punish
you through him."
A pang of affright shot through Ruth's heart at these words; had
she already sinned and made her child into an idol, and was there
punishment already in store for her through him? But then the
internal voice whispered that God was "Our Father," and that He
knew our frame, and knew how natural was the first outburst of a
mother's love; so, although she treasured up the warning, she
ceased to affright herself for what had already gushed forth.
"Now go to sleep, Ruth," said Miss Benson, kissing her, and
darkening the room. But Ruth could not sleep; if her heavy eyes
closed, she opened them again with a start, for sleep seemed to
be an enemy stealing from her the consciousness of being a
mother. That one thought excluded all remembrance and all
anticipation, in those first hours of delight.
But soon remembrance and anticipation came. There was the natural
want of the person, who alone could take an interest similar in
kind, though not in amount, to the mother's. And sadness grew
like a giant in the still watches of the night, when she
remembered that there would be no father to guide and strengthen
the child, and place him in a favourable position for fighting
the hard "Battle of Life." She hoped and believed that no one
would know the sin of his parents; and that that struggle might
be spared to him. But a father's powerful care and mighty
guidance would never be his; and then, in those hours of
spiritual purification, came the wonder and the doubt of how far
the real father would be the one to whom, with her desire of
heaven for her child, whatever might become of herself, she would
wish to intrust him. Slight speeches, telling of a selfish,
worldly nature, unnoticed at the time, came back upon her ear,
having a new significance. They told of a low standard, of
impatient self-indulgence, of no acknowledgment of things
spiritual and heavenly. Even while this examination was forced
upon her, by the new spirit of maternity that had entered into
her and made her child's welfare supreme, she hated and
reproached herself for the necessity there seemed upon her of
examining and judging the absent father of her child. And so the
compelling presence that had taken possession of her wearied her
into a kind of feverish slumber; in which she dreamt that the
innocent babe that lay by her side in soft ruddy slumber, had
started up into man's growth, and, instead of the pure and noble
being whom she had prayed to present as her child to "Our Father
in heaven," he was a repetition of his father; and, like him,
lured some maiden (who in her dream seemed strangely like
herself, only more utterly sad and desolate even than she) into
sin, and left her there to even a worse fate than that of
suicide. For Ruth believed there was a worse. She dreamt she saw
the girl, wandering, lost; and that she saw her son in high
places, prosperous--but with more than blood on his soul. She saw
her son dragged down by the clinging girl into some pit of
horrors into which she dared not look, but from whence his
father's voice was heard, crying aloud, that in his day and
generation he had not remembered the words of God, and that now
he was "tormented in this flame." Then she started in sick
terror, and saw, by the dim rushlight, Sally, nodding in an
armchair by the fire; and felt her little soft warm babe, nestled
up against her breast, rocked by her heart, which yet beat hard
from the effects of the evil dream. She dared not go to sleep
again, but prayed. And, every time she prayed, she asked with a
more complete wisdom, and a more utter and self-forgetting faith.
Little child! thy angel was with God, and drew her nearer and
nearer to Him, whose face is continually beheld by the angels of
SALLY TELLS OF HER SWEETHEARTS, AND DISCOURSES ON THE DUTIES OF
Sally and Miss Benson took it in turns to sit up, or rather, they
took it in turns to nod by the fire; for if Ruth was awake she
lay very still in the moonlight calm of her sick bed. That time
resembled a beautiful August evening, such as I have seen. The
white, snowy rolling mist covers up under its great sheet all
trees and meadows, and tokens of earth; but it cannot rise high
enough to shut out the heavens, which on such nights seem bending
very near, and to be the only real and present objects; and so
near, so real and present, did heaven, and eternity, and God seem
to Ruth, as she lay encircling her mysterious holy child.
One night Sally found out she was not asleep.
"I'm a rare hand at talking folks to sleep," said she. "I'll try
on thee, for thou must get strength by sleeping and eating. What
must I talk to thee about, I wonder. Shall I tell thee a love
story or a fairy story, such as I've telled Master Thurstan many
a time and many a time, for all his father set his face again
fairies, and called it vain talking; or shall I tell you the
dinner I once cooked, when Mr. Harding, as was Miss Faith's
sweetheart, came unlooked for, and we'd nought in the house but a
neck of mutton, out of which I made seven dishes, all with a
"Who was Mr. Harding?" asked Ruth.
"Oh, he was a grand gentleman from Lunnon, as had seen Miss
Faith, and been struck by her pretty looks when she was out on a
visit, and came here to ask her to marry him. She said, 'No, she
would never leave Master Thurstan, as could never marry;' but she
pined a deal at after he went away. She kept up afore Master
Thurstan, but I seed her fretting, though I never let on that I
did, for I thought she'd soonest get over it and be thankful at
after she'd the strength to do right. However, I've no business
to be talking of Miss Benson's concerns. I'll tell you of my own
sweethearts and welcome, or I'll tell you of the dinner, which
was the grandest thing I ever did in my life, but I thought a
Lunnoner should never think country folks knew nothing; and, my
word, I puzzled him with his dinner. I'm doubting whether to this
day he knows whether what he was eating was fish, flesh, or fowl.
Shall I tell you how I managed?"
But Ruth said she would rather hear about Sally's sweethearts;
much to the disappointment of the latter, who considered the
dinner by far the greatest achievement.
"Well, you see, I don't know as I should call them sweethearts;
for excepting John Rawson, who was shut up in a mad-house the
next week, I never had what you may call a downright offer of
marriage but once. But I had once; and so I may say I had a
sweetheart. I was beginning to be afeard though, for one likes to
be axed; that's but civility; and I remember, after I had turned
forty, and afore Jeremiah Dixon had spoken, I began to think John
Rawson had perhaps not been so very mad, and that I'd done ill to
lightly his offer, as a madman's, if it was to be the only one I
was ever to have; I don't mean as I'd have had him, but I
thought, if it was to come o'er again, I'd speak respectful of
him to folk, and say it were only his way to go about on
all-fours, but that he was a sensible man in most things. However
I'd had my laugh, and so had others, at my crazy lover, and it
was late now to set him up as a Solomon. However, I thought it
would be no bad thing to be tried again; but I little thought the
trial would come when it did. You see, Saturday night is a
leisure night in counting-houses and such-like places, while it's
the busiest of all for servants. Well! it was a Saturday night,
and I'd my baize apron on, and the tails of my bed-gown pinned
together behind, down on my knees, pipeclaying the kitchen, when
a knock comes to the back door. 'Come in!' says I; but it knocked
again, as if it were too stately to open the door for itself; so
I got up rather cross, and opened the door; and there stood Jerry
Dixon, Mr. Holt's head-clerk; only he was not head-clerk then. So
I stood, stopping up the door, fancying he wanted to speak to
master; but he kind of pushed past me, and telling me summut
about the weather (as if I could not see it for myself), he took
a chair, and sat down by the oven. 'Cool and easy!' thought I;
meaning hisself, not his place, which I knew must be pretty hot.
Well! it seemed no use standing waiting for my gentleman to go;
not that he had much to say either; but he kept twirling his hat
round and round, and smoothing the nap on't with the back of his
hand. So at last I squatted down to my work, and thinks I, I
shall be on my knees all ready if he puts up a prayer, for I knew
he was a Methodee by bringing-up, and had only lately turned to
master's way of thinking; and them Methodees are terrible hands
at unexpected prayers when one least looks for 'em. I can't say I
like their way of taking one by surprise, as it were; but then
I'm a parish-clerk's daughter, and could never demean myself to
dissenting fashions, always save and except Master Thurstan's,
bless him. However, I'd been caught once or twice unawares, so
this time I thought I'd be up to it, and I moved a dry duster
wherever I went, to kneel upon in case he began when I were in a
wet place. By-and-by I thought, if the man would pray it would be
a blessing, for it would prevent his sending his eyes after me
wherever I went; for when they takes to praying they shuts their
eyes, and quivers th' lids in a queer kind o' way--them
Dissenters does. I can speak pretty plain to you, for you're bred
in the Church like mysel', and must find it as out o' the way as
I do to be among dissenting folk. God forbid I should speak
disrespectful of Master Thurstan and Miss Faith, though; I never
think on them as Church or Dissenters, but just as Christians.
But to come back to Jerry. First, I tried always to be cleaning
at his back; but when he wheeled round, so as always to face me,
I thought I'd try a different game. So, says I, 'Master Dixon, I
ax your pardon, but I must pipeclay under your chair. Will you
please to move?' Well, he moved; and by-and-by I was at him again
with the same words; and at after that, again and again, till he
were always moving about wi' his chair behind him, like a snail
as carries its house on its back. And the great gaupus never seed
that I were pipeclaying the same places twice over. At last I got
desperate cross, he were so in my way; so I made two big crosses
on the tails of his brown coat; for you see, wherever he went, up
or down, he drew out the tails of his coat from under him, and
stuck them through the bars of the chair; and flesh and blood
could not resist pipeclaying them for him; and a pretty brushing
he'd have, I reckon, to get it off again. Well! at length he
clears his throat uncommon loud; so I spreads my duster, and
shuts my eyes all ready; but when nought comed of it, I opened my
eyes a little bit to see what he were about. My word! if there he
wasn't down on his knees right facing me, staring as hard as he
could. Well! I thought it would be hard work to stand that, if he
made a long ado; so I shut my eyes again, and tried to think
serious, as became what I fancied were coming; but forgive me!
but I thought why couldn't the fellow go in and pray wi' Master
Thurstan, as had always a calm spirit ready for prayer, instead
o' me who had my dresser to scour, let alone an apron to iron. At
last he says, says he, 'Sally! will you oblige me with your
hand?' So I thought it were, maybe, Methodee fashion to pray hand
in hand; and I'll not deny but I wished I'd washed it better
after blackleading the kitchen fire. I thought I'd better tell
him it were not so clean as I could wish, so says I, 'Master
Dixon, you shall have it, and welcome, if I may just go and wash
'em first.' But, says he, 'My dear Sally, dirty or clean, it's
all the same to me, seeing I'm only speaking in a figuring way.
What I'm asking on my bended knees is, that you'd please to be so
kind as to be my wedded wife; week after next will suit me, if
it's agreeable to you!' My word! I were up on my feet in an
instant! It were odd now, weren't it? I never thought of taking
the fellow, and getting married; for all, I'll not deny, I had
been thinking it would be agreeable to be axed. But all at once,
I couldn't abide the chap. 'Sir,' says I, trying to look
shamefaced as became the occasion, but for all that feeling a
twittering round my mouth that I were afeard might end in a
laugh--'Master Dixon, I'm obleeged to you for the compliment, and
thank ye all the same, but I think I'd prefer a single life.' He
looked mighty taken aback; but in a minute he cleared up, and was
as sweet as ever. He still kept on his knees, and I wished he'd
take himself up; but, I reckon, he thought it would give force to
his words; says he, 'Think again, my dear Sally. I've a
four-roomed house, and furniture conformable; and eighty pound a
year. You may never have such a chance again.' There were truth
enough in that, but it was not pretty in the man to say it; and
it put me up a bit. 'As for that, neither you nor I can tell,
Master Dixon. You're not the first chap as I've had down on his
knees afore me, axing me to marry him (you see I were thinking of
John Rawson, only I thought there were no need to say he were on
all-fours--it were truth he were on his knees, you know), and
maybe you'll not be the last. Anyhow, I've no wish to change my
condition just now.' 'I'll wait till Christmas,' says he. 'I've a
pig as will be ready for killing then, so I must get married
before that.' Well now! would you believe it? the pig was a
temptation. I'd a receipt for curing hams, as Miss Faith would
never let me try, saying the old way were good enough. However, I
resisted. Says I, very stern, because I felt I'd been wavering,
'Master Dixon, once for all, pig or no pig, I'll not marry you.
And if you'll take my advice, you'll get up off your knees. The
flags is but damp yet, and it would be an awkward thing to have
rheumatiz just before winter.' With that he got up, stiff enough.
He looked as sulky a chap as ever I clapped eyes on. And as he
were so black and cross, I thought I'd done well (whatever came
of the pig) to say 'No' to him. 'You may live to repent this,'
says he, very red. 'But I'll not be hard upon ye, I'll give you
another chance. I'll let you have the night to think about it,
and I'll just call in to hear your second thoughts, after chapel,
to-morrow.' Well now! did ever you hear the like! But that is the
way with all of them men, thinking so much of theirselves, and
that it's but ask and have. They've never had me, though; and I
shall be sixty-one next Martinmas, so there's not much time left
for them to try me, I reckon. Well! when Jeremiah said that he
put me up more than ever, and I says, 'My first thoughts, second
thoughts, and third thoughts is all one and the same; you've but
tempted me once, and that was when you spoke of your pig. But of
yoursel' you're nothing to boast on, and so I'll bid you good
night, and I'll keep my manners, or else, if I told the truth, I
should say it had been a great loss of time listening to you. But
I'll be civil--so good night.' He never said a word, but went off
as black as thunder, slamming the door after him. The master
called me in to prayers, but I can't say I could put my mind to
them, for my heart was beating so. However, it was a comfort to
have had an offer of holy matrimony; and though it flustered me,
it made me think more of myself. In the night, I began to wonder
if I'd not been cruel and hard to him. You see, I were
feverish-like; and the old song of Barbary Allen would keep
running in my head, and I thought I were Barbary, and he were
young Jemmy Gray, and that maybe he'd die for love of me; and I
pictured him to mysel', lying on his death-bed, with his face
turned to the wall 'wi' deadly sorrow sighing,' and I could ha'
pinched mysel' for having been so like cruel Barbary Allen. And
when I got up next day, I found it hard to think on the real
Jerry Dixon I had seen the night before, apart from the sad and
sorrowful Jerry I thought on a-dying, when I were between
sleeping and waking. And for many a day I turned sick, when I
heard the passing bell, for I thought it were the bell
loud-knelling which were to break my heart wi' a sense of what
I'd missed in saying 'No' to Jerry, and so idling him with
cruelty. But in less than a three week, I heard parish bells
a-ringing merrily for a wedding; and in the course of the
morning, some one says to me, 'Hark! how the bells is ringing for
Jerry Dixon's wedding!' And, all on a sudden, he changed back
again from a heart-broken young fellow, like Jemmy Gray, into a
stout, middle-aged man, ruddy-complexioned, with a wart on his
left cheek like life!"
Sally waited for some exclamation at the conclusion of her tale;
but receiving none, she stepped softly to the bedside, and there
lay Ruth, peaceful as death, with her baby on her breast.
"I thought I'd lost some of my gifts if I could not talk a body
to sleep," said Sally, in a satisfied and self-complacent tone.
Youth is strong and powerful, and makes a hard battle against
sorrow. So Ruth strove and strengthened, and her baby flourished
accordingly; and before the little celandines were out on the
hedge-banks, or the white violets had sent forth their fragrance
from the border under the south wall of Miss Benson's small
garden, Ruth was able to carry her baby into that sheltered place
on sunny days.
She often wished to thank Mr. Benson and his sister, but she did
not know how to tell the deep gratitude she felt, and therefore
she was silent. But they understood her silence well. One day, as
she watched her sleeping child, she spoke to Miss Benson, with
whom she happened to be alone.
"Do you know of any cottage where the people are clean, and where
they would not mind taking me in?" asked she.
"Taking you in! What do you mean?" said Miss Benson, dropping her
knitting, in order to observe Ruth more closely.
"I mean," said Ruth, "where I might lodge with my baby--any very
poor place would do, only it must be clean, or he might be ill."
"And what in the world do you want to go and lodge in a cottage
for?" said Miss Benson indignantly.
Ruth did not lift up her eyes, but she spoke with a firmness
which showed that she had considered the subject.
"I think I could make dresses. I know I did not learn as much as
I might, but perhaps I might do for servants and people who are
"Servants are as particular as any one," said Miss Benson, glad
to lay hold of the first objection that she could.
"Well! somebody who would be patient with me," said Ruth.
"Nobody is patient over an ill-fitting gown," put in Miss Benson.
"There's the stuff spoilt, and what not!"
"Perhaps I could find plain work to do," said Ruth, very meekly.
"That I can do very well; mamma taught me, and I liked to learn
from her. If you would be so good, Miss Benson, you might tell
people I could do plain work very neatly, and punctually, and
"You'd get sixpence a day, perhaps," said Miss Benson "and who
would take care of baby, I should like to know? Prettily he'd be
neglected, would not he? Why, he'd have the croup and the typhus
fever in no time, and be burnt to ashes after."
"I have thought of all. Look how he sleeps! Hush, darling;" for
just at this point he began to cry, and to show his determination
to be awake, as if in contradiction to his mother's words. Ruth
took him up, and carried him about the room while she went on
"Yes, just now I know he will not sleep; but very often he will,
and in the night he always does."
"And so you'd work in the night and kill yourself, and leave your
poor baby an orphan. Ruth! I'm ashamed of you. Now, brother" (Mr.
Benson had just come in), "is not this too bad of Ruth? here she
is planning to go away and leave us, just as we--as I, at
least--have grown so fond of baby, and he's beginning to know
"Where were you thinking of going to, Ruth?" interrupted Mr.
Benson, with mild surprise.
"Anywhere to be near you and Miss Benson; in any poor cottage
where I might lodge very cheaply, and earn my livelihood by
taking in plain sewing, and perhaps a little dressmaking; and
where I could come and see you and dear Miss Benson sometimes and
"If he was not dead before then of some fever, or burn, or scald,
poor neglected child, or you had not worked yourself to death
with never sleeping" said Miss Benson.
Mr. Benson thought a minute or two, and then he spoke to Ruth--
"Whatever you may do when this little fellow is a year old, and
able to dispense with some of a mother's care, let me beg you,
Ruth, as a favour to me--as a still greater favour to my sister,
is it not, Faith?"
"Yes; you may put it so if you like."
"To stay with us," continued he, "till then. When baby is twelve
months old, we'll talk about it again, and very likely before
then some opening may be shown us. Never fear leading an idle
life, Ruth. We'll treat you as a daughter, and set you all the
household tasks; and it is not for your sake that we ask you to
stay, but for this little dumb helpless child's: and it is not
for our sake that you must stay, but for his."
Ruth was sobbing.
"I do not deserve your kindness," said she, in a broken voice; "I
do not deserve it."
Her tears fell fast and soft like summer rain, but no further
word was spoken. Mr. Benson quietly passed on to make the inquiry
for which he had entered the room.
But when there was nothing to decide upon, and no necessity for
entering upon any new course of action, Ruth's mind relaxed from
its strung-up state. She fell into trains of reverie, and
mournful regretful recollections which rendered her languid and
tearful. This was noticed both by Miss Benson and Sally, and as
each had kind sympathies, and felt depressed when they saw any
one near them depressed, and as each, without much reasoning on
the cause or reason for such depression, felt irritated at the
uncomfortable state into which they themselves were thrown, they
both resolved to speak to Ruth on the next fitting occasion.
Accordingly, one afternoon--the morning of that day had been
spent by Ruth in house-work, for she had insisted on Mr. Benson's
words, and had taken Miss Benson's share of the more active and
fatiguing household duties, but she went through them heavily,
and as if her heart was far away--in the afternoon when she was
nursing her child, Sally, on coming into the back parlour, found
her there alone, and easily detected the fact that she was
"Where's Miss Benson?" asked Sally gruffly.
"Gone out with Mr. Benson," answered Ruth, with an absent sadness
in her voice and manner. Her tears, scarce checked while she
spoke, began to fall afresh; and as Sally stood and gazed she saw
the babe look hack in his mother's face, and his little lip begin
to quiver, and his open blue eye to grow overclouded, as with
some mysterious sympathy with the sorrowful face bent over him.
Sally took him briskly from his mother's arms; Ruth looked up in
grave surprise, for in truth she had forgotten Sally's presence,
and the suddenness of the motion startled her.
"My bonny boy! are they letting the salt tears drop on thy sweet
face before thou'rt weaned! Little somebody knows how to be a
mother--I could make a better myself. 'Dance, thumbkin,
dance--dance, ye merry men every one.' Ay, that's it! smile, my
pretty. Any one but a child like thee," continued she, turning to
Ruth, "would have known better than to bring ill-luck on thy
babby by letting tears fall on its face before it was weaned. But
thou'rt not fit to have a babby, and so I've said many a time.
I've a great mind to buy thee a doll, and take thy babby mysel'."
Sally did not look at Ruth, for she was too much engaged in
amusing the baby with the tassel of the string to the
window-blind, or else she would have seen the dignity which the
mother's soul put into Ruth at that moment. Sally was quelled
into silence by the gentle composure, the self-command over her
passionate sorrow, which gave to Ruth an unconscious grandeur of
demeanour as she came up to the old servant.
"Give him back to me, please. I did not know it brought ill-luck,
or if my heart broke I would not have let a tear drop on his
face--I never will again. Thank you, Sally," as the servant
relinquished him to her who came in the name of a mother. Sally
watched Ruth's grave, sweet smile, as she followed up Sally's
play with the tassel, and imitated, with all the docility
inspired by love, every movement and sound which had amused her
"Thou'lt be a mother, after all," said Sally, with a kind of
admiration of the control which Ruth was exercising over herself.
"But why talk of thy heart breaking? I don't question thee about
what's past and gone; but now thou'rt wanting for nothing, nor
thy child either; the time to come is the Lord's and in His
hands; and yet thou goest about a-sighing and a-moaning in a way
that I can't stand or thole."
"What do I do wrong?" said Ruth; "I try to do all I can."
"Yes, in a way," said Sally, puzzled to know how to describe her
meaning. "Thou dost it--but there's a right and a wrong way of
setting about everything--and to my thinking, the right way is to
take a thing up heartily, if it is only making a bed. Why! dear
ah me, making a bed may be done after a Christian fashion, I take
it, or else what's to come of such as me in heaven, who've had
little enough time on earth for clapping ourselves down on our
knees for set prayers? When I was a girl, and wretched enough
about Master Thurstan, and the crook on his back which came of
the fall I gave him, I took to praying and sighing, and giving up
the world; and I thought it were wicked to care for the flesh, so
I made heavy puddings, and was careless about dinner and the
rooms, and thought I was doing my duty, though I did call myself
a miserable sinner. But one night, the old missus (Master
Thurstan's mother) came in, and sat down by me, as I was
a-scolding myself, without thinking of what I was saying; and,
says she, 'Sally! what are you blaming yourself about, and
groaning over? We hear you in the parlour every night, and it
makes my heart ache.' 'Oh, ma'am,' says I, 'I'm a miserable
sinner, and I'm travailing in the new birth.' 'Was that the
reason,' says she, 'why the pudding was so heavy to-day?' 'Oh,
ma'am, ma'am,' said I, 'if you would not think of the things of
the flesh, but trouble yourself about your immortal soul.' And I
sat a-shaking my head to think about her soul. 'But,' says she,
in her sweet dropping voice, 'I do try to think of my soul every
hour of the day, if by that you mean trying to do the will of
God, but we'll talk now about the pudding; Master Thurstan could
not eat it, and I know you'll be sorry for that.' Well! I was
sorry, but I didn't choose to say so, as she seemed to expect me;
so says I, 'It's a pity to see children brought up to care for
things of the flesh;' and then I could have bitten my tongue out,
for the missus looked so grave, and I thought of my darling
little lad pining for want of his food. At last, says she,
'Sally, do you think God has put us into the world just to be
selfish, and do nothing but see after our own souls? or to help
one another with heart and hand, as Christ did to all who wanted
help?' I was silent, for, you see, she puzzled me. So she went
on, 'What is that beautiful answer in your Church catechism,
Sally?' I were pleased to hear a Dissenter, as I did not think
would have done it, speak so knowledgeably about the catechism,
and she went on: '"to do my duty in that station of life unto
which it shall please God to call me;" well, your station is a
servant and it is as honourable as a king's, if you look at it
right; you are to help and serve others in one way, just as a
king is to help others in another. Now what way are you to help
and serve, or to do your duty, in that station of life unto which
it has pleased God to call you? Did it answer God's purpose, and
serve Him, when the food was unfit for a child to eat, and
unwholesome for any one?' Well! I would not give it up, I was so
pig-headed about my soul; so says I, 'I wish folks would be
content with locusts and wild honey, and leave other folks in
peace to work out their salvation;' and I groaned out pretty loud
to think of missus's soul. I often think since she smiled a bit
at me; but she said, 'Well, Sally, to-morrow, you shall have time
to work out your salvation; but as we have no locusts in England,
and I don't think they'd agree with Master Thurstan if we had, I
will come and make the pudding; but I shall try and do it well,
not only for him to like it, but because everything may be done
in a right way or a wrong; the right way is to do it as well as
we can, as in God's sight; the wrong is to do it in a
self-seeking spirit, which either leads us to neglect it to
follow out some device of our own for our own ends, or to give up
too much time and thought to it both before and after the doing.'
Well! I thought of old missus's words this morning, when I saw
you making the beds. You sighed so, you could not half shake the
pillows; your heart was not in your work; and yet it was the duty
God had set you, I reckon; I know it's not the work parsons
preach about; though I don't think they go so far off the mark
when they read, 'whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, that do with
all thy might.' Just try for a day to think of all the odd jobs
as to be done well and truly as in God's sight, not just slurred
over anyhow, and you'll go through them twice as cheerfully, and
have no thought to spare for sighing or crying."
Sally bustled off to set on the kettle for tea, and felt half
ashamed, in the quiet of the kitchen, to think of the oration she
had made in the parlour. But she saw with much satisfaction, that
henceforward Ruth nursed her boy with a vigour and cheerfulness
that were reflected back from him; and the household work was no
longer performed with a languid indifference, as if life and duty
were distasteful. Miss Benson had her share in this improvement,
though Sally placidly took all the credit to herself. One day as
she and Ruth sat together, Miss Benson spoke of the child, and
thence went on to talk about her own childhood. By degrees they
spoke of education, and the book-learning that forms one part of
it; and the result was that Ruth determined to get up early all
through the bright summer mornings, to acquire the knowledge
hereafter to be given to her child. Her mind was uncultivated,
her reading scant; beyond the mere mechanical arts of education
she knew nothing; but she had a refined taste, and excellent
sense and judgment to separate the true from the false. With
these qualities, she set to work under Mr. Benson's directions.
She read in the early morning the books that he marked out; she
trained herself with strict perseverance to do all thoroughly;
she did not attempt to acquire any foreign language, although her
ambition was to learn Latin, in order to teach it to her boy.
Those summer mornings were happy, for she was learning neither to
look backwards nor forwards, but to live faithfully and earnestly
in the present. She rose while the hedge-sparrow was yet singing
his reveil to his mate; she dressed and opened her window,
shading the soft-blowing air and the sunny eastern light from her
baby. If she grew tired, she went and looked at him, and all her
thoughts were holy prayers for him. Then she would gaze awhile
out of the high upper window on to the moorlands, that swelled in
waves one behind the other, in the grey, cool morning light.
These were her occasional relaxations, and after them she
returned with strength to her work.
In that body of Dissenters to which Mr. Benson belonged, it is
not considered necessary to baptize infants as early as the
ceremony can be performed; and many circumstances concurred to
cause the solemn thanksgiving and dedication of the child (for so
these Dissenters looked upon christenings) to be deferred until
it was probably somewhere about six months old. There had been
many conversations in the little sitting-room between the brother
and sister and their protegee, which had consisted of questions
betraying a thoughtful wondering kind of ignorance on the part of
Ruth, and answers more suggestive than explanatory from Mr.
Benson; while Miss Benson kept up a kind of running commentary,
always simple and often quaint, but with that intuition into the
very heart of all things truly religious which is often the gift
of those who seem, at first sight, to be only affectionate and
sensible. When Mr. Benson had explained his own views of what a
christening ought to be considered, and, by calling out Ruth's
latent feelings into pious earnestness, brought her into a right
frame of mind, he felt that he had done what he could to make the
ceremony more than a mere form, and to invest it, quiet, humble,
and obscure as it must necessarily be in outward shape--mournful
and anxious as many of its antecedents had rendered it--with the
severe grandeur of an act done in faith and truth. It was not far
to carry the little one, for, as I said, the chapel almost
adjoined the minister's house. The whole procession was to have
consisted of Mr. and Miss Benson, Ruth carrying her babe, and
Sally, who felt herself, as a Church-of-England woman, to be
condescending and kind in requesting leave to attend a baptism
among "them Dissenters" but unless she had asked permission, she
would not have been desired to attend, so careful was the habit
of her master and mistress that she should be allowed that
freedom which they claimed for themselves. But they were glad she
wished to go; they liked the feeling that all were of one
household, and that the interests of one were the interests of
all. It produced a consequence, however, which they did not
anticipate. Sally was full of the event which her presence was to
sanction, and, as it were, to redeem from the character of being
utterly schismatic; she spoke about it with an air of patronage
to three or four, and among them to some of the servants at Mr.
Miss Benson was rather surprised to receive a call from Jemima
Bradshaw, on the very morning of the day on which little Leonard
was to be baptized; Miss Bradshaw was rosy and breathless with
eagerness. Although the second in the family, she had been at
school when her younger sisters had been christened, and she was
now come, in the full warmth of a girl's fancy, to ask if she
might be present at the afternoon's service. She had been struck
with Mrs. Denbigh's grace and beauty at the very first sight,
when she had accompanied her mother to call upon the Bensons on
their return from Wales; and had kept up an enthusiastic interest
in the widow only a little older than herself, whose very reserve
and retirement but added to her unconscious power of enchantment.
"Oh, Miss Benson! I never saw a christening; papa says I may go,
if you think Mr. Benson and Mrs. Denbigh would not dislike it;
and I will be quite quiet, and sit up behind the door, or
anywhere; and that sweet little baby! I should so like to see him
christened; is he to be called Leonard, did you say? After Mr.
Denbigh, is it?"
"No--not exactly," said Miss Benson, rather discomfited.
"Was not Mr. Denbigh's name Leonard, then? Mamma thought it would
be sure to be called after him, and so did I. But I may come to
the christening, may I not, dear Miss Benson?"
Miss Benson gave her consent with a little inward reluctance.
Both her brother and Ruth shared in this feeling, although no one
expressed it; and it was presently forgotten.
Jemima stood grave and quiet in the old-fashioned vestry
adjoining the chapel, as they entered with steps subdued to
slowness. She thought Ruth looked so pale and awed because she
was left a solitary parent; but Ruth came to the presence of God,
as one who had gone astray, and doubted her own worthiness to be
called His child; she came as a mother who had incurred a heavy
responsibility, and who entreated His almighty aid to enable her
to discharge it; full of passionate, yearning love which craved
for more faith in God, to still her distrust and fear of the
future that might hang over her darling. When she thought of her
boy, she sickened and trembled: but when she heard of God's
loving-kindness, far beyond all tender mother's love, she was
hushed into peace and prayer. There she stood, her fair pale
cheek resting on her baby's head, as he slumbered on her bosom;
her eyes went slanting down under their half-closed white lids;
but their gaze was not on the primitive cottage-like room, it was
earnestly fixed on a dim mist, through which she fain would have
seen the life that lay before her child; but the mist was still
and dense, too thick a veil for anxious human love to penetrate.
The future was hid with God.
Mr. Benson stood right under the casement window that was placed
high up in the room; he was almost in shade, except for one or
two marked lights which fell on hair already silvery white; his
voice was always low and musical when he spoke to few; it was too
weak to speak so as to be heard by many without becoming harsh
and strange; but now it filled the little room with a loving
sound, like the stock-dove's brooding murmur over her young. He
and Ruth forgot all in their earnestness of thought; and when he
said "Let us pray," and the little congregation knelt down you
might have heard the baby's faint breathing, scarcely sighing out
upon the stillness, so absorbed were all in the solemnity. But
the prayer was long; thought followed thought, and fear crowded
upon fear, and all were to be laid bare before God, and His aid
and counsel asked. Before the end, Sally had shuffled quietly out
of the vestry into the green chapel-yard, upon which the door
opened. Miss Benson was alive to this movement, and so full of
curiosity as to what it might mean that she could no longer
attend to her brother, and felt inclined to rush off and question
Sally, the moment all was ended. Miss Bradshaw hung about the
babe and Ruth, and begged to be allowed to carry the child home,
but Ruth pressed him to her, as if there was no safe harbour for
him but in his mother's breast. Mr. Benson saw her feeling, and
caught Miss Bradshaw's look of disappointment.
"Come home with us," said he, "and stay to tea. You have never
drunk tea with us since you went to school."
"I wish I might," said Miss Bradshaw, colouring with pleasure.
"But I must ask papa. May I run home and ask?"
"To be sure, my dear!"
Jemima flew off; and fortunately her father was at home; for her
mother's permission would have been deemed insufficient. She
received many directions about her behaviour.
"Take no sugar in your tea, Jemima. I am sure the Bensons ought
not to be able to afford sugar, with their means. And do not eat
much; you can have plenty at home on your return; remember Mrs.
Denbigh's keep must cost them a great deal." So Jemima returned
considerably sobered, and very much afraid of her hunger leading
her to forget Mr. Benson's poverty. Meanwhile Miss Benson and
Sally, acquainted with Mr. Benson's invitation to Jemima, set
about making some capital tea-cakes on which they piqued
themselves. They both enjoyed the offices of hospitality; and
were glad to place some home-made tempting dainty before their
"What made ye leave the chapel-vestry before my brother had
ended?" inquired Miss Benson.
"Indeed, ma'am, I thought master had prayed so long he'd be
drouthy. So I just slipped out to put on the kettle for tea."
Miss Benson was on the point of reprimanding her for thinking of
anything besides the object of the prayer, when she remembered
how she herself had been unable to attend after Sally's departure
for wondering what had become of her; so she was silent.
It was a disappointment to Miss Benson's kind and hospitable
expectation when Jemima, as hungry as a hound, confined herself
to one piece of the cake which her hostess had had such pleasure
in making. And Jemima wished she had not a prophetic feeling all
tea-time of the manner in which her father would inquire into the
particulars of the meal, elevating his eyebrows at every viand
named beyond plain bread-and-butter, and winding up with some
such sentence as this:
"Well, I marvel how, with Benson's salary, he can afford to keep
such a table."
Sally could have told of self-denial when no one was by, when the
left hand did not know what the right hand did, on the part of
both her master and mistress, practised without thinking even to
themselves that it was either a sacrifice or a virtue, in order
to enable them to help those who were in need, or even to gratify
Miss Benson's kind, old-fashioned feelings on such occasions as
the present, when a stranger came to the house. Her homely,
affectionate pleasure in making others comfortable, might have
shown that such little occasional extravagances were not waste,
but a good work; and were not to be gauged by the standard of
money-spending. This evening her spirits were damped by Jemima's
refusal to eat! Poor Jemima! the cakes were so good, and she was
so hungry; but still she refused.
While Sally was clearing away the tea-things, Miss Benson and
Jemima accompanied Ruth upstairs, when she went to put little
Leonard to bed.
"A christening is a very solemn service," said Miss Bradshaw; "I
had no idea it was so solemn. Mr. Benson seemed to speak as if he
had a weight of care on his heart that God alone could relieve or
"My brother feels these things very much," said Miss Benson,
rather wishing to cut short the conversation, for she had been
aware of several parts in the prayer which she knew were
suggested by the peculiarity and sadness of the case before him.
"I could not quite follow him all through," continued Jemima.
"What did he mean by saying, 'This child, rebuked by the world
and bidden to stand apart, Thou wilt not rebuke, but wilt suffer
it to come to Thee and be blessed with Thine almighty blessing'?
Why is this little darling to be rebuked? I do not think I
remember the exact words, but he said something like that."
"My dear! your gown is dripping wet! it must have dipped into the
tub; let me wring it out."
"Oh, thank you! Never mind my gown!" said Jemima hastily, and
wanting to return to her question; but just then she caught the
sight of tears falling fast down the cheeks of the silent Ruth as
she bent over her child, crowing and splashing away in his tub.
With a sudden consciousness that unwittingly she had touched on
some painful chord, Jemima rushed into another subject, and was
eagerly seconded by Miss Benson. The circumstance seemed to die
away, and leave no trace; but in after years it rose, vivid and
significant, before Jemima's memory. At present it was enough for
her, if Mrs. Denbigh would let her serve her in every possible
way. Her admiration for beauty was keen, and little indulged at
home; and Ruth was very beautiful in her quiet mournfulness; her
mean and homely dress left herself only the more open to
admiration, for she gave it a charm by her unconscious wearing of
it that made it seem like the drapery of an old Greek
statue--subordinate to the figure it covered, yet imbued by it
with an unspeakable grace. Then the pretended circumstances of
her life were such as to catch the imagination of a young
romantic girl. Altogether, Jemima could have kissed her hand and
professed herself Ruth's slave. She moved away all the articles
used at this little coucher; she folded up Leonard's day-clothes;
she felt only too much honoured when Ruth trusted him to her for
a few minutes--only too amply rewarded when Ruth thanked her with
a grave, sweet smile, and a grateful look of her loving eyes.
When Jemima had gone away with the servant who was sent to fetch
her, there was a little chorus of praise.
"She's a warm-hearted girl," said Miss Benson. "She remembers all
the old days before she went to school. She is worth two of Mr.
Richard. They're each of them just the same as they were when
they were children, when they broke that window in the chapel,
and he ran away home, and she came knocking at our door with a
single knock, just like a beggar's, and I went to see who it was,
and was quite startled to see her round, brown honest face
looking up at me, hall-frightened, and telling me what she had
done, and offering me the money in her savings bank to pay for
it. We never should have heard of Master Richard's share in the
business if it had not been for Sally."
"But remember," said Mr. Benson, "how strict Mr. Bradshaw has
always been with his children. It is no wonder if poor Richard
was a coward in those days."
"He is now, or I'm much mistaken," answered Miss Benson. "And Mr.
Bradshaw was just as strict with Jemima, and she's no coward.
But I've no faith in Richard. He has a look about him that I
don't like. And when Mr. Bradshaw was away on business in Holland
last year, for those months my young gentleman did not come hall
as regularly to chapel, and I always believe that story of his
being seen out with the hounds at Smithiles."
"Those are neither of them great offences in a young man of
twenty," said Mr. Benson, smiling.
"No! I don't mind them in themselves; but when he could change
back so easily to being regular and mim when his father came
home, I don't like that."
"Leonard shall never be afraid of me," said Ruth, following her
own train of thought. "I will be his friend from the very first;
and I will try and learn how to be a wise friend, and you will
teach me; won't you, sir?"
"What made you wish to call him Leonard, Ruth?" asked Miss
"It was my mother's father's name; and she used to tell me about
him and his goodness, and I thought if Leonard could be like
"Do you remember the discussion there was about Miss Bradshaw's
name, Thurstan? Her father wanting her to be called Hephzibah,
but insisting that she was to have a Scripture name at any rate;
and Mrs. Bradshaw wanting her to be Juliana, after some novel she
had read not long before; and at last Jemima was fixed upon,
because it would do either for a Scripture name or a name for a
heroine out of a book."
"I did not know Jemima was a Scripture name," said Ruth.
"Oh yes, it is. One of Job's daughters; Jemima, Kezia, and
Keren-Happuch. There are a good many Jemimas in the world, and
some Kezias, but I never heard of a Keren-Happuch; and yet we
know just as much of one as of another. People really like a
pretty name, whether in Scripture or out of it."
"When there is no particular association with the name," said Mr.
"Now, I was called Faith after the cardinal virtue; and I like my
name, though many people would think it too Puritan; that was
according to our gentle mother's pious desire. And Thurstan was
called by his name because my father wished it; for, although he
was what people called a radical and a democrat in his ways of
talking and thinking, he was very proud in his heart of being
descended from some old Sir Thurstan, who figured away in the
"The difference between theory and practice, thinking and being,"
put in Mr. Benson, who was in a mood for allowing himself a
little social enjoyment. He leaned back in his chair, with his
eyes looking at, but not seeing, the ceiling. Miss Benson was
clicking away with her eternal knitting-needles, looking at her
brother, and seeing him too. Ruth was arranging her child's
clothes against the morrow. It was but their usual way of
spending an evening; the variety was given by the different tone
which the conversation assumed on the different nights. Yet,
somehow, the peacefulness of the time, the window open into the
little garden, the scents that came stealing in, and the clear
summer heaven above, made the time be remembered as a happy
festival by Ruth. Even Sally seemed more placid than usual when
she came in to prayers; and she and Miss Benson followed Ruth to
her bedroom, to look at the beautiful sleeping Leonard.
"God bless him!" said Miss Benson, stooping down to kiss his
little dimpled hand, which lay outside the coverlet, tossed
abroad in the heat of the evening.
"Now, don't get up too early, Ruth! Injuring your health will be
short-sighted wisdom and poor economy. Good night!"
"Good night, dear Miss Benson. Good night, Sally." When Ruth had
shut her door, she went again to the bed, and looked at her boy
till her eyes filled with tears.
"God bless thee, darling! I only ask to be one of His
instruments, and not thrown aside as useless--or worse than
So ended the day of Leonard's christening.
Mr. Benson had sometimes taught the children of different people
as an especial favour, when requested by them. But then his
pupils were only children, and by their progress he was little
prepared for Ruth's. She had had early teaching, of that kind
which need never be unlearnt, from her mother; enough to unfold
many of her powers; they had remained inactive now for several
years, but had grown strong in the dark and quiet time. Her tutor
was surprised at the bounds by which she surmounted obstacles,
the quick perception and ready adaptation of truths and first
principles, and her immediate sense of the fitness of things. Her
delight in what was strong and beautiful called out her master's
sympathy; but, most of all, he admired the complete
unconsciousness of uncommon power, or unusual progress. It was
less of a wonder than he considered it to be, it is true, for she
never thought of comparing what she was now with her former self,
much less with another. Indeed, she did not think of herself at
all, but of her boy, and what she must learn in order to teach
him to be and to do as suited her hope and her prayer. If any
one's devotion could have flattered her into self-consciousness,
it was Jemima's. Mr. Bradshaw never dreamed that his daughter
could feel herself inferior to the minister's protegee, but so it
was; and no knight-errant of old could consider himself more
honoured by his ladye's commands than did Jemima, if Ruth allowed
her to do anything for her, or for her boy. Ruth loved her
heartily, even while she was rather annoyed at the open
expression Jemima used of admiration.
"Please, I really would rather not be told if people do think me
"But it was not merely beautiful; it was sweet-looking and good,
Mrs. Postlethwaite called you," replied Jemima.
"All the more I would rather not hear it. I may be pretty, but I
know I am not good. Besides, I don't think we ought to hear what
is said of us behind our backs."
Ruth spoke so gravely, that Jemima feared lest she was
"Dear Mrs. Denbigh, I never will admire or praise you again. Only
let me love you."
"And let me love you!" said Ruth, with a tender kiss.
Jemima would not have been allowed to come so frequently if Mr.
Bradshaw had not been possessed with the idea of patronising
Ruth. If the latter had chosen, she might have gone dressed from
head to foot in the presents which he wished to make her, but she
refused them constantly; occasionally to Miss Benson's great
annoyance. But if he could not load her with gifts, he could show
his approbation by asking her to his house; and after some
deliberation, she consented to accompany Mr. and Miss Benson
there. The house was square and massy-looking, with a great deal
of drab-colour about the furniture. Mrs. Bradshaw, in her
lackadaisical, sweet-tempered way, seconded her husband in his
desire of being kind to Ruth; and as she cherished privately a
great taste for what was beautiful or interesting, as opposed to
her husband's love of the purely useful, this taste of hers had
rarely had so healthy and true a mode of gratification as when
she watched Ruth's movements about the room, which seemed in its
unobtrusiveness and poverty of colour to receive the requisite
ornament of light and splendour from Ruth's presence. Mrs.
Bradshaw sighed, and wished she had a daughter as lovely, about
whom to weave a romance; for castle-building, after the manner of
the Minerva Press, was the outlet by which she escaped from the
pressure of her prosaic life, as Mr. Bradshaw's wife. Her
perception was only of external beauty, and she was not always
alive to that, or she might have seen how a warm, affectionate,
ardent nature, free from all envy or carking care of self, gave
an unspeakable charm to her plain, bright-faced daughter Jemima,
whose dark eyes kept challenging admiration for her friend. The
first evening spent at Mr. Bradshaw's passed like many succeeding
visits there. There was tea, the equipage for which was as
handsome and as ugly as money could purchase. Then the ladies
produced their sewing, while Mr. Bradshaw stood before the fire,
and gave the assembled party the benefit of his opinions on many
subjects. The opinions were as good and excellent as the opinions
of any man can be who sees one side of a case very strongly, and
almost ignores the other. They coincided in many points with
those held by Mr. Benson, but he once or twice interposed with a
plea for those who might differ; and then he was heard by Mr.
Bradshaw with a kind of evident and indulgent pity, such as one
feels for a child who unwittingly talks nonsense. By-and-by Mrs.
Bradshaw and Miss Benson fell into one tete-a-tete, and Ruth and
Jemima into another. Two well-behaved but unnaturally quiet
children were sent to bed early in the evening, in an
authoritative voice, by their father, because one of them had
spoken too loud while he was enlarging on an alteration in the
tariff. Just before the supper-tray was brought in, a gentleman
was announced whom Ruth had never previously seen, but who
appeared well known to the rest of the party. It was Mr.
Farquhar, Mr. Bradshaw's partner; he had been on the Continent
for the last year, and had only recently returned. He seemed
perfectly at home, but spoke little. He leaned back in his chair,
screwed up his eyes, and watched everybody; yet there was nothing
unpleasant or impertinent in his keenness of observation. Ruth
wondered to hear him contradict Mr. Bradshaw, and almost expected
some rebuff; but Mr. Bradshaw, if he did not yield the point,
admitted, for the first time that evening, that it was possible
something might be said on the other side. Mr. Farquhar differed
also from Mr. Benson, but it was in a more respectful manner than
Mr. Bradshaw had done. For these reasons, although Mr. Farquhar
had never spoken to Ruth, she came away with the impression that
he was a man to be respected and perhaps liked.
Sally would have thought herself mightily aggrieved if, on their
return, she had not heard some account of the evening. As soon as
Miss Benson came in, the old servant began--
"Well, and who was there? and what did they give you for supper?"
"Only Mr. Farquhar besides ourselves; and sandwiches,
sponge-cake, and wine; there was no occasion for anything more,"
replied Miss Benson, who was tired and preparing to go upstairs.
"Mr. Farquhar! Why, they do say he's thinking of Miss Jemima!"
"Nonsense, Sally! why, he's old enough to be her father!" said
Miss Benson, halfway up the first flight.
"There's no need for it to be called nonsense, though he may be
ten year older," muttered Sally, retreating towards the kitchen.
"Bradshaw's Betsy knows what she's about, and wouldn't have said
it for nothing."
Ruth wondered a little about it. She loved Jemima well enough to
be interested in what related to her; but, after thinking for a
few minutes, she decided that such a marriage was, and would ever
be, very unlikely.
RUTH BECOMES A GOVERNESS IN MR. BRADSHAW'S FAMILY
One afternoon, not long after this, Mr. and Miss Benson set off
to call upon a farmer, who attended the chapel, but lived at some
distance from the town. They intended to stay to tea if they were
invited, and Ruth and Sally were left to spend a long afternoon
together. At first, Sally was busy in her kitchen, and Ruth
employed herself in carrying her baby out into the garden. It was
now nearly a year since she came to the Bensons'; it seemed like
yesterday, and yet as if a lifetime had gone between. The flowers
were budding now, that were all in bloom when she came down, on
the first autumnal morning, into the sunny parlour. The yellow
jessamine that was then a tender plant, had now taken firm root
in the soil, and was sending out strong shoots; the wall-flowers,
which Miss Benson had sown on the wall a day or two after her
arrival, were scenting the air with their fragrant flowers. Ruth
knew every plant now; it seemed as though she had always lived
here, and always known the inhabitants of the house. She heard
Sally singing her accustomed song in the kitchen, a song she
never varied, over her afternoon's work. It began--
"As I was going to Derby, sir, Upon a market-day."
And, if music is a necessary element in a song, perhaps I had
better call it by some other name.
But the strange change was in Ruth herself. She was conscious of
it, though she could not define it, and did not dwell upon it.
Life had become significant and full of duty to her. She
delighted in the exercise of her intellectual powers, and liked
the idea of the infinite amount of which she was ignorant; for it
was a grand pleasure to learn,--to crave, and be satisfied. She
strove to forget what had gone before this last twelve months.
She shuddered up from contemplating it; it was like a bad, unholy
dream. And yet, there was a strange yearning kind of love for the
father of the child whom she pressed to her heart, which came,
and she could not bid it begone as sinful, it was so pure and
natural, even when thinking of it as in the sight of God. Little
Leonard cooed to the flowers, and stretched after their bright
colours; and Ruth laid him on the dry turf, and pelted him with
the gay petals. He chinked and crowed with laughing delight, and
clutched at her cap, and pulled it off. Her short rich curls were
golden-brown in the slanting sun-light, and by their very
shortness made her more childlike. She hardly seemed as if she
could be the mother of the noble babe over whom she knelt, now
snatching kisses, now matching his cheek with rose-leaves. All at
once, the bells of the old church struck the hour, and far away,
high up in the air, began slowly to play the old tune of "Life,
let us cherish;" they had played it for years--for the life of
man--and it always sounded fresh, and strange, and aerial. Ruth
was still in a moment, she knew not why; and the tears came into
her eyes as she listened. When it was ended, she kissed her baby,
and bade God bless him.
Just then Sally came out, dressed for the evening, with a
leisurely look about her. She had done her work, and she and Ruth
were to drink tea together in the exquisitely clean kitchen; but
while the kettle was boiling, she came out to enjoy the flowers.
She gathered a piece of southern-wood, and stuffed it up her
nose, by way of smelling it.
"Whatten you call this in your country?" asked she.
"Old-man," replied Ruth.
"We call it here lad's-love. It and peppermint drops always
reminds me of going to church in the country. Here! I'll get you
a black-currant leaf to put in the teapot. It gives it a flavour.
We had bees once against this wall; but when missus died, we
forgot to tell 'em and put 'em in mourning, and, in course, they
swarmed away without our knowing, and the next winter came a hard
frost, and they died. Now, I dare say, the water will be boiling;
and it's time for little master there to come in, for the dew is
falling. See, all the daisies is shutting themselves up."
Sally was most gracious as a hostess. She quite put on her
company manners to receive Ruth in the kitchen. They laid Leonard
to sleep on the sofa in the parlour, that they might hear him the
more easily, and then they sat quietly down to their sewing by
the bright kitchen fire. Sally was, as usual, the talker; and, as
usual, the subject was the family of whom for so many years she
had formed a part.
"Ay! things was different when I was a girl," quoth she. "Eggs
was thirty for a shilling, and butter only sixpence a pound. My
wage when I came here was but three pound, and I did on it, and
was always clean and tidy, which is more than many a lass can say
now who gets seven and eight pound a year; and tea was kept for
an afternoon drink, and pudding was eaten afore meat in them
days, and the upshot was, people paid their debts better; ay, ay!
we'n gone backwards, and we thinken we'n gone forrards."
After shaking her head a little over the degeneracy of the times,
Sally returned to a part of the subject on which she thought she
had given Ruth a wrong idea. "You'll not go for to think now that
I've not more than three pound a year. I've a deal above that
now. First of all, old missus gave me four pound, for she said I
were worth it, and I thought in my heart that I were; so I took
it without more ado; but after her death, Master Thurstan and
Miss Faith took a fit of spending, and says they to me, one day
as I carried tea in, 'Sally, we think your wages ought to be
raised.' 'What matter what you think!' said I, pretty sharp, for
I thought they'd ha' shown more respect to missus, if they'd let
things stand as they were in her time; and they'd gone and moved
the sofa away from the wall to where it stands now, already that
very day. So I speaks up sharp, and says I, 'As long as I'm
content, I think it's no business of yours to be meddling wi' me
and my money matters.' 'But,' says Miss Faith (she's always the
one to speak first if you'll notice, though it's master that
comes in and clinches the matter with some reason she'd never ha'
thought of--he were always a sensible lad), 'Sally, all the
servants in the town have six pound and better, and you have as
hard a place as any of 'em.' 'Did you ever hear me grumble about
my work that you talk about it in that way? wait till I grumble,'
says I, 'but don't meddle wi' me till then.' So I flung off in a
huff; but in the course of the evening, Master Thurstan came in
and sat down in the kitchen, and he's such winning ways he wiles
one over to anything; and besides, a notion had come into my
head--now you'll not tell," said she, glancing round the room,
and hitching her chair nearer to Ruth in a confidential manner;
Ruth promised, and Sally went on--
"I thought I should like to be an heiress wi' money, and leave it
all to Master and Miss Faith; and I thought if I'd six pound a
year, I could, may be, get to be an heiress; all I was feared on
was that some chap or other might marry me for my money, but I've
managed to keep the fellows off; so I looks mim and grateful, and
I thanks Master Thurstan for his offer, and I takes the wages;
and what do you think I've done?" asked Sally, with an exultant
"What have you done?" asked Ruth.
"Why," replied Sally, slowly and emphatically, "I've saved thirty
pound! but that's not it. I've getten a lawyer to make me a will;
that's it, wench!" said she, slapping Ruth on the back.
"How did you manage it?" asked Ruth.
"Ay, that was it," said Sally; "I thowt about it many a night
before I hit on the right way. I was afeared the money might be
thrown into Chancery if I didn't make it all safe, and yet I
could na' ask Master Thurstan. At last, and at length, John
Jackson, the grocer, had a nephew come to stay a week with him,
as was 'prentice to a lawyer in Liverpool; so now was my time,
and here was my lawyer. Wait a minute! I could tell you my story
better if I had my will in my hand; and I'll scomfish you if ever
you go for to tell." She held up her hand, and threatened Ruth as
she left the kitchen to fetch the will.
When she came back, she brought a parcel tied up, in a blue
pocket-handkerchief; she sat down, squared her knees, untied the
handkerchief, and displayed a small piece of parchment.
"Now, do you know what this is?" said she, holding it up. "It's
parchment, and it's the right stuff to make wills on. People gets
into Chancery if they don't make them o' this stuff, and I reckon
Tom Jackson thowt he'd have a fresh job on it if he could get it
into Chancery; for the rascal went and wrote it on a piece of
paper at first, and came and read it me out aloud off a piece of
paper no better than what one writes letters upon. I were up to
him; and, thinks I, Come, come, my lad, I'm not a fool, though
you may think so; I know a paper will won't stand, but I'll let
you run your rig. So I sits and I listens. And would you believe
me, he read it out as if it were as clear a business as your
giving me that thimble--no more ado, though it were thirty pound
I could understand it mysel'--that were no law for me. I wanted
summat to consider about, and for th' meaning to be wrapped up as
I wrap up my best gown. So, says I, 'Tom! it's not on parchment.
I mun have it on parchment.' 'This 'll do as well,' says he.
'We'll get it witnessed, and it will stand good.' Well! I liked
the notion of having it witnessed, and for a while that soothed
me; but after a bit, I felt I should like it done according to
law, and not plain out as anybody might ha' done it; I mysel', if
I could have written. So says I, 'Tom! I mun have it on
parchment.' 'Parchment costs money,' says he, very grave. 'Oh,
oh, my lad! are ye there?' thinks I. 'That's the reason I'm
clipped of law. So says I, 'Tom! I mun have it on parchment. I'll
pay the money and welcome. It's thirty pound, and what I can lay
to it. I'll make it safe. It shall be on parchment, and I'll tell
thee what, lad! I'll gie ye sixpence for every good law-word you
put in it, sounding like, and not to be caught up as a person
runs. Your master had need to be ashamed of you as a 'prentice,
if you can't do a thing more tradesman-like than this!' Well! he
laughed above a bit, but I were firm, and stood to it. So he made
it out on parchment. Now, woman, try and read it!" said she,
giving it to Ruth.
Ruth smiled, and began to read; Sally listening with rapt
attention. When Ruth came to the word "testatrix," Sally stopped
"That was the first sixpence," said she. "I thowt he was going to
fob me off again wi' plain language; but when that word came, I
out wi' my sixpence, and gave it to him on the spot. Now, go on."
Presently Ruth read "accruing."
"That was the second sixpence. Four sixpences it were in all,
besides six-and-eightpence as we bargained at first, and
three-and-fourpence parchment. There! that's what I call a will;
witnessed, according to law, and all. Master Thurstan will be
prettily taken in when I die, and he finds all his extra wage
left back to him. But it will teach him it's not so easy as he
thinks for, to make a woman give up her way."
The time was now drawing near when little Leonard might be
weaned--the time appointed by all three for Ruth to endeavour to
support herself in some way more or less independent of Mr. and
Miss Benson. This prospect dwelt much in all of their minds, and
was in each shaded with some degree of perplexity; but they none
of them spoke of it, for fear of accelerating the event. If they
had felt clear and determined as to the best course to be
pursued, they were none of them deficient in courage to commence
upon that course at once. Miss Benson would, perhaps, have
objected the most to any alteration in their present daily mode
of life; but that was because she had the habit of speaking out
her thoughts as they arose, and she particularly disliked and
dreaded change. Besides this, she had felt her heart open out,
and warm towards the little helpless child, in a strong and
powerful manner. Nature had intended her warm instincts to find
vent in a mother's duties; her heart had yearned after children,
and made her restless in her childless state, without her well
knowing why; but now, the delight she experienced in tending,
nursing, and contriving for the little boy,--even contriving to
the point of sacrificing many of her cherished whims,--made her
happy, and satisfied, and peaceful. It was more difficult to
sacrifice her whims than her comforts; but all had been given up
when and where required by the sweet lordly baby, who reigned
paramount in his very helplessness.
From some cause or other, an exchange of ministers for one Sunday
was to be effected with a neighbouring congregation, and Mr.
Benson went on a short absence from home. When he returned on
Monday, he was met at the house-door by his sister, who had
evidently been looking out for him for some time. She stepped out
to greet him.
"Don't hurry yourself, Thurstan! all's well; only I wanted to
tell you something. Don't fidget yourself--baby is quite well,
bless him! It's only good news. Come into your room, and let me
talk a little quietly with you." She drew him into his study,
which was near the outer door, and then she took off his coat,
and put his carpet-bag in a corner, and wheeled a chair to the
fire, before she would begin.
"Well, now! to think how often things fall out just as we want
them, Thurstan! Have not you often wondered what was to be done
with Ruth when the time came at which we promised her she should
earn her living? I am sure you have, because I have so often
thought about it myself. And yet I never dared to speak out my
fear because that seemed giving it a shape. And now Mr. Bradshaw
has put all to rights. He invited Mr. Jackson to dinner
yesterday, just as we were going into chapel; and then he turned
to me and asked me if I would come to tea--straight from
afternoon chapel, because Mrs. Bradshaw wanted to speak to me. He
made it very clear I was not to bring Ruth; and, indeed, she was
only too happy to stay at home with baby. And so I went; and Mrs.
Bradshaw took me into her bedroom, and shut the doors, and said
Mr. Bradshaw had told her, that he did not like Jemima being so
much confined with the younger ones while they were at their
lessons, and that he wanted some one above a nurse-maid to sit
with them while their masters were there--some one who would see
about their learning their lessons, and who would walk out with
them; a sort of nursery governess, I think she meant, though she
did not say so; and Mr. Bradshaw (for, of course, I saw his
thoughts and words constantly peeping out, though he had told her
to speak to me) believed that our Ruth would be the very person.
Now, Thurstan, don't look so surprised, as if she had never come
into your head! I am sure I saw what Mrs. Bradshaw was driving
at, long before she came to the point; and I could scarcely keep
from smiling, and saying, 'We'd jump at the proposal'--long
before I ought to have known anything about it."
"Oh, I wonder what we ought to do!" said Mr. Benson. "Or, rather,
I believe I see what we ought to do, if I durst but do it."
"Why, what ought we to do?" asked his sister, in surprise.
"I ought to go and tell Mr. Bradshaw the whole story----"
"And get Ruth turned out of our house," said Miss Benson
"They can't make us do that," said her brother. "I do not think
they would try."
"Yes, Mr. Bradshaw would try; and he would blazon out poor Ruth's
sin, and there would not be a chance for her left. I know him
well, Thurstan; and why should he be told now, more than a year
"A year ago he did not want to put her in a situation of trust
about his children."
"And you think she'll abuse that trust, do you? You've lived a
twelvemonth in the house with Ruth, and the end of it is, you
think she will do his children harm! Besides, who encouraged
Jemima to come to the house so much to see Ruth? Did you not say
it would do them both good to see something of each other?" Mr.
Benson sat thinking.
"If you had not known Ruth as well as you do--if, during her stay
with us, you had marked anything wrong, or forward, or deceitful,
or immodest, I would say at once, 'Don't allow Mr. Bradshaw to
take her into his house'; but still I would say, 'Don't tell of her
sin and sorrow to so severe a man--so unpitiful a judge.' But here
I ask you, Thurstan, can you or I, or Sally (quick-eyed as she
is), say, that in any one thing we have had true, just occasion
to find fault with Ruth? I don't mean that she is perfect--she
acts without thinking, her temper is sometimes warm and hasty;
but have we any right to go and injure her prospects for life, by
telling Mr. Bradshaw all we know of her errors--only sixteen when
she did so wrong, and never to escape from it all her many years
to come--to have the despair which would arise from its being
known, clutching her back into worse sin? What harm do you think
she can do? What is the risk to which you think you are exposing
Mr. Bradshaw's children?" She paused, out of breath, her eyes
glittering with tears of indignation, and impatient for an answer
that she might knock it to pieces.
"I do not see any danger that can arise," said he at length, and
with slow difficulty, as if not fully convinced. "I have watched
Ruth, and I believe she is pure and truthful; and the very sorrow
and penitence she has felt--the very suffering she has gone
through--has given her a thoughtful conscientiousness beyond her
"That and the care of her baby," said Miss Benson, secretly
delighted at the tone of her brother's thoughts.
"Ah, Faith! that baby you so much dreaded once, is turning out a
blessing, you see," said Thurstan, with a faint, quiet smile.
"Yes! any one might be thankful, and better too, for Leonard; but
how could I tell that it would be like him?"
"But to return to Ruth and Mr. Bradshaw. What did you say?"
"Oh! with my feelings, of course, I was only too glad to accept
the proposal, and so I told Mrs. Bradshaw, then; and I afterwards
repeated it to Mr. Bradshaw, when he asked me if his wife had
mentioned their plans. They would understand that I must consult
you and Ruth, before it could be considered as finally settled."
"And have you named it to her?"
"Yes," answered Miss Benson, half afraid lest he should think she
had been too precipitate.
"And what did she say?" asked he, after a little pause of grave
"At first she seemed very glad, and fell into my mood of planning
how it should all be managed; how Sally and I should take care of
the baby the hours that she was away at Mr. Bradshaw's; but
by-and-by she became silent and thoughtful, and knelt down by me
and hid her face in my lap, and shook a little as if she was
crying; and then I heard her speak in a very low smothered voice,
for her head was still bent down--quite hanging down, indeed, so
that I could not see her face, so I stooped to listen, and I
heard her say, 'Do you think I should be good enough to teach
little girls, Miss Benson?' She said it so humbly and fearfully
that all I thought of was how to cheer her, and I answered and
asked her if she did not hope to be good enough to bring up her
own darling to be a brave Christian man? And she lifted up her
head, and I saw her eyes looking wild and wet and earnest, and
she said, 'With God's help, that will I try to make my child.'
And I said then, 'Ruth, as you strive and as you pray for your
own child, so you must strive and pray to make Mary and Elizabeth
good, if you are trusted with them.' And she said out quite
clear, though her face was hidden from me once more, 'I will
strive and I will pray.' You would not have had any fears,
Thurstan, if you could have heard and seen her last night."
"I have no fear," said he decidedly. "Let the plan go on." After
a minute, he added, "But I am glad it was so far arranged before
I heard of it. My indecision about right and wrong--my perplexity
as to how far we are to calculate consequences--grows upon me, I
"You look tired and weary, dear. You should blame your body
rather than your conscience at these times."
"A very dangerous doctrine."
The scroll of Fate was closed, and they could not foresee the
Future; and yet, if they could have seen it, though they might
have shrunk fearfully at first, they would have smiled and
thanked God when all was done and said.
AFTER FIVE YEARS
The quiet days grew into weeks and months, and even years,
without any event to startle the little circle into the
consciousness of the lapse of time. One who had known them at the
date of Ruth's becoming a governess in Mr. Bradshaw's family, and
had been absent until the time of which I am now going to tell
you, would have noted some changes which had imperceptibly come
over all; but he, too, would have thought, that the life which
had brought so little of turmoil and vicissitude must have been
calm and tranquil, and in accordance with the bygone activity of
the town in which their existence passed away.
The alterations that he would have perceived were those caused by
the natural progress of time. The Benson home was brightened into
vividness by the presence of the little Leonard, now a noble boy
of six, large and grand in limb and stature, and with a face of
marked beauty and intelligence. Indeed, he might have been
considered by many as too intelligent for his years; and often
the living with old and thoughtful people gave him, beyond most
children, the appearance of pondering over the mysteries which
meet the young on the threshold of life, but which fade away as
advancing years bring us more into contact with the practical and
tangible--fade away and vanish, until it seems to require the
agitation of some great storm of the soul before we can again
realise spiritual things.
But, at times, Leonard seemed oppressed and bewildered, after
listening intent, with grave and wondering eyes, to the
conversation around him; at others, the bright animal life shone
forth radiant, and no three months' kitten--no foal, suddenly
tossing up its heels by the side of its sedate dam, and careering
around the pasture in pure mad enjoyment--no young creature of
any kind, could show more merriment and gladness of heart.
"For ever in mischief," was Sally's account of him at such times;
but it was not intentional mischief; and Sally herself would have
been the first to scold any one else who had used the same words
in reference to her darling. Indeed, she was once nearly giving
warning, because she thought the boy was being ill-used. The
occasion was this: Leonard had for some time shown a strange, odd
disregard of truth; he invented stories, and told them with so
grave a face, that unless there was some internal evidence of
their incorrectness (such as describing a cow with a bonnet on)
he was generally believed, and his statements, which were given
with the full appearance of relating a real occurrence, had once
or twice led to awkward results. All the three, whose hearts were
pained by this apparent unconsciousness of the difference between
truth and falsehood, were unaccustomed to children, or they would
have recognised this as a stage through which most infants, who
would have lively imaginations, pass; and, accordingly, there was
a consultation in Mr. Benson's study one morning. Ruth was there,
quiet, very pale, and with compressed lips, sick at heart as she
heard Miss Benson's arguments for the necessity of whipping, in
order to cure Leonard of his story-telling. Mr. Benson looked
unhappy and uncomfortable. Education was but a series of
experiments to them all, and they all had a secret dread of
spoiling the noble boy, who was the darling of their hearts. And,
perhaps, this very intensity of love begot an impatient,
unnecessary anxiety, and made them resolve on sterner measures
than the parent of a large family (where love was more spread
abroad) would have dared to use. At any rate, the vote for
whipping carried the day; and even Ruth, trembling and cold,
agreed that it must be done; only she asked, in a meek, sad
voice, if she need be present (Mr. Benson was to be the
executioner--the scene, the study), and, being instantly told
that she had better not, she went slowly and languidly up to her
room, and kneeling down, she closed her ears, and prayed.
Miss Benson, having carried her point, was very sorry for the
child, and would have begged him off; but Mr. Benson had listened
more to her arguments than now to her pleadings, and, only
answered, "If it is right, it shall be done!" He went into the
garden, and deliberately, almost as if he wished to gain time,
chose and cut off a little switch from the laburnum-tree. Then he
returned through the kitchen, and gravely taking the awed and
wondering little fellow by the hand, he led him silently into the
study, and placing him before him, began an admonition on the
importance of truthfulness, meaning to conclude with what he
believed to be the moral of all punishment: "As you cannot
remember this of yourself, I must give you a little pain to make
you remember it. I am sorry it is necessary, and that you cannot
recollect without my doing so."
But before he had reached this very proper and desirable
conclusion, and while he was yet working his way, his heart
aching with the terrified look of the child at the solemnly sad
face and words of upbraiding, Sally burst in--
"And what may ye be going to do with that fine switch I saw ye
gathering, Master Thurstan?" asked she, her eyes gleaming with
anger at the answer she knew must come, if answer she had at all.
"Go away, Sally," said Mr. Benson, annoyed at the fresh
difficulty in his path.
"I'll not stir never a step till you give me that switch, as
you've got for some mischief, I'll be bound."
"Sally! remember where it is said, 'He that spareth the rod,
spoileth the child,'" said Mr. Benson austerely.
"Ay, I remember; and I remember a bit more than you want me to
remember, I reckon. It were King Solomon as spoke them words, and
it were King Solomon's son that were King Rehoboam, and no great
shakes either. I can remember what is said on him, 2 Chronicles,
xii. chapter, 14th v.: 'And he'--that's King Rehoboam, the lad
that tasted the rod--'did evil, because he prepared not his heart
to seek the Lord.' I've not been reading my chapters every night
for fifty year to be caught napping by a Dissenter, neither!"
said she triumphantly. "Come along, Leonard." She stretched out
her hand to the child, thinking that she had conquered.
But Leonard did not stir. He looked wistfully at Mr. Benson.
"Come!" said she impatiently. The boy's mouth quivered.
"If you want to whip me, uncle, you may do it. I don't much
Put in this form, it was impossible to carry out his intentions;
and so Mr. Benson told the lad he might go--that he would speak
to him another time. Leonard went away, more subdued in spirit
than if he had been whipped. Sally lingered a moment. She stopped
to add: "I think it's for them without sin to throw stones at a
poor child, and cut up good laburnum-branches to whip him. I only
do as my betters do, when I call Leonard's mother Mrs. Denbigh."
The moment she had said this she was sorry; it was an ungenerous
advantage after the enemy had acknowledged himself defeated. Mr.
Benson dropped his head upon his hands and bid his face, and
Leonard flew in search of his mother, as in search of a refuge.
If he had found her calm, he would have burst into a passion of
crying after his agitation; as it was, he came upon her kneeling
and sobbing, and he stood quite still. Then he threw his arms
round her neck, and said, "Mamma! mamma! I will be good--I make a
promise; I will speak true--I make a promise." And he kept his
Miss Benson piqued herself upon being less carried away by her
love for this child than any one else in the house; she talked
severely, and had capital theories; but her severity ended in
talk, and her theories would not work.
However, she read several books on education, knitting socks for
Leonard all the while; and, upon the whole, I think, the hands
were more usefully employed than the head, and the good honest
heart better than either. She looked older than when we first
knew her, but it was a ripe, kindly age that was coming over her.
Her excellent practical sense, perhaps, made her a more masculine
character than her brother. He was often so much perplexed by the
problems of life, that he let the time for action go by; but she
kept him in check by her clear, pithy talk, which brought back
his wandering thoughts to the duty that lay straight before him,
waiting for action; and then he remembered that it was the
faithful part to "wait patiently upon God," and leave the ends in
His hands, who alone knows why Evil exists in this world, and why
it ever hovers on either side of Good. In this respect, Miss
Benson had more faith than her brother--or so it seemed; for
quick, resolute action in the next step of Life was all she
required, while he deliberated and trembled, and often did wrong
from his very deliberation, when his first instinct would have
led him right.
But, although decided and prompt as ever, Miss Benson was grown
older since the summer afternoon when she dismounted from the
coach at the foot of the long Welsh hill that led to Llan-dhu,
where her brother awaited her to consult her about Ruth. Though
her eye was as bright and straight-looking as ever, quick and
brave in its glances, her hair had become almost snowy white; and
it was on this point she consulted Sally, soon after the date of
Leonard's last untruth. The two were arranging Miss Benson's room
one morning, when, after dusting the looking-glass, she suddenly
stopped in her operation, and after a close inspection of
herself, startled Sally by this speech--
"Sally! I'm looking a great deal older than I used to do!"
Sally, who was busy dilating on the increased price of flour,
considered this remark of Miss Benson's as strangely irrelevant
to the matter in hand, and only noticed it by a--
"To be sure! I suppose we all on us do. But two-and-fourpence a
dozen is too much to make us pay for it."
Miss Benson went on with her inspection of herself, and Sally
with her economical projects.
"Sally!" said Miss Benson, "my hair is nearly white. The last
time I looked it was only pepper-and-salt. What must I do?"
"Do--why, what would the wench do?" asked Sally contemptuously.
"Ye're never going to be taken in, at your time of life, by
hair-dyes and such gimcracks, as can only take in young girls
whose wisdom-teeth are not cut."
"And who are not very likely to want them," said Miss Benson
quietly. "No! but you see, Sally, it's very awkward having such
grey hair, and feeling so young. Do you know, Sally, I've as
great a mind for dancing, when I hear a lively tune on the
street-organs, as ever; and as great a mind to sing when I'm
happy--to sing in my old way, Sally, you know."
"Ay, you had it from a girl," said Sally; "and many a time, when
the door's been shut, I did not know if it was you in the
parlour, or a big bumble-bee in the kitchen, as was making that
drumbling noise. I heard you at it yesterday."
"But an old woman with grey hair ought not to have a fancy for
dancing or singing," continued Miss Benson.
"Whatten nonsense are ye talking?" said Sally, roused to
indignation. "Calling yoursel' an old woman when you're better
than ten years younger than me; and many a girl has grey hair at
"But I'm more than five-and-twenty, Sally--I'm fifty-seven next
"More shame for ye, then, not to know better than to talk of
dyeing your hair. I cannot abide such vanities!"
"Oh dear! Sally, when will you understand what I mean? I want to
know how I'm to keep remembering how old I am, so as to prevent
myself from feeling so young? I was quite startled just now to
see my hair in the glass, for I can generally tell if my cap is
straight by feeling. I'll tell you what I'll do--I'll cut off a
piece of my grey hair, and plait it together for a marker in my
Bible!" Miss Benson expected applause for this bright idea, but
Sally only made answer--
"You'll be taking to painting your cheeks next, now you've once
thought of dyeing your hair." So Miss Benson plaited her grey
hair in silence and quietness, Leonard holding one end of it
while she wove it, and admiring the colour and texture all the
time, with a sort of implied dissatisfaction at the auburn colour
of his own curls, which was only half-comforted away by Miss
Benson's information, that, if he lived long enough, his hair
would be like hers.
Mr. Benson, who had looked old and frail while he was yet but
young, was now stationary as to the date of his appearance. But
there was something more of nervous restlessness in his voice and
ways than formerly; that was the only change five years had
brought to him. And as for Sally, she chose to forget age and the
passage of years altogether, and had as much work in her, to use
her own expression, as she had at sixteen; nor was her appearance
very explicit as to the flight of time. Fifty, sixty, or seventy,
she might be--not more than the last, not less than the
first--though her usual answer to any circuitous inquiry as to
her age was now (what it had been for many years past), "I'm
feared I shall never see thirty again."
Then as to the house. It was not one where the sitting-rooms are
refurnished every two or three years; not now, even (since Ruth
came to share their living) a place where, as an article grew
shabby or worn, a new one was purchased. The furniture looked
poor, and the carpets almost threadbare; but there was such a
dainty spirit of cleanliness abroad, such exquisite neatness of
repair, and altogether so bright and cheerful a look about the
rooms--everything so above-board--no shifts to conceal poverty
under flimsy ornament--that many a splendid drawing-room would
give less pleasure to those who could see evidences of character
in inanimate things. But whatever poverty there might be in the
house, there was full luxuriance in the little square
wall-encircled garden, on two sides of which the parlour and
kitchen looked. The laburnum-tree, which when Ruth came was like
a twig stuck into the ground, was now a golden glory in spring,
and a pleasant shade in summer. The wild hop, that Mr. Benson had
brought home from one of his country rambles, and planted by the
parlour-window, while Leonard was yet a baby in his mother's
arms, was now a garland over the casement, hanging down long
tendrils, that waved in the breezes, and threw pleasant shadows
and traceries, like some old Bacchanalian carving, on the
parlour-walls, at "morn or dusky eve." The yellow rose had
clambered up to the window of Mr. Benson's bedroom, and its
blossom-laden branches were supported by a jargonelle pear-tree
rich in autumnal fruit.
But, perhaps, in Ruth herself there was the greatest external
change; for of the change which had gone on in her heart, and
mind, and soul, or if there had been any, neither she nor any one
around her was conscious; but sometimes Miss Benson did say to
Sally, "How very handsome Ruth is grown!" To which Sally made
ungracious answer, "Yes, she's well enough. Beauty is deceitful,
and favour a snare, and I'm thankful the Lord has spared me from
such man-traps and spring-guns." But even Sally could not help
secretly admiring Ruth. If her early brilliancy of colouring was
gone, a clear ivory skin, as smooth as satin, told of complete
and perfect health, and was as lovely, if not so striking in
effect, as the banished lilies and roses. Her hair had grown
darker and deeper, in the shadow that lingered in its masses; her
eyes, even if you could have guessed that they had shed bitter
tears in their day, had a thoughtful, spiritual look about them,
that made you wonder at their depth, and look--and look again.
The increase of dignity in her face had been imparted to her
form. I do not know if she had grown taller since the birth of
her child, but she looked as if she had. And although she had
lived in a very humble home, yet there was something about either
it or her, or the people amongst whom she had been thrown during
the last few years, which had so changed her, that whereas, six
or seven years ago, you would have perceived that she was not
altogether a lady by birth and education, yet now she might have
been placed among the highest in the land, and would have been
taken by the most critical judge for their equal, although
ignorant of their conventional etiquette--an ignorance which she
would have acknowledged in a simple, child-like way, being
unconscious of any false shame.
Her whole heart was in her boy. She often feared that she loved
him too much--more than God Himself--yet she could not bear to
pray to have her love for her child lessened. But she would kneel
down by his little bed at night--at the deep, still
midnight--with the stars that kept watch over Rizpah shining down
upon her, and tell God what I have now told you, that she feared
she loved her child too much, yet could not, would not, love him
less; and speak to Him of her one treasure as she could speak to
no earthly friend. And so, unconsciously, her love for her child
led her up to love to God, to the All-knowing, who read her
It might be superstition--I dare say it was--but, some-how, she
never lay down to rest without saying, as she looked her last on
her boy, "Thy will, not mine, be done"; and even while she
trembled and shrank with infinite dread from sounding the depths
of what that will might be, she felt as if her treasure were more
secure to waken up rosy and bright in the morning, as one over
whose slumbers God's holy angels had watched, for the very words
which she had turned away in sick terror from realising the night
Her daily absence at her duties to the Bradshaw children only
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