THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 9 out of 11
present argument, and spoke again of his health and his solitary
"Mitchel has been very kind in coming to sit with me, and we have
indulged in two or three castles in the air--hospitals in the air,
perhaps, I should say. I told him he might bring me down another
guest instead of the tailor, and he has brought a poor young pupil
teacher, whom Tibbie calls a winsome gallant, but I am afraid she
won't save him. Did you ever read the 'Lady of La Garaye'?"
"Not the poem, but I know her story."
"As soon as that parcel comes in, which Villars is always expecting,
I propose to myself to read that poem with you. "What's that? It
can't be Rachel as usual."
If it was not Rachel, it was the next thing to her, namely, Alick
Keith. This was the last day of those that he had spent at the
Homestead, and he was leaving Rachel certainly better. She had not
fallen back on any evening that he had been there, but to his great
regret he would not be able to come out the next day. Regimental
duty would take him up nearly all the day, and then he was invited to
a party at the Deanery, "which the mother would never have forgiven
me for refusing," he said; just as if the mother's desires had the
very same power over him as over her daughters. "I came to make a
desperate request, Miss Williams," he said. "Would it be any way
possible for you to be so kind as to go up and see Rachel? She comes
downstairs now, and there are no steps if you go in by the glass
doors. Do you think you could manage it?"
"She wishes it!" said Ermine.
"Very much. There are thorns in her mind that no one knows how to
deal with so well as you do, and she told me yesterday how she longed
to get to you."
"It is very good in her. I have sometimes feared she might think we
had dealt unfairly by her if she did not know how very late in the
business we suspected that our impostors were the same," said Ermine.
"It is not her way to blame any one but herself," said Alick, "and,
in fact, our showing her the woodcut deception was a preparation for
the rest of it. But I have said very little to her about all that
matter. She required to be led away rather than back to it.
Brooding over it is fatal work, and yet her spirits are too much
weakened and shattered to bear over-amusement. That is the reason
that I thought you would be so very welcome to-morrow. She has seen
no one yet but Lady Temple, and shrinks from the very idea."
"I do not see why I should not manage it very well," said Ermine,
cheerfully, "if Miss Curtis will let me know in time whether she is
equal to seeing me. You know I can walk into the house now."
Alick thanked her earnestly. His listless manner was greatly
enlivened by his anxiety, and Colonel Keith was obliged to own that
marriage would be a good thing for him; but such a marriage! If from
sheer indolence he should leave the government to his wife, then--
Colin could only shrug his shoulders in dismay.
Nevertheless, when Ermine's wheeled chair came to the door the next
afternoon, he came with it, and walked by her side up the hill,
talking of what had been absolutely the last call she had made--a
visit when they had both been riding with the young Beauchamps.
"Suppose any one had told me then I should make my next visit with
you to take care of me, how pleased I should have been," said Ermine,
laughing, and taking as usual an invalid's pleasure in all the little
novelties only remarked after long seclusion. That steep, winding,
pebbly road, with the ferns and creeping plants on its rocky sides,
was a wonderful panorama to her, and she entreated for a stop at the
summit to look down on the sea and the town; but here Grace came out
to them full of thanks and hopes, little knowing that to them the
event was a very great one. When at the glass doors of the garden
entrance, Ermine trusted herself to the Colonel's arm, and between
him and her crutch crossed the short space to the morning room, where
Rachel rose from her sofa, but wisely did not come forward till her
guest was safely placed in a large easy chair.
Rachel then held out her hand to the Colonel, and quietly said,
"Thank you," in a subdued manner that really touched him, as he
retreated quickly and left them together. Then Rachel sat down on a
footstool close to Ermine, and looked up to her. "Oh, it is so good
of you to come to me! I would not have dared to think of it, but I
just said I wished to get out for nothing but to go to you; and then
he--Captain Keith-would go and fetch you."
"As the nearest approach to fetching the moon, I suppose," said
Ermine, brightly. "It was very kind to me, for I was longing to see
you, and I am glad to find you looking better than I expected."
For in truth Rachel's complexion had been little altered by her
illness; and the subdued dejected expression was the chief change
visible, except in the feebleness and tremulousness of all her
movements. "Yes, I am better," she said. "I ought to be, for he is
so good to me."
"Dear Rachel, I was so very glad to hear of this," said Ermine,
bending down to kiss her.
"Were you? I thought no one could be that cared for him," said
"I cared more for him the week that you were ill than ever I had done
"Grace tells me of that," said Rachel, "and when he is here I believe
it. But, Miss Williams, please look full at me, and tell me whether
everybody would not think--I don't say that I could do it--but if
every one would not think it a great escape for him if I gave him
"No one that could really judge."
"Because, listen," said Rachel, quickly, "the regiment is going to
Scotland, and he and the mother have taken it into their heads that
I shall get well faster somewhere away from home. And--and they want
to have the wedding as soon as I am better; and they are going to
write about settlements and all that. I have never said I would, and
I don't feel as if--as if I ought to let him do it; and if ever the
thing is to be stopped at all, this is the only time."
"But why? You do not wish--"
"Don't talk of what I wish," said Rachel. "Talk of what is good for
Ermine was struck with the still resolute determination of judging
for herself--the self-sufficiency, almost redeemed by the
unselfishness, and the face was most piteously in earnest.
"My dear, surely he can be trusted to judge. He is no boy, in spite
of his looks. The Colonel always says that he is as much older than
his age in character as he is younger in appearance."
"I know that," said Rachel, "but I don't think he ought to be trusted
here; for you see," and she looked down, "all the blindness of--of
his affection is enhanced by his nobleness and generosity, and he has
nobody to check or stop him; and it does seem to me a shame for us
all to catch at such compassion, and encumber him with me, just
because I am marked for scorn and dislike. I can't get any one to
help me look at it so. My own people would fancy it was only that I
did not care for him; and he--I can't even think about it when he is
here, but I get quite distracted with doubts if it can be right
whenever he goes away. And you are the only person who can help me!
Bessie wrote very kindly to me, and I asked to see what she said to
him. I thought I might guess her feeling from it. And he said he
knew I should fancy it worse than it was if he did not let me see.
It was droll, and just like her--not unkind, but I could see it is
the property that makes her like it. And his uncle is blind, you
know, and could only send a blessing, and kind hopes, and all that.
Oh, if I could guess whether that uncle thinks he ought! What does
Colonel Keith think? I know you will tell me truly."
"He thinks," said Ermine, with a shaken voice, "that real trustworthy
affection outweighs all the world could say."
"But he thinks it is a strange, misplaced liking, exaggerated by pity
for one sunk so low?" said Rachel, in an excited manner.
"Rachel," said Ermine, "you must take my beginning as a pledge of my
speaking the whole truth. Colonel Keith is certainly not fond of you
personally, and rather wonders at Alick, but he has never doubted
that this is the genuine feeling that is for life, and that it is
capable of making you both better and happier. Indeed, Rachel, we do
both feel that you suit Alick much more than many people who have
been far better liked."
Rachel looked cheered. "Yet you," she faltered, "you have been an
instance of resolute withstanding."
"I don't think I shall be long," murmured Ermine, a vivid colour
flashing forth upon her cheek, and leading the question from herself.
"Just suppose you did carry out this fierce act of self-abnegation,
what do you think could come next?"
"I don't know! I would not break down or die if I could help it,"
added Rachel, faintly after her brave beginning.
"And for him? Do you think being cast off would be so very pleasant
Rachel hung her head, and her lips made a half murmur of, "Would not
it be good for him?"
"No, Rachel, it is the very sorest trial there can be when, even in
the course of providence, kind intentions are coldly requited; and it
would be incalculably harder when therewith there would be rejection
"Ah! I never said I could do it. I could not tell him I did not care
for him, and short of that nothing would stop it," sobbed Rachel,
"only I wished to feel it was not very mean--very wrong." She laid
her weary head on Ermine's lap, and Ermine bent down and kissed her.
"So happy, so bright and free, and capable, his life seems now,"
proceeded Rachel. "I can't understand his joining it to mine; and if
people shunned and disliked him for my sake!"
"Surely that will depend on yourself. I have never seen you in
society, but if you have the fear of making him unpopular or
remarkable before your eyes, you will avoid it."
"Oh, yes, I know," said Rachel, impatiently. "I did think I should
not have been a commonplace woman," and she shed a few tears.
Ermine was provoked with her, and began to think that she had been
arguing on a wrong tack, and that it would be better after all for
Alick to be free. Rachel looked up presently. "It must be very odd
to you to hear me say so, but I can't help feeling the difference.
I used to think it so poor and weak to be in love, or to want any one
to take care of one. I thought marriage such ordinary drudgery, and
ordinary opinions so contemptible, and had such schemes for myself.
And this--and this is such a break down, my blunders and their
consequences have been so unspeakably dreadful, and now instead of
suffering, dying--as I felt I ought--it has only made me just like
other women, for I know I could not live without him, and then all
the rest of it must come for his sake."
"And will make you much more really useful and effective than ever
you could have been alone," said Ermine.
"He does talk of doing things together, but, oh! I feel as if I could
never dare put out my hand again!"
"Not alone perhaps."
"I like to hear him tell me about the soldiers' children, and what he
wants to have done for them."
"You and I little thought what Lady Temple was to bring us," said
Ermine, cheerfully, "but you see we are not the strongest creatures
in the world, so we must resign ourselves to our fate, and make the
best of it. They must judge how many imperfections they choose to
endure, and we can only make the said drawbacks as little troublesome
as may be. Now, I think I see Miss Curtis watching in fear that I am
"Oh, must you go? You have really comforted me! I wanted an
external opinion very much, and I do trust yours! Only tell me," she
added, holding Ermine's hand, "is this indeed so with you?"
"Not yet," said Ermine, softly, "do not speak about it, but I think
you will be comforted to hear that this matter of yours, by leading
to the matron's confession, may have removed an obstacle that was far
more serious in my eyes than even my own helplessness, willing as
Colin was to cast both aside. Oh, Rachel, there is a great deal to
be thankful for."
Rachel lay down on her sofa, and fell asleep, nor did Alick find any
occasion for blaming Grace when he returned the next day. The effect
of the conversation had been to bring Rachel to a meek submission,
very touching in its passiveness and weary peacefulness. She was
growing stronger, walked out leaning on Alick's arm, and was even
taken out by him in a boat, a wonderful innovation, for a dangerous
accident to Mr. Curtis had given the mother such a horror of the sea
that no boating excursions had ever taken place during her solitary
reign, and the present were only achieved by a wonderful stretch of
dear Alexander's influence. Perhaps she trusted him the more,
because his maimed hand prevented him from being himself an oarsman,
though he had once been devoted to rowing. At any rate, with an old
fisherman at the oar, many hours were spent upon the waters of the
bay, in a tranquillity that was balm to the harassed spirit, with
very little talking, now and then some reading aloud, but often
nothing but a dreamy repose. The novelty and absence of old
association was one secret of the benefit that Rachel thus derived.
Any bustle or resumption of former habits was a trial to her
shattered nerves, and brought back the dreadful haunted nights.
The first sight of Conrade, still looking thin and delicate, quite
overset her; a drive on the Avoncester road renewed all she had felt
on the way thither; three or four morning visitors coming in on her
unexpectedly, made the whole morbid sense of eyes staring at her
recur all night, and when the London solicitor came down about the
settlements, she shrank in such a painful though still submissive
way, from the sight of a stranger, far more from the semblance of a
dinner party, that the mother yielded, and let her remain in her
"May I come in?" said Alick, knocking at the door. I have something
to tell you."
"What, Alick! Not Mr. Williams come?"
"Nothing so good. In fact I doubt if you will think it good at all.
I have been consulting this same solicitor about the title-deeds;
that cheese you let fall, you know," he added, stroking her hand, and
speaking so gently that the very irony was rather pleasant.
"Oh, it is very bad."
"Now wouldn't you like to hear it was so bad that I should have to
sell out, and go to the diggings to make it up?"
"Now, Alick, if it were not for your sake, you know I should like--"
"I know you would; but you see, unfortunately, it was not a cheese at
all, only a wooden block that the fox ran away with. Lawyers don't
put people's title-deeds into such dangerous keeping, the true cheese
is safe locked up in a tin-box in Mr. Martin's chambers in London."
"Then what did I give Mauleverer?"
"A copy kept for reference down here." Rachel hid her face.
"There, I knew you would think it no good news, and it is just a
thunder-clap to me. All you wanted me for was to defend the mother
and make up to the charity, and now there's no use in me," he said in
a disconsolate tone.
"Oh, Alick, Alick, why am I so foolish?"
"Never mind; I took care Martin should not know it. Nobody is aware
of the little affair but our two selves; and I will take care the fox
learns the worth of his prize. Only now, Rachel, answer me, is there
any use left for me still?"
"You should not ask me such things, Alick, you know it all too well."
"Not so well that I don't want to hear it. But I had more to say.
This Martin is a man of very different calibre from old Cox, with a
head and heart in London charities and churches, and it had struck
him as it did you, that the Homestead had an easier bargain of it
than that good namesake of yours had ever contemplated. If it paid
treble or quadruple rent, the dear mother would never find it out,
nor grow a geranium the less."
"No, she would not! But after all, the lace apprenticeships are poor
"So they are, but Martin says there would be very little difficulty
in getting a private bill to enable the trustees to apply the sum
otherwise for the benefit of the Avonmouth girls."
"Then if I had written to him, it would have been all right! Oh, my
"And, Rachel, now that money has been once so intended; suppose it
kept its destination. About £500 would put up a tidy little
industrial school, and you might not object to have a scholarship or
two for some of our little -th Highlander lassies whose fathers won't
make orphans of them for the regular military charities. What,
crying, Rachel! Don't you like it?"
"It is my dream. The very thing I wished and managed so vilely.
If Lovedy were alive! Though perhaps that is not the thing to wish.
But I can't bear taking your--"
"Hush! You can't do worse than separate your own from mine. This is
no part of the means I laid before Mr. Martin by way of proving
myself a responsible individual. I took care of that. Part of this
is prize-money, and the rest was a legacy that a rich old merchant
put me down for in a transport of gratitude because his son was one
of the sick in the bungalow where the shell came. I have had it
these three or four months, and wondered what to do with it."
"This will be very beautiful, very excellent. And we can give the
"I have thought of another thing. I never heard of an industrial
school where the great want was not food for industry. Now I know
the Colonel and Mr. Mitchell have some notion floating in their minds
about getting a house for convalescents down here, and it strikes me
that this might supply the work in cooking, washing, and so on. I
think I might try what they thought of it."
Rachel could only weep out her shame and thankfulness, and when Alick
reverently added that it was a scheme that would require much thought
and much prayer, the pang struck her to the heart--how little she had
prayed over the F. U. E. E. The prayer of her life had been for
action and usefulness, but when she had seen the shadow in the
stream, her hot and eager haste, her unconscious detachment from all
that was not visible and material had made her adhere too literally
to that misinterpreted motto, laborare est orare. How should then
her eyes be clear to discern between substance and shadow?
"Around the very place doth brood
A calm and holy quietude."--REV. ISAAC WILLIAMS.
The level beams of a summer sun, ending one of his longest careers,
were tipping a mountain peak with an ineffable rosy purple,
contrasting with the deep shades of narrow ravines that cleft the
rugged sides, and gradually expanded into valleys, sloping with green
pasture, or clothed with wood. The whole picture, with its clear,
soft sky, was retraced on the waters of the little lake set in
emerald meadows, which lay before the eyes of Rachel Keith, as she
reclined in a garden chair before the windows of a pretty rustic-
looking hotel, but there was no admiration, no peaceful contemplation
on her countenance, only the same weary air of depression, too
wistful and startled even to be melancholy repose, and the same
bewildered distressed look that had been as it were stamped on her by
the gaze of the many unfriendly eyes at the Quarter Sessions, and by
her two unfortunate dinner parties.
The wedding was to have been quietness itself, but though the
bridegroom had refused to contribute sister, brother-in-law, or even
uncle to the numbers, conventionalities had been too strong for Mrs.
Curtis, and "just one more" had been added to the guests till a
sufficient multitude had been collected to renew all Rachel's morbid
sensations of distress and bewilderment with their accompanying
feverish symptoms, and she had been only able to proceed on her
journey by very short stages, taken late in the day.
Alick had not forgotten her original views as to travelling, and as
they were eventually to go to Scotland, had proposed beginning with
Dutch reformatories and Swiss cretins; but she was so plainly unfit
for extra fatigue and bustle, that the first few weeks were to be
spent in Wales, where the enjoyment of fine scenery might, it was
hoped, be beneficial to the jaded spirits, and they had been going
through a course of passes and glens as thoroughly as Rachel's powers
would permit, for any over-fatigue renewed feverishness and its
delusive miseries, and the slightest alarm told upon the shattered
She did not easily give way at the moment, but the shock always took
revenge in subsequent suffering, which all Alick's care could not
prevent, though the exceeding charm of his tenderness rendered even
the indisposition almost precious to her.
"What a lovely sunset!" he said, coming to lean over the back of her
chair. "Have you been watching it?"
"I don't know."
"Are you very much tired?"
"No, it is very quiet here."
"Very; but I must take you in before that curling mist mounts into
"This is a very nice place, Alick, the only really quiet one we have
"I am afraid that it will be so no longer. The landlord tells me he
has letters from three parties to order rooms."
"Oh, then, pray let us go on," said Rachel, looking alarmed.
"To-morrow afternoon then, for I find there's another waterfall."
"Very well," said Rachel, resignedly.
"Or shall we cut the waterfall, and get on to Llan-- something?"
"If you don't think we ought to see it."
"Ought?" he said, smiling. "What is the ought in the case? Why are
we going through all this? Is it a duty to society or to ourselves?"
"A little of both, I suppose," said Rachel.
"And, Rachel, from the bottom of your heart, is it not a trying
"I want to like what you are showing me," said Rachel.
"And you are more worried than delighted, eh "
"I--I don't know! I see it is grand and beautiful! I did love my
own moors, and the Spinsters' Needles, but-- Don't think me very
ungrateful, but I can't enter into all this! All I really do care
for is your kindness, and helping me about," and she was really
crying like a child unable to learn a lesson.
"Well," he said, with his own languor of acquiescence, "we are
perfectly agreed. Waterfalls are an uncommon bore, if one is not in
a concatenation accordingly."
Rachel was beguiled into a smile.
"Come," he said, "let us be strong minded! If life should ever
become painful to us because of our neglect of the waterfalls, we
will set out and fulfil our tale of them. Meantime, let me take you
where you shall be really quiet, home to Bishopsworthy."
"But your uncle does not expect you so soon."
"My uncle is always ready for me, and a week or two of real rest
there would make you ready for the further journey."
Rachel made no opposition. She was glad to have her mind relieved
from the waterfalls, but she had rather have been quite alone with
her husband. She knew that Lord and Lady Keith had taken a house at
Littleworthy, while Gowanbrae was under repair, and she dreaded the
return to the bewildering world, before even the first month was
over; but Alick made the proposal so eagerly that she could not help
assenting with all the cordiality she could muster, thinking that it
must be a wretched, disappointing wedding tour for him, and she would
at least not prevent his being happy with his uncle; as happy as he
could be with a person tied to him, of whom all his kindred must
disapprove, and especially that paragon of an uncle, whom she heard
of like an intensification of all that class of clergy who had of
late been most alien to her.
Alick did not press for her real wishes, but wrote his letter, and
followed it as fast as she could bear to travel. So when the train,
a succession of ovens for living bodies disguised in dust, drew up at
the Littleworthy Station, there was a ready response to the smart
footman's inquiry, "Captain and Mrs. Keith?" This personage by no
means accorded with Rachel's preconceived notions of the Rectory
establishment, but she next heard the peculiar clatter by which a
grand equipage announces its importance, and saw the coronetted
blinkers tossing on the other side of the railing. A kind little
note of welcome was put into Rachel's hand as she was seated in the
luxurious open carriage, and Alick had never felt better pleased with
his sister than when he found his wife thus spared the closeness of
the cramping fly, or the dusty old rectory phaeton. Hospitality is
never more welcome than at the station, and Bessie's letter was
complacently accepted. Rachel would, she knew, be too much tired to
see her on that day, and on the next she much regretted having an
engagement in London, but on the Sunday they would not fail to meet,
and she begged that Rachel would send word by the servant what time
Meg should be sent to the Rectory for her to ride; it would be a
kindness to exercise her, for it was long since she had been used.
Rachel could not help colouring with pleasure at the notion of riding
her own Meg again, and Alick freely owned that it was well thought
of. He already had a horse at his uncle's, and was delighted to see
Rachel at last looking forward to something. But as she lay back in
the carriage, revelling in the fresh wind, she became dismayed at the
succession of cottages of gentility, with lawns and hedges of various
"There must be a terrible number of people here!"
"This is only Littleworthy."
"Not very little."
"No; I told you it was villafied and cockneyfied. There," as the
horses tried to stop at a lodge leading to a prettily built house,
"that's Timber End, the crack place here, where Bessie has always
said it was her ambition to live."
"How far is it from the Parsonage?"
Which was a comfort to Rachel, not that she wished to be distant from
Bessie, but the population appalled her imagination.
"Bishopsworthy is happily defended by a Dukery," explained Alick, as
coming to the end of the villas they passed woods and fields, a bit
of heathy common, and a scattering of cottages. Labourers going home
from work looked up, and as their eyes met Alick's there was a mutual
smile and touch of the hat. He evidently felt himself coming home.
The trees of a park were beginning to rise in front, when the
carriage turned suddenly down a sharp steep hill; the right side of
the road bounded by a park paling; the left, by cottages, reached by
picturesque flights of brick stairs, then came a garden wall, and a
halt. Alick called out, "Thanks," and "we will get out here,"
adding, "They will take in the goods the back way. I don't like
careering into the churchyard."
Rachel, alighting, saw that the lane proceeded downwards to a river
crossed by a wooden bridge, with an expanse of meadows beyond. To
her left was a stable-yard, and below it a white gate and white
railings enclosing a graveyard, with a very beautiful church standing
behind a mushroom yew-tree. The upper boundary of the churchyard was
the clipped yew hedge of the rectory garden, whose front entrance was
through the churchyard. There was a lovely cool tranquillity of
aspect as the shadows lay sleeping on the grass; and Rachel could
have stood and gazed, but Alick opened the gate, and there was a
movement at the seat that enclosed the gnarled trunk of the yew tree.
A couple of village lads touched their caps and departed the opposite
way, a white setter dog bounded forward, and, closely attended by a
still snowier cat, a gentleman came to meet them, so fearlessly
treading the pathway between the graves, and so youthful in figure,
that it was only the "Well, uncle, here she is," and, "Alick, my dear
boy," that convinced her that this was indeed Mr. Clare. The next
moment he had taken her hand, kissed her brow, and spoken a few words
of fatherly blessing, then, while Alick exchanged greetings with the
cat and dog, he led her to the arched yew-tree entrance to his
garden, up two stone steps, along a flagged path across the narrow
grass-plat in front of the old two-storied house, with a tiled
verandah like an eyebrow to the lower front windows.
Instead of entering by the door in the centre, he turned the corner
of the house, where the eastern gable disclosed a window opening on a
sloping lawn full of bright flower-beds. The room within was lined
with books and stored with signs of parish work, but with a refined
orderliness reigning over the various little ornaments, and almost
betokening feminine habitation; and Alick exclaimed with admiration
of a large bowl of fresh roses, beautifully arranged.
"Traces of Bessie," said Mr. Clare; "she brought them this morning,
and spent nearly an hour in arranging them and entertaining me with
her bright talk. I have hardly been able to keep out of the room
since, they make it so delicious."
"Do you often see her?" asked Alick.
"Yes, dear child, she is most good-natured and attentive, and I take
it most kindly of her, so courted as she is."
"How do you get on with his lordship?"
"I don't come much in his way, he has been a good deal laid up with
sciatica, but he seems very fond of her; and it was all her doing
that they have been all this time at Littleworthy, instead of being
in town for the season. She thought it better for him."
"And where is Mr. Lifford?" asked Alick.
"Gone to M-- till Saturday."
"Unable to face the bride."
"I fear Ranger is not equally shy," said Mr. Clare, understanding a
certain rustle and snort to import that the dog was pressing his chin
hard upon Rachel's knee, while she declared her content with the
handsome creature's black depth of eye; and the cat executed a
promenade of tenderness upon Alick.
"How are the peacocks, Alick?" added Mr. Clare; "they, at least, are
inoffensive pets. I dreaded the shears without your superintendence,
but Joe insisted that they were getting lop-sided."
Alick put his head out at the window. "All right, sir; Joe has been
a little hard on the crest of the left-hand one, but it is
Whereupon, Rachel discovered that the peacocks were creatures of yew-
tree, perched at either end of the garden fence. Mr. Clare had found
them there, and preserved them with solicitous fidelity.
Nothing could be less like than he was to the grave, thin, stooping
ascetic in a long coat, that she had expected. He was a tall, well-
made man, of the same youthful cast of figure as his nephew, and a
far lighter and more springy step, with features and colouring
recalling those of his niece, as did the bright sunny playful
sweetness of his manner; his dark handsome eyes only betraying their
want of sight by a certain glassy immobility that contrasted with the
play of the expressive mouth. It was hard to guess why Bessie should
have shunned such an uncle. Alick took Rachel to the bedroom above
the library, and, like it, with two windows--one overlooking
churchyard, river, and hay-fields, the other commanding, over the
peacock hedge, a view of the playground, where Mr. Clare was seen
surrounded by boys, appealing to him on some disputed matter of
cricket. There was a wonderful sense of serenity, freshness, and
fragrance, inexpressibly grateful to Rachel's wearied feelings, and
far more comfortable than the fine scenery through which she had been
carried, because no effort to look and admire was incumbent on her--
nay, not even an effort to talk all the evening. Mr. Clare seemed to
have perfectly imbibed the idea that rest was what she wanted, and
did not try to make small talk with her, though she sat listening
with pleased interest to the conversation between him and his nephew-
-so home like, so full of perfect understanding of one another.
"Is there anything to be read aloud?" presently asked Alick.
"You have not by chance got 'Framley Parsonage?'"
"I wish I had. I did pick up 'Silas Marner,' at a station, thinking
you might like it," and he glanced at Rachel, who had, he suspected,
thought his purchase an act of weakness. "Have you met with it?"
"I have met with nothing of the sort since you were here last;" then
turning to Rachel, "Alick indulges me with novels, for my good curate
had rather read the catalogue of a sale any day than meddle with one,
and I can't set on my pupil teacher in a book where I don't know what
"We will get 'Framley,'" said Alick.
"Bessie has it. She read me a very clever scene about a weak young
parson bent on pleasing himself; and offered to lend me the book, but
I thought it would not edify Will Walker. But, no doubt, you have
read it long ago."
"No," said Rachel; and something withheld her from disclaiming such
empty employments. Indeed, she was presently much interested in the
admirable portraiture of "Silas Marner," and still more by the keen,
vivid enjoyment, critical, droll, and moralizing, displayed by a man
who heard works of fiction so rarely that they were always fresh to
him, and who looked on them as studies of life. His hands were busy
all the time carving a boss for the roof of one of the side aisles of
his church--the last step in its gradual restoration.
That night there was no excitement of nerve, no morbid fancy to
trouble Rachel's slumbers; she only awoke as the eight o'clock bell
sounded through the open window, and for the first time for months
rose less weary than she had gone to rest. Week-day though it were,
the description "sweet day, so calm, so cool, so bright," constantly
recurred to her mind as she watched the quiet course of occupation.
Alick, after escorting his uncle to a cottage, found her searching
among the stores in the music stand.
"You unmusical female," he said, "what is that for?"
"Your uncle spoke of music last night, and I thought he would like
"I thought you had no such propensity."
"I learnt like other people, but it was the only thing I could not do
as well as Grace, and I thought it wasted time, and was a young
ladyism; but if can recover music enough to please him, I should be
"Thank you," said Alick, earnestly. "He is very much pleased with
your voice in speaking. Indeed, I believe I first heard it with his
"This is a thorough lady's collection of music," said Rachel, looking
through it to hide her blush of pleasure. "Altogether the house has
not a bachelor look."
"Did you not know that he had been married? It was when he first had
the living twelve years ago. She was a very lovely young thing, half
Irish, and this was the happiest place in the world for two years,
till her little brother was sent home here from school without proper
warning of a fever that had begun there. We all had it, but she and
her baby were the only ones that did not recover! There they lie,
under the yew-tree, where my uncle likes to teach the children. He
was terribly struck down for years, though he went manfully to his
work, and it has been remarkable how his spirits and sociability have
returned since he lost his sight; indeed, he is more consistently
bright than ever he was."
"I never saw any one like him," said Rachel. "I have fallen in with
clergy that some call holy, and with some that others call pious, but
he is not a bit like either. He is not even grave, yet there is a
calming, refreshing sense of reverence towards him that would be awe,
only it is so happy."
Alick's response was to bend over her, and kiss her brow. She had
never seen him so much gratified.
"What a comfort your long stay with him must have been," she said
presently, "in the beginning of his blindness!"
"I hope so. It was an ineffable comfort to me to come here out of
Littleworthy croquet, and I think cheering me did him good. Rachel,
you may do and say what you please," he added, earnestly, "since you
have taken to him."
"I could not help it," said Rachel, though a slight embarrassment
came over her at the recollection of Bessie, and at the thought of
the narrow views on which she expected to differ. Then, as Alick
continued to search among the music, she asked, "Will he like the
piano to be used?"
"Of all things. Bessie's singing is his delight. Look, could we get
"You don't sing, Alick! I mean, do you?"
"We need not betray our talents to worldlings base."
Rachel found her accompaniment the least satisfactory part of the
affair, and resolved on an hour's practice every day in Mr. Clare's
absence, a wholesome purpose even as regarded her health and spirits.
She had just sat down to write letters, feeling for the first time as
if they would not be a toil, when Mr. Clare looked in to ask Alick to
refer to a verse in the Psalms, quoting it in Greek as well as
English, and after the research had been carried to the Hebrew, he
told Rachel that he was going to write his sermon, and repaired to
the peacock path, where he paced along with Ranger and the cat, in
faithful, unobtrusive attendance.
"What, you can read Hebrew, Alick?"
"So can you."
"Enough to appreciate the disputed passages. When did you study it?"
"I learnt enough, when I was laid up, to look out my uncle's texts
She felt a little abashed by the tone, but a message called him away,
and before his return Mr. Clare came back to ask for a reference to
St. Augustine. On her offer of her services, she was thanked, and
directed with great precision to the right volume of the Library of
the Fathers, but spying a real St. Augustine, she could not be
satisfied without a flight at the original. It was not, however,
easy to find the place; she was forced to account for her delay by
confessing her attempt, and then to profit by Mr. Clare's directions,
and, after all, her false quantities, though most tenderly and
apologetically corrected, must have been dreadful to the scholarly
ear, for she was obliged to get Alick to read the passage over to him
before he arrived at the sense, and Rachel felt her flight of clever
womanhood had fallen short. It was quite new to her to be living
with people who knew more of, and went deeper into, everything than
she did, and her husband's powers especially amazed her.
The afternoon was chiefly spent in the hay-field under a willow-tree;
Mr. Clare tried to leave the young people to themselves, but they
would not consent; and, after a good deal of desultory talk and
description of the minnows and water-spiders, in whom Mr. Clare
seemed to take a deep interest, they went on with their book till the
horses came, and Alick took Rachel for a ride in Earlsworthy Park, a
private gate of which, just opposite to the Rectory, was free to its
inhabitants. The Duke was an old college friend of Mr. Clare, and
though much out of health, and hardly ever able to reside at the
Park, all its advantages were at the Rector's service, and they were
much appreciated when, on this sultry summer's day, Rachel found
shade and coolness in the deep arcades of the beech woods, and
freshness on the upland lawns, as she rode happily on the dear old
mare, by whom she really thought herself fondly recognised. There
was something in the stillness of the whole, even in the absence of
the roll and plash of the sea waves beside which she had grown up,
that seemed to give her repose from the hurry and throb of sensations
and thoughts that had so long preyed upon her; and when the ride was
over she was refreshed, not tired, and the evening bell drew her to
the conclusion most befitting a day spent in that atmosphere of
quietude. She felt grateful to her husband for making no remark,
though the only time she had been within a church since her illness
had been at their wedding, he only gave her his arm, and said she
should sit in the nook that used to be his in the time of his
lameness; and a most sheltered nook it was, between a pillar and the
open chancel screen, where no eyes could haunt her, even if the
congregation had been more than a Saturday summer evening one.
She only saw the pure, clear, delicately-toned hues of the east
window, and the reverent richness of the chancel, and she heard the
blind pastor's deep musical voice, full of that expressive power
always enhanced by the absence of a book. He led the Psalms with
perfect security and a calm fervour that rendered the whole familiar
service like something new and touching; the Lessons were read by
Alick, and Rachel, though under any other circumstances she would
have been startled to see him standing behind the Eagle, could not
but feel all appropriate, and went along with each word as he read it
in a tone well worthy of his uncle's scholar. Whether few or many
were present, Rachel knew not, thought not; she was only sensible of
the fulness of calm joy that made the Thanksgiving touch her heart
and fill her eyes with unbidden tears, that came far more readily
than of old.
"Yet this can't be all," she said to herself, as she wandered among
the tall white lilies in the twilight; "is it a trance, or am I
myself? I have not unthought or unfelt, yet I seem falling into a
very sweet hypocrisy! Alick says thought will come back with
strength. I don't think I wish it!"
The curate did not return till after she had gone to bed, and in the
morning he proved to be indeed a very dry and serious middle-aged
man, extremely silent, and so grave that there was no knowing how
much to allow for shyness. He looked much worn and had a wearied
voice, and Mr. Clare and Alick were contriving all they could to give
him the rest which he refused, Mr. Clare insisting on taking all the
service that could be performed without eyes, and Alick volunteering
school-work. This Rachel was not yet able to undertake, nor would
Alick even let her go to church in the morning; but the shady garden,
and the echoes of the Amens, and sweet, clear tones of singing,
seemed to lull her on in this same gentle, unthinking state of dreamy
rest; and thence, too, in the after part of the day, she could watch
the rector, with his Sunday class, on his favourite seat under the
yew-tree, close to the cross that marked the resting-place of his
wife and child.
She went to church in the evening, sheltered from curious eyes in her
nook, and there for a moment she heard the peculiar brush and sweep
of rich silk upon pavement, and wondered at so sophisticated a sound
in the little homely congregation, but forgot it again in the
exulting, joyous beauty of the chants and hymns, led by the rector
himself, and, oh, how different from poor Mr. Touchett's best
efforts! and forgot it still more in the unfettered eloquence of the
preaching of a man of great natural power, and entirely accustomed to
trust to his own inward stores. Like Ermine Williams, she could have
said that this preaching was the first that won her attention.
It certainly was the first that swept away all her spirit of
criticising, and left her touched and impressed, not judging. On
what north country folk call the loosing of the kirk, she, moving
outwards after the throng, found herself close behind a gauzy white
cloak over a lilac silk, that filled the whole breadth of the central
aisle, and by the dark curl descending beneath the tiny white bonnet,
as well as by the turn of the graceful head, she knew her sister-in-
law, Lady Keith, of Gowanbrae. In the porch she was met with
outstretched hands and eager greetings--
"At last! Where did you hide yourself? I had begun to imagine dire
"Only in the corner by the chancel."
"Alick's old nook! Keeping up honeymoon privileges! I have kept
your secret faithfully. No one knows you are not on the top of
Snowdon, or you would have had all the world to call on you."
"There are always the Earlsworthy woods," said Alick.
"Or better still, come to Timber End. No one penetrates to my
morning room," laughed Bessie."
Now, Uncle George," she said, as the rector appeared, "you have had
a full allowance of them for three days, you must spare them to me
"So it is you, my lady," he answered, with a pleased smile; "I heard
a sort of hail-storm of dignity sailing in! How is Lord Keith?"
"Very stiff. I want him to have advice, but he hates doctors. What
is the last Avonmouth news? Is Ermine in good heart, and the boys
She was the same Bessie as ever--full of exulting animation, joined
to a caressing manner that her uncle evidently delighted in; and to
Rachel she was most kind and sisterly, welcoming her so as amply to
please and gratify Alick. An arrangement was made that Rachel should
be sent for early to spend the day at Timber End, and that Mr. Clare
and Alick should walk over later. Then the two pretty ponies came
with her little low carriage to the yew-tree gate, were felt and
admired by Mr. Clare, and approved by Alick, and she drove off gaily,
leaving all pleased and amused, but still there was a sense that the
perfect serenity had been ruffled.
"Rachel," said Alick, as they wandered in the twilight garden, "I
wonder if you would be greatly disappointed if our travels ended
"I am only too glad of the quiet."
"Because Lifford is in great need of thorough rest. He has not been
away for more than a year, and now he is getting quite knocked up.
All he does care to do, is to take lodgings near his wife's asylum,
poor man, and see her occasionally: sad work, but it is rest, and
winds him up again; and there is no one but myself to whom he likes
to leave my uncle. Strangers always do too little or too much; and
there is a young man at Littleworthy for the long vacation who can
help on a Sunday."
"Oh, pray let us stay as long as we can!"
"Giving up the Cretins?"
"It is no sacrifice. I am thankful not to be hunted about; and if
anything could make me better pleased to be here, it would be feeling
that I was not hindering you."
"Then I will hunt him away for six weeks or two months at least. It
will be a great relief to my uncle's mind."
It was so great a relief that Mr. Clare could hardly bring himself to
accept the sacrifice of the honeymoon, and though there could be
little doubt which way the discussion would end, he had not yielded
when the ponies bore off Rachel on Monday morning.
Timber End was certainly a delightful place. Alick had railed it a
cockney villa, but it was in good taste, and very fair and sweet with
flowers and shade. Bessie's own rooms, where she made Rachel
charmingly at home, were wonderful in choiceness and elegance,
exciting Rachel's surprise how it could be possible to be so
sumptuously lodged in such a temporary abode, for the house was only
hired for a few months, while Gowanbrae was under repair. It was
within such easy reach of London that Bessie had been able from
thence to go through the more needful season gaieties; and she had
thought it wise, both for herself and Lord Keith, not to enter on
their full course. It sounded very moderate and prudent, and Rachel
felt vexed with herself and Alick for recollecting a certain hint of
his, that Lady Keith felt herself more of a star in her own old
neighbourhood than she could be in London, and wisely abstained from
a full flight till she had tried her wings. It was much pleasanter
to go along with Bessie's many far better and more affectionate
reasons for prudence, and her minutely personal confidences about her
habits, hopes, and fears, given with a strong sense of her own
importance and consideration, yet with a warm sisterly tone that made
them tokens of adoption, and with an arch drollery that invested them
with a sort of grace. The number of engagements that she mentioned
in town and country did indeed seem inconsistent with the prudence
she spoke of with regard to her own health, or with her attention to
that of her husband; but it appeared that all were quite necessary
and according to his wishes, and the London ones were usually for the
sake of trying to detach his daughter, Mrs. Comyn Menteith, from the
extravagant set among whom she had fallen. Bessie was excessively
diverting in her accounts of her relations with this scatter-brained
step-daughter of hers, and altogether showed in the most flattering
manner how much more thoroughly she felt herself belonging to her
brother's wife. If she had ever been amazed or annoyed at Alick's
choice, she had long ago surmounted the feeling, or put it out of
sight, and she judiciously managed to leap over all that had passed
since the beginning of the intimacy that had arisen at the station
door at Avoncester. It was very flattering, and would have been
perfectly delightful, if Rachel had not found herself wearying for
Alick, and wondering whether at the end of seven months she should be
as contented as Bessie seemed, to know her husband to be in the
sitting-room without one sight of him.
At luncheon, however, when Lord Keith appeared, nothing could be
prettier than his wife's manner to him--bright, sweet, and with a
touch of graceful deference, at which he always smiled and showed
himself pleased, but Rachel thought him looking much older than in
the autumn--he had little appetite, stooped a good deal, and
evidently moved with pain. He would not go out of doors, and Bessie,
after following him to the library, and spending a quarter of an hour
in ministering to his comfort, took Rachel to sit by a cool dancing
fountain in the garden, and began with some solicitude to consult her
whether he could be really suffering from sciatica, or, as she had
lately begun to suspect, from the effects of a blow from the end of a
scaffold-pole that had been run against him when taking her through a
crowded street. Rachel spoke of advice.
"What you, Rachel! you who despised allopathy!"
"I have learnt not to despise advice."
And Bessie would not trench on Rachel's experiences.
"There's some old Scotch doctor to whom his faith is given, and that
I don't half believe in. If he would see our own Mr. Harvey here it
would be quite another thing; but it is of no use telling him that
Alick would never have had an available knee but for Mr. Harvey's
management. He persists in leaving me to my personal trust in him,
but for himself he won't see him at any price! Have you seen Mr.
"I have seen no one."
"Oh, I forgot, you are not arrived yet; but--"
"There's some one," exclaimed Rachel, nervously; and in fact a young
man was sauntering towards them. Bessie rose with a sort of
annoyance, and "Never mind, my dear, he is quite inoffensive, we'll
soon get rid of him." Then, as he greeted her with "Good morning,
Lady Keith, I thought I should find you here," she quickly replied,
"If you had been proper behaved and gone to the door, you would have
known that I am not at home."
He smiled, and came nearer.
"No, I am not at home, and, what is more, I do not mean to be. My
uncle will be here directly," she added, in a fee-faw-fum tone.
"Then it is not true that your brother and his bride are arrived?"
"True in the same sense as that I am at home. There she is, you see-
-only you are not to see her on any account," as a bow necessarily
passed between him and Rachel. "Now mind you have not been
introduced to Mrs. Keith, and if you utter a breath that will bring
the profane crowd in shoals upon the Rectory, I shall never forgive
"Then I am afraid we must not hope to see you at the bazaar for the
"No, indeed," Bessie answered, respecting Rachel's gesture of
refusal; "no one is to infringe her incog, under penalty of never
coming here again."
"You are going?" he added to Bessie; "indeed, that was what brought
me here. My sisters sent me to ask whether they may shelter
themselves under your matronly protection, for my mother dreads the
"I suppose, as they put my name down, that I must go, but you know I
had much rather give the money outright. It is a farce to call a
"Call it what you will, it is one device for a little sensation."
Rachel's only sensation at that moment was satisfaction at the sudden
appearance of Ranger's white head, the sure harbinger of his master
and Alick, and she sprang up to meet them in the shrubbery path--all
her morbid shyness at the sight of a fresh face passing away when her
hand was within Alick's arm. When they came forth upon the lawn,
Alick's brow darkened for a moment, and there was a formal exchange
of greetings as the guest retreated.
"I am so sorry," began Bessie at once; "I had taken precautions
against invasion, but he did not go to the front door. I do so hope
Rachel has not been fluttered."
"I thought he was at Rio," said Alick.
"He could not stand the climate, and was sent home about a month ago-
-a regular case of bad shilling, I am afraid, poor fellow! I am so
sorry he came to startle Rachel, but I swore him over to secrecy. He
is not to mention to any living creature that she is nearer than
Plinlimmon till the incog, is laid aside! I know how to stand up for
bridal privileges, and not to abuse the confidence placed in me."
Any one who was up to the game might have perceived that the sister
was trying to attribute all the brother's tone of disapprobation to
his anxiety lest his wife should have been startled, while both knew
as well as possible that there was a deeper ground of annoyance which
was implied in Alick's answer.
"He seems extremely tame about the garden."
"Or he would not have fallen on Rachel. It was only a chance; he
just brought over a message about that tiresome bazaar that has been
dinned into our ears for the last three months. A bazaar for idiots
they may well call it! They wanted a carving of yours, Uncle
"I am afraid I gave little Alice Bertie one in a weak moment,
Bessie," said Mr. Clare, "but I hardly durst show my face to Lifford
"After all, it is better than some bazaars," said Bessie; "it is only
for the idiot asylum, and I could not well refuse my name and
countenance to my old neighbours, though I stood out against taking a
stall. Lord Keith would not have liked it."
"Will he be able to go with you?" asked Alick.
"Oh, no; it would be an intolerable bore, and his Scottish thrift
would never stand the sight of people making such very bad bargains!
No, I am going to take the Carleton girls in, they are very
accommodating, and I can get away whenever I please. I am much too
forbearing to ask any of you to go with me, though I believe Uncle
George is pining to go and see after his carving."
"No, thank you; after what I heard of the last bazaar I made up my
mind that they are no places for an old parson, nor for his carvings
either, so you are quite welcome to fall on me for my inconsistency."
"Not now, when you have a holiday from Mr. Lifford," returned Bessie.
"Now come and smell the roses."
All the rest of the day Alick relapsed into the lazy frivolous young
officer with whom Rachel had first been acquainted.
As he was driving home in the cool fresh summer night, he began--
"I think I must go to this idiotical bazaar!"
"You!" exclaimed Rachel.
"Yes; I don't think Bessie ought to go by herself with all this
"You don't wish me to go," said Rachel, gulping down the effort.
"You! My dear Rachel, I would not take you for fifty pounds, nor
could I go myself without leaving you as vice deputy curate."
"No need for that," said Mr. Clare, from the seat behind; "young
people must not talk secrets with a blind man's ears behind them."
"I make no secret," said Alick. "I could not go without leaving my
wife to take care of my uncle, or my uncle to take care of my wife."
"And you think you ought to go?" said Mr. Clare. "It is certainly
better that Bessie should have a gentleman with her in the crowd; but
you know this is a gossiping neighbourhood, and you must be prepared
for amazement at your coming into public alone not three weeks after
"I can't help it, she can't go, and I must."
"And you will bring down all the morning visitors that you talk of
"We will leave you to amuse them, sir. Much better that" he added
between his teeth, "than to leave the very semblance of a secret
trusted by her to that intolerable puppy--"
Rachel said no more, but when she was gone upstairs Mr. Clare
detained his nephew to say, "I beg your pardon, Alick, but you should
be quite sure that your wife likes this proposal."
"That's the value of a strong-minded wife, sir," returned Alick; "she
is not given to making a fuss about small matters."
"Most ladies might not think this a small matter."
"That is because they have no perspective in their brains. Rachel
understands me a great deal too well to make me explain what is
"You know what I think, Alick, that you are the strictest judge that
ever a merry girl had."
"I had rather you continued to think so, uncle; I should like to
think so myself. Good night."
Alick was right, but whether or not Rachel entered into his motives,
she made no objection to his going to the bazaar with his sister,
being absolutely certain that he would not have done so if he could
have helped it.
Nor was her day at all dreary; Mr. Clare was most kind and attentive
to her, without being oppressive, and she knew she was useful to him.
She was indeed so full of admiration and reverence for him, that once
or twice it crossed her whether she were not belying another of her
principles by lapsing into Curatocult, but the idea passed away with
scorn at the notion of comparing Mr. Clare with the objects of such
devotion. He belonged to that generation which gave its choicest in
intellectual, as well as in religious gifts to the ministry, when a
fresh tide of enthusiasm was impelling men forward to build up,
instead of breaking down, before disappointment and suspicion had
thinned the ranks, and hurled back many a recruit, or doctrinal
carpings had taught men to dread a search into their own tenets. He
was a highly cultivated, large-minded man, and the conversation
between him and his nephew was a constant novelty to her, who had
always yearned after depth and thought, and seldom met with them.
Still here she was constantly feeling how shallow were her
acquirements, how inaccurate her knowledge, how devoid of force and
solidity her reasonings compared with what here seemed to be old,
well-beaten ground. Nay, the very sparkle of fun and merriment
surprised and puzzled her; and all the courtesy of the one gentleman,
and the affection of the other, could not prevent her sometimes
feeling herself the dullest and most ignorant person present. And
yet the sense was never mortifying except when here and there a apark
of the old conceit had lighted itself, and lured her into pretensions
where she thought herself proficient. She was becoming more and more
helpful to Mr. Clare, and his gratitude for her services made them
most agreeable, nor did that atmosphere of peace and sincerity that
reigned round the Rectory lose its charm. She was really happy all
through the solitary Wednesday, and much more contented with the
results than was Alick. "A sickening place," he said, "I am glad I
"How glad Bessie must have been to have you!"
"I believe she was. She has too much good taste for much of what
went on there."
"I doubt," said Mr. Clare, laughing, "if you could have been an
"I don't know. Bessie fools one into thinking oneself always doing
her a favour. Oh, Rachel, I am thankful you have never taken to
THE HUNTSFORD CROQUET.
"Une femme egoiste, non seulement de coeur, mais d'esprit,
ne pent pas sortir d'elle-meme. Le moi est indelible chez elle.
Une veritable egoiste ne sait meme pas etre fausse."
--MME. E. DE GIRARDIN.
"I am come to prepare you," said Lady Keith, putting her arm into her
brother's, and leading him into the peacock path. "Mrs. Huntsford is
on her way to call and make a dead set to get you all to a garden
"Then we are off to the Earlsworthy Woods."
"Nay, listen, Alick. I have let you alone and defended you for a
whole month, but if you persist in shutting up you wife, people won't
"Which of us is the Mahometan?"
"You are pitied! But you see it was a strong thing our appearing
without our several incumbrances, and though an old married woman
like me may do as she pleases, yet for a bridegroom of not three
weeks' standing to resort to bazaars solus argues some weighty
"And argues rightly."
"Then you are content to be supposed to have an unproduceably
eccentric melancholy bride?"
"Better they should think so than that she should be so. She has
been victimized enough already to her mother's desire to save
"You do not half believe me, Alick, and this is really a very kind,
thoughtful arrangement of Mrs. Huntsford's. She consulted me, saying
there were such odd stories about you two that she was most anxious
that Rachel should appear and confute them; and she thought that an
out-of-door party like this would suit best, because it would be
early, and Rachel could get away if she found it too much for her."
"After being walked out to satisfy a curious neighbourhood."
"Now Alick, do consider it. This sort of thing could remind her of
nothing painful; Uncle George would enjoy it."
"And fall over the croquet traps."
"No; if you wanted to attend to him, I could take care of Rachel."
"I cannot tell, Bessie, I believe it is pure goodnature on Mrs.
Huntsford's part, but if we go, it must be from Rachel's spontaneous
movement. I will not press her on any account. I had rather the
world said she was crazy at once than expose her to the risk of one
of the dreadful nights that haunted us till we came here to perfect
"But she is well now. She looks better and nicer than I ever saw her.
Really, Alick, now her face is softer, and her eyes more veiled, and
her chin not cocked up, I am quite proud of her. Every one will be
struck with her good looks."
"Flattery, Bessie," he said, not ill pleased. "Yes, she is much
better, and more like herself; but I dread all this being overthrown.
If she herself wishes to go, it may be a good beginning, but she must
not be persuaded."
"Then I must not even tell her that she won't be required to croquet,
and that I'll guard her from all civil speeches."
"No, for indeed, Bessie, on your own account and Lord Keith's, you
should hardly spend a long afternoon from home."
"Here's the war in the enemy's quarters! As to fatigue, dawdling
about Mrs. Huntsford's garden, is much the same as dawdling about my
own, and makes me far more entertaining."
"I cannot help thinking, Bessie, that Lord Keith is more ill than you
suppose. I am sure he is in constant pain."
"So I fear," said Bessie, gravely; "but what can be done? He will
see no one but his old surgeon in Edinburgh."
"Then take him there."
"Take him? You must know what it is to be in the hands of a clever
woman before you make such a proposal."
"You are a cleverer woman than my wife in bringing about what you
"Just consider, Alick, our own house is uninhabitable, and this one
on our hands--my aunt coming to me in a month's time. You don't ask
me to do what is reasonable."
"I cannot tell, Bessie. You can be the only judge of what is regard
of the right kind for your husband's health or for yourself; and see,
there is Mrs. Huntsford actually arrived, and talking to my uncle."
"One moment, Alick: I am not going to insult myself so far as to
suppose that poor Charlie Carleton's being at home has anything to do
with your desire to deport me, but I want you to know that he did not
come home till after we were settled here."
"I do not wish to enter into details, Bessie," and he crossed the
lawn towards the window where Mr. Clare and Rachel had just received
Mrs. Huntsford, a goodnatured joyous-looking lady, a favourite with
every one. Her invitation was dexterously given to meet a few
friends at luncheon, and in the garden, where the guests would be
free to come and go; there might perhaps be a little dancing later,
she had secured some good music which would, she knew, attract Mr.
Clare, and she hoped he would bring Captain and Mrs. Keith. She knew
Mrs. Keith had not been well, but she promised her a quiet room to
rest in, and she wanted to show her a view of the Devon coast done by
a notable artist in water-colours. Rachel readily accepted--in fact,
this quiet month had been so full of restoration that she had almost
forgotten her morbid shrinking from visitors; and Bessie infused into
her praise and congratulations a hint that a refusal would have been
much against Alick's reputation, so that she resolved to keep up to
the mark, even though he took care that she should know that she
might yet retract.
"You did not wish me to refuse, Alick," said she, struck by his grave
countenance, when she found him lying on the slope of the lawn
shortly after, in deep thought.
"No, not at all," he replied; "it is likely to be a pleasant affair,
and my uncle will be delighted to have us with him. No," he added,
seeing that she still looked at him inquisitively, "it is the old
story. My sister! Poor little thing! I always feel as though I
wore more unkind and unjust to her than any one else, and yet we are
never together without my feeling as if she was deceiving herself and
me; and yet it is all so fair and well reasoned that one is always
left in the wrong. I regretted this marriage extremely at first, and
I am not the less disposed to regret it now."
"Indeed! Every one says how attentive she is to him, and how nicely
they go on together."
"Pshaw, Rachel! that is just the way. A few words and pretty ways
pass with her and all the world for attention, when she is wherever
her fancy calls her, all for his good. It is just the attention she
showed my uncle. And now it is her will and pleasure to queen it
here among her old friends, and she will not open her eyes to see the
poor old man's precarious state."
"Do you think him so very ill, Alick?"
"I was shocked when I saw him yesterday. As to sciatica, that is all
nonsense; the blow in his side has done some serious damage, and if
it is not well looked-to, who knows what will be the end of it! And
then, a gay young widow with no control over her--I hate to think of
"Indeed," said Rachel, "she is so warm and bright, and really earnest
in her kindness, that she will be sure to see her own way right at
home. I don't think we can guess how obstinate Lord Keith may be in
refusing to take advice."
"He cut me off pretty short," said Alick. "I am afraid he will see
no one here; and, as Bessie says, the move to Scotland would not be
easy just now. As I said, she leaves one in the wrong, and I don't
like the future. But it is of no use to talk of it; so let us come
and see if my uncle wants to go anywhere."
It was Alick's fate never to meet with sympathy in his feeling of his
sister's double-mindedness. Whether it were that he was mistaken, or
that she really had the gift of sincerity for the moment in whatever
she was saying, the most candid and transparent people in the world--
his uncle and his wife--never even succeeded in understanding his
dissatisfaction with Bessie's doings, but always received them at her
own valuation. Even while he had been looking forward, with hope
deferred, to her residence with him as the greatest solace the world
could yet afford him, Mr. Clare had always been convinced that her
constant absence from his Rectory, except when his grand neighbours
were at home, had been unavoidable, and had always credited the
outward tokens of zealous devotion to his church and parish, and to
all that was useful or good elsewhere. In effect there was a charm
about her which no one but her brother ever resisted, and even he
held out by an exertion that made him often appear ungracious.
However, for the present the uneasiness was set aside, in the daily
avocations of the Rectory, where Alick was always a very different
person from what he appeared in Lady Temple's drawing-room,
constantly engaged as he was by unobtrusive watchfulness over his
uncle, and active and alert in this service in a manner that was a
curious contrast to his ordinary sauntering ways. As to Rachel, the
whole state of existence was still a happy dream. She floated on
from day to day in the tranquil activity of the Rectory, without
daring to look back on the past or to think out her present frame of
mind; it was only the languor and rest of recovery after suffering,
and her husband was heedfully watching her, fearing the experiment of
the croquet party, though on many accounts feeling the necessity of
its being made.
Ermine's hint, that with Rachel it rested to prevent her unpopularity
from injuring her husband, had not been thrown away, and she never
manifested any shrinking from the party, and even took some interest
in arraying herself for it.
"That is what I call well turned out," exclaimed Alick, when she came
"Describe her dress, if you please," said Mr. Clare, "I like to hear
how my nieces look."
Alick guided his hand. "There, stroke it down, a long white feather
in a shady hat trimmed with dark green, velvet; she is fresh and
rosy, you know, sir, and looks well in green, and then, is it Grace's
taste, Rachel? for it is the prettiest thing you have worn--a pale
buff sort of silky thing, embroidered all over in the same colour,"
and he put a fold of the dress into his uncle's hand.
"Indian, surely," said Mr. Clare, feeling the pattern, "it is too
intricate and graceful for the West."
"Yes," said Alick, "I remember now, Grace showed it to me. It was
one that Lady Temple brought from India, and never had made up. Poor
Grace could get no sympathy from Rachel about the wedding clothes, so
she was obliged to come to me."
"And I thought you did not know one of my things from another," said
Rachel. "Do you really mean that you care?"
"Depend upon it, he does, my dear," said Mr. Clare. "I have heard
him severely critical on his cousins."
"He has been very good in not tormenting me," said Rachel, nestling
nearer to him.
"I apprehended the consequences," said Alick, "and besides, you never
mounted that black lace pall, or curtain, or whatever you call it,
upon your head, after your first attempt at frightening me away with
"A cap set against, instead of at," said Mr. Clare, laughing; and
therewith his old horse was heard clattering in the yard, and Alick
proceeded to drive the well-used phaeton about three miles through
Earlsworthy Park, to a pleasant-looking demesne in the village
beyond. As they were turning in at the gate, up came Lady Keith with
her two brisk little Shetlands. She was one mass of pretty, fresh,
fluttering blue and white muslin, ribbon, and lace, and looked
particularly well and brilliant.
"Well met," she said, "I called at the Rectory to take up Rachel, but
you were flown before me."
"Yes, we went through the Park."
"I wish the Duke would come home. I can't go that way now till I
have called. I have no end of things to say to you," she added, and
her little lively ponies shot ahead of the old rectorial steed.
However, she waited at the entrance. "Who do you think is come?
Colin Keith made his appearance this morning. He has safely captured
his Ouralian bear, though not without plenty of trouble, and he could
not get him on to Avonmouth till he had been to some chemical
institution about an invention. Colin thought him safe there, and
rushed down by the train to see us. They go on to-morrow."
"What did he think of Lord Keith?" said Alick, in the more haste
because he feared something being said to remind Rachel that this was
the assize week at Avoncester.
"He has settled the matter about advice," said Bessie, seriously;
"you cannot think what a relief it is. I mean, as soon as I get
home, to write and ask Mr. Harvey to come and talk to me to-morrow,
and see if the journey to Edinburgh is practicable. I almost thought
of sending an apology, and driving over to consult him this
afternoon, but I did not like to disappoint Mrs. Huntsford, and I
thought Rachel would feel herself lost."
"Thank you," said Rachel, "but could we not go away early, and go
round by Mr. Harvey's?"
"Unluckily I have sent the ponies home, and told the close carriage
to come for me at nine. It was all settled, and I don't want to
alarm Lord Keith by coming home too soon."
Alick, who had hitherto listened with interest, here gave his arm to
Rachel, as if recollecting that it was time to make their entree.
Bessie took her uncle's, and they were soon warmly welcomed by their
kind hostess, who placed them so favourably at luncheon that Rachel
was too much entertained to feel any recurrence of the old
associations with "company." Afterwards, Bessie took her into the
cool drawing-room, where were a few ladies, who preferred the sofa to
croquet or archery, and Lady Keith accomplished a fraternization
between Rachel and a plainly dressed lady, who knew all about the
social science heroines of whom Rachel had longed to hear. After a
time, however, a little girl darted in to call "Aunt Mary" to the aid
of some playfellow, who had met with a mishap, and Rachel then
perceived herself to have been deserted by her sister-in-law. She
knew none of the other ladies, and they made no approaches to her; an
access of self-consciousness came on, and feeling forlorn and
uncomfortable, she wandered out to look for a friend.
It was not long before she saw Alick walking along the terrace above
the croquet players, evidently in quest of her. "How is it with
you?" he anxiously asked; "you know you can go home in a moment if
you have had enough of this."
"No, I want nothing, now I have found you. Where is your uncle?"
"Fallen upon one of his oldest friends, who will take care of him,
and well out of the way of the croquet traps. Where's my Lady? I
thought you were with her."
"She disappeared while I was talking to that good Miss Penwell! You
must be pleased now, Alick, you see she is really going to see about
going to Scotland."
"I should be better pleased if she had not left that poor old man
alone till nine o'clock."
"She says that when he has his man Saunders to read to him--"
"Don't tell me what she says; I have enough of that at first hand."
He broke off with a start. The terrace was prolonged into a walk
beyond the screen of evergreens that shut in the main lawn, and,
becoming a shrubbery path, led to a smooth glade, on whose turf
preparations had been made for a second field of croquet, in case
there should have been too many players for the principal arena.
This, however, had not been wanted, and no one was visible except a
lady and gentleman on a seat under a tree about half-way down on the
opposite side of the glade. The lady was in blue and white; the
gentleman would hardly have been recognised by Rachel but for the
start and thrill of her husband's arm, and the flush of colour on his
usually pale cheek, but, ere he could speak or move, the lady sprang
up, and came hastening towards them diagonally across the grass.
Rachel saw the danger, and made a warning outcry, "Bessie, the hoop!"
but it was too late, she had tripped over it, and fell prone, and
entirely unable to save herself. She was much nearer to them than to
her late companion, and was struggling to disengage herself when
Alick reached her, lifted her up, and placed her on her feet,
supporting her as she clung fast to him, while he asked if she were
"No, no," she cried. "Don't let him come; don't let him call any
one, don't," she reiterated, as Mr. Carleton hovered near, evidently
much terrified, but not venturing to approach.
Alick helped her to another garden chair that stood near. She had
been entangled in her dress, which had been much torn by her attempt
to rise, and hung in a festoon, impeding her, and she moved with
difficulty, breathing heavily when she was first seated.
"I don't know if I have not twisted myself a little," she said, in
answer to their anxious questions, "but it will go off. Rachel, how
scared you look!"
"Don't laugh," exclaimed Rachel, in dread of hysterics, and she
plunged her hand into Alick's pocket for a scent-bottle, which he had
put there by way of precaution for her, and, while applying it, said,
in her full, sedate voice, keeping it as steady as she could, "Shall
I drive you home? Alick can walk home with his uncle when he is
"Home! Thank you, Rachel, pray do. Not that I am hurt," she added
in her natural voice, "only these rags would tell tales, and there
would be an intolerable fuss."
"Then I will bring the carriage round to the road there," said Alick.
"I told Joe to be in readiness, and you need not go back to the
"Thank you. But, oh, send him away!" she added, with a gasping
shudder. "Only don't let him tell any one. Tell him I desire he
After a few words with Mr. Carleton, Alick strode off to the stables,
and Rachel asked anxiously after the twist.
"I don't feel it; I don't believe in it. My dear, your strong mind
is all humbug, or you would not look so frightened," and again she
was on the verge of hysterical laughing; "it is only that I can't
stand a chorus of old ladies in commotion. How happy Alick must be
to have his prediction verified by some one tumbling over a hoop!"
Just then, however, seeing Mr. Carleton still lingering near, she
caught hold of Rachel with a little cry, "Don't let him come, dear
Rachel; go to him, tell him I am well, but keep him away, and mind he
tells no one!"
Rachel's cold, repellent manner was in full force, and she went
towards the poor little man, whose girlish face was blanched with
She told him that Lady Keith did not seem to be hurt, and only wished
to be alone, and to go home without attracting notice. He stammered
out something about quite understanding, and retreated, while Rachel
returned to find Bessie sitting upright, anxiously watching, and she
was at once drawn down to sit beside her on the bench, to listen to
the excited whisper. "The miserable simpleton! Rachel, Alick was
right. I thought, I little thought he would forget how things stand
now, but he got back to the old strain, as if--I shall make Lord
Keith go to Scotland any way now. I was so thankful to see you and
Alick." She proceeded with the agitated vehemence of one who, under
a great shock, was saying more than she would have betrayed in a
cooler and more guarded mood, "What could possess him? For years he
had followed me about like a little dog, and never said more than I
let him; and now what folly was in his head, just because I could not
walk as far as the ruin with the others. "When I said I was going to
Scotland, what business had he to-- Oh! the others will be coming
back, Rachel, could we not go to meet the carriage?"
The attempt to move, however, brought back the feeling of the strain
of which she had complained, but she would not give way, and by the
help of Rachel's arm, proceeded across the grass to the carriage-
drive, where Alick was to meet them. It seemed very far and very
hot, and her alternately excited and shame-stricken manner, and
sobbing breath, much alarmed Rachel; but when Alick met them, all
this seemed to pass away--she controlled herself entirely, declaring
herself unhurt, and giving him cheerful messages and excuses for her
hostess. Alick put the reins into Rachel's hands, and, after
watching her drive off, returned to the party, and delivered the
apologies of the ladies; then went in search of his uncle. He did
not, however, find him quickly, and then he was so happy with his old
friend among a cluster of merry young people, that Alick would not
say a word to hasten him home, especially as Rachel would have driven
Bessie to Timber End, so that it would only be returning to an empty
house. And such was Mr. Clare's sociableness and disability of
detaching himself from pleasant conversation, that the uncle and
nephew scarcely started for their walk across the park in time for
the seven o'clock service. Mr. Clare had never been so completely
belated, and, as Alick's assistance was necessary, he could only
augur from his wife's absence that she was still at Timber End with
THE END OF CLEVERNESS.
"Where am I?
We are not what we deem,
The sins that hold my heart in thrall,
They are more real than all."--Rev. I. WILLIAMS.
As the uncle and nephew came out of church, and approached the yew-
tree gate, Rachel came swiftly to meet them. "Oh, Alick! oh, uncle!"
she said breathlessly. "Bessie says she is shocked to have turned
your house upside down, but we could not go any further. And her
baby is born!" Then in answer to exclamations, half-dismayed, half-
wondering, "Yes, it is all right, so Nurse Jones says. I could not
send to you, for we had to send everywhere at once. Mr. Harvey was
not at home, and we telegraphed to London, but no one has come yet,
and now I have just written a note to Lord Keith with the news of his
son and heir. And, uncle, she has set her heart on your baptizing
There was some demur, for though the child had made so sudden a rush
into the world, there seemed to be no ground for immediate alarm; and
Mr. Clare being always at hand, did not think it expedient to give
the name without knowing the father's wishes with regard to that
hereditary Alexander which had been borne by the dead son of the
first marriage. A message, however, came down to hasten him, and
when--as he had often before done in cottages--he demanded of Nurse
Jones whether private baptism were immediately necessary, she allowed
that she saw no pressing danger, but added, "that the lady was in a
way about it," and this both Rachel and her maid strongly
corroborated. Rachel's maid was an experienced person, whom Mrs.
Curtis had selected with a view to Rachel's weak state at the time of
her marriage, and she showed herself anxious for anything that might
abate Lady Keith's excitement, to which they at length yielded,
feeling that resistance might be dangerous to her. She further
insisted that the rite should be performed in her presence; nor was
she satisfied when Rachel had brought in her uncle, but insisted on
likewise calling in her brother, who vaguely anxious, and fully
conscious of the small size of the room, had remained down-stairs.
Mr. Clare always baptized his infant parishioners, and no one was
anxious about his manner of handling the little one, the touch of
whose garments might be familiar, as being no other than his own
parish baby linen. He could do no otherwise than give the child the
name reiterated by the mother, in weak but impatient accents,
"Alexander Clare," her brother's own name, and when the short service
was concluded, she called out triumphantly, "Make Alick kiss him,
Rachel, and do homage to his young chieftain."
They obeyed her, as she lay watching them, and a very pretty sight
she was with her dark hair lying round her, a rosy colour on her
cheeks, and light in her eyes; but Mr. Clare thought both her touch
and voice feverish, and entreated Rachel not to let her talk. Indeed
Alick longed to take Rachel away, but this was not at present
feasible, since her maid was occupied with the infant, and Nurse
Jones was so entirely a cottage practitioner that she was scarcely an
available attendant elsewhere. Bessie herself would by no means have
parted with her sister-in-law, nor was it possible to reduce her to
silence. "Alexander!" she said joyfully, "I always promised my child
that he should not have a stupid second son's name. I had a right to
my own father's and brother's name, and now it can't be altered,"
then catching a shade of disapproval upon Rachel's face, "not that I
would have hurried it on if I had not thought it right, poor little
fellow, but now I trust he will do nicely, and I do think we have
managed it all with less trouble than might have been expected."
Sure by this time that she was talking too much, Rachel was glad to
hear that Mr. Harvey was come. He was a friendly, elderly man, who
knew them all intimately, having attended Alick through his tedious
recovery, and his first measure was to clear the room. Rachel
thought that "at her age" he might have accepted her services, rather
than her maid's, but she suspected Alick of instigating her
exclusion, so eagerly did he pounce on her to make her eat, drink,
and lie on the sofa, and so supremely scornful was he of her views of
sitting up, a measure which might be the more needful for want of a
On the whole, however, he was satisfied about her; alarm and
excitement had restrung her powers, and she knew herself to have done
her part, so that she was ready to be both cheerful and important
over the evening meal. Mr. Clare was by no means annoyed at this
vicissitude, but rather amused at it, and specially diverted at the
thought of what would be Mr. Lifford's consternation. Lord Keith's
servant had come over, reporting his master to be a good deal worn
out by the afternoon's anxiety, and recommending that he should not
be again disturbed that night, so he was off their minds, and the
only drawback to the pleasantness of the evening was surprise at
seeing and hearing nothing from Mr. Harvey. The London doctor
arrived, he met him and took him up-stairs at once; and then ensued a
long stillness, all attempts at conversation died away, and Alick
only now and then made attempts to send his companions to bed. Mr.
Clare went out to the hall to listen, or Rachel stole up to the
extemporary nursery to consult Nurse Jones, whom she found very gruff
at having been turned out in favour of the stranger maid.
It was a strange time of suspense. Alick made Rachel lie on the
sofa, and she almost heard the beating of her own heart; he sat by
her, trying to seem to read, and his uncle stood by the open window,
where the tinkle of a sheep bell came softly in from the meadows, and
now and then the hoot of the owl round the church tower made the
watchers start. To watch that calm and earnest face was their great
help in that hour of alarm; those sightless eyes, and broad, upraised
spiritual brow seemed so replete with steadfast trust and peace, that
the very sight was soothing and supporting to the young husband and
wife, and when the long strokes of twelve resounded from the church
tower, Mr. Clare, turning towards them, began in his full, musical
voice to repeat Bishop Ken's noble midnight hymn--
"My God, now I from sleep awake,
The sole possession of me take;
From midnight terrors me secure,
And guard my soul from thoughts impure."
To Rachel, who had so often heard that hour strike amid a tumult of
midnight miseries, there was something in these words inexpressibly
gentle and soothing; the tears sprang into her eyes, as if she had
found the spell to chase the grisly phantoms, and she clasped her
husband's hand, as though to communicate her comfort.
"Oh may I always ready stand,
With my lamp burning in my hand;
May I in sight of Heaven rejoice,
Whene'er I hear the Bridegroom's voice."
Mr. Clare had just repeated this verse, when he paused, saying, "They
are coming down," and moved quickly to meet them in the hall. Alick
followed him to the door, but as they entered the dining-room, after
a moment's hesitation, returned to Rachel, as she sat upright and
eager. "After all, this may mean nothing," he said.
"Oh, we don't make it better by fancying it nothing," said Rachel.
"Let us try to meet it like your uncle. Oh, Alick, it seemed all
this time as if I could pray again, as I never could since those sad
times. He seemed so sure, such a rock to help and lean on."
He drew her close to him. "You are praying for her!" he murmured,
his soul so much absorbed in his sister that he could not admit other
thoughts, and still they waited and watched till other sounds were
heard. The London doctor was going away. Alick sprang to the door,
and opened it as his uncle's hand was on the lock. There was a
mournful, solemn expression on his face, as they gazed mutely up in
"Children," he said, "it is as we feared. This great sorrow is
coming on us."
"Then there is danger," said Alick with stunned calmness.
"More than danger," said his uncle, "they have tried all that skill
"Was it the fall?" said Alick.
"It was my bad management, it always is," said Rachel, ever
"No, dear child," said Mr. Clare, "there was fatal injury in the
fall, and even absolute stillness for the last few hours could hardly
have saved her. You have nothing to reproach yourself with."
"And now!" asked Alick, hoarsely.
"Much more exhausted than when we were with her; sometimes faint, but
still feverish. They think it may last many hours yet, poor dear
child, she has so much youth and strength."
"Does she know?"
"Harvey thought some of their measures alarmed her, but they soothed
and encouraged her while they saw hope, and he thinks she has no real
"And how is it to be--" said Alick. "She ought--"
"Yes; Harvey thinks she ought, she is fully herself, and it can make
no difference now. He is gone to judge about coming up at once; but
Alick, my poor boy, you must speak to her. I have found that without
seeing the face I cannot judge what my words may be doing."
Rachel asked about poor Lord Keith, and was told that he was to be
left in quiet that night, unless his wife should be very anxious for
him at once. Mr. Harvey came down, bringing word that his patient
was asking urgently for Mrs. Keith.
"You had better let me go in first," said Alick, his face changed by
the firm but tender awe-struck look.
"Not if she is asking for me," said Rachel, moving on, her heart
feeling as if it would rend asunder, but her looks composed.
Bessie's face was in shade, but her voice had the old ring of coaxing
archness. "I thought you would stay to see the doctors off. They
had their revenge for our stealing a march on them, and have prowled
about me till I was quite faint; and now I don't feel a bit like
sleep, though I am so tired. Would Alick think me very wicked if I
kept you a little while? Don't I see Alick's shadow? Dear old
fellow, are you come to wish me good-night? That is good of you.
I am not going to plague you any more, Alick, I shall be so good now!
But what?" as he held back the curtain, and the light fell on his
face, "Oh! there is nothing wrong with the baby?"
"No, dear Bessie, not with the baby," said Alick, with strong
"What, myself?" she said quickly, turning her eyes from one face to
Alick told her the state of the case. Hers was a resolute character,
or perhaps the double nature that had perplexed and chafed her
brother was so integral that nothing could put it off. She fully
comprehended, but as if she and herself were two separate persons.
She asked how much time might be left to her, and hearing the
doctor's opinion, said, "Then I think my poor old Lord Keith had
better have his night's rest in peace. But, oh! I should like to
speak to Colin. Send for him, Alick; telegraph, Alick; he is at the
Paddington Hotel. Send directly."
She was only tranquillised by her brother beginning to write a
"Rachel," she said, presently, "Ermine must marry him now, and see to
Lord Keith, and the little one--tell her so, please," then with her
unfailing courtesy, "he will seem like your own child, dear Rachel,
and you should have him; but you'll have a wandering home with the
dear old Highlanders. Oh! I wonder if he will ever go into them,
there must always be a Keith there, and they say he is sure of the
Victoria Cross, though papa will not send up his name because of
being his own son." Then passing her hand over her face, she
exclaimed--"Wasn't I talking great nonsense, Rachel? I don't seem
able to say what I mean."
"It is weakness, dearest," said Rachel, "perhaps you might gain a
little strength if you were quite still and listened to my uncle."
"Presently. 0 Rachel! I like the sound of your voice; I am glad
Alick has got you. You suit him better than his wicked little sister
ever did. You have been so kind to me to-night, Rachel; I never
thought I should have loved you so well, when I quizzed you. I did
use you ill then, Rachel, but I think you won Alick by it just by
force of contrast,"--she was verging into the dreamy voice, and
Rachel requested her to rest and be silent.
"It can't make any difference," said Bessie, "and I'll try to be
quiet and do all right, if you'll just let me have my child again.
I do want to know who he is like. I am so glad it is not he that was
hurt. Oh! I did so want to have brought him up to be like Alick."
The infant was brought, and she insisted on being lifted to see its
face, which she declared to resemble her brother; but here her real
self seemed to gain the mastery, and calling it a poor little
motherless thing, she fell into a fit of violent convulsive weeping,
which ended in a fainting fit, and this was a fearfully perceptible
stage on her way to the dark valley.
She was, however, conscious when she revived, and sent for her uncle,
whom she begged to let her be laid in his churchyard, "near the
willow-tree; not next to my aunt, I'm not good enough," she said,
"but I could not bear that old ruined abbey, where all the Keiths go,
and Alick always wanted me to be here--Alick was right!"
The dreamy mist was coming on, nor was it ever wholly dispelled
again. She listened, or seemed to listen, to her uncle's prayers,
but whenever he ceased, she began to talk--perhaps sensibly at first,
but soon losing the thread--sometimes about her child or husband,
sometimes going back to those expressions of Charles Carleton that
had been so dire a shock to her. "He ought not! I thought he knew
better! Alick was right! Come away, Rachel, I'll never see him
again. I have done nothing that he should insult me. Alick was
Then would come the sobs, terrible in themselves, and ending in
fainting, and the whole scene was especially grievous to Alick, even
more than to either of the others, for as her perception failed her,
association carried her back to old arguments with him, and sometimes
it was, "Alick, indeed you do like to attribute motives," sometimes,
"Indeed it is not all self-deception," or the recurring wail, "Alick
is right, only don't let him be so angry!" If he told her how far he
was from anger, she would make him kiss her, or return to some
playful rejoinder, more piteous to hear than all, or in the midst
would come on the deadly swoon.
Morning light was streaming into the room when one of these swoons
had fallen on her, and no means of restoration availed to bring her
back to anything but a gasping condition, in which she lay supported
in Rachel's arms. The doctor had his hand on her pulse, the only
sounds outside were the twittering of the birds, and within, the
ticking of the clock, Alick's deep-drawn breaths, and his uncle's
prayer. Rachel felt a thrill pass through the form she was
supporting, she looked at Mr. Harvey, and understood his glance, but
neither moved till Mr. Clare's voice finished, when the doctor said,
"I feared she would have suffered much more. Thank God!"
He gently relieved Rachel from the now lifeless weight, and they
knelt on for some moments in complete stillness, except that Alick's
breath became more laboured, and his shuddering and shivering could
no longer be repressed. Rachel was excessively terrified to perceive
that his whole frame was trembling like an aspen leaf. He rose,
however, bent to kiss his sister's brow, and steadying himself by the
furniture, made for the door. The others followed him, and in a few
rapid words Rachel was assured that her fears were ungrounded, it was
only an attack of his old Indian fever, which was apt to recur on any
shock, but was by no means alarming, though for the present it must
be given way to. Indeed, his teeth were chattering too much for him
to speak intelligibly, when he tried to tell Rachel to rest and not
think of him.
This of course was impossible, and the sun had scarcely risen, before
he was placed in his old quarters, the bed in the little inner study,
and Rachel watched over him while Mr. Clare had driven off with the
doctor to await the awakening of Lord Keith.
Rachel had never so much needed strength. It was hard to believe the
assurances of Alick, the doctor, and the whole house, that his
condition was not critical, for he was exceedingly ill for some
hours, the ailment having been coming on all night, though it was
forced back by the resolute will, and it was aggravated by the
intensity of his grief, which on the other hand broke forth the more
violently from the failure of the physical powers. The brother and
sister had been so long alone in the world together, and with all her
faults she had been so winning, that it was a grievous loss to him,
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