GIRLHOOD and WOMANHOOD
The Story of some Fortunes and Misfortunes
BY SARAH TYTLER
AUTHOR OF "PAPERS FOR THOUGHTFUL GIRLS," "CITOYENNE JACQUELINE," ETC. ETC.
LONDON WM. ISBISTER, LIMITED 56, LUDGATE HILL 1883
PAGE I. CAIN'S BRAND, 1
ON THE MOOR, 1
THE ORDEAL, 16
"HE LAY DOWN TO SLEEP ON THE MOORLAND SO DREARY," 29
MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE, 37
II. ON THE STAGE AND OFF THE STAGE, 62
THE "BEAR" AT BATH, 62
LADY BETTY ON THE STAGE, 72
MISTRESS BETTY BECOMES NURSE, 77
MASTER ROWLAND GOES UP TO LONDON, 86
MISTRESS BETTY TRAVELS DOWN INTO SOMERSETSHIRE, 90
BETWEEN MOSELY AND LARKS' HALL, 96
III. A CAST IN THE WAGGON, 108
DULCIE'S START IN THE WAGGON FOR HER COMPANY, 108
TWO LADS SEEK A CAST IN THE WAGGON, 113
REDWATER HOSPITALITY, 122
OTHER CASTS FOLLOWING THE CAST IN THE WAGGON, 134
DULCIE AND WILL, AT HOME IN ST. MARTIN'S LANE, 151
SAM AND CLARISSA IN COMPANY IN LEICESTER SQUARE, 158
STRIPS SOME OF THE THORNS FROM THE HEDGE AND THE GARDEN ROSES, 161
IV. ADAM HOME'S REPENTANCE, 167
WILD, WITTY NELLY CARNEGIE, 167
A GALLANT REBUFFED.—NELLY'S PUNISHMENT, 172
A MOURNFUL MARRIAGE EVE, 177
NELLY CARNEGIE IN HER NEW HOME, 179
NELLY'S NEW PASTIMES, 185
THE LAIRD CONSCIENCE-SMITTEN, 186
BLESSING AND AFFLICTION.—ADAM HOME'S RETURN, 192
THE RECONCILIATION AND RETURN TO STANEHOLME, 197
V. HECTOR GARRET OF OTTER, 202
THE FIRE, 202
THE OFFER, 211
THE NEW HOME, 228
THE PAGES OF THE PAST, 236
THE MOTHER AND CHILD, 248
THE STORM, 259
VI. THE OLD YEOMANRY WEEKS, 268
THE YEOMEN'S ADVENT.—PRIORTON SPRUCES ITSELF UP, 268
A MATCH-MAKER'S SCHEME, 275
A MORNING MEETING AND AN EVENING'S READING, 280
THE BALL, AND WHAT CAME OF IT, 293
VII. DIANA, 302
AN UNDERTAKING, 302
THE FULFILMENT, 311
THE LAST THROW, 323
VIII. MISS WEST'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE, 337
I.—ON THE MOOR.
Cain's brand! that is no fact of the far past, no legend of the Middle Ages, for are there not Cains among us; white-faced, haggard-featured Cains to the last? Men who began with a little injury, and did not dream that their gripe would close in deadly persecution? Cains who slew the spirit, and through the spirit murdered the body? Cains unintentionally, whom all men free from the stain of blood, and to whom in the Jewish economy the gates of the Cities of Refuge would have stood wide open, yet who are never again light of thought and light of heart? On their heads the grey is soon sprinkled, and in the chamber of their hearts is drawn a ghastly picture, whose freshness fades, but whose distinct characters are never obliterated.
Of this class of men, of hot passions, with rash advisers, who meditated wrong, but not the last wrong, victims of a narrow, imperious code of honour, only to-day expunged from military and social etiquette, was the Laird of the Ewes. Many of us may have seen such another—a tall, lithe figure, rather bent, and very white-headed for his age, with a wistful eye; but otherwise a most composed, intelligent, courteous gentleman of a laird's degree. Take any old friend aside, and he will tell, with respectful sympathy, that the quiet, sensible, well-bred Laird, has suffered agonies in the course of his life, though too wise and modest a man to hold up his heart for daws to peck at, and you will believe him. Look narrowly at the well-preserved, well-veiled exterior, and you will be able to detect, through the nicely adjusted folds, or even when it is brightened by smiles, how remorse has sharpened the flesh, and grief hollowed it, and long abiding regret shaded it.
Twenty years before this time, Crawfurd of the Ewes, more accomplished than many of the lairds, his contemporaries, and possessed of the sly humour on which Scotchmen pride themselves, had been induced to write a set of lampoons against a political opponent of his special chief. He was young then, and probably had his literary vanity; at least he executed his task to the satisfaction of his side of the question; and without being particularly broad and offensive, or perhaps very fine in their edge, his caricatures excited shouts of laughter in the parish, and in the neighbouring town.
But he laughs best who laughs last. A brother laird, blind with fury, and having more of the old border man in him than the Laird of the Ewes, took to his natural arms, and dispatched Mr. Crawfurd a challenge to fight him on the Corn-Cockle Moor. No refusal was possible then, none except for a man of rare principle, nerve, and temper. The Laird of the Ewes had no pretensions to mighty gifts; so he walked out with his second one autumn morning when his reapers were flourishing their sickles, met his foe, and though without the skill to defend himself, he shot his man right through the head. He was tried and acquitted. He was the challenged, not the challenger; he might have given the provocation, but no blame was suffered to attach to him. His antagonist, with a foreboding of his fate, or by way of clearing his conscience, as the knights used to confess of a morning before combat, had exonerated Mr. Crawfurd before he came upon the ground. The Court was strongly in his favour, and he was sent back to his family and property without anything more severe than commiseration; but that could never reach his deep sore.
How was this gentle, nervous, humorous Laird to look out upon the world, from which he had sent the soul of a companion who had never even harmed him? The widow, whom he had admired as a gay young matron, dwelt not a mile from him in her darkened dwelling; the fatherless boy would constantly cross the path of his well-protected, well-cared-for children. How bear the thousand little memories—the trifling dates, acts, words, pricking him with anguish? They say the man grew sick at the mere sight of the corn-cockle, which, though not plentiful on other moors, chanced to abound on this uncultivated tract, and bestowed on it its name; and he shivered as with an ague fit, morning after morning, when the clock struck the hour at which he had left his house. He did in some measure overcome this weakness, for he was a man of ordinary courage and extraordinary reserve, but it is possible that he endured the worst of his punishment when he made no sign.
The Laird was a man of delicate organism, crushed by a blow from which he could not recover. Had he lived a hundred years earlier, or been a soldier on active service, or a student walking the hospitals, he might have been more hardened to bloodshed. Had his fate been different, he might have borne the brunt of the offence as well as his betters; but the very crime which he was least calculated to commit and survive encountered him in the colours he had worn before the eventful day.
Yet there was nothing romantic about Crawfurd of the Ewes, or about the details of his deed, with one singular exception, and this was connected with his daughter Joanna. The rest of the family were commonplace, prosperous young people, honest enough hearts, but too shallow to be affected by the father's misfortune. The father's sour grapes had not set these children's teeth on edge. Joanna—Jack, or Joe, as they called her in sport—whom they all, without any idea of selfishness or injustice, associated with the Laird, as one member of the family is occasionally chosen to bear the burdens of the others,—Joanna was papa's right hand, papa's secretary, steward, housekeeper, nurse. It had always been so; Joanna had been set aside to the office, and no one thought of depriving her of it, any more than she dreamt of resigning it.
Joanna was the child born immediately after the duel, and on the waxen brow of the baby was a crimson stain, slight but significant, which two fingers might have covered. Was this the token of retribution—the threat of vengeance? The gossips' tongues wagged busily. Some said it was Cain's brand, "the iniquity of the fathers visited on the children;" others alleged more charitably that it ought to prove a sign in the Laird's favour, to have the symbol of his guilt transferred to a scape-goat—the brow of a child. However, the gossips need not have hidden the child's face so sedulously for the first few days from the mother. Mrs. Crawfurd took the matter quite peaceably, and was relieved that no worse misfortune had befallen her or her offspring. "Poor little dear!" it was sad that she should carry such a trace; but she daresayed she would outgrow it, or she must wear flat curls—it was a pity that they had gone quite out of fashion. It was the father who kissed the mark passionately, and carried the child oftenest in his arms, and let her sit longest on his knee; and so she became his darling, and learnt all his ways, and could suit herself to his fancies, and soothe his pains, from very youthful years. The public recognised this peculiar property of her father in Joanna, and identified her with the sorrowful period of his history. She was pointed out in connexion with the story—the tragedy of the county,—and she knew instinctively that there would be a whispered reference to her whenever it was told in society.
The Crawfurds had a cousin visiting them—an English cousin, Polly Musgrave—from the luxury and comparative gaiety of her rich, childless aunt's house in York. Polly was a well-endowed orphan, had no near family ties, and had been educated in the worldly wisdom and epicurean philosophy of a fashionable girls' school. She had come to spend a few weeks, and get acquainted with her Scotch country cousins. Polly had not found her heart, but it was to the credit of her sense and good-nature that she made the very best of a sojourn that had threatened to be a bore to her. She dazzled the girls, she romped with the boys, she entered with the greatest glee into rural occupations, rode on the roughest pony, saw sunset and sunrise from Barnbougle, and threatened to learn to milk cows and cut corn. She brought inconceivable motion and sparkle into the rather stagnant country house, and she was the greatest possible contrast to Joanna Crawfurd. Joanna was a natural curiosity to Polly, and the study amused her, just as she made use of every other variety and novelty, down to the poultry-yard and kitchen-garden at the Ewes.
The girls were out on the moor, in the drowsy heat of a summer day, grouped idly and prettily into such a cluster as girls will fall into without effort. Susan, the beauty—there is always a beauty among several girls—in languid propriety, with her nice hair, and her scrupulously falling collar and sleeves, and her blush of a knot of ribbon; Lilias, the strong-minded, active person, sewing busily at charity work, of which all estimable households have now their share; Constantia, the half-grown girl, lying in an awkward lump among the hay, intently reading her last novel, and superlatively scorning the society of her grown-up relatives; Joanna, sitting thoughtfully, stroking old Gyp, the ragged terrier, that invariably ran after either Joanna or her father; and Polly, who had been riding with Oliver, standing with her tucked-up habit, picturesque hat and feathers, smart little gentleman's riding-gloves and whip, and very espiegle face—a face surrounded by waves of silky black hair, with a clear pale skin, and good eyes and teeth, which Polly always declared were her fortune in the way of good looks; but her snub nose was neither of a vulgar nor coarse tendency—it was a very lively, coquettish, handsomely cut, irresistible cock nose.
If these girls on the moor had been tried in the fire heated seven times, it would not have been to the strong-minded, broad-chested, dark-browed Lilias that they would have clung. They would have come crouching in their extremity and taken hold of the skirt of round, soft, white Joanna, with the little notable stain on her temple.
Polly was detailing her adventures and repeating her news with a relish that was appetizing.
"We went as far as Lammerhaugh, when Oliver remembered that he had a commission for your father at Westcotes, just when my love, Punch, was broken off his trot, and promised to canter, and the morning was so fresh then—a jewel of a morning. It was provoking; I wanted Noll to continue absent in mind, or prove disobedient, or something, but you good folks are so conscientious."
"Duty first, and then pleasure," said Lilias emphatically.
"That was a Sunday-school speech, Lilias, and spoken out of school; you ought to pay a forfeit; fine her, Susie."
"Aren't you hot, Polly?" asked Susan, without troubling herself to take up the jest.
"Not a bit—no more than you are; I'm up to a great deal yet; I'll go to the offices and gather the eggs. No, I am warm though, and I don't want to be blowsy to-night; I think I'll go into the house to the bath-room, and have a great icy splash of a shower-bath."
"You'll hurt your health, Polly, for ever bathing at odd hours, as you do," remonstrated Joanna.
"All nonsense, my dear; I always do what is pleasantest, and it agrees with me perfectly. In winter, I do toast my toes; and you know I eat half-a-dozen peaches and plums at a time like a South Sea Islander, only I believe they feast on cocoa-nut and breadfruit; don't they, Conny? You are the scholar; you know you have your geography at your finger-ends yet."
"Oh, don't tease me, Polly!" protested Conny impatiently.
"Dear Jack, hand me a sprig of broom to stick in Conny's ear," persisted Polly in a loud whisper.
Constantia shook her head furiously, as if she were already horribly tickled, and that at the climax of her plot.
"Never mind, Conny, I'll protect you. What a shame, Polly, to spoil her pleasure!" cried Joanna indignantly.
"I beg your pardon, Donna Quixotina."
"I wonder you girls can waste your time in this foolish manner," lectured Lilias, with an air of superiority; "you are none of you better than another, always pursuing amusement."
"What a story, Lilias!" put in Polly undauntedly; "you know I sew yard upon yard of muslin-work, and embroider ells of French merino, and task myself to get done within a given time. Aunt Powis says I make myself a slave."
"Because you like it," declared Lilias disdainfully; "you happen to be a clever sewer, and you are fond of having your fingers busy and astonishing everybody—besides, you admire embroidery in muslin and cloth; and even your pocket-money—what with gowns and bonnets, tickets to oratorios and concerts, and promenades, and 'the kid shoes and perfumery,' which are papa's old-fashioned summing up of our expenses, bouquets and fresh gloves would be nearer the truth—won't always meet the claims upon your gold and silver showers; and Susan," added Lilias, not to be cheated out of her diatribe, and starting with new alacrity, "practising attitudes and looking at her hands; and Conny reading her trashy romances."
"It is not a romance, Lilias," complained Conny piteously; "it is a tale of real life."
"It is all the same," maintained the inexorable Lilias; "one of the most aggravating novels I ever read was a simple story."
"Oh, Lilias, do lend it to me!" begged Polly; "I'm not literary, but it is delightful to be intensely interested until the very hair rises on the crown of one's head."
"I don't know that you would like it," put in Joanna; "it is not one of the modern novels, and it has only one dismal catastrophe; it is the fine old novel by Mrs. Inchbald."
"Then I don't want it; I don't care for old things, since I have not a palate for old wines or an eye for old pictures. I hate the musty, buckram ghosts of our fathers."
"Oh! but Mrs. Inchbald never raised ghosts, Polly; she manoeuvred stately, passionate men and women of her own day."
"The wiser woman she. But they would be ghosts to me, Jack, unless they were in the costume of the present day; there is not an inch of me given to history."
"And you, Joanna," concluded Lilias, quite determined to breast every interruption and finish her peroration, "you have listened, and smiled, and frowned, and dreamt for an hour."
"I was waiting in case papa should want me," apologized Joanna, rather humbly.
"That need not have hindered you from hemming round the skirt of this frock."
"Oh, Lilias! I am sorry for you, girl," cried Polly. "You're in a diseased frame of mind; you are in a fidget of work; you don't know the enjoyment of idleness, the luxury of laziness. You'll spoil your complexion; your hair will grow grey; no man will dare to trifle with such a notable woman!"
"I don't care!" exclaimed Lilias bluntly and magnanimously. "I don't want to be trifled with; I don't value men's admiration."
"Now! Now!! Now!!! Now!!!!" protested Polly; "I don't value men's admiration either, of course, but I like partners, and I would not be fond of being branded as a strong-minded female, a would-be Lady Bountiful, a woman going a-tracking; that's what men say of girls who don't care to be trifled with. But, Lilias, are you quite sure you don't believe in any of the good old stories—the 'goody' stories I would call them if I were a man—of the amiable girl who went abroad in the old pelisse, and who was wedded to the enthusiastic baronet? My dears, you must have observed they were abominably untrue; the baronet, weak and false, always, since the world began, marries the saucy, spendthrift girl, who is prodigal in rich stuffs, and bright colours, and becoming fits, and neat boots and shoes—who thinks him worth listening to, and laughing with, and thinking about—the fool."
"Really, Polly, you are too bad," cried both Susan and Lilias at once; their stock-in-trade exhausted, and not knowing very well what they meant, or what they should suggest further if this sentence were not answer enough.
"Now, I believe Joanna does not credit the goody stories, or does not care for them, rather; but we are not all heroines, we cannot all afford an equal indifference."
Joanna coloured until the red stain became undistinguishable, and even Polly felt conscious that her allusion was too flippant for the cause.
"So you see, Lilias," she continued quickly, "I'm not the least ashamed of having been caught fast asleep in my room before dinner the other rainy day. I always curl myself up and go to sleep when I've got nothing better to do, and I count the capacity a precious gift; besides, I will let you into a secret worth your heads: it improves your looks immensely after you've been gadding about for a number of days, and horribly dissipated in dancing of nights at Christmas, or in the oratorio week, or if you are in a town when the circuit is sitting—not present as a prisoner, Conny."
"Polly!" blazed out Constantia, who, on the plea of the needle-like sharpness and single-heartedness which sometimes distinguishes her fifteen years, was permitted to be more plain-spoken and ruder than her sisters; "I hate to hear you telling of doing everything you like with such enjoyment. I think, if you had been a man, you would have been an abominable fellow, and you are only harmless because you are a girl."
Polly laughed immoderately. "Such a queer compliment, Conny!"
"Hold your tongue, Conny."
"Go back to your book; we'll tell mamma," scolded the elder girls; and Conny hung her head, scarlet with shame and consternation.
Conny had truth on her side; yet Polly's independence and animal delight in life, in this artificial world, was not to be altogether despised either.
Polly maintained honestly that the girl had done no harm. She was glad she had never had to endure senior sisters, and if she had been afflicted with younger plagues, she would have made a point of not snubbing them, on the principle of fair play.
"And you were a little heathenish, Polly," suggested Joanna, "not giving fair play to the heroism of the ancients."
But Susan had long been waiting her turn, testifying more interest in her right to speak than she usually wasted on the affairs of the state. She wished to cross-examine Polly on a single important expression, and although Susan at least was wonderfully harmless, her patience could hold out no longer.
"Why are you afraid of being blowsy to-night, Polly?"
"I'm not frightened, I would not disturb myself about a risk; but you've kept an invitation all this time under my tongue, not in my pockets, I assure you;" and Polly elaborately emptied them, the foppish breast pocket, and that at the waist.
"It is only from Mrs. Maxwell," sighed Susan; "we are never invited anywhere except to Hurlton, in this easy way."
"But there is company; young Mr. Jardine has come home to Whitethorn, and he is to dine with the Maxwells, and we are invited over to Hurlton in the evening lest the claret or the port should be too much for him."
The girls did not say "Nonsense!" they looked at each other; Joanna was very pale, the red stain was very clear now. At last Lilias spoke, hesitating a little to begin with, "It is so like Mrs. Maxwell—without a moment's consideration—so soon after his return, before we had met casually, as we must have done. I dare say she is sorry now, when she comes to think over it. I hope Mr. Maxwell will be angry with her—the provoking old goose," ran on Lilias, neither very reverently nor very gratefully for an excellent, exemplary girl.
"There is one thing, we can't refuse," said Susan with marvellous decision; "it would be out of the question for us to avoid him; it would be too marked for us to stay away."
"Read your book, Conny," commanded Lilias fiercely; "you were sufficiently intent upon it a moment ago; girls should not be made acquainted with such troubles."
"I don't want to be a bar upon you," cried the belated Conny, rising and walking away sulkily, but pricking her ears all the time.
"Joanna, you had better mention the matter to papa."
"Don't you think you're making an unnecessary fuss?" remarked Polly. "Of course, I remembered uncle's misfortune," she admitted candidly, "though none of you speak of it, and I noticed Oliver stammer dreadfully when Mrs. Maxwell mentioned Mr. Jardine; but I thought that at this time of day, when everybody knew there was no malice borne originally, and Uncle Crawfurd might have been killed, you might have been polite and neighbourly with quiet consciences. I tell you, I mean to set my cap at young Mr. Jardine of Whitethorn, and when I marry him, and constitute him a family connexion, of course the relics of that old accident will be scattered to the winds."
"Oh! Polly, Polly!" cried the girls, "you must never, never speak so lightly to papa."
"Of course not, I am not going to vex my uncle; I can excuse him, but Joanna need not look so scared. There is not such a thing as retribution and vengeance, child, in Christian countries; it is you who are heathenish. Or have you nursed a vain imagination of encountering Mr. Jardine, unknown to each other, and losing your hearts by an unaccountable fascination, and being as miserable as the principals in the second last chapter of one of Conny's three volumes? or were you to atone to him in some mysterious, fantastic, supernatural fashion, for the unintentional wrong? Because if you have done so, I'm afraid it is all mist and moonshine, poor Jack, quite as much as the twaddling goody stories."
"Polly," said Joanna angrily, but speaking low, "I think you might spare us on so sad a subject."
"I want you to have common sense; I want you to be comfortable; no wonder my uncle has never recovered his spirits."
"Indeed, Polly, I don't think you've any reason to interfere in papa's concerns."
"I don't see that you are entitled to blame Joanna," defended sister Lilias, stoutly;—Lilias, who was so swift to find fault herself.
"There, I'll say no more; I beg your pardon, I merely intended to show you your world in an ordinary light."
"Do you know, Polly, that Mrs. Jardine has never visited us since?" asked Susan.
"Very likely, she was entitled to some horror. But she is a reasonable woman. Mr. Maxwell told me—every third party discusses the story behind your backs whenever it chances to come up, I warn you—Mr. Maxwell informed me that she never blamed Uncle Crawfurd, and that she sent her son away from her because she judged it bad for him to be brought up among such recollections, and feared that when he was a lad he might be tampered with by the servants, and might imbibe prejudices and aversions that would render him gloomy and vindictive, and unlike other people for the rest of his life; she could not have behaved more wisely. I am inclined to suppose that Mrs. Jardine of Whitethorn has more knowledge of the world and self-command than the whole set of my relations here, unless, perhaps, my Aunt Crawfurd—she will only speculate on your dresses—that is the question, Susan."
"Would you not have liked to have gone with the other girls, Joanna? for Conny, she must submit to be a halflin yet. But is it not dull for you only to hear of a party? country girls have few enough opportunities of being merry," observed Mr. Crawfurd, with his uneasy consciousness, and his sad habit of self-reproach.
"Oh, Mr. Crawford, it would not have done—not the first time—Joanna had much better stay at home on this occasion. She is too well brought up to complain of a little sacrifice."
It is curious how long some wives will live on friendly terms with their husbands and never measure their temperaments, never know where the shoe pinches, never have a notion how often they worry, and provoke, and pain their spouses, when the least reticence and tact would keep the ship and its consort sailing in smooth water.
Mrs. Crawfurd would have half-broken her heart if Mr. Crawfurd had not changed his damp stockings; she would fling down her work and look out for him at any moment of his absence; she would not let any of her children, not her favourite girl or boy, take advantage of him; she was a good wife, still she did not know where the shoe pinched, and so she stabbed him perpetually, sometimes with fretting pin-pricks, sometimes with sore sword-strokes.
"My dear, I wish you were not a sacrifice to me." It is a heart-breaking thing to hear a man speak quite calmly, and like a man, yet with a plaintive tone in his voice. Ah! the old, arch spirit of the literary Laird of the Ewes had been shaken to its centre, though he was a tolerable man of business, and rather fond of attending markets, sales, and meetings.
"Papa, what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Joanna indignantly. "I am very proud to help you, and I go out quite as often as the others. Do you not know, we keep a card hung up on Lilias's window-shutter, and we write down every month's invitations—in stormy weather they are not many—and we fulfil them in rotation. You don't often want me in the evenings, for you've quite given me up at chess, and you only condescend to backgammon when it is mid-winter and there has been no curling, and the book club is all amiss. Lilias insists upon the card, because the parties are by no means always merry affairs, and she says that otherwise we would slip them off on each other, and pick and choose, and be guilty of a great many selfish, dishonourable proceedings."
"Lilias is the wise woman in the household. I'm aware there is a wise woman in every family—but how comes it that Lilias is the authority with us? It always rather puzzles me, Joanna; for when I used to implore Miss Swan to accept her salary, and pay Dominie Macadam his lawful demand of wages for paving the boys' brains in preparation for the High School, they always complimented me with the assurance that you were my clever daughter."
"Because they saw your weak side, I dare say, my dear," suggests Mrs. Crawfurd.
"No, I am the cleverest, papa; I am so deep that I see that it is easier to live under an absolute monarchy than to announce myself a member of a republic, and assert my prerogatives and defend my privileges—but I confess I have a temper, papa. Lilias says I am very self-willed, and I must grant that she is generally in the right."
"You don't feel satisfied with the bridle, child, till it gets into stronger hands."
"Yes, Joanna has a temper," chimed in Mrs. Crawfurd, pursuing her own thread of the conversation. "Strangers think her softer than Susan; but I have seen her violent, and when she takes it into her head, she is the most stubborn of the whole family. I don't mean to scold you, my dear; you are a very good girl, too, but you are quite a deception."
"Oh, mamma! what a character!" Joanna could not help laughing. "I must amend my ways."
Of course, Joanna was violent at times, as we imagine a sensitive girl with an abhorrence of meanness and vice, and she was stubborn when she was convinced of the right and her friends would assert the wrong. Mr. Crawfurd's idea was, that Joanna had a temper like Cordelia, not when she spoke in her pleased accents, "gentle, soft, and low," but when she was goaded into vehemence, as will happen in the best regulated palaces and households.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Crawfurd, five minutes afterwards, disturbing the cosy little party round the tea-table by her sudden air of distress. "Oh! dear, dear me! Susie has left her pearl sprigs behind her. There they are on the loo-table. My pearl sprigs, Mr. Crawfurd, that I used to wear when I was young; they have come in again for the hair, and Susie settled they were just the thing to give a more dressed look to her spring silk—these easy way parties are so ill to manage, and Polly was of the same mind, and she came in to show me the effect, for I always like to see the girls after they are dressed, and be satisfied how they look—and there she has forgotten the box, and she will appear quite a dowdy, and be so vexed."
"I don't think it will signify very much, mamma; Susan looks very well in her blue silk."
"But it is such a pity, Joanna; so unfortunate,—she only put them out of her hand for one moment, and you see there they are still;" and so Mrs. Crawfurd sounded the lamentation, and dwelt on its salient points, and ingeniously extracted new grounds of regret, till, by dint of repetition, in ten minutes more Mr. Crawfurd and Joanna were almost persuaded that Susan had sustained a serious loss.
"Send a servant with the foolery," proposed Mr. Crawfurd, seeking a little relief, and tolerably affronted at his interest in the question.
"I don't think it would do. Would it, Joanna? There is always such confusion at Hurlton when there is company? and then they have people dining. There would be a mistake, and my pearls are no joke, Mr. Crawfurd. They cost papa fifty pounds when they were so prettily set to go to Sir William's ball. Ah! you don't remember it. There would be a fuss, and Lilias would not like it. If Oliver had not been there at dinner, or Charlie had been at home—"
"Of the two evils choose the least," recommended Mr. Crawfurd, taking up his book.
"If you are very anxious, mamma," said Joanna, "as it is very early, and they set out to walk round by the garden at Houndswood to get some geraniums, which Polly saw yesterday, and set her heart upon; if you order out the ponies and Sandy, I think Conny and I could easily ride over to Hurlton, and deliver the little parcel to the girls in time. It would be a nice evening ride for us, since you are afraid that Conny hangs too much over her books."
"Thank you, dear; that is just like you, Joanna, you are so sensible and helpful, no wonder papa monopolizes you. I will be so glad that Susie has the pearls. Such a pity, poor dear! that her evening should be spoilt, and they lying ready to be put on. Conny? Yes, indeed, that girl will be getting spine complaint, or the rickets. In my day it was sewing in frames that twisted girls; but these books in the lap, the head poked forward, one shoulder up, and knees half as high as the shoulder, are a thousand times worse."
"Good luck to you, Jack. Now you deserve your name, since you constitute yourself groom of the chambers to your sisters."
Joanna laughed back to him. "Come and meet us, papa." And in the shortest interval given to tie on their hats and skirts, the girls were racing along to Hurlton.
In that moorland country, with outlying moorland fields where it was not primitive nature—in a large family like that of the Crawfurds, rough walking ponies swarmed as in Shetland. They were in constant request at the Ewes, and the girls rode them lightly and actively, with the table-boy, Sandy, at their heels, as readily as they walked. Perhaps Joanna was the least given to the practice, though she availed herself of it on this domestic occasion.
Joanna was a deception, as her mother said. She was a little, round, soft thing, whom you would have expected to flash over with sunshine. She was not a melancholy girl—as you may have been able to judge—and it was not her blame that anything in her position had developed her into a thoughtful, earnest character. But then she was always fancied younger than she really was; people supposed her as easy as her mother, while she could be vehement, and was firm to tenacity. Perhaps the reason of the puzzle might be, not only that she had a little of that constitutional indolence which serves to conceal latent energy, but that, in trifles, she did inherit, in a marked degree, the unexacting, kindly temper which causes the wheels of every-day life to turn easily. She allowed herself to be pushed aside. She accepted the fate or superstition which linked her with her father's sorrow; she was content, she thought, to suffer the dregs of his act with him; she wished she could suffer for him; the connexion had indeed a peculiar charm for her enthusiasm and generosity, like her admiration of this Corncockle Moor.
Corncockle Moor, in its dreariness, loneliness, and wildness, now hung out a vast curtain, which Joanna and Conny were skirting under the golden decline of day, not so far from the spot where the little group of men had gathered on the autumn morning, and the two sharp, short cracks, and the little curl of blue smoke had indicated where one life had gone out, and another was blasted in a single second. Joanna had scarcely got time to wonder how Harry Jardine and her sisters would look at each other, and she did not allow herself to think of it now. She would wait till she had skilfully avoided any chance of encountering the company, delivered her mother's errand, and was safe with Conny, cantering homewards. Even then she would not dwell on the notion, lest her father should allude to the stranger, and she should betray any feeling to discompose him. "I must take care of papa. Papa is my charge," repeated Joanna, proud as any Roman maid or matron.
What malign star sent Mrs. Maxwell into the bedroom, just as Joanna had entered it? She ought to have been only quitting the dining-room for the drawing-room, but Mrs. Maxwell was always to be found where she was least expected. She was a good-natured, social, blundering body, whom girls condescended to affect, because she liberally patronized young people, proving, however, quite as often the marplot, as the maker of their fortunes—not from malice, but from a certain maladroitness and fickleness. Mrs. Maxwell took it into her head to lay hands on Joanna, and to send out for Conny, whom Joanna had cautiously deposited in the paddock, and to insist that they should remain, and join the party. She would take no denial; she never got them all together; it was so cruel to leave out Joanna and Conny, a pair of her adopted children, since she had no bairns of her own to bless herself with. She had plenty of partners, or the girls would dance together. Yes, say no more about it; she was perfectly delighted with the accession to her number—it was to be.
Conny's eyes sparkled greedily. "Oh, Joanna! mamma won't be angry."
Oh, Conny! you traitor!
"There, it will be a treat to Conny, and there is nothing to prevent it. Conny has let the cat out of the bag, as Tom would say. Conny consents, Joanna may sulk as she pleases."
"I won't sulk, Mrs. Maxwell; I'll go off by myself, and leave you Constantia, since she wishes it."
"To hear of such a thing! You girls won't allow it. It is very shabby, Susan, Lilias, Miss Musgrave, that Joanna should not have a little amusement with the rest."
"I'm sure we won't prevent it, Mrs. Maxwell, we don't stand in the way," said Lilias stiffly; "Joanna is free to remain or return as she chooses. Joanna, you had better stay, or there will be a scene, and the whole house will hear of it."
"Keep her, Mrs. Maxwell, please," cried Miss Polly mischievously; "my cousin Joan is so scarce of her countenance, that I want to know how she can behave in company."
"Very well, I assure you," avouched Mrs. Maxwell zealously; then she began to remember, and start, and flounder—"only she is so modest. Joanna, my dear, you cannot be so stupid as to hesitate from a certain reason?"
"Oh, no. You can send back Sandy, Mrs. Maxwell, since you are so good. Mamma knows what we will require; or I will write a little note."
Joanna could have borne any encounter rather than a discussion of the obstacle with Mrs. Maxwell—a discussion which might be gone over again any day to anybody.
But Joanna was terribly vexed and provoked that she had exposed herself to this infliction, though she was fain to comfort herself with the argument that it would make no difference to papa's feelings; and she trusted that she and Conny would slip into the drawing-room when the guests were occupied, and subside into corners, and escape attention.
Joanna was established in her recess, nearly confident that she was not conspicuous, and considerably interested in watching Harry Jardine.
Mrs. Jardine's intentions had been in a great measure fulfilled. The young Laird of Whitethorn had grown up at his English school and German university without the cloud which rested on his father's end descending on his spirit. He was as strong and pleasant and blithe as his father, with the self-possession which a life amongst strangers, and the available wallet of a traveller's information, could graft upon his gentle birth and early manhood. At the same time, there was no deception about Harry Jardine. While he was gay and good-humoured, he had an air of vigour and action, and even a dash of temper lurking about his black curls and bright eyes, which prepared one for hearing that he had not only hobnobbed with the Goettingen students, but had also won their prizes, and thrashed them when they aspired to English sports; and had travelled four nights without sleep, under stress of weather, to reach Whitethorn on the day he had fixed to his mother. He had brought a steady character along with him, too; they said that he had been a good son, and had remembered that his mother was a widow, and had endured enough grief to last her all her days. Mrs. Jardine, who was not a flatterer, declared that Harry had not cost her a care which she needed to grudge. There is enough temptation, and to spare, for men like Harry Jardine, but it is not in such that early self-indulgence and lamentable weakness may be feared.
Harry Jardine was the style of man fitted to command the admiration of Joanna Crawfurd. Contemplative girls love men of experience. Staid girls love men with a dash—a dash of bravery, self-reliance, or even of recklessness. Harry Jardine's gladness to be at home; his interest in everything and everybody; the pleasant tone in which he referred to his mother; the genuine fun of which he gave a glimpse; the ring of his laugh, were all set store upon by Joanna with a sober satisfaction.
Harry had not been so agreeable, or felt the world so pleasant, two hours before. It was impossible to escape memories or to hide wincing; but he had said to himself that these associations ought to have been worn threadbare by familiarity, or to have been approached gradually, and he could not conquer his awkwardness or crush his susceptibility. But youth is pliable and versatile, and Harry Jardine was determined to evince no dislike, and make no marked distinction. Very soon the Miss Crawfurds and their cousin blended with the other young ladies in his view,—nay, he discovered that he had come across a cousin of theirs settled abroad, and was qualified to afford them information of his prospects and pursuits handsomely.
So far Joanna's penalty had been moderate, until, towards the close of the evening, when most of the young people had gone into the library to get some refreshments, she found herself left in her corner almost alone, with Mr. Jardine talking to Mrs. Maxwell within a few yards of her. This was the occurrence which Joanna had dreaded. "By the pricking of her thumbs" she was aware of a wicked destiny approaching her. Mr. Jardine in his conversation glanced towards her, then looked away, and beat his foot on the carpet, and a twitch passed over the muscles of his face, and his smile, though he still affected a smile, had lost all its glow. Joanna dared not look any longer. Mrs. Maxwell was certainly speaking of her. Perhaps in her rash inconsiderate way she had volunteered information.
Perhaps Harry Jardine had himself made inquiry—the pale girl who kept in the background, with the little scar—was it—on her temple? Joanna quivered under the process, and the witness beneath the light brown hair throbbed painfully. She was glad when Mr. Jardine walked away quickly; but the next moment he came back and turned directly towards her.
"I have been introduced to your sisters, Miss Crawfurd, and you must excuse further ceremony from me. Will you allow me to take you into the next room and get a glass of wine or a biscuit for you? You should not try fasting at an evening party. Mrs. Maxwell would call it a very bad example."
He spoke fast, with a laugh, and crimsoned all over. She knew perfectly well what he was about. He was determined to perform all that could possibly be required of him. He would put down invidious comments, disarm gossip, in short cut off the gorgon's head at the first struggle. They might term it unnatural, overdone, but at least it would not be to do again; and Harry Jardine's was the temper, that, if you presented an obstacle to it, it itched the more to grapple with the obstacle on the spot.
Precisely for the reason that she could not ride away from the party, after Mrs. Maxwell assailed her with a motive for her conduct, Joanna could not repel his overture. It was incredibly trying to her. He saw how differently she was affected from her sisters. He was aware of another influence. He felt very uncomfortable. Why, the very flesh of his arm, which she touched lightly enough, crept, when the superstition of the old ordeal of the bier flashed upon him, as he caught, with a furtive glance, the tiny brand prickling and burning to fiery incandescence above the waxen face. Was it a splash of his father's blood impressed there, till the "solid flesh" would verily "melt"? Was it his neighbourhood which brought out the ruddy spot, that, like the scarlet streaks down Lady Macbeth's little hands, would not wash off? Absurd folly! But he wished he had done with it. He wished old ladies would confine themselves to their own concerns. He hoped fainting was not heard of among the girls of the moors—that would be a talk! He supposed he must say something commonplace and civil; he must task his brains for that purpose. He coined a remark, and Joanna answered him quietly and with simplicity. She must have possessed and exercised great self-command. It struck Harry Jardine. It was a quality he valued highly, possibly because he felt such difficulty in looking it up on his own account. All through the few minutes' further conversation and association between them, it impressed him, conjointly with the odd recoiling sensations, which he had so rapidly shaken off, where her sisters were concerned.
Harry had the faults of his kind, not inveterately, for he spoke good English to women; but as he indulged in his dear island slang to men, he felt bound to use it to himself. "This poor little woman is thorough game," he said to himself. "I can see that she is as tender as a little bird, yet she has shown as much pluck as a six-foot grenadier? She has not flinched at all. I can do justice to this spirit." He remembered it all the time when Polly Musgrave was sounding him, and when he did not choose to give her the slightest satisfaction.
"I saw you with my cousin Joanna, Mr. Jardine; you'll find her in the Spanish style."
"Not in complexion certainly. Do you mean in name?"
"Oh, no! Do you know so little about the south of Scotland after all? You had better conceal this piece of ignorance. I am sure you understand this much—a general acquaintance with the whole habitable globe would not atone for a deficiency with regard to this one dear little spot of earth. Joanna is as common a name in the south of Scotland as Dorothy is in the north of England. Examine the register, and see if you have not twenty Jardine cousins christened Joanna. I call Joanna in the Spanish style, because, although she conceals it, and you cannot have found it out yet, she is a vestige of romantic chivalry. Joanna is a Donna Quixotina, an unworldly, unearthly sort of girl, with a dream of tilting with the world and succouring the distressed. I term it a dream, because, of course, she will never accomplish it, any more than the knight of La Mancha, and she will be obliged to descend from her stilts by-and-by. I call Susan in the beautiful style, and Lilias in the good style, and Conny in the sweet sixteen style."
"Miss Musgrave, I am not versed in ladies' styles, you must teach me;" and Polly and he looked into each other's eyes, and laughed and felt they were match for match.
And Joanna had a little regret that Mr. Jardine should, like most men, be caught with Polly Musgrave; not that Joanna did not admire Polly, though she was her antithesis, and count her handsome and brilliant in her way, like any sun-loving dahlia or hollyhock; but Joanna had no enthusiasm in her admiration of Polly, and she had a little enthusiasm in her estimation of Harry Jardine.
III.—"HE LAY DOWN TO SLEEP ON THE MOORLAND SO DREARY."
Polly Musgrave was gone with flying colours. She had been indefatigable in procuring her aunt, uncle, and cousins, parting gifts that would suit their tastes; she had actually toiled herself in paying courtesy-calls round the neighbourhood; and she had written half-a-dozen letters, and evinced a considerable amount of successful management in procuring an invitation for two of her cousins to join her during the week or weeks of York's gaieties. She would have had Joanna also, but Joanna would not leave home at the season when her father was liable to his worst rheumatic twinges. Polly had shown herself really good-natured under her ease and luxury, and Joanna had been a little penitent and vexed that she did not like Polly any more than in a cousinly way. Whether Polly was right in saying that Joanna was romantic or not, Polly had not a particle of romance in her constitution, though much was flourishing, fresh, and fragrant, in pure, commonplace, selfish, good-natured worldliness, for it is a mistake to suppose that quality (without hypocrisy) has not its attractive guise. Without knowing herself romantic, Joanna was apt to quarrel in her own mind with cleverer girls, accomplished girls, pleasant girls, even good girls, sensible women, business women, nay religious women, until she feared she must be fault-finding, satirical, sour—as her sisters protested at intervals. Joanna, sour? Joanna, so charitable and sympathizing? Take comfort, Joanna; the spirit is willing, though the flesh is weak.
The Ewes was in its normal condition; the parish was in its normal condition; the excitement of Harry Jardine's return to Whitethorn had died out; he might shoot, as it was September, or fish still, or farm, or ride, or read as he pleased. He retained his popularity. His father had been a popular man, fully more popular than Mr. Crawfurd of the Ewes. Harry was even more approved, for mingling with the world had smoothed down in him the intolerance of temper which beset his father. What did Joanna Crawfurd say to such compromising agreeability? Joanna was disarmed in his case; she contradicted herself, as we all do. She had the penetration to perceive that many externals went to raise Harry Jardine's price in the eyes of the world; externals which had little to do with the individual man,—youth, a good presence, a fair patrimony, freedom from appropriating ties. Strip Harry of these, render him middle-aged, time-worn or care-worn, reduce him to poverty, marry him, furnish him with a clamorous circle of connections, land-lock him with children! Would the difference not be startling? Would he need to be condemned for the world's favour, then? Joanna trowed not.
The Crawfurds met Mr. Jardine occasionally, but there was no probability of the acquaintance ripening, since Mr. Crawfurd could not call for Harry at Whitethorn, and Harry did not see the necessity of offering his company at the Ewes. Mrs. Jardine had not visited much since the shock of her widowhood, and she only now began to recur to her long-disused visiting-list on Harry's account. Though a reasonable woman, it is scarcely requisite to say that she did not propose to renew her friendship with the family at the Ewes. The blow which rendered her without control did not break her spirit, but it pressed out its buoyance. Mrs. Jardine was a grave, occupied, resigned woman, no longer a blithe one, very fond and proud of Harry, but grateful, not glad in her fondness and pride.
The frost had come early, strong, and stern on those Highlands of the Lowlands, those moors of the south. The "lustre deep" at twilight and dawn, the imperial Tyrian dye at noon, the glorious "orange and purple and grey" at sunset and sunrise, which, once known and loved, man never forgets, nor woman either—all would soon be swept away this year, and Joanna regretted it. She liked the flower-garden, but, after all, the garden was tame to the moor. The moor's seasons were, at best, short—short the golden flush of its June; short the red gleam of its September. Not that the lowland Moor has not its dead, frosted grace in its winter winding-sheet, and its tender spring charm, when curlews scream over it incessantly. But Joanna had never seen the autumn so short as this year; and she had heard them tell, that in the Fall, when poor Mr. Jardine was killed, the heather remained bright till November.
Thinking of that date caused Joanna, when she strolled out on the moor one morning, to go near the scene with its melancholy celebrity.
It was quite early in the morning, a hail shower lying all around, though the sky was a deep sapphire blue, with the wan ghost of the moon lingering on the horizon, and the atmosphere bitter cold. The breakfast was late at the Ewes, owing to Mr. Crawfurd's delicate health, and because Mrs. Crawfurd had her fancies like Mrs. Primrose. Thus Joanna was frequently abroad before breakfast, and, like most persons of healthy organization, was rather tempted to court the stinging air as it blew across the heather, bracing her whole frame, nipping her fingers and toes, and sending blush-roses into her cheeks.
Joanna was walking along, feeling cheerful, although she was in that neighbourhood, and vaunting to herself that their moor was infinitely superior to a park, when a grey object caught her eye, lying beyond some whin bushes—a thing raised above the ground, but stretched still and motionless. Joanna stopped with a strange thrill. No! it was not on that piece of earth; but so must he have lain on that disastrous morning, far removed from the abundance, and garnered goods, and heartiness of harvest.
Joanna stood a moment, then reproaching herself with cowardice, egotism, inhumanity, she advanced, her heart fluttering wildly. Yes, it was a man in tweed-coat, trousers, and cap; and stay! was that a gun by his side? Joanna could not go a step further; she closed her eyes to hide the blood which she felt must be oozing and stealing along the ground, or else congealed among the heather and it was only after she had told herself how far she was from home, and how long it would be ere she could run back for assistance, that she opened them and approached the figure. There was no blood that she could see; the man might not be dead, but stupefied or insensible. Oh, dear! it was Harry Jardine of Whitethorn; the hail-drops among his black curls, the sprigs of the heather dinted into his brown cheek.
It darted into Joanna's mind like inspiration how the chance had occurred. She remembered Susan had said, yesterday, that she had met Mr. Jardine going in shooting garb across the moor in the afternoon, and he had stopped her and asked if she had seen a dog. He had taken out a new dog and lost it, and was vexed at wasting half the morning in the pursuit. She recalled, with a peculiar vividness of perception, that somebody had observed, one day lately, that Mr. Jardine was not so strong as he looked; that he had fever while abroad, just before he came home, and that his mother was annoyed because he would not take care of himself, and complained that he was constantly over-taxing his unrecovered powers, and subjecting himself to fresh attacks of illness. Joanna remembered, with a pang, that she had laughed at the remark, mentally conjuring up Harry Jardine's athletic, sunburnt comeliness.
Joanna freed herself more quickly from this phantom than from the last, and, while she did so, called out his name, and stepped to his side, stooping down and even touching him. He was breathing, though he was very cold and stiff, and she did not rouse him. Oh, Joanna was very thankful! But what should she do next? Life must be very faint, and frozen in the muscular, active young man. He had loitered at his sport till the dusk; he had been bewildered on the moor—strange to him as to a foreigner; he had wandered here and there impatient and weary; but still more angry with himself than alarmed. He had sat down in the intense chill and dim darkness to recover himself; no way forewarned, "simply because he was on Corncockle Moor, so near home," on a September night. He had sunk down further and further, until the stealthy foe sprang upon him and held him fast—the sleep from which there is so tardy an awakening.
Joanna dared not leave the faint, vital spark to smoulder down or leap out. The moor was very unfrequented at this hour; at certain periods of the day, portions of it, intersected by meandering tracks, were crossed by men labouring in the adjacent fields or quarry; but till then it was only the circumstance of alarm being excited on Harry's account, or her protracted absence giving rise to surmise and search, that could bring them companions.
As a forlorn hope Joanna raised her voice and cried for assistance; fear and distress choked the sound, and the freezing air caused it to fall on the silence with a ringing quaver. She persevered, however, every now and then varying the appeal, "Papa, Lilias, Sandy, do some of you come to me; I want you here, for God's sake! here."
She took his big hands and chafed them between her own little ones; she lifted his head on her lap, her fingers getting entangled in his curly hair, she prayed for him that he might be restored to them.
He continued to breathe dully and heavily; his eyes never unclosed; she felt tempted to raise the lashes, as she would lift up and peep under the lids of a child. Ah! but she feared to see the balls sightless and glazing over fast. The marked, lively face was placid as if it were set in death, and the slight contraction between the brows, which she had remarked the first night she saw him, was almost effaced. How dreadful it would be if he died on her knees there, in the solitude of the moor! The son at the daughter's feet, as his father at her father's. How would his mother bear it? Her father would never survive this mournful re-writing of the old letters traced in blood. It should be she rather who should die; and Joanna in her piety, her goodness, her great love for her father, her exquisite kindness for Harry Jardine, did ask God if He sought a life, in His justice and mercy, to allow hers to pay for Harry's, to substitute her in some way for Harry; and Joanna well remembered that prayer afterwards.
Joanna was beginning to cower and fail in her trial. Suddenly she shook herself up, when she was lapsing into a heap nearly as passive as that beside her; a suggestion darted across her brain; she detected in the little pocket of her dress a bottle of a strong essence and perfume, which Polly Musgrave had forced upon her the day she left.
Joanna was quick and clear in following out a notion. With trembling fingers she poured the hot, stimulating, subtle liquid into her hollow hands, and bathed his forehead. She unloosed his cravat, and sent the warm stream over his throat and chest, rubbing them with her free hand, while she supported his head on the other arm; and inspired with fresh courage and trust she called anew this time a shrill, echoing call, and Harry Jardine shivered, sobbed, and stretched himself, and slowly opened his sealed eyes, looking her first vaguely and then wonderingly in the face, and her father's and Lilias's voices rose from opposite sides of the heath, near and far in reply. "What is it, Joanna? What has kept you? What has happened? We missed you; we were getting anxious; we are coming, coming!"
IV.—MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.
Harry Jardine was taken to the Ewes some hours before his mother, who had happily been deceived as to his return on the previous night, was even apprised of his narrow escape. He received the greatest kindness from the Crawfurds, and his mother herself found it incumbent on her to write a little note to the Ewes, thanking the family for their humanity and benevolence towards her son. It is possible, had Mrs. Jardine been awakened to her son's danger a little sooner, and before its traces were entirely blotted out, the expressions in the note might have been a few shades less general and cold.
Mr. Crawfurd excused her fully. He would not have expected Harry to come back to the Ewes, though he rejoiced, from the bottom of his heart, that Joanna had served the young fellow. How much his poor father would have been delighted in him? Mr. Crawfurd rejoiced, although he was too righteous and humble-minded to say to himself that God was appeased, or that He had permitted this atonement as a sign in answer to his life-long penance.
Harry Jardine represented a different theory; he would be a dolt, a brute, unpardonably vindictive, if he did not cherish all friendly feelings to the Crawfurds; if he did not visit them openly and frankly. He did visit at the Ewes, but he found the plainest opportunities ready made for him during one fortnight at Hurlton, to come in contact with Joanna Crawfurd. She had gone there to look after Conny, suborned by Mrs. Maxwell, and laid up with a sore throat, and forlorn and wretched if one of her sisters was not looking after her.
This intercourse could scarcely fail to have one grand climax. Joanna, the thoughtful, imaginative, true, tender woman—a fair woman besides, with that one little blot which singularly appealed to him with a harsh sweet voice—a sufficiently rare woman, to stand quite distinct from her sisters and companions in the light of the practical, active, ardent, honest heart—became the one mistress in the world for Harry Jardine, coveted and craved by him as the best gift of God, without which the others were comparatively worthless, and for which he could have been willing to sacrifice them one and all. Harry himself, in after years, confessed that since the moment he awakened from that leaden drowsiness on the moor, the image of Joanna Crawfurd, tending him as a mother her sick child, was constantly before him.
Joanna had not precisely the same experience. From the moment that, with the prescience of a woman where feelings are concerned, she saw the end, she avoided Harry Jardine with all her power. Harry's generous determination and daring, his fearlessness, confidence, and steadfastness overpowered her.
Mr. Crawfurd was dreadfully upset by Harry Jardine's application to him, his claim for forbearance, his entreaty for grace, and his candid confession that his mother was violently opposed to his suit. It was a case which could neither be considered nor rejected without remorse. Oh, bitterness, which spread like an infection through so many years, and into such different relations, and spoilt even the young man's fairness, good faith, free forgiveness, and the purity and earnestness of his passion, the pearl of his manhood, which, if lost to him, would be a loss indeed! How Harry implored Mr. Crawfurd to spare it to him, to reflect that it was the greatest benefit which he asked at his hands, to pause before he denied it to him solely because he had been the unfortunate means of depriving him of his father!
Harry had agitating scenes with his mother besides; these two had never been placed against each other before, and the contest between them was neither gracious nor good for either heart.
"Harry, I am horrified at you; it is a dishonour to your poor father's memory; it is shocking to think of it; and if you have been so lost to duty as to fall into so unnatural an entanglement, it is surely the least you owe to both parents to give it up."
"Mother! I cannot see it as you do; my father fully exonerated Mr. Crawfurd—you have told me so a hundred times. No one, not you, his widow, mourned my father as Mr. Crawfurd mourned—nay, mourns him to this day."
"Harry, do you wish to see a bloody guest present at your wedding?"
"Mother, that is a baseless, cruel horror. You would not wish me to maintain a hereditary feud on the principle of my forefathers. I cannot tell what the Christian religion teaches if it does not enjoin forgiveness of injuries."
"I hope I am a Christian, Harry, and I have tried to forgive my enemies, but it is one thing to make every allowance for them and entertain charitable feelings towards them, and another to ally myself with them, and constitute them my closest friends. Harry, the whole neighbourhood would shrink from the idea of what you contemplate."
"If my principles and my heart said Yes, not the neighbourhood, but the whole world might cry No, and I would not feel bound to listen to the clamour."
"A young man's improper boast, Harry, and since you force me to it, not the world alone—I tell you nature objects to that girl—that girl of them all; how can you look her in the face and think of love?"
"Would you have me think of hate? Since you make the allusion, I declare to you, mother, that mark appeals to you and me in another fashion. Cain's brand! do they call it? And who set the brand, and when, on Cain's brow? Sovereign clemency, after the wanderer's punishment was more than he could bear, if the reflection of my father's blood was transmitted to so innocent and noble a proxy, it must have been designed to teach such as you and me New Testament lessons of perfect charity."
"Harry, I have never been able to look that girl in the face."
"Mother, I pray never to forget that face, although it remain like an angel's face to me, because it is the fairest example of the human face divine that I ever hope to behold."
"Harry Jardine, you are mad, or worse; these are some of the sickening French and German sentimentalities against which I have been warned. There is such a thing as a wholesome sense of repulsion, an honest manly recoil, a pure instinct of loathing, a thousand times to be preferred to this morbid mixture of good and evil, friend and foe, life and death, this defiance of decency and general opinion."
"Very true, mother; but there are a thousand exceptional cases, and a million points of ruthless prejudice. 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' sounded very righteous and respectable in the ears of the Jews, yet I believe the sentence had its condemnation, and the amendment was neither French nor German."
"Harry, you are profane, and you forget what is due to yourself and me."
The last saying was a hard one; his mother could be no judge of his profanity, but he had been a good son, and it had not been without a curb upon him that the strong man had accustomed himself to leave so much of the power and authority of Whitethorn in the wilful woman's hands.
In the library at the Ewes Mr. Crawfurd was addressing Joanna very gently.
"My dear, I am very sorry it cannot be; of course Mrs. Jardine will never consent, but it goes to my heart to grieve you."
"Papa, I cannot help it."
"And to grieve Harry Jardine."
"Papa, that is worse; but do not think that anybody—that he blames you."
"We shall trust, my dear, that he will soon recover the disappointment."
"Of course—it is not a great loss."
"My dear, pray don't smile when it hurts you, for I cannot bear it; it is natural that this should be a heavy cross to you; but setting it aside as unavoidable, is there no respect in which I can lighten it to you? No indulgence which you could fancy that I could procure for you? No old wish of his Joan's that papa could by an effort gratify? Surely I cannot be so miserable, child."
"Oh, no, papa! I mean you can please in a great many things; you always could, and you always will. Women are not like men, their natures are not so concentrated. They have so many tastes and whims, you know; I possess them by the score, and I will never cease to relish their fulfilment so long as you and I keep labouring together, papa. I am not going to be a hypocrite, papa. This strange story has vexed me a good deal, but I was aware from the first of its unsubstantial character. I still want money to be charitable on my own account, like Lilias. I've a notion to revive our old greenhouse; I've a longing to see a little of the world with you, sir, in spring and summer; I've never been indifferent to silks and muslins, though I think my chief weakness in dress is the very finest of fine chintz prints, ever so dear a yard, papa, which an artist might paint, and more of a Duchess's wear than velvet. All these matters are acceptable to me, papa."
"You are sure that you are my pet and darling."
"Yes, papa; you have spoilt me."
Joanna was gone to her own room; there she laid her head on her arm, and asked her heart bitterly, "Have I succeeded in deceiving papa? Can he believe for a moment that any poor precious treasure in the wide world will make up to me for the want of Harry Jardine; that there is anything left me but Heaven instead of Harry Jardine? But then there is papa, dear papa, and I used to be papa's. What will not women do for their children? I always thought I could attain as much for papa. I was proud to prove my love to him, and I will drive out Harry's image for papa's sake, though I should die in the struggle."
Harry did not altogether admire this resolution. He was a good fellow, an excellent fellow, and he had the true, ineffable devotion to Joanna Crawfurd; but he was not free from jealousy and irritation, as well as sorrow and fear, when he was compelled to part from her for a time, and content himself with swearing fidelity on his own account, and seeing her occasionally as an ordinary acquaintance, until their relative positions should be changed, or his truth fail.
The common world rolled on its course; the seasons succeeded each other, although even they seemed to culminate in dull, monotonous vanity and vexation of spirit. The frosty wind had swept "that lustre deep from glen and brae," and the chill watery mosses alone looked green and fresh when the snow melted. It was the cold under which Joanna Crawfurd shivered and shrank; at least so she assured every friendly person who remarked that she was thin, and paler than ever. Mrs. Jardine had looked her in the face, nay, kept nervously glancing at her when she was visible at church, on the loch where the curling match was played, or in the concert-room at the county town.
Of course the girl would get over it; yet Joanna bore a suspicious likeness to Mrs. Jardine's sister Anne, who did not "get over" such a cross. Mrs. Jardine remembered well her sister Anne's parting look, and now, strive as she would, she could not resist the conviction that it was hovering over Joanna Crawfurd's face. Mrs. Jardine, like the Laird of the Ewes, could have cried, "Pray do not smile, girl; you do not know how you look; we, the initiated, have not stony enough hearts to stand that." Mrs. Jardine was surprised that Harry could be so foolish as to redden and appear displeased at Joanna Crawfurd's gaiety.
Mrs. Jardine almost complained against Providence that she was condemned to punish her only child. Then she could not help speculating whether, if by some unimaginable arrangement of events, she had been the sufferer, and Harry's father had been spared to him, he would have denied Harry his happiness in the name of her memory, and from a sense of righteous animosity, whether, if she could have looked down purified and peaceful from the spirit-world, she would have desired the sacrifice, and whether she would not have pleaded against it for love and mercy's sake?
The winter was gone, the early spring was at hand, and all around the outskirts of the moor, like an incense to spring and the Lord of the spring, rose the smoke of the whin burnings which were to clear the ground for the sweet young grass, to employ the nibbling teeth of hundreds on hundreds of sheep and lambs. Joanna Crawfurd had never so sighed for spring, never sat in such passive inertness (highly provocative to Lilias), receiving and realizing what it brought to her.
But the period of listlessness and inaction, life-long to some, was nearly ended for this pair. With the last snowdrops of the garden in February, and the first glinting gowans of the lea in March, came the news to the country-side of the bankruptcy of one of the first of the chain of banks, whose defalcations have accomplished more in causing property to change hands than the lances of the moss-troopers. The young Laird of Whitethorn held money in the shape of his father's shares in one of those unlucky banks; and so it fell upon him one morning like a clap of thunder that he was responsible for about as much as the acres of Whitethorn would retrieve, besides the trifling morsel to whet his appetite in the loss of his loose thousands. Harry Jardine was likely to know himself as "landless, landless," as ever a proscribed Macgregor.
Harry rose to the encounter. "I am sorry for you, mother, and I do not pretend that I shall not regret the old moorland acres; but I shall do very well, notwithstanding. I'm old to learn a profession; but how many volunteers and retired lieutenants had to study and serve apprenticeships after the long wars! I will stick in; I don't mind it on my own account, and I will be proud to provide for you. I say, mother, don't vex yourself; perhaps it is the best thing that can happen to me. I don't think a fellow gets well seasoned unless he is knocked about at some time: better late than never. I have been coveting change—any change and occupation, an engrossing occupation—for the last few months." He said that to reconcile her to what was an overwhelming blow to her, and his words aroused her with a sharp pang. Had Harry become so miserable and sick of his blessings that he was ready to welcome the cold-bath of labour and poverty as a relief to his oppressive languor, and a ground of hope for his fainting mind?
But Harry came in to her with a troubled face, on another day—a mild day—a subtle, penetrating, relaxing day, under whose balmy breath it is doubly difficult to contend with encircling difficulties, and reject the one clue suddenly vouchsafed to lead us out of the labyrinth.
"I must tell you, mother, though, of course, it cannot be in the circumstances—he does not see it—but there is no fatality to bind me to his views. Mr. Crawfurd of the Ewes sent for me this morning, and I went to him immediately; I could not tell what he might have to say to me."
"Without consulting your mother, Harry?"
"Yes, mother," answered Harry, with unconscious sternness, "because it might have been my own business, entirely my own affair, with which no mortal, not even you, can be entitled to interfere. But it was only to offer and urge upon me a loan of money to enable me to satisfy the bank's claims, if they come to the worst, and retain Whitethorn, paying him at my leisure. I assure you that it was delicately done; my father's ghost may rest in peace. I beg your pardon, mother; I did not mean to pain you. I am afraid I do speak queerly at times. Well, well; it was a kind, confiding, neighbourly action, though I refused it decidedly, from the man whose alliance is forbidden to us. I had no resource but to respect myself, as I respected him; and it is no great matter that it hurt me to cut up that gentle, inoffensive old man, endeavouring to show his rue for having proved, twenty years ago, what my father was to at least an equal degree, and what I have no assurance that I would not have found myself, to a far greater extent than either of them—a slave to a false code of honour."
Harry sat down, haggard, dispirited, half-desperate. His mother made no reply. All the rest of the day she walked about the house like a restless spirit; half the night she paced up and down her chamber softly, lest Harry should hear her, and come in again, and begin to caress her; for she could not endure Harry's kisses now—they were like Joanna Crawfurd's smiles.
Was Harry quarrelling with his father's memory? It was a ghastly sacrilege to her; yet might he not arrive at cursing in his heart, even while he was grasping the devil within him by the throat? What had it not cost him? First, his young love and the cream of his happiness; and now his paternal acres, and his position among the independent, influential gentlemen of his native county. He might not value the last in his present fever and rashness, but he would weigh it more justly hereafter. The moorland inheritance was not of great money purchase, but it had descended to its possessors through long generations. It was hallowed by venerable associations. The name and the property together were of some importance in this nook of the south. Harry's father had a family affection for his place, and, doubtless, Harry entertained it also, undeveloped as yet, but to grow and acquire full maturity one day, addressing him at every pensive interval with a vain craving and yearning. And, again, in the confusion and distraction of Mrs. Jardine's feelings, there was her sister Anne haunting her dreams, and reproaching her with having forgotten her; and lastly, one verse in her well-worn Bible was constantly standing out before her aching eyes in letters of fire, and shining into her rebellious but scared heart, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice."
It is one thing to have been Christians all our lives, drawn along by a current, only broken by comparatively trivial, every-day temptations, contests and sacrifices, and another thing to wrestle with a decree that all at once confronts and contradicts a master-passion, a deeply-founded verdict, a strongly-rooted opinion whose overthrow will shake the entire framework of our lives.
Mrs. Jardine descended the stairs the next morning very pale and exhausted, and for the first time (though she was a widow by a peculiarly sorrowful visitation), with a certain wistful air which Harry had observed in Mr. Crawfurd. It touched him—a fiery, dogged man—extremely, in the one case as in the other. His mother, on the announcement of his loss, had insisted on undertaking various domestic examinations with respect to general retrenchment; he had humoured her, under the impression that it diverted her mind, and broke the force of what was a great calamity to her. He believed that she had over-exerted herself, and he commenced to remonstrate in the imperious, reproachful, affectionate tone, which the mother loves in her manly son.
"Yes, Harry, I have undertaken too much, and therefore I have requested the company of two friends, who will be willing to lighten our burden."
"Strangers in the house at this time, mother?" exclaimed Harry, bewildered. "Well, if you can bring yourself to suggest it, and wish it, I need have no objection. Never mind me, mother. Besides, I shall be from home. Yes, I do believe it will be a good plan."
"I thought, Harry," said Mrs. Jardine, so tremulously that Harry felt quite alarmed for his upright, obdurate mother, "as Mr. Crawfurd had been so friendly in his intentions towards you—the only man who has come forward with such a proposal and entreaty—isn't he, Harry?—that two of the Miss Crawfurds might consent to pay us a visit at last. I believe they would waive all ceremony, and their father would like it. It would show that we were willing, at least, to be reconciled in our evil day; that we appreciated their magnanimity; that we were not mean as well as malicious, Harry."
Harry stared, "Mother," he said slowly, colouring violently, "are you prepared for the consequences of inviting the Miss Crawfurds here, or what do you mean?"
"I have counted the cost, Harry; I have written and sent away a note, asking if Miss Joanna and one of her sisters will have so much consideration for an old afflicted woman."
Harry burst away from her, that she might not read the glow which was in his eyes and searched through his whole being.
Mrs. Jardine cried a little, as a woman might say, quietly and comfortably; a strange thing for her, since she was one of those women who shed vehement tears or none at all; then she dried her eyes and folded her hands reverently, saying, "I have a strange sense of calm and of Divine favour this morning. I am sure I am not mystical, but one jogs along the beaten way, and gets stupified, and doubts whether one can be a Christian or no, there is so little conviction of the fact in what divines, from the Bible, call 'the inner man of the spirit;' but when we conquer our wills, and obey one of His everlasting decrees, then we do feel that we must belong to Him, and we have an assurance of His presence, which is a great enough reward without the gratification of earthly afflictions. Ah! I have had dear old Annie's voice ringing in my ears all the morning; and I have heard George Jardine bidding me take care of Harry, as he always did before he went from home, except the last day when he dared not face me."
The Crawfurds came to Whitethorn. Mr. Crawfurd sent them at once; he would not listen to a single objection or obstacle, though Lilias and Conny were with Polly Musgrave, and it was inconvenient to spare the others on a moment's warning. Susan could not understand it—why they should be bidden to Whitethorn now, when it had been so long debarred to them; but Susan liked company, even company under a cloud; and she had a curiosity to inspect Whitethorn, into which not one of them had put a foot, except papa and mamma, long ago. Joanna made no demur, though, a month before, nothing would have induced her to believe that she would be staying with Susie this March at Whitethorn. Mr. Crawfurd walked with his daughters to the great gate, and Joanna, looking back, saw him, on his return, switching the thistle-heads in the hedge, as she had never witnessed him attempt in her experience; she could almost fancy he was whistling, as Harry Jardine went piping along before he fell in love with her.
It was a trial when Harry Jardine was introduced into the Crawfurds' company; but Mrs. Jardine was very hospitable and kind, and Harry rapidly recovered or assumed his usual ease and animation, and Susan soon lost all peculiar consciousness, and Joanna fell back on the woman's armour, dinted, but not broken, of her self-control. In a few hours they did wonderfully well together. Susan was delighted with the novelties of the old-fashioned country-house, and Harry was not particularly downcast in his misfortunes; he was almost as amusing as ever, and invented fun for her as if he had never heard the name of bank, and, finally, he did not complain of the arrangement, of which Susan highly approved, that she should be Harry's companion, and Joanna should belong to Mrs. Jardine. Joanna was so sedate, and, although she was not a business-woman like Lilias (how Susan would boast of the ground she had gained when she wrote and amazed Lilias!) she was used to associating with older people, and could suit herself to their ways and be handy to them.
Harry smiled blandly on the partition for three whole days. At the close of the third day, when Susan and Joanna were brushing their hair together, Susan started the proposal that they should return to the Ewes whenever Mrs. Jardine's inventories, and settling and sorting of accounts, were brought to an end; "because, Joanna, Harry is getting cross; I am sure of it; he is not half so agreeable as he was the first night. I think he is angry because his mother keeps you to herself, and sends me to talk to him and give him music. When I come to think of it, it is a very senseless plan of hers, and perhaps she is spiteful though she is so attentive, and I am not frightened at her any longer. She is a quick woman, but as pleasant as possible; but if you please, Joanna, you can be shut up with her, and go out with her till we leave, for I should not care for it very much, and I see no call for it on my part; and I am certain we had better fix on going home again as soon as we can manage it."
"Very well, Susan; only you speak very fast; I can scarcely follow you. It strikes me you are wrong on one point. I never noticed that Harry Jardine was tired of being your host, or that he minded who sat next him."
"Not tired of me exactly, or careless of my enjoyment, because, to be sure, Harry Jardine is courting all of us. Nonsense, Joanna, you need not affect to be sage and precise and unconcerned. I am not so silly, and it is very conceited of you, and I have no patience with you. Of course I was not blind and deaf, and I have not lost my memory. Harry Jardine is continually looking after you, whatever his mother persuades herself. He never notices what I wear, and he remembered ribbons you wore months since. I put on mine, and he looked at it and said, 'That is like one of Joanna's; is it not?' Now I know very well he never calls any of us by our Christian names to other people, and only you to one or other of us, and he does it pointedly, as if to express, 'I mean to be your brother-in-law one of these days, and I want to keep you in mind of my intentions, so I take the liberty.'"
"Why don't you say, 'Mr. Jardine, Joanna does not like a liberty taken with her name'?"
"I dare say! and have him reply, 'Did Joanna tell me so herself?' I believe he would be only too glad to have you speak to him on any subject, and I put him into such a fume about your appearance, Jack! Of course, I intended no harm, the words came out somehow. You remember, last night, his showing me an engraving he had bought. 'Tell me some one that is like,' he said to me. It was the least in the world like you, or like your mode of dressing your hair, but it flattered you, as these chance likenesses always do. 'Is it a little like Joanna?' I asked trying him; and I continued, 'Our Joanna would be rather a pretty girl if it were not for the blemish;' and there I stopped short, for I recollected that I should not have mentioned it to him. I wish you had seen him, how hot and haughty he was, as if you were not my own sister, and as if I had not more business with you than he had yet. 'I wonder how any one who has any regard for Joanna can term that mark a defect: it is very sacred and beautiful, otherwise Joanna is without spot'—and there he caught himself and turned away—he was about to add, 'or wrinkle or any such thing,' and I am afraid it was a quotation from the Bible; but I fancy he felt that he was making a fool of himself, and held his tongue. We ought to speak of going home."
"Susie, dear, don't be unreasonable; you know what a claim this family has upon ours; you know what papa desires."
"I know nothing except that Harry Jardine wants me out of his way, and you in his way. It is very disagreeable to me, and a great responsibility to me. You are an interested party, you cannot be expected to see things as you should."
"Why not? I told you to correct him when he was wrong. But I thought you were great friends; and poor Mrs. Jardine, Susan, I can be of use to her in her adversity. I can do things for her as I do for—"
"As you do for papa; there is a fine confession!"
Joanna ensconced herself in silence. Susan had provocation, but Joanna took great care next day not to support Harry Jardine in his levity and discontent. All the morning she spent with Mrs. Jardine; she pinned herself to her sleeve until, after luncheon, she was taken by the old lady into her own room, with its bright fire and shining dogs, its broad, easy couch, its table, with the handsome ponderous writing-desk, flanking the handsome heavy dressing-case, and its look-out from the warmly-curtained windows quite across the moor.
"What a comfortable room, Mrs. Jardine!" Joanna could not help exclaiming; "I never saw a more fresh, inspiriting view to my taste, and such a stretch of sky,—you may sit and foretell all weathers here."
"Yes, my dear, and I have foretold all weathers here. I'll talk to you a little of my nice room, and why I am so sorry to think of leaving it."
"We hope you will not leave it," Joanna ventured, timidly.
"Ah! that rests with others now. But I came here a gay girl; I visited at Whitethorn before my marriage, Joanna; I dwelt here a thoughtless, happy young wife; and here I kept Harry, not quite so troublesome as now; and here I lay a heart-stricken widow while they were bringing home the corpse of my husband, who had left me a vigorous, determined man two hours before."
"It must have been dreadful! dreadful!" murmured Joanna faintly; but lifting up her face to Mrs. Jardine with the earnest confiding eyes, the blanched cheeks, and that seal on her brow—"Oh, how often papa and I have thought of it, and pitied you and ourselves!"
"My dear, it was one of those dispensations of Providence which one never forgets to the end of a long life. But I was a sinner, I deserved what I bore; we all deserve the sorest evil that can afflict us; and, thank God, there is mercy mingled with the greatest misery. I do not speak often of it, but I can do so to-day; and I find it is a relief to talk to you of our misfortune, because you can sympathize with me; you were a sufferer in it like myself; it cannot be to many other living persons what it is to us two. I have had that brought home to me, my love. I do not grieve or frighten you, Joanna?"
"No, Mrs. Jardine, I have lamented it all my life. I am very grateful that you should let me say that papa was very sorry; they sound very little words, Mrs. Jardine, but you understand them, and papa will never cease to be sorry in this world, and we have only wanted to comfort you."
"Poor fellow!" sighed Mrs. Jardine absently. "Crawfurd of the Ewes, an accomplished, pleasant fellow—so broken a man!"
They talked a little longer of the tragedy with composed but strong mutual interest and commiseration; and Mrs. Jardine acknowledged that such pity was not like the world's pity, but was delicate and tender as the ministry of any Barnabas or son of consolation; and when she finished, she kissed Joanna on the forehead, and said to herself, "Harry was right. If this is the sign of George Jardine's blood, it was placed there to pay her father's debt, and set her apart for us."
"Now, the sun is shining out, Joanna—'a clear shining after rain,'—don't you like the Bible words?—I know you do. You must have a walk yet. Why, the violets will be out in another ten days. Hand me my garden bonnet, and we will have a turn in the garden or shrubbery. I saw Harry and your sister take the way there. My dear, you have the look of a sister I was very fond of, and I think Mr. Jardine would have admired you. Yonder they are, Joanna. I should like that you would send Miss Crawfurd to me, and have a stroll with Harry yourself. You will injure your health, child, if you do not attend more to yourself. And, Joanna, if my son questions you as to what I said to you, for he is a curious fellow, tell him I have been reading a text for myself this morning, and for several mornings—'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.' And although I am an old woman, I have got it by heart. And bid him show you the thorn walk."
Joanna did not like to decline a commission of Mrs. Jardine's, but she could no more have asked Harry to walk with her than if he had been a duke. However, Harry was loitering and watching them, and came forward at this moment, and Mrs. Jardine herself appropriated Susan, and transferred Joanna to Harry.
"I am very much obliged to you for your kindness to my mother," said Harry formally—no Joanna this time, no name at all. "I never saw my mother take so much to any one," he continued eagerly; "she is naturally a self-reliant, reserved woman; but she has opened up to you?"
"Yes," answered Joanna softly; "and do you know, she has been talking to me of the past."
Harry started. "What did she say, Joanna? She could not offend you. Pray what did she say to you?"
"She did not offend me—far from that—she was very good, and she gave me a message to you, if you were inquisitive—she had been studying a text, 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.'"
"Ah! I am very happy to understand it."
"It seems easily understood; and she advised us to walk in the thorn walk. Is it near at hand? Shall we have time?"
"We must take time, we cannot disappoint my mother. The thorn walk is a favourite with her all the year round, although it is only in its beauty in the month of May. Shall I explain to you why she has selected it to-day?"
"Yes, if you please."
"My father lived here, when he was a young man, with his uncle the laird. They had no near female relative. It was a dull house, as dull an establishment as my mother and I maintain together."
"Much duller, I should think."
"No; for before a certain time he was not sensible of its deficiency; he had no definite wishes or hopes for an increase to their circle, a re-modelling of their housekeeping. My mother was distantly related to him; she came on a visit to my grand-uncle with an elderly lady, who was also a connexion; she was a lively young girl then. My father often told her afterwards to what an incalculable degree her presence brightened the old house and the two forlorn gentlemen; it would have been utter darkness if she had left them again to their old hazy sunlessness; so my father took the desperate step of leading her to the thorn walk. It was the month of May then, and it was covered with blossoms, sending a white shower on their bent heads from a whole line of trysting trees; but, when I think of it, March, which is lightly esteemed, is preferable to May, for March has all the promise of the year in prospect; and see, it has cloth of gold and silver to step upon, in the shape of the bright, commonplace, unjustly overlooked crocuses."