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Title: The Late Miss Hollingford

Author: Rosa M. Gilbert

Release date: August 5, 2006 [eBook #18991]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by David Clarke, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Late Miss Hollingford



Author of "Cynthia's Bonnet Shop" "Giannetta" "Hetty Gray" "Four Little Mischiefs" &c.







"The Late Miss Hollingford" was published a good many years ago in the pages of All the Year Round.

It has never till now been re-published in England, though it has been translated into French under the title of Une Idée Fantasque, and issued by the Bleriot Library, with a preface by M. Gounod. It has also appeared in Italian. In the Tauchnitz Collection it is bound in with No Thoroughfare, having been chosen by the late Charles Dickens as a pendant for his own story in a volume of that series.

Mr. Dickens was so pleased with this tale, and some others by the same author, then a very young beginner, that he wrote asking her to contribute a serial story of considerable length to his journal.

"The Late Miss Hollingford" (the title of which was chosen by Mr. Dickens himself) comes now asking for a favourable reception from the public, in the name of the great master of English fiction—long passed away from among us.


A dear old lady tells us this story in the late autumn evenings. Now the harvest is in, huge haycocks shelter the gable, the honey is strained and put by in jars, the apples are ripened and stored; the logs begin to sputter and sing in the big parlour at evening, hot cakes to steam on the tea-table, and the pleasant lamp-lit hours to spread themselves. Indoor things begin to have meaning looks of their own, our limbs grow quiet, and our brains begin to work. The moors beyond the window take strange expressions in the twilight, and fold mysteries into their hollows with the shadows of the night. The maids in the kitchen sing wild ballads to one another round the ingle; and when one of us young folks threads the rambling passages above to fetch a stray thimble from one of the lavender-scented bed-rooms, she comes back flying down the great hollow staircase as if a troop of ghosts were at her heels. It is the time to enjoy a story, a true story, the story of a real life; and here it is, as our dear old lady is telling it to us.

When I first learned, my children, that I was the ward of my mother's early friend, Mrs. Hollingford, and was to live under her roof after my departure from school, I little thought that a place like Hillsbro' Farm was ever likely to be my home. I was a conceited young person, and fond of giving myself airs. My father was colonel of his regiment, and I thought I had a right to look down on Lydia Brown, whose father was in business, though she wore velvet three inches deep upon her frocks, while mine had no better trimming than worsted braid. I had spent all my life at school, from the day when my father and mother kissed me for the last time in Miss Sweetman's parlour. I remember yet my pretty mother's pale tearful face as she looked back at me through the carriage window, and my own paroxysm of despairing tears on the mat when the door was shut. After that I had a pleasant enough life of it. I was a favourite at school, having a disposition to make myself and others as happy as I could. I required a good deal of snubbing, but when properly kept down I believe I was not a disagreeable girl.

My Indian letters generally contained some bit of news to amuse or interest my companions, and now and again captain, or ensign somebody, home upon sick leave, called and presented himself in Miss Sweetman's parlour, with curious presents for me, my mistresses, or favourite companions. I remember well the day when Major Guthrie arrived with the box of stuffed birds. Miss Kitty Sweetman, our youngest and best-loved mistress, was sent on before me to speak civilly to the gentleman in the parlour, and announce my coming. Miss Kitty was the drudge of the school, the sweetest-tempered drudge in the world. She was not so well informed as her elder sisters, and had to make up in the quantity of her teaching what it lacked in the quality. She was fagged, and hunted, and worried from morning till night by all the small girls in the school. She would have been merry if she had had time, and she was witty whenever she could get the chance of being anything but a machine; but she was not always happy, for I slept in her room, and I sometimes heard her crying in the night. As I remember her first she was young and pretty, but as time went on she grew a little faded, and a little harassed-looking; though I still thought her sweet enough for anything.

Well, Miss Kitty went down to the major, and I, following close upon her heels, heard a little scream as I paused at the parlour door, and there when I went in was a bronzed-looking gentleman holding Miss Kitty's two hands in his, and looking in her face. And I could not care about the birds for thinking of it, and when we went up to bed Miss Kitty told me that Major Guthrie was an old friend of her family, and that he had said he would call again. And surely enough he did call again; and then it happened that the three Miss Sweetmans were invited out to an evening party—a great event for them. I thought there was something very particular about it, and so I took care to dress Miss Kitty with my own hands. She had a plain white dress, and I insisted on lending her my blue sash and coral necklace; and when she was dressed she put her finger in her mouth, and asked, between laughing and crying, whether I could further accommodate her with a coral and bells. She looked as young as anybody, though she would make fun of herself. And when she came in that night, and saw my open eyes waiting for her, she sat down on my bed and began to cry, and told me that Major Guthrie had asked her to marry him, and she was going to India as his wife. Then I heard the whole story; how he had loved her dearly long ago; how her friends had refused him because he was too poor, and she was too young; how after he had gone off in a passion reverses had come upon them, and she and her sisters had been obliged to open a school. And so Miss Kitty went out to India, and the only thing that comforted me for her loss was the fact that she took with her the embroidered handkerchief for my mother, and the wrought cigar-case for my father, which it had taken my idleness a whole year to produce. Ah, me! and my eyes never beheld either of these three again: friend, father, or mother.

My first recollections of Mrs. Hollingford are associated with plum-cake, birth-days, and bon-bons. I remember her as an erect, dignified-looking lady in a long velvet cloak, and with a peculiarly venerable face, half severe, half benevolent. I used to feel a little nervous about speaking to her, but I liked to sit at a distance and look at her. I had a superstition that she was the most powerful universal agent in existence; that she had only to say, "Let there be plum-cake," and immediately it would appear on the table; or, "This little girl requires a new doll," and at once a waxen cherub would repose in my arms. The Miss Sweetmans paid her the greatest deference, and the girls used to peep over the blinds in the school-room at her handsome carriage and powdered servants. I remember, when a very little girl, presenting myself before Miss Sweetman one day, and popping up my hand as a sign that I wanted to ask a question. "What is the reason, Miss Sweetman," I asked, "that Mrs. Hollingford makes me think of the valiant woman of whom we were reading in the Bible yesterday?" But Miss Sweetman was busy, and only puckered up her mouth and ordered me back to my seat. Mrs. Hollingford used to take me on her knee and tell me of a little girl of hers who was at school in France, and with whom I was one day to be acquainted; and a tall lad, who was her son, used to call sometimes with bouquets for Miss Sweetman or sugar-plums for me; but I was never in her house, which I believed to be a palace, nor did I ever see Mr. Hollingford, who was a banker in the city. After my twelfth birthday I saw them no more. I missed the periodical appearance of the noble countenance in the parlour. Miss Sweetman, with a very long face, told me something of the breaking of a bank, ruin, and poverty. I was very sorry, but I was too young to realise it much; and I went on thinking of Mrs. Hollingford, in trouble, no doubt, and unfortunately removed from me, but still going about the world in her long velvet cloak and with her hands full of plum-cake.

So my youth went on till I was sixteen, pretty well grown for my years, a little pert, a little proud, a little fond of tinsels and butterflies, a little too apt to make fun of my neighbours, and to believe that the sun had got a special commission to shine upon me, but withal sympathetic and soft-hearted enough when in my right senses, and, as I said before, not a bad sort of girl when properly kept down by a judicious system of snubbing. I had already begun to count the months to the happy time, two years hence, when, my education being finished, I should at last rejoin my parents in India; and I was fond of describing all the beautiful things I would send as presents to the friends who had been kind to me in England. And then one fearful day came the black letter bearing the terrible news which bowed my head in the dust, scattered my girlish vanities, and altered my fate for life. Every one in the house learned the news before me. I saw blank faces all around, and could only guess the cause, so careful were they to break it to me gradually. For two dreadful days they kept me on the rack of suspense, while I did not know whether it was my father or mother who was dead, or whether both were ill, or only one. But I learned all soon enough. There had been a fever, and both were dead. I was an orphan, quite alone in the world.

For three years after this I remained with the Miss Sweetmans, during which time I had regained much of my old cheerfulness, and also some degree of my natural pride and impertinence. My father and mother had been to me a memory and a hope; now they were a memory only. After my first grief and sense of desolation had passed, I went on with the routine of my days much as before. I did not miss my father and mother every hour as though I had lived under their roof and been familiar with their faces and caresses. But the bright expectation of my youth was extinguished, and I suffered secretly a great yearning for the love which I had now no right to claim from anyone. The time was fast approaching when I must take my school-books down from Miss Sweetmans' shelves, pack up my trunks, and go forth among strangers. I had some property, more than enough for my needs, and I was to dwell under the roof of my guardian, Mrs. Hollingford. In the mean time, I paid several visits to the home of a wealthy school-fellow, who had entered upon fashionable life, and who was eager to give me a taste of its delights before I yielded myself to the fate that was in store for me. I learned to dress with taste, to wear my hair in the newest style, and to waltz to perfection. But I could not go on paying visits for ever, and the time arrived when I found it necessary to turn my back on lively scenes and prepare for the obscurity of Hillsbro'. This was a remote place in the north country, from whence were dated all the letters addressed by Mrs. Hollingford to me since the time when she had become my guardian.

I did not go to Hillsbro' Farm in any unfair state of ignorance as to the present worldly position of its owners. Grace Tyrrell (my school-fellow) was careful to let me know the depth of the degradation to which these friends of an old time had fallen from their once high estate; also to make me aware of the estimation in which they were held by the people of her world. The idea of my going to Hillsbro' was ridiculed till I got angry, but not ashamed.

"Those poor Hollingfords!" said one lady. "I am sure it is very kind of you, Miss Dacre, to pay them a visit; but live with them, my dear!—you could not think of identifying yourself with such people. Are you aware that the father ruined numbers of people, absconded with his pockets full of money, and never was heard of since?"

"Yes," said I; "but I have nothing to do with Mr. Hollingford. And I daresay if his wife had taken ill-gotten riches down to Hillsbro' with her, the police would have followed her before this; for she gives her address quite openly."

I afterwards heard this lady telling Grace that her friend was a very pert young woman. I did not mind, for, through fighting Mrs. Hollingford's battles, I had come to think that I loved her memory; and I tried to do so for my mother's sake.

"It is not at all necessary to live with a guardian," said Grace. "They say Mrs. Hollingford makes butter and sells it; and Frederick says the son is a mere ploughman. He is Mr. Hill's agent; Frederick met him by chance, quite lately, when he was shooting at Hillsbro'."

"Agent, is he?" said I, mischievously. "Then I should think he must at least know how to read and write. Come, that is not so bad!"

"You will get the worst of it, Grace," said Frederick Tyrrell, who was listening. "Lucky fellow, Hollingford, to have such a champion!"

So here I had better explain to you, my dears, that Captain Tyrrell was, even at this time, what old-fashioned people used to call a great beau of mine; that he was fond of dangling about my skirts and picking up my fan. Nothing more on this subject is necessary here. If you desire to know what he is like, I refer you to an old water-colour sketch of a weak-faced, washed-out-looking young man, with handsome features, and a high-collared coat, which you will find in an old portfolio upstairs, on the top shelf of the wardrobe, in the lumber-room. It was done by Grace's own hand, a portrait of her brother, and presented to me in those days. It has lain in that portfolio ever since.

Though I fought for the Hollingfords, and would hear no word against them, I do confess that I suffered much fear as to how I should manage to accommodate myself to the life which I might find awaiting me at Hillsbro' Farm. That idea of the butter-making, for instance, suggested a new train of reflections. The image of Mrs. Hollingford began to divest itself gradually of the long velvet cloak and majestic mien which it had always worn in my mind, and I speculated as to whether I might not be expected to dine in a kitchen with the farm-servants, and to assist with the milking of the cows. But I contrived to keep my doubts to myself, and went on packing my trunks with a grudging conviction that at least I was doing my duty.

And it is here, just when my packing was half done, that the strange, beautiful face of Rachel Leonard rises up to take its place in my history. I was introduced to her by chance; I did not know her story, nor that she had a story, nor yet that she was connected with any people whose intimate acquaintance I was likely to make in the future.

We met at a small musical party, where we had opportunities for conversation. She wore a white Indian muslin, with a bunch of scarlet flowers in the bosom. We were sitting in a softly lighted corner, and her figure was in relief against a dark curtain. Her face was oval and olive, with an exquisite mingling of warmth and purity, depth and delicacy, in its tone. Her dark hair was swept up to the top of her head in a crown of braids, as it was then worn. Her eyes were dark grey, and very sweet, with a mysterious shadow of sadness about them when her face was in repose; yet, when they smiled they shone more than any eyes I have ever seen.

"Miss Dacre and Miss Leonard, I must make you acquainted," said our hostess (the meddling lady whom I have already quoted on the subject of the Hollingford misdemeanours). "You intend passing the winter at Hillsbro', Miss Leonard."

"Yes," replied Rachel; "I believe we shall be at the hall about Christmas."

"Ah! and you have never been there before? I can assure you it is the most dreary place; you will be glad of a young friend in the neighbourhood. Miss Dacre's whim is one of our amusements at present. She is going to Hillsbro' to stay with a lady who is the mother of Mr. Hill's agent."

"Mrs. Cowan?" said Miss Leonard, with a ladylike assumption of interest in the subject.

"Not at all, my dear; the Cowans were worthy people, but Mr. Hill has changed his agent. Have you not heard? No, of course. Hollingford is the name of these people. The father was a banker, the bank smashed, and he ran away with large sums of money."

I thought—nay, I was quite sure—that Miss Leonard started at the mention of the word Hollingford; and I also thought that she turned deathly pale; but she bent over her flowers at the moment, and the light was very subdued. No one else seemed to notice it, so it is just possible I may have been mistaken.

"Mr. Hill's new agent is, then, the son of Mr. Hollingford, the banker?" said Miss Leonard, after a pause. "I did not know that they belonged to that part of the country."

"Oh! I do not know about that; but the mother and son have taken a farm there lately, trying to make shift for themselves, poor things! They say young Hollingford has some Quixotic ideas about paying some of his father's liabilities; and if he has, I am sure it is very creditable to him. But I for one am inclined to doubt it. Bad conduct generally runs in families."

"Madam," said I, with my cheeks getting very hot, "Mrs. Hollingford was my mother's dear friend."

"Highty tighty, Miss Dacre," said the lady, "we never know how our friends are going to turn out. I say nothing but what is true. And allow me to warn you, my dear, that if you will persist in identifying yourself with such people you must make up your mind to hear them spoken of as they deserve."

"Madam," said I again, flashes of lightning now dancing before my eyes, "I am very sorry I ever entered your house; and I shall certainly never enter it again."

Not waiting for more I made her a curtsy, and walked out of the room. I found the dressing-room where I had left my cloak, fully determined to go home at once, if I could only get the carriage. I had to wait some time, however, and whilst I sat alone the door opened and Rachel Leonard came hurriedly up to my side.

"I could not go away without bidding you good-night," she said, holding both my hands in both of hers. "Perhaps we may meet again. God bless you!"

Her voice was unsteady, her face pale, her eyes wet. A lady came to the door and said, "Now, Rachel, we are waiting!" She dropped my hand and was gone.

"Who is she?" I asked of Grace, as soon as we were together, "What relation is she to the Hills?"

"None whatever," said Grace; "only an adopted daughter. There is some romantic story about her, I believe. She went to Mrs. Hill as a companion first. The Hills, who are the most eccentric old couple in the world, took a violent fancy to her, and adopted her for their own. I believe she is an orphan of a very good family. They keep up a wonderful fuss about her; and people say they have made her their heiress."

"I wonder why she looked so strangely at the mention of the Hollingfords?" I said musingly.

"My dear Margery," said Grace, shaking her head, "I give you up. You are perfectly insane on the subject of the Hollingfords. What will you imagine next?"

"I do not think I imagined it," said I. "I am sure that she turned as white as your cloak."

"Well, well," said Grace, "there may be some deep mystery for all I know. Miss Leonard may, like yourself, have a taste for agriculture; or may have known young Mr. Hollingford before he turned ploughman. I advise you to think about it. You have materials for a pretty romance to take into exile with you."

And I did think about it long afterwards.


My children, you must remember that I am speaking of an old-fashioned time, and I travelled down to Hillsbro' by coach. The promenade of a fashionable watering-place had hitherto been my idea of the country. Imagine, then, how my hungry eyes devoured the new beauties presented to them. I had provided myself with a book, and I had hoped to fall asleep over it, yet here I was with my eyes riveted to a pane of glass, afraid to wink lest I should miss something. Grace's warning, "You will fret yourself to death, you will be back before a month," grew faint in my ears. When night shut out my new world and I fell asleep, I dreamed of extraordinary phenomena—trees stalking about the plains, fairies leaping out of the foam of the rivers.

I opened my eyes to a rose-coloured dawn. We had stopped before a little village inn. A row of pigeons with burnished necks looked down on me from their perch on the signboard above the door; a half-dressed, curly-headed child peeped out of a window from under the eaves, and clapped his hands at the steaming horses: and a young man walked out of the inn with a whip in his hand, and asked if there might be a lady inside the coach whose destination was Hillsbro' Farm.

I was soon seated by his side in a gig. By a few careful glances I had easily assured myself that there was nothing of the ploughman in the appearance of Mrs. Hollingford's son. You will want to know what I thought of him that morning, and I will tell you. He seemed to me the beau ideal of a country gentleman: nothing less than this, and something more. You have known him, my dears, stooped and white-haired, and have loved him in his age for the sake of the heart that never grew old. But on that brilliant autumn morning when he and I first sat side by side, the same lovable spirit was clothed with the strength and beauty of mortal youth.

The vivid life of the country was sweet to me that early morning. Carts of hay lumbered past us, almost crushing us into the hedges as they swept along heavily, leaving a trail of fragrance in the air. Red and brown leaves lay thick on the ground, making beautiful the undulations of the roads. Mists of dew hung among the purple folds of the hills, and the sun dashed the woods and streams with kindling gold. By and by the whole country side was laughing in the full face of the day.

Hillsbro' Farmhouse was, and is, a low long dwelling built of dark bricks, and standing among orchards and meadows, green pasture lands and running streams. Its ivied chimneys had for background the sombre lines of a swelling moor, belted by a wood of pines which skirted the hollow wherein the earth nourished the fatness and sweetness of the thrifty farm acres. Along the edge of the moor the road ran that led to Hillsbro' Hall, and a short cut through the wood brought one down upon a back entrance to the squire's own grounds.

The dear old farm! Roses were blowing in that morning at the open sashes of the big, heavy, roughly hung windows. Two young girls, who were afterwards dear to me as fibres of my heart, lingered beside the open door; stately handsome Jane, with her solemn observant black eyes and trim dark dress, and frolicsome Mopsie, with her laughing face, and her hat tied down, gipsy fashion, with a red ribbon. They lingered to see me, to take their share in giving me a welcome, and then set out on their long walk, discussing me by the way. They told me of it afterwards. Jane said I was only fit for a glass case, and Mopsie declared I alighted from the old gig as if I had a mind to dance. They were awed by the high heels on my boots, the feather in my hat, and the quilted satin of my pelisse. They wondered I could deign to speak anything but French, and concluded I did so only out of compliment to their homeliness.

And I, meanwhile, decked in all the fanciful elegancies of a London toilette, sat down to breakfast in the long parlour at Hillsbro' Farm, with something in my heart that would not let me eat though I was hungry, and something in my eyes that would not let me see very well, though the sun came rich and yellow through each of the wide windows, forming one broad golden path down the middle of the room. I saw but dimly the dark brown walls and ceiling, the stiff-backed chairs with their worn covers, the jar full of late roses that stood in either window, the heap of trailing ivy that overran the huge grate. It was Mrs. Hollingford's face that did it as she sat, kind, careful, hospitable, pressing on me sweet home-made cakes, fresh butter, fragrant tea, delicious cream, and delicate pink eggs. Ah me! it was her face that did it. There was my great lady, my beneficent friend, my valiant woman. Her eyes were somewhat sunken, the fire of their energy a trifle slackened, her brow a little seamed; the strain of fortitude had drawn a tight cord about her mouth. Whence, then, that new touching beauty that made one see the stamp of heaven's nobility shining on her face? Had I quite forgotten her, or was she indeed something new? It was as if grief had chiselled her features afresh out of the superfluous roundings of prosperity, wasted them into perfect sweetness, hacked them into purer refinement. She wore a strait black gown of the coarsest material, only the fair folds of muslin about her throat giving daintiness to her attire. Her son breakfasted with us, and I fancied he often looked at me curiously as if to say, "What concern can she have with us? why did she come? how long will she remain?" I had talked to him without embarrassment as we drove along, but now I could hardly speak. Never had I felt so shy in any company as I did in the presence of my mother's friend.

After breakfast she led me to my room, bright and airy, but scantily furnished. It had a window looking out on an orchard threaded by long alleys, over which hung a glowing roof of fruit-laden branches. And here I unpacked my trunks and stowed away my elegant dresses in a huge painted wardrobe smelling of apples. I laid aside with a kind of shame all the little ornaments I was accustomed to wear, and dressed myself in the plainest gown I possessed. Descending the quaint old staircase again, I found Mrs. Hollingford walking up and down the hall waiting patiently for my appearance.

"What a great woman you have grown, my love!" she said, drawing my hand within her arm, and leading me through the open hall door. "But you have still your mother's fair hair and sunny eyes. Will you walk with me for an hour? I have much to say to you, and the sooner it is said the better."

Then she told me the story of her life, and misfortunes, sternly, sweetly, with strange humility and fortitude. I knew much of it before, but she would tell it all.

"And now, my love," she said, "you know us as we are. Your mother, when she made me your guardian, did not foresee the changes that were to take place. You have other friends who are willing to give you a home. You have come here of your own will. When you wish to leave us we shall not wonder."

I threw my arms round her neck and told her I would not leave her. Never, since Miss Kitty Sweetman went to India, had my heart gone forth so completely to anyone.

She bade me not be too hasty. "You will find our life so different from anything you have ever known," she said. "We all fear it for you. We are so busy here. We have always a purpose before our eyes to make us work."

"Then I shall work too," I said. "I will not be the only drone in such a thrifty hive."

She smiled at this, and shook her head. But I immediately began to cast about for the means by which I might find it possible to keep my word.


I soon learned to love the farm. I began to know the meaning of the word "home." The beauty and lovableness of some persons and places takes you by surprise; with others they steal upon you by degrees; but there was that about Hillsbro' Farm which I loved much at once and more afterwards. Looking at it in the most commonplace way, it had all the peace and plenty of an English farmhouse, while for eyes that sought more they would find enough that was picturesque in the orchard's ruddy thickets, where the sun struck fire on frosty mornings; in the wide pasture lands sloping to the sedgy river, where the cows cooled their feet on sultry evenings. You know as well as I the curious bowery garden beyond the lower window of the parlour, stocked with riches and sweets of all kinds, rows of bee-hives standing in the sun, roses and raspberries growing side by side. The breaths of thyme and balm, lavender and myrtle, were always in that parlour. You know the sheep-fold and the paddock, the old tree over the west gable where the owl made his nest—the owl that used to come and sit on our school-room windowsill and hoot at night. You know, the sun-dial where the screaming peacock used to perch and spread his tail; the dove-cote, where the silver-necks and fan-tails used to coo and ruffle their feathers. You know, too, all the quaint plannings and accidents of the old house; how the fiery creeper ran riot through the ivy on the dark walls, dangling its burning wreaths over the windows; how the hall door lay open all day with the dogs sleeping on the broad door-step. Also, within, that there were long dark passages, rooms with low ceilings; a step up here, and a step down there; fireplaces twisted into odd corners, narrow pointed windows, and wide latticed ones. You know all the household recesses, the dairies and pantries and store-rooms; but you cannot know how Mrs. Hollingford toiled amongst them, filling them with her industry one day that they might be emptied the next; hardening her delicate hands with labour to the end that justice might be done, that some who had lost might gain, that a portion of her husband's heavy debts might be paid, and a portion of the curse of the impoverished lifted from his guilty shoulders.

No luxury was ever permitted in that household. Old gowns were worn and mended till they could be worn and mended no longer. The girls were of an age to go abroad to school, but they must be contented with such education as they could pick up at home, so long as one poor creature suffered straits through their father's fault. The only indulgence allowed was almsgiving. Mopsie might divide her dinner with a hungry child, or Jane bestow her new petticoat on an aged woman; but they must, in consequence, deny themselves and suffer inconvenience till such time as it came to be again their turn to have their absolute wants relieved.

I did, indeed, feel like a drone in a hive when, on leaving my room in the mornings, I met Mrs. Hollingford coming from her work in the dairy, John Hollingford arriving from his early visit to a distant part of the farm, Jane from her sewing closet where she made and mended the linen of the household, and Mopsie from the kitchen with a piled dish of breakfast-cakes, showing what her morning task had been. I could not eat for envy. Why could I not be of use to somebody? I gave Mopsie some gay ribbons, which were returned to me by her mother. Nothing might she wear but her plain black frock and white frill. I gave Jane a book of poems with woodcuts, and that was accepted with rapture. This encouraged me. I picked up two little children on the road, and to one I gave a bright silk girdle for a skipping-rope, and to the other a doll dressed from the materials of a fine gauze hat, which I picked to pieces for the purpose. I was not going to be a peony flaunting among thrifty modest vetches. At first I was sorry for the destruction of my pretty things, but soon I grew to admire the demureness of my gray gown and little black apron. I learned to make pies and cakes, to sweep a room and set it to rights, to wash and get up linen and laces, to churn, to make butter. But as many hands were engaged in these matters, I was often thrown out of employment. I made music for my friends in the evenings, and, as they liked it, this was something; but it was not enough. A new spirit had entered into me. I felt my old self lost in the admiration which I had conceived for the new friends who had accepted me amongst them.

By and by I found out a little niche of usefulness for myself. Jane and Mopsie attended the village school. One day I went to the town to buy some trifle and call for the girls. It was past the hour for breaking up, and I found Mopsie romping with some rude-looking girls on the green, while Jane, detained for some fault, sat alone in the school-room, perched on a bench, her arms folded and her eyes gloomily fixed on the wall. When I entered she blushed crimson. She was a proud girl, and I knew she was hurt at my seeing her disgrace. I coaxed her to speak out her trouble.

"I could teach the whole school," she said, fiercely—"master, mistress, and all—and yet I am kept sitting over a, b, c, like a baby. I get so sick of it that sometimes I answer wrong by way of novelty. Then I have to hold out my hand for the rod. To-day I drew Portia and Shylock on my slate, and forgot to finish my sum; therefore I am disgraced!"

I seized the happy moment and offered myself to the girls as a governess. Mopsie stopped on the road and hugged me in delight. Jane squeezed my hand and was silent during the rest of the walk, except when she said,

"Mother will never consent. I am too proud, and she wants me to be humbled. She thinks it is good for me to go to the village school."

That night, however, I laid my plan before Mrs. Hollingford, and, after some trouble, I attained my point.

We chose for our school-room an unoccupied chamber at the end of a long passage upstairs. It was furnished with a deal table and chairs, and a small square of green carpet laid upon the sanded floor. It had three latticed windows looking westward, and one of those odd grates I have mentioned, large enough to cook a dinner. We kept it filled with logs, and in the evenings, after we had drawn the curtains in the parlour, set the tea-table, and made Mrs. Hollingford comfortable on the sofa for an hour's rest, we three retreated to our school-room for a chat in the firelight. Here John joined us when he happened to come home early, and many a happy hour we passed, four of us sitting round the blazing logs, talking and roasting apples. We told stories, tales of the outer world, and legends of the country around us. We described places and people we had seen, and our fancies about others we had not seen. John, who had travelled, was the most frequent speaker; and as I was a wonder of experience to his sisters, just so was he a wonder to me. We laughed, cried, or listened in breathless silence, all as he willed, while the purple and yellow lingered in the sky behind the lattice, and the moaning of the wind through the forlorn fields, the hissing of the roasting apples, and the crackling of the burning wood, kept up an accompaniment to his voice.

There were other evenings, too, when John was late, and Mopsie, having grown tired of serious talk, tripped off to hear the lasses singing Bold Robin Hood in the kitchen. Then Jane used to open her heart to me, and talk about the troubles of the family. Her heart was stern and bitter against her father. Well had she said she was proud; well had her mother wished to humble her, if that could be done. She had, I believe, a great intellect, and she had much personal beauty of a grand character. I do not think she thought much about the latter, but she felt her mental powers. She knew she was fitted to move in a high sphere, and chafed against her fate; still more against the fate of her brother.

I can see her now, on her low seat before the fire, her hands clasping one knee, her dark head thrown back, and her eyes fixed on the dancing shadows above the chimney.

"To think of John settling down as a farmer!" she said; "John, who for cleverness might be prime minister. And there is no hope of his getting away from it; none whatever."

I could not but agree to this, though the thought occurred to me that the farm might not be so pleasant a home if John had to go away and be prime minister. All I could say I said to combat her rebellious despondency as to her own future.

"If you knew the emptiness and foolishness of the gay world," I said in a sage manner, "you would be thankful for our quiet life at Hillsbro'."

"It is not the gay world I think of," she said. "It is the world of thought, of genius."

"Well, Jane," said I, cheerfully, "you may pierce your way to that yet."

"No!" she said. "If I had a clean name I would try to do it. As it is, I will not hold up my head only to be pointed at. But I will not spend my life at Hillsbro', moping. I will go away and work, teach, or write, if I can."

I saw her eyes beginning to flash, and I did not like these fierce moods for Jane. I was turning over a book at the time, and, to divert her attention, I read aloud the name written on the title-page.

"Mary Hollingford," I said. "Was not she your elder sister?"

Jane started. "Yes," she said. "Who mentioned her to you?"

"Your mother," I said, "used to tell me of her little Mary, who was at school in France. I cannot recollect who told me of her death. Do you remember her?"

"Oh yes," said Jane, "perfectly. We did not lose her till after—my father went away."

"I suppose she took the trouble to heart," I said, reflectively; and then was sorry I had said it. But Jane answered,

"Yes," readily; then dropped her face between her hands, and remained plunged in one of her motionless fits of abstraction for half an hour.

I never alluded to this subject again to Jane, but one evening when Mopsie and I were alone together, the child spoke of it herself.

"Margery," she said, "you are holding me now just as sister Mary used to hold me with both her arms round my waist, when I was a tiny little thing, and she used to play with me in our nursery in London."

"You remember her, then?" I said.

"Yes," said Mopsie. "I remember her like a dream. She used to come home for the holidays, and a handsome French lady with her, who used to throw up her hands if we had not ribbons in our sleeves and smart rosettes on our shoes. I remember sister Mary in a pretty white frock trimmed with lace, and her hair curled down to her waist. I used to think her like one of the angels. But we never speak of her now, nor of papa, because it pains mother and John. I used to speak of her to Jane sometimes in the night, just to ask her did she think sister Mary was thinking of us in heaven; but Jane used to get into such dreadful fits of crying that I grew afraid. I wish some one would talk of her. I think it is cruel of us all to forget her because she is dead."

And tears stood in Mopsie's blue eyes. But the next half hour she was singing like a skylark over some household task.


The winter deepened. Christmas was drawing near, and workmen were busy setting the old Hall to rights for the reception of Mr. Hill and his family. John had been requested to oversee the arrangements, for the place had been unoccupied for years, and there were many alterations to be made, and much new furnishing to be done. The housekeeper, who had quietly dozed away half her life in two rooms in a corner of the house, now bestirred herself joyfully to open shutters, kindle fires, see to the sweeping and scrubbing, keep her eye upon painters and charwomen, and make ready store of pickles and preserves for the adornment of her pantry shelves.

This good woman was an old acquaintance of our two girls, their long walks often leading them across the moor, and through the grounds to the Hall. Mrs. Beatty, from her lonely window, had always espied their approach, and many a winter day had she fed them with sweets by her fireside, while she dried their wet wrappings, and told them stories of the pictures in the dining-room. Later, they had discovered the library, a sunny room at the south side of the house, stored with an excellent collection of books, and had gone there to read when it pleased them. I, in my capacity of governess, encouraged them in this habit, and at least once a week we had a "reading day," as we called it. Mrs. Beatty knew our day, and had coffee and a blazing fire awaiting us. And here we had delicious times of study, with our books in our laps, perched on the steps of the little ladder, or buried deep in the recesses of the deep leathern chairs.

Now, however, the luxury of our quiet days was interfered with. Workmen hammered about our ears, and an impertinent odour of paint annoyed us. We turned our reading days into days of general inspection, and amused ourselves with watching how the dingy corners threw off their cobwebs one after another, and came forth into the light with clean and brilliant faces. It was pleasant to know that I was useful to John in those days, for his mother did not interfere in this affair, and he needed a woman's taste to help him. It was I who selected the colours for Mrs. Hill's drawing-room carpet, I who chose the silk hangings for Miss Leonard's boudoir, I who rearranged in the cabinets the curiosities about which no one but a stray mouse or two had been curious for many years. I knew well that I did nothing but what any other person could do, yet it pleased me to see how John overrated my services. It delighted me to hear him praise to his mother my "exquisite taste and skill;" but it pained me to see her anxious look from him to me. I knew she feared that he was getting to love me well; sometimes with a mixture of fear and joy I thought it myself. I guessed that his mother would rather keep her son by her side unwed—perhaps that he could not afford to marry. I often longed to slip my hand in hers, and say, "Be not afraid, I am true;" but I could only look straight in her eyes and be silent. And this thought, perhaps because I might not speak it out and have done with it, remained with me, and preyed upon my mind. About this time I began to lie awake at nights, planning how I might show Mrs. Hollingford that I had no wish to thrust myself between her and her son.

And so it came that there arose a strangeness between John and me. I did not wish it to be so, but it happened naturally as a consequence of all my thinking and planning. It grew up in the midst of our pleasant work at the Hall, and it was burthensome, for it took the joyous adornment off everything, made handsome things ugly, and comfortable things dreary. It made the snowy landscape lonely, and the red sun angry. It made me cold and disobliging, the girls dull, and John proud and reserved. Jane spoke of it to me; she said:

"What is the matter between you and John? You used to be such good friends. Now you hurry down-stairs in the evenings, though you know he likes our chat round the school-room fire. And when we go to the Hall you start early for the purpose of walking home without him."

"Don't be foolish, Jane," I said; "John and I are just as good friends as ever. But you must not suppose he always cares for our women's chatter. We must give him a little rest sometimes."

Jane was silenced, but not satisfied. She thought I was beginning to look down on her brother. The proud, loving heart would not brook this, and she, too, estranged herself from me. The girl was very dear to me, and it was a trial.

Thus a division grew up amongst us. It was in the bright frosty days before Christmas, when the fields and dales were wrapped in snow, when the logs burned merrily, and the crickets sang, when fairyland was painted on every window-pane, when our superintendence at the Hall was over, when all things there had been placed in readiness, even to the lighting of the fires in the bed-chambers. We had left Mrs. Beatty in possession of her domain, and in daily expectation of an announcement of the intended arrival of her master and mistress. Things were in this way when one day a carriage dashed up to our farmhouse door, and out stepped Grace Tyrrell and her brother Frederick.

Jane shrank into a corner when I asked her to accompany me down-stairs, murmuring something I would not hear about my "fine friends." But Mopsie smoothed her curly locks, put on her best apron, and slipped her hand in mine as I went down to the parlour.

Grace was impatiently tripping about the room, making faces at the bare walls and laughing at the old-fashioned furniture. She was clothed in velvet and fur with feathers nodding from her hat. She put her hands on my shoulders and eyed me all over critically.

"Pray, little Quakeress," said she, "can you tell me what has become of my friend Margery?"

"Yes," said I laughing, "I actually happen to have her about me. What do you want with her?"

"Only to ask her what sin she has committed that she shuts herself up from the world, starves herself to skin and bone, and dresses herself in sackcloth?" she replied, touching my dress, and trying its texture between her finger and thumb.

"We do not starve her," put in Mopsie stoutly.

"And who are you, little miss?" said Grace, using a gold-rimmed eye-glass, which nearly annihilated poor Mopsie.

"No matter," said the little one, scarlet and trembling. "We are all Margery's friends, and we love her dearly."

Grace laughed at the child's ardour, as if it were something very funny and original; but Mopsie, never flinching, held my hand all the time.

"And what about the ploughman, dear?" Grace went on; "would it be possible to get a sight of him? Yes, do go" (to Mopsie), "like a useful little girl, and see about getting us some lunch. We are staying in this country at present, Margery, and when we return to London we intend to take you with us."

Mopsie's eyes dilated dangerously, but she retreated to the door at a whisper from me.

"Frederick," said Grace, "come and help me to persuade Margery;" and Mopsie vanished.

I said something about Frederick Tyrrell before, but I can hardly describe how excessively slim, and elegant, and effeminate he looked to me that day in particular. His dress and his manners amused me very much. While staying with the Tyrrells one of my chief occupations had been making fun of this young man, a fact of which I believe he was blissfully unconscious. Perhaps experience had made him incredulous as to the indifference any young lady might feel to his special favour; or it might have been conceit; I will not pretend to decide which. But when he drew near me, murmuring (shall I say lisping?), "Oh, do come; pray, take pity on us—we have missed you so dreadfully," I am sure he thought he did enough to make any reasonable young woman desire to leave Hillsbro' on the instant.

But I did not want to leave Hillsbro', I felt a pang of keen pain at the very suggestion; yet at the same moment an idea came into my mind that it might be a good thing that I should leave it for a time. I hesitated, asked Grace when she intended returning to London, and, while we were parleying about the matter, Mopsie returned. During the remainder of the visit the little girl listened earnestly to everything we said on the subject, and when I parted from my friends at the gate, leaving it undecided whether I should go with them to London or not, Mopsie burst into tears and clung to my neck.

"Do not go with them," she said; "they cannot love you as we do."

"Mopsie, my pet," I said, "don't be a little goose. Neither do I love them as I love you. If I go away for a time I will be sure to come back."

Mopsie whispered her fears to Jane, and all that evening Jane kept aloof from me. My head ached with trying to think of what I ought to do, and I sat alone by the school-room hearth in the firelight considering my difficulties, fighting against my wishes, and endeavouring in vain to convince myself that I had no wishes at all. Mopsie came in and lay down at my feet, with her face rolled up in my gown; and so busy was I that I did not know she was crying. John came in and found her out. He took her on his knee and stroked her as if she had been a kitten. Mopsie would not be comforted. I felt guilty and said nothing. John looked from her to me, wondering. At last Mopsie's news came out.

"Margery's grand London friends have been here, and they want to take her away."

"What grand London friends?" asked John, looking at me, but talking to her.

"Oh, Mr. and Miss Tyrrell, a pretty lady with long feathers and ringlets, and flounces on her dress, and a handsome gentleman who said they had missed Margery dreadfully. And Margery is thinking of going back to them."

John suddenly stopped stroking her, and sat quite still. I felt him looking at me earnestly, and at last I had to look up, which I did smiling, and saying, "I did not know Mopsie cared so much about me."

Then John kissed the little girl, and said, "Go down-stairs to Jane, dear. I have something particular to say to Margery."

I was completely taken by surprise. He closed the door upon Mopsie, and came back and reseated himself at the fire. He sat on one side of the fireplace, and I at the other, and the flames danced between us. He shaded his face with his hand, and looked across at me; and I watched intently a great tree falling in the depths of a burning forest among the embers.

"Is this true, Margery," said John, "that you are going to leave us, and return to London?"

"I am thinking of it," I said pleasantly.

"I thought—I had hoped you were happy with us," he said.

"Yes," I said, "I have been very happy, but I think I want a little change."

How my heart ached with the effort of uttering that untruth! I knew that I wanted no change.

"I do not wonder at it," he said after a pause. "We have made a slave of you. You are tired of it, and you are going away."

He said this bitterly and sorrowfully, shading his eyes still more with his hand.

"No, no," I said, "you must not say that. I never was so happy in my life as I have been here."

I spoke more eagerly than I meant to do, and my voice broke a little in spite of me. John left his seat and bent down beside me, so that he could see my face, which could not escape him.

"Margery," said he, "I have seen that you have made yourself happy, and I have been sometimes wild enough to hope that you would be content to spend your life amongst us. When you came first I feared to love you too well, but your sweet face and your sweet ways have been too much for me. It may be ungenerous in me to speak, seeing that I only have to offer you a true love, truer maybe than you will meet with in the gay world, a tarnished name, and a very humble home. I have debts to pay, and a soil to wash off my name; but still, Margery, will you be my wife? With your love nothing will be dark or difficult to me."

It was very hard. My heart was brimming over with a joyous reply to this appeal; but Mrs. Hollingford's uneasy face was vividly before my eyes all the time, and I could only say distressedly, "It cannot be, John. It cannot, cannot be."

"Why?" he asked, almost sternly, and he rose up and stood above me. "Tell me that you cannot love me—tell me you would rather save yourself for more honour, more prosperity, and I will never trouble you again. Were I differently circumstanced I might plead, but I could not live to see you discontented, ashamed. Why can it not be, Margery?"

I clasped my hands in my lap, and tried to speak firmly. "For a reason that I cannot give to you, John. Let us be good friends."

"Friends!" he echoed bitterly. "Well! I was wrong to think of my own happiness before your worldly advantage. Good-bye, Margery. I am going to London in the morning. Perhaps you may be gone before I come back."

And with this he abruptly walked out of the room. But afterwards I sat there an hour, wondering if what had passed so quickly were true, and I had really refused to be John Hollingford's wife.

After tea he left us early, saying he must start for Hillsbro' at four in the morning. Mopsie fell asleep, and Jane absorbed herself in her books. Mrs. Hollingford and I held some embroidery in our hands, but my fingers trembled so that the stitches went all wrong. Now and again, glancing up, I encountered long troubled looks from Mrs. Hollingford. She had seen that something was amiss between me and John, and I guessed that her mind was at work with fears. I could not bear it; I thought it was not fair after what I had done. For the first and last time I felt angry and impatient with the dear old lady. Would she herself, in her own young days, have sacrificed as much? Jane shut up her books at last, and carried Mopsie off with her to bed, and Mrs. Hollingford and I were left sitting facing one another.

"Mrs. Hollingford," I said, dropping my work with almost a sob, "don't look at me like that. I cannot bear it, and I do not deserve it."

What made me say it I cannot think. The moment before I spoke I had no intention of speaking. Mrs. Hollingford dropped her work in dismay.

"My love," she said, "what do you mean? I do not understand. What do my looks say that you cannot bear?"

"Oh, Mrs. Hollingford," I said, covering my burning cheeks with my hands, "you must know what I mean. You look at me, and look at me, and I see what is in your mind. How can I help it?"

"My dear," said she, "is it anything about John?"

"Yes," said I desperately, "it is about John. You think I want to take him from you, and I do not, and I never will, and I have told him so. I am going away to London with my friends the Tyrrells, and I will never trouble you any more."

I was rather blind by this time, and I was not sure of what part of the room I was in; but Mrs. Hollingford had come to my side, and she put her arms round about me and fondled my head on her breast.

"My dear," she said, "and is this the secret that has made the trouble between us? I never thought that you wanted to take him from me; on the contrary, I feared that you might be too young to understand his worth. I dreaded sorrow and suffering for my son, nothing else."

My face was hidden in her motherly embrace. I could not speak for some moments, and I thought my heart had stopped beating. At last I whispered:

"Oh, Mrs. Hollingford, I have made a great mistake. Can it be that you really—"

"Will have you for a daughter?" she asked, smiling. "Gladly, thankfully, my darling, if it be for your happiness. But you must not decide hastily; there are great disadvantages which you must consider, and I, as your guardian and friend, must point them out to you. I must forget my son's interests in the faithful discharge of my trust. John has a cloud upon his name."

"Don't, don't!" I said, "if he had a hundred clouds upon his name it would be all the same to me."

"Then you love him well?" she said tenderly, sighing and smiling at the same time.

"I think I do," I said; "but that is only a misfortune, for you know I have refused him."

"Well," she said cheerfully, "perhaps it is for the best. You must go to London with your friends, and test your feeling by absence and the society of others. If you remain unattracted by those who are better placed in the world, I think John will try again, in spite of his pride. I know I should in his place," she said, lifting up my disturbed face, and looking in it with a half quizzical fondness.

I answered by throwing my arms round her neck in a long tearful embrace, and after that we sat long by the fireside talking the matter over. The consequence was, oddly enough, that I went upstairs to bed feeling so extremely sober that, before I laid my head upon my pillow, I had begun to doubt whether I cared for John Hollingford at all. It was not that I shrank from what his mother had called the "sacrifices" I should make in becoming his wife. I never even thought of them. I had found too much happiness at Hillsbro' Farm to be able to realise their existence. But I had a superstition that I ought to feel very joyfully excited about all I had learned that evening; first, that John really loved me, and, secondly, that his mother was ready to take me to her heart. Yet I only felt sobered to the last degree, and exceedingly afraid of seeing John again. I heard him driving away from the door before daybreak, and I found myself hoping that he might not come back for a week.

The next day I was in the same mood. I felt so grave and quiet that I made up my mind I could not have that wonderful love for John which I believed to be the duty of a wife. I thought I had better write to Grace, and arrange about going with her to London. Then I grew miserable at the thought of leaving the farm, and wished I had never seen it. For three days I tormented myself thus, and then there came a shock which brought me cruelly to my senses.

On the fourth day after John had left us, I was walking up and down the frosty avenue just as the evening was coming on. The sun was setting redly behind the brown wood, and blushing over the whitened fields and hedgerows. A man came up the avenue and pulled off his hat as he approached me. I recognised in him an Irish labourer whom I had seen working in the gardens at the Hall.

"Beg pardon, miss!" said he, "but be you Miss Margery Dacre?"

"Yes, Pat," said I. "This is a fine evening, is it not? What do you want with me?"

"Oh then, a fine evenin' it is; glory be to God!" said Pat; "but all the same, Mrs. Beatty is mortial anxious for you to step over to the Hall the soonest minute ye can, as she has somethin' very sarious to say to ye."

"Step over to the Hall?" I exclaimed. "Do you know what o'clock it is, Pat?"

"Oh yis, miss!" said Pat; "it's three o'clock, an' the sun low, but niver fear; I'll walk behind ye ivery step o' the way, an' if as much as a hare winks at ye, he'll rue the day. Mrs. Beatty would ha' come over here to spake to ye, only for fear o' hersel' at the farm," said Pat, jerking his thumb in the direction of the house. "God keep sorrow from her door; but I'm feared there's throuble in the wind!"

I did not quite understand whether the threatened trouble was for Mrs. Beatty or Mrs. Hollingford. I guessed the latter, and thought immediately of the absent husband and father. I felt that I could not do better than obey the summons. Pat promised to wait for me at the gate, and I hastened into the house to prepare for my journey.

"I am going for a walk, Jane," I said, looking in at the school-room door. "Don't be surprised if I am not in before dark."

"But, Margery!" I heard her beginning, and did not wait to hear any more.

How I racked my brains during that walk to try and guess the cause of my sudden summons. The only thing I could think of was that Mr. Hollingford was in prison. I never fancied anything approaching to the truth.

Mrs. Beatty was anxiously watching at the door for my arrival. She had tea waiting for me, and began pulling off my bonnet and boots at her fireside. But her hands were shaking, and her eyes red and watering.

"Never mind me, Mrs. Beatty," I said, imploringly; "tell me what is the matter."

"Take a sup of tea first, my dear young lady," said she; "ill news is heard soon enough."

"I won't taste it," I said, pushing it away. "Tell me this instant!" I said, as a dim fear of the truth came across my brain.

"Well, my dear," she said, beginning to cry outright, "you see there has been a terrible smash of the coach from London. The horses fell crossing a bridge, and the coach was overturned into the river; and they do say everybody was killed or drowned. And poor young Mr. Hollingford was in the coach; and, oh! that I should have to say it, he's met a cruel death. I sent for you, dear young lady, that you might break the news gently to his mother; for there's not a soul in the country side dare carry the story to her door, and they'll maybe be bringing home the bodies."

"Stop!" said I. "Mrs. Beatty—are you sure—"

And the next thing I knew was a sensation of coldness and wetness upon my face, and a smell of vinegar and wine, and a sound of murmuring and crying.


"Dear heart, dear heart! to think of her taking on so!" I heard the good woman saying, and I crept to my feet, and began tying on my bonnet in spite of her entreaties that I would lie still.

"No, no, I must get home!" I said, shuddering. "Some one else will come and tell her, and it will kill her. Let me go at once! Let me go!"

At the door in the frosty dusk Pat was waiting with a horse and gig.

"I was thinkin' ye'd be a bit staggered by the news, miss," he said, "an' I put the mare to this ould shandheradan. It's not very fit for a lady, bad manners to it! but it'll be betther nor the slippery roads undher yer feet."

I do not know how the drive passed. I remember saying once to Pat,

"Are they quite, quite sure that Mr. Hollingford was—was—"

"No indeed, miss," was the answer, "sorra sure at all. They do say he was in the coach, but no wan seen him dead, as far as I can hear tell."

I made the man set me down at the farm gate, and walked up the avenue just as the early moonlight was beginning to light up the frosty world. As I came near the door, I fancied I heard crying and wailing; but it was only Mopsie singing in the hall. Behind the parlour window I saw Jane stepping about briskly in the firelight, arranging the table for tea. All was quiet and peaceful as when I had left the place two hours before.


The children followed me to my room, wondering where I could have been so late. I said I was tired, and begged them to leave me alone. Then I locked my door, and a solitary hour of anguish passed. The fever of uncertainty would not let me weep; I suffered without much sign, but in such a degree as I had never dreamed of before.

There was something horrible that I had to realise and could not. John hurt and dying away from his home, without one by to comfort him, without his mother's blessing, without a whisper to tell him that I had loved him and would mourn for him all my life! John vanished from the earth—lost to us for ever! The sickly moonlight fell about me with a ghastly peace, and the horror of death froze my heart.

Tea-hour arrived, and the girls knocked at the door. Mrs. Hollingford came to me, questioning me anxiously, and pressing my burning temples between her cool palms; and there I lay under her hands, crushed with my cruel secret. I could not tell it. Not that night. When the worst must be known it would be my place to help them all in their agony; and was I fit for such a task now? Besides, there was still a hope, and I clung to it with wild energy.

They left me for the night, thinking I slept, but when the clock struck five I wrapped myself in a cloak, and went out and down the avenue. I was half afraid of the ghostly trees, so black against the snow, but I was more in terror of the melancholy corners of my own room, the solitary light, the dreary ashes in the grate. I walked as far as the gate, and even ventured out on the road, hoping to see some wayfarer coming past who might be able to tell me something of the accident. I tried to consider how far it might be to the nearest wayside cottage, where I might possibly learn some news that might break the awful suspense. But my head was confused, and I suppose I did not calculate the distance rightly, for after I had walked a mile I could see no dwelling. The morning was breaking now, and the world looked pallid and dreary. Suddenly my strength failed, I felt faint and dizzy, and sat down upon a heap of stones, drawing my cloak over my face. My thoughts became broken and confused, and my senses numb, I remained, lost in a sort of stupid dream of trouble, I do not know how long, when the touch of a hand on my shoulder made me start, and a voice said, "What is the matter with you, my poor woman?"

It was a man's voice—a familiar voice; my children, it was the voice of John Hollingford. With a cry I flung back the cloak from my face. "John!—John!" I cried, and grasped him by both hands. There he stood unhurt. I burst into a fit of weeping, though not a tear had I shed all the while I had pictured him lying dead or dying. "I thought I never should have seen your face again except in the coffin!"

I sobbed in my joy, hardly knowing what I said.

"Margery!" he said. "Is this all for me?"

"I cannot help it," I said. "I ought, but I cannot. No one knows but me. I heard it last night—"

"You are killing yourself sitting here in the cold," said John. "You are nearly frozen to death." He wrapped my cloak round me, and drew my arm through his.

"Who told you of the accident?" he said.

"Mrs. Beatty."

"She might have kept her own counsel till to-day. Several poor fellows have been killed, but many escaped, like myself, unhurt. And so you kept it from my mother, and you grieved for me. Margery, may I ask again that question I asked you the night before I went away? If it pains you, say nothing."

"You may ask it."

"And what will you answer?"

"Anything you like."

"And you do not want to go to London?"

"Not unless you turn me out of doors."

"My darling!" he said. And so we became engaged there upon the snow.

How wonderful the sun rose that morning. How I walked home through Paradise, forgetting that there was such a thing as suffering in the world. How the girls hugged me when they knew all. How Mrs. Hollingford smiled upon us. And how sweet the honey and rice-cakes tasted at breakfast. It was arranged that, all things considered, we had better not be married for a year.

I remember our gathering round the fire that evening, the curtains unclosed, the mild moonshine behind the window, the room half black shade and half red light, the dear faces beaming round. That evening I wrote my letter to Grace Tyrrell to say that I should not go to London. That evening, also, there came a letter from Mr. Hill to John, saying that he hoped to arrive at the Hall on the morrow or next day. At tea we talked about Rachel Leonard. Thinking of her, the scene at the party came vividly back—the occasion on which I had defended Mr. Hollingford so hotly; and also my conversation with Grace Tyrrell on the subject in the carriage coming home. After musing a little while, I said:

"John, are you quite sure that you never met Miss Leonard when you were abroad?"

"Quite," said John, looking at me curiously. "Why do you ask me that question so often, Margery?"

"Have I asked it often?" I said, "I don't remember; but I fancied from her manner that she knew something about you."

"It is not likely," said John, "for I know nothing about her." And so this matter dropped.


John made me promise to go out to meet him next morning on his return from his early walk across the farm. I remember so well how gladly I sprang from my bed that morning, how tedious my dressing seemed, and yet how I lingered over it at the last, anxious to make myself more pleasing in the eyes which I knew would be watching for me from the hill. I remember how, in the tenderness of my joy, I opened my sash to feed the robins, and how gay and fair the world looked in its robe of white. I remember how I ran after a little beggar boy to give him sixpence, and how afterwards I went along the path through the fields singing aloud for mere happiness. And yet a little cloud had already risen out of the glories of the shining East, and was spreading and moving towards me.

John and I walked home together, side by side, and we talked the happiest talk that ever was written or spoken. The world was all radiant over our heads and under our feet, and we could not see even the shadow of the cloud that was coming, fast as the wheels that were rolling towards us from the distance.

"Look, Margery!" said John, "do you see a carriage on the road?"

I shaded my eyes with my hand, and I saw the carriage.

"I daresay it is the Hills'," I said, and then we walked on through the white fields and between the bare hedges till we came out upon the road which leads away across the moor between Hillsbro' Farm and Hillsbro' Hall. There is a spot on this road which you know well, where the ground sinks into a hollow, and then rises in a steep abrupt hill, on the top of which any object suddenly appearing stands out in sharp relief against the sky, in the eyes of the traveller below. We reached the foot of this hill, John and I; we began to ascend; I raised my eyes, and saw a figure appear on the brink of the hill, a woman's figure with draperies fluttering a little as the petticoats of the market women flutter when they tramp the road to Hillsbro'. I raised my eyes again, and came face to face with Rachel Leonard.

She was walking quickly, pressing forward, wrapped in a fur mantle, with a Shetland snood drawn round her face. I remember the momentary expression of that face before it changed at sight of us; the delicate brows knitted as if in pain or anxiety; the wide dark eyes intent upon the scenes opening before them; the scarlet lips parted in fatigue; the glow of exercise wandering over the cheeks.

She did not see us at first; the sun was in her eyes; but I spoke her name aloud, and held out my hand. She started violently, and all the colour flew out of her cheeks. She took my hand, and held it mechanically, but her eyes were fixed on John. I looked at him in amazement, seeking for some explanation of the strange long look in her eyes, and the trembling of her white lips, only to see both repeated in his face, which had been ruddy and smiling the minute before. They stood gazing in one another's eyes as if both were magnetised, without either advancing a hand or attempting a word. An indescribable chill crept over my heart as I looked at them, and I drew my hand from John's arm, and turned impatiently away.

He did not seem conscious of the action, but it roused Rachel. She smiled, and extending her hand, said, with quivering lips, which she made vain efforts to compose:

"Mr. Hollingford, do you not remember me? My name is Rachel Leonard."

John's gaze had never left her face, and he could not but note the imploring look that came into her eyes as she said these words.

"Yes," he answered, and his voice shook, though his face kept a fixed, stern gravity. "Yes, surely I remember you—Miss Leonard."

At this the sound of wheels was heard coming up the hill, and with a sudden effort Rachel changed her manner.

"Here is the carriage," she said. "I hope, Mr. Hollingford, you will not greet Mr. and Mrs. Hill with that panic-stricken look. You are a great favourite with them, and they will be glad to see you. Pray do not look so shocked. They will think you have seen a ghost."

"Would to God I had—rather than have seen you," he murmured to himself, and I heard him.

The carriage drew up beside us, and Mr. Hill jumped out. He was an odd-looking man, with a bald, benevolent forehead, a pair of honest brown eyes, which glared about with a sort of fierce good-humour, white hair, and white thick-set whiskers. Mrs. Hill sat within the carriage, a mild-looking fat little lady, with rosy cheeks and a piping voice, holding hugged in her arms something which looked like a bundle of fleecy wool, but which I afterwards knew to be a favourite dog.

"Eh, Hollingford, my lad, I am glad to see you. How are you? and your good mother?" said the old gentleman, grasping John's hand, and glaring kindly in his face.

"Well, Mr. Hill; well, thank you," answered John, but he kept his stern, absent demeanour, as if he could not, or would not, shake off the spell that had come over him, which made him look like a cold, unfaithful, unlifelike copy of himself.

The sharp trebles of the ladies' voices rang about my ears, but it was only by an effort that I could take in the meaning of what they said, so observant was I of John's severe glance which followed every movement of Rachel, as she stood chatting to me with a merriment which I could not but think was nervous and assumed.

Mr. Hill was rallying John upon his gravity, kindly and delicately, even in the midst of the natural noisy bluster of his manner. And somehow I divined readily, even out of the distraction of wonder that had come upon me, that the fine old gentleman, remembering certain thorns in John's way, was touched at seeing him proud and reserved in the presence of his natural equals, who had not sunk in the world's favour, and who had got no stain upon their name.

"Will you come and dine with us this evening at seven?" said Mr. Hill. "You and I must have much to talk about. I have been too long absent from this place, but even already I see new things around which delight me. I shall be blind and helpless here till you open my eyes and set me on my feet."

I noticed, or I fancied I noticed, that Rachel faltered on the words she was speaking at this moment, and that she held her breath to hear John's reply to the invitation.

"I will go with pleasure, sir," said John.

"And Miss Dacre?" piped Mrs. Hill. "Will she not also come and dine with us?"

"I fear we should be bad company to-night," put in Rachel quickly. "We shall be so tired; it would be a poor compliment to ask her to come and look at us nodding in our chairs. Say to-morrow, instead. Margery Dacre, will you come and spend a long day with us to-morrow?"

But Margery Dacre had at that moment no wish to spend such a day. I said, "No, thank you, Miss Leonard; I shall be otherwise engaged both to-day and to-morrow." And then, feeling that I had spoken very coldly, and seeing that she looked troubled, I added, forcing a smile, "The winter will be long enough for our civilities."

"But not for our friendship, I trust," she replied quickly, seizing my hands, while her face cleared, and sincerity seemed to beam out of it, like the sun out of a May sky. I felt her fascination; but it sickened me somehow, and I dropped her hands, and thought of saying good-morning to the group, and returning to the farm alone, so that John might not feel himself hindered from going to breakfast as well as to dine with these new old friends of his who were so eager for his company. But before I had time to act upon the thought Mr. Hill handed Rachel into the carriage, followed her himself, and the carriage rolled away. John and I were left standing there together; I stupid, like one awakened from a dream, staring at the wheel-marks on the snow and at other signs which these people, in passing, had left behind them.

I turned and walked on silently towards the farm, and John walked beside me. A weight of doubt and wonder pressed on my heart like a load of ice. Why had John wanted to conceal from me his acquaintance with Rachel Leonard? Why had they both been so strangely moved at meeting? I longed to ask a question; but I could not find my voice. I longed for John to speak, and tell me something—anything at all that he liked; and were it the strangest puzzle that ever failed to be unriddled, I swore to my own heart that I would believe him.

"Margery," said John, speaking as if in answer to my thought—and he came nearer to me, for we had walked a little apart, and drew my hand through his arm, and looked down in my face—"Margery," he said, "look me straight in the eyes," and I looked, and saw them full of grievous trouble.

"You are blaming me in your heart," he said, "and saying to yourself that I have deceived you. Will you trust me that I did not mean to do so? I have got a cruel shock, dearest, and I beg of you to be kind and forbearing with me. I owe you an explanation, and I will give it the earliest moment I can. I cannot till I see further. In the meantime, I swear to you that there is nothing in this that should shake your faith in me. Do you trust me, Margery?"

"I would trust you against the whole world, John!" I cried, in a sudden remorse for having ever doubted him. And, smiling and happy, I walked by the side of his horse that evening down the avenue, and kissed my hand to him over the gate as he rode away to dine at the Hall.

"Do not say anything to my mother about my knowing Miss Leonard," he said, the last thing at parting; and I nodded and said, No, not unless he bade me; and I tried not to wonder, and went back to the house satisfied. And I was very merry all the evening; but at night, in my bed, I listened for his return. An evil spirit reminded me of Rachel's face when John said "I will go," and her quickness in arranging that I should not accompany him. I said, "Margery, I am ashamed of you; curiosity and jealousy are hateful; have nothing to do with them." And I turned on my pillow and prayed for John; and then I heard him coming into the house. So utterly still was everything by reason of the snow, that I heard his every movement. Even after he had closed his door, I thought I heard him walking about his room. And the wonder leaped up in me again—why was he troubled? why could he not rest? I got up, and laid my heart and ear against his door in a passion of dismay and sympathy. Up and down, up and down; no thought of sleep after his fatigue. Oh, what was this that had come between us? I went back to my bed and wept.

That was the first beginning of the trouble about Rachel Leonard. From that day a shadow hung upon John. He went often to the Hall, for Mr. Hill fastened upon him, and delighted in him, and would not live without him. But the more he went to the Hall, the more the trouble grew upon him; and I could not but date its beginning from the arrival of Rachel Leonard, seeing that, before he met her that morning upon the road, he had seemed as radiantly happy as it is possible for any man to be. And the more the trouble grew upon him, the more reserved he became on the subject of the people at the Hall. His mother began to guess that he must be annoyed with business, and the girls to fancy that he and I had quarrelled. And I silently let them think that it was so, the better to keep his secret.

My own heart was aching, but I would not speak. I had promised not to doubt him, and I feared lest he should think, even by my face or manner, that I was weak enough to break my word.


Several weeks passed before I saw anything more of Rachel Leonard than my passing glimpse of her in the snow at sunrise. Mrs. Hollingford, who never had been in any but the poorest houses on the estate, walked over with me, at Mrs. Hill's request, to pay a morning visit at the Hall. On that occasion no Miss Leonard was to be seen. She must have gone out walking—so said the maid who went to seek her in her room; and we came back to the farm without having seen her. Then arrived Mrs. Hill to return the visit, but no Miss Leonard accompanied her. Rachel was confined to bed with a cold. The girls, who had hoped for a sight of her, were disappointed.

And so the days went on, till it happened that I went to stay at the Hall. I had received two or three invitations, and had always found an excuse to stay away. At last it seemed ungracious to stay away any longer, and I went.

How the house was changed since the quiet time of our "reading days," when the solitary wreath of smoke went up from Mrs. Beatty's chimney, and the echo of one's step on the stone stair rang round the gallery above! Now the hall, that had used to look so wide and chilly with its grim ornaments of busts of authors, was decorated with flowers from the hothouse, and cheered by a blazing fire. A soft murmur of prosperity was heard throughout the house, as if Luxury were gliding about in her velvet slippers, giving orders in her modulated voice, and breathing her perfumed breath into all the corners. The presence of life had wrought upon the handsome sticks and stones that furnished the rooms, and transformed them into household gods. Firelight twinkled in all the chambers, bringing out the lustre of coloured glass and costly hangings into the sallow daylight of the winter noon. I do not know how it was that on the day of my arrival at the Hall I made my appearance at an earlier hour than they expected me. I learned afterwards, by chance, that they had not looked for me till the dinner hour, whilst I understood that it was desired of me to present myself early in the day, so that Rachel and I might have some quiet hours during which to renew our acquaintance before we should be called upon to mix among the company now staying at the Hall. Good Mrs. Hill was one of those people whose manner would make you believe that if you deny them the thing they desire at your hands, you will undoubtedly destroy their peace, but who will probably have forgotten their request and its motive whilst you are yet pondering it, and forcing your own will that it may be complied with. The mistake about the hour of my arrival was one of those pieces of confusion which seem too trifling ever to be worth clearing up. But it was a mistake which caused me months of unutterable misery.

The idea of the visit had always been distasteful to me; but, having made up my mind to go, I thought it was better to be amiable for John's sake. About mid-day I said good-bye to the three who were already my mother and sisters, and set out to walk across the moor to the Hall. John was to dine with the Hills that day, so I knew I should see him in the evening. My baggage had been sent on before me early in the morning. It seemed very absurd to feel so sorry at leaving home to stay at a fine house, where the hours were to be filled with feasting and merry-making. In earlier days it would have been otherwise. But the farm, with its busy inmates, its old-fashioned nooks and corners, its homely sights and sounds, had grown strangely sufficient for the desires of my life.

I arrived at the Hall, gaining the grounds by a descent from the hill at their back, and coming, so, round by the gardens to the house. Mrs. Hill was driving with some of her guests. Mr. Hill was out walking with some of his guests. A maid would go and seek for Miss Leonard, and in the meantime I was conducted to my room.

Such a room as it was. I smiled at myself for thinking it so grand, for I had certainly slept in as fine a chamber before. But of late I had forgotten how long is wealth's list of necessities, and had learned to live without a velvet couch at the fireside of my sleeping apartment, branches of wax-candles on the mantel, and long mirrors on every side to make me feel as if half a dozen impertinent young women were for ever prying into, and making a mockery of, my movements. I had lately been accustomed to hear the heels of my shoes go clinking over the well-waxed boards of my simple room, and to look out at the woods and fields through a narrow framework of white dimity. Here were voluptuous curtains and carpets that forbade sound, and denied the daylight. The farm was my beau-ideal of a home; therefore my room at the farm was my beau-ideal of a room; therefore all this comfort was oppressive and ridiculous.

Miss Leonard did not come to seek me. Perhaps she was out. I guessed there was a mistake, and made myself content. I declined the services of a maid, unpacked my trunk, and laid out my dinner dress upon the bed. After this I knew not what to do, and sat down to rest. I looked at the swelling couch over whose cushions the firelight wavered drowsily. "We are not likely to have velvet couches at the farm," I thought, "and it is better to despise such foolish luxuries." So I drew out a stiff-backed chair, and sat down to muse before the fire.

I soon got tired of this, for I could not think without conjuring up my familiar wonders and forebodings, and these must be kept in the background in order that I might conduct myself properly in this house. I opened my door and looked around me. I knew the place well, but I did not care to be seen roaming about before I had received a welcome from my host or hostess. Weariness enabled me to overcome this difficulty, and I presently found myself in the gallery where the pictures hung and the curiosities were displayed in their cabinets; where chairs were placed for people to sit upon, and screens erected to keep away the draughts; and where the light from the dome in the roof fell mellowly over the knight made of armour, who stood quite at the end of the gallery, near a narrow staircase which led down to the back premises of the house. This knight was an old friend. Mopsie had been very fond of a nook formed by the angle of the wall at his back, and in the days of our "readings" had dragged a deep-seated arm-chair from a near room, and arranged a tall light screen behind his shoulders, forming a tiny triangular chamber. When I came upon this retreat now I took possession of it, for it was a pleasant place to sit in. The massive helmet of the knight on his pedestal soared above the top of the screen, and stood out in bold relief against the soft brilliance of the painted dome. I seated myself in Mopsie's chair, and drew a little book from my pocket. In this little book John had copied out for me some sweet quaint rhymes which were favourites of his and mine, and because I had thought the writing and the writer could never be glorified enough, I had wrought round the margin of the pages a border of fanciful arabesque, which I had filled in with colours and gold.

I turned over the pages absently. By and by I heard footsteps coming down the gallery, and voices drawing near me. I hoped that, whoever the people were, they might pass on without perceiving me. I did not like the idea of strangers peeping in behind the screen and wondering who I could be. But the people came nearer, still conversing in low earnest tones, the sound of which made me start and wonder. They came up to the screen, which was just at the end of the gallery, and stopped there as people will pause at the extremity of a walk before they turn to retrace their steps. And it seemed as if my heart paused with them, for the speakers were Rachel Leonard and John Hollingford, and this was the conversation I heard:

"I think you are very unkind, John," said Rachel; and she spoke sullenly, and as if she had been crying. "I only ask you not to hurry me, to give me time, and you complain as if I had refused altogether."

"I do not understand why you should want time," replied John; "if what you have told me is true, if what you have promised is in good faith, I do not see why you should delay making everything known."

"Nor do I see why you should wish for haste," said Rachel. "The announcement will be painful enough when it must be made. Have you ever thought of what Margery will say?"

"Margery! God bless her!" said John earnestly, "Sweet, unselfish soul! It will be a shock, but she will get over it. While this is going on, her eyes are a continual reproach to me. The position is intolerable. If you will not speak soon I must break my promise to you, and enlighten her."

"No, no, no!" said Rachel passionately. "She suspects nothing, and let her rest awhile. She will not take it so quietly as you think. Every one will cry out at me, and I know that I deserve it. Pity me, John"—here her voice broke down—"but, for God's sake, leave me to myself for a time."

"Let it be a short time, then," said John, sadly. "I must say I am grieved to see that this is such a hard trial to you. After all that has been, all you have told me, I did not expect to find you so weak and selfish."

"I am weak and I am selfish," sobbed Rachel; "do not expect to find me anything else. I am struggling to be something better; but whatever I am, John, be sure that I love you, and have loved you all these years. Leave me a little time, and I will do everything you wish."

"Let it be so, then," said John—"a short time, remember. My poor, dear girl! My lost darling, so unexpectedly found."

And they walked away together down the gallery talking till their voices and their steps died away. The thick yellow daylight was almost extinct in the gallery by this time, and it was nearly dark behind the screen. It was night at four o'clock in those days, and it was not till the dressing-bell for dinner rang at near seven that I went, feeling my way along the gallery, back to my own chamber. I do not know what I had been doing in the meantime. A chorus of soft voices warbled in conversation on the stairs as a band of graceful ladies tripped up to their several apartments. Miss Leonard came to me in my rich, hot, heavy room and helped me to dress. I told her I had come too soon, and had been rambling about. I believe that was what I said. She fastened my sash, and even tied my sandals, for my fingers were shaking. She bent over my feet with her glorious face and her firm white hands. I think she had a black velvet frock and a diamond waist buckle; but I am not sure. The charm of her beauty overshone these things. As she busied herself among my hooks and eyes, I saw our two reflections, in a glass—she who had loved John for years, and I who had only known him for a few short months.

As I went down the stairs with Rachel, I told myself it was true what John said, that I should get over it. The drawing-room was full of gay people, and my first thought was, looking round it, that there was no man there equal to John—no woman there equal to Rachel. Why had I thrust myself between them?

When John took my hand with just his old loving pressure, the first wave of despair broke over me. "Get over it?" I asked myself; but that was all. I believed that John was sitting by Rachel, but I did not see the dinner-table, nor the people sitting at it. They thought I was shy or proud, and did not trouble me with conversation. A sound was in my ears, which I thought was like the rushing of a storm in an Indian forest. All my life lay before me like a blot of ink on a bright page. Why must I give trouble, and carry a sore heart? Why was I left behind to come to Hillsbro'? Why did not my father and mother take me with them that I might have died of their fever and been buried in their Indian grave? But how Rachel laughed. All the evening she was the most brilliant, beautiful, witty creature that ever enlivened a company.


My children, when I sat that night over the embers of my dying fire in my chamber at Hillsbro' Hall, whilst every one else was asleep, there has never been a more desolate creature in the world than I felt myself to be. I had behaved all the evening very meekly and quietly, keeping out of John's way, accepting Rachel's attentions, watching and admiring her with a dull kind of fascination. I remember observing absently, in a mirror at the other end of the room, the white pensive face of a young girl sitting very still in a corner, rapt in thought or pain. I wondered whether she was sick or in trouble; but afterwards I found by accident that I had been speculating about myself. A little chill smile came to my lips at this discovery; but I felt hardly any surprise at seeing myself thus so different from what I had ever been before. The world had changed, and I with it, since the fall of twilight in the gallery.

Rachel sang and the room applauded; people danced and Rachel amongst them; young gentlemen were introduced to me, and I told them "I don't dance" with my cold lips. There was an agonising pressure on my senses, of sound, light, perfume. I thought it was these things that gave the pain, while from my heart, which seemed perfectly still, came forth at intervals the repetition "I will get over it, I will get over it." John found me out, and said, quite startled, "What is the matter with you, Margery?" I complained of "my head," and drew back within the shelter of a curtain. "Margery, my dearest, you are ill," he said, and then the flood-gates of bitterness opened in my heart. How long was he going to act a cruel lie to me? I said, "I am ill; I must go to bed." He followed me out of the room, questioned me anxiously, wrapped me in a shawl, stood at the foot of the stairs watching till I passed out of sight; all as if he had still loved me.

When I reached my room I blew out my candles, and the fireplace was the only spot of light in the large shadowy room. I walked up and down in the dark, thinking about it all. I could imagine how Rachel and John had met whilst I was still in Miss Sweetman's school-room. There had been a quarrel, and then had come John's misfortunes, and they had never met again till that morning in the sunrise on the snow. I knew the story as perfectly as if the firelight were printing it all over the walls for me to read. And then I had risen up between them, and here I stood between them now, when all their mistakes had been cleared up, and all their old feelings revived. Well, I would not be in their way. I would go away from Hillsboro'.

I crept over to the fire, drew the embers together, and watched them waning and dying in the grate. I no longer told myself that I should get over it. I knew that I should not die, or go mad, nor do anything that people could talk about; but deep in my heart I knew that here was a sorrow that would go with me to my grave. I felt that I was not a girl to put my foot on the memory of it, and go out into the world again to be wooed and won afresh. I knew that the spring of my days were going to end in winter. Then I thought of how I had turned my back upon the whole world, all the world that I knew, to follow my mother's friends to Hillsbro'; how I had loved them, how I had given my whole heart and faith to John; how trusting, how satisfied, how happy I had been. At last my heart swelled up in softer grief, and I wept with my face buried in my arms where I lay upon the hearth-rug. And so after long grieving I sobbed myself to sleep, and wakened in the dark, towards morning, shuddering with cold in my thin dress.

The next day I was ill with a feverish cold, and Rachel tended me. Never was there a nurse more tender, more patient, more attentive. I was not at all so ill as to require constant watching, but she hovered about my bed, applying remedies, tempting me with dainties, changing my pillows, shifting the blinds so as to keep the room cheerful, yet save my burning eyes from the light. She would not be coaxed away from me even for an hour. Mrs. Hill, though kind and sympathetic herself, in a different way, was dissatisfied, I think. There were other guests, and she was a lady who took the duties of hospitality seriously to heart. But Rachel, charming, even when provoking, knew how to manage her adopted mother. There were whispered discussions between them, of which I, lying with closed eyes, was supposed to know nothing, and then Rachel would steal her graceful arm round Mrs. Hill's portly waist, and kiss her, and put her out of the room. Mrs. Hill was very good to me, and scrupulously left her poodle dog on the mat outside the door when she came to visit me; but her vocation was not for waiting in sick-rooms.

Rachel, soft-voiced, light-footed as a sister of mercy, moved about in her pale gray woollen gown, with a few snowdrops in her breast, her face more thoughtful and sad, yet sweeter than I had ever seen it. She had a work-basket beside her, and a book, while she sat by the head of my bed, but I saw that she occupied herself only with her thoughts, sitting with her hands laced loosely together in her lap, gazing across the room through a distant window at the ragged scratchy outlines of the bare brown wood that hid the chimneys of the farm from the view of the inmates of the Hall.

It needed no witchcraft to divine her thoughts. She was thinking of John at the farm, and possibly of all that had passed there between him and me. It saddened her, but I thought she must be very secure in her faith, for there was no angry disturbance in her anxious eyes, no bitterness of jealousy about her soft sweet lips. I read her behaviour all through like a printed legend; her faithful kindness, her tender care, her thoughtful regret. She was feeling in her woman's heart the inevitable wrong she was about to do me, measuring my love by the strength and endurance of her own, and pitying me with a pity which was great in proportion to the happiness which was to be her own lot for life.

Everywhere she moved I followed her with John's eyes, it seemed, seeing new beauties in her, feeling how he must love her. In my weak desolation I wished to die, that I might slip quietly out of the hold of my kind enemy, leaving vacant for her the place from which she was going to thrust me with her strong gentle hands. But under her care I recovered quickly.

Never had there been such a nurse, such a petting, fondling, bewitching guardian of an ill-humoured, nervous, thankless patient. How lovingly she tucked me up on the couch by the fireside; how unweariedly she sought to amuse me with her sprightly wit; how nimbly her feet went and came; how deftly and readily her hands ministered; I could never tell you half of it, my dears! If her face fell into anxious lines while my eyes were closed, no sooner did I seem to wake to consciousness again than the sunshine and the archness beamed out. Once or twice it smote me that she wondered at my petulance and gloom—wondered, not knowing that my time had already come, that the burden of the sorrow she had brought me was already upon my shoulders. "Are you in pain, dear?" she would ask, perplexed. "I am afraid you are worse than we think;" and I would answer coldly, "Thank you; I suffer a little, but it will pass away. It is only weakness. Pray, do not trouble yourself so much about me."

My only excuse was that my heart was breaking; but this I could not explain. And still she was faithful and winning, would not take offence, and would not be repelled. It was hard work trying to hate her, and I gave it up at last. One time when her hand hovered by me I caught it going past, kissed it, and burst into tears. "Forgive me," I said; "you are an angel, and I—" I felt that I had been something very evil in the past few days. "My poor little nervous darling!" she said, down on her knees, with her arms about me, "what shall we do to make you strong?" "Little" she called me, though I was as tall as she. I acknowledged her superior greatness for compelling love, and letting the bitterness roll out of my heart for the time, like a huge load, I laid my head upon her shoulder for a long miserable cry. Desperately I invented excuses for my tears, but I shed them, and they did me good. After that I no longer struggled against the spell of her attraction. I loved her even out of the depths of the misery she had caused.

She saw that I was growing to love her, and she was glad, and I winced at her delight. She was thinking that by and by, when I should have "got over it," she and I would be friends. I smarted silently, and smiled. I would not be a weeping, deserted damsel. I would try to be strong and generous, and keep my sorrow to myself.

During this illness of mine, which lasted about a week, John came often to the Hall to inquire for me. Good little Mrs. Hill would come into the room smiling, and say, "Rachel, you must go down to Mr. Hollingford. He wants to hear from your own lips about your patient." And she would sit with me, talking about her dogs and the county families, till Rachel's return, who always brought me kind messages, and seemed anxious to deliver them faithfully. I thought she always came back with signs of disturbance in her face, either very pale, or with a heightened colour. Once I thought she looked as if she had been crying; she pulled down the blinds immediately on entering the room, and sat with her back to the light.

"Margery," said she by and by, "Mrs. Hollingford is coming to see you to-morrow."

"Is she?" said I, with a great pang at my heart.

I could not say "I am glad," for the dear old lady's true face rose up before me, a treasure I had lost, and I lay back among my cushions, and thought it would be well if I could die.

The next morning Rachel was restless and absent. Early in the day she left me suddenly, and came back dressed in her riding-habit.

"I am going for a ride, dear," she said hurriedly. "I am not very well; I need fresh air. You can do without me for a few hours, I daresay."

Something in her manner made me wonder. I heard the mustering of horses on the gravel, and dragged myself to the window to see if John Hollingford were of the party. But he was not there. Lying on my sofa afterwards I remembered Mrs. Hollingford's expected visit, and felt sure that Rachel had gone away to avoid her. I remembered that they had never yet met, and I easily saw a reason for Rachel's fearing her eyes at present. In the midst of these reflections came my dear second mother.

Mrs. Hill brought her to me. The contrast between the two was striking. Mrs. Hill was short, fat, and plain, and had narrowly escaped from nature's hands without the stamp of a vulgar little woman. Mrs. Hollingford was tall and slender, with a worn noble face, and, in spite of all circumstances, looked the ideal of an ancient "high-born ladye."

When I looked at her, I felt that it would be impossible for me to go back to the farm. I thought that when we found ourselves alone I would tell her what I had learned, and beg of her to permit me to go straight from the Hall to London, whence I could write a letter of release to John. But Mrs. Hill stayed with us some time, and in the meantime my courage oozed away. When I found myself face to face with her, and no one else there, I could not say a word of my confession. I realised what would be her dismay, her indignation, and worst of all, I feared her incredulity. She would assuredly speak to John when she went home, and all my pride revolted at the thought. So I let the opportunity go by.

I told her of Miss Leonard's kindness. She had been a little hurt, I think, at the young lady's absence, but she was never used to look for slights, and my testimony cleared away all shadow of offence. Afterwards I found that the girls at home were indignant at Miss Leonard's hauteur. They had expected something different. She had disappointed them. Mrs. Hill was courteous, Mr. Hill was kind, but Miss Leonard ignored the dear old mother altogether.

"'Tis always the way with upstarts," said Jane; and the foolish little hearts were up in arms.

"Tell me, my darling," said Mrs. Hollingford, with her arm round my neck, "is there anything amiss between you and John?"

"What could there be amiss?" I said, kissing her hand, and avoiding her eyes. "I have not seen him since the day I came here. He has called to inquire for me constantly."

"I thought of it before you left us," she said sadly, "and I fear it more every day. He is—you are both strangely altered. Margery, don't jilt my son. He is not as fine a gentleman as others you may see, but you will never meet his like."

I turned my head away, and said nothing. What was there that I could say? My heart was big with much that I could not tell, and I was silent. And so the occasion passed away. Mrs. Hollingford went home with a bitter doubt in her heart; and the doubt was all of me.

After she had gone, Mrs. Hill came and sat with me, and tried to amuse me. She was a good little woman, but her gossip was tiresome, and her anecdotes worldly. I was glad when her duty to her other guests carried her away. You will find it hard, my dears, to understand from my account of this time that I was staying at a pleasant country-house full of merry-making people. But the people were only shadows to me, and the time a puzzle. What was not real to me then, I cannot make real to you now.

The afternoon was wet and windy, and the riding-party returned early, all but Rachel and another lady and gentleman. These came home later. I was sitting in my room, in the firelight, alone, when Rachel came to me, laughing, in her wet riding-habit, saying she had had enough of the weather.

I said, "Yes, it is a pity you went."

"No, not a pity," she said. Then, "Has not Mrs. Hollingford been here?"

"Yes," I said.

"Here, in this room, with you?"

"There, in that chair, by your side."

She turned and looked at the chair with a strange look, which was wonderful to see, but quite indescribable. She drew it to the hearth, and sat down in it, throwing back her wet skirts and leaning towards the fire. Then I saw that she looked pale and worn, as if her riding had not done her much good.

"Do you not love her, this Mrs. Hollingford?" she said, presently.

"Dearly," I said.

"Will you describe her to me?" said Rachel.

"She is tall and handsome," I began.

"Yes," put in Rachel, "I have heard so."

"There is something grand about her, though she dresses as gravely and poorly as a nun. Her face is sweet and sad, and can be stern. Her hair is silver gray—"

"No," said Rachel hurriedly, "brown. I heard that it was a beautiful chestnut-brown."

"It is nearly white now," said I.

Rachel did not speak again for some minutes. Looking at her presently, I was surprised to see her face quivering, and great shining tears following one another swiftly and silently into her lap.

"Do not mind me," she said. "I went to see a poor girl on the estate, who is dying. Her mother was sitting at the head of her bed. She told me the girl had never vexed her in her life."

"And has that made you sad?" asked I, thinking the girl was to be envied.

"Very sad," said Rachel; "sadder than I could tell."

We were silent awhile, and then said Rachel:

"It must have made her grow old before her time, that trouble."

"Do you mean Mrs. Hollingford?" said I.

"Yes," said Rachel. "The grief, and the shame, and the blight."

"There should be no shame, no blight for the innocent," I said.

"The world does not think so," said Rachel, with a stern cloud on her face.

"The world!" I said contemptuously.

She lifted her eyes from the fire to my face. "Yes, I know you are a brave independent little soul," she said. "Will you answer me one thing truly? Did you not feel even a shadow of shrinking or regret when you promised to marry John Hollingford?"

"Not a shadow," I said bitterly. "I accepted him for what I believed him to be, not for what the world might think of him."

"I wish God had made me like you," she said solemnly; and then got up, with a wild sad look in her face, and left me without another word, forgetting to lift up her wet trailing habit, which she dragged along the ground as she went.

After she had gone I sat there, angry, amazed, and sick at heart. I thought she had well said to John, "I am weak and selfish." I had never told her of my engagement, and she had talked to me of it unblushingly. Thinking of her own sacrifice, she had forgotten my wrong and pain. I had seen into the working of her thoughts. She could love John and injure me, but she could not be content without the approval of the world. The young farmer was worthy of love, but he was not rich enough, nor grand enough, nor was his soiled name fitted for the spoilt child of wealth. She could steal away my treasure without enriching herself—could destroy the peace of two minds, without creating any contentment for herself out of the wreck. "Poor John!" I thought, "your chances of happiness are no better than my own, even though you have paid a dishonourable price for them." And I hated her after that.


The winter was passing away at this time, and spring days were beginning to shine. I walked out of my bed-room into the bright March world and saw the primroses laughing in the hollows. I thought my heart broke outright when I heard the first lark begin to sing. After that things went still further wrong. John came to take me out for a drive one day, and I would not go. And the Tyrrells were staying at the Hall.

Whether it was that Rachel shunned me of her own wish, or because she saw that I had learned to despise her, I do not know; but we kept apart. My poor soul was quite adrift. Anguish for the past, disgust at the present, terror of the future, all weighed on it. If I had known of any convent of saintly nuns, such as I had read of in poems and legends, who took the weary in at their door and healed the sick, who would have preached to me, prayed with me, let me sit at their feet and weep at their knees till I had struggled through this dark phase of my life, I would have got up and fled to them in the night, and left no trace behind me.

I hated to stay at the Hall, and yet I stayed. Mr. Hill—kind heart!—said he would bar the gates, and set on the dogs if I attempted to move. He and his wife both fancied at this time to make a pet of me. I had been ill in their house, and I must get well in their house. They would warrant to make the time pleasant. So the Tyrrells were bidden to come and stay a month. Grace Tyrrell arrived with her high spirits, her frivolity, her odour of the world, took me in her hands, and placed herself at once between me and Rachel. She found me weak, irritable, wobegone. She questioned, petted, coaxed. Partly through curiosity, and partly through good-nature, she tried to win my confidence, and in an evil hour I told her all my trouble. I listened to her censure, scoffs, counsels, and my heart turned to steel against John.

She was older than me by five or six years. I was a good little simple babe, she said, but she, she knew the world. It was only in story books, or by younglings like me that lovers were expected to be true. Miss Leonard was an "old flame," and, if all that was said might be true, would be heiress of Hillsbro'. Yes, yes, she knew; I need not blaze out. I had made myself a hero, as simple hearts do, but my idol was clay all the same. Wealth and power would do for John Hollingford what his father's misconduct had undone. It was utter silliness my abasing myself, saying that Rachel Leonard was more lovable than I. Her rich expectations were her superior charm. Oh me! how people will talk, just to be thought knowing, just to be thought wise, just to dazzle, and to create an excitement for the hour.

I do think that Grace Tyrrell loved me after her own fashion, and that she thought I had been hardly used; but the sympathy she gave me was a weak sympathy, that loved to spend itself in words, that was curious to sift out the matter of my grief, that laid little wiles to prove the judgment she had given me true. She had watched them (Rachel and John), she said, and John's manner was not the manner of a lover, though he affected it as much as he could. He was trying to bind her with promises, but she would not be bound. Yes, she, Grace, had watched them, and would watch them. Every night she brought me into her room, and detailed her observations of the day, and pitied and petted and caressed her poor darling. I was weak in health, and unutterably lonely and sad, and I clung to her protection and kindness. But instinctively I distrusted her judgment. I disliked her coarse views of things, and followed her counsels doubtingly.

I have not described her to you yet, my children. Imagine, then, a showy, frivolous-looking, blonde young woman, fond of pretty feathers, and flowers, and gay colours; pretty enough in her way, good-humoured and talkative.

I thought, then, that I had every reason to be grateful to her, and I blamed myself for not loving her spontaneously, as I had loved, as I still fought against loving Rachel. I think now that I had no reason to be grateful to her. If she had not been always by my side, so faithful, so watchful, so never-failing with her worldly lesson, I think I should have found a way out of the darkness of my trouble. I think I should have softened a little when Rachel met me in the gallery, twined her soft arm round my neck, and asked me why we two should be so estranged. I think I should have wept when John took my hand between his two and asked me, in God's name, to tell him why I had grown so altered. But I was blind, deaf, and dumb to their advances. Their reproaches were meaningless, their caresses treacherous, and I would have none of them. I would stand where they themselves had placed me, but I would draw no nearer to set their consciences at rest. And then there was Captain Tyrrell at the Hall.

Why did Grace Tyrrell want me to marry her brother? I do not know; unless because she liked me, for she was fond of him; unless because my substantial dowry would be of use to the needy man of fashion. I had heard before that he had made two unsuccessful attempts to marry an heiress. I was not an heiress, but the hand that I should give to a husband would be pretty well filled. At all events he was ever by my side, and Grace (I am now sure) helped him to contrive that it should be so. I did not like him, I never had liked him. Before I had come to Hillsbro' he had wearied me with compliments and attentions. When he had visited me at the farm, elegant as he was, I had contrasted him unfavourably with the absent "ploughman," wondering that language had only provided one word, "man," by which to designate two creatures so different. He was the same now that he had been then; but I, who had soared to things higher, had fallen. Anyone was useful to talk to, to walk with, to drive with, so that time might pass; any noise, any bustle, that would keep me from thinking, was grateful. So I tolerated the attention of Captain Tyrrell, and he and Grace hemmed me in between them. Rachel looked on in silence, sometimes with contempt, sometimes with wondering pity. John kept further and further aloof, and his face got darker, and sadder, and sterner to me. And this it was that bewildered and chafed me more than anything I had suffered yet. Why, since he had turned his back upon me, would he keep constantly looking over his shoulder? And, oh me! how Grace did whisper; and how her whispers fired me with pride, while the confidence I had foolishly given her daily wore away my womanly self-respect.

My children, you will wonder why I did not behave heroically under this trial. You despise a heroine who is subject to the most common faults and failings. The old woman now can look back and mark out a better course of conduct for the girl. But the girl is gone—the past is past, the life is lived. I was full of the humours and delusions of nineteen years, and I saw the glory and delight of my youth wrecked. Existence was merely inextricable confusion in the dark. I never dreamt of a path appearing, of a return of sunshine, of a story like this to be afterwards told.

Rachel's conduct was variable and strange to me at this time. She kept aloof from me, as I have told you, looking on at my poor little frantic efforts to be careless with a grand contempt. She watched me as closely as Grace watched her; but one day, I know not how it happened, some word of jealous misery escaped me, and Rachel grew very white and silent, and there was a long pause of days before either of us addressed the other again; but Rachel's look and manner was altered to me from that moment. A long, tender, wistful gaze followed me about. She did not venture to dispute Grace Tyrrell's possession of me, but it made her uneasy. She was observant and sad, patient and kind, while my manner to her was often irritable and repellent. One night she stole into my room when I was sinking to sleep, and bent over me in my bed. "My darling, my sister!" she said, "let me kiss you, let me put my arms round you. Oh! why will you always turn away from me?"

I did not answer, except by moving my face shudderingly aside.

"Margery," she whispered again, "tell me why you have turned against me and John Hollingford."

"You and John!" said I, opening my eyes and looking at her. "Yes, that is it. You and John. Dear me; am I not grateful to you both? How odd!"

"Margery, shall I swear that you have no reason to be jealous of me?"

"Oh, no, Rachel," I said; "don't swear. Go away and be happy, as I am, and sleep soundly."

She moved away a step or two, but came back hesitatingly.

"Margery," said she, "I want to tell you—if you will listen to me—I have a great trouble."

"Have you?" said I. "To think of anyone having a trouble in this world! I can't believe it."

"But, Margery," she said, putting her hands on my shoulders, and looking down at me, "I have a secret, and I came here to tell it to you, and you must listen, for it concerns you."

"Does it?" said I; "then you had better not trust me with your secret, Rachel. I think I have a wild creature chained up in me somewhere, and it might do you harm. I advise you not to have anything to do with me. Good-night."

"Ah!" said she bitterly, turning away, "was ever anyone so changed in so short a time. This is Miss Tyrrell's doing. She is a spy upon me, and yet I defy her to know anything about me. She has filled you with her own cruel prejudice."

"Do not say anything against the Tyrrells in my hearing," I said. "They are the dearest friends I have."

"If that be true," answered Rachel thoughtfully, "I have nothing more to say. The thing that I was going to tell you does not concern you, and I have been spared a humiliation for the present. When you know all, you can cry out against me with the rest. Remember," she added distinctly with proud bitterness, "I give you full permission."

She turned away and moved across the room; she stopped before the dying fire, standing above it, and looking down into it. I saw her dark figure between me and the fading glare, her head lowered on her breast, her arms hanging dejectedly by her side. She mused there a few minutes, and then went noiselessly out of the room.


Early summer was already upon the land, flowers were blooming, and the reign of sunshine had begun. The cuckoo haunted the Hall gardens, rabbits basked in the glades, and the woods were alive with singing birds.

A little thing happened which surprised me. A troop of us were riding one day along the moor, and by the outskirts of the road, I, being foremost, espied two figures at a distance among the trees, and recognizing the girls from the farm, I pressed on and came on them unawares, where they were down on their knees, gathering mosses out of the grass. Mopsie was on my neck in a moment, but Jane was a little shy. I had to coax her to be frank.

She thought I must be changed, she said, I stayed away so long. If I cared for them any more, I would have come to see them. Mother was not very well, and John, when at home, was dull. He fretted about something. Did I not know what it was about?

"Whether I come or stay, you must believe in me, Jane," said I; "I am not one of those that change. I will go back with you now and see your mother. Here are the rest of our party coming; we will meet them and tell them what I am going to do."

"That is Miss Leonard," I added, seeing Rachel riding foremost. "Are you not curious to see her?" Jane said "Yes," and walked on beside me, holding my whip.

The sun was in Rachel's face till she passed into the shade right before us. She raised her eyes then and looked at us, started violently, gave her reins a sudden wild pluck; the horse reared, plunged, and flung her. I screamed and sprang to the ground, but Jane stood immovable, looking at Rachel where she lay, staring at her with a face which had changed from glowing red to white. I pushed her aside to reach Rachel. She turned quickly round, and, without a word, began walking rapidly towards home. She passed out of sight without once looking back. It all occurred in a minute.

The other riders came up; Rachel was not injured, only a little bruised and faint. She was too nervous to remount. Our party rode home, and I sat with Rachel on the grass, till a servant came with a pony carriage. The man took our horses, and I drove Rachel home. She cried hysterically all the time whilst we waited in the wood. I did not see any more of Jane, and, of course, I did not pay my proposed visit to her mother. Rachel did not attempt to explain the cause of her accident, and I did not ask her anything about it. I remembered Jane's face, and I puzzled over her strange conduct in silence. It was impossible not to think that she had beheld in Rachel some one whom she had not expected, and was not well pleased to see. Yet this young girl had been a child when she had come to Hillsbro', and she had not known Rachel by name. My head ached distressfully over the puzzle, but I could make nothing of it. Jane was an odd girl; she had conceived a prejudice against Miss Leonard, and had taken a whimsically rude way of showing it. This was all the conclusion I could come to on the subject.

One evening we had a dinner party, and a good many young people being present, we danced a little. I danced more gaily than the rest, for my heart was unusually sore. Grace Tyrrell had told me that day that she purposed leaving the Hall next week, and had pressed me to go with her to London. I thought I had better go, yet I had refused her. I knew I must leave Hillsbro', yet I shrank from the great effort of tearing myself away. Here I had been loved and happy; the trees and the moors knew it; even the strange faces of the country people passing on the roads had seemed to be in my secret, and had played their simple part in my dream. I felt that, once gone, I could never return, and I must first have an explanation with John, and put an end to our engagement. Yet how to seek him for such a purpose? I had kept at so great a distance from him lately that it seemed impossible. I felt that he would be relieved by my absence, and glad of his release, but my own woe pressed upon me. I feared to make a fool of myself, if he was kind as of old when we said good-bye.

So I was dancing with the rest, and Captain Tyrrell was my partner. We were very merry. Grace was playing for us, and looked approvingly over her shoulders. John had been with us at dinner, but I had lost sight of him, and as I did not see Rachel either, my fancy saw them walking in the moonlight without. For it was a warm evening, the windows were open, the stars bright, and people went in and out at their pleasure. The flowers smelt sweetly in the dew, and the nightingales were singing. There was a game of hide-and-seek on the lawn, and when the shrieks and laughter were subsiding, some one began to sing within. Rachel was entertaining the old ladies and gentlemen, and the rovers flocked round the windows to listen. I had sauntered with Captain Tyrrell into a grove to hear a nightingale, and I was weary to death of his company. He was trying to make me promise to go to London. "Oh, let it rest," I said, "we will talk about it to-morrow. Let us be merry to-night. We will play hide-and-seek again!" and I darted suddenly among the trees, and lay close behind a great oak. My squire lost me; I heard him go past plunging through the underwood, and swearing a little. I lay still till he had given up the search and gone towards the house, and then, like the silly lamb in the spelling-book story, I came forth in the moonlight, and if I did not skip and frisk about with delight, I at least enjoyed myself after the only dismal fashion I could command. Captain Tyrrell was to me, in these days, a veritable old man of the sea, I could not get rid of him, and sometimes I thought in my most despairing moods that it was going to be my lot to carry him on my shoulders for the remainder of my life.

I was walking slowly, musing ruefully, when I saw a figure advancing to meet me on the path. I saw at a glance that it was John Hollingford. The time had been when I would have flown gladly to meet him, linked my arm in his, and seized the opportunity for one of our old talks about pleasant fancies. But this was not the friend I had known, nor was I any longer the simple girl who could open her heart to trust, and delight in shining dreams. The pleasant fancies had been proved cheats, the stars had fallen. I no longer looked up at the sky, but down to the ground. For a moment I shrank back, and would have hidden, but then I thought bitterly, what did it matter? Unpleasant words must be said between us, sooner or later. A very few would suffice. Better they were said at once.

"Margery," said John, "people are looking for you, and talking about you. I have come to fetch you to the house. To tell the truth I am glad of the opportunity of saying something which has been long upon my mind. Will you bear with me a few minutes?"

"Yes," I said, "certainly. As long as you please," and I tossed little pieces of twig over my shoulder, and prepared myself to listen. Oh, my dears, how defiant women will be, just for the fear of being pitied.

"You must know very well," he continued, "what I am going to say. I have a right to ask you for an explanation of your conduct for the past few weeks. People are coupling your name with that of Captain Tyrrell, and with good reason. You are so changed that I scarcely see a trace of the Margery I once knew. Child! if you repent of the promise you have given me, tell me now and I will set you free. I remember the circumstances under which that promise was given. You, perhaps, exaggerated your own feelings; you have since renewed your acquaintance with people and ways of life that suit you best. I will try not to blame you. Speak out at once, and do not think of me."

The truthful ring of feeling and reproach in his voice startled my ears, and set my heart struggling for liberty to give an honest response to this appeal. A few simple words would have been enough, but the recollection of all that I knew came back too quickly. The conviction of his insincerity and injustice suddenly bewildered me with anger, keen in proportion to the desolation I had suffered.

"Sir," said I (we said "sir" for politeness in those days, my dear), loftily, coldly, and in utter despair, "I will take you at your word. Let the promise between us be broken from this moment!"

He heaved a great sigh, of relief, I thought, and being near the house we parted with much politeness. Thus we put an end to our engagement. Holy and indestructible I had believed it to be; but then I was an ignorant little fool. People shake hands and say good-bye every day, and never dream of being so mad as to spoil to-morrow with tears. As for me I did not wait for to-morrow. That night was piteous with the rain of my grief. But Grace was at hand to comfort, to counsel, to instruct, which she did with her own peculiar figures of speech.

"You are a brave little thing!" she said. "I am glad you had spirit to act on the first notice to quit. It would have been so much more humiliating to have waited for a forcible ejectment."

And I promised to accompany her to London.


Mrs. Hill had a pretty little bedizened boudoir, blue silk hangings elegantly festooned with bird cages; couches and divans for its mistress's dogs and cats; with a spare seat for a friend who might venture in at any time for a dish of private chit-chat with the lady of the Hall. Into this apartment I was confidentially drawn by Mrs. Hill on the morning after my moonlight conversation with John, as with heavy eyes and hectic cheeks, but with a saucy tongue in reserve, specially sharpened, and a chin held at the extreme angle of self-complacency and no toleration of interference from others, I was sailing majestically down-stairs to put my melancholy finger as usual into the pie of the pleasures and pastimes of the day.

"Come in, my dear," she said mysteriously, with her finger to her lip, nodding her little fat face good-humouredly at me, and making all her little curls shake. "I think you are a very safe person, my love, and, besides, so fond of Rachel. I would not trouble you with my news, only that it is a secret, and a secret is a thing that I never could endure for any length of time without bringing on hysterics. You are not fond of my darlings, I know. There, we will send away the noisiest."

And Mrs. Hill hereupon tumbled some half-dozen fluffy bodies out of the window on to the verandah below, and stood for the next few moments wagging her head and coquetting down at the ill-tempered little brutes, who whined and scowled their resentment of the disrespectful treatment they had received.

"Ho, my beauties! run, skip, jump!" cried the lady, throwing up her little fat arms. And the dogs, rolling their bodies away into the sun at last, her attention returned to me.

"I must first tell you, my love," said she, drawing a letter from her pocket, and smoothing it open on her knee, "I must first confide to you in strict secresy that our dear Rachel is engaged to be married."

Here the ecstatic fury of the singing-birds reached such a deafening climax that their mistress was obliged to pause in her communication, and to go round the room dropping extinguishers of silk and muslin over the cages. "When the pie was opened the birds began to sing," thought I, the pie being Mrs. Hill's budget, and I had also time to consider that John must have sat up very late last night, or risen very early this morning, to have matters already so very happily matured. "I wonder if Grace would mind travelling a day sooner than she named," was the third thought that went whizzing through my head before Mrs. Hill could proceed any further with the news that she had in store for me.

"Yes," said Mrs. Hill, "it is true that we are destined to lose her, and it is very kind and sympathising of you, my dear, to look so miserable. You can readily imagine how I shall suffer—I, who have loved that girl far more than if I had been ten times over her mother." And the little lady wiped her eyes. "I told you, my dear, that the matter is a secret. Old Sir Arthur wants his son to marry another lady, and Arthur Noble cannot marry without his father's consent. But, in the meantime, the children are engaged, hoping for better days. And now there is a letter from the dear fellow saying he will be here this evening. Only I am not to tell Rachel, as he wants to surprise her. You will keep my counsel, Miss Dacre?"

I murmured, "Oh, certainly;" but the things in the room were swimming about strangely, and my wits were astray.

"And do you know, my dear (I feel I can trust you thoroughly), do you know I am exceedingly glad of this for many reasons. I have noticed poor young Hollingford! Rachel is an attractive creature, and I fear a little inconsiderate. But the queen of beauty must be excused, my dear, and she is a queen, our Rachel. We cannot help the moths getting round the candle, can we?"

After this I curtsied, and made my escape as quickly as possible. "Poor young Hollingford! Oh, John, John! why have you brought yourself so low as this?" I cried across the wood to the farm chimneys.

My children, there is a rambling old garden at the back of the hall, a spot which the sun never leaves. Wild tangles of shadow fall now as then on the paths, from the gnarled branches of moss-eaten apple-trees. In the season of fruit, blushing peaches and plums, yellow and transparent as honey, hung from its ancient lichen-covered walls. Raspberry brambles, borne out of their ranks by the weight of their crimson berries, strayed across the path. There were bee-hives ranged against the fiery creeper on the far-end wall, and the booming of the bees made a drowsy atmosphere in the place. This, together with the odour of stocks and wallflowers, was deliciously perceived as soon as your hand lifted the latch of the little green door, and regretfully missed when you closed it behind you.

You know it, my children. I need not tell you that it is a homely retreat compared with the other gardens near, costly, curious, and prim, where the beds are like enormous bouquets dropped on the grass, and the complexion of every flower is suited with that of its neighbour. But this old garden was always a favourite, for its unfailing sunshine, its murmurous repose, and the refreshing fragrance of its old-fashioned odours.

Well, my dears, all day long I stayed in my room, fighting a battle of sorrow and passion, and when evening came I stood at the window and saw the sun go down behind the trees of the old garden. I bethought me of its soothing sights and sounds, and fled away to it, as to a sanctuary. There is an arbour under the wall, in the midst of a bed of lilies. I hid myself there, and looked out on the lily-cups brimming with sunset light, on the diving up and down of the birds, on the little golden clouds transfixed in the glory of the heavens. Not a soul breathed within the four high walls but myself, till the latch of the little green door clicked, and who should come hieing along the path but Rachel, her white evening dress tucked to one side, and a watering-pot in her hand. She had a favourite corner in this garden, which it was her pleasure to tend with her own hands. The sun was down, and the plants were thirsting. Rachel was kind to all: kind to the daisies and me, kind to John, kind to her betrothed, Arthur Noble (I had not failed to pick up the name), who was coming this evening to surprise her. When and in what corner would the kindness end and cruelty begin? Watching through a rent screen of tangled flowers, the fair shapely figure flitting and swaying in the after glory of the sunset, I wondered about it all. How would she act when her other lover arrived? Would she turn her face, in which lived such pathetic truth, first on one, and then on the other? Would she for a time give a hand in the dark to each, lacking courage to fling love for ever over her shoulder, and declare at once for the world? Would she honestly dismiss John, confessing that she had chosen her path? or would she bravely destroy that which was unholy, and give her hand to him before the world? Contemplating this possibility, I felt my heart swell with something that was not selfishness; and I built a palace in the air for John.

Having done so, I heard the garden door click again, and starting, looked, expecting to see John coming in to take possession of his palace on the instant. A man came in, but he was a stranger. He took first one path, and then another, and glanced about him with eyes unused to the place. Here, then, was Arthur Noble, arrived. He passed along the path below the lily-bed, and I saw him well. He was a fine-looking fellow, sunburnt, like one who had seen foreign service, and handsome: physically handsomer than John, I could see, with more of the dash of gallantry and air of the grand gentleman, but with less of that something I have hinted at before, soul, spirituality—what shall I call it, my dears, to escape being smiled at? You have known John Hollingford, and you will recognise the charm that I mean, something that—sick, or afflicted, or disfigured, or aged—must always make him lovable, and attract the pure of heart to his side.

Well, Arthur Noble was of a different stamp. How he would have looked out of the sunshine of prosperity, I do not know; but he seemed made to be gilt by it from head to foot. He had a pleasant face, sunny and frank, a high-bred, masterful air, and an amiable courtly manner. Physically he had all the fine points of a Saxon hero, fair hair, blue eyes, powerful frame. Yet, gay, and debonnair, and happy as he looked, I pitied him a little, going past to find Rachel. A little, not a great deal, for I judged him (wrongly, as it afterwards proved) to be one who would love lightly, and be easily consoled by a world whose darling he must be.

I saw their meeting, and John's aërial palace crumbled away into dust. There was no mistaking Rachel's face, the glow that transfigured it when she turned by chance and saw the figure advancing towards her. She sprang to meet him with hands extended, gown tucked aside as it was, and visibly flying feet; and he, striding on, opened his arms to receive her, and folded them reverently about her, like a true knight embracing his bride.

"And what about John?" I said angrily, as I watched the two walking up and down between the roses, talking as eagerly and joyously as if they had just received a charter for perpetual happiness.

That was a dull evening for some of us at the Hall. Rachel and her betrothed sat apart and talked. Grace played chess with Mr. Hill, and, to escape from Captain Tyrrell, I kept close to Mrs. Hill.

"I am quite in a dilemma, my dear," she whispered to me. "There is young Hollingford, who has been coming about the Hall so much, and will be coming about; and then here is Arthur Noble; and you know, my dear, or perhaps you do not know that there has been a deadly feud between their fathers. They were once friends; but poor Mr. Hollingford—you know all about him, and Sir Arthur Noble was a heavy loser. Sir Arthur is very vindictive, I must say. I do not think his son is of the same temper, but it might be unpleasant, their meeting. Mr. Hill, who is quite bewitched about young Hollingford, will say, 'Pooh pooh! let the lads meet and be friends;' but I am not at all so sure that there will not be an awkwardness. I declare I am quite at my wits' end."

I professed myself unable to give advice on this subject; and, indeed, I felt that I ought now to regard myself as a dying person, who has no further concern with the interests and people around me. I saw a reason why John Hollingford and Mr. Noble were not likely to be friends, even if their fathers had been brothers. And the little lady's petty grievance worried me. And all things troubled me, for in three days I was to leave Hillsbro' for London with the Tyrrells.


The next morning I set off for a solitary walk to the farm. I was going to ask of Mrs. Hollingford formal permission for my visit to London, and to say good-bye to her and the girls. I cried sadly to myself walking over the happy moor and through the wood. I felt unutterably lonely and wobegone. I was going to part from my only friends, and the separation was at hand. I knew that Mrs. Hollingford would blame me, and I felt it hardly worth my while to defend myself. I had quarrelled with John, and broken our engagement. I was going to London with gayer friends. Everything was against me; all the wrong seemed mine. I knew that the dear old lady would say little, only look sad and disappointed, thinking in her heart that things were turning out as she had prophesied; would give me full permission to go where I pleased, and do what I pleased; would kiss and bless me; and then I should have the wide world before me.

It was a radiant May day. A saint has said that "peace is the tranquillity of order;" and such a peace brooded over the happy farm as I crossed its sunny meadows, heard the bleating of its lambs, the lowing of its kine, met its labourers coming and going. An idler was piping somewhere in the fields, the rooks were cawing, the leaves on the boughs just winked in the breeze, the Hall door lay open as usual. I did not see a soul about, and I walked in without summoning anyone. I opened the parlour door; the place smelt of May and myrtle, and there were fresh roses in the jars, but there was no one there. No one in the kitchen, dairy, still-room; the maids were abroad this glorious noon. I went upstairs, looking for a face in vain till I came to our school-room. There was Jane alone, sitting at the table over some books, her head between her hands, her hair thrust back from her face, looking older and paler and thinner since I had seen her; a stern, sad-looking young student, with her back to the sun that burned upon the lattice.

Her face turned scarlet when she saw me, and then became paler than before. She gave me her hand coldly, as if she would rather have held it by her side. Her mother was out, she said; had gone to visit at a poor house where there was death and trouble, and would not be home till evening. Mopsie had taken the dogs for a ramble. Then we both sat down and were silent, and Jane's eyes wandered over everything in the room, but would not meet mine.

"I am going to London, Jane," I said, "and I came to bid you good-bye."

"I know," she said. "John told me." And she blushed again fiercely. "I am very glad. I have thought for a long time that London was the place that would suit you best. I knew you would soon tire of the farm."

"I have not tired of the farm," I said, "but the farm has tired of me."

She glanced up amazed, then smiled bitterly, and turned aside her head without speaking, as if such utter nonsense could not be thought worthy of an answer.

"However," I added, "I did not come here to talk about that—"

"No," she interrupted hastily, "it is not worth your while to make any pretence to us. We do not expect to have friends; we never thought of it till you came. In time we shall get used to the curse our father left upon us."

"Jane, Jane," I said angrily, "how can you be so wicked?"

"How can I help being wicked?" she asked. "I heard that it was prophesied of us that we should all turn out badly, because ill conduct runs in the blood."

"You do not deserve to have such a mother," I said.

"Oh! my mother!" she said in an altered tone. "But she has given all her sweetness to Mopsie, and—to John," she added, with an effort, a tear starting in her eye. "But I am my father's daughter. She would cure me too, if she knew of my badness; but she is a saint, and thinks no evil. I work hard at my books, and she calls me a good industrious girl. I will never pour out my bitterness on her. But if my father were here I would let him know what he has done."

The hopeless hardness of her young voice smote me with pain, but I could think of nothing to say to her. I felt that she thought I had been false to John, and that her sympathy for him had stirred all the latent bitterness of her nature.

"And how is the young lady at the Hall?" she asked suddenly.

"Do you mean Miss Leonard?" I said.

"Oh, yes—Miss Leonard," said Jane, dropping her eyes on the floor with a strange look.

"Very well," I answered, thinking of the jubilee that was going on at the Hall.

"There is more wickedness in the world than mine," said Jane still frowning at the carpet. "She is false, and you are false—every one is false. I only know of two grand souls in the world—my mother and John. But the wicked ones will prosper, see if they don't—those who are gay and charming, at least. Bad ones like me go down like a stone, and lie at the bottom."

At this moment an eager treble voice was heard on the stairs, and the next Mopsie and I were crying, with our heads together, on the lobby.

"Oh, Margery, Margery!" sobbed the little one—"dear, darling, sweet Margery! why are you going away? You promised you would always stay. Oh, oh, Margery!"

An hour passed before I could tear myself away from the child. Jane prepared luncheon, which was not eaten; but she did not attempt to share in our sorrow and caresses. When I turned from the door Mopsie was prostrate, weeping on the mat; and Jane was standing upright in the doorway, straight, stern, and pale. So I went sorrowing back to the Hall. And I had not seen Mrs. Hollingford.

Had I seen her that day, had her errand of mercy not taken her away from her home and kept her away while I stayed, the whole current of my life and of the lives of others might have been changed. She would then have had no reason to come and visit me the next morning at the Hall, as she did.

I was busy packing in my own room, enlivening my work by humming gay airs, just to make-believe to myself that I was very merry at the prospect of my visit to London. The door opened quickly, and Rachel came in, walking on tiptoe, with her hand to her lips in trepidation. Her face was as pale as snow, and large tears stood in her eyes.

"My mother, my mother!" she said like one talking in her sleep. "I have seen my mother."

"What do you mean, Rachel?" I cried quite panic-stricken; for I thought that her mother was dead, and she must have seen a ghost.

"My mother—Mrs. Hollingford; you know her; you are her true daughter; I am nobody—a liar, an outcast. Oh, Margery! she did not know me. Am I changed? I was a child then. And she!—how sunken her eyes are, and dim!—she did not know me. 'And this is Miss Leonard!' she said; and I hung my false face, and curtsied from the distance, and ran away. Oh, my mother! Margery, Margery!"

The strange confused words passed like light into my brain. First the room grew dark, and then so bewilderingly bright, that I could see nothing. But presently Rachel's white face, with its piteous look came glimmering towards me. I stretched out both my hands to her, but she melted from my touch; what colour of life remained in her face faded away from it, and she fell in a swoon at my feet.


A messenger came to my door to tell me that Mrs. Hollingford was waiting to see me. Rachel, restored to her senses, was lying upon my bed with her face hidden on my hands.

"Rachel," I said, "I must go to her; but before I go tell me, assure me, that what you have said is true, that you are truly the daughter of Mrs. Hollingford."

"I am truly her daughter, Mary Hollingford," said Rachel (for I cannot but still call her Rachel); "I am John's sister. That is the secret I wanted to tell you one night, when you were jealous. But you would not listen. I have more, much more, to tell you; but go now. One thing I beg you to promise me—that you will tell her you have changed your mind about going to London. Let the Tyrrells go, and stay you with me—oh, stay with me! I want you so badly; and, now that I have once spoken, I will trust you with everything—all my wickedness and weakness, all my troubles and difficulties."

She spoke entreatingly, and her tears fell over my hands as she kissed them.

"I will stay," I said; and the sun began to dance on the walls, it seemed. "I will help you all I can; and, oh, how glad I shall be to let the Tyrrells go without me!"

And then I went down-stairs.

I found my dear old lady looking very sad and worn and anxious. I threw myself into her arms and sobbed on her neck.

"What is this, my love?" she said. "Is it a mistake, after all? And whose is the fault? Is it yours, or is it John's?"

"Mine—mine," I cried. "And I am not going to London. But you must not tell John this, because he might think—"

"Think what?" she said smiling.

"Oh, I don't know; but you must only tell him that I have deferred my visit because Miss Leonard," I choked a little over the word, "has pressed me to remain here longer."

She went away smiling and satisfied, and I went wondering back to my room to hear Rachel's story.

I found her standing, as pale as a ghost, at my window, which commanded a view of the approach to the house. Looking over her shoulder, I saw Mrs. Hollingford's black robe disappearing among the trees.

"Now, Rachel," I said—"now for your story. I have done what you bid me. I am going to stay with you. Trust me with everything, I am full of anxiety and wonder."

But at that moment a messenger came to the door seeking Miss Leonard. Mr. Noble was waiting for her to walk with him.

Rachel flushed at the summons.

"Do not go; send him word that you are engaged—what can it matter?" I said eagerly.

"No, no," said Rachel confusedly. "You must excuse me now, Margery. I must go. Have patience with me, dear," she added wistfully. "I will come to your room to-night."

And she went away sadly.

She came to me that night surely. She asked me to put out the lights, and crouching on a low seat by the fire, she told me her story.

"Do not ask me to look in your face till I have done," she said, "but let me hold your hand, and whenever you are too much disgusted and sickened with me to hear me any longer draw away your hand, that I may know."

Poor Rachel! that was what she said in beginning. I will tell you her history as nearly as possible in the way that she related it, but I cannot now recollect, and it were useless to repeat one half the bitter words of self-condemnation which she used.

When quite a little girl (she said) I was sent to a school in Paris. Oh, why did my mother send me so early from her side? It was a worldly school—worldly to the last degree. I learned chiefly to think that in proportion as my father was honoured and wealthy, my friends gay and extravagant, just so were my chances of happiness in life. I had handsome clothes and rich presents, and I was a great favourite.

There was a lady, a friend of my father's, who lived in Paris, and who had liberty to take me for holidays to her house as often as she pleased. She made a pet of me, and I spent at least half my time in her carriage or her salon. She had charming toilettes prepared for me, which I was enchanted to wear. Thus I was early introduced to the gay world of Paris, and learned its lessons of folly and vanity by heart. I can remember myself dressed like a fantastic doll, flitting from one room to another, listening to the conversation of the ladies and admiring their costumes. Every summer I came home for a time, but I found home dull after Paris, and I was rather in awe of my mother's grave face and quiet ways. She always parted with me against her will—I knew that—but it was my father's wish that I should have a Parisian education.

I was just seventeen, on the point of leaving school, bewitched by vanity and arrogance and the delights of the world, when the dreadful news came—you know—about my father, his ruin and disgrace. The effect on me was like nothing you could enter into or conceive. I think it deprived me even of reason, such reason as I had. I had nothing in me—nothing had ever been put in me—to enable me to endure such a horrible reverse.

My mother had written to that friend, the lady I have mentioned, begging her to break the news to me. She, however, was on the point of leaving Paris for her country château, and simply wrote to madame, the mistress of my school, transferring the unpleasant task to her. She sent her love to me, and assured me she was very sorry, desolée, that she could not delay, to pay me a visit. I have never seen her since.

And so the whole school knew of my fall and disgrace as soon as I learned it myself. The first thing I did when I understood the full extent of my humiliation was to seize my hat and cloak, and rush out of the house with the intention of never coming back, never being seen again by anyone who had known me. But after walking Paris for several hours, and getting two or three rough frights through being alone and unprotected, I was overcome with fear and fatigue, and was obliged to return by evening, hungry, weary, and sullen, to the school.

I took it for granted that all the world would now be my enemy, and, determined not to wait to be shuffled off by my friends, I assumed at once an air of hauteur and defiance which estranged me from every one. My mother, my poor mother, wrote to me, begging me to be patient until she should find it convenient to bring me home. Patient! Oh dear, I did not know the meaning of the word! No, I would not go home; I would change my name and never willingly see again the face of one who knew me.

Every day I searched the papers, and soon saw an advertisement which I thought might suit me. An English lady in Paris required an English companion, "young, cheerful, and well-educated." Without losing a moment I went straight to the hotel where the lady lived, saw her, pleased her; she was good, kind Mrs. Hill.

I gave her an assumed name, the first that entered my head, and referred her to madame, at my pension. When I returned home I said:

"Madame, I have two hundred francs here in my desk; they shall be yours if you will not undeceive a lady who is coming here to assure herself that I am respectable and well-educated, and that I am Miss Leonard, an orphan, and of an honourable family."

Madame coloured and hesitated; she was surprised at my audacity; but I knew that she had bills coming due just then, and that she was extravagant. We, her pupils, had talked over these things. She hesitated, but in the end agreed to oblige her dear child, who had been to her so good and so profitable a pupil. Perhaps she thought I acted with the consent of my mother, that it was not her affair, and that Providence had sent her my little offering to help her to pay her just debts.

Mrs. Hill came the next day; a word satisfied her, and she only stayed about three minutes. She was preparing to leave Paris for Rome, and had many affairs to attend to in the meantime. She urged me to come to her without delay, and in a few hours I was established under her roof.

I was then quite unaware that I had omitted to mention Mrs. Hill's name or address to madame, and that madame had forgotten, or had not been sufficiently interested in the matter to ask it. As I said before, I think it is likely that madame believed I acted with the consent of my friends, and that she had no further concern in the matter. Indeed, indeed, I had then no idea of deserting my mother altogether. I was hurried along by impulse, and I intended, when the hurry of action should be over, to write and tell her of all I had done. I little thought that when I quitted my school that day, without leaving behind me the name and address of my new protector, I cut away the only clue by which it might be possible my mother should find me in the future. I did not know that I should afterwards deliberately turn my back upon her, and hide myself from her.

Arthur Noble dined with us on that very first evening of my acquaintance with the Hills. You know that I have been long engaged to Arthur, and I will speak to you freely about him. He has often told me since that he liked me from the first moment he saw me. I felt it even that evening; though I could not believe in it. But the possibility of it dazzled and bewildered me, so powerful was the fascination he possessed for me.

When I went to bed that night I felt my heart strangely softened and opened. I thought a great deal about my mother and my home, of which I knew so little, and for the first time feared that I had done very wrong, and resolved to write to my mother surely on the morrow. I felt myself to be an impostor and a liar, and I trembled, thinking of her just anger at my falsehood and cowardice. I felt that when writing to her I must make up my mind to confess to Mrs. Hill that I had deceived her respecting my name and condition, and bribed my schoolmistress to deceive her also. I knew that my mother would not tolerate the deceit; but the thought of the confession was insufferable to me.

The next day, while we sat together, Mrs. Hill talked to me about Arthur Noble. He was a great pet of hers, and at present she was particularly interested in his circumstances. He had a cousin in England who was a great heiress, and whom his father wanted him to marry. Arthur disliked the idea extremely; and as the lady was supposed to be very well inclined towards him, he was anxious to avoid danger by prolonging his tour abroad. He had arranged to go on to Rome with them, the Hills; but only yesterday, his father, Sir Arthur Noble, had met him in Paris, urging him to give up the project, and return at once to England. He, Sir Arthur, had lost heavily by the failure and bad conduct of a London banker—a gentleman who had been his personal friend. My heart beat thickly as I heard her say this; but I did not dare to ask the name of that banker. In the midst of my dismay, Arthur Noble came in to assure Mrs. Hill that he still intended to be of the party to Rome. His father's ill-humour would subside by and by. He was only a little upset by the shocking conduct of his friend Mr. Hollingford. Then Mrs. Hill asked questions on the subject, and I sat by stitching at my embroidery while Arthur described my father's disgrace.

My letter to my mother was not written that day. In the afternoon we went out, and in the excitement of shopping I tried to forget everything—who I was, what I was, what I had done, and what I ought to do. In the evening Arthur Noble appeared again, and with him came his father. Sir Arthur and Mr. Hill conversed apart, but I could hear the fiery old baronet giving vent to his anger against my father. Arthur devoted himself to Mrs. Hill and me. I was bewildered and distracted at the position in which my rash conduct had placed me, and I was very silent. Arthur exerted himself to amuse me, and under the spell of his attractions my remorse was smothered.

I have not spoken to you yet of the wonderful affection which Mrs. Hill lavished on me. You have seen it lately, but it was the same from the first. She made me her daughter at once, as far as her conduct to me could do so, though I had been some months her companion before she declared her intention of formally adopting me.

Day followed day, and Arthur was always by my side. A new feverish dream of happiness encompassed me, and it was only in the quiet of wakeful nights that I thought of my mother and sisters and brother, and longed to hear some news of my sorrowful home. Every night my wrestlings with my selfish nature grew weaker and weaker. I could not risk exposure and banishment from Arthur's presence. I left Paris for Rome without writing to my mother.

You will hate me, Margery. I hate myself. I gave myself up to the delight of the hour, and in selfish happiness drowned the reproaches of my conscience, till I told myself at last that it was too late to undo what I had done. Time flew, and I became engaged to Arthur, secretly at first, for he dreaded his father's displeasure. We went from place to place, staying a few months here and a few months there. We spent a year at Rome, and Arthur was with us nearly all the time. When we had been some time engaged, Arthur confided in his father, and asked his consent to our marriage. Sir Arthur was hopelessly enraged at the idea, and, as we could not marry without his consent, we have been obliged to be patient ever since. Arthur has always kept telling me that he knew his father would relent in time. And he was right. The time has come. Sir Arthur has at last reluctantly withdrawn his opposition, and we may be married on any day in the future which I may choose to name.

Stay, stay! do not ask me any questions, or I shall not be able to go on. Let me tell you everything before I stop. I used to dream that when I was married to Arthur, when no power on earth could separate us, I would confess who I was, seek out my mother, and ask her forgiveness. Remorse never left me, and I had bitterness in the midst of my happiness. Arthur suspected that I had trouble which I would not share with him, yet I could not bring myself to confess, so great was my fear of being parted from him.

Some time before that evening when I first met you in London, I went to see some friends of Arthur's. During that time, for several months, I had not seen Mr. or Mrs. Hill; but in the meanwhile Mrs. Hill had written to me of their intention of coming here to Hillsbro', saying that Mr. Hill's new agent had written such cheerful accounts of the estate, that he felt a longing to be on the spot, giving encouragement to the improvements which were going forward. She did not mention the name of the new agent, and it was only on that evening when I first met you, when with shame and bitter self-reproach I heard you defend my poor mother so valiantly, it was only then I knew that the agent was my brother, and that I was actually coming to live within a few miles of my deserted home.

My first thought was that now, indeed, the time for making all the crooked things straight had come; but, oh Margery, you cannot imagine, one like you never could imagine anything so wickedly weak as I am. The old bugbear of our family disgrace, the old terror of Arthur's throwing me off in disgust, rose up again with all their former strength, and I came here torn by conflicting feelings. You saw my meeting with John. The next day, when he came here to dine, I found an opportunity of telling him my story. He was very severe with me at first, though not so much so as I deserved; but he forgave me at last, on condition that I would make up my mind to be honest with every one, let the consequences be what they might. I promised this; but again and again my courage has failed. He has been so good, so kind, so patient with me. He told me of my mother, of the children, of you, and, oh, how he chafed at the thought of what you would feel about the affair. Every time we met he reproached me with my cowardice and delay, and I made fresh promises; but Arthur's letters invariably broke down my courage and destroyed my resolutions. Again and again John has asked me to allow him to tell you who I was, but I would not suffer it. I could see no reason for humbling myself sooner to you than to anyone else, until one day it flashed on me that you were jealous of me. Then, after a hard struggle, I came to you to tell my story. You repulsed me, you even assured me that the Tyrrells were your best friends. I was glad of the excuse to spare myself and my secret. And so it has gone on. Latterly John has scarcely spoken to, hardly looked at me. I think he has given me up. I know not what he means to do, but I think he means to let me have my own way. I think I should have been silent to the last, but that I saw my mother to-day. I saw her! I saw her!

"And now you will tell her all—everything," I said, squeezing her hands, while the tears were raining down my face.

"Margery, Margery!" cried Rachel, "how can I give up Arthur? Here he has come to me after these years of waiting, and presses me to name a day for our marriage, and I am to meet him with a story like this! He would despise me."

"I think," said I, "that if he be a generous man he will forgive you. After loving you so long, he will not give you up so easily. And your mother," I added. "Think of all she has suffered. Is she worth no sacrifice?"

"She never knew me," said Rachel gloomily, "and she will be happier never to know me. She could not have smiled as she did to-day if she had not forgotten that I ever existed."

"That is a selfish delusion," I said. "If your mother never knew you, it is plain, at least, that you have never known her. Such a woman could not forget her child. You cannot think that she has not sought for you, and mourned for you, all these years?"

"Oh no," said Rachel, with another burst of sorrow, "John has told me. They searched, they advertised, they suffered agony, and feared every terrible thing, till at last they were obliged to soothe one another by trying to think me, by speaking of me as, dead. Little Mopsie thinks I am dead. So it has been, and so it must be."

"So it must not be," I persisted, and I fought with her all night. The dawn was in the room before she got up to leave me, pale, and worn, and weary, but promising that she would make yet one more great struggle with herself to break the chain of deceit with which one rash falsehood had so strongly bound her.


I had the happiness of seeing my friends the Tyrrells depart for London without me. I think they were both, brother and sister, somewhat tired of my inconsistencies and vagaries, and I daresay they felt as little sorrow at parting as I did.

The long hot days of summer followed one another in a slow wandering fashion. No news reached us from the farm. I had vaguely hoped that John would come and speak to me again; but we neither saw him nor heard from him. Mr. Hill was from home during these days, and there was no necessity for John to present himself amongst us, though there might have been many an opportunity if he had cared to seek one. All the light short nights I lay awake, wondering what was going to become of my life.

And Rachel? Was she mindful of the promise she had given me on that night? Alas! no, my dears. She was absorbed in her Arthur. They went here and there together; they were ever side by side, dreaming away the time; seeming lost to every one else in their happiness. I should have thought that Rachel had forgotten all her confession to me, all that had passed between us on the subject, but for a piteous look which she gave me now and again when no one was by.

At last an early day was fixed for the marriage, and a wonderful trousseau came down from London for Rachel. The pretty things were hardly looked at by her, and packed away out of sight. Then I saw that two warring spirits were striving within Rachel. The colour left her face, she grew thin, she started and trembled at a sudden word or noise. Sometimes in the middle of the summer nights, just as the earliest birds were beginning to stir, she would come into my room and throw herself weeping across my bed. But I dared not speak to her then. She would not tolerate a word. And so she took her way.

One morning Arthur went off to explore some place alone—a most unusual event. I was in my own room when Rachel came in to me, suddenly and quickly, and very pale.

"Come," she said, "come now, I have got courage to go this moment, but I must not delay. Come, come!"

"Where are you going," I asked.

"You know well," she said impatiently; "to my mother. See, I am taking nothing valuable with me."

She had on a calico morning dress, and plain straw hat. She had taken the ear-rings out of her ears, the rings off her fingers.

I was ready in an instant, and we went off through the wood together. I did not attempt to ask her what she meant to do; she was not in a mood for answering questions. She took my hand as we walked, and held it tightly, and we went along as children do when they are going through the green wood in quest of May flowers, only our steps were more fearful, and our faces paler than children's are wont to be. We went on very silently and bravely, till we were about half-way, deep in the wood, when a cheerful shout came across our ears, and there was a swaying and crackling of bushes; and Arthur Noble's handsome genial face and stalwart figure confronted us on the path.

"Maids a-Maying!" he said. "A pretty picture, on my word. Whither be you bound, fair ladies, and will you accept the services of a true knight-errant?"

Rachel's hand had turned cold in mine. "We are going to the farm to visit Mrs. Hollingford," I said stoutly, "and as you are not acquainted with the lady you had better go home alone, and amuse Mrs. Hill till we come back."

"Ah! but I do not like that arrangement at all," said Arthur. "Why should the lady at the farm not receive me? Has anyone been giving me a bad character? Speak, Rachel, may I not go with you?"

"I cannot go any further," said Rachel; "I am not well." And indeed she looked ill.

"Rest a little," I said pitilessly, "and by and by you will be able to go on."

But Arthur, all alarmed, looked at me with surprise and reproach, drew Rachel's hand within his own, and began walking slowly towards the Hall. I followed, with no company but my reflections, which were odd enough; and so ended this adventure.

And now what I think the most startling occurrence of my story has got to be related, and, when it is told, all will be pretty nearly finished.

It was arranged that the wedding should be very private. Sir Arthur, although he had reluctantly withdrawn his opposition, had refused to be present at the marriage, therefore, no other guests were invited. The eve of the day arrived, and I had spent the forenoon in decorating the little church with white flowers. Early in the morning Rachel and Arthur, with Mr. and Mrs. Hill and myself, were to proceed thither, and an hour later the husband and wife were to depart on their life's adventure together.

I remember the kind of evening it was. There was a great flush in the sky, and a great glow on the earth, that made the garden paths hot to the tread, and crisped up the leaves of the full-blown roses. There was a rare blending of heaven and earth in lovely alluring distances, and a luscious odour of sweet ripe things athirst for rain. The drawing-room windows were thrown up as high as they would go, and it was cooler within than without. Upstairs the bride's trunks were packed, and the white robe was spread out in state, waiting its moment. We were all in the drawing-room, Mr. and Mrs. Hill variously unoccupied, Rachel and Arthur sitting together before a window. In another window I was down on my knees leaning my elbows on the open sash, and gazing out on the idealised world of the hour in a kind of restful reverie, which held the fears and pains and unsatisfied hopes of my heart in a sweet thrall, even as the deep-coloured glory that was abroad fused into common beauty all the rough seams and barren places of the unequal land. Suddenly out of the drowsy luxury of stillness there came a quick crushing sound, flying feet on the gravel, and a dark slim figure dashed through the light. Whose was the figure? I could not be sure till I sprang with a shock to my feet, and went to the window where Rachel and Arthur were sitting. Then there was no mistake about it. Here was Jane Hollingford, suddenly arrived.

She stood strangely at the window, with one foot on the low sash, so that she could look searchingly into the room. She had on no bonnet or hat, and the dust of the road was in her hair; it was also white, up to the knees, on her black dress. She was quite breathless, and looked sick and faint with over-running. But there was Jane's wild spirit shining as strong as ever out of her black eyes. She drew breath a moment and looked eagerly into the room with a half-blinded searching look out of the dazzling light into the shade. Then her eyes fell on Rachel, and she spoke, and said a few words which electrified us all.

"Mary Hollingford," she said; "come home. Your father is dying, and he wants to see you."

Mr. and Mrs. Hill came to the window to see what it was. We were all silent from surprise for about a minute. Then Rachel rose trembling.

"Sit still, my love," said Arthur; "it is only a mad gipsy girl." And Jane was not unlike a gipsy.

"Come, come!" cried Jane, stamping her foot with impatience, not vouchsafing even a look at Arthur. "Come, or you will be too late; there is not a moment to lose."

I think Mrs. Hill's voice piped shrill exclamations at my ear, but I remember nothing that she said. Mr. Hill, who knew Jane by appearance, was speechless. Arthur had risen, and stood by Rachel, looking amazedly from her to Jane, and from Jane to her. Rachel turned on him a grievous look which I have never forgotten, and pushed him from her with both her hands back into the room. Then she glanced at me with a mute entreaty, and I stepped with her out of the window, and we went across the lawn and through the trees, and away along all the old tracks to the farm, following Jane, who, knowing we were behind her, flew like the wind, without once looking back. We soon lost her, for we often paused to pant and lean against one another for a moment's respite in this strange memorable race. We did not speak, but I looked at Rachel, and she was like a poor lily soiled and crushed by the storm, with her white dress trailing through the dust, and her satin shoes torn on her feet. But that was nothing. We reached the farmhouse. There was some one moving to meet white dishevelled, quivering Rachel. There was a cry, smothered at once in the awful hush of the place, and Rachel fell, clasping her mother's knees. I left them alone. What sobbings and whisperings, what confession and forgiveness followed, God and his angels heard.

I went blindly into the hall, knowing nothing of what I did. I met John coming to me. I had no words. I stretched out my hands to him. He took them, took me in his arms, and that was our reconciliation.

That night we were all present at a death-bed. It was only bit by bit that I learned the story of how the dying man came to be there. The poor erring father, reduced to want, and smitten by disease, had crept back in the disguise of a beggar to ask the charity of his deserted wife and children, and to breathe his last sigh among loving forgiving hearts. It was Jane, stern Jane, who had denounced him so cruelly, cherished such bitter resentment against him; it was Jane, who had happened, of a summer evening in her mother's absence, to open the door to his knock, had taken him into her arms and into her heart, had nursed him, caressed him, watched and prayed with him. So that was the end of poor Jane's hardness of heart. It was all washed away in tears at her father's death-bed. The last trace of it vanished at sight of Rachel's remorse.

My dear Mrs. Hollingford, my sweet old mother! These two shocks well nigh caused her death; but when she had nobly weathered the storm she found a daughter whom she had mourned as lost, living and breathing and loving in her arms, and her brave heart accepted much comfort.

And what about those three kind souls whom we left in such sudden consternation by the open window in the drawing-room at the Hall? Why, of course, they came to inquire into the mystery. I was the one who had to tell them Rachel's story, as kindly and delicately as I might. You will be glad, my children, to know that they made very little of their darling's fault. Mr. Hill was somewhat grave over the matter, but Mrs. Hill would not allow a word of blame to be uttered against her pet. She urged, she invented a hundred excuses; good, kind soul. As for Arthur Noble, he readily discerned love for himself as the cause of her unwilling desertion of others. His nature was large enough to appreciate the worth of my John and his mother. As he had been willing, he said, to wed Rachel friendless, so was he now more willing to wed Rachel with friends whom he could love. So the beloved culprit was tried and acquitted, and after many days had passed, and the poor father had been laid in the earth, a chastened Rachel was coaxed back to her lover's side, and, I have no doubt, told him her own story in her own way.

But old Mr. Hill was, to my mind, the most sensible of them all, who said to his wife: "They may say what they please, sweetheart, but, to my thinking, the lad, John, is by far the flower of the Hollingford flock!" And the fine old gentleman proved his good-will after years had passed that were then to come. When called upon to follow his wife, who died before him, he bequeathed the Hillsbro' estate to my husband.

Rachel (he always called her Rachel) and Arthur went to live in Paris. Jane married a great doctor of learning, and found her home in London; and Mopsie made a sweet little wife for a country squire, and stayed among the roses and milk-pans.

For John and me, our home was the farm, till fortune promoted us to the Hall. Thither the dear mother accompanied us, and there she died in my arms. There, also, at last, my husband. And now, my darlings, your father, my son, is the owner of Hillsbro' and the Hall is your own happy home.

And the old woman has returned to the farm.