Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 9 out of 9
as if her whole soul went out to the little infant. But if she
hears a strange footstep on the stair, what Jemima calls the
'wild-animal look' comes back into her eyes, and she steals away
like some frightened creature. With all that she has done to
redeem her character, she should not be so timid of observation.
"You may well say 'with all that she has done!' We of her own
household hear little or nothing of what she does. If she wants
help, she simply tells us how and why; but if not--perhaps
because it is some relief to her to forget for a time the scenes
of suffering in which she has been acting the part of comforter,
and perhaps because there always was a shy, sweet reticence about
her--we never should know what she is and what she does, except
from the poor people themselves, who would bless her in words if
the very thought of her did not choke them with tears. Yet, I do
assure you, she passes out of all this gloom, and makes sunlight
in our house. We are never so cheerful as when she is at home.
She always had the art of diffusing peace, but now it is positive
cheerfulness. And about Leonard; I doubt if the wisest and most
thoughtful schoolmaster could teach half as much directly, as his
mother does unconsciously and indirectly every hour that he is
with her. Her noble, humble, pious endurance of the consequences
of what was wrong in her early life seems expressly fitted to act
upon him, whose position is (unjustly, for he has done no harm)
so similar to hers."
"Well! I suppose we must leave it alone for the present. You will
think me a hard practical man when I own to you, that all I
expect from Leonard's remaining a home-bird is that, with such a
mother, it will do him no harm. At any rate, remember my offer is
the same for a year--two years hence, as now. What does she look
forward to making him into, finally?"
"I don't know. The wonder comes into my mind sometimes; but never
into hers, I think. It is part of her character--part perhaps of
that which made her what she was--that she never looks forward,
and seldom back. The present is enough for her."
And so the conversation ended. When Mr. Benson repeated the
substance of it to his sister, she mused awhile, breaking out
into an occasional whistle (although she had cured herself of
this habit in a great measure), and at last she said--
"Now, do you know, I never liked poor Dick; and yet I'm angry
with Mr. Farquhar for getting him out of the partnership in such
a summary way. I can't get over it, even though he has offered to
send Leonard to school. And here he's reigning lord-paramount at
the office! As if you, Thurstan, weren't as well able to teach
him as any schoolmaster in England! But I should not mind that
affront, if I were not sorry to think of Dick (though I never
could abide him) labouring away in Glasgow for a petty salary of
nobody knows how little, while Mr. Farquhar is taking halves,
instead of thirds, of the profits here!"
But her brother could not tell her--and even Jemima did not know
till long afterwards--that the portion of income which would have
been Dick's as a junior partner, if he had remained in the
business, was carefully laid aside for him by Mr. Farquhar; to be
delivered up, with all its accumulative interest, when the
prodigal should have proved his penitence by his conduct.
When Ruth had no call upon her time, it was indeed a holiday at
Chapel-house. She threw off as much as she could of the care and
sadness in which she had been sharing; and returned fresh and
helpful, ready to go about in her soft, quiet way, and fill up
every measure of service, and heap it with the fragrance of her
own sweet nature. The delicate mending, that the elder women
could no longer see to do, was put by for Ruth's swift and nimble
fingers. The occasional copying, or patient writing to dictation,
that gave rest to Mr. Benson's weary spine, was done by her with
sunny alacrity. But, most of all, Leonard's heart rejoiced when
his mother came home. Then came the quiet confidences, the tender
exchange of love, the happy walks from which he returned stronger
and stronger--going from strength to strength as his mother led
the way. It was well, as they saw now, that the great shock of
the disclosure had taken place when it did. She, for her part,
wondered at her own cowardliness in having even striven to keep
back the truth from her child--the truth that was so certain to
be made clear, sooner or later, and which it was only owing to
God's mercy that she was alive to encounter with him, and, by so
encountering, shield and give him good courage. Moreover, in her
secret heart, she was thankful that all occurred while he was yet
too young to have much curiosity as to his father. If an
unsatisfied feeling of this kind occasionally stole into his
mind, at any rate she never heard any expression of it; for the
past was a sealed book between them. And so, in the bright
strength of good endeavour, the days went on, and grew again to
months and years. Perhaps one little circumstance which occurred
during this time had scarcely external importance enough to be
called an event; but in Mr. Benson's mind it took rank as such.
One day, about a year after Richard Bradshaw had ceased to be a
partner in his father's house, Mr. Benson encountered Mr.
Farquhar in the street, and heard from him of the creditable and
respectable manner in which Richard was conducting himself in
Glasgow, where Mr. Farquhar had lately been on business.
"I am determined to tell his father of this," said he; "I think
his family are far too obedient to his tacit prohibition of all
mention of Richard's name."
"Tacit prohibition?" inquired Mr. Benson.
"Oh! I dare say I use the words in a wrong sense for the
correctness of a scholar; but what I mean is, that he made a
point of immediately leaving the room if Richard's name was
mentioned; and did it in so marked a manner, that by degrees they
understood that it was their father's desire that he should never
be alluded to; which was all very well as long as there was
nothing pleasant to be said about him; but to-night I am going
there, and shall take good care he does not escape me before I
have told him all I have heard and observed about Richard. He
will never be a hero of virtue, for his education has drained him
of all moral courage; but with care, and the absence of all
strong temptation for a time, he will do very well; nothing to
gratify paternal pride, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of."
It was on the Sunday after this that the little circumstance to
which I have alluded took place.
During the afternoon service, Mr. Benson became aware that the
large Bradshaw pew was no longer unoccupied. In a dark corner Mr.
Bradshaw's white head was to be seen, bowed down low in prayer.
When last he had worshipped there, the hair on that head was
iron-grey, and even in prayer he had stood erect, with an air of
conscious righteousness sufficient for all his wants, and even
some to spare with which to judge others. Now, that white and
hoary head was never uplifted; part of his unobtrusiveness might,
it is true, be attributed to the uncomfortable feeling which was
sure to attend any open withdrawal of the declaration he had once
made, never to enter the chapel in which Mr. Benson was minister
again; and as such a feeling was natural to all men, and
especially to such a one as Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Benson
instinctively respected it, and passed out of the chapel with his
household, without ever directing his regards to the obscure
place where Mr. Bradshaw still remained immovable.
From this day Mr. Benson felt sure that the old friendly feeling
existed once more between them, although some time might elapse
before any circumstance gave the signal for a renewal of their
A MOTHER TO BE PROUD OF
Old people tell of certain years when typhus fever swept over the
country like a pestilence; years that bring back the remembrance
of deep sorrow--refusing to be comforted--to many a household;
and which those whose beloved passed through the fiery time
unscathed, shrink from recalling for great and tremulous was the
anxiety--miserable the constant watching for evil symptoms; and
beyond the threshold of home a dense cloud of depression hung
over society at large. It seemed as if the alarm was
proportionate to the previous light-heartedness of fancied
security--and indeed it was so; for, since the days of King
Belshazzar, the solemn decrees of Doom have ever seemed most
terrible when they awe into silence the merry revellers of life.
So it was this year to which I come in the progress of my story.
The summer had been unusually gorgeous. Some had complained of
the steaming heat, but others had pointed to the lush vegetation,
which was profuse and luxuriant. The early autumn was wet and
cold, but people did not regard it, in contemplation of some proud
rejoicing of the nation, which filled every newspaper and gave
food to every tongue. In Eccleston these rejoicings were greater
than in most places; for, by the national triumph of arms, it was
supposed that a new market for the staple manufacture of the
place would be opened; and so the trade, which had for a year or
two been languishing, would now revive with redoubled vigour.
Besides these legitimate causes of good spirits, there was the
rank excitement of a coming election, in consequence of Mr. Donne
having accepted a Government office, procured for him by one of
his influential relations. This time, the Cranworths roused
themselves from their magnificent torpor of security in good
season, and were going through a series of pompous and ponderous
hospitalities, in order to bring back the Eccleston voters to
While the town was full of these subjects by turns--now thinking
and speaking of the great revival of trade--now of the chances of
the election, as yet some weeks distant--now of the balls at
Cranworth Court, in which Mr. Cranworth had danced with all the
belles of the shopocracy of Eccleston--there came creeping,
creeping, in hidden, slimy courses, the terrible fever--that
fever which is never utterly banished from the sad haunts of vice
and misery, but lives in such darkness, like a wild beast in the
recesses of his den. It had begun in the low Irish
lodging-houses; but there it was so common it excited little
attention. The poor creatures died almost without the attendance
of the unwarned medical men, who received their first notice of
the spreading plague from the Roman Catholic priests.
Before the medical men of Eccleston had had time to meet together
and consult, and compare the knowledge of the fever which they
had severally gained, it had, like the blaze of a fire which had
long smouldered, burst forth in many places at once--not merely
among the loose-living and vicious, but among the decently
poor--nay, even among the well-to-do and respectable. And, to add
to the horror, like all similar pestilences, its course was most
rapid at first, and was fatal in the great majority of
cases--hopeless from the beginning. There was a cry, and then a
deep silence, and then rose the long wail of the survivors.
A portion of the Infirmary of the town was added to that already
set apart for a fever-ward; the smitten were carried thither at
once, whenever it was possible, in order to prevent the spread of
infection; and on that lazar-house was concentrated all the
medical skill and force of the place.
But when one of the physicians had died, in consequence of his
attendance--when the customary staff of matrons and nurses had
been swept off in two days--and the nurses belonging to the
Infirmary had shrunk from being drafted into the pestilential
fever-ward--when high wages had failed to tempt any to what, in
their panic, they considered as certain death--when the doctors
stood aghast at the swift mortality among the untended sufferers,
who were dependent only on the care of the most ignorant
hirelings, too brutal to recognize the solemnity of Death (all
this had happened within a week from the first acknowledgment of
the presence of the plague)--Ruth came one day, with a quieter
step than usual, into Mr. Benson's study, and told him she wanted
to speak to him for a few minutes.
"To be sure, my dear! Sit down:" said he; for she was standing
and leaning her head against the chimney-piece, idly gazing into
the fire. She went on standing there, as if she had not heard his
words; and it was a few moments before she began to speak. Then
"I want to tell you, that I have been this morning and offered
myself as matron to the fever-ward while it is so full. They have
accepted me; and I am going this evening."
"Oh, Ruth! I feared this; I saw your look this morning as we
spoke of this terrible illness."
"Why do you say 'fear', Mr. Benson? You yourself have been with
John Harrison, and old Betty, and many others, I dare say, of
whom we have not heard."
"But this is so different! in such poisoned air! among such
malignant cases! Have you thought and weighed it enough, Ruth?"
She was quite still for a moment, but her eyes grew full of
tears. At last she said, very softly, with a kind of still
"Yes! I have thought, and I have weighed. But through the very
midst of all my fears and thoughts I have felt that I must go."
The remembrance of Leonard was present in both their minds; but
for a few moments longer they neither of them spoke. Then Ruth
"I believe I have no fear. That is a great preservative, they
say. At any rate, if I have a little natural shrinking, it is
quite gone when I remember that I am in God's hands! Oh, Mr.
Benson," continued she, breaking out into the irrepressible
And now it was his turn to speak out the brave words of faith.
"Poor, poor mother!" said he. "But be of good heart. He, too, is
in God's hands. Think what a flash of time only will separate you
from him, if you should die in this work!"
"But he--but he--it will belong to him, Mr. Benson! He will be
"No, Ruth, he will not. God and all good men will watch over him.
But if you cannot still this agony of fear as to what will become
of him, you ought not to go. Such tremulous passion will
predispose you to take the fever."
"I will not be afraid," she replied, lifting up her face, over
which a bright light shone, as of God's radiance. "I am not
afraid for myself. I will not be so for my darling."
After a little pause, they began to arrange the manner of her
going, and to speak about the length of time that she might be
absent on her temporary duties. In talking of her return, they
assumed it to be certain, although the exact time when was to
them unknown, and would be dependent entirely on the duration of
the fever; but not the less, in their secret hearts, did they
feel where alone the issue lay. Ruth was to communicate with
Leonard and Miss Faith through Mr. Benson alone, who insisted on
his determination to go every evening to the hospital to learn
the proceedings of the day, and the state of Ruth's health.
"It is not alone on your account, my dear! There may be many sick
people of whom, if I can give no other comfort, I can take
intelligence to their friends."
All was settled with grave composure; yet still Ruth lingered, as
if nerving herself up for some effort. At length she said, with a
faint smile upon her pale face--
"I believe I am a great coward. I stand here talking because I
dread to tell Leonard."
"You must not think of it," exclaimed he. "Leave it to me. It is
sure to unnerve you."
"I must think of it. I shall have self-control enough in a minute
to do it calmly--to speak hopefully. For only think," continued
she, smiling through the tears that would gather in her eyes,
"what a comfort the remembrance of the last few words may be to
the poor fellow, if----" The words were choked, but she smiled
bravely on. "No!" said she, "that must be done; but perhaps you
will spare me one thing--will you tell Aunt Faith? I suppose I am
very weak, but, knowing that I must go, and not knowing what may
be the end, I feel as if I could not bear to resist her
entreaties just at last. Will you tell her, sir, while I go to
Silently he consented, and the two rose up and came forth, calm
and serene. And calmly and gently did Ruth tell her boy of her
purpose; not daring even to use any unaccustomed tenderness of
voice or gesture, lest, by so doing, she should alarm him
unnecessarily as to the result. She spoke hopefully, and bade him
be of good courage; and he caught her bravery, though his, poor
boy, had root rather in his ignorance of the actual imminent
danger than in her deep faith. When he had gone down, Ruth began
to arrange her dress. When she came downstairs she went into the
old familiar garden and gathered a nosegay of the last lingering
autumn flowers--a few roses and the like.
Mr. Benson had tutored his sister well; and, although Miss
Faith's face was swollen with crying, she spoke with almost
exaggerated cheerfulness to Ruth. Indeed, as they all stood at
the front door, making-believe to have careless nothings to say,
just as at an ordinary leave-taking, you would not have guessed
the strained chords of feeling there were in each heart. They
lingered on, the last rays of the setting sun falling on the
group. Ruth once or twice had roused herself to the pitch of
saying "Good-bye," but when her eye fell on Leonard she was
forced to hide the quivering of her lips, and conceal her
trembling mouth amid the bunch of roses.
"They won't let you have your flowers, I'm afraid," said Miss
Benson. "Doctors so often object to the smell."
"No; perhaps not," said Ruth hurriedly. "I did not think of it. I
will only keep this one rose. Here, Leonard darling!" She gave
the rest to him. It was her farewell; for having now no veil to
hide her emotion, she summoned all her bravery for one parting
smile, and, smiling, turned away. But she gave one look back from
the street, just from the last point at which the door could be
seen, and, catching a glimpse of Leonard standing foremost on the
step, she ran back, and he met her half-way, and mother and child
spoke never a word in that close embrace.
"Now, Leonard," said Miss Faith, "be a brave boy. I feel sure she
will come back to us before very long."
But she was very near crying herself; and she would have given
way, I believe, if she had not found the wholesome outlet of
scolding Sally, for expressing just the same opinion respecting
Ruth's proceedings as she herself had done not two hours before.
Taking what her brother had said to her as a text, she delivered
such a lecture to Sally on want of faith that she was astonished
at herself, and so much affected by what she had said that she
had to shut the door of communication between the kitchen and the
parlour pretty hastily, in order to prevent Sally's threatened
reply from weakening her belief in the righteousness of what Ruth
had done. Her words had gone beyond her conviction.
Evening after evening Mr. Benson went forth to gain news of Ruth;
and night after night he returned with good tidings. The fever,
it is true, raged; but no plague came nigh her. He said her face
was ever calm and bright, except when clouded by sorrow as she
gave the accounts of the deaths which occurred in spite of every
care. He said that he had never seen her face so fair and gentle
as it was now, when she was living in the midst of disease and
One evening Leonard (for they had grown bolder as to the
infection) accompanied him to the street on which the hospital
abutted. Mr. Benson left him there, and told him to return home;
but the boy lingered, attracted by the crowd that had gathered,
and were gazing up intently towards the lighted windows of the
hospital. There was nothing beyond that to be seen; but the
greater part of these poor people had friends or relations in
that palace of Death. Leonard stood and listened. At first their
talk consisted of vague and exaggerated accounts (if such could
be exaggerated) of the horrors of the fever. Then they spoke of
Ruth--of his mother; and Leonard held his breath to hear.
"They say she has been a great sinner, and that this is her
penance, quoth one. And as Leonard gasped, before rushing forward
to give the speaker straight the lie, an old man spoke--
"Such a one as her has never been a great sinner; nor does she do
her work as a penance, but for the love of God, and of the
blessed Jesus. She will be in the light of God's countenance when
you and I will be standing afar off. I tell you, man, when my
poor wench died, as no one would come near, her head lay at that
hour on this woman's sweet breast. I could fell you," the old man
went on, lifting his shaking arm, "for calling that woman a great
sinner. The blessing of them who were ready to perish is upon
Immediately there arose a clamour of tongues, each with some tale
of his mother's gentle doings, till Leonard grew dizzy with the
beatings of his glad, proud heart. Few were aware how much Ruth
had done; she never spoke of it, shrinking with sweet shyness
from over-much allusion to her own work at all times. Her left
hand truly knew not what her right hand did; and Leonard was
overwhelmed now to hear of the love and the reverence with which
the poor and outcast had surrounded her. It was irrepressible. He
stepped forward with a proud bearing, and, touching the old man's
arm who had first spoken, Leonard tried to speak; but for an
instant he could not, his heart was too full: tears came before
words, but at length he managed to say--
"Sir, I am her son!"
"Thou! thou her bairn! God bless you, lad," said an old woman,
pushing through the crowd. "It was but last night she kept my
child quiet with singing psalms the night through. Low and sweet,
low and sweet, they tell me--till many poor things were hushed,
though they were out of their minds, and had not heard psalms
this many a year. God in heaven bless you, lad!"
Many other wild, woe-begone creatures pressed forward with
blessings on Ruth's son, while he could only repeat--
"She is my mother."
From that day forward Leonard walked erect in the streets of
Eccleston, where "many arose and called her blessed."
After some weeks the virulence of the fever abated; and the
general panic subsided--indeed, a kind of fool-hardiness
succeeded. To be sure, in some instances the panic still held
possession of individuals to an exaggerated extent. But the
number of patients in the hospital was rapidly diminishing, and,
for money, those were to be found who could supply Ruth's place.
But to her it was owing that the overwrought fear of the town was
subdued; it was she who had gone voluntarily, and, with no
thought of greed or gain, right into the very jaws of the fierce
disease. She bade the inmates of the hospital farewell, and after
carefully submitting herself to the purification recommended by
Mr. Davis, the principal surgeon of the place, who had always
attended Leonard, she returned to Mr. Benson's just at gloaming
They each vied with the other in the tenderest cares. They
hastened tea; they wheeled the sofa to the fire; they made her
lie down; and to all she submitted with the docility of a child;
and, when the candles came, even Mr. Benson's anxious eye could
see no change in her looks, but that she seemed a little paler.
The eyes were as full of spiritual light, the gently parted lips
as rosy, and the smile, if more rare, yet as sweet as ever.
"I MUST GO AND NURSE MR. BELLINGHAM"
The next morning Miss Benson would insist upon making Ruth lie
down on the sofa. Ruth longed to do many things; to be much more
active; but she submitted, when she found that it would gratify
Miss Faith if she remained as quiet as if she were really an
Leonard sat by her holding her hand. Every now and then he looked
up from his book, as if to make sure that she indeed was restored
to him. He had brought her down the flowers which she had given
him the day of her departure, and which he had kept in water as
long as they had any greenness or fragrance, and then had
carefully dried and put by. She too, smiling, had produced the
one rose which she had carried away to the hospital. Never had
the bond between her and her boy been drawn so firm and strong.
Many visitors came this day to the quiet Chapel-house. First of
all Mrs. Farquhar appeared. She looked very different from the
Jemima Bradshaw of three years ago. Happiness had called out
beauty; the colouring of her face was lovely, and vivid as that
of an autumn day; her berry red lips scarce closed over the short
white teeth for her smiles; and her large dark eyes glowed and
sparkled with daily happiness. They were softened by a mist of
tears as she looked upon Ruth.
"Lie still! Don't move! You must be content to-day to be waited
upon, and nursed! I have just seen Miss Benson in the lobby, and
had charge upon charge not to fatigue you. Oh, Ruth! how we all
love you, now we have you back again! Do you know, I taught Rosa
to say her prayers as soon as ever you were gone to that horrid
place, just on purpose that her little innocent lips might pray
for you--I wish you could hear her say it--'Please, dear God,
keep Ruth safe.' Oh, Leonard! are not you proud of your mother?"
Leonard said "Yes," rather shortly, as if he were annoyed that
any one else should know, or even have a right to imagine, how
proud he was. Jemima went on--
"Now, Ruth! I have got a plan for you. Walter and I have partly
made it; and partly it's papa's doing. Yes, dear! papa has been
quite anxious to show his respect for you. We all want you to go
to the dear Eagle's Crag for this next month, and get strong, and
have some change in that fine air at Abermouth. I am going to
take little Rosa there. Papa has lent it to us. And the weather
is often very beautiful in November."
"Thank you very much. It is very tempting; for I have been almost
longing for some such change. I cannot tell all at once whether I
can go; but I will see about it, if you will let me leave it open
"Oh! as long as you like, so that you will but go at last. And,
Master Leonard! you are to come too. Now, I know I have you on my
side." Ruth thought of the place. Her only reluctance arose from
the remembrance of that one interview on the sands. That walk she
could never go again; but how much remained! How much that would
be a charming balm and refreshment to her!
"What happy evenings we shall have together! Do you know, I think
Mary and Elizabeth may perhaps come."
A bright gleam of sunshine came into the room. "Look! how bright
and propitious for our plans. Dear Ruth, it seems like an omen
for the future!"
Almost while she spoke, Miss Benson entered, bringing with her
Mr. Grey, the rector of Eccleston. He was an elderly man, short,
and stoutly built, with something very formal in his manner; but
any one might feel sure of his steady benevolence who noticed the
expression of his face, and especially of the kindly black eyes
that gleamed beneath his grey and shaggy eyebrows. Ruth had seen
him at the hospital once or twice, and Mrs. Farquhar had met him
pretty frequently in general society.
"Go and tell your uncle," said Miss Benson to Leonard.
"Stop, my boy! I have just met Mr. Benson in the street, and my
errand now is to your mother. I should like you to remain and
hear what it is; and I am sure that my business will give these
ladies,"--bowing to Miss Benson and Jemima--"so much pleasure,
that I need not apologise for entering upon it in their
presence." He pulled out his double eye-glass, saying, with a
"You ran away from us yesterday so quietly and cunningly, Mrs.
Denbigh, that you were, perhaps, not aware that the Board was
sitting at that very time, and trying to form a vote sufficiently
expressive of our gratitude to you. As chairman, they requested
me to present you with this letter, which I shall have the
pleasure of reading."
With all due emphasis he read aloud a formal letter from the
Secretary to the Infirmary, conveying a vote of thanks to Ruth.
The good rector did not spare her one word, from date to
signature; and then, folding the letter up, he gave it to
"There, sir! when you are an old man, you may read that testimony
to your mother's noble conduct with pride and pleasure. For,
indeed," continued he, turning to Jemima, "no words can express
the relief it was to us. I speak of the gentlemen composing the
Board of the Infirmary. When Mrs. Denbigh came forward, the panic
was at its height, and the alarm of course aggravated the
disorder. The poor creatures died rapidly; there was hardly time
to remove the dead bodies before others were brought in to occupy
the beds, so little help was to be procured on account of the
universal terror; and the morning when Mrs. Denbigh offered us
her services we seemed at the very worst. I shall never forget
the sensation of relief in my mind when she told us what she
proposed to do; but we thought it right to warn her to the full
"Nay, madam," said he, catching a glimpse of Ruth's changing
colour, "I will spare you any more praises. I will only say, if I
can be a friend to you, or a friend to your child, you may
command my poor powers to the utmost."
He got up, and, bowing formally, he took his leave. Jemima came
and kissed Ruth. Leonard went upstairs to put the precious letter
away. Miss Benson sat crying heartily in a corner of the room.
Ruth went to her, and threw her arms round her neck, and said--
"I could not tell him just then. I durst not speak for fear of
breaking down; but if I have done right, it was all owing to you
and Mr. Benson. Oh! I wish I had said how the thought first came
into my head from seeing the things Mr. Benson has done so
quietly ever since the fever first came amongst us. I could not
speak; and it seemed as if I was taking those praises to myself,
when all the time I was feeling how little I deserved them--how
it was all owing to you."
"Under God, Ruth," said Miss Benson, speaking through her tears.
"Oh! think there is nothing humbles one so much as undue praise.
While he was reading that letter, I could not help feeling how
many things I have done wrong! Could he know of--of what I have
been?" asked she, dropping her voice very low.
"Yes!" said Jemima, "he knew--everybody in Eccleston did
know--but the remembrance of those days is swept away. Miss
Benson," she continued, for she was anxious to turn the subject,
"you must be on my side, and persuade Ruth to come to Abermouth
for a few weeks. I want her and Leonard both to come."
"I'm afraid my brother will think that Leonard is missing his
lessons sadly. Just of late we could not wonder that the poor
child's heart was so full; but he must make haste, and get on all
the more for his idleness." Miss Benson piqued herself on being a
"Oh, as for lessons, Walter is so very anxious that you should
give way to his superior wisdom, Ruth, and let Leonard go to
school. He will send him to any school you fix upon, according to
the mode of life you plan for him."
"I have no plan," said Ruth. "I have no means of planning. All I
can do is to try and make him ready for anything."
"Well," said Jemima, "we must talk it over at Abermouth; for I am
sure you won't refuse to come, dearest, dear Ruth! Think of the
quiet, sunny days, and the still evenings, that we shall have
together, with little Rosa to tumble about among the fallen
leaves; and there's Leonard to have his first sight of the sea."
"I do think of it," said Ruth, smiling at the happy picture
Jemima drew. And both smiling at the hopeful prospect before
them, they parted--never to meet again in life.
No sooner had Mrs. Farquhar gone than Sally burst in.
"Oh! dear, dear!" said she, looking around her. "If I had but
known that the rector was coming to call I'd ha' put on the best
covers, and the Sunday tablecloth! You're well enough," continued
she, surveying Ruth from head to foot; "you're always trim and
dainty in your gowns, though I reckon they cost but tuppence a
yard, and you've a face to set 'em off; but as for you" (as she
turned to Miss Benson), "I think you might ha' had something
better on than that old stuff, if it had only been to do credit
to a parishioner like me, whom he has known ever sin' my father
was his clerk."
"You forget, Sally, I had been making jelly all the morning. How
could I tell it was Mr. Grey when there was a knock at the door?"
Miss Benson replied.
"You might ha' letten me do the jelly; I'se warrant I could ha'
pleased Ruth as well as you. If I had but known he was coming,
I'd ha' slipped round the corner and bought ye a neck-ribbon, or
summut to lighten ye up. I'se loth he should think I'm living
with Dissenters, that don't know how to keep themselves trig and
"Never mind, Sally; he never thought of me. What he came for, was
to see Ruth; and, as you say, she's always neat and dainty."
"Well! I reckon it cannot be helped now; but, if I buy ye a
ribbon, will you promise to wear it when Church folks come? for I
cannot abide the way they have of scoffing at the Dissenters
about their dress."
"Very well! we'll make that bargain," said Miss Benson; "and now,
Ruth, I'll go and fetch you a cup of warm jelly."
"Oh! indeed, Aunt Faith," said Ruth, "I am very sorry to balk
you; but if you're going to treat me as an invalid, I am afraid I
But when she found that Aunt Faith's heart was set upon it, she
submitted very graciously: only dimpling up a little, as she
found that she must consent to lie on the sofa, and be fed, when,
in truth, she felt full of health, with a luxurious sensation of
languor stealing over her now and then, just enough to make it
very pleasant to think of the salt breezes, and the sea beauty
which awaited her at Abermouth.
Mr. Davis called in the afternoon, and his visit was also to
Ruth. Mr. and Miss Benson were sitting with her in the parlour,
and watching her with contented love, as she employed herself in
household sewing, and hopefully spoke about the Abermouth plan.
"Well! so you had our worthy rector here to-day; I am come on
something of the same kind of errand; only I shall spare you the
reading of my letter, which, I'll answer for it, he did not.
Please to take notice," said he, putting down a sealed letter,
"that I have delivered you a vote of thanks from my medical
brothers; and open and read it at your leisure; only not just
now, for I want to have a little talk with you on my own behoof.
I want to ask you a favour, Mrs. Denbigh."
"A favour!" exclaimed Ruth; "what can I do for you? I think I may
say I will do it, without hearing what it is."
"Then you're a very imprudent woman," replied he; "however, I'll
take you at your word. I want you to give me your boy."
"Ay! there it is, you see, Mr. Benson. One minute she is as ready
as can be, and the next she looks at me as if I was an ogre!"
"Perhaps we don't understand what you mean," said Mr. Benson.
"The thing is this. You know I've no children; and I can't say
I've ever fretted over it much; but my wife has; and whether it
is that she has infected me, or that I grieve over my good
practice going to a stranger, when I ought to have had a son to
take it after me, I don't know; but, of late, I've got to look
with covetous eyes on all healthy boys, and at last I've settled
down my wishes on this Leonard of yours, Mrs. Denbigh."
Ruth could not speak; for, even yet, she did not understand what
he meant. He went on--
"Now, how old is the lad?" He asked Ruth, but Miss Benson
"He'll be twelve next February."
"Umph! only twelve! He's tall and old-looking for his age. You
look young enough, it is true." He said this last sentence as if
to himself, but seeing Ruth crimson up, ho abruptly changed his
"Twelve, is he? Well, I take him from now. I don't mean that I
really take him away from you," said he, softening all at once,
and becoming grave and considerate. "His being your son--the son
of one whom I have seen--as I have seen you, Mrs. Denbigh (out
and out the best nurse I ever met with, Miss Benson; and good
nurses are things we doctors know how to value)--his being your
son is his great recommendation to me; not but what the lad
himself is a noble boy. I shall be glad to leave him with you as
long and as much as we can; he could not be tied to your
apron-strings all his life, you know. Only I provide for his
education, subject to your consent and good pleasure, and he is
bound apprentice to me. I, his guardian, bind him to myself, the
first surgeon in Eccleston, be the other who he may; and in
process of time he becomes partner, and some day or other
succeeds me. Now, Mrs. Denbigh, what have you got to say against
this plan? My wife is just as full of it as me. Come; begin with
your objections. You're not a woman if you have not a whole
bag-full of them ready to turn out against any reasonable
"I don't know," faltered Ruth. "It is so sudden----"
"It is very, very kind of you, Mr. Davis," said Miss Benson, a
little scandalised at Ruth's non-expression of gratitude.
"Pooh! pooh! I'll answer for it, in the long-run, I am taking
good care of my own interests. Come, Mrs. Denbigh, is it a
Now Mr. Benson spoke.
"Mr. Davis, it is rather sudden, as she says. As far as I can
see, it is the best as well as the kindest proposal that could
have been made; but I think we must give her a little time to
think about it."
"Well, twenty-four hours! Will that do?"
Ruth lifted up her head. "Mr. Davis, I am not ungrateful because
I can't thank you" (she was crying while she spoke); "let me have
a fortnight to consider about it. In a fortnight I will make up
my mind. Oh, how good you all are!"
"Very well. Then this day fortnight--Thursday the 28th--you will
let me know your decision. Mind! if it's against me, I sha'n't
consider it a decision, for I'm determined to carry my point. I'm
not going to make Mrs. Denbigh blush, Mr. Benson, by telling you,
in her presence, of all I have observed about her this last three
weeks, that has made me sure of the good qualities I shall find
in this boy of hers. I was watching her when she little thought
of it. Do you remember that night when Hector O'Brien was so
furiously delirious, Mrs. Denbigh?"
Ruth went very white at the remembrance.
"Why now, look there! how pale she is at the very thought of it!
And yet, I assure you, she was the one to go up and take the
piece of glass from him which he had broken out of the window for
the sole purpose of cutting his throat, or the throat of any one
else, for that matter. I wish we had some others as brave as she
"I thought the great panic was passed away!" said Mr. Benson.
"Ay! the general feeling of alarm is much weaker; but, here and
there, there are as great fools as ever. Why, when I leave here,
I am going to see our precious member, Mr. Donne----"
"Mr. Donne?" said Ruth.
"Mr. Donne, who lies ill at the Queen's--came last week, with the
intention of canvassing, but was too much alarmed by what he
heard of the fever to set to work; and, in spite of all his
precautions, he has taken it; and you should see the terror they
are in at the hotel; landlord, landlady, waiters, servants--all;
there's not a creature will go near him, if they can help it; and
there's only his groom--a lad he saved from drowning, I'm
told--to do anything for him. I must get him a proper nurse,
somehow or somewhere, for all my being a Cranworth man. Ah, Mr.
Benson! you don't know the temptations we medical men have.
Think, if I allowed your member to die now as he might very well,
if he had no nurse--how famously Mr. Cranworth would walk over
the course!--Where's Mrs. Denbigh gone to? I hope I've not
frightened her away by reminding her of Hector O'Brien, and that
awful night, when I do assure you she behaved like a heroine!"
As Mr. Benson was showing Mr. Davis out, Ruth opened the
study-door, and said, in a very calm, low voice--
"Mr. Benson! will you allow me to speak to Mr. Davis alone?"
Mr. Benson immediately consented, thinking that, in all
probability, she wished to ask some further questions about
Leonard; but as Mr. Davis came into the room, and shut the door,
he was struck by her pale, stern face of determination, and
awaited her speaking first.
"Mr. Davis! I must go and nurse Mr. Bellingham," said she at
last, clenching her hands tight together; but no other part of
her body moving from its intense stillness.
"Mr. Bellingham?" asked he, astonished at the name.
"Mr. Donne, I mean," said she hurriedly. "His name was
"Oh! I remember hearing he had changed his name for some
property. But you must not think of any more such work just now.
You are not fit for it. You are looking as white as ashes."
"I must go," she repeated.
"Nonsense! Here's a man who can pay for the care of the first
hospital nurses in London--and I doubt if his life is worth the
risk of one of theirs even, much more of yours."
"We have no right to weigh human lives against each other."
"No! I know we have not. But it's a way we doctors are apt to get
into; and, at any rate, it's ridiculous of you to think of such a
thing. Just listen to reason."
"I can't! I can't!" cried she, with a sharp pain in her voice.
"You must let me go, dear Mr. Davis!" said she, now speaking with
soft entreaty. "No!" said he, shaking his head authoritatively.
"I'll do no such thing." "Listen!" said she, dropping her voice,
and going all over the deepest scarlet; "he is Leonard's father!
Now! you will let me go!" Mr. Davis was indeed staggered by what
she said, and for a moment he did not speak. So she went on--
"You will not tell! You must not tell! No one knows, not even Mr.
Benson, who it was. And now--it might do him so much harm to have
it known. You will not tell!"
"No! I will not tell," replied he. "But, Mrs. Denbigh, you must
answer me this one question, which I ask you in all true respect,
but which I must ask, in order to guide both myself and you
aright--of course I knew Leonard was illegitimate--in fact, I
will give you secret for secret; it was being so myself that
first made me sympathise with him, and desire to adopt him. I
knew that much of your history; but tell me, do you now care for
this man? Answer me truly--do you love him?"
For a moment or two she did not speak; her head was bent down;
then she raised it up, and looked with clear and honest eyes into
"I have been thinking--but I do not know--I cannot tell--I don't
think I should love him, if he were well and happy--but you said
he was ill--and alone--how can I help caring for him? How can I
help caring for him?" repeated she, covering her face with her
hands, and the quick hot tears stealing through her fingers.
"He is Leonard's father," continued she, looking up at Mr. Davis
suddenly. "He need not know--he shall not--that I have ever been
near him. If he is like the others, he must be delirious--I will
leave him before he comes to himself--but now let me go--I must
"I wish my tongue had been bitten out before I had named him to
you. He would do well enough without you; and, I dare say, if he
recognises you, he will only be annoyed."
"It is very likely," said Ruth heavily.
"Annoyed--why! he may curse you for your unasked-for care of him.
I have heard my poor mother--and she was as pretty and delicate a
creature as you are--cursed for showing tenderness when it was
not wanted. Now, be persuaded by an old man like me, who has seen
enough of life to make his heart ache--leave this fine gentleman
to his fate. I'll promise you to get him as good a nurse as can
be had for money."
"No!" said Ruth, with dull persistency--as if she had not
attended to his dissuasions; "I must go. I will leave him before
he recognises me."
"Why, then," said the old surgeon, "if you're so bent upon it, I
suppose I must let you. It is but what my mother would have
done--poor, heart-broken thing! However, come along, and let us
make the best of it. It saves me a deal of trouble, I know; for,
if I have you for a right hand, I need not worry myself
continually with wondering how he is taken care of. Go get your
bonnet, you tender-hearted fool of a woman! Let us get you out of
the house without any more scenes or explanations; I'll make all
straight with the Bensons."
"You will not tell my secret, Mr. Davis," she said abruptly.
"No! not I! Does the woman think I had never to keep a secret of
the kind before? I only hope he'll lose his election, and never
come near the place again. After all," continued he, sighing, "I
suppose it is but human nature!" He began recalling the
circumstances of his own early life, and dreamily picturing
scenes in the grey dying embers of the fire; and he was almost
startled when she stood before him, ready equipped, grave, pale,
"Come along!" said he. "If you're to do any good at all, it must
be in these next three days. After that, I'll ensure his life for
this bout; and mind! I shall send you home then; for he might
know you, and I'll have no excitement to throw him back again,
and no sobbing and crying from you. But now every moment your
care is precious to him. I shall tell my own story to the
Bensons, as soon as I have installed you."
Mr. Donne lay in the best room of the Queen's Hotel--no one with
him but his faithful, ignorant servant, who was as much afraid of
the fever as any one else could be, but who, nevertheless, would
not leave his master--his master who had saved his life as a
child, and afterwards put him in the stables at Bellingham Hall,
where he learnt all that he knew. He stood in a farther corner of
the room, watching his delirious master with affrighted eyes, not
daring to come near him, nor yet willing to leave him.
"Oh! if that doctor would but come! He'll kill himself or me--and
them stupid servants won't stir a step over the threshold; how
shall I get over the night? Blessings on him--here's the old
doctor back again! I hear him creaking and scolding up the
The door opened, and Mr. Davis entered, followed by Ruth.
"Here's the nurse, my good man--such a nurse as there is not in
the three counties. Now, all you'll have to do is to mind what
"Oh, sir! he's mortal bad! won't you stay with us through the
"Look here!" whispered Mr. Davis to the man, "see how she knows
how to manage him! Why, I could not do it better myself!"
She had gone up to the wild, raging figure, and with soft
authority had made him lie down: and then, placing a basin of
cold water by the bedside, she had dipped in it her pretty hands,
and was laying their cool dampness on his hot brow, speaking in a
low soothing voice all the time, in a way that acted like a charm
in hushing his mad talk.
"But I will stay," said the doctor, after he had examined his
patient; "as much on her account as his, and partly to quieten
the fears of this poor, faithful fellow."
OUT OF DARKNESS INTO LIGHT
The third night after this was to be the crisis--the
turning-point between Life and Death. Mr. Davis came again to
pass it by the bedside of the sufferer. Ruth was there, constant
and still, intent upon watching the symptoms, and acting
according to them, in obedience to Mr. Davis's directions. She
had never left the room. Every sense had been strained in
watching--every power of thought or judgment had been kept on the
full stretch. Now that Mr. Davis came and took her place, and
that the room was quiet for the night, she became oppressed with
heaviness, which yet did not tend to sleep. She could not
remember the present time, or where she was. All times of her
earliest youth--the days of her childhood--were in her memory
with a minuteness and fulness of detail which was miserable; for
all along she felt that she had no real grasp on the scenes that
were passing through her mind--that, somehow, they were long gone
by, and gone by for ever--and yet she could not remember who she
was now, nor where she was, and whether she had now any interests
in life to take the place of those which she was conscious had
passed away, although their remembrance filled her mind with
painful acuteness. Her head lay on her arms, and they rested on
the table. Every now and then she opened her eyes, and saw the
large room, handsomely furnished with articles that were each one
incongruous with the other, as if bought at sales. She saw the
flickering night-light--she heard the ticking of the watch, and
the two breathings, each going on at a separate rate--one
hurried, abruptly stopping, and then panting violently, as if to
make up for lost time; and the other slow, steady, and regular,
as if the breather was asleep; but this supposition was
contradicted by an occasional repressed sound of yawning. The sky
through the uncurtained window looked dark and black--would this
night never have an end? Had the sun gone down for ever, and
would the world at last awaken to a general sense of everlasting
Then she felt as if she ought to get up, and go and see how the
troubled sleeper in yonder bed was struggling through his
illness; but she could not remember who the sleeper was, and she
shrunk from seeing some phantom-face on the pillow, such as now
began to haunt the dark corners of the room, and look at her,
jibbering and mowing as they looked. So she covered her face
again, and sank into a whirling stupor of sense and feeling.
By-and-by she heard her fellow-watcher stirring, and a dull
wonder stole over her as to what he was doing; but the heavy
languor pressed her down, and kept her still. At last she heard
the words, "Come here," and listlessly obeyed the command. She
had to steady herself in the rocking chamber before she could
walk to the bed by which Mr. Davis stood; but the effort to do so
roused her, and, though conscious of an oppressive headache, she
viewed with sudden and clear vision all the circumstances of her
present position. Mr. Davis was near the head of the bed, holding
the night-lamp high, and shading it with his hand, that it might
not disturb the sick person, who lay with his face towards them,
in feeble exhaustion, but with every sign that the violence of
the fever had left him. It so happened that the rays of the lamp
fell bright and full upon Ruth's countenance, as she stood with
her crimson lips parted with the hurrying breath, and the
fever-flush brilliant on her cheeks. Her eyes were wide open, and
their pupils distended. She looked on the invalid in silence, and
hardly understood why Mr. Davis had summoned her there.
"Don't you see the change? He is better!--the crisis is past!"
But she did not speak her looks were riveted on his
softly-unclosing eyes, which met hers as they opened languidly.
She could not stir or speak. She was held fast by that gaze of
his, in which a faint recognition dawned, and grew to strength.
He murmured some words. They strained their sense to hear. He
repeated them even lower than before; but this time they caught
what he was saying.
"Where are the water-lilies? Where are the lilies in her hair?"
Mr. Davis drew Ruth away.
"He is still rambling," said he. "But the fever has left him."
The grey dawn was now filling the room with its cold light; was
it that made Ruth's cheek so deadly pale? Could that call out the
wild entreaty of her look, as if imploring help against some
cruel foe that held her fast, and was wrestling with her Spirit
of Life? She held Mr. Davis's arm. If she had let it go, she
would have fallen.
"Take me home," she said, and fainted dead away.
Mr. Davis carried her out of the chamber, and sent the groom to
keep watch by his master. He ordered a fly to convey her to Mr.
Benson's, and lifted her in when it came, for she was still half
unconscious. It was he who carried her upstairs to her room,
where Miss Benson and Sally undressed and laid her in her bed.
He awaited their proceedings in Mr. Benson's study. When Mr.
Benson came in, Mr. Davis said--
"Don't blame me. Don't add to my self-reproach. I have killed
her. I was a cruel fool to let her go. Don't speak to me."
"It may not be so bad," said Mr. Benson, himself needing comfort
in that shock.
"She may recover. She surely will recover. I believe she will."
"No, no! she won't. But by----she shall, if I can save her."
Mr. Davis looked defiantly at Mr. Benson, as if he were Fate. "I
tell you she shall recover, or else I am a murderer. What
business had I to take her to nurse him----"
He was cut short by Sally's entrance and announcement, that Ruth
was now prepared to see him.
From that time forward Mr. Davis devoted all his leisure, his
skill, his energy, to save her. He called on the rival surgeon,
to beg him to undertake the management of Mr. Donne's recovery,
saying, with his usual self-mockery, "I could not answer it to
Mr. Cranworth if I had brought his opponent round, you know, when
I had had such a fine opportunity in my power. Now, with your
patients, and general Radical interest, it will be rather a
feather in your cap; for he may want a good deal of care yet,
though he is getting on famously--so rapidly, in fact, that it's
a strong temptation to me to throw him back--a relapse, you
The other surgeon bowed gravely, apparently taking Mr. Davis in
earnest, but certainly very glad of the job thus opportunely
thrown in his way. In spite of Mr. Davis's real and deep anxiety
about Ruth, he could not help chuckling over his rival's literal
interpretation of all he had said.
"To be sure, what fools men are! I don't know why one should
watch and strive to keep them in the world. I have given this
fellow something to talk about confidently to all his patients; I
wonder how much stronger a dose the man would have swallowed! I
must begin to take care of my practice for that lad yonder.
Well-a-day! well-a-day! What was this sick fine gentleman sent
here for, that she should run a chance of her life for him? or
why was he sent into the world at all, for that matter?"
Indeed, however much Mr. Davis might labour with all his
professional skill--however much they might all watch--and
pray--and weep--it was but too evident that Ruth "home must go,
and take her wages." Poor, poor Ruth! It might be that, utterly
exhausted by watching and nursing, first in the hospital, and
than by the bedside of her former lover, the power of her
constitution was worn out; or, it might be, her gentle, pliant
sweetness, but she displayed no outrage or discord even in her
delirium. There she lay in the attic-room in which her baby had
been born, her watch over him kept, her confession to him made;
and now she was stretched on the bed in utter helplessness,
softly gazing at vacancy with her open, unconscious eyes, from
which all the depth of their meaning had fled, and all they told
of was of a sweet, child-like insanity within. The watchers could
not touch her with their sympathy, or come near her in her dim
world;--so, mutely, but looking at each other from time to time
with tearful eyes, they took a poor comfort from the one evident
fact that, though lost and gone astray, she was happy and at
peace. They had never heard her sing; indeed, the simple art
which her mother had taught her, had died, with her early
joyousness, at that dear mother's death. But now she sang
continually, very slow, and low. She went from one old childish
ditty to another without let or pause, keeping a strange sort of
time with her pretty fingers, as they closed and unclosed
themselves upon the counterpane. She never looked at any one with
the slightest glimpse of memory or intelligence in her face; no,
not even Leonard.
Her strength faded day by day; but she knew it not. Her sweet
lips were parted to sing, even after the breath and the power to
do so had left her, and her fingers fell idly on the bed. Two
days she lingered thus--all but gone from them, and yet still
They stood around her bedside, not speaking, or sighing, or
moaning; they were too much awed by the exquisite peacefulness of
her look for that. Suddenly she opened wide her eyes, and gazed
intently forwards, as if she saw some happy vision, which called
out a lovely, rapturous, breathless smile. They held their very
"I see the Light coming," said she. "The Light is coming," she
said. And, raising herself slowly, she stretched out her arms,
and then fell back, very still for evermore.
They did not speak. Mr. Davis was the first to utter a word.
"It is over!" said he. "She is dead!"
Out rang through the room the cry of Leonard--
"Mother! mother! mother! You have not left me alone! You will not
leave me alone! You are not dead! Mother! Mother!"
They had pent in his agony of apprehension till then, that no
wail of her child might disturb her ineffable calm. But now there
was a cry heard through the house, of one refusing to be
comforted: "Mother! Mother!"
But Ruth lay dead.
A stupor of grief succeeded to Leonard's passionate cries. He
became so much depressed, physically as well as mentally, before
the end of the day, that Mr. Davis was seriously alarmed for the
consequences. He hailed with gladness a proposal made by the
Farquhars, that the boy should be removed to their house, and
placed under the fond care of his mother's friend, who sent her
own child to Abermouth the better to devote herself to Leonard.
When they told him of this arrangement, he at first refused to go
and leave her: but when Mr. Benson said--
"She would have wished it, Leonard! Do it for her sake!" he went
away very quietly; not speaking a word, after Mr. Benson had made
the voluntary promise that he should see her once again. He
neither spoke nor cried for many hours; and all Jemima's delicate
wiles were called forth, before his heavy heart could find the
relief of tears. And then he was so weak, and his pulse so low,
that all who loved him feared for his life.
Anxiety about him made a sad distraction from the sorrow for the
dead. The three old people, who now formed the household in the
Chapel-house, went about slowly and dreamily, each with a dull
wonder at their hearts why they, the infirm and worn-out, were
left, while she was taken in her lovely prime.
The third day after Ruth's death, a gentleman came to the door
and asked to speak to Mr. Benson. He was very much wrapped up in
furs and cloaks, and the upper, exposed part of his face was sunk
and hollow, like that of one but partially recovered from
illness. Mr. and Miss Benson were at Mr. Farquhar's, gone to see
Leonard, and poor old Sally had been having a hearty cry over the
kitchen fire before answering the door-knock. Her heart was
tenderly inclined, just then, towards any one who had the aspect
of suffering: so, although her master was out, and she was
usually chary of admitting strangers, she proposed to Mr. Donne
(for it was he), that he should come in and await Mr. Benson's
return in the study. He was glad enough to avail himself of her
offer; for he was feeble and nervous, and come on a piece of
business which he exceedingly disliked, and about which he felt
very awkward. The fire was nearly, if not quite, out; nor did
Sally's vigorous blows do much good, although she left the room
with an assurance that it would soon burn up. He leant against
the chimney-piece, thinking over events, and with a sensation of
discomfort, both external and internal, growing and gathering
upon him. He almost wondered whether the proposal he meant to
make with regard to Leonard could not be better arranged by
letter than by an interview. He became very shivery, and
impatient of the state of indecision to which his bodily weakness
had reduced him. Sally opened the door and came in. "Would you
like to walk upstairs, sir?" asked she in a trembling voice, for
she had learnt who the visitor was from the driver of the fly,
who had run up to the house to inquire what was detaining the
gentleman that he had brought from the Queen's Hotel; and,
knowing that Ruth had caught the fatal fever from her attendance
on Mr. Donne, Sally imagined that it was but a piece of sad
civility to invite him upstairs to see the poor dead body, which
she had laid out and decked for the grave, with such fond care
that she had grown strangely proud of its marble beauty.
Mr. Donne was glad enough of any proposal of a change from the
cold and comfortless room where he had thought uneasy, remorseful
thoughts. He fancied that a change of place would banish the
train of reflection that was troubling him; but the change he
anticipated was to a well-warmed, cheerful sitting-room, with
signs of life, and a bright fire therein, and he was on the last
flight of stairs--at the door of the room where Ruth lay--before
he understood whither Sally was conducting him. He shrank back
for an instant, and then a strange sting of curiosity impelled
him on. He stood in the humble low-roofed attic, the window open,
and the tops of the distant snow-covered hills filling up the
whiteness of the general aspect. He muffled himself up in his
cloak, and shuddered, while Sally reverently drew down the sheet,
and showed the beautiful, calm, still face, on which the last
rapturous smile still lingered, giving an ineffable look of
bright serenity. Her arms were crossed over her breast; the
wimple-like cap marked the perfect oval of her face, while two
braids of the waving auburn hair peeped out of the narrow border,
and lay on the delicate cheeks.
He was awed into admiration by the wonderful beauty of that dead
"How beautiful she is!" said he, beneath his breath. "Do all dead
people look so peaceful--so happy?"
"Not all," replied Sally, crying. "Few has been as good and as
gentle as she was in their lives." She quite shook with her
Mr. Donne was disturbed by her distress.
"Come, my good woman! we must all die----" he did not know what
to say, and was becoming infected by her sorrow. "I am sure you
loved her very much, and were very kind to her in her lifetime;
you must take this from me to buy yourself some remembrance of
her." He had pulled out a sovereign, and really had a kindly
desire to console her, and reward her, in offering it to her.
But she took her apron from her eyes, as soon as she became aware
of what he was doing, and, still holding it midway in her hands,
she looked at him indignantly, before she burst out--
"And who are you, that think to pay for my kindness to her by
money? And I was not kind to you, my darling," said she,
passionately addressing the motionless, serene body--"I was not
kind to you. I frabbed you, and plagued you from the first, my
lamb! I came and cut off your pretty locks in this very room--I
did--and you said never an angry word to me;--no! not then, nor
many a time after, when I was very sharp and cross to you.--No! I
never was kind to you, and I dunnot think the world was kind to
you, my darling,--but you are gone where the angels are very
tender to such as you--you are, my poor wench!" She bent down and
kissed the lips, from whose marble, unyielding touch Mr. Donne
recoiled, even in thought.
Just then Mr. Benson entered the room. He had returned home
before his sister, and came upstairs in search of Sally, to whom
he wanted to speak on some subject relating to the funeral. He
bowed in recognition of Mr. Donne, whom he knew as the member for
the town, and whose presence impressed him painfully, as his
illness had been the proximate cause of Ruth's death. But he
tried to check this feeling, as it was no fault of Mr. Donne's.
Sally stole out of the room, to cry at leisure in her kitchen.
"I must apologise for being here," said Mr. Donne. "I was hardly
conscious where your servant was leading me to, when she
expressed her wish that I should walk upstairs."
"It is a very common idea in this town, that it is a
gratification to be asked to take a last look at the dead,"
replied Mr. Benson.
"And in this case I am glad to have seen her once more," said Mr.
Donne. "Poor Ruth!"
Mr. Benson glanced up at him at the last word. How did he know
her name? To him she had only been Mrs. Denbigh. But Mr. Donne
had no idea that he was talking to one unaware of the connection
that had formerly existed between them; and, though he would have
preferred carrying on the conversation in a warmer room, yet, as
Mr. Benson was still gazing at her with sad, lingering love, he
"I did not recognise her when she came to nurse me; I believe I
was delirious. My servant, who had known her long ago in Fordham,
told me who she was. I cannot tell you how I regret that she
should have died in consequence of her love of me."
Mr. Benson looked up at him again, a stern light filling his eyes
as he did so. He waited impatiently to hear more, either to
quench or confirm his suspicions. If she had not been lying
there, very still and calm, he would have forced the words out of
Mr. Donne, by some abrupt question. As it was, he listened
silently, his heart quick beating.
"I know that money is but a poor compensation--is no remedy for
this event, or for my youthful folly."
Mr. Benson set his teeth hard together, to keep in words little
short of a curse.
"Indeed, I offered her money to almost any amount before:--do me
justice, sir," catching the gleam of indignation on Mr. Benson's
face; "I offered to marry her, and provide for the boy as if he
had been legitimate. It's of no use recurring to that time," said
he, his voice faltering; "what is done cannot be undone. But I
came now to say, that I should be glad to leave the boy still
under your charge, and that every expense you think it right to
incur in his education I will gladly defray;--and place a sum of
money in trust for him--say, two thousand pounds--or more: fix
what you will. Of course, if you decline retaining him, I must
find some one else; but the provision for him shall be the same,
for my poor Ruth's sake."
Mr. Benson did not speak. He could not, till he had gathered some
peace from looking at the ineffable repose of the Dead. Then,
before he answered, he covered up her face; and in his voice
there was the stillness of ice.
"Leonard is not unprovided for. Those that honoured his mother
will take care of him. He shall never touch a penny of your
money. Every offer of service you have made, I reject in his
name, and in her presence," said he, bending towards the Dead.
"Men may call such actions as yours youthful follies! There is
another name for them with God. Sir! I will follow you
All the way down, Mr. Benson heard Mr. Donne's voice urging and
entreating, but the words he could not recognise for the thoughts
that filled his brain--the rapid putting together of events that
was going on there. And when Mr. Donne turned at the door, to
speak again, and repeat his offers of service to Leonard, Mr.
Benson made answer, without well knowing whether the answer
fitted the question or not--
"I thank God, you have no right, legal or otherwise, over the
child. And for her sake, I will spare him the shame of ever
hearing your name as his father." He shut the door in Mr. Donne's
"An ill-bred, puritanical old fellow! He may have the boy, I am
sure, for aught I care. I have done my duty, and will get out of
this abominable place as soon as I can. I wish my last
remembrance of my beautiful Ruth was not mixed up with all these
Mr. Benson was bitterly oppressed with this interview; it
disturbed the peace with which he was beginning to contemplate
events. His anger ruffled him, although such anger had been just,
and such indignation well deserved; and both had been
unconsciously present in his heart for years against the unknown
seducer, whom he met face to face by the death-bed of Ruth.
It gave him a shock which he did not recover from for many days.
He was nervously afraid lest Mr. Donne should appear at the
funeral; and not all the reasons he alleged to himself against
this apprehension, put it utterly away from him. Before then,
however, he heard casually (for he would allow himself no
inquiries) that he had left the town. No! Ruth's funeral passed
over in calm and simple solemnity. Her child, her own household,
her friend and Mr. Farquhar, quietly walked after the bier, which
was borne by some of the poor to whom she had been very kind in
her lifetime And many others stood aloof in the little
burying-ground, sadly watching that last ceremony.
They slowly dispersed; Mr. Benson leading Leonard by the hand,
and secretly wondering at his self-restraint. Almost as soon as
they had let themselves into the Chapel-house, a messenger
brought a note from Mrs. Bradshaw, with a pot of quince
marmalade, which, she said to Miss Benson, she thought that
Leonard might fancy, and if he did, they were to be sure and let
her know, as she had plenty more; or, was there anything else
that he would like? She would gladly make him whatever he
Poor Leonard! he lay stretched on the sofa, white and tearless,
beyond the power of any such comfort, however kindly offered; but
this was only one of the many homely, simple attentions, which
all came round him to offer, from Mr. Grey, the rector, down to
the nameless poor who called at the back door to inquire how it
fared with her child.
Mr. Benson was anxious, according to Dissenting custom, to preach
an appropriate funeral sermon. It was the last office he could
render to her; it should be done well and carefully. Moreover, it
was possible that the circumstances of her life, which were known
to all, might be made effective in this manner to work conviction
of many truths. Accordingly, he made great preparation of thought
and paper; he laboured hard, destroying sheet after sheet--his
eyes filling with tears between-whiles, as he remembered some
fresh proof of the humility and sweetness of her life. Oh that he
could do her justice! but words seemed hard and inflexible, and
refused to fit themselves to his ideas. He sat late on Saturday,
writing; he watched through the night till Sunday morning was far
advanced. He had never taken such pains with any sermon, and he
was only half satisfied with it after all.
Mrs. Farquhar had comforted the bitterness of Sally's grief by
giving her very handsome mourning. At any rate, she felt oddly
proud and exulting when she thought of her new black gown; but,
when she remembered why she wore it, she scolded herself pretty
sharply for her satisfaction, and took to crying afresh with
redoubled vigour. She spent the Sunday morning in alternately
smoothing down her skirts and adjusting her broad hemmed collar,
or bemoaning the occasion with tearful earnestness. But the
sorrow overcame the little quaint vanity of her heart, as she saw
troop after troop of humbly-dressed mourners pass by into the old
chapel. They were very poor--but each had mounted some rusty
piece of crape, or some faded black ribbon. The old came halting
and slow--the mothers carried their quiet, awe-struck babes.
And not only these were there--but others--equally unaccustomed
to nonconformist worship; Mr. Davis, for instance, to whom Sally
acted as chaperone; for he sat in the minister's pew, as a
stranger; and, as she afterwards said, she had a fellow-feeling
with him, being a Church-woman herself, and Dissenters had such
awkward ways; however, she had been there before, so she could
set him to rights about their fashions.
From the pulpit, Mr. Benson saw one and all--the well-filled
Bradshaw pew--all in deep mourning, Mr. Bradshaw conspicuously so
(he would have attended the funeral gladly if they would have
asked him)--the Farquhars--the many strangers--the still more
numerous poor--one or two wild-looking outcasts who stood afar
off, but wept silently and continually. Mr. Benson's heart grew
His voice trembled as he read and prayed. But he steadied it as
he opened his sermon--his great, last effort in her honour--the
labour that he had prayed God to bless to the hearts of many. For
an instant the old man looked on all the upturned faces,
listening, with wet eyes, to hear what he could say to interpret
that which was in their hearts, dumb and unshaped, of God's
doings, as shown in her life. He looked, and, as he gazed, a mist
came before him, and he could not see his sermon, nor his
hearers, but only Ruth, as she had been--stricken low, and
crouching from sight in the upland field by Llan-dhu--like a
woeful, hunted creature. And now her life was over! her struggle
ended! Sermon and all was forgotten. He sat down, and hid his
face in his hands for a minute or so. Then he arose, pale and
serene. He put the sermon away, and opened the Bible, and read
the seventh chapter of Revelations, beginning at the ninth verse.
Before it was finished, most of his hearers were in tears. It
came home to them as more appropriate than any sermon could have
been. Even Sally, though full of anxiety as to what her
fellow-Churchman would think of such proceedings, let the sobs
come freely as she heard the words--
"And he said to me, These are they which came out of great
tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb.
"Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day
and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall
dwell among them.
"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither
shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
"For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed
them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and
God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
"He preaches sermons sometimes," said Sally, nudging Mr. Davis,
as they rose from their knees at last. "I make no doubt there was
as grand a sermon in yon paper-book as ever we hear in church.
I've heard him pray uncommon fine--quite beyond any but learned
Mr. Bradshaw had been anxious to do something to testify his
respect for the woman, who, if all had entertained his opinions,
would have been driven into hopeless sin. Accordingly, he ordered
the first stonemason of the town to meet him in the chapel-yard
on Monday morning, to take measurement and receive directions for
a tombstone. They threaded their way among the grassy heaps to
where Ruth was buried, in the south corner, beneath the great
Wych-elm. When they got there, Leonard raised himself up from the
new-stirred turf. His face was swollen with weeping; but, when he
saw Mr. Bradshaw, he calmed himself, and checked his sobs, and,
as an explanation of being where he was when thus surprised, he
could find nothing to say but the simple words--
"My mother is dead, sir."
His eyes sought those of Mr. Bradshaw with a wild look of agony,
as if to find comfort for that great loss in human sympathy; and
at the first word--the first touch of Mr. Bradshaw's hand on his
shoulder--he burst out afresh.
"Come, come! my boy!--Mr. Francis, I will see you about this
to-morrow--I will call at your house.--Let me take you home, my
poor fellow. Come, my lad, come!"
The first time, for years, that he had entered Mr. Benson's
house, he came leading and comforting her son--and, for a moment,
he could not speak to his old friend, for the sympathy which
choked up his voice, and filled his eyes with tears.
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