Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 6 out of 9
Pilson's hands, and I shall never inquire what becomes of them;
they may, very probably, be absorbed in the law expenses, you
know. I shall let it be clearly understood from the hustings that
I most decidedly disapprove of bribery, and leave the rest to
Hickson's management. He is accustomed to these sort of things; I
Mr. Bradshaw was rather perplexed by this want of bustling energy
on the part of the new candidate; and if it had not been for the
four thousand pounds aforesaid, would have doubted whether Mr.
Donne cared sufficiently for the result of the election. Jemima
thought differently. She watched her father's visitor
attentively, with something like the curious observation which a
naturalist bestows on a new species of animal.
"Do you know what Mr. Donne reminds me of, mamma?" said she, one
day, as the two sat at work, while the gentlemen were absent
"No! he is not like anybody I ever saw. He quite frightens me, by
being so ready to open the door for me if I am going out of the
room, and by giving me a chair when I come in. I never saw any
one like him. Who is it, Jemima?"
"Not any person--not any human being, mamma," said Jemima, half
smiling. "Do you remember our stopping at Wakefield once, on our
way to Scarborough, and there were horse-races going on
somewhere, and some of the racers were in the stables at the inn
where we dined?"
"Yes! I remember it; but what about that?"
"Why, Richard, somehow, knew one of the jockeys, and, as we were
coming in from our ramble through the town, this man, or boy,
asked us to look at one of the racers he had the charge of."
"Well, my dear?"
"Well, mamma! Mr. Donne is like that horse!"
"Nonsense, Jemima; you must not say so. I don't know what your
father would say if he heard you likening Mr. Donne to a brute."
"Brutes are sometimes very beautiful, mamma. I am sure I should
think it a compliment to be likened to a racehorse, such as the
one we saw. But the thing in which they are alike, is the sort of
repressed eagerness in both."
"Eager! Why, I should say there never was any one cooler than Mr.
Donne. Think of the trouble your papa has had this month past,
and then remember the slow way in which Mr. Donne moves when he
is going out to canvass, and the low, drawling voice in which he
questions the people who bring him intelligence. I can see your
papa standing by, ready to shake them to get out their news."
"But Mr. Donne's questions are always to the point, and force out
the grain without the chaff. And look at him, if any one tells
him ill news about the election! Have you never seen a dull red
light come into his eyes? That is like my race-horse. Her flesh
quivered all over, at certain sounds and noises which had some
meaning to her; but she stood quite still, pretty creature! Now,
Mr. Donne is just as eager as she was, though he may be too proud
to show it. Though he seems so gentle, I almost think he is very
headstrong in following out his own will."
"Well! don't call him like a horse again, for I am sure papa
would not like it. Do you know, I thought you were going to say
he was like little Leonard, when you asked me who he was like."
"Leonard! O mamma! he is not in the least like Leonard. He is
twenty times more like my race-horse."
"Now, my dear Jemima, do be quiet. Your father thinks racing so
wrong, that I am sure he would be very seriously displeased if he
were to hear you."
To return to Mr. Bradshaw, and to give one more of his various
reasons for wishing to take Mr. Donne to Abermouth. The wealthy
Eccleston manufacturer was uncomfortably impressed with an
indefinable sense of inferiority to his visitor. It was not in
education, for Mr. Bradshaw was a well-educated man; it was not
in power, for, if he chose, the present object of Mr. Donne's
life might be utterly defeated; it did not arise from anything
overbearing in manner, for Mr. Donne was habitually polite and
courteous, and was just now anxious to propitiate his host, whom
he looked upon as a very useful man. Whatever this sense of
inferiority arose from, Mr. Bradshaw was anxious to relieve
himself from it, and imagined that if he could make more display
of his wealth his object would be obtained. Now, his house in
Eccleston was old-fashioned and ill-calculated to exhibit money's
worth. His mode of living, though strained to a high pitch just
at this time, he became aware was no more than Mr. Donne was
accustomed to every day of his life. The first day at dessert,
some remark (some opportune remark, as Mr. Bradshaw, in his
innocence, had thought) was made regarding the price of
pine-apples, which was rather exorbitant that year, and Mr. Donne
asked Mrs. Bradshaw, with quiet surprise, if they had no pinery,
as if to be without a pinery were indeed a depth of pitiable
destitution. In fact, Mr. Donne had been born and cradled in all
that wealth could purchase, and so had his ancestors before him
for so many generations, that refinement and luxury seemed the
natural condition of man, and they that dwelt without were in the
position of monsters. The absence was noticed; but not the
Now, Mr. Bradshaw knew that the house and grounds of Eagle's Crag
wore exorbitantly dear, and yet he really thought of purchasing
them. And as one means of exhibiting his wealth, and so raising
himself up to the level of Mr. Donne, he thought that if he could
take the latter down to Abermouth, and show him the place for
which, "because his little girls had taken a fancy to it," he was
willing to give the fancy price of fourteen thousand pounds, he
should at last make those half-shut dreamy eyes open wide, and
their owner confess that, in wealth at least, the Eccleston
manufacturer stood on a par with him. All these mingled motives
caused the determination which made Ruth sit in the little inn
parlour of Abermouth during the wild storm's passage.
She wondered if she had fulfilled all Mr. Bradshaw's directions.
She looked at the letter. Yes! everything was done. And now home
with her news, through the wet lane, where the little pools by
the roadside reflected the deep blue sky and the round white
clouds with even deeper blue and clearer white; and the
rain-drops hung so thick on the trees, that even a little bird's
flight was enough to shake them down in a bright shower as of
rain. When she told the news, Mary exclaimed--
"Oh, how charming! Then we shall see this new member after all!"
while Elizabeth added--
"Yes! I shall like to do that. But where must we be? Papa will
want the dining-room and this room, and where must we sit?"
"Oh!" said Ruth, "in the dressing-room next to my room. All that
your papa wants always, is that you are quiet and out of the
Saturday came. Torn, ragged clouds were driven across the sky. It
was not a becoming day for the scenery, and the little girls
regretted it much. First they hoped for a change at twelve
o'clock, and then at the afternoon tide-turning. But at neither
time did the sun show his face.
"Papa will never buy this dear place," said Elizabeth sadly, as
she watched the weather. "The sun is everything to it. The sea
looks quite leaden to-day, and there is no sparkle on it. And the
sands, that were so yellow and sun-speckled on Thursday, are all
one dull brown now."
"Never mind! to-morrow may be better," said Ruth cheerily.
"I wonder what time they will come at?" inquired Mary.
"Your papa said they would be at the station at five, o'clock.
And the landlady at the 'Swan' said it would take them
half-an-hour to get here."
"And they are to dine at six?" asked Elizabeth.
"Yes," answered Ruth. "And I think, if we had our tea
half-an-hour earlier, at half-past four, and then went out for a
walk, we should be nicely out of the way just during the bustle
of the arrival and dinner; and we could be in the drawing-room
ready against your papa came in after dinner."
"Oh! that would be nice," said they; and tea was ordered
The south-westerly wind had dropped, and the clouds were
stationary, when they went out on the sands. They dug little
holes near the incoming tide, and made canals to them from the
water, and blew the light sea-foam against each other; and then
stole on tiptoe near to the groups of grey and white sea-gulls,
which despised their caution, flying softly and slowly away to a
little distance as soon as they drew near. And in all this Ruth
was as great a child as any. Only she longed for Leonard with a
mother's longing, as indeed she did every day, and all hours of
the day. By-and-by the clouds thickened yet more, and one or two
drops of rain were felt. It was very little, but Ruth feared a
shower for her delicate Elizabeth, and besides, the September
evening was fast closing in the dark and sunless day. As they
turned homewards in the rapidly increasing dusk, they saw three
figures on the sand near the rocks, coming in their direction.
"Papa and Mr. Donne!" exclaimed Mary. "Now we shall see him!"
"Which do you make out is him?" asked Elizabeth.
"Oh! the tall one, to be sure. Don't you see how papa always
turns to him, as if he was speaking to him, and not to the
"Who is the other?" asked Elizabeth.
"Mr. Bradshaw said that Mr. Farquhar and Mr. Hickson would come
with him. But that is not Mr. Farquhar, I am sure," said Ruth.
The girls looked at each other, as they always did, when Ruth
mentioned Mr. Farquhar's name; but she was perfectly unconscious
both of the look and of the conjectures which gave rise to it.
As soon as the two parties drew near, Mr. Bradshaw called out in
his strong voice--
"Well, my dears! we found there was an hour before dinner, so we
came down upon the sands, and here you are."
The tone of his voice assured them that he was in a bland and
indulgent mood, and the two little girls ran towards him. He
kissed them, and shook hands with Ruth; told his companions that
these were the little girls who were tempting him to this
extravagance of purchasing Eagle's Crag; and then, rather
doubtfully, and because he saw that Mr. Donne expected it, he
introduced "My daughters' governess, Mrs. Denbigh."
It was growing darker every moment, and it was time they should
hasten back to the rocks, which were even now indistinct in the
grey haze. Mr. Bradshaw held a hand of each of his daughters, and
Ruth walked alongside, the two strange gentlemen being on the
outskirts of the party.
Mr. Bradshaw began to give his little girls some home news. He
told them that Mr. Farquhar was ill, and could not accompany
them; but Jemima and their mamma were quite well.
The gentleman nearest to Ruth spoke to her.
"Are you fond of the sea?" asked he. There was no answer, so he
repeated his question in a different form.
"Do you enjoy staying by the seaside? I should rather ask."
The reply was "Yes," rather breathed out in a deep inspiration
than spoken in a sound. The sands heaved and trembled beneath
Ruth. The figures near her vanished into strange nothingness; the
sounds of their voices were as distant sounds in a dream, while
the echo of one voice thrilled through and through. She could
have caught at his arm for support, in the awful dizziness which
wrapped her up, body and soul. That voice! No! if name, and face,
and figure were all changed, that voice was the same which had
touched her girlish heart, which had spoken most tender words of
love, which had won, and wrecked her, and which she had last
heard in the low mutterings of fever. She dared not look round to
see the figure of him who spoke, dark as it was. She knew he was
there--she heard him speak in the manner in which he used to
address strangers years ago; perhaps she answered him, perhaps
she did not--God knew. It seemed as if weights were tied to her
feet--as if the steadfast rocks receded--as if time stood
still;--it was so long, so terrible, that path across the reeling
At the foot of the rocks they separated. Mr. Bradshaw, afraid
lest dinner should cool, preferred the shorter way for himself
and his friends. On Elizabeth's account, the girls were to take
the longer and easier path, which wound up-wards through a rocky
field, where larks' nests abounded, and where wild thyme and
heather were now throwing out their sweets to the soft night air.
The little girls spoke in eager discussion of the strangers. They
appealed to Ruth, but Ruth did not answer, and they were too
impatient to convince each other to repeat the question. The
first little ascent from the sands to the field surmounted, Ruth
sat down suddenly and covered her face with her hands. This was
so unusual--their wishes, their good, was so invariably the rule
of motion or of rest in their walks--that the girls, suddenly
checked, stood silent and affrighted in surprise. They were still
more startled when Ruth wailed aloud some inarticulate words.
"Are you not well, dear Mrs. Denbigh?" asked Elizabeth gently,
kneeling down on the grass by Ruth.
She sat facing the west. The low watery twilight was on her face
as she took her hands away. So pale, so haggard, so wild and
wandering a look the girls had never seen on human countenance
"Well! what are you doing here with me? You should not be with
me," said she, shaking her head slowly.
They looked at each other.
"You are sadly tired," said Elizabeth soothingly. "Come home, and
let me help you to bed. I will tell papa you are ill, and ask him
to send for a doctor." Ruth looked at her as if she did not
understand the meaning of her words. No more she did at first.
But by-and-by the dulled brain began to think most vividly and
rapidly, and she spoke in a sharp way which deceived the girls
into a belief that nothing had been the matter.
"Yes! I was tired. I am tired. Those sands--oh! those
sands,--those weary, dreadful sands! But that is all over now.
Only my heart aches still. Feel how it flutters and beats," said
she, taking Elizabeth's hand, and holding it to her side. "I am
quite well, though," she continued, reading pity in the child's
looks, as she felt the trembling, quivering beat. "We will go
straight to the dressing-room, and read a chapter; that will
still my heart; and then I'll go to bed, and Mr. Bradshaw will
excuse me, I know, this one night. I only ask for one night. Put
on your right frocks, dears, and do all you ought to do. But I
know you will" said she, bending down to kiss Elizabeth, and
then, before she had done so, raising her head abruptly, "You are
good and dear girls--God keep you so!"
By a strong effort at self-command, she went onwards at an even
pace, neither rushing nor pausing to sob and think. The very
regularity of motion calmed her. The front and back doors of the
house were on two sides, at right angles with each other. They
all shrank a little from the idea of going in at the front door,
now that the strange gentlemen were about, and, accordingly, they
went through the quiet farmyard right into the bright, ruddy
kitchen, where the servants were dashing about with the
dinner-things. It was a contrast in more than colour to the
lonely, dusky field, which even the little girls perceived; and
the noise, the warmth, the very bustle of the servants, were a
positive relief to Ruth, and for the time lifted off the heavy
press of pent-up passion. A silent house, with moonlit rooms, or
with a faint gloom brooding over the apartments, would have been
more to be dreaded. Then, she must have given way, and cried out.
As it was, she went up the old awkward back-stairs, and into the
room they were to sit in. There was no candle. Mary volunteered
to go down for one; and when she returned she was full of the
wonders of preparation in the drawing-room, and ready and eager
to dress, so as to take her place there before the gentlemen had
finished dinner. But she was struck by the strange paleness of
Ruth's face, now that the light fell upon it.
"Stay up here, dear Mrs. Denbigh! We'll tell papa you are tired,
and are gone to bed."
Another time Ruth would have dreaded Mr. Bradshaw's displeasure;
for it was an understood thing that no one was to be ill or tired
in his household without leave asked, and cause given and
assigned. But she never thought of that now. Her great desire was
to hold quiet till she was alone. Quietness it was not--it was
rigidity; but she succeeded in being rigid in look and movement,
and went through her duties to Elizabeth (who preferred remaining
with her upstairs) with wooden precision. But her heart felt at
times like ice, at times like burning fire; always a heavy, heavy
weight within her. At last Elizabeth went to bed. Still Ruth
dared not think. Mary would come upstairs soon, and with a
strange, sick, shrinking yearning, Ruth awaited her--and the
crumbs of intelligence she might drop out about him. Ruth's sense
of hearing was quickened to miserable intensity as she stood
before the chimney-piece, grasping it tight with both
hands--gazing into the dying fire, but seeing--not the dead grey
embers, or the little sparks of vivid light that ran hither and
thither among the wood-ashes--but an old farmhouse, and climbing,
winding road, and a little golden breezy common, with a rural inn
on the hill-top, far, far away. And through the thoughts of the
past came the sharp sounds of the present--of three voices, one
of which was almost silence, it was so hushed. Indifferent people
would only have guessed that Mr. Donne was speaking by the
quietness in which the others listened; but Ruth heard the voice
and many of the words, though they conveyed no idea to her mind.
She was too much stunned even to feel curious to know to what
they related. He spoke. That was her one fact.
Presently up came Mary, bounding, exultant. Papa had let her stay
up one quarter of an hour longer, because Mr. Hickson had asked.
Mr. Hickson was so clever! She did not know what to make of Mr.
Donne, he seemed such a dawdle. But he was very handsome. Had
Ruth seen him? Oh, no! She could not, it was so dark on those
stupid sands. Well, never mind, she would see him to-morrow. She
must be well to-morrow. Papa seemed a good deal put out that
neither she nor Elizabeth were in the drawing-room to-night; and
his last words were, "Tell Mrs. Denbigh I hope" (and papa's
"hopes" always meant "expect") "she will be able to make
breakfast at nine o'clock;" and then she would see Mr. Donne.
That was all Ruth heard about him. She went with Mary into her
bedroom, helped her to undress, and put the candle out. At length
she was alone in her own room! At length!
But the tension did not give way immediately. She fastened her
door, and threw open the window, cold and threatening as was the
night. She tore off her gown; she put her hair back from her
heated face. It seemed now as if she could not think--as if
thought and emotion had been repressed so sternly that they would
not come to relieve her stupefied brain. Till all at once, like a
flash of lightning, her life, past and present, was revealed to
her to its minutest detail. And when she saw her very present
"Now," the strange confusion of agony was too great to be borne,
and she cried aloud. Then she was quite dead, and listened as to
the sound of galloping armies.
"If I might see him! If I might see him! If I might just ask him
why he left me; if I had vexed him in any way; it was so
strange--so cruel! It was not him; it was his mother," said she,
almost fiercely, as if answering herself. "O God! but he might
have found me out before this," she continued sadly. "He did not
care for me, as I did for him. He did not care for me at all,"
she went on wildly and sharply. "He did me cruel harm. I can
never again lift up my face in innocence. They think I have
forgotten all, because I do not speak. Oh, darling love! am I
talking against you?" asked she tenderly. "I am so torn and
perplexed! You, who are the father of my child!"
But that very circumstance, full of such tender meaning in many
cases; threw a new light into her mind. It changed her from the
woman into the mother--the stern guardian of her child. She was
still for a time, thinking. Then she began again, but in a low,
"He left me. He might have been hurried off, but he might have
inquired--he might have learned and explained. He left me to bear
the burden and the shame; and never cared to learn, as he might
have done, of Leonard's birth. He has no love for his child, and
I will have no love for him."
She raised her voice while uttering this determination, and then,
feeling her own weakness, she moaned out, "Alas! alas!"
And then she started up, for all this time she had been rocking
herself backwards and forwards as she sat on the ground, and
began to pace the room with hurried steps.
"What am I thinking of? Where am I? I who have been praying these
years and years to be worthy to be Leonard's mother. My God! What
a depth of sin is in my heart! Why, the old time would be as
white as snow to what it would be now, if I sought him out, and
prayed for the explanation, which would re-establish him in my
heart. I who have striven (or made a mock of trying) to learn
God's holy will, in order to bring up Leonard into the full
strength of a Christian--I who have taught his sweet innocent
lips to pray, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from
evil;' and yet, somehow, I've been longing to give him to his
father, who is--who is"--she almost choked, till at last she
cried sharp out,
"Oh, my God! I do believe Leonard's father is a bad man, and yet,
oh! pitiful God, I love him; I cannot forget--I cannot!"
She threw her body half out of the window into the cold night
air. The wind was rising, and came in great gusts. The rain beat
down on her. It did her good. A still, calm night would not have
soothed her as this did. The wild tattered clouds, hurrying past
the moon, gave her a foolish kind of pleasure that almost made
her smile a vacant smile. The blast-driven rain came on her
again, and drenched her hair through and through. The words
"stormy wind fulfilling His word" came into her mind.
She sat down on the floor. This time her hands were clasped round
her knees. The uneasy rocking motion was stilled.
"I wonder if my darling is frightened with this blustering, noisy
wind. I wonder if he is awake."
And then her thoughts went back to the various times of old,
when, affrighted by the weather--sounds so mysterious in the
night--he had crept into her bed and clung to her, and she had
soothed him, and sweetly awed him into stillness and childlike
faith, by telling him of the goodness and power of God.
Of a sudden she crept to a chair, and there knelt as in the very
presence of God, hiding her face, at first not speaking a word
(for did He not know her heart), but by-and-by moaning out, amid
her sobs and tears (and now for the first time she wept)--
"Oh, my God, help me, for I am very weak. My God! I pray Thee be
my rock and my strong fortress, for I of myself am nothing. If I
ask in His name, Thou wilt give it me. In the name of Jesus
Christ I pray for strength to do Thy will!"
She could not think, or, indeed, remember anything but that she
was weak, and God was strong, and "a very present help in time of
trouble;" and the wind rose yet higher, and the house shook and
vibrated as, in measured time, the great and terrible gusts came
from the four quarters of the heavens and blew around it, dying
away in the distance with loud and unearthly wails, which were
not utterly still before the sound of the coming blast was heard
like the trumpets of the vanguard of the Prince of Air.
There was a knock at the bedroom door--a little, gentle knock,
and a soft child's voice.
"Mrs. Denbigh, may I come in, please? I am so frightened!"
It was Elizabeth. Ruth calmed her passionate breathing by one
hasty draught of water, and opened the door to the timid girl.
"Oh, Mrs. Denbigh! did you ever hear such a night? I am so
frightened I and Mary sleeps so sound."
Ruth was too much shaken to be able to speak all at once; but she
took Elizabeth in her arms to reassure her. Elizabeth stood back.
"Why, how wet you are, Mrs. Denbigh! and there's the window open,
I do believe! Oh, how cold it is!" said she, shivering.
"Get into my bed, dear!" said Ruth.
"But do come too! The candle gives such a strange light with that
long wick, and, somehow, your face does not look like you.
Please, put the candle out, and come to bed. I am so frightened,
and it seems as if I should be safer if you were by me."
Ruth shut the window, and went to bed. Elizabeth was all
shivering and quaking. To soothe her, Ruth made a great effort;
and spoke of Leonard and his fears, and, in a low hesitating
voice, she spoke of God's tender mercy, but very humbly, for she
feared lest Elizabeth should think her better and holier than she
was. The little girl was soon asleep, her fears forgotten; and
Ruth, worn out by passionate emotion, and obliged to be still for
fear of awaking her bedfellow, went off into a short slumber,
through the depths of which the echoes of her waking sobs
When she awoke the grey light of autumnal dawn was in the room.
Elizabeth slept on; but Ruth heard the servants about, and the
early farmyard sounds. After she had recovered from the shock of
consciousness and recollection, she collected her thoughts with a
stern calmness. He was here. In a few hours she must meet him.
There was no escape, except through subterfuges and contrivances
that were both false and cowardly. How it would all turn out she
could not say, or even guess. But of one thing she was clear, and
to one thing she would hold fast: that was, that, come what
might, she would obey God's law, and, be the end of all what it
might, she would say, "Thy will be done!" She only asked for
strength enough to do this when the time came. How the time would
come--what speech or action would be requisite on her part she
did not know--she did not even try to conjecture. She left that
in His hands.
She was icy cold, but very calm, when the breakfast-bell rang.
She went down immediately; because she felt that there was less
chance of a recognition if she were already at her place behind
the tea-urn, and busied with the cups, than if she came in after
all were settled. Her heart seemed to stand still, but she felt
almost a strange exultant sense of power over herself. She felt,
rather than saw, that he was not there. Mr. Bradshaw and Mr.
Hickson were, and so busy talking election-politics that they did
not interrupt their conversation even when they bowed to her. Her
pupils sat one on each side of her. Before they were quite
settled, and while the other two gentlemen yet hung over the
fire, Mr. Donne came in. Ruth felt as if that moment was like
death. She had a kind of desire to make some sharp sound, to
relieve a choking sensation, but it was over in an instant, and
she sat on very composed and silent--to all outward appearance
the very model of a governess who knew her place. And by-and-by
she felt strangely at ease in her sense of power. She could even
listen to what was being said. She had never dared as yet to look
at Mr. Donne, though her heart burned to see him once again. He
sounded changed. The voice had lost its fresh and youthful
eagerness of tone, though in peculiarity of modulation it was the
same. It could never be mistaken for the voice of another person.
There was a good deal said at that breakfast, for none seemed
inclined to hurry, although it was Sunday morning. Ruth was
compelled to sit there, and it was good for her that she did.
That half-hour seemed to separate the present Mr. Donne very
effectively from her imagination of what Mr. Bellingham had been.
She was no analyser; she hardly even had learnt to notice
character; but she felt there was some strange difference between
the people she had lived with lately and the man who now leant
back in his chair, listening in a careless manner to the
conversation, but never joining in, or expressing any interest in
it, unless it somewhere, or somehow, touched himself. Now, Mr.
Bradshaw always threw himself into a subject; it might be in a
pompous, dogmatic sort of way, but he did do it, whether it
related to himself or not; and it was part of Mr. Hickson's trade
to assume an interest if he felt it not. But Mr. Donne did
neither the one nor the other. When the other two were talking of
many of the topics of the day, he put his glass in his eye, the
better to examine into the exact nature of a cold game-pie at the
other side of the table. Suddenly Ruth felt that his attention
was caught by her. Until now, seeing his short-sightedness, she
had believed herself safe; now her face flushed with a painful,
miserable blush. But in an instant she was strong and quiet. She
looked up straight at his face; and, as if this action took him
aback, he dropped his glass, and began eating away with great
diligence. She had seen him. He was changed, she knew not how. In
fact, the expression, which had been only occasional formerly,
when his worse self predominated, had become permanent. He looked
restless and dissatisfied. But he was very handsome still; and
her quick eye had recognised, with a sort of strange pride, that
the eyes and mouth were like Leonard's. Although perplexed by the
straightforward, brave look she had sent right at him, he was not
entirely baffled. He thought this Mrs. Denbigh was certainly like
poor Ruth; but this woman was far handsomer. Her face was
positively Greek; and then such a proud, superb turn of her head;
quite queenly! A governess in Mr. Bradshaw's family! Why, she
might be a Percy or a Howard for the grandeur of her grace! Poor
Ruth! This woman's hair was darker, though; and she had less
colour; although a more refined-looking person. Poor Ruth! and,
for the first time for several years, he wondered what had become
of her; though, of course, there was but one thing that could
have happened, and perhaps it was as well he did not know her
end, for most likely it would have made him very uncomfortable.
He leant back in his chair, and, unobserved (for he would not
have thought it gentlemanly to look so fixedly at her if she or
any one noticed him), he put up his glass again. She was speaking
to one of her pupils, and did not see him. By Jove! it must be
she, though! There were little dimples came out about the mouth
as she spoke, just like those he used to admire so much in Ruth,
and which he had never seen in any one else--the sunshine without
the positive movement of a smile. The longer he looked the more
he was convinced; and it was with a jerk that he recovered
himself enough to answer Mr. Bradshaw's question, whether he
wished to go to church or not.
"Church? How far--a mile? No; I think I shall perform my
devotions at home to-day."
He absolutely felt jealous when Mr. Hickson sprang up to open the
door as Ruth and her pupils left the room. He was pleased to feel
jealous again. He had been really afraid he was too much "used
up" for such sensations. But Hickson must keep his place. What he
was paid for was doing the talking to the electors, not paying
attention to the ladles in their families. Mr. Donne had noticed
that Mr. Hickson had tried to be gallant to Miss Bradshaw; let
him, if he liked; but let him beware how he behaved to this fair
creature, Ruth or no Ruth. It certainly was Ruth; only how the
devil had she played her cards so well as to be the
governess--the respected governess, in such a family as Mr.
Bradshaw's? Mr. Donne's movements were evidently to be the guide
of Mr. Hickson's. Mr. Bradshaw always disliked going to church,
partly from principle, partly because he never could find the
places in the Prayer-book. Mr. Donne was in the drawing-room as
Mary came down ready equipped; he was turning over the leaves of
the large and handsome Bible. Seeing Mary, he was struck with a
"How singular it is," said he, "that the name of Ruth is so
seldom chosen by those good people who go to the Bible before
they christen their children! It is a very pretty name, I think."
Mr. Bradshaw looked up. "Why, Mary!" said he, "is not that Mrs.
"Yes, papa," replied Mary eagerly; "and I know two other Ruths;
there's Ruth Brown here, and Ruth Macartney at Eccleston."
"And I have an aunt called Ruth, Mr. Donne! I don't think your
observation holds good. Besides my daughters' governess, I know
three other Ruths."
"Oh! I have no doubt I was wrong. It was just a speech of which
one perceives the folly the moment it is made."
But, secretly, he rejoiced with a fierce joy over the success of
his device. Elizabeth came to summon Mary.
Ruth was glad when she got into the open air, and away from the
house. Two hours were gone and over. Two out of a day, a day and
a half--for it might be late on Monday morning before the
Eccleston party returned.
She felt weak and trembling in body, but strong in power over
herself. They had left the house in good time for church, so they
needed not to hurry; and they went leisurely along the road, now
and then passing some country person whom they knew, and with
whom they exchanged a kindly, placid greeting. But presently, to
Ruth's dismay, she heard a step behind, coming at a rapid pace, a
peculiar clank of rather high-heeled boots, which gave a springy
sound to the walk, that she had known well long ago. It was like
a nightmare, where the evil dreaded is never avoided, never
completely shunned, but is by one's side at the very moment of
triumph in escape. There he was by her side; and there was still
a quarter of a mile intervening between her and the church: but
even yet she trusted that he had not recognised her.
"I have changed my mind, you see," said he quietly. "I have some
curiosity to see the architecture of the church; some of these
old country churches have singular bits about them. Mr. Bradshaw
kindly directed me part of the way; but I was so much puzzled by
'turns to the right' and 'turns to the left,' that I was quite
glad to espy your party."
That speech required no positive answer of any kind; and no
answer did it receive. He had not expected a reply. He knew, if
she were Ruth, she could not answer any indifferent words of his;
and her silence made him more certain of her identity with the
lady by his side.
"The scenery here is of a kind new to me; neither grand, wild,
nor yet marked by high cultivation; and yet it has great charms.
It reminds me of some part of Wales." He breathed deeply, and
then added, "You have been in Wales, I believe?"
He spoke low; almost in a whisper. The little church-bell began
to call the lagging people with its quick, sharp summons. Ruth
writhed in body and spirit, but struggled on. The church-door
would be gained at last; and in that holy place she would find
He repeated in a louder tone, so as to compel an answer in order
to conceal her agitation from the girls--
"Have you never been in Wales?" He used "never" instead of
"ever," and laid the emphasis on that word, in order to mark his
meaning to Ruth, and Ruth only. But he drove her to bay.
"I have been in Wales, sir," she replied, in a calm, grave tone.
"I was there many years ago. Events took place there which
contribute to make the recollections of that time most miserable
to me. I shall be obliged to you, sir, if you will make no
further reference to it."
The little girls wondered how Mrs. Denbigh could speak in such a
high tone of quiet authority to Mr. Donne, who was almost a
member of Parliament. But they settled that her husband must have
died in Wales, and, of course, that would make the recollection
of the country "most miserable," as she said.
Mr. Donne did not dislike the answer, and he positively admired
the dignity with which she spoke. His leaving her as he did must
have made her very miserable; and he liked the pride that made
her retain her indignation, until he could speak to her in
private, and explain away a good deal of what she might complain
of with some justice.
The church was reached. They all went up the middle aisle into
the Eagle's Crag pew. He followed them in, entered himself, and
shut the door. Ruth's heart sank as she saw him there; just
opposite to her; coming between her and the clergyman who was to
read out the word of God. It was merciless--it was cruel to haunt
her there. She durst not lift her eyes to the bright eastern
light--she could not see how peacefully the marble images of the
dead lay on their tombs, for he was between her and all Light and
Peace. She knew that his look was on her; that he never turned
his glance away. She could not join in the prayer for the
remission of sins while he was there, for his very presence
seemed as a sign that their stain would never be washed out of
her life. But, although goaded and chafed by her thoughts and
recollections, she kept very still. No sign of emotion, no flush
of colour was on her face as he looked at her. Elizabeth could
not find her place, and then Ruth breathed once, long and deeply,
as she moved up the pew, and out of the straight, burning glance
of those eyes of evil meaning. When they sat down for the reading
of the first lesson, Ruth turned the corner of the seat so as no
longer to be opposite to him. She could not listen. The words
seemed to be uttered in some world far away, from which she was
exiled and cast out their sound, and yet more their meaning, was
dim and distant. But in this extreme tension of mind to hold in
her bewildered agony, it so happened that one of her senses was
preternaturally acute. While all the church and the people swam
in misty haze, one point in a dark corner grew clearer and
clearer till she saw (what at another time she could not have
discerned at all) a face--a gargoyle I think they call it--at the
end of the arch next to the narrowing of the nave into the
chancel, and in the shadow of that contraction. The face was
beautiful in feature (the next to it was a grinning monkey), but
it was not the features that were the most striking part. There
was a half-open mouth, not in any way distorted out of its
exquisite beauty by the intense expression of suffering it
conveyed. Any distortion of the face by mental agony implies that
a struggle with circumstance is going on. But in this face, if
such struggle had been, it was over now. Circumstance had
conquered; and there was no hope from mortal endeavour, or help
from mortal creature, to be had. But the eyes looked onward and
upward to the "hills from whence cometh our help." And though the
parted lips seemed ready to quiver with agony, yet the expression
of the whole face, owing to these strange, stony, and yet
spiritual eyes, was high and consoling. If mortal gaze had never
sought its meaning before, in the deep shadow where it had been
placed long centuries ago, yet Ruth's did now. Who could have
imagined such a look? Who could have witnessed--perhaps
felt--such infinite sorrow and yet dared to lift it up by Faith
into a peace so pure? Or was it a mere conception? If so, what a
soul the unknown carver must have had; for creator and
handicraftsman must have been one; no two minds could have been
in such perfect harmony. Whatever it was--however it came
there--imaginer, carver, sufferer, all were long passed away.
Human art was ended--human life done--human suffering over; but
this remained; it stilled Ruth's beating heart to look on it. She
grew still enough to hear words which have come to many in their
time of need, and awed them in the presence of the extremest
suffering that the hushed world had ever heard of.
The second lesson for the morning of the 25th of September is the
26th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel.
And when they prayed again Ruth's tongue was unloosed, and she
also could pray, in His name who underwent the agony in the
As they came out of church, there was a little pause and
gathering at the door. It had begun to rain; those who had
umbrellas were putting them up; those who had not were
regretting, and wondering how long it would last. Standing for a
moment, impeded by the people who were thus collected under the
porch, Ruth heard a voice close to her say, very low, but very
"I have much to say to you--much to explain. I entreat you to
give me the opportunity."
Ruth did not reply. She would not acknowledge that she heard; but
she trembled nevertheless, for the well-remembered voice was low
and soft, and had yet its power to thrill. She earnestly desired
to know why and how he had left her. It appeared to her as if
that knowledge could alone give her a relief from the restless
wondering that distracted her mind, and that one explanation
could do no harm.
"No!" the higher spirit made answer; "it must not be."
Ruth and the girls had each an umbrella. She turned to Mary, and
"Mary, give your umbrella to Mr. Donne, and come under mine." Her
way of speaking was short and decided; she was compressing her
meaning into as few words as possible. The little girl obeyed in
silence. As they went first through the churchyard stile Mr.
Donne spoke again.
"You are unforgiving," said he. "I only ask you to hear me. I
have a right to be heard, Ruth! I won't believe you are so much
changed as not to listen to me when I entreat."
He spoke in a tone of soft complaint. But he himself had done
much to destroy the illusion which had hung about his memory for
years, whenever Ruth had allowed herself to think of it. Besides
which, during the time of her residence in the Benson family, her
feeling of what people ought to be had been unconsciously raised
and refined; and Mr. Donne, even while she had to struggle
against the force of past recollections, repelled her so much by
what he was at present, that every speech of his, every minute
they were together, served to make her path more and more easy to
follow. His voice retained something of its former influence.
When he spoke, without her seeing him, she could not help
remembering former days.
She did not answer this last speech any more than the first. She
saw clearly, that, putting aside all thought as to the character
of their former relationship, it had been dissolved by his
will--his act and deed; and that, therefore, the power to refuse
any further intercourse whatsoever remained with her.
It sometimes seems a little strange how, after having earnestly
prayed to be delivered from temptation, and having given
ourselves with shut eyes into God's hand, from that time every
thought, every outward influence, every acknowledged law of life,
seems to lead us on from strength to strength. It seems strange
sometimes, because we notice the coincidence; but it is the
natural, unavoidable consequence of all, truth and goodness being
one and the same, and therefore carried out in every
circumstance, external and internal, of God's creation. When Mr.
Donne saw that Ruth would not answer him, he became only the more
determined that she should hear what he had to say. What that was
he did not exactly know. The whole affair was most mysterious and
The umbrella protected Ruth from more than the rain on that walk
homewards, for under its shelter she could not be spoken to
unheard. She had not rightly understood at what time she and the
girls were to dine. From the gathering at meal-times she must not
shrink. She must show no sign of weakness. But, oh! the relief,
after that walk, to sit in her own room, locked up, so that
neither Mary nor Elizabeth could come by surprise, and to let her
weary frame (weary with being so long braced up to rigidity and
stiff quiet) fall into a chair anyhow--all helpless, nerveless,
motionless, as if the very bones had melted out of her!
The peaceful rest which her mind took was in thinking of Leonard.
She dared not look before or behind, but she could see him well
at present. She brooded over the thought of him, till she dreaded
his father more and more. By the light of her child's purity and
innocence, she saw evil clearly, and yet more clearly. She
thought that, if Leonard ever came to know the nature of his
birth, she had nothing for it but to die out of his sight. He
could never know--human heart could never know, her ignorant
innocence, and all the small circumstances which had impelled her
onwards. But God knew. And if Leonard heard of his mother's
error, why, nothing remained but death; for she felt, then, as if
she had it in her power to die innocently out of such future
agony; but that escape is not so easy. Suddenly a fresh thought
came, and she prayed that, through whatever suffering, she might
be purified. Whatever trials, woes, measureless pangs, God might
see fit to chastise her with, she would not shrink, if only at
last she might come into His presence in heaven. Alas! the
shrinking from suffering we cannot help. That part of her prayer
was vain. And as for the rest, was not the sure justice of His
law finding out even now? His laws once broken, His justice and
the very nature of those laws bring the immutable retribution;
but, if we turn penitently to Him, He enables us to bear our
punishment with a meek and docile heart, "for His mercy endureth
Mr. Bradshaw had felt himself rather wanting in proper attention
to his guest, inasmuch as he had been unable, all in a minute, to
comprehend Mr. Donne's rapid change of purpose; and, before it
had entered into his mind that, notwithstanding the distance of
the church, Mr. Donne was going thither, that gentleman was out
of the sight, and far out of the reach, of his burly host. But
though the latter had so far neglected the duties of hospitality
as to allow his visitor to sit in the Eagle's Crag pew with no
other guard of honour than the children and the governess, Mr.
Bradshaw determined to make up for it by extra attention during
the remainder of the day. Accordingly he never left Mr. Donne.
Whatever wish that gentleman expressed, it was the study of his
host to gratify. Did he hint at the pleasure which a walk in such
beautiful scenery would give him, Mr. Bradshaw was willing to
accompany him, although at Eccleston it was a principle with him
not to take any walks for pleasure on a Sunday. When Mr. Donne
turned round, and recollected letters which must be written, and
which would compel him to stay at home, Mr. Bradshaw instantly
gave up the walk, and remained at hand, ready to furnish him with
any writing-materials which could be wanted, and which were not
laid out in the half-furnished house. Nobody knew where Mr.
Hickson was all this time. He had sauntered out after Mr. Donne,
when the latter set off for church, and he had never returned.
Mr. Donne kept wondering if he could have met Ruth--if, in fact,
she had gone out with her pupils, now that the afternoon had
cleared up. This uneasy wonder, and a few mental imprecations on
his host's polite attention, together with the letter-writing
pretence, passed away the afternoon--the longest afternoon he had
ever spent; and of weariness he had had his share. Lunch was
lingering in the dining-room, left there for the truant Mr.
Hickson; but of the children or Ruth there was no sign. He
ventured on a distant inquiry as to their whereabouts.
"They dine early; they are gone to church again. Mrs. Denbigh was
a member of the Establishment once; and, though she attends
chapel at home, she seems glad to have an opportunity of going to
Mr. Donne was on the point of asking some further questions about
"Mrs. Denbigh," when Mr. Hickson came in, loud-spoken, cheerful,
hungry, and as ready to talk about his ramble, and the way in
which he had lost and found himself, as he was about everything
else. He knew how to dress up the commonest occurrence with a
little exaggeration, a few puns, and a happy quotation or two, so
as to make it sound very agreeable. He could read faces, and saw
that he had been missed; both host and visitor looked moped to
death. He determined to devote himself to their amusement during
the remainder of the day, for he had really lost himself, and
felt that he had been away too long on a dull Sunday, when people
were apt to get hipped if not well amused.
"It is really a shame to be indoors in such a place. Rain? Yes,
it rained some hours ago, but now it is splendid weather. I feel
myself quite qualified for guide, I assure you. I can show you
all the beauties of the neighbourhood, and throw in a bog and a
nest of vipers to boot."
Mr. Donne languidly assented to this proposal of going out; and
then he became restless until Mr. Hickson had eaten a hasty
lunch, for he hoped to meet Ruth on the way from church, to be
near her, and watch her, though he might not be able to speak to
her. To have the slow hours roll away--to know he must leave the
next day--and yet, so close to her, not to be seeing her--was
more than he could bear. In an impetuous kind of way, he
disregarded all Mr. Hickson's offers of guidance to lovely views,
and turned a deaf ear to Mr. Bradshaw's expressed wish of showing
him the land belonging to the house ("very little for fourteen
thousand pounds"), and set off wilfully on the road leading to
the church, from which he averred he had seen a view which
nothing else about the place could equal.
They met the country people dropping homewards. No Ruth was
there. She and her pupils had returned by the field-way, as Mr.
Bradshaw informed his guests at dinner-time. Mr. Donne was very
captious all through dinner. He thought it never would be over,
and cursed Hickson's interminable stories, which were told on
purpose to amuse him. His heart gave a fierce bound when he saw
her in the drawing-room with the little girls.
She was reading to them--with how sick and trembling a heart no
words can tell. But she could master and keep down outward signs
of her emotion. An hour more to-night (part of which was to be
spent in family prayer, and all in the safety of company),
another hour in the morning (when all would be engaged in the
bustle of departure)--if, during this short space of time, she
could not avoid speaking to him, she could at least keep him at
such a distance as to make him feel that henceforward her world
and his belonged to separate systems, wide as the heavens apart.
By degrees she felt that he was drawing near to where she stood.
He was by the table examining the books that lay upon it. Mary
and Elizabeth drew off a little space, awe-stricken by the future
member for Eccleston. As he bent his head over a book he said, "I
implore you; five minutes alone."
The little girls could not hear; but Ruth, hemmed in so that no
escape was possible, did hear.
She took sudden courage, and said in a clear voice--
"Will you read the whole passage aloud? I do not remember it."
Mr. Hickson, hovering at no great distance, heard these words,
and drew near to second Mrs. Denbigh's request. Mr. Bradshaw, who
was very sleepy after his unusually late dinner, and longing for
bedtime, joined in the request, for it would save the necessity
for making talk, and he might, perhaps, get in a nap, undisturbed
and unnoticed, before the servants came in to prayers.
Mr. Donne was caught; he was obliged to read aloud, although he
did not know what he was reading. In the middle of some sentence
the door opened, a rush of servants came in, and Mr. Bradshaw
became particularly wide awake in an instant, and read them a
long sermon with great emphasis and unction, winding up with a
prayer almost as long.
Ruth sat with her head drooping, more from exhaustion, after a
season of effort than because she shunned Mr. Donne's looks. He
had so lost his power over her--his power, which had stirred her
so deeply the night before--that, except as one knowing her error
and her shame, and making a cruel use of such knowledge, she had
quite separated him from the idol of her youth. And yet, for the
sake of that first and only love, she would gladly have known
what explanation he could offer to account for leaving her. It
would have been something gained to her own self-respect if she
had learnt that he was not then, as she felt him to be now, cold
and egotistical, caring for no one and nothing but what related
Home, and Leonard--how strangely peaceful the two seemed! Oh, for
the rest that a dream about Leonard would bring!
Mary and Elizabeth went to bed immediately after prayers, and
Ruth accompanied them. It was planned that the gentlemen should
leave early the next morning. They were to breakfast half-an-hour
sooner, to catch the railway-train; and this by Mr. Donne's own
arrangement, who had been as eager about his canvassing, the week
before, as it was possible for him to be, but who now wished
Eccleston and the Dissenting interest therein very fervently at
Just as the carriage came round Mr. Bradshaw turned to Ruth "Any
message for Leonard beyond love, which is a matter of course?"
Ruth gasped--for she saw Mr. Donne catch at the name; she did not
guess the sudden sharp jealousy called out by the idea that
Leonard was a grown-up man.
"Who is Leonard?" said he to the little girl standing by him; he
did not know which she was.
"Mrs. Denbigh's little boy," answered Mary.
Under some pretence or other, he drew near to Ruth; and in that
low voice which she had learnt to loathe he said--
By the white misery that turned her face to stone--by the wild
terror in her imploring eyes--by the gasping breath which came
out as the carriage drove away--he knew that he had seized the
spell to make her listen at last.
THE MEETING ON THE SANDS
"He will take him away from me! He will take the child from me!"
These words rang like a tolling bell through Ruth's head. It
seemed to her that her doom was certain. Leonard would be taken
from her. She had a firm conviction--not the less firm because
she knew not on what it was based--that a child, whether
legitimate or not, belonged of legal right to the father. And
Leonard, of all children, was the prince and monarch. Every
man's heart would long to call Leonard "Child!" She had been too
strongly taxed to have much power left her to reason coolly and
dispassionately, just then, even if she had been with any one who
could furnish her with information from which to draw correct
conclusions. The one thought haunted her night and day--"He will
take my child away from me!" In her dreams she saw Leonard borne
away into some dim land, to which she could not follow. Sometimes
he sat in a swiftly-moving carriage, at his father's side, and
smiled on her as he passed by, as if going to promised pleasure.
At another time he was struggling to return to her; stretching
out his little arms, and crying to her for the help she could not
give. How she got through the days she did not know; her body
moved about and habitually acted, but her spirit was with her
child. She thought often of writing and warning Mr. Benson of
Leonard's danger; but then she shrank from recurring to
circumstances all mention of which had ceased years ago; the very
recollection of which seemed buried deep for ever. Besides, she
feared occasioning discord or commotion in the quiet circle in
which she lived. Mr. Benson's deep anger against her betrayer had
been shown too clearly in the old time to allow her to think that
he would keep it down without expression now. He would cease to
do anything to forward his election; he would oppose him as much
as he could; and Mr. Bradshaw would be angry, and a storm would
arise, from the bare thought of which Ruth shrank with the
cowardliness of a person thoroughly worn out with late contest.
She was bodily wearied with her spiritual buffeting.
One morning, three or four days after their departure, she
received a letter from Miss Benson. She could not open it at
first, and put it on one side, clenching her hands over it all
the time. At last she tore it open. Leopard was safe as yet.
There were a few lines in his great round hand, speaking of
events no larger than the loss of a beautiful "alley." There was
a sheet from Miss Benson. She always wrote letters in the manner
of a diary. "Monday we did so-and-so; Tuesday, so-and-so, &c."
Ruth glanced rapidly down the pages. Yes, here it was! Sick,
fluttering heart, be still!
"In the middle of the damsons, when they were just on the fire,
there was a knock at the door. My brother was out, and Sally was
washing up, and I was stirring the preserve with my great apron
and bib on; so I bade Leonard come in from the garden and open
the door. But I would have washed his face first if I had known
who it was! It was Mr. Bradshaw and the Mr. Donne that they hope
to send up to the House of Commons, as member of Parliament for
Eccleston, and another gentleman, whose name I never heard. They
had come canvassing; and when they found my brother was out, they
asked Leonard if they could see me. The child said, 'Yes! if I
could leave the damsons;' and straightway came to call me,
leaving them standing in the passage. I whipped off my apron, and
took Leonard by the hand, for I fancied I should feel less
awkward if he was with me; and then I went and asked them all
into the study, for I thought I should like them to see how many
books Thurstan had got. Then they began talking politics at me in
a very polite manner, only I could not make head or tail of what
they meant; and Mr. Donne took a deal of notice of Leonard, and
called him to him; and I am sure he noticed what a noble,
handsome boy he was, though his face was very brown and red, and
hot with digging, and his curls all tangled. Leonard talked back
as if he had known him all his life, till, I think Mr. Bradshaw
thought he was making too much noise, and bid him remember he
ought to be seen, not heard. So he stood as still and stiff as a
soldier, close to Mr. Donne; and as I could not help looking at
the two, and thinking how handsome they both were in their
different ways, I could not tell Thurstan half the messages the
gentlemen left for him. But there was one thing more I must tell
you, though I said I would not. When Mr. Donne was talking to
Leonard, he took off his watch and chain and put it round the
boy's neck, who was pleased enough, you may be sure. I bade him
give it back to the gentleman, when they were all going away; and
I was quite surprised, and very uncomfortable, when Mr. Donne
said he had given it to Leonard, and that he was to keep it for
his own. I could see Mr. Bradshaw was annoyed, and he and the
other gentleman spoke to Mr. Donne, and I heard them say, 'too
barefaced;' and I shall never forget Mr. Donne's proud, stubborn
look back at them, nor his way of saying, 'I allow no one to
interfere with what I choose to do with my own.' And he looked so
haughty and displeased, I durst say nothing at the time. But when
I told Thurstan, he was very grieved and angry; and said he had
heard that our party were bribing, but that he never could have
thought they would have tried to do it at his house. Thurstan is
very much out of spirits about this election altogether; and,
indeed, it does make sad work up and down the town. However, he
sent back the watch, with a letter to Mr. Bradshaw; and Leonard
was very good about it, so I gave him a taste of the new
damson-preserve on his bread for supper."
Although a stranger might have considered this letter wearisome,
from the multiplicity of the details, Ruth craved greedily after
more. What had Mr. Donne said to Leonard? Had Leonard liked his
new acquaintance? Were they likely to meet again? After wondering
and wondering over these points, Ruth composed herself by the
hope that in a day or two she should hear again; and, to secure
this end, she answered the letters by return of post. That was on
Thursday. On Friday she had another letter, in a strange hand. It
was from Mr. Donne. No name, no initials were given. If it had
fallen into another person's hands, they could not have
recognised the writer, nor guessed to whom it was sent. It
contained simply these words:--
"For our child's sake, and in his name, I summon you to appoint a
place where I can speak, and you can listen, undisturbed. The
time must be on Sunday; the limit of distance may be the
circumference of your power of walking. My words may be commands,
but my fond heart entreats. More I shall not say now, but,
remember! your boy's welfare depends on your acceding to this
request. Address B. D., Post-Office, Eccleston."
Ruth did not attempt to answer this letter till the last five
minutes before the post went out. She could not decide until
forced to it. Either way she dreaded. She was very nearly leaving
the letter altogether unanswered. But suddenly she resolved she
would know all, the best, the worst. No cowardly dread of
herself, or of others, should make her neglect aught that came to
her in her child's name. She took up a pen and wrote--
"The sands below the rocks, where we met you the other night.
Time, afternoon church."
"I shall not go to church this afternoon. You know the way, of
course; and I trust you to go steadily by yourselves."
When they came to kiss her before leaving her, according to their
fond wont, they were struck by the coldness of her face and lips.
"Are you not well, dear Mrs. Denbigh? How cold you are!"
"Yes, darling! I am well;" and tears sprang into her eyes as she
looked at their anxious little faces. "Go now, dears. Five
o'clock will soon be here, and then we will have tea."
"And that will warm you!" said they, leaving the room.
"And then it will be over," she murmured--"over."
It never came into her head to watch the girls as they
disappeared down the lane on their way to church. She knew them
too well to distrust their doing what they were told. She sat
still, her head bowed on her arms for a few minutes, and then
rose up and went to put on her walking things. Some thoughts
impelled her to sudden haste. She crossed the field by the side
of the house, ran down the steep and rocky path, and was carried
by the impetus of her descent far out on the level sands--but not
far enough for her intent. Without looking to the right hand or
to the left, where comers might be seen, she went forwards to the
black posts, which, rising above the heaving waters, marked where
the fishermen's nets were laid. She went straight towards this
place, and hardly stinted her pace even where the wet sands were
glittering with the receding waves. Once there, she turned round,
and, in a darting glance, saw that as yet no one was near. She
was perhaps half-a-mile or more from the grey, silvery rocks,
which sloped away into brown moorland, interspersed with a field
here and there of golden, waving corn. Behind were purple hills,
with sharp, clear outlines, touching the sky. A little on one
side from where she stood she saw the white cottages and houses
which formed the village of Abermouth, scattered up and down;
and, on a windy hill, about a mile inland, she saw the little
grey church, where even now many were worshipping in peace.
"Pray for me!" she sighed out as this object caught her eye.
And now, close under the heathery fields, where they fell softly
down and touched the sands, she saw a figure moving in the
direction of the great shadow made by the rocks--going towards
the very point where the path from Eagle's Crag came down to the
"It is he!" said she to herself. And she turned round and looked
seaward. The tide had turned; the waves were slowly receding, as
if loth to lose the hold they had, so lately, and with such swift
bounds, gained on the yellow sands. The eternal moan they have
made since the world began filled the ear, broken only by the
skirl of the grey sea-birds as they alighted in groups on the
edge of the waters, or as they rose up with their measured,
balancing motion, and the sunlight caught their white breasts.
There was no sign of human life to be seen; no boat, or distant
sail, or near shrimper. The black posts there were all that spoke
of men's work or labour. Beyond a stretch of the waters, a few
pale grey hills showed like films; their summits clear, though
faint, their bases lost in a vapoury mist.
On the hard, echoing sands, and distinct from the ceaseless
murmur of the salt sea waves, came footsteps--nearer--nearer.
Very near they were when Ruth, unwilling to show the fear that
rioted in her heart, turned round, and faced Mr. Donne.
He came forward, with both hands extended.
"This is kind! my own Ruth," said he. Ruth's arms hung down
motionless at her sides.
"What! Ruth, have you no word for me?"
"I have nothing to say," said Ruth.
"Why, you little revengeful creature! And so I am to explain all,
before you will even treat me with decent civility."
"I do not want explanations," said Ruth in a trembling tone. "We
must not speak of the past. You asked me to come in Leonard's--in
my child's name, and to hear what you had to say about him."
"But what I have to say about him relates to you even more. And
how can we talk about him without recurring to the past? That
past, which you try to ignore--I know you cannot do it in your
heart--is full of happy recollections to me. Were you not happy
in Wales?" he said in his tenderest tone.
But there was no answer; not even one faint sigh, though he
"You dare not speak; you dare not answer me. Your heart will not
allow you to prevaricate, and you know you were happy."
Suddenly Ruth's beautiful eyes were raised to him, full of lucid
splendour, but grave and serious in their expression; and her
cheeks, heretofore so faintly tinged with the tenderest blush,
flashed into a ruddy glow.
"I was happy. I do not deny it. Whatever comes, I will not blench
from the truth. I have answered you."
"And yet," replied he, secretly exulting in her admission, and
not perceiving the inner strength of which she must have been
conscious before she would have dared to make it--"and yet, Ruth,
we are not to recur to the past! Why not? If it was happy at the
time, is the recollection of it so miserable to you?"
He tried once more to take her hand, but she quietly stepped
"I came to hear what you had to say about my child," said she,
beginning to feel very weary.
"Our child, Ruth."
She drew herself up, and her face went very pale.
"What have you to say about him?" asked she coldly.
"Much," exclaimed he--"much that may affect his whole life. But
it all depends upon whether you will hear me or not."
"Good heavens! Ruth, you will drive me mad. Oh! what a changed
person you are from the sweet, loving creature you were! I wish
you were not so beautiful." She did not reply, but he caught a
deep, involuntary sigh.
"Will you hear me if I speak, though I may not begin all at once
to talk of this boy--a boy of whom any mother--any parent, might
be proud? I could see that, Ruth. I have seen him; he looked like
a prince in that cramped, miserable house, and with no earthly
advantages. It is a shame he should not have every kind of
opportunity laid open before him."
There was no sign of maternal ambition on the motionless face,
though there might be some little spring in her heart, as it beat
quick and strong at the idea of the proposal she imagined he was
going to make of taking her boy away to give him the careful
education she had often craved for him. She should refuse it, as
she would everything else which seemed to imply that she
acknowledged a claim over Leonard; but yet sometimes, for her
boy's sake, she had longed for a larger opening--a more extended
"Ruth! you acknowledge we were happy once;--there were
circumstances which, if I could tell you them all in detail,
would show you how, in my weak, convalescent state, I was almost
passive in the hands of others. Ah, Ruth! I have not forgotten
the tender nurse who soothed me in my delirium. When I am
feverish, I dream that I am again at Llan-dhu, in the little old
bedchamber, and you, in white--which you always wore then, you
know--flitting about me."
The tears dropped, large and round from Ruth's eyes--she could
not help it--how could she?
"We were happy then," continued he, gaining confidence from the
sight of her melted mood, and recurring once more to the
admission which he considered so much in his favour. "Can such
happiness never return?" Thus he went on, quickly, anxious to lay
before her all he had to offer, before she should fully
understand his meaning.
"If you would consent, Leonard should be always with
you--educated where and how you liked--money to any amount you
might choose to name should be secured to you and him--if only,
Ruth--if only those happy days might return." Ruth spoke--
"I said that I was happy, because I had asked God to protect and
help me--and I dared not tell a lie. I was happy. Oh! what is
happiness or misery that we should talk about them now?"
Mr. Donne looked at her, as she uttered these words, to see if
she was wandering in her mind, they seemed to him so utterly
strange and incoherent.
"I dare not think of happiness--I must not look forward to
sorrow. God did not put me here to consider either of these
"My dear Ruth, compose yourself! There is no hurry in answering
the question I asked."
"What was it?" said Ruth.
"I love you so, I cannot live without you. I offer you my heart,
my life--I offer to place Leonard wherever you would have him
placed. I have the power and the means to advance him in any path
of life you choose. All who have shown kindness to you shall be
rewarded by me, with a gratitude even surpassing your own. If
there is anything else I can do that you can suggest, I will do
it." "Listen to me!" said Ruth, now that the idea of what he
proposed had entered her mind. "When I said that I was happy with
you long ago, I was choked with shame as I said it. And yet it
may be a vain, false excuse that I make for myself. I was very
young; I did not know how such a life was against God's pure and
holy will--at least, not as I know it now; and I tell you the
truth--all the days of my years since I have gone about with a
stain on my hidden soul--a stain which made me loathe myself, and
envy those who stood spotless and undefiled; which made me shrink
from my child--from Mr. Benson, from his sister, from the
innocent girls whom I teach--nay, even I have cowered away from
God Himself; and what I did wrong then, I did blindly to what I
should do now if I listened to you."
She was so strongly agitated that she put her hands over her
face, and sobbed without restraint. Then, taking them away, she
looked at him with a glowing face, and beautiful, honest, wet
eyes, and tried to speak calmly, as she asked if she needed to
stay longer (she would have gone away at once but that she
thought of Leonard, and wished to hear all that his father might
have to say). He was so struck anew by her beauty, and understood
her so little, that he believed that she only required a little
more urging to consent to what he wished; for in all she had said
there was no trace of the anger and resentment for his desertion
of her, which he had expected would be a prominent feature--the
greatest obstacle he had to encounter. The deep sense of
penitence she expressed he mistook for earthly shame; which he
imagined he could soon soothe away.
"Yes, I have much more to say. I have not said half. I cannot
tell you how fondly I will--how fondly I do love you--how my life
shall be spent in ministering to your wishes. Money, I see--I
know, you despise----"
"Mr. Bellingham! I will not stay to hear you speak to me so
again. I have been sinful, but it is not you who should----" She
could not speak, she was so choking with passionate sorrow.
He wanted to calm her, as he saw her shaken with repressed sobs.
He put his hand on her arm. She shook it off impatiently, and
moved away in an instant.
"Ruth!" said he, nettled by her action of repugnance, "I begin to
think you never loved me."
"I!--I never loved you! Do you dare to say so?"
Her eyes flamed on him as she spoke. Her red, round lip curled
into beautiful contempt.
"Why do you shrink so from me?" said he, in his turn getting
"I did not come here to be spoken to in this way," said she. "I
came, if by any chance I could do Leonard good. I would submit to
many humiliations for his sake--but to no more from you."
"Are not you afraid to brave me so?" said he. "Don't you know how
much you are in my power?"
She was silent. She longed to go away, but dreaded lest he should
follow her, where she might be less subject to interruption than
she was here--near the fisherman's nets, which the receding tide
was leaving every moment barer and more bare, and the posts they
were fastened to more blackly uprising above the waters.
Mr. Donne put his hands on her arms as they hung down before
her--her hands tightly clasped together.
"Ask me to let you go," said he. "I will, if you will ask me. He
looked very fierce and passionate and determined. The vehemence
of his action took Ruth by surprise, and the painful tightness of
the grasp almost made her exclaim. But she was quite still and
"Ask me," said he, giving her a little shake. She did not speak.
Her eyes, fixed on the distant shore, were slowly filling with
tears. Suddenly a light came through the mist that obscured them,
and the shut lips parted. She saw some distant object that gave
"It is Stephen Bromley," said she. "He is coming to his nets.
They say he is a very desperate, violent man, but he will protect
"You obstinate, wilful creature!" said Mr. Donne, releasing his
grasp. "You forget that one word of mine could undeceive all
these good people at Eccleston; and that if I spoke out ever so
little, they would throw you off in an instant. Now!" he
continued, "do you understand how much you are in my power?"
"Mr. and Miss Benson know all--they have not thrown me off," Ruth
"Oh! for Leonard's sake! you would not be so cruel."
"Then do not be cruel to him--to me. Think once more!"
"I think once more." She spoke solemnly. "To save Leonard from
the shame and agony of knowing my disgrace I would lay down and
die. Oh! perhaps it would be best for him--for me, if I might; my
death would be a stingless grief--but to go back into sin would
be the real cruelty to him. The errors of my youth may be washed
away by my tears--it was so once when the gentle, blessed Christ
was upon earth; but now, if I went into wilful guilt, as you
would have me, how could I teach Leonard God's holy will? I
should not mind his knowing my past sin, compared to the awful
corruption it would be if he knew me living now, as you would
have me, lost to all fear of God----" Her speech was broken by
"Whatever may be my doom--God is just--I leave myself in His
hands. I will save Leonard from evil. Evil would it be for him if
I lived with you. I will let him die first!" She lifted her eyes
to heaven, and clasped and wreathed her hands together tight.
Then she said "You have humbled me enough, sir. I shall leave you
She turned away resolutely. The dark, grey fisherman was at hand.
Mr. Donne folded his arms and set his teeth, and looked after
"What a stately step she has! How majestic and graceful all her
attitudes were! She thinks she has baffled me now. We will try
something more, and bid a higher price." He unfolded his arms,
and began to follow her. He gained upon her, for her beautiful
walk was now wavering and unsteady. The works which had kept her
in motion were running down fast.
"Ruth!" said he, overtaking her. "You shall hear me once more.
Ay, look round! Your fisherman is near. He may hear me, if he
chooses--hear your triumph. I am come to offer to marry you,
Ruth; come what may, I will have you. Nay--I will make you hear
me. I will hold this hand till you have heard me. To-morrow I
will speak to any one in Eccleston you like--to Mr. Bradshaw; Mr.
----, the little minister I mean. We can make it worth while for
him to keep our secret, and no one else need know but what you
are really Mrs. Denbigh. Leonard shall still bear this name, but
in all things else he shall be treated as my son. He and you
would grace any situation. I will take care the highest paths are
open to him!" He looked to see the lovely face brighten into
sudden joy; on the contrary, the head was still hung down with a
"I cannot," said she; her voice was very faint and low.
"It is sudden for you, my dearest. But be calm. It will all be
easily managed. Leave it to me."
"I cannot," repeated she, more distinct and clear, though still
"Why! what on earth makes you say that?" asked he, in a mood to
be irritated by any repetition of such words.
"I do not love you. I did once. Don't say I did not love you
then! but I do not now. I could never love you again. All you
have said and done since you came with Mr. Bradshaw to Abermouth
first has only made me wonder how I ever could have loved you. We
are very far apart. The time that has pressed down my life like
brands of hot iron, and scarred me for ever, has been nothing to
you. You have talked of it with no sound of moaning in your
voice--no shadow over the brightness of your face; it has left no
sense of sin on your conscience, while me it haunts and haunts;
and yet I might plead that I was an ignorant child--only I will
not plead anything, for God knows all----But this is only one
piece of our great difference----"
"You mean that I am no saint," he said, impatient at her speech.
"Granted. But people who are no saints have made very good
husbands before now. Come, don't let any morbid, overstrained
conscientiousness interfere with substantial happiness--both to
you and to me--for I am sure I can make you happy--ay! and make
you love me, too, in spite of your pretty defiance. I love you so
dearly, I must win love back. And here are advantages for
Leonard, to be gained by you quite in a holy and legitimate way."
She stood very erect.
"If there was one thing needed to confirm me, you have named it.
You shall have nothing to do with my boy, by my consent, much
less by my agency. I would rather see him working on the roadside
than leading such a life--being such a one as you are. You have
heard my mind now, Mr. Bellingham. You have humbled me--you have
baited me; and if at last I have spoken out too harshly, and too
much in a spirit of judgment, the fault is yours. If there were
no other reason to prevent our marriage but the one fact that it
would bring Leonard into contact with you, that would be enough."
"It is enough!" said he, making her a low bow. "Neither you nor
your child shall ever more be annoyed by me. I wish you a good
They walked apart--he back to the inn, to set off instantly,
while the blood was hot within him, from the place where he had
been so mortified--she to steady herself along till she reached
the little path, more like a rude staircase than anything else,
by which she had to climb to the house.
She did not turn round for some time after she was fairly lost to
the sight of any one on the shore; she clambered on, almost
stunned by the rapid beating of her heart. Her eyes were hot and
dry; and at last became as if she were suddenly blind. Unable to
go on, she tottered into the tangled underwood which grew among
the stones, filling every niche and crevice, and little shelving
space, with green and delicate tracery. She sank down behind a
great overhanging rock, which hid her from any one coming up the
path. An ash-tree was rooted in this rock, slanting away from the
sea-breezes that were prevalent in most weathers; but this was a
still, autumnal Sabbath evening. As Ruth's limbs fell, so they
lay. She had no strength, no power of volition to move a finger.
She could not think or remember. She was literally stunned. The
first sharp sensation which roused her from her torpor was a
quick desire to see him once more; up she sprang, and climbed to
an out-jutting dizzy point of rock, but a little above her
sheltered nook, yet commanding a wide view over the bare, naked
sands;--far away below, touching the rippling water-line, was
Stephen Bromley, busily gathering in his nets; besides him there
was no living creature visible. Ruth shaded her eyes, as if she
thought they might have deceived her; but no, there was no one
there. She went slowly down to her old place, crying sadly as she
"Oh! if I had not spoken so angrily to him--the last things I
said were so bitter--so reproachful!--and I shall never, never
see him again!"
She could not take in a general view and scope of their
conversation--the event was too near her for that; but her heart
felt sore at the echo of her last words, just and true as their
severity was. Her struggle, her constant flowing tears, which
fell from very weakness, made her experience a sensation of
intense bodily fatigue; and her soul had lost the power of
throwing itself forward, or contemplating anything beyond the
dreary present, when the expanse of grey, wild, bleak moors,
stretching wide away below a sunless sky, seemed only an outward
sign of the waste world within her heart, for which she could
claim no sympathy;-for she could not even define what its woes
were; and, if she could, no one would understand how the present
time was haunted by the terrible ghost of the former love.
"I am so weary! I am so weary!" she moaned aloud at last. "I
wonder if I might stop here, and just die away."
She shut her eyes, until through the closed lids came a ruddy
blaze of light. The clouds bad parted away, and the sun was going
down in the crimson glory behind the distant purple hills. The
whole western sky was one flame of fire. Ruth forgot herself in
looking at the gorgeous sight. She sat up gazing; and, as she
gazed, the tears dried on her cheeks, and, somehow, all human
care and sorrow were swallowed up in the unconscious sense of
God's infinity. The sunset calmed her more than any words,
however wise and tender, could have done. It even seemed to give
her strength and courage; she did not know how or why, but so it
She rose, and went slowly towards home. Her limbs were very
stiff, and every now and then she had to choke down an unbidden
sob. Her pupils had been long returned from church, and had
busied themselves in preparing tea--an occupation which had
probably made them feel the time less long.
If they had ever seen a sleep-walker, they might have likened
Ruth to one for the next few days, so slow and measured did her
movements seem--so far away was her intelligence from all that
was passing around her--so hushed and strange were the tones of
her voice. They had letters from home, announcing the triumphant
return of Mr. Donne as M.P. for Eccleston. Mrs. Denbigh heard the
news without a word, and was too languid to join in the search
after purple and yellow flowers with which to deck the
sitting-room at Eagle's Crag.
A letter from Jemima came the next day, summoning them home. Mr.
Donne and his friends had left the place, and quiet was restored
in the Bradshaw household; so it was time that Mary and
Elizabeth's holiday should cease. Mrs. Denbigh had also a
letter--a letter from Miss Benson, saying that Leonard was not
quite well. There was so much pains taken to disguise anxiety,
that it was very evident much anxiety was felt; and the girls
were almost alarmed by Ruth's sudden change from taciturn languor
to eager, vehement energy. Body and mind seemed strained to
exertion. Every plan that could facilitate packing and winding up
affairs at Abermouth, every errand and arrangement that could
expedite their departure by one minute, was done by Ruth with
stern promptitude. She spared herself in nothing. She made them
rest, made them lie down, while she herself lifted weights and
transacted business with feverish power, never resting, and
trying never to have time to think.
For in remembrance of the Past there was Remorse--how had she
forgotten Leonard these last few days!--how had she repined and
been dull of heart to her blessing! And in anticipation of the
future there was one sharp point of red light in the darkness
which pierced her brain with agony, and which she would not see
or recognise--and saw and recognised all the more for such mad
determination--which is not the true shield against the
bitterness of the arrows of death.
When the seaside party arrived in Eccleston, they were met by
Mrs. and Miss Bradshaw and Mr. Benson. By a firm resolution, Ruth
kept from shaping the question, "Is he alive?" as if by giving
shape to her fears she made their realisation more imminent. She
said merely, "How is he?" but she said it with drawn, tight,
bloodless lips, and in her eyes Mr. Benson read her anguish of
"He is very ill, but we hope he will soon be better. It is what
every child has to go through."
JEMIMA MAKES A DISCOVERY
Mr. Bradshaw had been successful in carrying his point. His
member had been returned; his proud opponents mortified. So the
public thought he ought to be well pleased; but the public were
disappointed to see that he did not show any of the gratification
they supposed him to feel.
The truth was, that he met with so many small mortifications
during the progress of the election, that the pleasure which he
would otherwise have felt in the final success of his scheme was
He had more than tacitly sanctioned bribery; and now that the
excitement was over, he regretted it: not entirely from
conscientious motives, though he was uneasy from the slight sense
of wrong-doing; but he was more pained, after all, to think that,
in the eyes of some of his townsmen, his hitherto spotless
character had received a blemish. He, who had been so stern and
severe a censor on the undue influence exercised by the opposite
party in all preceding elections, could not expect to be spared
by their adherents now, when there were rumours that the hands of
the scrupulous Dissenters were not clean. Before, it had been his
boast that neither friend nor enemy could say one word against
him; now, he was constantly afraid of an indictment for bribery,
and of being compelled to appear before a committee to swear to
his own share in the business.
His uneasy, fearful consciousness made him stricter and sterner
than ever; as if he would quench all wondering, slanderous talk
about him in the town by a renewed austerity of uprightness: that
the slack-principled Mr. Bradshaw of one month of ferment and
excitement might not be confounded with the highly conscientious
and deeply religious Mr. Bradshaw, who went to chapel twice a
day, and gave a hundred pounds apiece to every charity in the
town, as a sort of thank-offering that his end was gained.
But he was secretly dissatisfied with Mr. Donne. In general, that
gentleman had been rather too willing to act in accordance with
any one's advice, no matter whose; as, if he had thought it too
much trouble to weigh the wisdom of his friends, in which case
Mr. Bradshaw's would have, doubtless, proved the most valuable.
But now and then he unexpectedly, and utterly without reason,
took the conduct of affairs into his own hands, as when he had
been absent without leave only just before the day of nomination.
No one guessed whither he had gone; but the fact of his being
gone was enough to chagrin Mr. Bradshaw, who was quite ready to
have picked a quarrel on this very head if the election had not
terminated favourably. As it was, he had a feeling of
proprietorship in Mr. Donne which was not disagreeable. He had
given the new M.P. his seat; his resolution; his promptitude, his
energy, had made Mr. Donne "our member;" and Mr. Bradshaw began
to feel proud of him accordingly. But there had been no one
circumstance during this period to bind Jemima and Mr. Farquhar
together. They were still misunderstanding each other with all
their power. The difference in the result was this: Jemima loved
him all the more, in spite of quarrels and coolness. He was
growing utterly weary of the petulant temper of which he was
never certain; of the reception which varied day after day,
according to the mood she was in and the thoughts that were
uppermost; and he was almost startled to find how very glad he
was that the little girls and Mrs. Denbigh were coming home. His
was a character to bask in peace; and lovely, quiet Ruth, with
her low tones and soft replies, her delicate waving movements,
appeared to him the very type of what a woman should be--a calm,
serene soul, fashioning the body to angelic grace.
It was, therefore, with no slight interest that Mr. Farquhar
inquired daily after the health of little Leonard. He asked at
the Bensons' house; and Sally answered him, with swollen and
tearful eyes, that the child was very bad--very bad indeed. He
asked at the doctor's; and the doctor told him, in a few short
words, that "it was only a bad kind of measles and that the lad
might have a struggle for it, but he thought he would get
through. Vigorous children carried their force into everything;
never did things by halves; if they were ill, they were sure to
be in a high fever directly; if they were well, there was no
peace in the house for their rioting. For his part," continued
the doctor, "he thought he was glad he had had no children; as
far as he could judge, they were pretty much all plague and no
profit." But as he ended his speech he sighed; and Mr. Farquhar
was none the less convinced that common report was true, which
represented the clever, prosperous surgeon of Eccleston as
bitterly disappointed at his failure of offspring.
While these various interests and feelings had their course
outside the Chapel-house, within there was but one thought which
possessed all the inmates. When Sally was not cooking for the
little invalid, she was crying; for she had had a dream about
green rushes, not three months ago, which, by some queer process
of oneiromancy, she interpreted to mean the death of a child; and
all Miss Benson's endeavours were directed to making her keep
silence to Ruth about this dream. Sally thought that the mother
ought to be told. What were dreams sent for but for warnings? But
it was just like a pack of Dissenters, who would not believe
anything like other folks. Miss Benson was too much accustomed to
Sally's contempt for Dissenters, as viewed from the pinnacle of
the Establishment, to pay much attention to all this grumbling;
especially as Sally was willing to take as much trouble about
Leonard as if she believed he was going to live, and that his
recovery depended upon her care. Miss Benson's great object was
to keep her from having any confidential talks with Ruth; as if
any repetition of the dream could have deepened the conviction in
Ruth's mind that the child would die.
It seemed to her that his death would only be the fitting
punishment for the state of indifference towards him--towards
life and death--towards all things earthly or divine, into which
she had suffered herself to fall since her last interview with
Mr. Donne. She did not understand that such exhaustion is but the
natural consequence of violent agitation and severe tension of
feeling. The only relief she experienced was in constantly
serving Leonard; she had almost an animal's jealousy lest any one
should come between her and her young. Mr. Benson saw this
jealous suspicion, although he could hardly understand it; but he
calmed his sister's wonder and officious kindness, so that the
two patiently and quietly provided all that Ruth might want, but
did not interfere with her right to nurse Leonard. But when he
was recovering, Mr. Benson, with the slight tone of authority he
knew how to assume when need was, bade Ruth lie down and take
some rest, while his sister watched. Ruth did not answer, but
obeyed in a dull, weary kind of surprise at being so commanded.
She lay down by her child, gazing her fill at his calm slumber;
and, as she gazed, her large white eye lids were softly pressed
down as with a gentle, irresistible weight, and she fell asleep.
She dreamed that she was once more on the lonely shore, striving
to carry away Leonard from some pursuer--some human pursuer--she
knew he was human, and she knew who he was, although she dared
not say his name even to herself, he seemed so close and present,
gaining on her flying footsteps, rushing after her as with the
sound of the roaring tide. Her feet seemed heavy weights fixed to
the ground; they would not move. All at once, just near the
shore, a great black whirlwind of waves clutched her back to her
pursuer; she threw Leonard on to land, which was safety; but
whether he reached it or no, or was swept back like her into a
mysterious something too dreadful to be borne, she did not know,
for the terror awakened her. At first the dream seemed yet a
reality, and she thought that the pursuer was couched even there,
in that very room, and the great boom of the sea was still in her
ears. But as full consciousness returned, she saw herself safe in
the dear old room--the haven of rest--the shelter from storms. A
bright fire was glowing in the little old-fashioned, cup-shaped
grate, niched into a corner of the wall, and guarded on either
side by whitewashed bricks, which served for bobs. On one of
these the kettle hummed and buzzed, within two points of boiling
whenever she or Leonard required tea. In her dream that home-like
sound had been the roar of the relentless sea, creeping swiftly
on to seize its prey. Miss Benson sat by the fire, motionless and
still; it was too dark to read any longer without a candle; but
yet on the ceiling and upper part of the walls the golden light
of the setting sun was slowly moving--so slow, and yet a motion
gives the feeling of rest to the weary yet more than perfect
stillness. The old clock on the staircase told its monotonous
click-clack, in that soothing way which more marked the quiet of
the house than disturbed with any sense of sound. Leonard still
slept that renovating slumber, almost in her arms, far from that
fatal pursuing sea, with its human form of cruelty. The dream was
a vision; the reality which prompted the dream was over and
past--Leonard was safe--she was safe; all this loosened the
frozen springs, and they gushed forth in her heart, and her lips
moved in accordance with her thoughts.
"What were you saying, my darling?" said Miss Benson, who caught
sight of the motion, and fancied she was asking for something.
Miss Benson bent over the side of the bed on which Ruth lay, to
catch the low tones of her voice.
"I only said," replied Ruth timidly, "thank God! I have so much
to thank Him for you don't know."
"My dear, I am sure we have all of us cause to be thankful that
our boy is spared. See! he is wakening up; and we will have a cup
of tea together. Leonard strode on to perfect health; but he was
made older in character and looks by his severe illness. He grew
tall and thin, and the lovely child was lost in the handsome boy.
He began to wonder and to question. Ruth mourned a little over
the vanished babyhood, when she was all in all, and over the
childhood, whose petals had fallen away; it seemed as though two
of her children were gone--the one an infant, the other a bright,
thoughtless darling; and she wished that they could have remained
quick in her memory for ever, instead of being absorbed in loving
pride for the present boy. But these were only fanciful regrets,
flitting like shadows across a mirror. Peace and thankfulness
were once more the atmosphere of her mind; nor was her
unconsciousness disturbed by any suspicion of Mr. Farquhar's
increasing approbation and admiration, which he was diligently
nursing up into love for her. She knew that he had sent--she did
not know how often he had brought--fruit for the convalescent
Leonard. She heard, on her return from her daily employment, that
Mr. Farquhar had bought a little gentle pony on which Leonard,
weak as he was, might ride. To confess the truth, her maternal
pride was such that she thought that all kindness shown to such a
boy as Leonard was but natural; she believed him to be
"A child whom all that locked on, loved."
As in truth he was; and the proof of this was daily shown in many
kind inquiries, and many thoughtful little offerings, besides Mr.
Farquhar's. The poor (warm and kind of heart to all sorrow common
to humanity) were touched with pity for the young widow, whose
only child lay ill, and nigh unto death. They brought what they
could--a fresh egg, when eggs were scarce--a few ripe pears that
grew on the sunniest side of the humblest cottage, where the
fruit was regarded as a source of income--a call of inquiry, and
a prayer that God would spare the child, from an old crippled
woman, who could scarcely drag herself so far as the
Chapel-house, yet felt her worn and weary heart stirred with a
sharp pang of sympathy, and a very present remembrance of the
time when she too was young, and saw the life-breath quiver out
of her child, now an angel in that heaven which felt more like
home to the desolate old creature than this empty earth. To all
such, when Leonard was better, Ruth went, and thanked them from
her heart. She and the old cripple sat hand in hand over the
scanty fire on the hearth of the latter, while she told in
solemn, broken, homely words, how her child sickened and died.
Tears fell like rain down Ruth's cheeks; but those of the old
woman were dry. All tears had been wept out of her long ago, and
now she sat patient and quiet, waiting for death. But after this
Ruth "clave unto her," and the two were henceforward a pair of
friends. Mr. Farquhar was only included in the general gratitude
which she felt towards all who had been kind to her boy.
The winter passed away in deep peace after the storms of the
autumn, yet every now and then a feeling of insecurity made Ruth
shake for an instant. Those wild autumnal storms had torn aside
the quiet flowers and herbage that had gathered over the wreck of
her early life, and shown her that all deeds, however hidden and
long passed by, have their eternal consequences. She turned sick
and faint whenever Mr. Donne's name was casually mentioned. No
one saw it; but she felt the miserable stop in her heart's
beating, and wished that she could prevent it by any exercise of
self-command. She had never named his identity with Mr.
Bellingham, nor had she spoken about the seaside interview. Deep
shame made her silent and reserved on all her life before
Leonard's birth; from that time she rose again in her
self-respect, and spoke as openly as a child (when need was) of
all occurrences which had taken place since then; except that she
could not, and would not, tell of this mocking echo, this
haunting phantom, this past, that would not rest in its grave.
The very circumstance that it was stalking abroad in the world,
and might reappear at any moment, made her a coward: she trembled
away from contemplating what the reality had been; only, she
clung more faithfully than before to the thought of the great
God, who was a rock in the dreary land, where no shadow was.
Autumn and winter, with their lowering skies, were less dreary
than the woeful, desolate feelings that shed a gloom on Jemima.
She found too late that she had considered Mr. Farquhar so
securely her own for so long a time, that her heart refused to
recognize him as lost to her, unless her reason went through the
same weary, convincing, miserable evidence day after day, and
hour after hour. He never spoke to her now, except from common
civility. He never cared for her contradictions; he never tried,
with patient perseverance, to bring her over to his opinions; he
never used the wonted wiles (so tenderly remembered now they had
no existence but in memory) to bring her round out of some wilful
mood--and such moods were common enough now! Frequently she was
sullenly indifferent to the feelings of others--not from any
unkindness, but because her heart seemed numb and stony, and
incapable of sympathy. Then afterwards her self-reproach was
terrible--in the dead of night when no one saw it. With a strange
perversity, the only intelligence she cared to hear, the only
sights she cared to see, were the circumstances which gave
confirmation to the idea that Mr. Farquhar was thinking of Ruth
for a wife. She craved with stinging curiosity to hear something
of their affairs every day; partly because the torture which such
intelligence gave was almost a relief from the deadness of her
heart to all other interests.
And so spring (gioventu dell'anno) came back to her, bringing all
the contrasts which spring alone can bring to add to the
heaviness of the soul. The little winged creatures filled the air
with bursts of joy; the vegetation came bright and hopefully
onwards, without any check of nipping frost. The ash-trees in the
Bradshaws' garden were out in leaf by the middle of May, which
that year wore more the aspect of summer than most Junes do. The
sunny weather mocked Jemima, and the unusual warmth oppressed her
physical powers. She felt very weak and languid; she was acutely
sensible that no one else noticed her want of strength; father,
mother, all seemed too full of other things to care, if, as she
believed, her life was waning. She herself felt glad that it was
so. But her delicacy was not unnoticed by all. Her mother often
anxiously asked her husband if he did not think Jemima was
looking ill; nor did his affirmation to the contrary satisfy her,
as most of his affirmations did. She thought every morning,
before she got up, how she could tempt Jemima to eat, by ordering
some favourite dainty for dinner; in many other little ways she
tried to minister to her child; but the poor girl's own abrupt
irritability of temper had made her mother afraid of openly
speaking to her about her health.
Ruth, too, saw that Jemima was not looking well. How she had
become an object of dislike to her former friend she did not
know; but she was sensible that Miss Bradshaw disliked her now.
She was not aware that this feeling was growing and strengthening
almost into repugnance, for she seldom saw Jemima out of
school-hours, and then only for a minute or two. But the evil
element of a fellow-creature's dislike oppressed the atmosphere
of her life. That fellow-creature was one who had once loved her
so fondly, and whom she still loved, although she had learnt to
fear her, as we fear those whose faces cloud over when we come in
sight--who cast unloving glances at us, of which we, though not
seeing, are conscious, as of some occult influence; and the cause
of whose dislike is unknown to us, though every word and action
seems to increase it. I believe that this sort of dislike is only
shown by the jealous, and that it renders the disliker even more
miserable, because more continually conscious than the object;
but the growing evidences of Jemima's feeling made Ruth very
unhappy at times. This very May, too, an idea had come into her
mind, which she had tried to repress--namely, that Mr. Farquhar
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