OTTAWA'S PRESENT TENSE,
"An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told."
OTTAWA: A. S. WOODBURN.
Entered according to Act of Parhament of Canada, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-two, by A S WOODBURN, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture and Statistics at Ottawa.
In these days of plenty, when books of every subject and nature have become as commonly familiar to men as the blades of grass by the roadside, it seems superfluous to say any word of introduction or explanation on ushering a volume into the world of letters; but, lest the question arise as regards the direct intention or motive of an author, it is always safer that he make a plain statement of his object, in the preface page of his work, thus making sure that he will be rightly interpreted by his readers.
In the unpretending volume entitled "Honor Edgeworth," or "Ottawa's Present Tense," the writer has not proposed to make any display of the learning she has acquired by a few years' study, and she would therefore seek to remove, in anticipation, any impression the reader may be inclined to harbor, of her motives having been either selfish or uncharitable.
The world of art and science is already aglow with the dazzling beauty of the genius of her many patrons,—the world of letters has in our day a population as thick as the stars in the heavens, or the grains of sand on the beach—and hence it is that rivalry is almost a passe stimulant in this sphere; the heroes and heroines of the pen aim at individual, independent and not comparative, merit. In nine cases out of ten, the author of a work, apart from the gratification it gives himself to indulge his faculties, and whatever influence for better or worse his opinions may have, in the political social or religious world, knows no other aim.
In "Honor Edgeworth" the sole and sincere motive of the authoress has been to hold up to the mass the little picture of society, in one of its most marked phases, that she has sketched, as she watched its freaks and caprices from behind the scenes.
Ottawa, in this work, is taken merely as a representative of all other fashionable cities, for the simple reason that it is better known to the writer than any other city of social repute. Her object in publishing the volume at all, if not clearly defined throughout the work, may be discovered here: it is primarily, to attract the attention of those who, if they wished, could exercise a beneficial influence over the sphere in which they live, to the moral depravities that at present are allowed so passively to float on the surface of the social tide. It would with the same word appeal to the minds and hearts of those women who are satisfied to remain slaves to the exactions of an unscrupulous society, at the sacrifice of their most womanly impulses, and their noblest energies; and would also remind some reckless sons of Ottawa, of how miserably they are contributing towards the future prosperity of their country, by adopting, as the only aim of their lives, the paltry ambition of an unworthy self-indulgence.
The predominant feeling throughout the entire composition has been one of pure philanthropy, as the authoress desires to benefit her fellow-creatures, in as far as it lies in her very limited power. The book has not been composed with any other ambition than the one mentioned; it aspires to no position on the scroll as a literary work of merit; it is going forth clad in its humble garment of deficiencies and faults, to perform, if possible, the little mission appointed it. When it falls into the hands of an impartial reader, it asks only the reception and appreciation it merits, in proportion to that given by one another to society's patrons,—in other words, it would ask to be dealt with as generously as the world's sycophants deal with the faults and foibles of their fashionable friends.
Any imaginative person, choosing to use his pen, knows full well that the sensational department of letters, in our day, affords a freer and fuller scope than has ever been tolerated before; it is therefore left to the author's own choice to secure his favorites, numerously and easily, if he but pay attention to give his work the exact tinge of the "couleur locale" which predominates in the spot where his plot is laid; but because the eye of the critic has become familiar with such unworthy productions as these, it must scan with more eager justice any pages which are a happy exception to this miserable reality; it must not hesitate to discern whether the motive has been merely to arouse emotional tendencies, by clothing life's dangerous forms in unreal fascinations, or (where the author's hand, guided by his unsullied heart, has taken up the quill as a mighty weapon) to preserve or defend the morals of his country.
Let not the over-sinister reader censure the writer of "Honor Edgeworth" because she has appeared to him to subject to a merciless criticism, society in several of her moods; her object has not been to dwell upon the good points of her subject, for she knows too well that they will never be neglected; it is the drawbacks and the failings of the pampered goddess, Society, that need to be borne in mind and carefully dealt with, and unfortunately, in our day, her enamored victims voluntarily blindfold themselves to her evil influence, and extravagantly magnify the extent of her good.
Without another word of justification, therefore, does the authoress of this little work, send out her simple, humble donation towards the social refornation that is so sorely needed in our day.
Whether the seed be sown on fertile or on barren ground, time alone, the unraveler of all hidden truths, will tell; coming years will break the secret to the authoress as she would want to know it, in the meantime she makes her most respectful curtsey to the world of readers, wishing her humble effort a bon voyage.
"His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him, that nature might stand up And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN"
It is night! Not the cold, wet, chilly night, that is settling down on the forlorn-looking city outside; not the cheerless night, that makes the news-boy gather his rags more closely about him, and stand under the projecting doorway of some dilapidated, tenantless building, as he cries "Free Press, only two cents:" not the awful night on which the gaunt haggard children, who thrive on starvation, crouch shiveringly around the last hissing fagot on the fire-place, with big, hungry eyes wandering over the low ceiling and the mouldy walls, or resting perchance on the wet, dirty panes, with their stuffings of tattered clothing, or gazing in a wilder longing still, on the bare shelves and the empty bread-box: Oh no! There are no such nights as these in reality; such a scene never existed out of the imaginations of men; there are no cries rending the very heavens this night for bread while handfuls are being flung to pet poodles or terriers. There are no benumbed limbs aching in the dingy corners of half-tumbled down houses, no wrinkled, aged jaws chattering, no infants moaning at their mother's breasts with cold, while many a pampered lady grows peevish and irritated, if Dobbs forgets the jars of warm water for the end of her cosy bed. Merciful God! and this is to live! But no! this is to dream!
I said it was night, so it was, but the heavy curtains were drawn, the gas was lighted, the grate-fire roared up the chimney, the lounge was supplied with its cushions, the fauteuil was drawn up to the fender-stool, the decanter and glass stood on the silver salver and in his velvet slippers and embroidered cap, Henry Rayne smoked the "pipe of peace" before his cheerful fire. As we intrude upon him in his sanctuary, he lays down his meerschaum, stretches his toasted limbs, and extending his hand touches the little silver bell on the table beside him; simultaneously, good old Mrs. Potts' slippers clap up the basement stairs, and her head popping in at the door, betrays her face full of broad smiles as she utters her well learned words of announcement.
"Is't annything ye'd be wantin sur?"
"Yes Potts," Rayne answers, still lying back among his crimson cushions, "Go and ask Fitts if he called for the mail at my office to-day. He knows what his duty is when I am not well enough to be stirring"
"Och, doan't fret Misther Rayne sur, shure he did bring the little bundles, ivery wan o' them, an' it's meself jest knows whare to lay the palm o' me hand on 'em this very minit 'idout troubln Mr. Fitts at all, at all," and away she darted again on a clatter down the inlaid passage to the letter box, and gathering up the contents, brought them back to her master's sitting-room. She was eyeing them closely as she laid them down beside him, exclaiming half audibly as she did so "Well now thin: that I may niver die iv it isn't jest the quarest thing in life!"
"What is that, Potts?" Henry Rayne asked good naturedly. "Well, yer honor," began his confiding old servant shyly, "I larned to do many's the nate job in me day, but if gettin' th' inside o' these in, 'ithout tearin' th' outsides don't bang all iver I larnt, my name's not Johanna Potts," and as she spoke she looked curiously at the bundle of letters before her. Potts' good sayings were never lost on her generous master, and this was no exception; he leaned back on his chair and fairly shook with laughter. "Why Potts:" he said at last, "You don't mean to say you never saw envelopes before they were sealed, do you?"
"Faith it's not the only thing I've lived to this 'ithout seein" Potts answered resignedly.
"Well, I must show you Potts," her master said kindly, and there and then he took the trouble to explain to good ignorant Mrs. Potts how "th' insides were got in 'ithout tearin' th' outsides," and greatly satisfied with her new information, she clattered off down stairs, shaking her head all the while, and repeating absently to herself "Well now, there's nothin' can bate 'em, nothin' at all, at all."
As soon as Henry Rayne was alone again, he poked the now smouldering fire into a bright blaze, drew his chair close to the table and began in a business-like way to break the seals of his letters and packages and as he sits in his cosy room, with the gas light falling on his pleasing face, we will take the liberty to sketch his form and features in their most natural state. They are those of a stout, well built, good humored sort of man, of about fifty, with just enough of the "silver threads" among his curly black locks to show that he had met with a little of the tear and wear of life—just a few lines of sadness on his clean shaved face, but for all that, looking the jolly, good sort of fellow that everyone acknowledged him to be, with a tender heart and a ready hand for the unfortunate, always honest and upright, yet thoroughly practical and business-like in all his undertakings. Henry Rayne was descended from a good old English family, whose name he bore proudly and honorably, and many an interesting anecdote he was wont to tell at his dinner table of the "Stephens," "Edwards," and "Henrys," of the bygone generations of "Raynes."
With his private life was connected a sad little secret. He had been a young man in his day, and the charms of the weaker sex had not fallen vainly on his susceptible soul, oh dear no! Henry Rayne had loved once, earnestly and well, and had offered his proud name and comfortable fortune to the object of his devotion, but though he, to day, was the same hale hearty Henry Rayne of the past, the young bud he had cherished so fondly, lay withered in the churchyard far away in old England. Death had come between them, and in the grief that followed, Rayne outlived his susceptibilities, preferring to dwell fondly on the memory of the old tie, than to reopen his heart to any new appeal. But a day came when Henry Rayne had to incline his ear again to the winning voice of a woman, when his forced indifference had to give place to the old warmth and the old enthusiasm, when the withering heart revived and bloomed afresh under the tender influence of a woman's smile, a woman's care and a woman's sympathy. Of the causes of this happy revival we will have to deal in the course of our narrative. Let us return to the scene by the fireside where Henry Rayne sits opening his letters.
Three or four dry-as-dust laconic productions, of no earthly interest to anyone but the unromantic writers, one formal note soliciting a generous subscription to an hospital fund, two postal cards, one begging his patronage towards the tailoring department of an up-town dry goods store, and the other notifying him of a meeting of prominent citizens to be held in the City Hall, a couple of newspapers and legal documents, and there remained still two letters, less formidable looking, less business-like than the rest.
As he tore open one of these he chuckled a low laugh to himself, saying—
"It's Guy, the rascal, I suppose he has just been dunned for some little account that requires immediate payment, it must be some mercenary cloud that hangs over him." He was right, it was only another of these little periodicals that Guy Elersley was accustomed to "drop" his uncle, mainly to ask after his health and welfare, generally sliding in a P. S. which explained the last difficulty in his balance account with the tailor or boarding-house keeper; but Mr. Rayne made no objection, he never tired of indulging this handsome nephew of his, for besides being of an upright and affectionate disposition, his uncle loved him as the only child of a favorite deceased sister, since whose death, which happened when Guy was a mere child, Henry Rayne had been at once a kind, indulgent uncle and a just solicitous father to the boy.
But this particular letter which Mr. Rayne now glanced over, had another object besides the post-script and the uncle's health.
"I write so soon after my last," he says, "to tell you that I met a gentleman in the Windsor House the other night who interested me for a full hour in an account of an old friend of yours, this fellow's name is Orbury, it appears he was in Europe some years ago and was one of a company of card players one evening in a hotel at Dublin, when, out of a conversation of miscellaneous details, came a very jeering remark, made by some one present, relative to some rascally act under discussion. 'It is worthy' said the speaker 'of a man named Rayne, whom I blush to own was once a school-fellow of mine.'—But the words were scarcely uttered when some one beside the speaker brought the back of a sinewy hand a little forcibly across his face, telling him at the same time to measure the words he dealt out on an honorable man's name. Of course a scene ensued, everybody present was of respectable standing and the thing assumed a serious look. Not to interrupt the game, the two antagonists left the room to settle their difference elsewhere, and everyone wondered who the ardent defender of the man 'Rayne' could be.
"After a while the interesting unknown returned holding his handkerchief to a wound in his temple which bled profusely, and having apologized to those present for the interruption he had caused, he proceeded to inform them that Henry Rayne stood in such a relation with him, as justified him in silencing any man who took his name in jest; the little wound he had just received, he thought was well earned, when he knew he had the satisfaction of horse-whipping the meanest man in creation, 'for any other offence, gentlemen' said the stranger 'I could not lay hands on him, for "he that toucheth pitch shall be defiled" but to pronounce my friend's name in a slanderous lie, I could not endure. Perhaps,' he continued, 'it is like kicking a man when he's down, to tell you now, gentlemen, that the fellow who had just maligned an honest man was once thrashed within an inch of his life by this same Henry Rayne at college, for a cowardly, disrespectful deed of his towards some lady friends of ours. The hatred born of the moment that he lay in the dust of the college yard, with the finger of scorn raised at him from every hand, has never flickered in its steadiness. As you see, he thought to gratify himself somewhat by abusing this gentleman when he saw no friend of the absent one near, but he will likely look the next time before he speaks, and now,' said he, taking his hat, 'once more I apologize and express my regret at having been forced to disturb you, but I feel that you will easily forgive me under the circumstances,' and dear uncle, what do you think, but every man there shook him by the hand and stroked him on the shoulder, speaking his praises loudly and all they knew of the chivalrous stranger was that he was a transient guest at the house, who was passing through Dublin on his way farther south, and that his name was 'Edgeworth.' So is this not an exciting piece of news, dear uncle; think while you are living placidly in America, your wrongs are being enthusiastically righted in the old world."
Henry Rayne laid down the letter and looked steadily into the fire. What a torrent memory had let loose upon him! he lived the old years all over again, he saw the dear familiar scenes buried in the half-burned coals, the smiling associations of the past. "Poor Bob" he said, "and I have never seen him once in all these years, to think he should have stood by me now as he did that day at college when I punished that rascal Tremaine. How I wish I could find him out! good honest friend that he is, can I ever repay him, I wonder, for this noble action done me?" Here Rayne lost himself in a long reverie, he went over the days of his boyhood again, and as he thought, a smile half sad stole over his face, and in the end a tear was actually glistening in each eye. It was the old old story over again, memory weeping over dead joys, experience sighing for the happy long ago. The same influence was upon him now as guided the pen of Blair when it wrote "How painful the remembrance of joys departed never to return," and as inspired Byron when he sighed "Ah, happy years! once more who would not be a boy?"
We may wonder how long Henry Rayne would have sat motionless in his chair by the fireside, with his inclined head resting on his hand, while he brooded over the years of his life and clasped anew in their old warmth, hands that had long grown cold, either in the gloominess of death, or for need of the responsive touch, from those that were extended to them in far-off climes; but as the clock struck eleven Fitts appeared in the doorway, breaking the spell by asking his master if he "need replenish the grate before retiring?" "Yes—No," replied Mr. Rayne, "you may go Fitts, I want nothing else to-night."
Drawing a long sigh, he gathered up the scattered letters and was about to consign them to the flames but in turning to do so, he knocked his arm violently against the back of his chair, dropping them all again at his feet. Stooping to gather them, he noticed for the first time the heavy letter with the foreign post-marks and large legible hand-writing which, had it not been for this timely accident, would have been thrust unconsciously into the fire, thus forcing our narrative to close here, but instead he raised it hurriedly, throwing the rest back on the floor, and scrutinized it with a searching, confused look, but the more he saw it the more it puzzled him, he was evidently in the dark: finally he tore it open and readjusting his gold spectacles, straightened out its creases and began to read.
It was a very long time afterwards, when the paper dropped from the cold, trembling hands of Henry Rayne; a sort of stupor had been creeping slowly over him while he read; now he had finished the last word but he did not move, the coals had fallen to ashes, the wind had risen and howled around the house, the room had grown chilly and damp, the rain lashed in huge drops against the panes, but Henry Rayne saw not, felt not, heeded not, he was far far away by the side of an esteemed friend, he was swearing a vow of eternal friendship, and was accepting gladly, gratefully from his hands a precious charge, a weighty responsibility— how could he hesitate? he was pouring out all the consolation and sympathy of his ardent soul to the man he had loved as a boy, and he never felt the chill that was stiffening all his joints, he never heeded the ceaseless patter of the dreary rain. The clock had stopped and the fire had gone out, and still he sat crouched in his chair, with the strange letter lying listlessly between his fingers.
What a queer phase of life was dawning upon him! what a strange mission was coming to him from over the seas! what freak had destiny taken to send him his nephew's letter with its interesting detail, and this other one, on the same night! Guy's letter brought back an old friend in the freshness and vigor of his youth, with hand uplifted to defend him, this other one revealed the same dear friend, but worn and wasted from premature age, with the daring hand laid quietly on his breast, sleeping the last long sleep—yes; this puzzling letter had been traced by the feeble hand of Robert Edgeworth and had been forwarded to Henry Rayne at his death. It contained an anxious, serious request. It asked of Henry Rayne to open his heart and home, to the only child of an old friend, to father an orphan girl for the sake of "old times," and the happy "long ago." It would not have meant much for some others, but it seemed the greatest of all responsibilities to Henry Rayne, who had become an utter stranger to the female sex, and who had settled down in an old bachelor's home for the rest of his life. He tried to think it all out, but the fragile form of a young, beautiful girl, glided between him and his thought, and he saw upon her face the sweet, sad smile, of a parentless child pleading for protection. He was lost—he was dreaming; he never stirred for hours, until the dawn streaked in between the drawn curtains, giving the room an unnatural look, with its glare of gas-light and the straggling rays of the misty morning's sun crossing one another, until "Potts" stole down with her slippers under her arm, and in her bewilderment at the sight of the gas-light, put her head in at the door.
When she saw her master's firm, set face and vacant eyes, and the letters laying around the floor, her heart gave a bound, and she screamed outright.
Henry Rayne raised his head, rubbed his eyes, and tried to stretch his limbs, now numb with the damp dullness of the night. Potts had run to him and was asking the "matter," with dilated eyes and anxious voice.
"Don't be afraid, Potts," he said at last, "I have been reading a very very strange letter, and I forgot the hours, I will go and lie down now; don't make any fuss about it, and I'll tell you the important news after breakfast."
Poor Potts went off to the kitchen shaking her head as usual, and murmuring to herself all the while, such exclamations as "Well, well now." "That's quare now." "Well to be sure." It was with her brain quite in a whirl that she went about her morning duties, wondering very much what could have come over her master, to make him forget to go to bed. When Fitts came in at the back door, with an armful of wood, Mrs. Potts could not conceal her gratification at having been the first to discover the secret, and she rattled on (to herself, as it were) with her back turned to Fitts, "Well shure 'tis the quarest thing in life—all through the night, too; dear, oh dear! Such a life's enough to turn one gray in no time."
"What have you there all to yourself now, dear Mrs. Potts," came from Fitts as he flung the wood into the box, "come now, I heard you, what's throublin', what's inside your purty border this time, your mind I mane?"
"Be off with you now mister Fitts; 'tis other people's minds that's bothered, an' I'm only sorry for it: but y'ell know soon enough; the master 'ill tell ye when he sees fit, and ye can be preparin' for it till then."
"Well now, that's funny," says he. "How did you come to know anything since last night?" and there was a suspicion of jealousy in his voice, "I left the master meself the last thing, last night, an' he's not up this mornin' yet, so what are ye dhrivin' at?"
"I know what I know," said the irritating Potts, "and I'm sorry I can't tell ye but its a saycret yet awhile; be patient."
"Who wants to know it anyway?" said Fitts, who was quite vexed now, "I'm sure I don't," and he went out with a slight intimation that he had securely closed the door behind him.
At nine o'clock Henry Rayne came downstairs, looking tired and pale, and instead of his usual hearty breakfast, he merely drank a cup of warm coffee. He had just finished this, and was balancing his spoon on the edge of his cup, as he cogitated upon the strange mission that had been thrust upon him, when Potts came in to serve his "second cup," but instead of this, he bade her summons Fitts, that he had something to tell them both. When a few moments later Henry Rayne turned to confront his servants, who stood expectant before him, his troubled face and serious air made them start perceptibly; in an earnest tone he said,
"I have received an important letter from a friend of mine, who has died since the writing thereof; he has entrusted me with the care of his only child, and to comply with his dying request I must make immediate preparations to leave home, for I have a long way to travel before I can accomplish his desire; I therefore want you to understand that I may be a very long or a very short while away from home, but I wish you both to serve me as faithfully on this occasion as you have on all others. Don't talk about my absence more than you can help; I can give all the necessary explanation on my return." "Potts," he said, addressing the solemn looking old woman separately, "you must renovate the house a little, I think; those spare bedrooms must be well aired and touched up somewhat, for we will need them henceforth. My little charge happens to be a girl, and unless you can contribute towards making things to her liking, I am lost. Spare no expense to make the house comfortable in every respect, for the protegee of mine is a lady, I know. And you, Fitts," he continued, turning to the dignified male servant, "will, I am sure, lend a hand towards the general improvement. See that the phaeton and sleighs be in good order, and, in fact, I think you will each do your duties well, without my enumerating them. You know I have full confidence in both of you, and I think you will not abuse of it." The two devoted attendants answered sincerely, each with a suspicion of moisture in their eyes that answered Mr. Rayne more than anything else.
On the following afternoon Mr. Rayne left Ottawa, on his extended trip, much to the surprise of his friends, and according to promise, his servants displayed the greatest discretion possible. Within the week, Mr. Fitts was delighted to receive news from his master, informing him that in a few days he would sail for Liverpool.
The voyage across the majestic ocean, was a fair and enjoyable one, and Mr. Rayne spent the days out on the deck of the splendid "Parisian," smoking and thinking, and wondering at the unusual turn things had taken for him, since last he crossed that same Atlantic. He was anxious to know how it would all end, and whether he would be able for this new responsibility brought to him so suddenly. Heaven had not willed him the experience of a wedded life, and so he resolved to devote himself to this little charge as though she were his own flesh and blood; he would teach her to give him a father's love, and if he could help it, she would never know the want of a father's care.
The first duty of Henry Rayne, on landing at Liverpool, was to consult the letter of his deceased friend, and write to the address given therein, to inform the parties alluded to, of his arrival. Special mention was made of one, "Anne Palmer," who was spoken of highly, as a faithful and trustworthy woman, who had nursed the child from her infancy. This gratified Henry Rayne immensely, for he resolved, at any cost, to secure her, knowing how necessary her long and untiring attendance must have made her to the girl's existence.
A reply to his kind letter reached Henry Rayne some days before he had expected it, informing him that Honor Edgeworth and her maid had left on the day following the receipt of his letter, and would shortly join him at Liverpool. Such indeed was the case, for even as Henry Rayne read the words over to himself, as fast as steam and water could carry her, Honor Edgeworth was travelling away from her native home. She saw not, heeded not, the passengers, the scenery, the bustle, and confusion that surrounded her; she only leant her head on the shoulder of her old nurse, and wept silent, bitter tears all the while. Poor Nanette strove hard to console her in her woe, but the swelling never left the pretty eyes, and the sighs never ceased escaping from the dainty lips during the whole voyage.
"It is such a queer destiny, Nanette," she said repeatedly, "this man may hate me. He was only a boy when papa knew him; perhaps he has grown up a wicked man that will detest me, you know Nanette, people change a great deal sometimes."
"Don't fret, my beauty," was all the disconsolate woman could say. "You may be sure your father did not act in the dark, where his little girl was concerned. He had great trouble in finding the gentleman's address at all, so you may be sure he looked for other information at the same time."
"Yes, I suppose he did," Honor sighed, half resignedly. "What the end will be, time will tell."
From London they telegraphed to Mr. Rayne, telling him of their safe arrival thus far, and seized with an insuperable impatience to become known to his little protegee, he answered them immediately, that he would meet them in Manchester. The night was wet and dark and cheerless, as Nanette and her pretty charge rolled into this large manufacturing city of England. All the other passengers had hurried out, they alone remained, careless whether they went or stayed, sadly and listlessly, they proceeded to gather up their little belongings, dashing away as they did so, scalding tears that welled into their eyes.
"Are you ready, love?" Nanette asked plaintively, turning towards Honor.
"Yes I am," the girl answered with a sigh, "ready for the battle of life—come along, Nanette."
Just as she uttered the words, and before she had stepped from the railway carriage, the guard, accompanied by a gentleman, thrust his head in, and hurriedly announcing "Mr. Rayne, ladies," darted off again, leaving them together. The long looked for moment had arrived: the first meeting, upon which so many thoughts were spent by all three, was already over. Honor Edgeworth raised her eyes to the gentleman announced, and a smile of infinite relief broke over her face; Mr Rayne raised his hat to the younger lady, and a mysterious smile of infinite admiration stole over his face. He broke the silence by addressing Nanette.
"I presume, madam," he began, "you are the person in charge of Miss Edgeworth, the young lady recommended to my future care?" and before she had time to answer, he had extended both hands to Honor.
"Yes, sir," said Nanette, a little nervously, "I give into your hands all that I hold dearest in life;" and then, lowering her voice, she continued, almost to herself, "I can go back again to my poor old home, but the sunshine is gone out of it forever."
Henry Rayne looked quickly up at her: he was assisting Honor out, as she spoke.
"Is it possible that you are not coming to Canada with us?"' he asked in a confounded tone.
"Ah, sir!" answered the poor creature, "I will go in heart, indeed, but there was no provision made to send me all the way with the child."
"Oh this can never be," Henry Rayne interrupted, hurriedly, "I have intended from the first, that you should not be left. Come, come, we will manage everything smoothly by and by. Do not leave one another now, unnecessarily, when you have been together all your lives." There was a shout of delight from both, and clasped in each other's arms, never to part again, they thanked God sincerely for His goodness to them, so far.
"The dear child, sir, I'd have died without her." Nanette sobbed through the tears of joy.
"Of course you would," Henry Rayne answered, handing them into the carriage that awaited them. He cast an admiring glance on "the child" in question, as he sat himself opposite to her on the leather buttoned seat of the hack. If "child" she must be, she would undoubtedly prove an interesting one, for she was now, to all appearances, in her seventeenth year, and showed promises of future development into a splendid woman. For the first few moments Nanette never ceased her protestations of gratitude, and when at last she finished them in a great sob behind her handkerchief, Honor looked sweetly up in Mr. Rayne's face and said.
"Your first act, dear guardian, was one of unsolicited kindness. What will after years bring, when we have learned to respect and love you, and do you good turns as well? The future seems so bright, now that Nanette is coming, for," she explained "you must know, Mr. Rayne, she is the only mother I have ever known, and when dear papa lived he treated Nanette just as he would a member of his own family."
"And I will never be the one to make the first difference," answered Mr. Rayne. "My house is large; I am a crusty old bachelor, with no other tie binding me to the world, except this new link that has just filled me with a desire to live anew from this out. All I have is at your disposal: you must make yourself perfectly at home with me. I don't know much about winning the confidence and hearts of young girls now, but I shall expect you to come to me with yours, because henceforth you are going to be all my own."
"I do not wish to dispute it, Mr. Rayne," Honor answered sweetly, "but I have a presentiment that you are going to spoil me."
"Oh I won't be very cross with you, unless you steal my spectacles or court my footman, or do anything like that," Henry Rayne answered playfully.
Thus, in the pleasantest manner possible, were the first hours of their rencontre spent. When their drive ended, they alighted before a handsome hotel, ablaze with light, where a tempting supper awaited them. Henry Rayne, fancying that it was the right thing to do to young girls who had been travelling a great deal, told Honor she must retire immediately. "We have our lives long to chat," he said, "so rest yourselves well to night"
When they had reached their rooms, Honor turned with a bright smile on her face, and said to Nanette,
"Don't you think he will be just lovely and kind, dear Nanette? He is a perfect gentleman."
"God bless him," answered Nanette, "he is a good man and has a good heart, and we must never have him regret what he has done for us."
"Well, it is a great weight off my mind anyhow," said Honor, with a sigh of relief, "I am full of hopes now for the future, and I know we cannot help loving dear kind Mr. Rayne;" and over such enthusiastic words Honor and Nanette fell into their deep calm sleep.
All this time Henry Rayne was smoking quietly in the parlor below, and thinking of the lovely face that was going to shed its radiance henceforth on his silent home. Already he longed for the morning to come, that he might look on it again. In the course of his meditation, a thought came to him, which had not suggested itself before, and it was this:
"If the world should choose to attach its own interpretation to this new relationship, if a word was cast afloat which could scatter the germs of a suspicion, what then? If those venomous tongues that keep the world buzzing with scandal chose to attack her, how was he to prevent it?" A cloud overshadowed his face, there was a momentary pang in his heart, but he consoled himself that he had thought of it in time—he would defy the world, his manner towards her would dare gossiping tongues, he was nearly three times her age now, and had his life not been such as could defy the babbling of the whole world?
But it was only the old tale, a woman's name is a tempting bit to society, in one of its particular phases, though, of course, even society in this, its calumniated epoch yet retains its discrimination, its rules are not so arbitrary as its enemies declare them, and its heart is at times susceptible to the pleadings of misfortune for mercy. Woman, alas! has her fallen sister on every rung of the social ladder, though from general appearances one would be led to judge, that wealth and position and fame, claim virtue as all their own, it seems, that vice and error thrive only where poverty and ignorance and destitution abide, is this so? Ye who know the secrets of a fashionable world, ye, who have seen laid bare, the hearts full of secrets of pampered ladies, and pretentious dames, say, are they so guileless, so spotless, so blameless as society would have them? Is it only the poor seamstress, or the working-girl that is human enough to err? Is it only the breast which heaves under tatters and rags, that bears the impress of the trembling hand that has struck the "mea culpa" in its woe? O, I doubt it, I for one deny it. True it is, painfully, shamefully true it is, that the "nobodies" of the world who meet misfortune are mercilessly forced to stand in the corridors of time, that those, who domineer in virtue, may ostentatiously compassionate them, but will such a paltry show of charity as this, blind the world, as it tries to do? Let us hope not. Let the pampered daughter of wealth and social fame, who goes astray, share the pitiless fate of the beggar who does likewise, or, better still, let the beggar be shown such mercy, and justification and pardon as is granted her sister in high life. In the sight of God crime is the one color, why not so with men? If anything, vice repels far more forcibly, when attired in its velvets and silks, than when it looks out from scanty rags, which after all, may be turned more easily to sack cloth. Who can doubt that there are hundreds of outcasts, living in persistent wrong doing, on account of this lack of humanity, this total abstinence of Christian charity, whose exercise could redeem just as many as its scarcity ruins. Poor foolish souls! Why need they thirst for mercy or sympathy that is human, know they not, that they are as justified in spurning the world's great ones, as those great ones are in spurning them. What can human mercy avail them, after all, is there not a Good Shepherd, so eager, so ready, so anxious to grant forgiveness for the asking? Why do ye not seek Him, ye whom a rigorous society has cast out of its pale? be not content to live on as drudges and slaves to such a heartless world when there is a harvest for you to gather so near, and you have only to learn the words of Him who spoke truth and wisdom themselves to encourage you onward, that "there is more joy in heaven over the conversion of one sinner than at the perseverance of ninety-nine just."
"Ah poor child, with heart of woman Solitary, quiet, grave; Strong of will and firm of purpose Self absorbed in silence brave"
A page or two, of the record of time, turned over unnoticed, will not be missed out of the careers of our characters, it will include the days that have elapsed since that night that Honor Edgeworth lay wide awake on her pillow, playing with the shadowy visions of a possible future, as they danced around her bed, since that night in Manchester, when Nanette slept so contentedly and Henry Rayne smoked in moody silence by the fire-place in the hotel parlor. When we become interested again, it is a clear, bright day, blue and white threads of filmy loveliness flit along the sky, a soft, gentle breeze is blowing, and over the restless waves of the broad Atlantic the "Parisian" is skipping gracefully. She is nearing the port, and many are the anxious, weary faces that turn landward with a sigh upon their lips.
Among the others that are gathered here and there on her broad decks, on this lovely glorious afternoon, we are compelled to notice the graceful, slender form, of a young girl, who sits a little away from the others, with her head leaning on her folded hands, and her sad eyes resting on the troubled waters in a fixed, but vacant stare, she is thinking, it is evident, and thinking deeply, there is not a muscle moving in her handsome face, her lips are set, her chin is slightly raised, the loose locks are blowing with the wind now and then from off her brow, but her eyes ever seek the deepest depth of the green blue sea. She might be a perfect statue, only for the gentle heaving of her breast, that rises and falls in little sighs.
Every one has noticed her, but none would intrude upon her in this reverie, that seems to be her normal state, her face has assumed that expression of intense emotion that could fascinate the most unwilling victim, and indeed they are very few who are not willing to pay a tribute at that shrine, while she in her unconsciousness, is living the long sunny hours, down in the bottomless sea, trying to penetrate it with the eyes of her soul, trying to fathom the fathomless, to understand the mysterious, and to shape into existence the uncreated, these are the strange things that rivet the gaze of Honor Edgeworth on the spray of the billows below. At last she starts up, as if in broken slumber, and turns suddenly 'round.
Two heavy hands have been laid on her slender shoulders, two eyes full of glowing admiration are turned upon her, and Henry Rayne, in a low, loving voice says in her ear:
"Come back to the deck of the 'Parisian' Honor for a little while, you have been down with the 'whales and little fishes' long enough now."
Her eyes filled with tenderness as she looked up to the good face bending over her.
"Oh Mr. Rayne, is it you?" she said "I was wondering where you were, is Nanette sleeping yet?"
"Yes, my dear," he answered, drawing a seat near hers, "and I've been amused by the little window there for fifteen minutes, wondering what there was existing capable of making any one strike such a thoughtful attitude as yours."
"Why, Mr. Rayne, all I could condense into my poor little brain at once, is not worth attracting your grand attention. But, I love to think: I have so many little ethereal friends that flock around me when I sit down to think, they are all my ideals, you know." She continued, clasping her hands enthusiastically, "In that little world of thought, where I drift so often in the day, there is none of that coldness nor selfishness that characterizes your material world. We are all equal, and we love one another so much! I don't know when it fascinated me first, but it seems so natural to me now to steal away there from the din of active life. But how is it you always catch me just when I've forgotten that there is any reality at all?"
"Because, I suppose," laughed Mr. Rayne "you are always in that state of blissful forgetfulness, and if you don't mind yourself you'll fall into a chronic state of dreaming, and then be no more to us than a veritable somnambulist, now, you wouldn't like that, would you?"
"Oh, there is no fear of that, I am not spiritual enough yet to abandon stern reality altogether, but I fancy you will often tire of me before you grow quite accustomed to my strange caprices?"
"Why my dear little Honor, is that the color you would have me paint your future? surely not. If Destiny has raised my hand to blend the colors in the fair scenery of your life, I will stain the canvas a 'couleur de rose,' and make it a lovely thing to contemplate, if I possibly can, so do not ever sigh to-day for to-morrow, know beforehand that it will be just as you will have it."
"Ah, ha! Mr. Rayne, who is waxing romantic now," the girl cried playfully, "I'm so glad to have caught you once. But do you know, I sometimes wonder, if all these days have not really been spent in my fairy land, for things have happened as harmoniously as though life were not a series of discords at its best, Nanette was not forced to leave me, and you did not get bored at my eccentricities, and I liked you so much right away, and our safe journey, and everything together."
"Well, I hope it will convince you my child," said Rayne earnestly, "that life in its common-place acceptation is not so dreadful as you have pronounced it—wait a while—a little practical experience will serve to persuade you, that there are a few redeeming traits in the big, nasty world after all, and will force you to give up these wild theories of idealism that are strangely out of place in a young girl of our period."
"So many tell me that," said Honor distractedly, "but I can't know of course, just yet, what difference all the complicated circumstances that wind themselves around other girl's lives, will make in mine, if they change me at all, they must make an entirely different person of me, and if they are baffled, I will only be stronger and more obstinate than ever in my own views. Either of these must be my destiny, as yet I know no partiality towards either one, but I think it is because I feel so safe in myself that I defy other influences to do their worst."
"Well, dear," said Mr. Rayne, rising, "You won't blame me for the consequences, when you really want my opinion I'll give it to you, I'll try to show you fairly and honestly both sides of the picture of life, I would like to see you stand by its colossal works of art, you may perhaps care to imitate the artists. All that is great and good within my reach, you will see, and yet, I think it wise that you should turn from the luxury of wealth and self-indulgence now and then, to look unshrinkingly upon the squalid misery and wantonness that haunt the greater half of the world. But, come, we will go inside, the air is somewhat chilly, and if Nanette intends to wake at all, she must be looking for us now."
Leaning on the arm of her guardian, Honor slowly walked towards the door of the entrance, followed by many an admiring glance from the other passengers. They found Nanette rubbing her tell-tale eyes, and avowing that she had not "slept a wink" all day.
* * * * *
Under the roof of Henry Rayne's comfortable house everything has undergone a change, there is a primness and a fitness about the rooms that used not to be there, a cosy look peeps out from every turn and corner of the well-furnished apartments. The pantry shelves are whole rows of temptations. Very tame lions looking meekly out with their "jelly" eyes, and rare birds perched in trembling dignity on some pudding that has come "beautifully" out of the mould. In fact it seems that good Mrs. Potts has converted her whole "receipt book" into shelves of substantial and dainty representatives, but such fruitful contemplations as these will surely rouse one to action, and appropriate "action" in a well-filled pantry forebodes merciless slaughter for these culinary imitations of animal life.
Upstairs appeals less dangerously to the material element. It is neat and enticing everywhere. There is the sitting room where Mr. Rayne spent his long, thoughtful night under the gaslight with Robert Edgeworth's letter lying between his numbed fingers. The fire burns there cheerfully now—there is no other light than that cast by the fitful flames which leap and dwindle in shadows through the twilight that lingers still, huge fanciful phantoms skipping over the walls and the ceiling and floor, a little flickering subdued light that trembles on the great arm chairs. "Flo" is curled up, with both ends saluting one another, on the velvet rug before the fender, and at a civil distance away is a purring bundle of gray and white pussy, with her paws doubled in and her eyes blinking at the half-burned coals. There is a bird cage in each window, and an odd little lullaby chirp or the grating of the little iron swings is the only sound besides the loosening and falling of the embers every now and then.
Opposite to this is the large drawing room with its deep bay window, its rich carpet and massive furnishings. Not the stiff formal looking parlor of a lone bachelor, but the comfortable, tastily arranged room of a man who had confided such things to the better judgment and defter hands of a woman. There are fine statues and splendid paintings, and bric-a-brac enough to deceive anyone into believing it to be the home of a bevy of girls. There is a grand piano in the end of the room, and a violin in its case in the corner—this latter had been the faithful companion of Henry Rayne through many years of his life, and held as conspicuous a place in his drawing room as it did in his esteem. Upstairs again, we find the strangest little room of all. A girl's bedroom, richly, handsomely furnished, a heavy carpet of dark colored pattern covers the floor, a massive walnut set is also there, a cosy lounge is crossways in the corner, near the bay window, which is a perfect little conservatory of blooming flowers. A handsome pair of brackets adorn the tinted walls, holding on one side a fine statue of the "Blessed Virgin and Child," and on the other that of a "Guardian Angel." Hanging opposite the bed is an oil painting of "Mater Dolorosa," besides sundry little chromos and photographs that destroy the monotony of bare walls. There is nothing left to wish for—beauty, utility, grandeur have been harmoniously blended here, and this is the nook that Henry Rayne offers Honor Edgeworth, one worthy of a princess, indeed. Mrs. Potts had promised herself that nothing should be left undone on the arrival of the travellers, and very well she kept her word too. When the violent ring of the bell that announced their coming echoed through the house, Mrs. Potts had only to roll down the sleeves of her best wincey and button them at her wrists. The clattering slippers had been superannuated, and a neat pair of prunella gaiters showed their patent toes from under the hem of her cleanest gown. A broad grin of unmistakeable joy lights up the old creature's face as she hastens to welcome her master, and this changes to a solemn look of profound admiration as Henry Rayne presents her to Honor Edgeworth, and asks her to show the young lady to her room.
"You must make yourself at home, Honor, for the present, with things as they are. After a while we can make things more comfortable, may be, but this is my little home as it was intended for the last days of an old bachelor, to be spent all by himself," and as he spoke, Henry laughed out right, and beckoned her to follow Mrs. Potts.
When Honor stood upon the rich red rug at the threshold of her door, she uttered a low exclamation of wonder.
"This can't be for me, Mrs. Potts" she said, folding her hands and looking in dismay around her.
"Indeed it is, miss, and not a bit too good is it aither, for yer jewel ov a face to smile on. Och, shure it'll be doin' me old eyes good from this out to be lookin' at yer purty face. But come now, miss, you must be bate out entirely wid the joultin 'o the cars. Let me onfasten them things for ye."
Mrs. Potts was quite at home with the "dear young lady" all at once. As she helped to undo the girl's wrappings she grew less shy and reserved, and prattled on, "Shure it'll be the life o' the master altogether, to have ye around the big house that was allays so lonesome like for the wont ov a lady like yerself is, to cheer it up."
"I hope I may do that," said Honor earnestly, "for Mr. Rayne deserves all the comfort it is in our power to give him."
"Oh, troth! yer right there, missy, an' its only half what he desarves the whole of us together could give him, but shure, if we give him all we're able, an' our good intinshions along wid that, he won't be the man to grumble at that same."
Honor began to understand the character of this old servant immediately. She recognized all those traits that invariably betray the Irish nationality. Such whole-souled creatures are of too universal a type ever to be mistaken.
"Well, then, ye'r ready now, miss, are you?" Mrs. Potts queried when all was over. "Well, if ye like, ye can go an' wait for the ould lady, for she's not fixed up yet, an' I'll jist run and throw an eye over the table, ye know, I'm Jack of all thrades for a while."
"Go, my good woman, by all means," Honor answered, "we will be down directly; don't wait for us."
Potts, who rather suspected an odor of over-done victuals, bounded down to the kitchen, leaving Honor in Nanette's care. Nanette's room was next to Honor's, and had been used as a sort of spare room up to the present time. It was now intensely comfortable and neat, without anything costly or expensive which could make poor Nanette feel out of her element.
"Is Mr. Rayne not the very impersonation of goodness itself, Nanny dear?" said Honor. She was standing with her back to the door, watching her old nurse undoing their valises, when she uttered this exclamation.
"Come now, Honor, spare a fellow when he's right behind you," said the good-natured voice of the person thus eulogized. Honor started around, looking very pretty in her confusion.
"I thought 'listeners never heard well of themselves,'" said she in a pout, "but this time it seems to be reversed."
"And you won't take it back for all that," said he, "the oldest of us likes a little praise now and then, you may as well let me keep it."
"Oh yes indeed, Mr. Rayne, you may have that little bit, for you know how good you are and how kind to me."
"Well, that will do after tea, but just now we will give our attention to something more substantial; come Honor—come Nanette."
"Don't wait for me sir," the old nurse answered respectfully, "I'll find Mrs. Potts in the kitchen and we'll sip our tea together there."
Henry Rayne looked quickly at Honor and detected the slightest shadow of a disappointment flitting across her face, this decided him.
"It is my intention that you and Potts will not be quite such good friends," he said, "I am sure that Honor would rather you made the tea at our table."
"Don't appeal to me," Honor answered as she met his enquiring glance, "it is superfluous, you always anticipate my wishes. I've never drunk another cup but the tea Nanette made."
"Nor shall you, so long as we are spared a happy trinity," cried Henry Rayne, "so let's be off, I cry—to tea—to tea—to tea."
The Autumn clouds are flying, Homeless over me, The homeless birds are crying, In the naked tree. —George Macdonald
It was a very pleasant, little tableau that followed, those three happy souls, gathered around a well-spread table laughing and chatting merrily. Honor no longer felt any timidity or reserve before Mr. Rayne, his advanced years commanded a confidence and trust that she would have otherwise perhaps been slow to give, and the unlimited generosity he betrayed in even anticipating her every wish, gave her no opportunity to feel that she was under the patronage of a perfect stranger. He had shown himself as a kind, indulgent father from the first, and was as solicitous about her as though she had been his very own, or that he had been accustomed to administer to the wants and wishes of a young unripened girl all his life. But this is no mystery to the interpreter of the human heart. Henry Rayne could hardly act otherwise to any lone helpless creature without sacrificing the impulses of his own generous, noble soul, and trampling upon the desire that continually influenced him towards being the direct cause of happiness and comfort to others. Taking away any supernatural motive that might lead him to such generous action, yet leaves the deed a worthy one, and the heart a Christian one, for, to gratify others was to gratify himself, and this alone is characteristic of a great soul. As the orphan child of a friend of his youth, I doubt not that Henry Rayne would protect her at his life's peril. We all know what a firm knot it is that binds the sympathetic souls of rollicking college "chums" which, tied once, is tied forever. It has always been so; it is one of those strictly conservative principles that grows with mankind in every generation, and is yet never found extravagant, if not because of the noble character of the sentiment itself, at least because our forefathers never condemned it, and the world generally continues to favor such an alliance. Such was the nature of the staunch friendship that existed between Henry Rayne and Bob Edgeworth, a friendship that had only strengthened itself by pledges and vows, as the youths shook hands in a fond farewell over the threshold of their college home.
From the day on which Honor Edgeworth settled in her new home, life began to assume its most indulgent phase. Everything around her met her eye for the first time, no sorrowful associations hung in misty veils over anything that entered into the charms of her new life. Nanette was the only breathing, living testimony of the years that had gone, and the home of her childhood that she had left forever. A few old books of literature and of music, a few little trifling souvenirs from her dead mother's jewel box, an inlaid mahogony writing-desk and a miniature likeness of her proud handsome father, were all the visible reminders she now held of the fair, sunny home, under the far foreign skies.
Mr Rayne resumed his duties immediately on his return, and lost no time in propagating among his most intimate and influential friends, the story of the odd legacy left him by a "distant relation." At first Mr. Rayne feared greatly that Honor would find the days long and tedious, while he was absent and unable to ferret out distraction for her, but he grew resigned very soon when she assured him how much more to her taste it was to have the quiet hours of the day to herself, and "in fact," she said, "as the occasion presented itself, she would beg of Mr. Rayne not to expect her to share in any amusement, at least for some time, for besides the mourning she wore for her father, her knowledge of the country and its customs was not yet sufficient to satisfy her with herself," and putting it to him as a request, she knew it would be acceded to on the spot.
The light of the summer days had begun to wane. The leaves had begun to turn. Out door pleasures were being forsaken for the seat by the fireside The world looked as if 'twere waiting. The autumn months had a particular effect on Honor Edgeworth, she would stand at the window, and look sadly through the panes at the red and yellow leaves falling softly, noiselessly down to the cold wet ground, and a shiver would pass through her as she realized even in this the mortality that hangs like an unseen pall over all things below. Just a moment ago, a pretty golden leaf danced on the bough, but the cold wind, surrounding it, bore it away on its fated pinions down into the cold stiff gutter, where it was either trampled heedlessly down by the reckless passer-by, or wafted farther away out of sight, left to wither and die by the roadside. But, perhaps not, either, maybe the slender, delicate hand of an admirer of nature stooped to gather the fallen leaf, to wipe the dust from its golden front, and lay it tenderly by as a souvenir of the dead year, to lie among the gathered blossoms of some dear one's grave, with bitter tears of sad remembrance and grief to bathe it, as its evening dew. And is not this life! How many golden leaves are hurled into the mire of sin, and upon how much marvellous beauty the heavy foot of worldly scorn is stamped forever! How many pretty little amber leaves drift on through the cold wide world, until their beauty is spent, and until wrecked and faded they lay themselves down by the withered blades to die. But oh! there are again those stainless leaves that glide into the fingers of the Great Gatherer of Beauty, to find in His compassion and His mercy a refuge from the coldest blasts. The pity is that these last are, like the leaves of the Autumn trees, the scarcest in number; or, after all is the happy life of one summer month, price enough for a "forever" of withered beauty and faded grace?
Poor Honor turned away with a heavy sigh; she could not learn a cheerful lesson from nature's gigantic book, she had stood by the window for nearly an hour in silent communion with the dumb eloquent world: there was a strange empty feeling in her heart, that she longed to stifle, somehow her reverie had made her feel a little lonesome, for whom she knew not. She was now tasting a little of Life's bitter sweet, and like every other girl of eighteen, was madly wishing for the denouement to come. Poor foolish eighteen! Why will you extract from Destiny the pain that will be yours soon enough: not contented to be free, unfettered, and all your own? You want a sad change, you make an unwise bargain. Do not envy the future its darkness, nor the "to be" its mystery, it is painful enough that in time your poor weary eyes must weep salt bitter tears as they view the unravelling of each. The love that you long for to-day is coming to you, slowly but surely, out of the iron heart of Destiny, but beware! Were it not for Love there would be no hatred, were it not for Fidelity there would be no deception, were it not for Happiness there would be no misery. "'Tis Heaven to love," as love-sick poets have sung. But 'tis Hell to love as well, as love duped wretches have wailed......
Turning from the window, Honor Edgeworth sighed as deep a sigh as if a pain had dwelt within her heart—she was telling herself that she must wait and hope, hope and realize, and so when it did not come to-day, she only sighed again as she laid her weary head upon its pillow, and whispered "To-morrow." When she turned towards the firelight to shut out the cheerless vision of the dreary world from her tired eyes, she started to notice how quickly the shadows had crept over the room. She could see them chasing one another by the quivering light of the grate, and as the silent voices of the gloaming whispered to her heart, her eyes lit up with an unusual brightness and her lips broke apart in a slow dreamy smile. It was nearly six by the marble clock on the mantel, Mr. Rayne would be home in another little while, and with this thought she turned languidly to the etagere in the corner, in her search for distraction, and drew from a shelf a small volume which attracted her eye. She then poked a large black coal until it sent a bright lurid flame up the chimney, and filled the room with a cheerful light: slowly, almost tastelessly, she proceeded to turn the pages over, scanning here and there a line or two; at length, smiling, she said to herself, "I used to know these verses long ago. I wonder if I have forgotten them."
She stood up as she spoke, and glancing at the first word, folded her hands behind her back still holding the volume, with one finger inserted on this particular part. She leaned one shoulder gently against the mantel-corner and looked into the fire. Why did she not look towards the window? A moment before, the garden gate had closed noiselessly behind the tall, well-built figure of a man, who before entering the house, had turned to look aimlessly in at the large square window from which was reflected the warm light of the grate. But how soon his eyes became riveted to the spot standing in front of the fire was the fairest creature he had ever looked on before, the fitful flames were casting their light upon her handsome face, her eyes looked almost wild to-night in their sadness, and her cheeks had an unusual glow. Standing with her hands behind her back, she showed to advantage the perfect contour of her figure, and while he feasted his eyes on her physical loveliness he caught a little word in a sweet sad voice, that recalled lines he was fond of repeating himself; he strained every nerve to catch the tones within. Knowing the verses himself enabled him to understand her readily as she quoted—
"I have said my life is a beautiful thing," "I will crown me with its flowers; I will sing of its glory all day long, For my harp is young and sweet and strong, And the passionate power within my song Shall thrill all the golden hours; And over the sand and over the stone Forever and ever the waves rolled on."
She paused a moment, and puckering her brow slightly as if in an effort to remember, she continued,
"For under the sky there is not for me, A kindred soul or sympathy, Must I stand alone in Life's busy crowd A living heart in a death-like shroud, And the voice of my wailing o'er sand and stone, Must it die on the waves as they e'er roll on."
"That verse is her own," said the still watcher at the window.
The girl's voice faded to a sigh, she drew her hands apart and opened the book again, the face outside pressed more eagerly still against the cold pane.
"Why!" she suddenly exclaimed, "the words are all marked in pencil! underlined, just where I have been accustomed to emphasize them, does Mr. Rayne?—Oh impossible.—Whose can it be?" She turned impatiently to the fly-leaf and there in a clear masculine hand she saw, "G. E. from the only true friend and bitter enemy he has in the world—himself."
The book fell from her fingers. She looked earnestly into the fire, and a sad expression stole over her face.
"G. E.! Who was G. E.? Who was it that seemed to sympathise with her already? Who else in the world considered one's self a friend and an enemy, except herself?" She was beginning to long for him, to feel a loneliness for this kindred soul, as if he had come into her life and then had gone suddenly out of it again, leaving her in a melancholy despair. And as she sat there, lost in a long, tangled reverie, the eager face vanished from the window, for another figure strode up the little avenue, and quietly opening the door, passed in. Then the tall young stranger emerged from his hiding place, and noiselessly went out through the rustic gateway, trampling beneath his feet, the fallen leaves, over whose inevitable fate, Honor had spent so many sighs; but his heart was beating quickly, and his face was aglow with a new-lit flame. A strange transformation had apparently settled over all his surroundings. The moon was mounting over the house-tops and shedding a pale, soft light on his way. The world looked fairer and brighter far, than it did a little while ago. The tall trees swaying their naked boughs on the chill night air of mid-autumn, only gave out a responsive sigh to the new longing within his breast, and the crisp rustling of the withered leaves only chimed in harmoniously with the echo of the love lay that was lingering on the chords of his heart; and where the moon in her silent loveliness cast shadows here and there on his way, he saw a vision of the loveliest face that ever haunted a mortal; and wherever quietude reigned profound, he heard the echo of the grave sweet voice saying:
"Must I stand alone in life's busy crowd, A living heart in a death-like shroud?"
And then his heart burst out its passionate "No." He had not recognized those responsive emotions in that lovely girl to forget them so soon again, he had been searching for them too long not to prize them now. He had thought he was anchoring at despair, and now that a star broke through the clouded heavens, beckoning him on, was he mad to scorn the hope that lay within his grasp? No, indeed, and that very night, under the immediate impulse of his new-born emotions, Guy Elersley made up his mind.
We cannot be surprised at this sudden change in Guy, although it was the most unexpected and unlooked for circumstance that could possibly have come to him. Falling in and out of love is almost so certain a portion of our destiny, that we should never be surprised by it. We know of love as we do of death, that it is to come some day, if not now, by and by. We wait for it without expecting it, we recognize the symptoms that foretell its approach, but of its real bearing on our future lives, we can tell nothing. Time alone, as it unravels the strange mysteries, shows us in what way our love can prove a blessing or a curse. If we were so constituted, in general, as to make up our minds coolly and calculatingly, to fall in love sensibly, but no, with most of us, a look, a word, a pressure of the hand, a sigh, a flower or some such trifling thing, has sufficed to plunge us hoplessly into the delirium of "love." Dreamy eyes that fascinate us, pretty words that gratify us, little signs of preference, have been the prices of human hearts from time immemorial. The pity is, that love so often dies of its own excess, making the dreamy eyes fiery with anger and hatred, turning the pretty words into violent reproaches, and substituting the deeds of preference by coldness and neglect. 'Tis better to have hated all our lives, than to learn the lesson from a blighted love. Life is never bitter, but for those whose misplaced love has caused their faith in men to wither, filling their hearts with that hopelessness of regret, by which misery is recognised in any of its disguises. But these are inconsistent reflections, when proceeding from such suggestive sources as "first love," "moonlight quietude," etc. Let us draw a veil across them for the present. If there must be bitter drops in the deep chalice, let us not spoil the taste of the sweeter ones, by anticipating the loathsomeness of the rest. In another sense we may cry "let us live to-day, for to-morrow we die."
"We talked with open heart and tongue, Affectionate and true, A pair of friends though I was young" —Wordsworth.
The morning following Guy's visit to his uncle's window panes, as Henry Rayne was sipping his rich brown chocolate, with Honor and Nanette, at breakfast, Fitts brought in a note and laid it before his master. The usual broad smile came over Rayne's face, as he recognized his nephew's handwriting.
"So he's in town," he soliloquized, as he opened the folds of the crisp paper and read:
"Dear Uncle, I came to town last evening, and wish to see you when you will be quite alone. Guy."
"There's an ansur wanted, sur," Fitts said timidly.
"Oh, say this afternoon at five, Fitts, that will do."
Evidently, it was not Mr. Rayne's intention to mention the existence of his nephew yet, to his new comers, for he quietly slipped the little note into his pocket and said no more of it. The day wore on, and at five o'clock Fitts brought around the "ponies" to take "Miss Honor" for a drive. They had scarcely gone a block away, before Guy Elersley opened the gate leading up to his uncle's house, and admitted himself. He went into the sitting-room, but it was empty, that is, his uncle was not there, or any other living intruder; but there arose between him and the gloomy coals, the same sweet face and graceful figure that had kept a ceaseless vigil over his slumber last night. The same sad voice filled the room with its wailing echo, and as he listened again to its appealing pathos, he strode idly towards the little etagere and took up his little volume from which he had seen her read. A strong impulse rose within him. He imagined himself under the same spell as the romantic hero of "Led Astray," and taking out his pencil, he traced at the bottom of the page, under the words she had recited, this little verse:
"There is another life I long to meet, Without which life my life is incomplete. Oh sweeter self! like me, thou art astray, Trying with all thy heart to find the way To mine. Straying, like mine, to find the breast, On which alone can weary heart find rest."
He had scarcely closed and replaced the book, when the door opened and his uncle bustled in.
"Hallo, Guy! dear old boy, welcome! welcome!" and Henry Rayne extended both hands to his nephew as he spoke. "And so here you are in Ottawa, eh? What's the trouble now?" and before seating himself to chat, Henry Rayne poked the fire into a roaring blaze.
"No trouble this time, uncle, at least no 'yellow envelopes' trouble, but I've been promised an appointment in the Civil Service, and I've come to you for the 'slap on the back' that makes a fellow stiff when he's in there. Now you know it's all right for a petty clerk in those solemn Parliament Buildings, when he has an uncle that is precious to the government, for the thousands he owns and that he can scarce count. This is why I ask you to come forward, for your assistance is all I want, to make a neat little job of the whole thing. Just snap your fingers over my head, and none will dare oppose me. It is not the career I had planned, you know, uncle, but 'half a loaf is better than a whole loafer,' and that is what I threatened to be, if I remained a student in Montreal any longer. The boys are too jolly there in proportion to their means, and I pride myself I escaped in time. I'd just as soon live on the bounty of the people for a while, and eat my lunch perched on an office stool, with plenty of good ice water at hand, and a chance of a cosy 'smoke' now and then, if I don't burn out my pockets hiding the pipe when the dignified 'Boss' approaches."
"Well, well, well, Guy, you are a reckless boy, you know I could have secured you a position in the Civil Service long ago, but you aimed still higher and—missed the mark. I thought you had chosen a profession exacting too much labor for a lover of self-indulgence such as you are; however, I suppose you don't want me to say a single word of rebuke now, and I have grown so accustomed to spoiling you, that I must only give in. You can make yourself easy as far as I am concerned, I will make matters all right."
"You're the best old uncle that ever had a sister married to the father of a fellow like me," Guy said, shaking the hand of his benefactor warmly, "and by and by, when I'm a clever cabinet minister, I'll show you what gratitude is."
"I am afraid such a 'by and by' as that is as far in the past as it is in the future," Henry Rayne said, laughing.
"Oh well, if I am not clever enough to be a solemn minister, they'll make a Lieutenant-Governor of me, or a Judge, Lieutenant-Governor Elersley! By Jove the name was intended to be worn with a title!"
"Well, when you're done all these nonsensical licenses, you are giving your common sense, I will tell you something nice," Mr. Rayne interrupted, as Guy rattled off his idle chat. In a moment Guy's limbs that had been lying carelessly around in the vicinity of his chair, were jerked into a respectable sitting posture, as leaning his face eagerly towards his uncle he asked:
"Something to tell me? Now that is a surprise; I generally do all the talking when I come here."
"Well," Henry Rayne began slowly, and with a look of unusual merriment twinkling in his eyes, "It has taken a long time you see for this surprise to come, but it was worth the trouble of waiting. May be you think that at fifty years all the romance has died out of a man's life, but I am going to show you that such is not the case." (Great Heavens! Guy thought, has the dear old man fallen in love?) "A new life has begun of late for me; henceforth, my love, that has been all yours, must be divided I have assumed a series of new and trying duties—"
"Pardon me, uncle; but you don't mean—you can't possibly be insinuating that you have—have—have done such a desperate thing as to—"
"I have indeed, Guy. I suppose you thought I had no soft corner left in my heart that would be a ready victim to a woman's wiles? but I had, you see." There was a mischevious twinkle in the old man's eye as he spoke. This joke on his clever nephew amused him immensely, while poor Guy was feeling the tight clutch of despair upon his heart Of all the horrors conceivable, Guy had never dreamt of such a thing as his uncle's marriage, and now it was quite evident that his words implied this terrible catastrophe. He saw the long cherished project of his insured welfare passing away so noiselessly from him, dropping through a wedding ring into the clutching fingers of a new-born heir. And when it struck him that the beautiful vision he had feasted his eyes upon last evening was, undoubtedly, the fair destroyer of his every hope, a conflict of violent feelings began to gnaw at his poor heart, making a genuine picture of woeful misery out of the laughing face of a moment before, but he battled against his moral foes, at least—he must not show his uncle that any selfishness of his could mar the sincerity of his felicitations.
"I suppose I am justified in congratulating you?" Guy said in a tone something like that in which one says "'Tis nothing," when three hundred pounds of fashionable humanity apologises for having left its foot print on our toes.
"I know that you do congratulate me warmly," Guy's uncle said, emphatically, "and indeed it is as much for your sake, nearly, as for my own that I rejoice, the benefit will be divided between us." Guy didn't see how—unless his uncle fell into the ordinary routine of wedded life, and grew regretful by degrees—he could share those sentiments very plentifully, but his better nature still revolted against such selfishness, and obeying a generous impulse, he stood up and shook his uncle warmly by the hand.
"I am glad indeed, uncle," he said sincerely, "that at last your earthly happiness is complete. It was poor gratification to you, to trust to me for an ample return for all your unmerited kindness. You deserved some one more faithful and more demonstrative than I. This new tie you have formed will, of course, exclude me from a great portion if not from all of your heart, but, at least, I can still continue to appreciate and love you as though there had been no change. After all, it is the most natural thing in the world for a man to marry."
"Who's married?" Henry Rayne exclaimed in astonishment.
"Why, yourself, to be sure," Guy answered, "I was alluding to you."
Henry Rayne threw back his curly head and laughed heartily and loud; Guy looked on in open-mouthed astonishment, suspecting a temporary aberration of mind in his uncle.
"Oh! that is a splendid one," Mr. Rayne cried slapping his knees violently, and blinking away the tears that were gathering in his eyes from excessive laughter. "You had just better circulate such a piece of slander about me, and see how it would be received, why, the dogs on the road would laugh at your simple credulity." Then assuming a becoming air of mock gravity the old man continued, "This is terrible, Guy, that you should openly accuse me of such a serious piece of forgetfulness is, I fear, more than I can readily forgive—I dare say I do a great many surprising things now and then—but to get married—Oh no, Guy, you wrong me—wrong me terribly."
Guy had to laugh at this, though still lost in the mystery.
"Perhaps now that you have laughed quite enough at rue, you will kindly explain all," he said in an anxious tone.
"Well, the truth is, Guy," his uncle began in earnest, "there is a woman at the bottom of it, of course, and though I have pledged myself at the altar of friendship to love and protect her, there is no such thing as 'till death do us part' in the transaction. I have been left the odd legacy of an only daughter by an old school-friend of mine," Guy blushed inwardly, and felt guilty, "she is a dear, lovely little creature, and will, I am sure, make my home a different one altogether, from what solitary bachelordom has brought it to. I hope you will agree, both of you, I know you will like her just as soon as you see her, you have no idea how lovely she is." (Oh fie! Elersley! how innocent you look).
"Well, really uncle, you are a little more demonstrative over female superiority than I would expect," Guy said lazily, as if he had made up his mind that he would not be so enthusiastic.
"Because she deserves it," Mr. Rayne said, earnestly. "Don't think, my boy," he continued, "that I am a perfect old ogre with regard to women, for I am not, I have travelled over and seen more of the world than you, and I know the difference, vast and mysterious as it is, that lies between woman and woman. The word, has, of all words, two meanings, the most antithetical and contradictory, one is the limit of the Beautiful, the other the limit of the Repulsive; one is synonymous with purity, truth and excellence, and the other with vice and diplomacy. The world is often imposed upon when the latter counterfeits the former. Men are dazzled by the glitter and gaudy show of the pretended, and pass by, unnoticed, the less flashy attractions of the real, but I pride myself that I have never been deceived in this way. The girl that I have brought to my home is as genuine a sample of noble, good, pure and honorable women, as could exist, if you had known her father I would tell you, she is Bob Edgeworth's child and you could not then doubt the truth of all I say."
"Edgeworth?" Guy queried, "It seems to me I have heard that name before."
"It was you who revived all my precious memories of him," Henry Rayne said thoughtfully. "That letter you wrote me before leaving Montreal, telling me of an interview you had with a traveller who had seen Edgeworth defend me so bravely and gallantly abroad, was the first I had heard of my dear old friend for many many years."
"Oh yes, I remember now!" Guy exclaimed, "but how in the world did he trace you up after all these years?"
"That was easy enough, I am happy to say. I am pretty well known now, and Edgeworth took the most direct way to me, by applying to our family solicitors at home, but I blame him for not having sought me while he had his health and strength—he is dead now, poor fellow, and all he had prized in this world he has left to me. When I wrote you, that important business called me to Europe, I was starting to execute the first part of my friend's dying request. I did not talk about it much beforehand, but now that we are safely back, the whole world is free to know that I am in charge of the sweetest girl under the sun, let who can, deny it, if you are as anxious to meet her as I was, stay and drink tea with us this evening—they are out driving now, but they wont be much longer—do stay."
"Not this evening," Guy said hastily, as he rose, "I am not prepared, uncle, besides, she is strange yet, and it is as well not to thrust too many new faces on her at once, you can mention my name to her if you will, she will feel more at home when we meet." There was a pause of a moment, and then Guy, as he appropriated a cigar from a china stand that tempted him close by, resumed, "this certainly is a strange, unlooked- for incident in your hum-drum life, but it is also a very fortunate one, since she is such a comfort to you and such an acquisition to your home—I fancy, from your description she could scarcely be otherwise. I hope we will all be an agreeable and sociable family yet, and now, if I don't want to be caught, I had better be off at once," saying which, Henry Rayne's handsome nephew shook himself out of comfort's wrinkles, lighted his cheroot, put on his becoming hat, bade his uncle a temporary "good bye," and departed.
I would undertake too common-place a theme, were I to try and interpret the feelings that struggled for ascendancy in the breast of Guy Elersley. How many pens have been stowed away rusty and old from having told no other tale than that of new-born love? How many gray-haired bards have tuned their lay to the sighs from the human breast under the "first loves" influence? How many eyes, even among those that rest upon this very page, have wept the overflowing of their hearts away, at the moment that love's first whispers stole into their souls? How many tired and weary hands are folded on the laps of those who are sitting in the twilight of their years dreaming all over again in bitter joy their "Loves young dream?" Ah! they are many indeed! and so it is superfluous almost to tell the world what it is to love for the first time. That trembling existence that is balancing on Hope and Despair, is an experience so well learned that no one thinks of telling it. It is a strange part of destiny, that even those who have never heard what it is to love, are not surprised when called to teach it to themselves. Instinctively, we hide our emotion, we steady our hand, we check our words. There is the pity; there are grand unspoken thoughts, burning in the souls of many to-day, that may never reach the threshold of the lips. Men are gliding through the world disinterestedly, day by day, and they know not, often care not to know, that there are devoted hearts existing on their memories alone. There are pretty blue eyes weeping over the "garden gate" where "some one" is "waiting" and "wishing in vain." Let them weep. There are miseries in life, that can be learned only by many repetitions. If they don't break the heart at first they perseveringly "try again."